Monday, 10 June 2013

TOS - 1.19 - Tomorrow is Yesterday

Star Trek - Tomorrow is Yesterday
"Look, up in the sky!"
"It's a bird."
"It's a plane".
"It's an flying saucer!"
"It's the U.S.S. Enterprise!"
"An aircraft carrier in the sky? Don't be stupid!"
A late 1960 U.S. fighter jet taxes slowly in a military airfield. For a moment, you think either you're watching the wrong channel or the programming time. But in a few minutes, you see The Enterprise appears in the sky. And then you quickly realise. "ah, that's one of those time travel episodes". And many more would be made in the future, which is our past. Or, as the title says, "Tomorrow is Yesterday".

Before Back to the future (1985), way back, some 20 years before, there's "Tomorrow is Yesterday".

The sophisticated - even jaded - viewers of today might not given much thoughts about these brain-twisting time-travel episodes, but this is the 1st episode in Star Trek that features this mind warping idea.  To be precise, time travel had been mentioned in passing in several previous episodes. But it has never had played a central role in TOS until this episode.

In this episode, a pilot from the 1960s is simply being grabbed onto the Enterprise without too much foresight. There's plenty of hindsight once the 20th century pilot has been beamed aboard. And question of how even a smallest change that's made in the past could have devastating consequences in the future reality as the Enterprise crew knows it. This time paradox creates the dilemma for Captain Kirk, should he return the pilot back to his own time or forced to keep him in the Enterprise for good?

I mentioned in my review of the 1st pilot episode "The Cage" that Gene Roddenberry was likely a big fan of H.G. Wells, who popularised the idea of time travel in his seminal work The Time Machine, published in 1895. So it would be logical that time travel would be a popular topic in Star Trek series. Of course, in H.G. Wells' The Time Machine deals with travelling into the future while this episode deals with problems of travelling to the past.

Travelling to the past is much more problematic than travelling to the future due to the unidirectional nature of time. Or the order of cause and effect. I.e. the past events affect future, but not the other way around. Well, not according to some theoretical physicists and their radical interpretation of quantum mechanics. If there's any branch of science that is way weirder than sci-fi flick like Star Trek, quantum mechanics wins them hands down any time.

It might be all too familiar to us today through countless sci-fi movies and TV series (including TOS) that used time travel as a plot device. I don't know if this is the very 1st story on TV that explores time travel extensively, I doubt there were too many before it. I suspect this episode has boldly gone where no man (let's keep that original political incorrectness) has gone before.

And as I pointed out again, and again, Star Trek drew many inspiration from its contemporary social phenomena. UFO mania had reached a fever pitch in the 1950s and 60s, which I suspect is a personification of the anxiety of living in the Cold War by the American collective psyche, as well as the arrival of technology.

Of course, the Soviet is never far away in the episodes in TOS Season 1. Although they usually appear in allegorical form. But in this episode, the immediately suspicion that pops into the U.S. pilot's mind is that the Enterprise is the Soviet military.

And in this episode, the Enterprise is the UFO. For once, the UFO is a flying saucer, but they just ain't ETs. To the audience of the 1960s, this episode would make their heads spin on several levels at Warp 8 (the maximum practical warp speed that the Enterprise could handle at this stage. They could do Warp 9, but not for long, at least not without risking the Enterprise breaking up into pieces. I'm sure, Scotty is working on it, if he's given more Dilithium crystals).

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