Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Time Travel Part II, Without The Part I - "Tomorrow Is Yesterday!"

The Good: Decent general plot with nice reversals, Solid acting, Works well in the franchise
The Bad: No real character development, Computer subplot
The Basics: Star Trek opens the door to serious time travel episodes with an understated episode that sets up future plotlines generally well.

Every now and then in its early days Star Trek seems like it was intended to be a bigger story. One of my big complaints with Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation is that they are largely episodic. This means episodes stand alone and generally do not build upon each other. Serialized shows, like Star Trek: Deep Space Nine within the franchise or the heavily-serialized Babylon 5 generally involve a greater sense of character development and growth over the course of a series and the episodes tend to interrelate with plots that are not fully resolved within a fifty minute episode.

"Tomorrow Is Yesterday," which is the twenty-first episode of Star Trek produced was actually intended to follow the seventh episode, "The Naked Time" (click here for my review of that episode!) and in some ways, it is unfortunate that it did not follow it directly as it was intended to. Instead, the two are separated and a whole contrivance for time travel must be conceived and, even worse, a terrible series of jokes are used that would have made more sense following "The Naked Time" as opposed to the revised context that is explained in the episode.

The Enterprise is cruising through space when it encounters a black star, which displaces it in time and space to mid-20th Century Earth. In a problematic twist, the Enterprise finds itself in Earth's upper atmosphere, damaged by the time travel and caught on camera by a UFO-hunting Air Force officer. Because his plane investigates the Enterprise when he sees it, he takes it to unsafe altitudes in pursuit and his plane breaks up. Kirk, reluctantly, beams the officer aboard before he is accidentally killed and the crew deals with having Captain John Christopher aboard. Christopher wants nothing more than to go back and return to his life, especially after seeing Spock, but soon learns he cannot. While insuring all records of the temporal incursion are eliminated and while Scotty works to fix the damaged Enterprise, Spock uncovers information that makes it impossible to keep Christopher aboard!

"Tomorrow Is Yesterday" is a remarkably standard time travel type story and it works quite well in that context. When the Enterprise hits the anomaly, its crew works to stabilize the ship, determine their place in time, eliminate their influence and return to their proper time and space. Because it is the first true time travel episode Star Trek does, there is a great deal of exposition dealing with how important it is to not alter the future by influencing the past. The result is something that becomes very familiar to fans of science fiction. We understand how important it is to not mess things up while time traveling.

Because this precedes much in the way of time travel stories in television history, the amount of exposition is fair and reasonable. This episode becomes the template for many, many time-travel stories, though, so it may not feel quite as fresh as it actually is. Even so, "Tomorrow Is Yesterday" is respectable in that it has a few reversals that are truly interesting and worth the time to sit through the exposition for. Indeed, the reason Spock discovers that Christopher cannot stay aboard the Enterprise is a perfect reversal that works out well even over several viewings.

What doesn't work is the contrivance carried over in the script that tied "Tomorrow Is Yesterday" to "The Naked Time." In "The Naked Time," the crew is essentially drunk as the result of a virus and people do crazy things. The Enterprise computer in this episode speaks like a sultry, flirtatious woman and in the original concept, that would make some sense if one of the infected crewmembers had reprogrammed it. Lacking that, though, it's just a silly and annoying subplot that lacks any substantive merit and the reason for it is that the ship's computer was reprogrammed by a planet where women ruled. It takes the punch out of some of the more interesting scenes in the episode and actually makes Captain Kirk seem less in charge than he ought to.

That said, despite the character problem of Kirk having to deal with a computer that is sexually harassing him, actor William Shatner presents him well. Indeed, "Tomorrow Is Yesterday" is generally light on character development and much time is spent with characters delivering exposition or plot points, the actors - regular and guest cast - all show up with their best game and they play it remarkably well.

Roger Perry is remarkably good as Captain Christopher, but he doesn't have much in the way of acting that he is forced to do; he's playing a guy from his own time period. Captain Christopher reacts much as any of us would if beamed aboard the Enterprise and Perry's reactions seem very real for that. In scenes away from the Enterprise, he plays Christopher as more confident and authoritative, which makes him seem more viable as an Air Force captain.

The supporting cast, like Leonard Nimoy, James Doohan and George Takei all make the most of their parts. Nimoy especially seems to play the episode with a bemused quality that makes it seem like he is having fun performing. That might not be truly within character, but it works for him.

"Tomorrow Is Yesterday" is a wonderful primer for anyone looking to understand the basics of time travel. It is accessible to all audiences and it works quite well even forty years later. Fans of science fiction are likely to see the importance of the episode in the larger pantheon of science fiction television but are likely to be bored by the overstatement and potentially annoyed at the distracting subplot with the computer. In all, though, "Tomorrow Is Yesterday" is a solid episode that is enjoyable.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek - The Complete First Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the premiere season by clicking here!


For other works in the Star Trek franchise I've reviewed, click on over to the index page!

© 2010, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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