2012.02.10 in The Original Series
A run-in with a strange phenomenon causes the Enterprise to travel back to Earth, but far from home: the 1960s!
Stardate 3113.2 makes me wonder if I called it too soon. Maybe, just maybe, there is a sense of overarching continuity to be found somewhere here. We’re now roughly sixty stardates after Kirk’s makeshift gun, which was the highest stardate given. I’m not holding out hope though, there is BOUND to be an episode between that one and this one.
We open on a USAF jet, and cut to a radar operator telling his superior of a new blip – the boss calls it a UFO, a different jet takes off, and the Enterprise is in the bright blue sky that you and I enjoy regularly. Unless you live in the UK or Pacific Northwest, I mean.
Kirk explains in a log that a black star’s gravitational pull resulted in the Enterprise being knocked very far off course, and the power to go nearly dead. They don’t know where they are, or the extent of the damage. Uhura tries to contact Starfleet control – the first mention of the now-famous space agency – while Spock tells Jim that they’re in orbit around Earth and that they have no warp power. There’s probably a German word for that moment when you get good news and bad news at the same moment, but I don’t know it.
Sulu can’t steer this low in the atmosphere; Uhura finds nothing from Starfleet but picks up a radio signal that tells the crew they’re in the late 1960s, not long before the first attempt at a manned moon landing. Spock, of course, is dead inside, so he reacts like nothing strange has happened.
Suddenly they detect an incoming vessel, and try to exit back out to space. The jet that scrambled carries nukes, and reports the UFO sighting back to HQ. The pilot is told to disable the Enterprise, but keep in mind that our crew can hear the transmissions. Kirk orders the tractor beam to hold the plane steady. Unfortunately for the Air Force, that beam is too strong for the jet and begins to destroy it. Jim then orders that the 1960s pilot be beamed aboard. It’s audacious of him to just let a dude in on the future, but less so than letting him die in the crumpling fighter.
Jim welcomes the pilot aboard, who’s surprised to find an English-speaking human talking to him, and gives his name, rank and serial. Good old Geneva Accords – seems from other series they don’t really make it too long in the future. Kirk tries to calmly explain the situation, and apologizes for destroying his ship. “Sorry buddy, you don’t have a way home. Come with us.”
Captain John Christopher is surprised to find a woman walking in a hallway, as Kirk takes him to the bridge. John just finishes an insult about aliens as the turbolift door opens and he sees Spock. Naturally, one would be taken aback at the sight of him.
Spock pulls Jim aside to explain that they can now no longer return Captain Christopher to Earth – as changing the past cannot help but change the future. Kirk comprehends, and suggests a change in uniform and a meeting in his quarters. As the meeting begins, Kirk’s computer gets a bit friendly, calling him “dear” a few times. It’s a bit of levity with an undercurrent of dread.
Jim breaks the news to John: he cannot go home again, due to the risk of timeline contamination. John takes as well to this as you’d expect, all “fuck that noise, I gotta wife and kids.” He also handily points out that his disappearance might change something too. All Kirk can do is apologize, again.
Scotty comms over to tell our Captain that the repairs are underway, but there’s nowhere for them to go outside their own timeframe. They’re just as stuck in their predicament as this poor pilot fella. John immediately taunts Kirk about it. Look here, bub, you don’t taunt the Kirk.
Some short time later, Kirk has to insult the computer to get it to stop trying to seduce him when Spock reports that he’s found something new. Jim invites him to his quarters and has to go hunt down John. John’s in a hallway and steals a phaser from a security guard to try to escape via transporter. Kirk sneaks up behind him and knocks him phlat on his phanny.
In sick bay, Bones repeats the central thread of the plot. Enter Spock to change some shit up: Christopher must be returned to Earth, in order to maintain the history of his son’s career. John protests that no son exists; Spock counters with “yet.” And now, John’s just pleased as punch that he’s going to have a kid. This guy needs some kind of antipsychotic, he’s jumping between high and low so fast.
So: a new meeting in the board room. How do we get John back to Earth without leaving any trace of the Enterprise? His plane took photos, and control records radio chatter. Their presence won’t be chalked up to kooks or pranks, and might set Earth on an anti-spacefaring path. Kirk decides that the records must be retrieved and destroyed; John then won’t have any evidence to back up his report. Still, now that he “knows” he’s going to have a son, he’s eager to help. The whole son-going-to-Saturn bit from Spock might just be the cleverest lie he’s ever come up with, a way to inspire Kirk to restore the original timeline including this innocent bystander. Pretty sneaky, Spock.
Kirk and Sulu beam down right into the base with the tapes and the photos and the uniforms and the what nots. They track down a tape-driven computer and remove the reel; a guard with a pistol enters and takes their communicators, phasers, and tapes from them. Spock radios down and the guard checks the comm; due to lack of response, Spock says “beam” and the guard’s on the Enterprise. Way to improve the situation there, guy. The guard stands frozen as a statue while McCoy takes the gun and communicator from him.
Planetside, Kirk and Sulu get back to it, sneaking across the hall to another room full of reels of tape and machines to wind it through. Apparently there’s a darkroom through there. When they open the door, an alarm goes off elsewhere, and other officers rush to the lab in response. Kirk tells Sulu to signal Spock, and fights the three men for a good short while before they stop him and check the darkroom, but of course they find nothing in there. So all they’ve got is a single man with nothing on him, wearing a weird shirt and ugly short pants.
Bones angrily points out that they can’t beam Kirk out unless he has a communicator, but Spock has some kind of plan involving Christopher. Meanwhile, Kirk is being interrogated, and dodging every question without uttering a false word. It’s a cute little cat and mouse game. Spock asks John where they’re keeping Kirk, but he won’t reveal it unless he can go with them. Spock acquiesces, and he beams down with the pilot and Sulu. In fact, that frozen guard from earlier watches, and can’t believe that people do that regularly. The transporter engineer asks if he’s hungry, and he says he could use some soup, which immediately appears in the replicator. More chuckles for the children.
The rescue goes off without a hitch, except for three knocked-out soldiers. Oh, and John swipes one of their pistols, refusing to beam back to the ship. Spock ducks back behind a doorway as John holds Kirk at gunpoint, but he appears right behind the pilot and nerve-pinches him. The four return to the Enterprise.
Spock and Scotty have figured out how to travel back in time to right before this all happened, and forward back to the ship’s present. It won’t be easy to understand the verb tenses, much less to make it through the trip. As the ship cruises toward the sun, John reveals that he flunked out of the space program. Spock alerts the bridge to the clocks, which are now ticking backwards. The ship slingshots around the sun, and they’re on their Voyage Home. (Sorry.)
The ship heads back to Earth, and Captain Christopher is back in his flight suit in the transporter room. Somehow they beam him back into himself, before the tractor beam locked on to him, but without the Enterprise in the sky, and if he’s at all aware of his experience on the Enterprise, he’s not going to let on a bit. Likewise, they beam the guard down, and he seems unaware. No telling what they did with the Captain Christopher that existed in the plane before they beam-swapped him; it’s just a ridiculous shell game.
Aaaaanyway, they slingshot back around the sun or something again, and Starfleet Control comes in over the radio. They’re home, safe and sound and handwavey.
This is episode 19 of the first season (it’s the 20th I’ve reviewed, because I watched the pilot), and already the second time travel episode. Remember when Spock invented time travel? It’s kind of ridiculous that Spock has figured out two separate ways to travel through time, and – of course I haven’t watched all of every Trek yet but still – there’s never any sense of control over time travel. These techniques should at least be documented as emergency protocols! Say you get flung into a temporal rift somehow and find yourself six million years in the past: follow protocol TT-73 for approximately five and a half hours, and you’ll get roughly back to when you started. But NNOOOOO. Starfleet command goes “it’s too dangerous, what if it falls into the wrong hands?” Give me a break, Starfleet isn’t the end-all be-all of the world’s knowledge, somebody outside Starfleet is totally going to figure it out in due time.
I don’t sense much of a theme or moral or subtext in this story. It feels far more like an exploration of the theory of time travel, and a budget-minded departure from what Star Trek seemed to be turning into. They probably just rented the sets and costumes from Tora! Tora! Tora! and some stock footage from the Air Force’s library. It’s got some goofy humor and some half-decent action and speculation, but overall I don’t feel it lives up to the promise of Roddenberry’s vision.