“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
Star date: 5943.7
Enterprise arrives at Sarpeidon three-and-a-half hours before its star, Beta Niobe, goes supernova, only to discover that the planet has already been evacuated. Where everyone has gone is anyone’s guess, since Sarpeidon hadn’t yet discovered space travel. A strong power reading on the surface leads Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and Dr. McCoy to some sort of archive, where they are greeted by an old librarian, Mr. Atoz. The poor guy is so happy to have patrons to serve, he doesn’t even notice they’re out-of-towners or bother to check their library cards. Kirk asks him where everyone went, but Atoz is too senile or focused on helping them to give him a straight answer.
ATOZ: It depended on the individual, of course. If you wish to trace a specific person, I’m sorry, but that information is confidential.
MCCOY: No, no particular person, just people in general. Where did they go?
ATOZ: Ah, you find it difficult to choose, is that it? Yes, a wide range of alternatives is a mixed blessing, but perhaps I can help. Would you step this way, please?
The librarian gestures them down a corridor, then pops out at them from between two shelves when they get there, greets them as if he’s never seen them before, then leads them back the way they came. He offers to help them select a “verism tape” from their vast collection. Kirk says he’s interested in recent history, so Atoz directs them towards the reference desk–where they find another Atoz. This one is a bit angrier than the others.
“You’re very late!” Atoz says.
“You’re a very agile man, Mr. Atoz,” Kirk replies.
The real Mr. Atoz stands up and confirms that he personally sent the rest of Sarpeidon’s inhabitants to safety “wherever they wanted to go”–with a little help from his friendlier replicas. This is what happens when library funding gets cut…
Kirk and Spock play along while they try to figure out what he’s on about. Atoz tells them not to worry about him; he’s going to join his family once he sends the three of them off to wherever.
ATOZ: Make your escape before it’s too late. The library is at your complete service. I will gladly supply you with all reference material to help you. History of the planet is available in every detail. Just choose what interests you the most. The millennium, the century, the date, the moment. The library is your key.
Yes, Captain Kirk, the more you read the more you know. Only this seems to be more of a video library; Atoz hands Kirk a file that resembles a chunky DVD and totters off to archive something or whatever it is he does. The captain plugs the disc into a device and it displays images of an Old World European street with a horse-drawn carriage. Kirk seems charmed. Meanwhile, McCoy has found riveting footage of an arctic land and Spock cozies up to Atoz to find out more about his work.
The Vulcan science officer fusses with a machine that looks like our old friend, M-5, outfitted with a large round viewscreen. Atoz calls it an “atavachron” and insists Spock keep his inquisitive hands to himself. Atoz says, “Return and make your selection. When you have chosen, I will prepare you through the atavachron.”
They hear a woman scream, which pulls Kirk’s attention away from his video player. It seemed to come from the open doorway behind them, which leads to a balcony. “You must be prepared!” Atoz warns as the captain rushes through in search of a damsel in distress. Oh, the captain’s always prepared for a lady in need. The doorway flashes and Kirk disappears mid-stride.
And reappears in a dingy street where the Three Musketeers are molesting a woman. Huh?
Spock and Dr. McCoy barrel through the doorway after him and disappear just as their captain did. “Stop. Don’t. Come back,” Atoz says in a bored voice, used to people ignoring him. He’s not bitter or anything.*
Whoops. The two men get an even colder reception than Kirk; they’ve ended up somewhere entirely different, a frozen wasteland with no sign of the captain.
Back in Generic European History, Kirk just has to get involved in the merriment. He rushes to protect the “lady” from further abuse and embarrassment at the hands of these ruffians. His Starfleet Phys Ed training comes in handy, because he wins a fencing duel with one of the drunken Musketeers and sends the others packing with their tails between their legs. (Not literally, but since there are aliens on the show, it’s probably best to be clear on that.)
Back at the North Pole, Spock and McCoy are trapped in a blizzard. Spock tries to use the old “heat the rock with a phaser to get warm” trick, but his phaser is inexplicably nonfunctional. So it’s back to plan B: freezing to death.
Kirk’s getting warmer though, making friends with the woman he rescued. She thanks him, but it’s a bit hard to figure out what she’s saying because of her thick accent and strange words, even with a transcript:
Oh, I took you to be an angler, but you’re none of us, are ya? Well, you’re a bully fine coe for all of that. What a handsome dish ya served them, the coxcombs.
Okay… Whatever, lady. Kirk says the magic words to her, “You better come back with me to the library.” (What? It would work on me.) She’s all too happy to follow him wherever he wants, but when he takes her back to the brick wall he jumped out of, he can’t find the portal back. That’s inconvenient. However, he can hear McCoy calling to him from through the wall. It’s like he’s caught in The Twilight Zone! For a while they waste this miracle by stating the obvious to each other, but then Spock gets into some serious expositioning.
SPOCK: Captain, we hear you, but we cannot see you. Are you all right?
KIRK: We must’ve missed each other somehow.
SPOCK: Agreed. Apparently they’ve all escaped the destruction of their world by retreating into its past.
While Kirk’s girlfriend starts wailing about spirits, they work out the important details: Atoz’s atavachron sends people back in time to the time and place they were viewing, like a low-rent Guardian of Forever with less personality. But hey, it won’t do Kirk any good because the men that Kirk attacked have returned with the law. He fights the law and the law wins. They arrest him on trumped up charges and drag him away from his talking wall.
Spock and McCoy have no choice but to trudge off into the snow and look for
Santa Claus shelter. Soon McCoy falls over and tells Spock to leave him and look for the captain, but the Vulcan refuses. Then a hooded person dressed head to foot in fur appears and silently leads them to a warm cave. Spock lays McCoy down in a bed and covers him with a grungy old fur blanket. He decides to just let the doctor thaw out instead of medicating him to see if he recovers.
Their silent savior pulls back the fur hood back to reveal a beautiful woman. She asks Spock if he and McCoy are prisoners like her, victims of someone named Zor Kahn who banishes people there as punishment. Spock tells her they came through the time portal by accident and he’s actually a spaceman from millions of light years away. She’s apparently a big science fiction reader so she’s thrilled to hear it. Then she dissolves into hysterical tears, fearing that she’s losing her mind. Spock consoles her:
Listen to me. I am firmly convinced that I do exist. I am substantial. You are not imagining this.
Strangely, this does calm her down. She’s just been so lonely, you know?
Kirk’s also lonely in his cell, but soon a prosecutor visits to interrogate him about the spirits he’s been consorting with. Kirk defends himself, saying he was just minding his own business in the library when he heard the woman scream. At the mention of the library, the prosecutor pulls a serviceable Dramatic Chipmunk take. This subtle clue tips Kirk to the fact that the man knows where he’s from. The woman in the cell across from him unhelpfully insists Kirk is a witch and the lawman who arrested him confirms he was talking to spirits. Thanks, guys. The prosecutor tells them to call the Ghostbusters, because he wants nothing to do with this whackadoodle case. Kirk pleads with him to get in contact with Mr. Atoz, but the prosecutor storms out, hands over his ears and shouting, “La la la! I can’t hear you!” Kirk’s female friend chimes in with, “Witch! Witch! Witch! They’ll burn ya.” Ingrate.
Meanwhile, in Siberia… McCoy finally wakes up and sees Spock’s new girlfriend, who introduces herself as Zarabeth. He’s delirious and weak, so he just mutters something about finding the captain and loses consciousness again. Alone together, Spock and Zarabeth move to the adjoining room, where she strips off her warm fur coat to reveal a very practical Clan of the Cave Bear leather bikini, the height of fashion in the Sarpeidon Ice Age.
Spock asks her to show him to the time portal so he can look for Captain Kirk, but he’s having trouble focusing and being his usual logical self. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that she’s taking off her furry leg warmers while he talks, and rubbing his arm encouragingly. He asks her about the atavachron and her criminal past. She says she was innocent (sure she is) but her relatives tried to assassinate Zora Kahn the Tyrant and he took revenge on the entire family. Spock offers to bring her back to Enterprise once they find the library, but she gives him some troubling information about the atavachron.
None of us can go back. 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.
That’s really inconvenient. McCoy wanders in and Zarabeth tells him he’s safe. “Yes, I remember you,” he says, giving her elevator eyes. He lectures Spock on sitting around instead of looking for a way back, and Spock tells him they’re trapped there.
In Kirk’s favorite dungeon, he tricks the jailer into coming close enough for him to grab the cell’s keys from between the bars. Kirk opens the cell and knocks the guy out, then drags him inside and stashes him in the corner when the prosecutor returns to take Kirk before the witch tribunal. Kirk surprises him by opening the cell and dragging him inside, too, threatening to call him out as a fellow time traveler if he doesn’t help him get back to the library. The prosecutor’s whistling the same tune as Zarabeth though.
JUDGE: We can never go back. We must live out our lives here in the past. The atavachron has prepared our cell structure and our brain patterns to make life natural here. To return to the future would mean instant death.
KIRK: Prepared? I was not prepared. Your Mr. Atoz did not prepare me in any way.
JUDGE: Then you must get back at once! If you were not transformed, you can only survive for a few hours here in the past. Come. Hurry. Hurry.
Suddenly he’s all too eager to help!
Things are going better for Spock and McCoy, too. The doctor is feeling so much better, he’s already breaking the Bro Code and flirting with Spock’s woman. “Now that I’m feeling better,” he says, “You’ll notice a distinct difference in our approach.”
“Really,” Mr. Spock says.
Their usually playful banter takes an ugly turn once Zarabeth steps out of the room, as McCoy bugs Spock about escaping again. Spock gets pissy, he’s already explained that they can’t leave, and the doctor implies that Spock doesn’t want to leave at all.
MCCOY: You listen to me, you pointed-eared Vulcan–
SPOCK: I don’t like that. I don’t think I ever did, and now I’m sure.
MCCOY: What’s happening to you, Spock?
SPOCK: Nothing that shouldn’t have happened long ago.
MCCOY: Long ago. Of course. Long ago.
It all makes sense now! Wait, what?
Unaware that his two friends are having a tiff, Kirk is back at the brick wall he stumbled through earlier, fumbling around looking for the entrance to Diagon Alley. His hand passes through some bricks and he realizes he has finally located the portal. The prosecutor helps him by saying, “That’s it. That is the portal.” Then he runs off, to prosecute someone else.
Kirk squeezes through the narrow opening, wishing he’d worked out more this season, and returns to the library. He immediately calls Enterprise and Scotty tells him he only has seventeen minutes before Beta Niobe goes kablooey. Looks like the landing party wasn’t exactly missed for the last three hours…
Mr. Atoz tries to “help” Kirk again, but the captain locks him in a room. Then another one appears and he knocks him out easily. He can beat old men up all day long! A third appears, the real deal, and he zaps Kirk with a little silver tube. Goodnight, Jim-Bob.
Zarabeth continues to corrupt Mr. Spock, enticing him into eating animal flesh and admitting that he finds her beautiful. Then he kisses her! And he seems to like it! Grinning like an idiot, Spock scoops her into his arms and lowers her onto the bed… and thankfully, we cut back to the library, where Atoz is trying to shove Kirk on a pushcart back through the WABAC machine. Wheee! The captain rolls off in the nick of time, and the cart disappears into the past.
Kirk smacks Atoz around a little until the old man promises to help. He’s a good librarian at least. Kirk tells him, “I’m looking for that old time period, with the snow, and you know, the wind?” And Atoz immediately knows he’s talking about the Ice Age. He gets the disc for Kirk, but since it’s a new release, it’ll be due back tomorrow at noon, unless the sun has exploded by then, in which case he can consider it a gift.
Dr. McCoy bursts in on Spock and Zarabeth, ignoring the fur sock Spock left hanging outside the room, to call him a liar. Or is she the liar? He isn’t clear on that, but he tells Spock she is lonely and desperate enough to bend the truth a bit, and furthermore, Spock is acting like a primitive Vulcan because his body’s syncing up with his barbarian ancestors from 5,000 years in his past, which is now. What you talkin’ bout, Leonard?
Zarabeth admits that she doesn’t know for sure that Spock and McCoy can’t go back, just that she can’t, which is good enough for the doctor. He’s going to try, dammit. He runs out of the cave, stealing one of her fur towels as he goes. He didn’t even leave a tip for the turndown service.
Spock and Zarabeth follow him back to where the portal was, just as Kirk and Atoz find the right disc and Kirk calls out to his friends. Spock takes his sweet time saying goodbye to his sweetie. He tries to send McCoy ahead by shoving him into the icy cliff wall, but it will only work if the two of them pass through together. Zarabeth can’t come with them, so she turns away, and the two men finally go back to the future. As soon as they appear, Atoz switches the disc and books it out of there, to join his family somewhere in Sarpeidon’s past.
Kirk calls for their escape transport, while Dr. McCoy fusses over the heartbroken Vulcan.
SPOCK: There’s 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.
Unsurprisingly, I have a bit of fondness for this episode, possibly due to my great love for libraries and time travel. It’s half-clever and half-ridiculous to imagine people surviving their destruction of their world by fleeing into its own past, but assuming they are all history fanatics, it makes some sense. The question is, which came first–the library or the atavachron?
As far as the atavachron goes, as I mentioned above it’s basically a DIY Guardian of Forever, complete with a strikingly similar visual effect. It might seem strange that a planet could develop time travel but not space flight, but if the inhabitants are accustomed to looking backward instead of forward, you might forgive them for devoting their science and resources to such a technology. Mr. Atoz comments that “everyone was armed for the coming nova long ago,” indicating that not only did they have some knowledge of cosmology, but they probably were able to glimpse their own future in advance, giving them plenty of time to prepare their creative method of escaping. The process of preparing people for their time period also may have been a protection against introducing paradoxes, though it’s interesting that a memory wipe isn’t part of the treatment. Still, of course it’s nonsense to assume a planet’s population redistributed into its 5000-year-plus history wouldn’t take some toll.
The episode succeeds at parceling out small details early on that end up having great relevance, most notably Atoz telling them they need to be prepared for the atavachron–which of course is the loophole that allows them to come back through the portal. (Since Atoz tried to send Kirk through to the past again, one wonders if the captain was properly prepared the second time, and what that entails exactly.) But one of the biggest flaws is the slow reveal of just what the big escape plan was. The information is too drawn out, and because Captain Kirk and Spock and McCoy were separated, the exposition is delivered twice and rehashed over and over again. Unfortunately, it’s all too clear that the key information is being withheld for a bigger surprise, but it only gets frustrating, particularly the way Atoz and his duplicates keep talking around Kirk and Spock’s questions, as though they don’t really understand. Then again, it’s possible that Atoz is a librarian and the last to stay behind because he has tunnel vision for his work, more accustomed to dealing with data than people.
Speaking of Atoz, I feel stupid for not noticing the significance of his name, which again is half-brilliant and half-silly. But I think it’s much clearer when read instead of heard, and even then we’ve grown accustomed to weird alien names by now, so I wouldn’t have put much thought into it, especially this late in the series.
It may just be me, but I thought that Spock-Prime’s first appearance in J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek film, where he rescues Kirk on frozen Delta Vega and dramatically pulls back his hood, is reminiscent of the scene where Zarabeth saves Spock and McCoy. It’s probably just the fur coats.
This episode had some beautiful direction, appropriately enough a throwback to the lighting and cinematography of the earlier seasons, and the sets and special effects are terrific even in their simplicity. In fact, the only thing I didn’t like were the weird “frozen” effect on the tips of Spock’s ears after he was in the snowstorm, and uh…everything else having to do with Spock, actually. The overall plot was interesting, but Spock’s increasing emotionalism and subsequent romance, now all-too-common in the third season, really mars the episode. Weird, then, that I didn’t remember any of Kirk’s misadventures in Sarpeidon’s witch-hunting past.
The supernova at the end would have been a fine way to end Star Trek with a bang, but unfortunately we have one more episode to go…and it’s going to feature a lot of whimpering, on both sides of the screen.
Eugene’s Rating: Warp 4 (on a scale of 1-6)
Torie Atkinson: It’s such a shame that Aroeste didn’t write more: her scripts unfold gracefully and deliberately, with many little reveals along the way that expertly clue-in the viewer. The librarian’s replicas, his encouragement that the trio should look through the catalog of history to see what suits, the hint that there’s not much interest in recent history–she exposits with hints and nudges. Little nuggets are placed one by one, from the librarian’s insistence that Kirk “must be prepared” to the way you see Spock’s behavior change just a moment at a time. Just as with “Is There in Truth No Beauty?” I found myself surprised by some things and impressed by the cleverness of so many more.
Who can argue with such a romantic, enchanting idea: to step back into history? Isn’t that what fiction, and reading, and television, is about: stepping into another world so like and yet so unlike ours? I loved the smile that spread across Kirk’s face as he saw the carriages in the viewer and understood, immediately, what the Sarpeideans had done. He’s delighted by the idea, and can you blame him? It’s a brilliant solution, too–you can distribute a huge population one family at a time, over the span of human (well, Sarpeidean) existence. Moreover, the paradoxes make sense: surely the remark that they had known of the nova for so long is another nudge that the time travelers informed their ancestors, giving them plenty of time to prepare for the eventuality.
An idea is nothing without heart, though, and this episode is brimming with it. Spock’s story manages the same bittersweetness of “This Side of Paradise.” I wondered, at first, what prompted such a 180 on his part–but that’s not being fair. There’s nothing new here: we’ve glimpsed those facets of his personality before, and his attraction to Zarabeth didn’t feel forced. On the one hand, it’s an irresistible physical response to the primitivism that transforms him, beyond his own control. And yet on the other hand, how could one be surprised by a romance between two of the loneliest people you’ll ever see? Spock goes months, maybe even years, without meeting his own kind. His psychological discipline necessarily involves swift and deep detachment from the people around him (with only limited success–we know he cares about Kirk and Spock). To paraphrase Zarabeth, to survive is not to live. We need more. We need connection, and yes, love, in any of its forms.
So his passion for her, his longing, felt natural. He says at the end, “I do not know who I am.” Those are point-of-view words. He does not say “I am not myself,” because that wouldn’t be true at all–he’s more himself than ever, too much of himself, if anything. But he has lost the perspective to see the line between the man he is and the man he wants and projects himself to be. The change isn’t just attraction or emotion, either: it’s also the shifting of his priorities. He abandons McCoy’s interests and concerns with heartbreaking speed. McCoy! Who he carried from the frozen wasteland and would not leave! But I liked that Spock is not the only one affected by this place. McCoy loses his temper more than once, sweating and shouting at his friend. Zarabeth also loses control and breaks down crying in the belief that she’s hallucinating. She couldn’t believe that her loneliness could ever end. I can’t imagine her life after Spock leaves. I was surprised she didn’t throw herself back through the portal, to die and be free of that existence.
There are two big weaknesses that keep me from giving this a warp 6, though. The first is that the whole thing feels remarkably fannish, dipping too frequently into cliched melodrama. When Spock and McCoy argue over whether to save the doctor or just leave him to freeze, I rolled my eyes. Spock is loyal and caring, see? Yes, I see. Their in-fighting, too, felt tired and overtread. Not to mention the Spock’s-closeted-emotions trope, which frankly wears thin even here before the end. Beneath all those reserved manners he is super freaky! Yeah, whatever. The trappings of romance felt overblown for this particular story.
The other is the Kirk plot, which I found myself completely uninterested in. I actually really liked that the time he’s in is an amalgam of different periods and places: part seventeenth-century France, part industrial London, part colonial America. It’s a nice reminder that hey, this isn’t actually Earth. But the whole sufficiently-advanced-technology-is-indistinguishable-from-magic trope was, again, a little yawn-worthy. I chuckled at the “He’s a witch!” thing the first time, but when I realized it was becoming a side plot I wasn’t laughing anymore. The cast of characters in his little play were flat setpieces, and I kept waiting to go back to the Spock-McCoy-Zarabeth time. I will cut it some slack, though, for including the coolest special effect in the entire series: Kirk’s hand disappearing into the wall when he finds the portal.
Ultimately, “All Our Yesterdays” is one of the saddest installments of the series. It rivals only “The City on the Edge of Forever” in the Shakespearean tragedy department, which is probably no coincidence given the title:
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle.
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Macbeth, after the death of his wife, contemplates the inexorable march to death we all must tread. It’s bleak, distant, and hopeless. It’s Spock’s last line, essentially. “Yes, it happened. But that was five thousand years ago. And she is dead now. Dead and buried. Long ago.” All of those pasts represent death. Zarabeth’s dead. Sarpeidon’s sun will die. All of its people will die, now or then. All of us will, too, die. But though our lives* may sometimes feel like a relentless grinding journey towards that inevitability, a philosophy of Macbethian indifference is only enough for a person to survive, not to live.
* Or maybe just the third season.
Torie’s Rating: Warp 5
Best Line: SPOCK: We’re in a wilderness of arctic characteristics.
MCCOY: He means it’s cold.
Syndication Edits: None
Trivia: The original story outline was titled “A Handful of Dust,” and was completely different from the final episode. Sarpeidon was in ruins except for its library and time portal, there was no Zarabeth, Kirk becomes trapped on San Francisco’s Barbary Coast, and McCoy and Spock end up in a desert and encounter some mutants. Kirk makes it back to the library with the help of another time traveler and fights Mr. Atoz while his friend rescues McCoy and Spock. The doctor nearly gets stuck in the portal, with only his arm in the library. The other time traveler destroys the machine and the library collapses. When Kirk picks up a book, it crumbles into “a handful of dust.”
In case you also missed the significance of Mr. Atoz’s name, let me spell it out for you: his name is A-to-Z. Because he’s a librarian. Get it? Hey, legend has it that L. Frank Baum named Oz after the letters on a file drawer, O-Z.
The atavachron is cobbled together from Gary Seven’s Beta 5 computer and the M-5.
Mariette Hartley (Zarabeth) was a regular on The Hero and Peyton Place, and also featured in genre shows including The Twilight Zone (“The Long Morrow,” with Robert Lansing), Logan’s Run, Roddenberry’s Genesis II, and The Incredible Hulk (“Married“) as Dr. Carolyn Fields–for which she won an Emmy.
NBC forced Roddenberry to cover up Hartley’s belly button, which he compensated for in Genesis II by giving her two of them.
Ian Wolfe (Mr. Atoz) also appeared as Septimus in “Bread and Circuses.”
This is the only episode of the series that does not include any action on the ship, though there’s plenty of action in Zarabeth’s cave.
The stardate for this episode places it after the star date of “Turnabout Intruder” (5928.5), which makes it chronologically the Enterprise’s last voyage of the original series, though it aired as the penultimate episode.
The animated series episode “The Counter-Clock Incident” refers to the Beta Niobe supernova.
Other notes: Writer Jean Lisette Aroeste was a career librarian, first in Harvard’s acquisitions department and later at UCLA (where she worked when she penned this episode). She also wrote “Is There in Truth No Beauty?” and these two scripts were her only professional sales. Her papers, which included the teleplays for both of those episodes, are now fittingly kept at the UCLA archives.
A.C. Crispin took the events of this episode to their natural conclusion in her tie-in sequels, “The Yesterday Saga,” which consists of Yesterday’s Son and Time for Yesterday—the son, of course, being Spock and Zarabeth’s child, Zar. Woooo!
Previous episode: Season 3, Episode 22 – “The Savage Curtain.”
Next episode: Season 3, Episode 24 – “Turnabout Intruder.” US residents can watch it for free at the CBS website.