Oh, time travel. Much like Shakespeare, time travel has become something of a staple in the Trek universe. And with the very brief, inconsequential exception of “The Naked Time,” where the Enterprise accidentally travels three days back into the past, it all begins right here in this episode!
Of course, some beginnings run smoother than others.
There will be SPOILERS for this episode and probably the Star Trek franchise in general. You’ve been warned.
WHAT GOES DOWN, BASICALLY
The Enterprise accidentally travels back in time to–wait for it–the 1960’s. An American pilot, Captain John Christopher, is sent to investigate the UFO; our heroes try to engage a tractor beam and accidentally blow up Christopher’s ship instead. Whoops. They save his life, though, beaming him on board the Enterprise; unfortunately, Spock informs Kirk that CJC now knows too much about the future and can’t be returned home without grave risk to the timeline. CJC, as you might expect, is not exactly pleased about being kept prisoner indefinitely.
Fortunately for him, Spock realizes that while Christopher himself is completely insignificant to history, he’s destined to have a son who is important; thus, Christopher must be returned, after all. The Enterprise crew still needs to delete any evidence of their existence, though, which means stealing photos from a US air base. Alas, their attempt to do so results in both Kirk’s capture and another asshole getting beamed up to the Enterprise because, really, no one on the team is showing their A-game today.
Eventually, however, Kirk is rescued, and the Enterprise restores the original timeline by slingshotting off the sun and beaming Christopher back to his plane at the moment he originally left. For God knows what reason, this works, and the Enterprise makes it safely home.
I’ve never considered myself particularly prescriptive about the rules of time travel. I don’t generally gravitate towards closed loop stories (especially if the closed loop itself is some kind of big twist), but as far as the physics of it all? Yeah, I totally don’t care. Mostly, I just try to enjoy time travel for the wacky fun plot device it is.
Still, this is just some dumb shit.
I can forgive it because it’s very early dumb shit, and I know over the course of the next 50 years, Star Trek get a little better at resetting timelines in a manner that vaguely makes sense. But this whole “we’ll go back in time and beam you to the exact moment you saw us, but we won’t be there, so you won’t remember us, and your past self will just go poof or something,” like WHAT?
More importantly, though, I seriously hope that after this little encounter, Kirk immediately goes back to Starfleet and says, “Okay, my dudes. We need a policy in place for how to handle potential paradoxes and other time travel shenanigans, because we done fucked up seven ways to Sunday.” Seriously, this episode is not a good look for the Enterprise. Like, accidentally blowing up Christopher’s ship? Sure, that could happen to anyone. But then Spock’s all, “Actually, we’re gonna have to kidnap this dude forever,” which, a) maybe that wouldn’t have been necessary if we hadn’t immediately given him the whole ship tour, KIRK, and b) holy SHIT, we jumped real quick to the unlawful and indefinite imprisonment of innocent people. Like, this isn’t a last resort, folks. This is Plan A. Kirk’s on board pretty quickly, too; in fact, Kirk actually doubles down on the whole Holy Ethically Dubious Shitballs, Batman! by wondering if they might be able to spare Christopher some pain by making him forget his whole family, like, seriously, what the FUCK, Kirk?
You might not be surprised to discover that Christopher isn’t down with any of this shit. Quite naturally, he tries to escape from his quarters . . . which ends up being pretty easy to do since no one apparently thought to lock the doors or even put a guard outside. Still, they do recover him pretty quickly and even decide to return him to Earth because of that Very Special Future Kid, something they obviously don’t tell him about because knowing that kind of thing too early could CLEARLY fuck with their precious timeline–no, I’m just kidding, of course, they straight up tell him about the son he hasn’t had yet. And yeah, I know CJC’s memories are essentially wiped at the end of the episode, but they don’t know that yet, so, rawr. Also, man. Can you imagine the lectures that kid would have to listen to? “No, I don’t believe you’ll make it in Hollywood because I know you’re going to Saturn! Well, I don’t care what your dreams are, Shaun, I SAW THE FUCKING FUTURE!”
All in all, I kind of just want to rename this episode “Star Trek and The Series of Incompetencies and Colossal Fuckups.” It probably doesn’t help any that, by the end, Christopher and Kirk are smiling at each other like bros, and I’m like, “Bitch, please. Some assholes from the future blow up my plane, kidnap me, refuse to ever let me return to my family, home, or timeline, consider erasing my most cherished memories, give me an existential crisis by telling me that my life has no meaning, refuse to respect my right to liberty until they see some importance in my not-yet-conceived offspring, and finally knock me out two different times for the crime of understandably trying to rescue myself? NOPE. No fond smile for you, buddy. Don’t let the sun hit your ass on the way out.”
Honestly, I’m starting to think that everyone but Captain John Christopher is a serious candidate for Chief Asshat here.
Other than being a bit of a mess in the time travel department, “Tomorrow is Yesterday” also manages to include some total misogynistic bullshit for extra flavor. The ship’s computer has been reprogrammed by a bunch of women to exude a supposedly female personality: that is, it speaks in a more throaty and alluring voice, addresses Kirk as “dear,” and apparently likes to giggle–much to the disgust of Spock, who seems personally affronted by the whole idea of femininity.
And never mind the fact that I’ve yet to meet a woman who speaks anything like this. Never mind that the computer has always been noticeably voiced by a woman, if a more roboticized one. LADY COMPUTERS ARE BREATHY AND INAPPROPRIATE, AND SERIOUS MANLY MEN ARE NOT HERE FOR IT.
OTOH, one of the unexpectedly neat things about watching a 50-year-old TV show is hearing characters talk about how they time traveled through a “black star” because the term “black hole” hadn’t actually been invented yet. That’s crazy and awesome. (Also, how the show correctly guesses about when the moon landing will be.)
I get why it happens, and I know it’s not going anywhere, but I do get awfully tired of watching a dude (CJC, in this case) come on board the Enterprise and marvel that there are women there.
I’m also getting tired of–and I can’t believe I’m saying this–Bones’s attitude towards Spock. I have always been inordinately fond of the Enterprise’s Grumpy Cat of a CMO, and conceptually, I really enjoy the dynamic between the Logical Angel and the Emotional Angel on Kirk’s shoulders . . . but too often, Bones’s whole “My God, man, can you feel nothing” or “what about your heart, Spock, WHERE IS YOUR HEART” shtick has begun to grate on my nerves.
On the plus side, Sulu continues to be the BEST. While Kirk’s all focused on the mission at hand, Sulu is visibly and silently nerding out over being in the past and it’s delightful. Later, when a soldier from the 1960’s has confiscated Kirk’s beeping communicator, Sulu–with big, innocent eyes–lies, “I didn’t hear anything.” Cracked me right up.
Kirk has some pretty great reactions himself this episode. His utter exasperation after Spock accidentally beams up another 20th century dude to the Enterprise is pretty fantastic. Also, his astounded, “What?” when Spock announces they’ve traveled back in time, or how he winces when the guy questioning him carelessly tosses his phaser. Loved all of it.
Spock’s penchant for just beaming up whoever he can get a signal on is really not going his way this episode. Also, I can’t help but notice Spock isn’t too valuable on board today; after all, he does go on the second away mission. Oh, Enterprise crew and your wildly inconsistent protocols.
Lesson 1 in Fight Like a Space Cowboy, as taught by Jim T. Kirk: when all else fails, just launch your whole body at your opponent. Seriously, just fling yourself at them. It might work, and even if it doesn’t, it’ll be extremely entertaining to watch.
From the slingshot maneuver to CJC’s orange flight suit, “Tomorrow Is Yesterday” did strongly remind of Farscape, which I appreciated, even if “Tomorrow Is Yesterday” itself didn’t do much for me. #FarscapeFan4Life
LINE OF THE EPISODE
“I don’t believe there will be any trouble in that respect, Captain. Our guest seems quite satisfied to remain where he is.”