Seasons of Seasons: Star Trek Season 1, “Tomorrow is Yesterday” & “Court Martial”

When dealing with almost any sci-fi show, you’re bound to run into an episode or plot arc that deals with time travel. I figured it would be just a matter of time before Star Trek dipped its toes into the sub-genre, but wasn’t sure how long I would have to wait. Given the recent stretch of expansive episodes we’ve seen, Tomorrow is Yesterday fits right in, and it’s a worthy addition to the season. In fact, both episodes in this installment see Star Trek fit familiar genre tropes into its ecosystem, both yielding fantastic results.

It’s almost always amusing to see a sci-fi property try to come up with a logical, scientific explanation for its whacky premises, and one of the connective forces between these episodes has been in the ways the crew gets into and out of its episodic jams. So it’s best to just stop asking questions. Nevertheless, the Enterprise finds itself back in the 1960s, and tracked by the US military no less. When they can’t escape a fighter jet, they beam aboard its pilot, and must figure out a way to send him back without altering the current-day timeline.

Nothing terribly memorable occurs aboard the Enterprise, so the Earth material, with Kirk and Sulu stealing the evidence of the ship’s existence making the episode mostly salvageable. Similar to the science behind the show’s conundrums, Tomorrow is Yesterday features one of the silliest fight scenes that I’ve seen in a long time. No, I don’t expect the fight choreography in a network TV show from 1967 to measure anywhere close to what has become standard practice today, but you can’t help but laugh at some of the moves on display as Kirk fights a handful of Air Force officers around the midway point. I have no doubt that Star Trek would return over and over again to the time travel genre, and I have no doubt that the writers would find more effective uses for the concept, which ultimately makes Tomorrow is Yesterday mostly just passable.

We’ve already seen Star Trek dip its toes into the courtroom drama sub-genre in The Menagerie but Court Martial sees the show boil down the proceedings into its purest form, and the result is one of my favorite episodes of the show so far. With The Menagerie, Roddenberry mostly conceived of the two-parter as a way to make up for the lost footage of the show’s first pilot. Still, there were some fantastic sci-fi elements to the non-archival footage; the image of Captain Pike in the comatose box is one of the more indelible images of the show so far.

With Court Martial, the episode is a pure and simple legal thriller, with Kirk on trial after a crewman’s death during an ion storm. Kirk and Spock maintain his innocence, but the ship’s computer – Majel Barrett as the voice of the computer makes a meal out of her minutes here – says otherwise. There’s never really any doubt that Kirk is guilty, which is admittedly one of the episode’s failings, but I was left guessing as to how he’d find his way out of his troubles until the finale. Above all, the episode shows how much faith Kirk’s crew has in him, along with a dynamite solution when all hope seems lost, courtesy of Spock.

Though I have no knowledge of the makeup of future Star Trek episodes or series – aside from random Googling – it’s evident that the time travel storyline would be massively useful to the show going forward. And, regardless of the influence of the latter episode’s legal conceit, the episode at least provides a great deal of exposition about the Starfleet that Kirk and the Enterprise find themselves a part of, expanding the mythology of the show – and Kirk’s backstory at the same time. Regardless of whether future episodes would execute the ideas seen this week better or not, it’s great to see the first iterations of them.

Tomorrow is Yesterday Grade: B

Court Martial Grade: A-

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