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Star Trek – All Our Yesterdays (Review)

This July and August, we’re celebrating the release of Star Trek Beyond by taking a look back at the third season of the original Star Trek. Check back every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the latest update.

It is almost as though the Star Trek franchise doesn’t want to end.

For a fifty-year-old franchise, Star Trek has a hilarious near-miss ratio when it comes to offering satisfying conclusions. There are exceptions, of course. The franchise seems quite good at closing smaller chapters while the rest of the property rattles on. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was the best place to leave the cast of the original show. The final season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine might have been rocky, but What You Leave Behind bid an emotional farewell to the cast and crew. Beyond that? The franchise struggles.

A cold reception.

A cold reception.

It often seems like the ideal closing instalment is buried one or two stories shy of the actual ending. All Good Things… would have been a great place to leave the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation, particularly since Star Trek: Nemesis wound up being such a damp squib of a conclusion. Demons and Terra Prime provided a satisfying conclusion to the final two years of Star Trek: Enterprise, only for These Are the Voyages… to air as the final episode of the franchise for well over a decade.

This is something that the franchise inherited from the original show. Star Trek was remarkably terrible at choosing a high (or even an appropriate) note on which to end. Although some of this can be down to the fact that sixties television seasons did not build to a finale in the way that modern television does, the three seasons of Star Trek all end in disappointing fashions. The City on the Edge of Forever would have been a great close to a first season that built incredible momentum across its run. Instead, the year ended on Operation — Annihilate!

Snow escape.

Snow escape.

This was a bigger issue during the second season, when it was entirely possible that Star Trek would be cancelled. Ending on a strong note was imperative. Instead, Gene Roddenberry chose to give over the last broadcast and production slot of the season to Assignment: Earth, a thinly-disguised (and ultimately underwhelming) pilot for a series that never got off the ground. Even in terms of production, the penultimate episode of the season was Roddenberry’s vile passion project, The Omega Glory. (The Ultimate Computer would have made a much better ending.)

So it is with the third season. The last episode of the third season is an infamous disaster, Turnabout Intruder ranking as one of the very worst episodes of Star Trek ever produced. Even the misguided and mean-spirited cynicism of These Are the Voyages… has nothing on the rank sexism of Turnabout Intruder. It was an ignominious episode upon which to draw down the curtain, to wrap up three years and seventy-nine episodes of storytelling. It is hard to tell whether the episode is more or less awful than The Omega Glory or Assignment: Earth, but it is in contention.

Dying free(ze)...

Dying free(ze)…

This is all the more frustrating because a perfectly good alternative rests right along side it. All Our Yesterdays is a flawed and imperfect episode in some key ways, like many of the third season episodes around it. It is a story that flows on dream logic rather than rational plotting, relying on a bizarre fairy tale version of time travel and falling back on some of Fred Freiberger’s best-loved tropes. It is also a tough sell as a “final” episode, given that the series had not been cancelled by the point that the episode entered production, and it does not offer too much in the way of closure.

And yet. All Our Yesterdays feels like the culmination of the morose themes that have been building through the third season, all the dead worlds and the ghost stories and the doomed romances. It is a story about escaping to the past when there seems to be no future. It is populated by barren wastelands and death sentences, about the literal end of the world and survival beyond that point. It is a quiet and withdrawn affair, morbid and reflective more than heightened or action driven. It is a story about death, which feels entirely appropriate at this interval.

How BiZara...

How BiZara…

In some ways, All Our Yesterdays did get to be the last episode of the third season. Owing to the passing of President Dwight D. Eisenhower in late March 1969, the broadcast of Turnabout Intruder was actually pushed back by more than two months. Turnabout Intruder did not even air in the Friday slot reserved for the third season, replacing The Jerry Lewis Show in the Tuesday night slot that Gene Roddenberry had so desperately wanted. In some ways, Turnabout Intruder feels almost like a coda, in the same way that The Cage is a preamble.

All Our Yesterdays was the last episode of the third season to air in the Friday evening slot that had caused so much trouble for the production team. It was the last episode of the regular run, while Turnabout Intruder opened a season of reruns spanning most of the summer. To a lot of viewers, All Our Yesterdays marked the end of first run Star Trek, despite the fact that it was followed by a full minute-long teaser for Turnabout Intruder. There are certainly worse ways to remember Star Trek than with All Our Yesterdays.

No time to waste.

No time to waste.

In fact, All Our Yesterdays feels almost like a remembrance itself. The penultimate episode of the third season harks back to the penultimate episode of the first season. All Our Yesterdays feels almost like an echo of The City on the Edge of Forever, a story which was hugely formative and influential in shaping what Star Trek was – and what it could be. It is no surprise that The City on the Edge of Forever reverberates through the franchise, particularly when it seems like the curtain might be drawing down; it also informs Storm Front, Part I and Storm Front, Part II.

All Our Yesterdays mirrors The City on the Edge of Forever in a number of different ways. Most obviously, it is a time travel story. Once again, McCoy serves as a catalyst for heartbreak for one of the show’s two leads. Kirk is the character who accidentally gets lost in the timestream this time around, but it is McCoy’s carelessness that gets him trapped with Spock. “I was looking over some material about their Ice Age,” McCoy explains. Spock clarifies, “I am here, evidently, because I stepped through at the same instant as Doctor McCoy.” Subtext: Good job, McCoy.

"Okay, I promise I'll stay away from time portals in the future."

“Okay, I promise I’ll stay away from time portals in the future.”

Once trapped in the past due to McCoy’s clumsiness, one of the leads finds themselves falling in love. In The City on the Edge of Forever, Kirk found himself falling love with Edith Keeler. In All Our Yesterdays, Spock finds himself attracted to Zarabeth. Inevitably, time conspires to pull the two sets of lovers apart. In The City on the Edge of Forever, Kirk must accept that Edith Keeler is fated to die if the Star Trek universe is to persevere. In All Our Yesterdays, Zarabeth is unable to return to the present day due to physiological changes.

The City on the Edge of Forever stands at the end of the very first season of Star Trek. It symbolises the growth and development of the show over the course of that troubled first year, the culmination of the work done by writers like Roddenberry, Coon and Fontana. However, it also provides something of an origin story for the franchise, tying the liberal utopia of Star Trek back to the end of the Second World War and tying the franchise into the American vision of progressive liberal democracy that dominated the second half of the twentieth century.

What's love got to do with it?

What’s love got to do with it?

In that respect, The City on the Edge of Forever represented the end of the beginning for Star Trek. It seems appropriate that the third season should return to that basic template at the end of the third season. After all, in a very real way, the end of the third season also represents the end of the beginning for the Star Trek franchise. The franchise would endure long after these original seventy-nine episodes and three broadcast seasons, expanding to include film franchises and video games and spin-offs.

All Our Yesterdays is perhaps notable for being Spock’s defining love story. There had been other stories featuring romantic interludes for Spock, of course. This Side of Paradise was perhaps the best example from the first two seasons. However, there was a much higher volume of those romantic stories in the third season. This was undoubtedly down to Fred Freiberger’s fondness for romance-of-the-week as character development, an approach applied to characters like McCoy in For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky and Scotty in The Lights of Zetar.

To the heart of the matter.

To the heart of the matter.

Spock was very much the breakout character on Star Trek, so it is no surprise that he got a lot more attention. Whereas the third season solidified the idea of Kirk as a deep-space womaniser with one-episode flings in stories like Wink of an Eye or Mark of Gideon, the third season played Spock as a more enigmatic and romantic lead. His flirtations with the Romulan Commander in The Enterprise Incident and Droxine in The Cloud Minders suggest a more acutely emotional awareness than earlier stories.

Although the Romulan Commander from The Enterprise Incident has become a breakout character in her own right, the romance between Spock and Zarabeth in All Our Yesterdays remains the character’s defining love affair. Zarabeth is cast as Spock’s answer to Edith Keeler, the tragic and doomed love affair underscoring the idea that the universe will not abide Spock’s happiness. It helps that the romance in All Our Yesterdays works very well, owing to great work by Leonard Nimoy and co-star Mariette Hartley. Their final scene is heartbreaking.

A cold departure.

A cold departure.

Hartley fondly recalls her brief appearance on Star Trek, although she acknowledges some anxiety about her character’s wardrobe:

When I did my episode, I just loved the script, loved the idea that this strange man (Spock) was finally going to be schtupped and I was going to be the one to do it, and that I was going to be the one to teach him how to not be a vegetarian. So I loved the idea. Then, when they showed me the costume, I thought I was going to die. But I sensed that it was a very special thing when I was doing it. I don’t know why. I don’t know if it was because of the script or the costume or the makeup, but there was a special-ness to it. I mean, who had any idea that it’d become what it has? I don’t think Leonard (Nimoy) or Bill (Shatner) had any idea, either.

It is hard to fully grasp the cultural impact of Star Trek today, let alone when was just a cult three-season television show on the cusp of cancellation.

Okay. Fine. It's also a Spock and McCoy love story.

Okay. Fine. It’s also a Spock and McCoy love story.

As with a lot of third season around it, All Our Yesterdays exerts considerable influence over the memory of the franchise. Zarabeth only appears in a single episode, and is never mentioned on screen again. However, she remains a source of interest and intrigue for fandom. Her relationship with Spock is would fascinate Star Trek fans for years after the show finished. It would inspire no shortage of fan fiction and debate, but would also inspire licensed tie-in novels. While not as influential as Day of the Dove or The Tholian Web, it was still a big deal.

In particular, the relationship between Zarabeth and Spock would inspire the late Star Trek writer A.C. Crispin to write Yesterday’s Son. The novel was the eleventh in the series of original tie-ins published by Pocket Books, hitting stands in August 1983 between the release of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. The novel became the first non-movie Star Trek tie-in to make the New York Times best seller list. Crispin would even publish a sequel, Time for Yesterday. She was working on a follow-up trilogy that never came to fruition.

Although maybe Bones is a bit of a third wheel.

Although maybe Bones is a bit of a third wheel.

As with a lot of third season episodes, there is something rather jarring about all this. It is strange that a season so maligned would leave such a sizeable footprint in defining what Star Trek is to later generations. All Our Yesterdays is by no means the most iconic of influential episode of the year, but it does reinforce the sense that the third season is very much part of the franchise. It is a season that informs a lot of what people – both fans and casual audience members – expect from Star Trek, and is frequently undervalued in that respect.

There is a strong funereal tone to All Our Yesterdays. Although the Guardian in The City on the Edge of Forever is presented as the last relic of a long-dead civilisation, it does not seem particularly depressed about that fact. Indeed, it seems likely that the Guardian will stand watch over eternity for eternity. In contrast, All Our Yesterdays opens with the Enterprise visiting a dead world orbiting a dying star. Kirk arrives with only three and half a hours before the star goes nova, which leaves little time to actually accomplish anything.

Okay. Definitely a third wheel.

Okay. Definitely a third wheel.

After all, it seems highly unlikely that the Enterprise could coordinate an evacuation without support from a larger fleet, let alone oversee such a logistical challenge in under four hours. What aid could Kirk possibly hope to offer to the inhabitants of Sarpeidon in the limited time that remains? There is something rather grim about all this, as if Kirk and the Enterprise have been reassigned from deep space exploration to whatever serves as the twenty-third century equivalent of what modern viewers might call “dark tourism.”

This is a very familiar set-up for the third season. The Enterprise seems to be touring doomed worlds. The Enterprise is able to save the planets threatened by the asteroids in The Paradise Syndrome and For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky. However, these are very much the exception rather than the rule. And the Children Shall Lead takes the Enterprise to a doomed colony, while Day of the Dove finds Kirk investigating the massacre of an imaginary colony. Even imaginary worlds must die.

"C'mon. I mean, what are they going to use it for anyway?"

“C’mon. I mean, what are they going to use it for anyway?”

The Scalosians are left to die slowly and painfully in Wink of an Eye. Charon burns in Let That Be Your Last Battlefield. Gideon welcomes death in The Mark of Gideon. A supernova waits to consume another populated system in The Empath, with only a single world to be spared. This is to say nothing of the remains of once-great civilisations left behind in Spock’s Brain and Turnabout Intruder. Losira haunts a manufactured planet in That Which Survives, while the Defiant is a grotesque ghost ship in The Tholian Web.

There is an eeriness to All Our Yesterdays, a sense that something subtly wrong. This is famously the only episode of Star Trek to feature no scenes set on the Enterprise itself. Of the show’s major characters, only the leading trio appear on screen over the course of the episode. (To be fair, James Doohan does have a small role in voiceover.) Even the teaser that opens the episode feels uncanny rather than dramatic; the reveal of the three versions of Mister Atoz has nothing to do with the episode’s time travel plot and does not raise the stakes. It is just wrong.

"Maybe we should call you the lie-brarian."

“Maybe we should call you the lie-brarian.”

The third season is quite morbid. Then again, Star Trek was living on borrowed time; in a very real sense, the lights were about to go out on those soundstages. The stars were going out, as they do at the very end of All Our Yesterdays. In some ways, All Our Yesterdays could be seen as the culmination of that trend. The closing shot of the episode finds the Enterprise warping away from the supernova as it consumes Sarpeidon. The planet is evaporated, the star goes out. There is nothing left but dust floating in the dark of space.

All Our Yesterdays offers little closure. It cannot compete with All Good Things… or What You Leave Behind. But there are small touches. As with Bread and Circuses, the penultimate broadcast episode of the second season, there is a small sense of reconciliation between Spock and McCoy. Reverting to a primal emotional state, Spock loses control of himself. When McCoy makes one of his customary insults about Spock being a “pointed-eared Vulcan”, Spock lashes out. He grabs the Doctor by the throat. “I don’t like that. I don’t think I ever did, and now I’m sure.”

"Okay. Constructive criticism taken."

“Okay. Constructive criticism taken.”

It is a surprisingly shocking moment, one that exists to illustrate the danger that Spock poses to his friend and colleague. However, it also acknowledges an uncomfortable truth about the dynamic between Spock and McCoy. McCoy is hella racist towards Spock, and Spock just tolerates it for three full seasons. Having Spock actually call it out, even in a moment of anger, serves to acknowledge it. It is not a big moment. It is very clearly more of a plot point than a character beat. But it still suggests something essential about the relationship between the two.

It serves as something of a counterpoint to their candid exchange when locked together in the cells during Bread and Circuses, a rare moment of emotional honesty from Spock that cuts through their traditional banter. Like that short moment in Bread and Circuses, the exchange in All Our Yesterdays never actually goes anywhere. McCoy doesn’t really mellow out in his old age. However, just a short simple exchange between two characters acknowledging a previously unspoken truth about their relationship adds the faintest layer of finality to their interactions.

Forever and a day.

Forever and a day.

As such, All Our Yesterdays touches upon the story of the third season as a whole. Star Trek had been saved from cancellation at the end of the second season, but nobody was under any illusions about the state of affairs. The Fifty-Year Mission quotes Robert Justman’s summary of the situation going into the year:

Because of the budget cut in the third season, we were reduced to what I call a radio show. We couldn’t go on location any longer because we couldn’t afford it. We had to do shows that we could afford to do. It was quite difficult, and that did affect what the concept was. Certain concepts just couldn’t be handled. We didn’t have the money.

Forget about what the actual numbers are, but in those days, in the first season each show was $193,500. That was good money in those days. The second season was $187,500. The third season was $178,500. So that was an enormous drop. The studio had deficit financing situations, and every time you shot a chow you lost more money. In those days, they didn’t think they had a chance of syndication, especially since everybody knew the third season was it.

This understandably took a toll on the show’s morale. Everybody on the show, from the producers to the actors, knew that Star Trek was living on borrowed time. The show was just as doomed as Beta Niobe and Sarpeidon.

"Cancellation is colder than I imagined it."

“Cancellation is colder than I imagined it.”

This is not to suggest that anybody working on the third season was simply phoning it in. The third season of Star Trek is largely accepted to be the weakest season of the original run, and justifiably so. Episodes like And the Children Shall Lead and The Way to Eden make it an easy target. The third season of Star Trek is hobbled by an exodus of veteran production staffers and humbling budget cuts. It is not as consistent as the first two seasons, and contains fewer “all-time classic” episodes. Only The Tholian Web and maybe The Enterprise Incident count.

However, there is a tendency to overlook the great work that is done on the season. The third season is particularly uneven, but it is also very ambitious and adventurous. Owing to the departure of veteran writers like Dorothy Fontana or Gene L. Coon, Freiberger was forced to recruit outside writers to work on the show, resulting in strange episodes like Is There in Truth No Beauty? or The Empath. These episodes are oddities, looking and feeling unlike any of the episodes around them. They are refreshing.

"Baby, it's cold outside."

“Baby, it’s cold outside.”

There is also some sterling production design work on the season. In spite (or perhaps even because) of the restrictions on location shooting, the studio-bound work on the third season is frequently beautiful; the purple sky of That Which Survives, the mood lighting on the Romulan ship in The Enterprise Incident. As The Fifty Year Mission quotes Star Trek fan (and future writer) Ronald D. Moore:

It’s too bad, too, because the third season is the best-looking of the show. The lighting is really good, the special effects were as good as they were ever going to be. It was a much more handsome show. It really found its footing. There was much more texture in the photography. Everything looked good but the stories were just crap. They weren’t quite on the Lost in Space level, but they had definitely fallen from where they were.

Moore is in some ways dismissive of the third season’s storytelling, which was a lot looser than it had been in earlier years. The third season of Star Trek occasionally felt more like space fantasy than science-fiction, riffing on the mythology of the fair folk for Wink of an Eye and UFO folklore in The Mark of Gideon. Rational thought threatened to break down, plots held together more by abstract ideas that rigorous internal logic.

Spock could learn to chill a little bit.

Spock could learn to chill a little bit.

All Our Yesterdays is a great example of all of these elements. It is an episode that looks absolutely beautiful, particularly in the sequences featuring Spock and McCoy trapped in the Ice Age. (Early drafts were set in a barren desert.) The sequences of the two trapped out in the snow are visceral and effective. There episode creates a sense of environmental hardship, selling the idea of a lifeless and hostile world. Star Trek featured dozens of episodes filmed on the familiar soundstage, but there is a rare dynamism to the early sequences of All Our Yesterdays.

Even after these very effective scenes, All Our Yesterdays still looks beautiful. Zarabeth leads Kirk and Spock to a familiar set of caverns. The Star Trek franchise really likes its cave sets. They are a standard feature of the franchise, to the point that the standing cave sets built for the Berman era were lovingly known as “Planet Hell.” However, they have seldom looked as beautiful as they do in All Our Yesterdays, back lit and atmospheric. Of course, the lighting does not appear natural or logical, but it makes the scenes visual striking, which is enough.

Kirk. Sharp as ever.

Kirk. Sharp as ever.

The same is true of the short (but effective) subplot focusing on Kirk. Hearing a woman calling out for help, Kirk leaps through a doorway into a time period that recalls the England of Charles II. In leaping to Kirk’s rescue, Spock and McCoy get trapped in the Ice Age. Kirk’s plot contributes very little to the episode beyond a brief sword fight and some necessary exposition. However, it looks fantastic. The sequences are shot to take place at night, lit by candles and lamps. The choice gives the setting a texture missing from similar locations in episodes like Return of the Archons.

Still, no matter how beautiful the episode looked, Star Trek was still dead in the water. News of the official cancellation would filter down during the production of Turnabout Intruder, but it was only a matter of time. Star Trek would be facing its own extinction event soon enough, and it would be just as powerless as Sarpeidon in the face of Beta Niobe. What would happen next? How would Star Trek respond to that cancellation? Was it going to be the end? Would there be life beyond these eighty episodes?

A matter of records.

A matter of records.

In its own way, All Our Yesterdays hints at a possible answer to these questions. One of the more intriguing aspects of the third season is the way that it seems to hint at forthcoming developments, foreshadowing both stories and ideas that the franchise would develop in the years ahead. This is not to suggest that these seeds were planted in the expectation of spin-offs or resurrection, merely that the third season happens to touch upon some ideas that would come to fruition decades later.

There are any number of examples. The humanism of The Empath clearly outlines a philosophy that would become a central part of episodes like Lonely Among Us or The Neutral Zone. The plot of That Which Survives plays almost as an early iteration of The Last Outpost or Arsenal of Freedom. The politics of The Enterprise Incident suggest a thriving universe populated by empires engaged in their own political manoeuvring beyond the Federation’s sphere of influence. The third season as a whole embraces a utopianism that would come to define Star Trek.

"Could we have a heated debate now, please?"

“Could we have a heated debate now, please?”

All Our Yesterdays finds the Sarpeidon civilisation coming up with an ingenious plan to survive the destruction of their planet. The inhabitants living on the planet literally seek refuge in the past, traveling through time to live out their days at some point in the planet’s history. It is a very clever science-fiction concept, and an interesting basis for an episode. It also works very well as a metaphor. When there is no future, perhaps comfort and security can be sought in the past.

Appropriately enough, all of this time travel is directed from a library. All Our Yesterdays is the second script credited to writer Jean Lisette Aroeste, who had provided another standout third season episode with Is There in Truth No Beauty? Aroeste was herself a librarian, working at the University of California. It makes sense that Aroeste would suggest that a library held the key to saving (or preserving) a civilisation. “The library is your key,” boasts Mister Atoz, his own name serving as a wry librarian in-joke. (“Mister A-to-Z.”)

Atoz make it look E-Z.

Atoz make it look E-Z.

Indeed, the element of time travel was a relatively late addition to the story. “I think I had first a different idea and that wasn’t working out and suddenly I thought ‘well, why don’t we somehow do time travel?'” recalls Aroeste of the story. After all, a library seems like a strange place to organise the mass evacuation of an entire planet; it seems more likely that a civilisation engaged in such an audacious scheme would build specialised facilities for convenience. A library is not a place that saves people. A library is a place that saves stories.

All Our Yesterdays touches on that idea, however briefly. The notion of story and fiction comes up repeatedly over the course of the episode. When Spock introduces himself to Zarabeth as a Vulcan, she responds by wondering if she as made him up. “Oh, how wonderful!” she reflects. “I’ve always loved books about such possibilities. But they are only stories. This isn’t real. I must be imagining all this. I’m going mad!” Spock assures her, “Listen to me. I am firmly convinced that I do exist. I am substantial.”

Get real.

Get real.

When Kirk attempts to communicate with Spock and McCoy, the locals cannot comprehend what is happening. They construct a narrative, accusing Kirk of witchcraft. This is itself a fiction in which Kirk finds himself trapped. “There are no witches,” Kirk explains, quite simply and rationally. It seems as though the away team have not step into a different time, but instead into different stories. Perhaps Kirk and Spock are really just a story, and the library is a point of intersection for all these tales.

All Our Yesterdays seems to be ruminating on how best to save Star Trek, particularly if the franchise has no immediate future. The obvious answer, it seems, is to hide in the past. Like the Sarpeidons, Star Trek fans would have to look to what came before. If there was to be no new Star Trek in the short term, then the show would have to survive using the episodes that already existed. This was how Star Trek fans could preserve the show, by keeping the memory fresh and revisiting what came before.

Things are looking up.

Things are looking up.

This is perhaps the real legacy of the third season. Had Star Trek been cancelled after its second season, it would have died as an obscurity. As Michael Hemmingson argues in A Post-structural Critique of the Original Series, any prospect of life after cancellation hinged on the production of a third season:

When Star Trek was cancelled after its second season, fifty-four episodes in the vault, Roddenberry knew that there would be no syndication life without at least a third season. Star Trek could have easily vanished the way many programs that last one or two seasons do – networks have vast libraries of shows that have come and gone out of the culture meme; a few, such as Wonderfalls with only fourteen episodes, still survive with niche fans, cable syndication, and strong foreign rights.

It would likely have been buried as a footnote in television that burned brightly and then faded from view. Perhaps it would have seen a barebones DVD release in the early years of the twenty-first century, for those completionists out there compelled to check out a show about which their parents had raved.

Pushing back time.

Pushing back time.

Of course, any prospect of an actual revival would have seemed highly unlikely. From the perspective of 1969, the idea of Star Trek: The Animated Series or Star Trek: The Motion Picture would have seemed absurd. Certainly, nobody working on the show would have dared to dream that the franchise would return to television in the late eighties as a multimedia juggernaut that would produce twenty-five seasons of television in eighteen years. That was not the game here.

The game was simply to keep the cultural memory of Star Trek alive, to mark it as something to be celebrated and shared, to prevent these seventy-nine episodes from fading into history. It was in many ways a moral victory for the production team and the fanbase, but one worth winning. If Star Trek made it into syndication, then it would remain part of the cultural conversation. It would exert influence over what followed. It would recruit new fans and encourage new creators. It would endure. It would survive, after a fashion.

"Well, you got your bearskins, but where are the stone knives?"

“Well, you got your bearskins, but where are the stone knives?”

Star Trek would do more than survive in syndication. It would thrive. By 1970, one advertisement boasted to potential buyers that “Star Trek ratings orbit in any heading.” In Cult Television as Digital Television’s Cutting Edge, Roberta Pearson explains how important syndication was to the survival of Star Trek as a cultural institution:

In the first year of syndication, The Los Angeles Times reported that the show continued to “acquire the most enviable ratings in the syndication field.” Two years later the same paper reported that Trek was now seen in more than sixty countries and one hundred U.S. cities. Most important, the show was still working its magic on those elusive younger viewers. “The time-slots for the reruns, usually late afternoon or early evening, make it an attractive lure for the young audience.” And, as always, that audience was fanatically loyal and active.  By the mid to late 1970s, the Star Trek phenomenon was streaking along at warp ten. University students were allegedly halting “their studies to watch the 50th re-run of Star Trek episodes on television” and, having “become addicted to continuing Star Trek re-runs on non-network stations”, flocking to Star Trek conventions. Advertisers were reportedly lining up to “get into the Star Trek time slot at premium rates.” Mary Barrow, publicity director for FTLA in Los Angeles, which in 1977 was airing Trek seven days a week, said that it was “one of KTLA’s hottest shows. … And it has gotten hotter as it has grown older.” Two years later another KTLA spokesperson was still singing the show’s praises. “It’s as good now as it was the first day we ran it”; by that time, episodes had “been seen 30 to 40 times in many markets.”

These reruns would attract an entirely new generation of fans. Many audience members who were too young to have watched the show in the late sixties would find it playing on local affiliates and smaller channels throughout the following decades. The Star Trek franchise still airs in syndication around the world.

Don't look back.

Don’t look back.

This manner of survival prefigures more modern moods of preservation like box sets or online streaming, the model which assured the resurrection of shows like The X-Files or Firefly, allowing studios and networks to measure audience interest in preexisting concepts. Syndication was obviously quite different than streaming, in that local affiliates served as a middle-man curating content for audiences rather than allowing them to choose à la carte. In that respect, Star Trek had an advantage in that it was largely found for younger viewers watching afternoon television.

The impact that syndication had in shaping and defining Star Trek is not purely theoretical. Many key Star Trek personnel would come to the show through reruns during that period in the seventies. The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine writer Ronald D. Moore came to the show through reruns. Enterprise producer Manny Coto missed out on the show’s original run, but caught it in syndication in the seventies. Syndication ensured that Star Trek could reach new audiences even without producing new episodes.

Caving to pressure.

Caving to pressure.

Syndication had been so important to the long-term success of Star Trek that Gene Roddenberry and Paramount would make a point to launch The Next Generation in first-run syndication. It was a bold move, particularly in the late eighties. However, it spoke to how important that mode of broadcasting had been to the franchise. In some respects, this bit of history is repeating itself. Star Trek is CBS’ top performer on online streaming services, so it makes sense that CBS would launch its new show on its own streaming service.

Indeed, this seems to be one of the key themes of All Our Yesterdays. While it is possible to escape to the past, it is also possible to end up trapped there. Repeatedly over the course of the hours, characters grapple with the question of whether they can return to the present or whether they are stuck in the past forever. “I can’t go through the portal again,” Zarabeth advises Spock. “If I do, I will die.” These are the stakes. If one remains trapped in the past for too long, it becomes impossible to move forward.

"Time's up."

“Time’s up.”

“None of us can go back,” Zarabeth tells Spock. “When we come through the portal, we are changed by the atavachron. That is its function. Our basic cell structure is adjusted to the time we enter. You can’t go back. If you go through the portal again, you will die by the time you reach the other side.” When Kirk is confronted by a time traveller, he is warned that living in the past means letting go of the future. “I will do everything I can to prove you innocent,” his fellow traveller promises. “But you must never again speak to the comrades you left behind.”

More than that, All Our Yesterdays suggests that the crew cannot remain trapped in the past forever. The past is hostile to them, alien. While hiding out in the cave with Zarabeth and McCoy, Spock finds himself literally regressing back to a more primitive Vulcan. It is a plot development that makes no rational sense, and certainly does not fit with any other portrayal of time travel in the rest of the Star Trek franchise. It is a great example of the logic that drives the third season, more poetic than rational.

There's no hurry you see, we have all the time in the world.

There’s no hurry you see, we have all the time in the world.

“The Vulcan you knew won’t exist for another five thousand years,” McCoy warns Spock. “Think, man. What’s happening on your planet right now, this very moment?” The suggestion seems to be that Spock’s psyche is tied to a larger collective consciousness, even without any direct physical connection. Spock travels back thousands of years, so his mind regresses to match those of his ancient brethren in Vulcan. There is no rational explanation for this development, beyond some faint suggestion of a shared collective consciousness as implied by The Immunity Syndrome.

However, the implication seems to be that Spock is himself acclimating to the past. The past is another country, and Spock is “going native.” His body and mind are transforming so as to integrate with the time in which they find themselves. The “preparations” that the Sarpeidons undergo are akin to decompression for deep sea divers, a way of adjusting the body’s physiology for a foreign climate. All Our Yesterdays suggests that the past is hostile to our heroes in much the same way that The Tholian Web presents space as inherently hostile.

"Do you really want to find out if there's such a thing as the Vulcan Death Grip?"

“Do you really want to find out if there’s such a thing as the Vulcan Death Grip?”

When Kirk remarks that he was not “prepared” for his journey, the time traveller warns him, “Then you must get back at once! If you were not transformed, you can only survive for a few hours here in the past.” By all accounts, the three lead characters only spend a few hours in the past. It seems that Kirk and his crew cannot hide in the past forever, no matter what comfort it offers them. If All Our Yesterdays is structured as a metaphor for the future of the Star Trek franchise, then the message seems clear.

No matter how comforting the past may appear, the franchise must continue to move forward. While the past offers comfort and security, it does not guarantee a future of itself. Syndication and reruns offer a temporary security blanket to the Star Trek franchise at this particular moment, but they could not sustain the franchise forever. At some point, Kirk and his away team must return to the future. They must press forward. They must continue on. In the end, even Spock must leave Zarabeth in the past. “And she is dead now. Dead and buried. Long ago.”

"We'll let a judge be the judge of that."

“We’ll let a judge be the judge of that.”

This is true of Star Trek as a franchise. The show must evolve. It must press forward. It is not enough for Star Trek to remain constant and unchanging. It must be a dynamic thing, allowed to grow and develop. That growth and development takes many different forms: the excellent (and innovative) writing on the Pocket Books line by writers like Diane Duane, Margaret Wander Bonanno and John M. Ford; the vision of Nicholas Meyer; the bold reimagining of The Next Generation; the narrative experimentation and deconstruction of Deep Space Nine.

Indeed, it could be argued that this process of growth and evolution even includes developments that long-term fans find uncomfortable or unbecoming. The brash blockbuster aesthetic of Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness propelled the franchise back into the popular consciousness at the end of the first decade of the twenty-first century. Bryan Fuller’s Star Trek: Discovery will take the focus off the captain as lead character and place an emphasis on long-form serialisation across a thirteen-episode season that is streaming exclusively online.

Recovery time is excellent.

Recovery time is excellent.

This is even true of Star Trek itself. The original series has been updated and restored in order to keep it fresh and dynamic. Like a lot of classic television, it has been remastered in high-definition to keep it relevant for modern audiences to discover. Part of this includes some light CGI work. Although some purists balk at the idea of tweaking classic episodes of television, David LaFountaine argues that it is a way to keep the franchise accessible:

In particular the feeling was that the next generation of Star Trek fans were being put off by the low-tech nature of the special effects. So the hope is we can now make the show accessible to a whole other generation of fans who can enjoy the story telling and not be put off by the special effects.

Indeed, there are some fairly significant revisions made in the optical effects for All Our Yesterdays and Turnabout Intruder. In All Our Yesterdays, the supernova at the end of the episode has been heavily revised so that it more closely resembles “photos of the Crab Nebula from the Hubble Space Telescope.” In Turnabout Intruder, the closing shot of the episode finds the Enterprise flying to a nebula, to match All Good Things… and These Are the Voyages

Until the stars go out...

Until the stars go out…

Certain segments of fandom are understandably uneasy about updating classic television shows. After all, these episodes are cultural artefacts that capture a moment in time. They reflect the sixties, in terms of content and style. To distort those episodes, to tweak them and update them, is a form of crass revisionism that defiles what should be a historical record. More than that, it dismisses the wonderful work done by the special effects team who worked on the show during the sixties, and created striking and beautiful imagery with a tiny budget and few resources.

All of that is true. And it is to the credit of the team working on remastering Star Trek that the original effects are preserved on the blu ray editions for home media collectors. There is no destruction here, no attempt to pretend that Star Trek always looked like this. However, while these images are beautiful to fans who grew up with them, they do provide a barrier to entry for younger audiences who might otherwise be interested in the cult science-fiction show, who might otherwise become a new generation of fans through Netflix rather than syndication.

"Come with me if you want to live."

“Come with me if you want to live.”

It is worth noting that the restoration process was endorsed by Robert Justman before he passed. According to Mike Okuda, Justman appreciated the updates that were being made:

“He was one of the people whose sheer determination and ingenuity and hard work made the original Star Trek what it was,” Okuda said. “So when Bob called and started talking about the remastered episodes, I was more than a little nervous. To my relief and joy, he said he loved them.

“He said that he loved the remastered episodes — that the new versions looked the way he’d always wanted them to look.”

The key is to keep Star Trek a living document. That applies in just about every sense, from fan engagement and criticism to fan fiction to storytelling to the restoration of archival material to the production of new Star Trek.

Going out in a blade of glory.

Going out in a blade of glory.

Even as old worlds die, Star Trek must warp forward to the next. In this respect, All Our Yesterdays would seem to be the perfect note upon which to end the season and the show. If only.

20 Responses

  1. Wow! You often give us a deeper way to think about an episode, but you’ve outdone yourself here, giving us a deeper way to think about the longevity and development of Star Trek as a whole. Kudos on an excellent and thoughtful review!

    • Thanks Cory! I think I had to talk about the afterlife of Star Trek somewhere, and this is a much better place than Turnabout Intruder, which… we’ll get to in due course.

  2. “The final season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine might have been rocky.” Am I the only one who actually really likes the seventh season? Yes, there are probably one too many Ezri episodes, and there are two extremely awful episodes in Prodigal Daughter and The Emperor’s New Cloak, but overall I think the season is quite strong. The opening two episodes are a fun beginning the lay out many of the plot points of the season, then there are several strong episodes such as Treachery, Faith, and the Great River, Once More Unto the Breach, The Siege of AR-558, Covenant, It’s Only a Paper Moon, and Chimera. Finally there is the very strong run of final episodes that are all connected. For me, the seventh season of DS9 is one of the strongest seasons of Star Trek.
    All that being said, this is one of the few TOS episodes that I have not seen, but this review certainly has made me curious.

    • I’m with you on this one. The seventh season had some issues and it was clear that the writing team didn’t really have a long-term plan. Some of the later twists feel contrived (Dukat becoming a Bajoran cultist, the Breen).

      But the standalone episodes like the ones you mentioned are some of the best. The seventh season really steps up the game in terms of pushing the characters in new directions. Odo, Nog, Kira, Bashir, even Damar (Damar!) had outstanding character arcs.

      • Yep. I mean, DS9 season seven is stronger than any season (or Star Trek product) that has followed, even with its weaknesses.

      • The Breen I will grant you is pretty contrived. Especially, since after they destroy the Defiant they stop doing anything.
        Dukat becoming a Pah-Wraith cultist, on the other hand, is something I think is a little more understandable. I’ve always felt it similar to how many Nazis were fascinated by the occult, but in this case there are actual spirits. Also, I’ve always thought that Dukat’s desire to release the Pah-Wraiths was motivated by his desire to make all the Alpha Quadrant feel the pain of Cardassia. I mean Cardassia is completely destroyed at the end of the series, so Dukat probably rationalized in his mind that everyone in the Alpha Quadrant deserved that fate.

      • I have very mixed feelings on Dukat and the Pah-Wraiths. I really like Covenant as an episode, but I generally feel like introducing the Pah-Wraiths and turning Dukat into a supervillain were both missteps in the larger arc of the show. As good as Waltz is as an episode of television, I could probably live with Sacrifice of Angels being the last time that we see Dukat.

      • @William, there is some poetic irony to the Ducat plot thread, especially the idea of his becoming a Bajoran. I just thought the execution was lacking. I felt like the Pah-Wraith threat was a bit poorly defined and often a distraction from the Dominion War. None of the other characters even know about Dukat’s machinations until the very end. Maybe I’m still upset that Dukat’s end was to fall into a fiery pit with Sisko, which just seems like such an overly cliche for a villain to die (especially such a non-cliche villain).

    • To be fair, I think my tastes on Deep Space Nine are rather different than most fans. (I like Ezri a lot, for example. I just think she should have arrived at least a year earlier.)

      I like the seventh season more than most, but it has a number of crags in it. Field of Fire, Prodigal Daughter, The Emperor’s New Cloak, Extreme Measures. There are also quite a few episodes that straddle the line – that I like a lot, but with which I also have serious reservations. (Afterimage, Chrysalis, Covenant.) In that respect, I’d consider it equivalent in quality with the sixth season. The only difference is that the weaker episodes in the sixth season are concentrated in the final third, while the weaker episodes in season seven are distributed across roughly the first two thirds. About a third of the episodes are “difficult”; which is enough to put it at a step down from the fourth and fifth seasons.

      And you should check out All Our Yesterdays. It’s one of the stronger third season episodes.

      • Everyone seems to not like Extreme Measures, and I grant you it is incredibly that section 31 sends Sloan to destroy the antidote. Despite this ludicrous leap, however, I’ve always really enjoyed the episode. Especially, when Bashir realizes he is in Sloan’s head.is a really nice moment. I think Extreme Measures does suffer from being around some really great episodes, such as the Changing Face of Evil and Tacking into the Wind, but on its own merits it is a pretty fun episode.

      • Extreme Measures is a very generic Star Trek episode, of the kind that DS9 had occasionally. (The Assignment is another example, I think.)

        I suspect you’re right that it would have been slightly less of an issue earlier in the season, if the production team had swapped it for Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges. (Obviously, the plots would need to change as well, but in terms of tone.) It does tend to sap the momentum of the Final Chapter when watching, and I think it suffers because The Dogs of War also slows things down directly afterwards (and does it much better).

      • I agree William, I think if the plot of Extreme Measures had occurred much earlier in the season – that is, not been included as part of “The Final Chapter” – it would have a better reputation.

      • I think “Extreme Measures” is just a fundamentally flawed idea. The biggest problem is that, after building up Section 31 for a year and a half, we seen Sloan walk into Bashir’s trap and get defeated. It’s a disappointing conclusion to the 31 mini-arc and diminishes Section 31. Also, episodes that rely on going into a character’s mind almost always undercut the dramatic tension in the story. The story is no longer about characters confronting each other, but rather imaginary representatives confronting each other. We don’t get a final confrontation between Bashir and Sloan in the real world with rich dialogue. Rather, we get a trip inside Sloan’s mind, which seems like a cheap way to explore Sloan’s character, and a bunch silly sci-fi antics. Ultimately, “Extreme Measures” was just a way for the production to save money during the expensive 10-episode finale, which I’m sure they did.

      • Yep. The ambush and “journey to the centre of the mind” plot undercuts the sense of Sloan as a credible threat, and invites the audience to wonder how he was so effective in Inquisition and Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges.

  3. “McCoy is hella racist towards Spock, and Spock just tolerates it for three full seasons.”

    The heck? Spock all but dribbles racism any time the word ‘human’ crosses his lips, he just happens to phrase his contempt in droll asides and has the ultimate get out card of being half human (while running as fast as possible from that side of his heritage.) I know Leonard Nimoy was charming in the role but the man who ‘jokingly’ called the Mirror-verse humans “splendid examples of homo sapiens, the very flower of humanity” is more than a passive victim of McCoy’s prejudice.

    • Spock as Manchester Black! “I can say that, I’m a fifteenth Japanese.”

    • From an in-universe perspective: Being (as far as we know) the only Vulcan on the ship is very different from being one of 429 humans on the ship! Just imagine if a ship had 429 white crew members and a single black crew member, and one of the white crew members “teased” the single black crew member about the color of his skin. We wouldn’t see the black crew member’s returning those comments in kind as racism; we’d see it as his standing up for himself in the face of oppression. Being the sole member of your group in a horde of members of another group is very different from being one of the horde.

      From a literary perspective: The character of Spock exists partly so that the writers can give us an outsider’s perspective on humanity and point out our flaws.

    • To be fair, there are repeated indications that Spock is just a jerk in general. Urging Kirk to kill Gary Mitchell, which seems to have secured him the position of first officer. Making the joke at the expense of Janice Rand at the end of The Enemy Within. Arguing to kill the kids in And the Children Shall Lead. Again, the characterisation as Vulcans as jerks in later shows like Enterprise has never seemed particularly “off” for me.

      But, as other commenters point out, I think the fact that Spock is the only alien we see on staff over the entire run of the show does mean there is a qualitative difference between the ribbing that Spock gives and the ribbing that he receives.

  4. Turnabout Intruder? What’s that?

    All Our Yesterdays was the series finale, no question about it.

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