“All Our Yesterdays”
Written by Jean Lisette Aroeste
Directed by Marvin Chomsky
Season 3, Episode 23
Production episode 60043-78
Original air date: March 14, 1969
Captain’s log. The Enterprise has come to Sarpeidon, an inhabited planet with a thriving civilization that is in orbit of Beta Niobe. That sun is going nova in three hours, but there is no sign of life on Sarpeidon, nor any indication that the planet had space travel capability.
Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down to the one spot on the planet that still has a power source. They find a library, as well as a librarian, Mr. Atoz, who is surprised to see them, having thought that everyone left. There are several versions of Atoz floating around the place, and eventually the landing party figures out what happened. They constructed a device called the Atavachron, which allows you to go to Sarpeidon’s past. Each individual on the world chose an era of the past to go to in order to keep them safe from the nova.
Atoz gives Kirk a disc that portrays a particular time period, and McCoy grabs another with Spock alongside him. While Kirk is watching his, he hears a woman scream from a doorway—which turns out to be the Atavachron’s portal. He runs through to find himself on the street he was observing, where several men are tormenting a woman with swords. Kirk defends her honor, defeating one of the men in a duel of swords.
McCoy and Spock run after Kirk, but they wind up in the frozen wasteland that McCoy was observing on his disc from Sarpeidon’s ice age five thousand years ago.
In both cases, there’s no sign of the portal they came through. The three of them can talk to each other near where they came through—which causes the woman Kirk rescued to think he’s talking to spirits—but soon Kirk is taken away by the constabulary, and Spock and McCoy are forced to find shelter.
The latter are rescued by a woman named Zarabeth, who lives in a nearby cave—and in the nick of time, as McCoy is suffering badly from the cold. Spock tucks him in furs, and then converses with Zarabeth. She’s a prisoner—apparently the Atavachron was originally used as a method of punishment during the reign of a tyrant—and at first she thinks she’s going mad, as the notion of an alien from another world like Spock is the stuff of fiction. But Spock convinces her that this is real.
Kirk is interrogated in a prison. The woman he rescued and the constable accuse him of witchcraft, of talking to spirits, but the magistrate has a flicker of recognition when Kirk mentions the library. But after a moment, he denies knowing of the library or Atoz, and joins in the condemnation of Kirk as a witch.
Spock is having trouble organizing his thoughts. Zarabeth also explains that the Atavachron alters one’s cellular structure to the time period to which one travels. Once you go through, you can’t go back.
Kirk once again speaks to the magistrate, trying to get him to admit that he is from Sarpeidon’s future, also. Eventually, the magistrate gives in, but he has the same sob story as Zarabeth: returning to the future means instant death. But the magistrate says that you go through preparation, and Atoz did, in fact, say that he hadn’t had a chance to prepare them. The magistrate panics—without being prepared, you can only survive a few hours in the past—and takes Kirk back to the alley where he came through.
McCoy is slowly recovering, and he’s appalled to realize that Spock has done nothing to re-locate the portal. Spock rather obnoxiously points out that there’s nothing to be done and they’re stuck there in Sarpeidon’s past. When McCoy responds with his usual crotchetiness, Spock responds with very unusual anger.
Kirk is able to get through to the library, thanks to the magistrate’s help. He contacts Scotty and tells him to prepare to warp away, and then tries to find the disc McCoy and Spock were viewing. The Atoz replicas try to “help” Kirk by preparing him, but the captain subdues them—however, the real Atoz is able to stun Kirk.
Spock and Zarabeth talk of being alone. The only food available is meat. Reluctantly, Spock eats some until he can contrive to construct a greenhouse. After realizing he’s enjoying the food and he’s flirting with Zarabeth, Spock finally figures out what McCoy figured out ages ago: he’s acting weird. But after a minute, he decides he doesn’t care, because he really wants to smooch Zarabeth.
Kirk wakes up before Atoz can send him through the Atavachron and puts him in a headlock. Atoz finally agrees to help him look for Spock and McCoy.
McCoy walks in on Spock and Zarabeth’s morning after and goads Spock into attacking him, which makes Spock realize the truth—which McCoy also figured out ages ago—that he’s acting like a Vulcan from 5000 years ago, when Vulcans were savage and mean and nasty and stuff, before Surak brought them the ways of logic.
Zarabeth finally admits that she has no idea if the two of them can go back—she only knows that she can’t. McCoy then announces that he’s going to try to go back to his life, so he throws on a fur and heads into the snow. He is soon joined by Spock and Zarabeth, just as Kirk and Atoz find the right disc. Spock says a reluctant goodbye to Zarabeth and Spock and McCoy come back through together.
As soon as Spock and McCoy materialize, Atoz puts in the disc with the period where his family is waiting for him and runs into the portal. Kirk has Scotty beam them up just as the sun goes nova and the Enterprise zips away.
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? The Atavachron is a remarkably sophisticated bit of technology, as it adjusts one’s cellular structure to be compatible with the time period one is going to (whatever that means), but it’s apparently only one-way. Also time seems to pass at the same relative rate between when you go back in time and the place you came back from. Kinda.
Also the process of a star going nova is, er, long, and the notion that a planet can be inhabitable when a star is only a few hours from going nova is specious to say the least.
Fascinating. We find out that Vulcans really were nasty-ass bastards five millennia ago, and also that Vulcans are traditionally vegetarian. The latter will actually be a plot point in the animated episode “The Slaver Weapon.”
I’m a doctor not an escalator. McCoy proves that, even when recovering from frostbite, he’s smarter, cleverer, and more willing to engage in psychological manipulation than you.
I cannot change the laws of physics! Scotty is not seen in the episode, only heard, and he’s mostly panicking about how the landing party keeps not beaming up to the ship when the sun’s about to go nova.
No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Spock and Zarabeth fall for each other instantly, though how much of it is the former’s reaction to the first beautiful woman he sights after losing his logical mojo and the latter’s reaction to the first other person she’s seen in years is an open question.
Channel open. “What is this island?”
“It’s called Earth.”
“I know no island Earth.”
Kirk and the magistrate probably not making a sly pop-culture reference.
Welcome aboard. The major guest is Mariette Hartley, who is magnificent as Zarabeth. Plus we’ve got Ian Wolfe, last seen as Septimus in “Bread and Circuses,” playing the various iterations of Atoz. Kermit Murdock plays the magistrate, Ed Bakey and Al Cavens play the two fops, Anna Karen plays the woman Kirk rescues, and Stan Barrett plays the jailer. James Doohan is the only one of the recurring regulars who’s here, and he’s only heard in voiceover.
Trivial matters: In “Balance of Terror,” it was established that Vulcan had a brutal past before they embraced logic, and just last week in “The Savage Curtain,” it was established that Surak was the primary agent of change from one state of affairs to the current more logic-based one. It’s here that we finally get some kind of time frame for it, as it was at some point less than five thousand years ago.
The title derives from Shakespeare’s Macbeth, specifically the classic “Tomorrow…” soliloquy: “And all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death.”
This episode received two sequels in novel form, the classic Yesterday’s Son by A.C. Crispin, in which we learn that Zarabeth had a son by Spock, Zar, who is brought to the present day by the Guardian of Forever, and its sequel, Time for Yesterday.
Oddly, the network refused to allow Zarabeth to show her bellybutton, a bit of censorship they had never insisted on before. (We just saw Droxine’s navel a couple episodes ago, after all…) When he cast Mariette Hartley in his pilot for Genesis II, Gene Roddenberry established her as having two bellybuttons, stating that, “The network owed me one.”
Atoz’s name is a play on the alphabet: A to Z. Writer Jean Lisette Aroeste was a librarian at UCLA. This and “Is There In Truth No Beauty?” remain her only screen credits.
The star Beta Niobe going nova will be referenced in the animated episode “The Counter-Clock Incident.”
Kirk’s arrival in Sarpeidon’s past is only the second outdoor location shot seen in the entire third season, the other being the planet-side scenes in “The Paradise Syndrome.”
To boldly go. “Witch! Witch!” In a season chock full of blown opportunities and badly executed premises, this episode stands out significantly as one that actually works.
Well, mostly. It’s got some serious logic problems (fitting for an episode in which Spock loses his logic), but those problems are mostly forgivable because of the fascinating character work done with Spock and McCoy.
Leonard Nimoy does a wonderful job showing Spock’s slow breakdown, as his initial reactions aren’t really out of character. After all, snotty is one of Spock’s primary modes, more so when he’s standing next to McCoy, so at first nothing seems amiss. But it gets worse and worse, to the point where even he realizes it—though he doesn’t really confront it until McCoy forces him to.
And McCoy is magnificent in this one. Usually Spock’s the one who figures everything out, but he’s impaired this week, so it’s left to McCoy, who reveals the truth in his own inimitable style. Where Spock would provide an infodumpy lecture, McCoy prefers to psychologically goad Spock in such a way that he’ll figure it out himself and do something about it.
What I particularly like about this strand of the plot is what it doesn’t do. At no point do Spock and Zarabeth declare their undying love for each other which, after the insta-love affairs of this season (“For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky,” “The Paradise Syndrome,” “The Lights of Zetar,” “Requiem for Methuselah“) comes as something of a relief. This isn’t a love affair—this is two very lonely people finding each other and finding comfort in each other’s arms. For Spock, the loneliness is psychological, but no less real for all that. For Zarabeth, it’s much more tangible, and while McCoy may be overstating the case by saying that she’d kill as many people as possible to keep Spock around, he’s not wrong in his conclusion: Zarabeth is desperate for companionship, justifiably so.
Kirk’s strand of plot is less compelling, though it’s amusing to see Sergeant Zale as a posh-talking constable. Still, it’s all standard stuff with Kirk basically being awesome (he wins the swordfight! he breaks out of jail! he convinces the magistrate to help him! he overpowers Atoz!) and never challenged, and the past he goes to is a tiresomely generic old-timey land of pre-Enlightenment awfulness. At least the costumes are cool…
The concept is a good one, even if it shows iffy knowledge of how stars going nova actually, y’know, work. Still, the notion of escaping planetary destruction, not by going through space, but instead going through time, is rather a nifty one.
If only this was the final episode, the show could have concluded on a somewhat positive note. Alas, it is not to be, as we’ll see next week…
Warp factor rating: 7
Next week: “Turnabout Intruder”
Keith R.A. DeCandido has just revealed the final cover for Marvel’s Warriors Three: Godhood’s End, the third and final book in his “Tales of Asgard” trilogy, which is available for preorder from Amazon and Barnes & Noble, and will be released in the spring of 2017.