Star Trek TOS: Back to the Future but for Star Trek
Star Trek: The Original Series
Season 1, Episode 20
Tomorrow Is Yesterday
The episode began with stock footage from the Air Force, an oddity to be sure. Then, Enterprise cut into the scene, presumably on Earth. The Air Force brass perceived Enterprise as a UFO.
A black star dragged Kirk’s ship into its gravitational field, propelling it back in time — because the time on earth is 1969. The Air Force contemplated blasting Enterprise out of the air. But before the “conflict” reached that breaking point, the Air Force pilot pursuing Enterprise was teleported inside Kirk’s vessel. And John Christopher, the pilot, was pretty freaked out by it.
Kirk took him for a walk, and Christopher was immediately stunned by a woman’s presence on the ship. An affirmation was quickly offered by Kirk she was gainfully employed and a crewman. Score one for the progressive-thinking future trekkers to the chagrin of the “women are here?” soldiers of 1969.
Christopher expected to see “little green men” aliens. Instead, he got Spock and his ears. Spock pulled Kirk aside to warn him about Christopher’s glimpse into the future — the pilot could really muck things up if allowed to safely return to 1969. Put simply, he’d be too powerful with knowledge of the future. If one knows the future, he/she then has the bias and wherewithal to change and/or destroy it. That’s the malady.
Kirk point-blank told Christopher about the dilemma. Naturally, he wasn’t a fan. Christopher had a wife and kids, so the plot thickened as Kirk remained steadfast. Stiles informed Kirk the ship would soon be repaired, but they were locked in time. In the chess match of keeping Christopher confined, the pilot realized he and Kirk were prisoners of time — advantage Christopher.
Christopher went rogue, disarming a crewmember and going full cowboy. Kirk neutralized him and knocked him out. That left time for Kirk and McCoy to re-strategize on how to resolve Christopher’s presence aboard.
After that, Spock revised his “should we or shouldn’t we?” suggestion about Christopher. He learned that Christopher would sire a son, who would later be a leader in space travel. The fear of altering the future as a solo pilot paled in comparison to changing the future by disabling the birth of Christopher’s son. The world needed Christopher’s son — this felt like Star Trek’s It’s a Wonderful Life moment — so the crew was faced with the logistics for returning him to Earth.
The episode is a Back to the Future-like commentary before Back to the Future was created. What are the repercussions of experiencing the future for man? Well, if fate is known, it can be altered if the subject is allowed to reenter his present state of being.
Too, Tomorrow Is Yesterday should be interpreted as humans’ reluctance to understand or embrace time travel. Every person that encountered Kirk’s crew was antagonistic. None helped; they were all hostage to their concrete realities.
Lucky for Christopher, Kirk and Spock were levelheaded, so the plan to return the pilot home worked.
Themes: Time Travel
Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. His odyssey with Star Trek starts from beginning to finish, watching ‘The Original Series,’ all the way to the present day. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).