“All Our Yesterdays”
Written by Jean Lisette Aroeste
Directed by Marvin Chomsky
Season 3, Episode 23
Production episode 3×23
Original air date: March 14, 1969
Recap: David Mack
The Enterprise crew detects a star, Beta Niobe, that will supernova in just three and a half hours and destroy its inhabited only planet, Sarpeidon. However, despite reports that its people lacked spaceflight capabilities, the planet is now deserted. Instead of celebrating the Sarpeidonites’ timely escape, our heroes fly toward this catastrophe aborning, determined to investigate it first-hand.
Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down into a library archive and wonder where all of Sarpeidon’s people have gone. Their musings draw the attention of Mister Atoz, the elderly librarian, who offers his help, though he is surprised to see them: “I thought everyone had long since gone,” he says.
Skipper Jimmy asks Atoz where everybody went. Atoz says it depended upon the individual. He misinterprets McCoy’s requests for clarification as one for more help in choosing a destination, and he invites the trio to go peruse the library’s catalog.
They walk away from the old coot—only to meet his doppelganger, who picks up the conversation where his alter ego left off. He invites them to select from any of twenty thousand “verism tapes.” Kirk says he just wants some answers, so Atoz Number Two sends the landing party to the reference desk…
…where they are greeted by Atoz Number Three, who seems ticked off that they’ve kept him waiting five whole seconds. (When your planet has less than four hours to live, I guess every moment counts.) Atoz III says everyone on Sarpeidon knew about the coming supernova and has already bugged out to safety, and he suggests Kirk and his pals do the same. Kirk asks again: Where did they go? Atoz replies, “Wherever they wanted.” At this point, I think I want to kick the unhelpful codger’s butt even more than Kirk does. Atoz confirms he personally sent the planet’s denizens to safety, though he delegated some “simple tasks” to his replicas.
McCoy confirms that Atoz III is the real flesh-and-blood librarian. Kirk offers to take Atoz to safety, but Atoz declines—he plans to join his wife and family. Once again he urges our heroes to escape. No surprise: they don’t listen. He puts the library at their disposal but tells them to hurry and make their selections.
Atoz walks Kirk into the next room and sets him up with a verism tape, a metallic disc whose content seems to be an episode of Gunsmoke. Meanwhile, McCoy peruses a disc that I suspect is labeled Best of the Weather Channel, while Spock gets the nickel-tour introduction to the Atavachron, which he is not allowed to touch. Atoz shoos Spock away, saying, “Make your selection, and I will prepare you through the Atavachron.”
Spock then walks away without asking any of his famous follow-up questions, such as, “Prepare me in what way?” or, “Prepare me for what?”
In the antechamber, Kirk’s viewing of Gunsmoke is interrupted by a woman’s scream from beyond the open doorway behind him. He calls to Spock and Bones, then dashes toward the doorway. Atoz tells Kirk to wait, that he hasn’t “prepared” him, but it’s too late: Kirk crosses the threshold and disappears in a magenta flash. McCoy and Spock, never one to learn from their captain’s mistakes, race through the doorway, also ignoring the warnings of the adorably flustered Mister Atoz.
Kirk arrives in a street scene that looks more like an episode of The Scarlet Pimpernel than the western he had been watching, and he finds some fops wearing doilies, wielding foils, and manhandling a screaming woman. Ever a friend to the ladies, Kirk intervenes, whips the men’s butts in a fencing match, and sends them running.
Elsewhere and elsewhen, McCoy and Spock find themselves at the base of a cliff in a frozen wasteland, wondering where they are and where the captain is. They search the cliff wall for some way back to the library but don’t find one. Spock tries to use his phaser to heat up a boulder, but his weapon no longer works. Yeah… that ain’t good.
Back in Three Musketeers Land, the woman thanks Kirk for saving her. She’s a cutpurse who got roughed up by people she’d tried to rob. Ah, Jimmy, ever the great judge of character. He suggests she come back with him to the library, and she agrees. Then he turns to go back to the library—and finds a solid brick wall. Yeah… that ain’t good.
McCoy calls out to Kirk, who hears him through the brick wall. Spock explains they’re in different parts of Sarpeidon’s history, based on the discs they respectively had been viewing before passing through the doorway. Their ability to hear one another suggests that some nexus, some path to the library, still exists, if they can find it. Their conversation is interrupted when the local constables arrest Kirk as the female thief’s accomplice. They overhear him talking to “spirits” through the wall, then they drag him away.
Back in Ice Age Land, Spock recommends to McCoy that they find shelter before they freeze to death. They trudge through a blizzard until McCoy collapses and urges Spock to leave him behind. Spock refuses to abandon him. Then they are found by a mysterious figure concealed in heavy fur robes, who leads them to a nearby cave.
Inside the cave, Spock lays down McCoy to let him rest. Their rescuer pulls back the hood to reveal she is Zarabeth, a beautiful young woman who is smitten with Spock. She asks if he and McCoy are prisoners like her. This arctic wasteland apparently was used by a Sarpeidonite named Zorkon to disappear his enemies.
Spock says his and McCoy’s arrival in her time was a mistake. When she asks where he’s from, he tells her he is from a world “millions of light-years away.” This sends her off the deep end: she’s sure she’s hallucinating imaginary friends. Spock assures he is real.
Over in Medieval Times, a fat man in Prosecutor’s robes visits Kirk in the dungeon. He questions Kirk about the scuffle in the alley. He treats Kirk like a garden-variety perp until Kirk mentions “the library,” and then the fat man demonstrates why he should never play poker: he looks away, goes white, and shows every tell short of a spit-take. The Prosecutor calls Kirk an “honest man” and is about to cut him loose when the cutpurse condemns Kirk as a “witch.”
Yeah… that ain’t good.
The Prosecutor warns the cutpurse not to dig her grave any deeper by lying, but she won’t back down. She says she heard Kirk talk to “spirits,” and the constable corroborates her story, saying Kirk called one of the spirits “Bones.” Then the cutpurse says she stole only because Kirk put a spell on her. Now Kirk is screwed; the Prosecutor washes his hands of this mess and leaves Kirk to burn at the stake.
Back in the Ice Age, Spock and Zarabeth tend to the delirious McCoy, then they share some quality time, during which she shows off her improbably skimpy leather bikini. (In the arctic? Really? I mean, sure, the cave is warmed by a hot spring, but it doesn’t have a door, so it must get drafty, and… oh, never mind. She looks hot in it.)
Spock tries to decide what to do next. Abandon McCoy in the past and go looking for the time portal so he can try to find the captain, or stay with McCoy but abandon Kirk? His logic fails him, and he gets seriously ticked off about it. He wonders if the Atavachron is part of what’s mucking up his process.
Naturally, Zarabeth takes Spock’s introspective self-inquiry as an invitation to talk about herself, and she explains that she was exiled alone into a barren nook of history because two of her kinsmen failed in an attempt to assassinate Zorkon. (Me: “Who?” Dayton: “Forget it, she’s rolling.”)
Spock, having ignored everything she said, decides she will help him carry McCoy back to the portal. After they return to the library, he’ll send her and McCoy back to the ship and continue the search for Kirk. That’s when she breaks the bad news: a jump through the Atavachron portal is a one-way trip. It changes those who pass through it to acclimate them to the past. If she, Spock, or his friends return to the library, they will die.
Yeah… that ain’t good.
Kirk paces in his cell, not looking forward to his trial for witchcraft. He escapes thanks to some timely incompetence by the jailer. He takes the Prosecutor prisoner and demands the man help him get back to the library. The Prosecutor gives Kirk the same bad news that Zarabeth gave Spock: there is no going back. However, Kirk makes a connection that Spock missed: he wasn’t “prepared” in any way before his jaunt through time.
Well, that changes everything. The Prosecutor says Kirk must get back to the library at once! (No kidding, genius. That’s what Kirk has been saying since he got here.)
Back in the cave, McCoy has recovered enough to eat and flirt with Zarabeth. Whoops—that doesn’t sit well with Spock. Trying to relieve the tension in the air, McCoy wonders where the Enterprise is, and Spock replies, “Five thousand years in the future.” Mm-kay. The doctor wonders about Kirk, and Spock blows off the discussion as moot.
That lights the fuse on McCoy’s temper: he asks why Spock isn’t doing something to help Kirk. Spock opens a can of rhetorical whupass on McCoy:
SPOCK: Get this through your head: We can’t get back. That means we are trapped. Here, in this planet’s past, just as we are. And we’ll stay here for the rest of our lives. Now do you understand?
McCoy accuses Spock of giving up on Kirk because he wants to stay with Zarabeth. Then he calls him a “pointed-eared Vulcan,” and Spock nearly rips the doctor’s head from his neck. McCoy asks, “What’s happening to you, Spock?” The Vulcan replies, “Nothing that shouldn’t have happened long ago.” Then he puts McCoy’s butt back on the ground.
For a change, it’s McCoy who makes the leap of logic and deduces Spock’s malfunction.
Back in Colonial Dorksburg, the Prosecutor leads Kirk back to the brick wall. Kirk finds the portal when his hand passes through the wall, and the Prosecutor soils himself and runs away. Wasting no time, Kirk returns to the library. No sign of Spock, McCoy, or Atoz, so he hails the Enterprise, and Scotty reports they have only seventeen minutes until Beta Niobe explodes. (Phew. And I thought they might be cutting it close.) Kirk orders Scotty not to send anyone else to the planet, and to stand by to warp out of the system if he and the landing party aren’t back in time.
Kirk argues with Atoz and his replicas, who apparently are all too stupid to understand Kirk when he says he’s from another planet and doesn’t belong in Sarpeidon’s past. Kirk takes out the replicas, so the real Atoz pulls a stun weapon. Kirk tries to talk his way out of getting shot—and fails. Score at the commercial break: Atoz, one; Kirk, zero.
on Hoth in Sarpeidon’s ice age, Spock and Zarabeth make eyes at each other. The vegetarian Vulcan digs her so much that he gladly chows down on barbecue while planning their greenhouse. He says Zorkon was a fool to exile such a beautiful woman. They give each other tonsil massages, and he sweeps her off her feet while sporting a dopey grin. Score at the buzzer: Spock and Zarabeth tied at one-all.
Skipper Jimmy awakens just in time to roll off a cart that Atoz pushes through the portal and into the past. Now ol’ Jimmy’s had enough. He wrestles the old man back to one of the viewers and makes him search for the disc that McCoy was looking at before he and Spock went through the portal.
In the cave, McCoy confronts Zarabeth and demands she confess to Spock that she lied about their not being able to go back to the library. Then he puts his hands on her, and Spock grabs him by the throat. McCoy forces Spock to confront his primal emotions. Spock protests it’s all impossible because he’s a Vulcan. McCoy points out that the Vulcan he knows won’t exist for another five millennia. What are Vulcans of this era like? Spock realizes to his horror that they are “warlike barbarians.”
Spock asks Zarabeth if it’s true: are he and McCoy stranded in the past? She doesn’t know. She knows only that she is trapped. McCoy leaves the cave and trudges back to the cliff to seek the portal, followed by Spock and Zarabeth.
In the library, Kirk calls out to his friends, making Atoz switch from one disc to another until they find the right one. Kirk talks McCoy and Spock back to the portal. Spock tells McCoy to go on ahead while he says farewell to Zarabeth—but he doesn’t want to leave her. She can’t come with him. As Beta Niobe’s final seconds tick away, McCoy can’t come back alone—he and Spock must return together or not at all. Spock leaves Zarabeth behind and returns to the library with McCoy.
As soon as Spock and McCoy step back into the library, Atoz sets his own disc in the machine and leaps away into the past. Kirk signals the Enterprise to beam up the landing party. Spock assures McCoy that having returned to the present, he is himself again.
SPOCK: There is no further need to observe me, Doctor. As you can see, I’ve returned to the present—in every sense.
McCOY: But it did happen, Spock.
SPOCK: Yes, it happened. But that was five thousand years ago. And she is dead now. Dead, and buried. … Long ago.
The Enterprise beams up its landing party and warps away as Beta Niobe flares, Sarpeidon is destroyed, and we… FADE OUT.
Full disclosure: This has always been one of my favorite episodes of the original series, and this rewatching has not dulled my opinion of it one bit. I think it remains a great science-fiction story, a good love story, a fun buddy adventure for Spock and McCoy, and one of the most solidly written entries in the long history of the franchise.
This episode, in many ways, is Spock’s “City on the Edge of Forever” moment. In order to save himself and McCoy, he is forced to abandon a woman to whom he is deeply attracted, and he must also accept that he is powerless to change Zarabeth’s fate, just as Kirk had to do when he let Edith Keeler die as history demanded. The quiet despair that Nimoy infuses into his final moment opposite DeForest Kelley is pitch-perfect.
Of course, there are always the nitpickers among us who will ask such questions as, “Why did Spock’s behavior change so radically but no one else’s?” One might argue that it’s because humans haven’t changed that much during that time frame, while Vulcan culture altered itself radically. Of course, if the changes to Vulcans were social and behavioral rather than genetic, it seems far-fetched that the Atavachron would wipe out learned behavioral conditioning. I guess I’ll have to rationalize this by proposing that the ancient Vulcans had different hormonal levels before the advent of genetic therapies, and the sudden reversion in Spock’s biology overpowered his learned behaviors.
That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.
“All right, smarty-pants,” you say, “then why does Spock’s tricorder work in the past, but not his phaser?” Um, okay, you got me. That looks like a screw-up. They probably should have disabled his tricorder, as well.
Next you’ll probably ask, “And did Spock say Vulcan was millions of light-years from Sarpeidon? That’s not physically possible within the boundaries of our hundred thousand light-year-wide galaxy, is it?” You know what? No more questions.
Scientific nitpicks aside, this episode rocks, Mariette Hartley is heartbreakingly beautiful, and I loved every minute of it. Case closed.
David’s Rating: Warp 5 (on a scale of 1 to 6)
Analysis: Dayton Ward
Dagnabbit, Star Trek.
Here I am, all ready to write you off as we meander our way toward the end of the original series’ final season. I’ve suffered through brainwashed kids, a brainless Spock, space hippies, wannabe gods, and boxes of light that drive me crazy. I’m pretty much done at this point, right?
Then, along comes something like “All Our Yesterdays.”
For the first time in… well… a while, we’re treated to a truly superb hypothesis: What if the inhabitants of a doomed planet could escape annihilation by using time travel to flee into the depths of their own history? The mind boggles at all the wondrous storytelling possibilities this idea conjures.
One thing I’ve always pondered is the idea that even with this unusual method of avoiding their fate, the people of Sarpeidon have still consigned their civilization and history to oblivion. What if a cabal of scientists, after traveling back to some point in the past, somehow put into motion a plan that eventually allows at least some of their people to leave the planet with the goal of settling elsewhere? Come to think of it, did something like that happen? The only discussion of spaceflight in any form on the part of the Sarpeidon people comes from Zarabeth, who thinks of such feats as nothing more than the stuff of fiction. That seems more than a little odd, considering the other technological advances—you know, like freakin’ time travel—that this civilization has made.
Sure, it would seem to be a bit of a plot hole, but it’s by no means the only one featured in this episode. For one thing, the Beta Niobe star has to be the most considerate nova in the history of stellar phenomena. I mean, there it is, sitting out there all by its lonesome, waiting oh-so patiently as the entire population of Sarpeidon goes about its business of time-traveling to the past. Other supernovae would have been spewing heat and radiation as they expanded, roasting orbiting planets like turkey legs at a renaissance faire.
Mmm… turkey legs.
Let’s see, what else? Oh, yeah, the method utilized by the Sarpeidon people to travel to their past: What’s up with that? How does it work? Beyond the fact that the “portal” is somehow tied into the library’s visual recordings from the planet’s history, we get next to nothing in the way of information. Speaking of the recordings, where did those come from? Did teams of observers, perhaps as part of the massive preparations which would have had to take place before putting into motion the escape/survival plan, travel back in time and made the recordings for use by the Atavachron and the time portal? Makes a bit of sense, right?
See? Even the episode’s flaws incite reflection. Not too shabby, all things considered.
Other things just make you scratch your head, such as the need for the Atavachron to “prepare” the time traveler by altering his or her physiological structure so that they can survive in their chosen eras. It also supposedly prevents such persons from returning to the present, but given Sarpeidon’s situation, that obviously wasn’t a big issue. As weird as this heretofore time-travel wrinkle is concerned, it does provide the story with a couple of key plot hooks, such as Kirk, Spock, and McCoy needing to get back to the “present” before they die, and the harsh truth that McCoy and Spock must leave Zarabeth behind.
Indeed, Spock’s story proves to be the episode’s most interesting aspect. If you’ll pardon the expression, it’s “fascinating” to watch his transformation—for lack of a better word—even if the cause seems more than a bit outlandish. It makes no sense that Spock would “revert” to some form of barbarian, his logic giving away to baser emotions commensurate with how Vulcans were acting on his home planet during this time frame.
Why is he the only one affected in this way, and how is McCoy so easily able to figure out what’s going on? It’s never explored or explained, and is also never revisited. Still, this oddity does provide Leonard Nimoy with a rare opportunity to stretch beyond Spock’s usual cool, aloof demeanor. Seeing a big ol’ grin on Spock’s face never fails to make me smile.
The series’ venerable “planet exteriors” set gets one more go before the cameras in this episode, this time representing the Sarpeidon ice age to which Zarabeth has been banished. The “medieval” town in which Kirk finds himself is also a nice change of pace from the numerous “bottle shows” which are prominent during the third season. Indeed, “All Our Yesterdays” is the only episode of the series to feature absolutely no scenes set aboard the Enterprise. There’s a good infonugget for your next convention trivia contest.
As for the library, it’s a simple yet effective set, the aisles of storage compartments looking like a cross between rows of safe deposit boxes in a bank vault and a morgue for discarded Redbox DVD-rental kiosks. If you think the Atavachron looks familiar, go with that feeling. The façade is pretty much a complete recycling of Gary Seven’s Beta-5 computer from the second season’s “Assignment: Earth.” Before that, some of the components were used to bring to life Dr. Richard Daystrom’s M-5 multitronic computer in “The Ultimate Computer.”
Actor Ian Wolfe marks his second Star Trek guest appearance with this episode as the librarian, Mr. Atoz (Atoz? A to Z? Hah! I bet his first name was Dewey.), after first appearing as Septimus, the leader of a small group of fugitive slaves in the second-season episode “Bread and Circuses.”
Mariette Hartley provides a memorable performance as the lonely Zarabeth, condemned to exile in the unforgiving wastes of the Sarpeidon ice age and so desperate for companionship that she’s willing to lie to Spock and McCoy about their ability to return to their own time.
As for her rather memorable costume, I figure designer William Ware Theiss was trying to get as close as possible to Raquel Welch’s cavegirl outfit from One Million Years B.C. (or maybe Nova’s number from the original Planet of the Apes film) before network censors took him out to the woodshed for a good thrashing. However, unlike those examples, you’ll note that Zarabeth’s navel is conspicuously hidden in this episode, supposedly in keeping with some kind of network or studio directive. As the story goes, Gene Roddenberry made a point of mocking this sort of odd censorship a few years later, when he cast Mariette Hartley in his television pilot Genesis II, and gave her character two navels. As Roddenberry often stated in interviews and at conventions when relaying the tale, “The network owed me one.”
“All Our Yesterdays,” along with “Day of the Dove,” completes the third season’s contributions to the series of Star Trek “Fotonovels” from the 1970s. The episode also inspired two Star Trek novels from Pocket Books and written by Ann Crispin: 1983’s Yesterday’s Son and its sequel, Time for Yesterday from 1988. Both books focus on the character of Zar, the son of Spock and Zarabeth, whom Spock rescues from the Sarpeidon ice age. Though I don’t know for certain, I suspect that more than a few fan-fiction stories have been written that describe the “events” that led to Zar’s birth.
(And if anybody has any of the juicier ones… call me.)
The character interplay, particularly as shown between Spock and McCoy, makes up for the story’s notable lack of action (we’re going to look past Kirk’s rather embarrassing sword fight, as well as his tussle with Atoz and the librarian’s “replicas,” okay?), and serves to elevate “All Our Yesterdays” above many of its third-season brethren. Even though the episode itself is constrained from exploring in too much detail the concepts it introduces, it still manages to convey enough that rather than just giving thanks that it’s over, we’re left wanting more as we imagine what might have been.
Or, should I say, what might be?
Dayton’s Rating: Warp 4.5 (on a scale of 1 to 6)
David Mack is not a witch. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Dayton Ward has a fever, and the only prescription… is more cowbell.
Next episode: Season 3, Episode 24 — “Turnabout Intruder.”
Check the Star Trek Re-Watch Index for a complete list of posts in this series.