21 "Tomorrow Is Yesterday"

(airdate: January 26, 1967)

Writer: D.C. Fontana
Director: Michael O'Herlihy

John Christopher: Roger Perry
Transporter Chief [Lt. Kyle]: John Winston

Air Police Sergeant: Hal Lynch
Lt. Col. Fellini: Ed Peck

Stardate: 3113.2

Captain's Log: An accident throws the Enterprise backwards in time to the late 1960s, where they are observed by an Air Force plane. Attempting to restrain the plane, the Enterprise accidentally destroys it, so they beam the pilot, Captain John Christopher, aboard. Christopher is rescued, but now that he's seen humanity's future he can't return to Earth. However, Spock discovers that Christopher's as-yet-unconceived son Shaun will be important in the future, so Christopher has to go back. Kirk and Sulu beam down to an Air Force base to retrieve evidence of the Enterprise's existence - inadvertently beaming a sergeant aboard as well - and are able to reverse the accident to travel back to their time, dropping off Christopher and the sergeant before they depart.

Whoops!: The Air Force base that sends Christopher's plane to investigate the Enterprise appears to only have a single radar console, with no other equipment beyond a desk in the room. We might also question how the Enterprise can be low enough in the atmosphere to be visible by an F-104 (record altitude 36,800 feet) without suffering any ill effects from entering Earth's atmosphere in the first place. And Captain Christopher is in a standing position when he's beamed aboard the Enterprise from his plane - apparently the transporter has a "make you stand up" feature, but not a "face the right direction" feature. Why is the photo section of the Air Force base alarmed but not the Statistical Services Division, which looks like a more important room?
     It might not actually be a goof, but it's a little weird how Kirk keeps using stardates, despite being in the past. [This essentially illustrates even further that we have no idea how stardates actually work.] In a similar vein, when Kirk is interrogated by Col. Fellini, Fellini tells him that he'll go to prison for 200 years, which Kirk ruefully suggests is "just about right" - fine for the episode, but odd in the light of later stories. [See "Where No Man Has Gone Before" for more details on when Star Trek is actually set.]
      The resolution of this story is both daft and brings into the question the point of the entire episode. In brief, Kirk and Sulu risk their necks retrieving footage and photographs of the Enterprise. Then the ship is able to drop off Christopher and the sergeant at the points right before they were beamed aboard, because "logically" when slingshotting around the sun you have to travel backwards in time before you can go forward. (It's not clear what makes this "logical", since they want to go forwards in time, not backwards. But given that it was gravitational acceleration that transported them to the past in the first place, this actually does make internal story sense, so essentially we're quibbling more with Spock's word choice than the underlying idea.) Now, dropping their two passengers off is OK because "you won't remember anything, because it never would have happened". In a word, what? The best guess as to why this would be the case appears to be the idea that a body can't occupy two different places in the same time zone, so therefore the Enterprise can't possibly be in Earth's atmosphere when it's speeding away from Earth in order to travel forward in time. (Except even this doesn't quite hold up, as we still see Christopher checking out the UFO and making visual contact with the Enterprise at the end of the episode. But let's ignore that for now.) This is why they had to beam the two men back to where they were, so that they didn't suddenly disappear from Earth because they were on the Enterprise. [Incidentally, the ability of presumably Lt. Kyle to beam them back into their own bodies without causing them to die is impressive in itself.] But if none of this happened, then what was the point of any of it? Why go through all the trouble of stealing photographs if there was ultimately going to be nothing to steal? [Maaaybe it was because Spock didn't realize they would go backwards in time first. Or because those photographs didn't have counterparts and so they wouldn't disappear - but that way lies madness. Either way, this is incredibly bizarre.]
     There are a couple of shots in the remastered version that make it look like Earth is rotating in the wrong direction.

Classic Lines: Kirk to McCoy: "Now you're sounding like Spock." McCoy: "If you're going to get nasty, I'm going to leave."
      Spock: "I made an error in my computations." McCoy: "Oh? This could be an historic occasion."

Library Computer: In the late 1960s, shortly before a Wednesday that marked an historic manned moonshot [in a stroke of luck, Apollo 11 did indeed launch on a Wednesday (the only '60s moonshot to do so) - July 16, 1969, although at 9:32 am, not 6 am like the news report says here], the Enterprise appeared above a United States Air Force installation in Omaha, Nebraska, causing a nearby base (with a ground controller whose callsign was "Blackjack") to scramble an F-104 Starfighter in order to investigate. [There is indeed a US Air Force Base in eastern Nebraska; Offutt AFB is located roughly 10 miles south of Omaha. Corroborating this, Offutt was the headquarters for Strategic Air Command, and the personnel seen here all have what appears to be the SAC shield on their uniforms - it's most noticeable on the Air Police sergeant as he catches Kirk and Sulu. As far as the identity of the other base, the speed with which Christopher intercepts the Enterprise implies that his base is quite close to Offutt. Memory Alpha suggests Richards-Gebaur AFB, near Kansas City, as a possible location.] This F-104, registry number FG-969 [FG-914 in the remastered version, to match the registry in the opening shot] and callsign "Bluejay 4", was piloted by US Air Force Captain John Christopher. Christopher's serial number was 4857932. The F-104 was too fragile to be held in the Enterprise's tractor beam, and thus broke up, with the wreckage landing in southern Nebraska. FG-969 was equipped with wing cameras that took pictures of the Enterprise.
     John Christopher was a captain in the USAF. [In 1969,] he had a wife and two daughters. History showed no record of a significant contribution by Christopher; however, his future son Shaun Geoffrey Christopher would head the first successful Earth-Saturn probe. [Let's assume Shaun is born in the early 1970s. If he was somewhere in his 30s to his 50s when he led the probe, then this mission occurred sometime between 2000 and 2030.] Christopher was assigned to the Air Force Base where the pictures and other information was sent about a year prior. He was in line for the space program but failed to qualify. He was issued a tunic with lieutenant rank by the Enterprise quartermaster. [This is a nice touch; an Air Force captain is equivalent to a Naval lieutenant, which is the branch of service Starfleet appears to be patterned after.]
     At the Nebraska Air Force installation was stationed the 498th Airborne Group, part of the Air Defense Command. [Unlike some of the things seen here, there was no actual 498th Airborne Group in 1967. There was a 498th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron, but they were stationed at Paine AFB in Washington state until 1968, when they were moved to Hamilton AFB in California and inactivated the same day.] Personnel at this installation included an Air Police sergeant who was accidentally beamed aboard the Enterprise; a Lieutenant Colonel Fellini, who had an office in the security section and appeared to be the officer in charge at the time of Kirk's capture; and a Colonel M. March, who was listed as the officer on duty at the same time. This installation also included a Statistical Services Division, with large banks of computers inside.
     The Enterprise arrived in [1969] when a "black star of high-gravitational attraction" pulled them into its gravity well. In attempting to escape by heading into warp speed in reverse, they were flung into the distant past. [Note that in the real world, the term "black hole" hadn't been popularized by the time this story was written; "black star" was one of the terms being used instead.] This black star is in the vicinity of Starbase 9 and was previously undiscovered. Spock correctly calculated that as they approached the sun at increasingly faster speeds, they would actually travel backwards in time; then, once they slingshotted around the sun and left its "magnetic attraction" [let's assume he just means "gravitational"], they would travel forwards in time, back to the point they left in their time.
     The Enterprise has an automatic helm control that can be overridden. When the deflectors are operating, they can stop 20th-century technology from picking them up on things such as radar. According to McCoy, there are currently 430 people on the Enterprise. They recently put in at Cygnet XIV, a planet dominated by women, for general repairs. The Cygnet technicians felt the ship's computer lacked a personality, so they gave it one. This current personality speaks with a sultry tone of voice, giggles, flirts with Kirk, and sulks when it's insulted. Spock calculates that it will take a complete overhaul of the entire computer system and at least three weeks at a Starbase to remove the personality. There is a food dispenser in the transporter room, and there is a quartermaster aboard who can issue uniforms to personnel.
     The Enterprise is under the authority of the United Earth Space Probe Agency. There are only 12 ships like the Enterprise in the fleet. [Much debate has been generated as to whether this line means there are 12 or actually 13 Constitution-class vessels in Starfleet. The production team thought the Enterprise was included in the number, meaning 12 total - and in fact, they drew up a list of the 12 vessels and sent it to model makers AMT, to include as alternate decals with their Enterprise kit. One problem, though, is that the Defiant (from "The Tholian Web") isn't on that list, and it's clearly a Constitution-class vessel. So either the Defiant was comissioned after "Tomorrow Is Yesterday", or there really were 13 total ships and the Defiant was number 13. This assumes, of course, that you accept non-screened material as canon.]
     Enterprise crewmembers wear black belts to attach their equipment to. [This is an alternative to the gold sashes occasionally seen, usually being worn by security personnel.] In addition to their standard communicators and type-1 phasers, Kirk has a handheld flashlight that looks like a silver cone, and a lockpicking device that looks like a short, stubby silver cylinder that makes a noise when held up to the lock before unlocking it. The communicator can emit an emergency signal, indicating to the Enterprise that that person requires immediate beam-up.
     Kirk and Sulu have each seen old-style magnetic tape computers in a museum. Kirk knows what a darkroom is [possibly from that same museum].

Final Analysis: "Too bad, Captain. Maybe I can't go home, but neither can you. You're as much a prisoner in time as I am." A decent script elevated by a sense of fun and a great guest performance by Roger Perry, who is incredibly likeable as John Christopher. The logical flaws don't ultimately detract from the overall story, and there's a sense of a light, deft touch applied to the material, meaning that it hits just the right marks.

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Page last updated: October 1, 2018

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