Time travel is super-advanced Theoretical Physics. Some of the most intelligent people in the world spend all their free time thinking about it and never really coming up with anything. What this means for science fiction writers is that unless you’re prepared to put in some overtime, you really need to stay away from time travel stories. I’m not saying you have to get it perfect – even the so-called experts can’t do that. I’m just saying that it takes a lot of care not to spawn even obvious plotholes.
Tomorrow is Yesterday is a case in point. This is Star Trek‘s first serious time travel story, and it’s horrible mostly because of plotholes.
The Enterprise has just encountered a black sun, breaking away from which has hurled them through space. What they don’t know, but soon find out, is that it hurled them through time as well. They approach Earth with a curious lack of satellites and subspace chatter. When they finally get a signal, they realize it’s the 1960s! “Why couldn’t we get the 70s?” Kirk says, cursing their horrible luck at winding up in such a crappy decade. Well, floating about in the atmosphere like that, they come across a fighter jet which spots them. Spock warns Kirk that the jet is equipped with nuclear weapons and can actually damage the weakened Enterprise, so Kirk hastily orders a tractor beam put on it. This destroys the aircraft, so they’re forced to beam the pilot aboard.
As soon as they do so, they realize they’ve screwed up. The pilot can’t be returned to his time because knowledge of the future in the hands of an unscrupulous – or even just careless – person will RUIN EVERYTHING!
Of course, stuff’s already ruined. The pilot – a Cpt. Christopher – managed to snap photos of the Enterprise with his wing cameras. That and the manner of destruction of the plane will leave little doubt that UFOs are real, polluting the timeline. So, they’re obligated to beam down and remove all records.
Meanwhile, Spock has determined that Cpt. Christopher, whom he originally proclaimed “inconsequential,” will father a son who goes on to do something important involving manned space flight – I dunno, can’t really remember. So, they have to return Christopher. They’ve also picked up another problem in the meantime – a security guard who passed by and discovered Kirk and Sulu stealing record tapes confiscated their communicators and accidentally hit the “Beam me up, Scotty!” button. He’s comically scared of the Enterprise and just stands frozen on the transporter pad. We’re all amused. But Kirk and Sulu eventually get busted – and while Sulu manages to beam to safety, Kirk gets arrested.
Everything that you expect to happen then happens. They beam down with Cpt. Christopher – because he knows the security area – to try to rescue Kirk – which they do, but Christopher tries to make an escape which Spock anticipated, and so Spock gets to nerve pinch him. Back on the ship, we get some technobabble about how to undo the situation. And … here’s where the episode goes south very quickly. The Great Plan is to slingshot back around Sol, trying to recreate the conditions that got them here in the first place. As they break away, they’ll first travel back in time, but then accelerate forward. So, if they beam Christopher and the unnamed security guard back down at the precise moment they disappeared, everything will be hunky dory because – since it’s back in time – they won’t have anything to remember since, you know, all those encounters with the Enterprise never happened.
It’s completely moronic, of course. If Christopher and the security guard will be unable to remember anything that happened because of having travelled back in time, then why isn’t the Enterprise crew similarly affected? And since when do transporters have a range of “half a solar system away?” – let alone have that kind of range with any sort of precision? And just how does the mechanism of beaming these people back on top of their former selves work, exactly? At least in Christopher’s case we could sorta kinda buy it – maybe they’re just so uncannily precise that they get him just as he disappeared? But that won’t work for the other dude – because we see them beaming him down moments before they actually encountered him. And, to make matters worse, he peeks in the same room but somehow doesn’t see Kirk and Sulu this time. We’re left to guess that that’s because Kirk and Sulu aren’t there – but that’s silly, since nothing about going back in time erased anything that happened before, right? Cpt. Christopher, after having been “replaced,” is still in radio contact with headquarters and is still reporting that he saw UFO, which means the Enterprise was definitely there. Which, if true, means that Kirk and Sulu beamed down to get the tapes and yadda yadda. Or … maybe they didn’t? Maybe by replacing Christopher as though they had never beamed him aboard he never was aboard, obviating the need to retrieve the tapes? Heh, even if that made sense, which it doesn’t of course, they would still need to get the tapes because he would still have caught a couple of camera shots.
Aaaaannd, that’s all the thought this is worth. It Just. Doesn’t. Work.
As for the episode aside from the plotholes – it’s not awful, but it’s not good either. They spend a lot of time making lame misogynist jokes about the computer flirting with Kirk because it’s recently been repaired by a planet dominated by women. So, being women, they made it flirty, or something. Cpt. Christopher is likeable, and it’s a nice touch that he instinctively trusts the Enterprise crew, but they don’t really do much with him, and Spock’s insistence that he is a person of no consequence to history seems both irrational and cruel. If a careless person can change the timeline with even the kind of limited knowledge of the future that Spock worries Cpt. Christopher has, then it seems like the random disappearance of someone who hadn’t disappeared historically would be cause for concern too. If Spock’s right about the fragility of the timeline, then there are no “inconsequential” people. About Spock – the lamest part of the episode, really, is how Spock keeps conspicuously being Alien all the time. If he were green and tentacled or something I might could see it – but he’s just a dude with high eyebrows and pointed ears. There are people here on Earth who are more attention-grabbing.
This one’s alternately a snooze and a plot mess. No need to change the channel if it’s on, but it shouldn’t be your favorite.
Overall Rating: C