The Great Star Trek TAS Rewatch: Yesteryear

Federation historians study the Guardian of Forever

After using the Guardian of Forever to study Orion history, Spock and Kirk return to the present to find that no one aboard the Enterprise remembers who Spock is. When further investigation reveals that they are in a timeline where Spock died as a boy, the half-Vulcan first officer goes back in time to save his younger self.

As the only episode of TAS still to be considered somewhat canon – at least with regards to some of the details of Spock’s past – Yesteryear seems somehow like it ought to be a cut above its fellows. It’s certainly no “deploy the inflatable Enterprise” – a line we will encounter in due course, but instead, it’s surprisingly emotionally brutal.

The episode begins with Kirk and crew essentially dicking about with the Guardian of Forever in order to study history firsthand. Most of the time, I tend to forget that this powerful device exists, because to do otherwise is to invite all sorts of questions. Is the Federation somehow managing to keep it secret from all the individuals and factions who would just love to use it to rewrite history? How come there isn’t a massive war raging over control of the Guardian’s planet? Why is it never used to fix history in any of those other time travel stories? Best not to think too deeply about any of that.

Anyway, upon returning to the present, it turns out that no one except Kirk even remembers who Spock is – in fact, the Enterprise now has an Andorian first officer, Commander Thelin. Had this been a full length Star Trek episode, no doubt Thelin would have had some character development and perhaps even turned out to be secretly evil, but as it is he’s pretty bland. It’s a shame that TAS didn’t take the opportunity to have a regular Andorian character on the crew, but as it was we would have to wait until Enterprise and Shran for a more developed Andorian.

After some quick googling, the crew realise that in this timeline Spock died as a boy – because older Spock was always meant to go back in time and save his younger self. Now aware of what he must do, Spock heads back through the Guardian, bringing us to the emotionally difficult bulk of the episode.

Spock and Sare

Spock cunningly disguises his Starfleet uniform under a loose robe.

Even though I do like the Vulcans, I think we all have to admit that they can be real jerks. Despite being ostensibly logical and in control of their emotions, the other Vulcan children mercilessly tease Spock – and he gets blamed for reacting instead of stoically shrugging. Worse yet, even though Spock is half-human and completely entitled to explore both sides of his heritage, Sarek essentially browbeats him into choosing to follow on the Vulcan path, and even tells his son that once he chooses one side or another, that’s it – there’s no going back. It would be beyond the scope of this blog to go into all the details of why this affects me so much personally, but suffice to say that I empathise so much with young Spock right now.

Sarek admonishes young Spock

Despite the baking heat, Vulcan children seem to play outdoors in their underwear.

Anyway, the tension keeps ramping up, as Sarek puts pressure on Spock to be ready for his upcoming “kahs-wan”, an ordeal in which young Vulcans are sent out into the desert to survive on their own, without even food, water, or a weapon. In this episode it’s said that only males take the test, but by Enterprise things are more equal, as T’Pol mentions having undergone it. I’m not really sure the answer to this particular brand of sexism is to have all children sent out on ordeals in the desert, but there you have it. At least failure seems to be discussed as something one would survive, so presumably the kids are rescued if they don’t seem to be doing too well.

Spock decides he needs to prove to himself that he can manage the kahs-wan, so he runs off into the desert after dark. Fortunately, older Spock is here to anticipate exactly that event, and goes after him, saving his own life but altering history ever so slightly when his pet sehlat, I-Chaya, gets poisoned and has to be euthanised. Yes, as if this episode wasn’t already a showcase of the emotional fucking-up of young Spock, we also have to see him lose his beloved pet. Who knew The Animated Series was going to prove to be such an emotional wringer?

a lavish fountain at Spock's family home Ornaments at Spock's family home

Before we leave this episode behind, it’s also worth discussing some of the aesthetics. You’ll notice James Doohan more than earning his wages here, voicing about six different characters. And while Mark Lenard does return to voice Sarek, Majel Barrett has to take over as Amanda. Maybe it’s just the change of voice, but animated Amanda even looks more like Majel Barrett than Jane Wyatt to me. Young Spock’s voice acting is pretty terrible, which does detract a little from enjoyment of the episode.

The backdrops and depictions of Vulcan are surprisingly detailed and pleasing here, and once again, the show takes the opportunity to depict an alien that wouldn’t have been possible in the show, in the form of the birdlike Federation historian.

Summary – Yesteryear: Emotionally brutal.

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