Sunday, July 8, 2012

Tomorrow Is Yesterday

I can see it now. Whatever this is, it's big. Two cylindrical projections on top, one below. Purpose undetermined.”

Now, it seems like the most obvious idea ever. Make the Enterprise a UFO. However, to bring such a simple idea to the screen, writer D.C. Fontana has to solve a number of problems including creating a mechanism for getting the Enterprise back in time, giving the crew something to do, thinking about how they interact with 20th Century Earth, and returning them home safely. What we see now is a scriptwriter working through an idea which would become a Star Trek staple; complete with all sorts of interesting bumps resulting from this being the first time out for this concept.

One of these interesting bumps is that Tomorrow Is Yesterday is not contemporary to it's broadcast in 1967. Increasing distance from 1967 means we lose sight of this but the story is clearly set in an unnamed year which can be read as 1969.

RADIO NEWSREADER: This is the five thirty news summary. Cape Kennedy. The first manned Moon shot is scheduled for Wednesday, six am Eastern Standard Time. All three astronauts who are to make this historic [KIRK signals for transmission to be cut off]
KIRK: Manned Moon shot? That was in the late 1960s.
SPOCK: Apparently, Captain, so are we.

Fontana's predictive powers were firing on all cylinders. Apollo 11 lifted off on Wednesday 16th July, 1969; hopefully she also bought a lottery ticket the day she wrote that dialogue. Why it was felt necessary to distance the story from the present is anyone's guess. Possibly it relates to the same anxiety the production team felt about not having the Enterprise visit Earth in its' own time. A desire to avoid anything which could be seen as critical comment on contemporary America. If NBC Standards and Practices department, or anyone else, objected to something there is a fig leaf defence that the story is not intended to comment on 1967 America. Equally, Fontana may have just felt it made the story marginally more interesting to set it a few years in the future. The effect is similar to the 2005 series of Doctor Who when the Doctor takes Rose from Earth and accidentally returns her a year later. Through the rest of the series, remembering what seemed to be contemporary Earth scenes were set one year later always had a slightly disruptive effect on the viewer; although this becomes increasingly academic as 2005, let along 1967 recedes into the distance. Passage of time also makes it impossible to recreate the original intent of the story, which was about the Enterprise travelling back in time to visit the audience of late 1960s America. Now it's a story like The City On The Edge Of Forever, about the Enterprise crew travelling back into history. It's strange to remember the historical footage we see opening the episode was intended to be cutting edge contemporary.

Another bump is that the method of time travel is slightly more complicated than it will be in later episodes. According to the script accelerating towards a high gravitational body (the sun or a black star) carries you back in time and then the acceleration of snapping away carries you forwards. Presumably this means the Enterprise's initial encounter with the black star involved the ship being pulled in at tremendous speed, and travelling back in time, before the force of all engines in reverse flung the Enterprise away, and forwards in time with the endpoint of their forward journey being 1969. Likewise we also see an early outing for what becomes known as the reset button, the tendency for time travel episodes to negate their own events at the end, but again it doesn't quite work as it will later on. Somehow beaming the accidentally picked up twentieth century characters back into themselves means they have no memory of future events as those future events did not happen as the Enterprise is no longer there (if that makes sense). Quibbling over this seems pointless, why have a go at Star Trek for getting its' own made up science wrong, but it's a good example of where the boundaries of plausibility lie. Somehow everyone is happy to accept Kirk's bamboo cannon in Arena, although simply dumping sulphur, charcoal, and saltpetre in a tube and mixing with a stick wouldn't make gunpowder. Similarly we accept all manner of bizarre abilities from Spock simply because he's an alien. But there's something about the resolution of Tomorrow Is Yesterday which pushes believability just a little too far.

The Naked Time's weird stub of an ending was originally supposed to lead into this story; making a two part episode. Whether that second part was to be written by John D.F. Black or D.C. Fontana is not clear but Fontana's story outline, which became this episode, is dated 3rd October 1966, not long after The Naked Time aired on 29th September. It looks as if preparation for broadcast of The Naked Time reminded someone about their plans for a time travel episode. Both versions of the story would have been based on a story idea memo sent by associate producer Robert Justman in April 1964 which broadly matches the story beats of Fontana's script. Justman's memo was dated April 12th 1966 so it's possible his inspiration was the April 5th Congressional hearing into UFOs by the House Armed Services Committee.

The tone of the whole story is light comedy; possibly the most overtly comedic story so far. So, the early scenes with Captain Christopher tend to downplay his despair at never seeing his wife and children again, and in fact the whole sub-plot of Christopher not being allowed to return is dropped with astonishing speed. Effectively it's raised at the end of act one and resolved in the opening minutes of act two. The sub-plot of the flirtatious female computer voice lasts longer. The comedic tone allows a plot which relies on everyone having an off day but means the multiplying mistakes don't undermine the characters. Kirk sets the whole story in motion by fixing a tractor beam on Christopher's aircraft, which then breaks up, so Kirk has the pilot beamed aboard. Spock forgets to take descendants into account when analysing Christopher's impact on history. And Kirk is captured twice by airbase security. The first time results in a guard being accidentally beamed up, the second in an interrogation where Kirk is told

FELLINI: I am going to lock you up for two hundred years.
KIRK: That ought to be just about right.

A punchline which suggests at this stage the production team hadn't worked out all of the background details to the series. Later series more openly state Star Trek takes place around 300 years in the future. The downside to all this comedy is the episode is not as funny as the score thinks. Events are constantly accompanied by that light-hearted quirky music which normally plays under end of episode tag scenes; where the crew laugh at some comment by Spock. Here it starts to grate. A situation not helped by the overuse of the same three or four overly cute musical stings.

While Tomorrow Is Yesterday is fun and lightweight it shouldn't be written off as disposable. Interesting moments are tucked away. As mentioned we have a series coming to terms with time travel, something which will become more common in later outings for the franchise. The teaser is unique in not featuring the regular characters, showing a degree of self-confidence from the production team. And in the very early moments of act one the audience knows what is going on when the characters don't; normally either the characters have more information than the audience, or both groups learn things at the same time. Spock's assessment of Captain Christopher's life as showing no relevant contribution to the history of the future is astonishingly brutal. And William Shatner gets a nice moment when he and Sulu beam into the base to steal Christopher's flight data. Shatner has Kirk draw Sulu's attention to something on the notice board which he, and Sulu, find amusing. You can say a lot about William Shatner's acting technique -and many have- but making Kirk seem more real through small moments is something he often does. In What Are Little Girl's Made Of? Nurse Chapel is concerned when, after beaming down, her fiancé Korby has not arrived. On Kirk's line “Getting here may have taken more time than he estimated. Don't worry.” Shatner has Kirk place a reassuring arm on Chapel's shoulder as a gesture of support, then he removes it as the two security guards beam in. As if Kirk feels this degree of openness is not appropriate for the crew at large to see.

Crew deaths: None, it wouldn't really be appropriate given the light comedy tone.
Running total: 25

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