Written by Jean Lisette Aroeste, Arthur H. Singer, and Gene Roddenberry
Directed by Marvin J. Chomsky
In Star Trek: The Next Generation, the series writers seemed fascinated with making Data step out of character by being an android. The same was true for the Klingon Worf; they seemed to delight in putting him in situations that are the antithesis of how Klingons are depicted in the Star Trek universe. Throughout the run of the original series, there were a number of episodes that challenged the concept of Mr. Spock as the emotionless Vulcan.
Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and Doctor McCoy (DeForrest Kelley) arrive on Sarpeidon, a Class-M planet where the sun is about to go supernova and all of the pre-space-flight citizens have disappeared. They come across a humanoid, Mr. Atoz (Ian Wolfe) who introduces himself as “The Librarian”. When they ask where all of the people have gone, he is somewhat cryptic. He also seems to disappear and reappear at random.
They soon learn what became of the planet’s population. Mr. Atoz shows them a portal known as “atavachron.” The library contains discs that, when placed in the atavachron, will allow them to transport back into the planet’s history. Captain Kirk is viewing one of those when he hears a woman scream and runs through the portal. Spock and McCoy attempt to follow, but they end up in a different time period.
The Captain ends up in a place that looks like pre-Revolution France. His sword skills lead him to thrash the local “Musketeers” when they are apparently harassing a woman. Mr. Spock and Doctor McCoy end up in a frozen tundra. Their phasers won’t operate to heat rocks. When they are near where they came through the portal, the Captain, Spock, and McCoy can hear each other through time. Mr. Spock supposes that the population of the planet escaped their fate by traveling into the past.
When Captain Kirk is taken away by Constables, Spock and McCoy search for shelter before they freeze to death. A figure cloaked in fur appears and beckons the two men. They follow to a cave. Spock is able to fight off the effects of the climate better than McCoy, and lets him rest under a fur blanket, hoping that will help him recover on his own.
The figure they followed removes her fur cloak. Her name is Zarabeth (Mariette Hartley) and she says she was a prisoner that was sent through the portal. She recognizes that Spock is not from her world, but also worries that she is losing her mind. Spock is kind and compassionate to her. She explains that they can’t go back through the portal. They have been physiologically altered so they cannot return through the portal.
Meanwhile, Captain Kirk is arrested and accused of being a witch. He knows the history of the witch trials and wants to avoid them. Captain Kirk recognizes one of the prosecutors as having come through the portal and cajoles him into helping the Captain get back to the library. It’s only a few hours now until the sun goes supernova.
Spock, meanwhile, is regressing due to the travel back in time and losing the control of his emotions and feelings that Vulcans gained throughout the years. He is attracted to Zarabeth, and she is so lonely that she appreciates him in a unique way. She tells Spock that once you’ve gone through the atavachron you can’t go back. The atavachron alters people physiologically so they can’t return. She was exiled here, alone, when members of her family made an assassination attempt on the leader that failed. Even though she wasn’t involved, he exiled all of their family members to barren places in the planet’s history.
Kirk, meanwhile, discovers something that Spock and Zarabeth don’t know. The “preparation” Mr. Atoz talked about was never completed, and he thinks he can return to the library. However, with Spock and McCoy nowhere near their portal now, how will he eventually relay this to them?
There’s only one more episode after this one, thankfully. Although there are many plot holes in this story, it’s not a horrible one. It’s just that it seems to have one objective, and that’s to tear down all of the barriers Spock has to displaying emotions and feelings. It’s a convoluted way to get Spock to fall in love with Zarabeth, but it works – sort of. One has to wonder if she ever gave birth to a half-Vulcan baby at some point in the planet’s history. There are two novels that deal with this possibility (I’m downloading them now…)
All Our Yesterdays puts Spock in a similar position Kirk had in City on the Edge of Forever. He’s in love with someone in the past but must sacrifice her to return to the future. At one point he attempts to send McCoy through by himself, but it won’t work unless both of them go through together. To save his friend, he must leave the woman he has come to love behind. It’s a similar story, complete with the portal that they accidentally go through. In Spock’s case, though, he could have stayed behind with Zarabeth without impacting history, except for the fact that McCoy would be stuck there with him.
Hey, two’s company, three’s a crowd.
The biggest plot-hole is that only Spock seems to have suffered a regressive nature. Kirk and McCoy do not display any change in personality for having gone through the atavachron, only Spock. It’s never explained how that happened – was there something in Vulcans physiology that caused it to happen only to him? Also, it being an arctic wasteland, it seems ridiculous that Zarabeth walks around in a skimpy outfit, even if the cave is naturally warm. The fact that she isn’t ripping off the fur parka as soon as she gets inside would indicate that it’s not all that hot in there.
Mariette Hartley does a decent job as Zarabeth. The problem is she’s given a lot of long stretches of dialogue to explain what has happened and is happening on the planet Sarpeidon. This doesn’t feel natural, to begin with, and Hartley doesn’t exactly deliver the lines with much inspiration. The interaction between Spock and McCoy, though is what makes the episode. There has always been a friendly acerbic nature between the two, and here it’s McCoy who is calling out Spock on his behavior. That Spock is ready to throw it all away to stay in the past is hard to believe, but McCoy does a great job being the contrast to that. Leonard Nimoy and DeForrest Kelley have perhaps their strongest outing together in the series here.
Despite the plot holes this is a pretty good episode. There’s a good story involving science fiction, romance, and friendship. The acting is good and it held my interest better than many of the other episodes in this final season of the original series.
Previous episode of the series (link): Star Trek: The Original Series – The Savage Curtain
Next episode of the series (link): Star Trek: The Original Series – Turnabout Intruder
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