“Tomorrow is Yesterday” is one of those Original Series episodes that is just plain fun, with a few melodramatic moments, an interesting science fiction concept, lurching starship sets (or at least lurching cameras), and a few obligatory fistfights. One could very easily watch it, feel satisfied that this was vintage Trek, and go on to the next episode on a TOS DVD without taking a critical look some forty years after it first aired in 1967. Anniversaries work their way into reviews like this; the episode aired about twenty years after pilot Kenneth Arnold spotted what people immediately began calling flying saucers and UFOs, and only two days before the tragic Apollo 1 fire, which is somewhat ironic given the mention of the “first manned moon shot” heard over the Enterprise bridge speaker
Written by D.C. Fontana, “Tomorrow is Yesterday” is one of the earliest examples of the franchise’s long and sometimes torturous relationship with time travel. I haven’t spoken to Dorothy about it personally, but I imagine she asked a few people about black holes and gravitation and magnetic fields and such, and formulated a mechanism by which the U.S.S. Enterprise would be chucked back through time. By reversing the process, using the now-famous “slingshot effect,” the Enterprise could return to the 23rd century and all made well again. Throwing the Enterprise back, and at the same time pulling John Christopher “forward” into the world of super-science and routine space travel, makes for a wonderful dilemma. It serves as a model for the stories to follow that placed any Trek heroes in unfamiliar times and places. Early in the Next Generation game, producer Rick Berman said “We’re not doing time travel stories.” He must have been speaking facetiously, knowing it was inevitable, but the fact remains that time travel is fun, it’s been a staple of science fiction since H.G. Wells’ “The Time Machine,” and we’ve since learned a lot more about how it works in the Star Trek universe. If I really wanted to, I could probably reverse-engineer how going FTL near the sun lets you go back in time, but it’s going to take me longer to work out how beaming a person into themselves (like with Captain Christopher) makes them forget what happened. Hmmm.
you will forget everything
“Tomorrow is Yesterday” does its part to present some great signature Star Trek elements, such as the Vulcan nerve pinch, the mention of the United Earth Space Probe Agency (UESPA), the notion that communicators are needed for location and transport, and that there are only twelve ships like the U.S.S. Enterprise in Starfleet. One interesting bit that nicely predates tablet computers and PDAs occurs when Christopher offers to sketch out a layout of the Omaha air base, and Kirk hands him the electronic clipboard we all know from various bridge scenes. It just makes sense, and speaks again to the idea that in the future, people are very comfortable with that sort of technology. To me it also connects to the Kirk and Sulu beam-in into the air base corridor. Kirk taps on the bulletin board as if to say “Gee, look at that. They still used paper.” Slightly amusing, since he has a number of books in his quarters.
haha we don’t need your silly paper
For the most part, the remastering of the episode effects feels quite nicely integrated with the live action. I could mentally ignore the original effects and believe that the computer-generated U.S.S. Enterprise really was gliding through the upper atmosphere, its Bussard collectors blinking and fritzing. The publicized use of orbital photography from the space shuttle and International Space Station definitely is effective, as is what I assume are the large Earth texture and cloud maps from the NASA Blue Marble website. The photo-real Earth only makes the original planet effects seem that much more primitive. Okay, I can’t completely ignore them if I have to make comparisons. It isn’t as if we didn’t know what the Earth looked like from space in 1967, but it does say that the time and money probably weren’t available to achieve even a good approximation, as Chesley Bonestell provided seventeen years before in Destination Moon.
The downshot of the Enterprise over the Earth, along with the various flybys while in orbit, gave a good sense of the mass of the starship, though a few of the later ship wobbles felt smaller and model-like. Some ship shadows didn’t exactly jibe with lighting on the Earth and moon. Still, much better than the originals. The only flyby that made me jump was the in-your-face closeup of the saucer and nacelles. I would have pulled back to give the shot a touch more “air.”
The Earth: Nothing beats the real thing
The CG shots done for the Earth departure and slingshot maneuver were also more enjoyable and actually showed what was supposed to be happening as described by Spock and Scotty. The initial approach to the sun was somewhat unconvincing, as the sun appeared to be almost as close as the moon, though I’m assuming that was a result of available shot timing and having to get the point across that the ship was heading out at Ludicrous Speed. The sun-skimming and breakaway also got the point across, though my astronomical artist brain lobe kept telling me the photosphere should have been a heck of a lot brighter and not looking like it was seen through dark instrument filters— All right, got to stop doing that. It’s still fun. The various twists and turns the Enterprise makes in its “backwards time” bubble are fine, CBS having to provide visual evidence for some space-time ideas that I’m still scratching my head about. The good old chronometers running backwards are another improvement over the original, but I keep asking myself how the ship knows that time is running backw— ah, I’m doing it again. The CG F-104 Starfighter shots are well done, though like with a lot of CG aircraft these days, they could have done with a little more contrast and possibly a tiny bit of fuselage shake or camera shake or both. The darkish canopy in one scene was puzzling; perhaps they wanted to show it reflecting a darker high altitude sky, but it seemed oddly opaque. Ah, well, another minor nit picked.
The Sun and the F-104: not real enough
“Tomorrow is Yesterday” remains one of my favorite Star Trek stories for its characters, thought-provoking plot, spaceship engineering, and bizarre bending of space and time. The remastered edition cleans up the effects and gives us another keeper.
Wait a second. What happened to “Good morning, Captain”?