Revisiting Star Trek TNG: Yesterday's Enterprise

Review James Hunt 27 Jun 2014 - 06:52

James' Star Trek TNG look-back reaches Yesterday's Enterprise, widely considered one of the show's best episodes...

This review contains spoilers.

3.15 Yesterday's Enterprise

And now the moment you've all been waiting for…

Worf and Guinan are having an increasingly weird chat in Ten Forward ("Earth females are too… fragile.") when suddenly a time hole appears next to the ship! Worf is called up to the bridge in case they need to shoot it, and Guinan is left looking concerned. As the Enterprise crew scan the time hole, a starship suddenly flies out of it. At the same instant, everything changes: the Enterprise is now a warship fighting the Klingons, Worf is gone, and Tasha Yar is back on the bridge! Back in Ten Forward, Guinan turns around and looks confused, like something weird has happened. It did, Guinan, it DID!

The crew quickly confirms the identity of the ship: it's the Enterprise C, the predecessor to the Enterprise D! This is pretty much the coolest thing that happens in seven years of TNG episodes, so take a moment to savour it. There we go. Now it's over. Still, you've got that episode where Crusher falls in love with a candle to look forward to.

After confirming that it is indeed the ship that was thought destroyed over twenty years ago, the Enteprise D crew goes to rescue the survivors of the heavily-damaged Enterprise C. They find only two senior officers left alive: Captain Rachel Garrett and Lt. Richard Castillo. Everyone's a bit weirded out and not entirely sure what to do with the new spare Enterprise when Guinan barges onto the bridge and pulls Picard aside for a word.

In a private meeting with Picard, Guinan attempts to explain that she has a feeling that "everything is wrong", but struggles to offer any actual evidence of explanation of her hunch. Nevertheless, he listens to her suggestion to send the Enterprise C back through the time hole.

In sickbay, an injured Garrett wakes up and explains that the Enterprise C was being attacked by four Romulan warbirds while defending a Klingon outpost. If they go back, it'll be to certain death. While she wrestles with this, Yar and Castillo start making doe eyes at one another, united by their love of… well, it's not really clear, they're just super into each other.

Guinan comes back to Picard to check that he actually heard her advice, and they have a big argument about which timeline is the "real" one. Who's to say that the current universe is any less valid than the other one, Picard asks. "Me" says Guinan. He's probably wishing Q had been more specific about her weird powers right about now. Assuming there's a Q in this timeline. Even though Picard is upset that 125 people will die, Guinan points out that the war has so far killed 40 billion, which makes it even less likely that the regular gang would end up on the Enterprise.

Eventually, Picard decides she's got a point. Guinan goes back to Ten Forward and bumps into Yar and Castillo, and Yar noticing she's acting really strange, like she's seen a ghost. Not the ghost from Ghost, a ghost from Star Trek, that is.

Picard calls a meeting (some things never change) and tells the crew that he's going to send the Enterprise C back, because Guinan's usually right about this stuff. Riker gets angry at the prospect of 125 meaningless deaths, but Picard pulls rank and tells him to shut up. Then Data points out that the deaths probably aren't meaningless and might impress the Klingons enough to prevent the war (n.b. this is what did happen). Riker's humiliation is complete, so he decides to acquiesce.

Picard goes to discuss the situation with Garrett, who admits that most of her people already want to go back and finish the fight. Picard tells her in confidence that the war effort only has six months left in it before they have to surrender, so she might as well give suicide a fair try. She agrees. Yar and Castillo say their goodbyes to one another, but just before the Enterprise C can leave, some Klingons attack.

In the fight, Garrett is injured, and the doctors are unable to find the cure for a shrapnel wound directly to the brain. She dies, and Castillo is now the last competent man left on board the Enterprise C. He's still planning to leave, though. As they prepare to enter the rift, Yar realises the reason Guinan was acting weird: she's supposed to be dead! Guinan liberally salts the wound by emphasis how pointless the death was (mmm, metatext) which is understandably upsetting to Yar.

But then she figures out a plan: she'll go back in time and help the Enterprise C. Picard, who has long since stopped caring about how badly they're mangling the timeline, agrees. Yar boards the Enterprise C, reuniting with Castillo, and they slowly, slowly, very very slowly take the ship towards the rift while the Enterprise D holds off more attacking Klingons.

Unfortuntely, the Enterprise D is no match for the multiple attacking ships, and as they're backed into a space-corner, Riker is killed and the warp core is seconds away from a breach. But they succeed! The Enterprise C managed to re-enters the time hole and everything suddenly goes back how it was. Worf is back, Yar is dead, Riker is alive and Guinan no longer feels slightly uneasy, which was the main driver of the story, let's not forget. The crew of the Enterprise D will never know how close they came to death in an alternate universe. In Ten-Forward, Guinan sits down with La Forge and, somewhat insensitively, asks him to tell her about his dead friend Tasha. Tactful.

TNG WTF: It's very hard not to watch this episode and think that it's a little convenient that even in a radically altered timeline where everyone wears their collars popped and shouts a lot, the crew of the Enterprise still end up on the Enterprise. Except Worf, who can't really be around because he's a Klingon, and Troi, who most people don't even notice is missing because she never says anything useful anyway. At the very least, in a war the Federation is losing you'd expect to see some the more competent officers in command of their own ships. Like Data, Riker and… well, Data and Riker, at least.

TNG LOL: Worf makes another of those first faltering steps to becoming the butt of Star Trek's jokes when he describes prune juice as "A warrior's drink!" to the collective mirth of the audience. By the time he turns up in DS9 he's basically just a walking punchline.

Who's that face?: Hey, that's Denise Crosby! She was Tasha Yar in… oh, right.

Mistakes and Minutiae: There's so much in this episode that's worth pointing out about the way characters and sets have changed. My favourite difference is the way the painting of the Enterprise has been replaced with a tactical star chart in Picard's Ready Room, but if you like small details, this episode is about 90% small details.

Time Until Meeting: In the future, there are no meetings. There is only war. Until 24:02, when Picard has a meeting to say Guinan's hunch is worth acting on.

Captain's Log: Ah, Yesterday's Enterprise. Widely considered one of TNG's best episodes, and rightly so. It's not necessarily that accessible to new viewers, but if you've been following the show for some time it's hugely rewarding and masses of fun. And hey, my first episode of Buffy was The Wish, which is basically the same story with a magic amulet instead of a wibbly time hole and that never put me off, so who's to say what "accessible" really is?

Although it's probable that what most people love is the alternate future and appearance of the Enterprise C, what elevates this episode above traditional time-travel fare is that they found the human stakes in the story. The idea that people might lay down their lives for a better future they'll never get to see. The fact that the episode is incredibly tense and surprisingly dark definitely helps keep viewers hooked, but as with all good Star Trek episodes it's ultimately about triumph of hope over pessimism.

And, of course, Tasha Yar gets the send-off she deserved, sacrificing her life to save the future rather than being chucked across a sound stage by a bad special effect.

This episode also has one of the best fight scenes outside a movie. It's obvious that it's all going to get undone, but that doesn't change the fact that you care about the fate of the alternate universe crew just as much as the real ones, so when Riker dies it's a genuine moment of surprise. Plus Picard gets to shout some defiant stuff while the bridge goes up in flames around him, so it's a fun indication of what might happen in the "real" timeline. It really is gripping.

Watch or Skip? If you don't know the answer, you weren't reading closely enough.

Read James' lookback at the previous episode, A Matter Of Perspective, here.

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Disqus - noscript

Couldn't agree more. Has everything you could ask for in an episode. I've watched this more than any other one.

Typo, '1.15 Yesterday's Enterprise' should be '3.15'.

Great episode.

"Let's make sure history never forgets, the name...Enterprise!"

Brilliantly delivered line.

I love love love this episode. A real sense that something is at stake! Actual human emotions! The Enterprise C's first and last appearance! Some fantastic quotable lines! Just. Wonderful.

'Let's make sure that history never forgets the name... Enterprise.'

According to Memory Alpha the original script had Wesley Crusher decapitated in the final battle but it was never filmed.

This makes me sad. :(

I like this episode mainly because it is as close as we ever got to a mirror universe TNG episode. I so wish they had made a TNG movie from the Dark Mirror book!

Superb episode. Tasha falls for Shooter McGavin from Happy Gilmore (probably one of the few times the actor Christopher McDonald hasn't played a complete p***k. But then bad guy roles are more fun).
Also, there's the classic continuity error at the end where LaForge is wearing the alternate timeline's uniform when Guinan asks about Tasha at the end (the black cuffs are a give-away, and it's remarked upon on the BluRay commentary).
An absolute classic. Picard has some great lines. The already mentioned "Let's make sure history..." was excellent. "That'll be the day" was also a fave in response to the Klingons calling for their surrender. I just loved the defiant nature of the battle-worn Picard, as well as how often he shoots Riker down.
I agree that the Enterprise C moves excrutiatingly slowly towards the rift though. If they move that slow in the battle on the other side they really will be sitting ducks.
Next time, Data creates himself a daughter in the first episode to be directed by Jonathan Frakes (Riker).

That scene would have really brightened my day !

Just an awesome episode, has the epic feel of a movie. As for Picard... Patrick Stewart is on brilliant form in this one. "Let's make sure that history never forgets... the name... Enterprise."

Should have read all the comments before posting mine!

Y'know in thinking about this episode now, with the benefit of hindsight, it makes me wonder why the Federation would take 17 years to create another Enterprise? As in Kirk's time the minute one went bang it seemed like they would very quickly build another to continue the line. And it isn't long before an Enterprise E is created either..

So why the big gap between C & D? Did they just decide the line was cursed for a while or something? It's not really a flaw as such, as this is still a great episode, (though the epilogue seems very slight) but I can't watch it now without wondering about that..

In the films, they were already building the Enterprise-A whilst the other original Enterprise was running training flights, facing Khan and then on its way back for de-commissioning. Not sure why though, after only 2 movies of service that the Enterprise-A was then due the same fate. Enterprise-B then goes into service some years later (at the start of Generations). The original crew members had been retired for some time by that point.
You're right though. It does seem odd for there to have been such a big gap. Enterprise-E wasn't long after Enterprise-D's destruction either.
Although we may be overthinking this considering it's just a fun fictional world we enjoy visiting now and then.

"By the time he turns up in DS9 he's basically just a walking punchline." And then DS9 masterfully undoes almost all the damage and lets him be a Klingon again. Out with the prune juice, in with the blood wine.

Agreed. In fact, the ending of the episode has very similar beats to that in Generations. I think the dialog is even pretty much identical:- "coolant leak, we've got a coolant leak!".

Yes, one of the greatest episodes ever. The Sela business in Redemption I and II didn't really make any sense though.

For the amount of people involved with the writing of this episode, the major script revisions that took place over one long weekend and the fact that the shooting schedule was brought forward to accomodate two key guest stars (Whoopi Goldberg & Denise Crosby), all points to a major failure but to everyone's surprise it was the exact opposite and "Yesterday's Enterprise" is widely considered to be one of TNG's greatest episodes ever made during it's seven year run.

The dark and sombre tone of the story, the feeling of impending doom, the reappearance of a "lost" character and the memorable finale makes this episode a great piece of television. The direction, lighting, camera work, special effects, music and of course the performances are all on point.

This was a perfect example of "Trek" at it's absolute finest. A true classic in every sense of the word.......

Good point. And informative too. And yeah the call about decomissioning the Enterprise A so soon never really sat well with me..

I love these reviews. That is all.

I've thought about this too. What my brain came up with is: Perhaps Starfleet decided to wait to commission the "D" so as to give the shock of the destruction of the Enterprise C some time to pass. After all, it was THEE Enterprise (of the time) that was destroyed. Also, Starfleet could have been "paying respect" to those who died aboard the "C" by waiting a certain period of time. Otherwise, it could have looked like, "Oh, the Enterprise C was destroyed and 125 lives lost? Eh, so what? Build another one." Instead, they gave it 15 years (or so) to go ahead with the commissioning of a new Enterprise.

Have to agree with this review. "The Day of the Enterprise Past" is a real letdown episode. What a mistake. Definitely skip. Can't wait to get to Doctor Crusher's Candle episode. An absolute classic compared to this.

(Hmmm. Don't know why, but it feels to me like something's gone very wrong here. Can't put my finger on it. Something's just not right. Wait. What's happening outside my window? A great big hole in the sky! Hey, something's coming through!)

Yes, "Yesterday's Enterprise" is absolutely wonderful! I love this episode! This review is spot on! Brilliant!

There is an episode where Crusher loves a candle? Need to watch that...and again

Great quote from Frakes: "To this day I do not understand 'Yesterday's Enterprise'. I do not know what the f*ck happened in that episode. I'm still trying to understand it – but I liked the look." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages, p. 192)

I think the Enterprise-A was another ship in the same class renamed after the original bought the farm.

didn't this set up the return of Tasha (or her daughter, or whatever) in a future episode?

Who's that face?: Hey, that's Bing Crosby's Granddaughter! She was in Playboy… oh, right.

"This is pretty much the coolest thing that happens in seven years of TNG episodes, so take a moment to savour it. There we go. Now it's over. Still, you've got that episode where Crusher falls in love with a candle to look forward to."

I love these reviews SO much sometimes. Bravo.

Man, Shooter McGavin! I KNEW I recognised that guy from something specific but I eventually decided I was just remembering the last time I watched Yesterday's Enterprise.

For a quick job, made out of old models and spare parts; the "Ambassador Class" Enterprise-C works very well. I wish we'd gotten a chance to see it in action. Even the battles in the Dominion War episodes didn't give us a good view of an Ambassador in action.

A recession hit just as Enterprise-C was lost and the Federation had to put Starfleet on a Starship austerity program. The only thing that saved the UFP's economy was the fracking of dilithium on the dark side of the moon, long dismissed as a backwater and even mocked as the "North Dakota of Space". Or something.

I think they went in about the same time, great minds though eh? :)

there's a brief shot of one at the beginning of the ds9 pilot episode during the battle of wolf 359

That's what I was saying. ^^

Shooter McGavin? Pffft. The man was in Grease 2. GREASE 2 with Adrian Zmed! Now that's a CV.

If this were the marvel comics of old, I'd be suggesting that you just earned a 'no-prize!' As that does indeed sound like a plausible enough reason...delaying it as a mark of respect. So that's going to be my own head cannon now as to what happened there!

Good episode, especially the Guinan-Picard exchanges.

But I've always felt the Enterprise C captain was sort of unconvincing.

Also the whole "yeah we're not scared of dying, we're tough and want to finish the fight" thing always seemed unrealistic.

That however was always a weakness of the TNG Star Trek: it made the people seem too inhumanly professional, mechanical almost.

The Original series seemed far more human and real.

I remember him best as Geena Davis' redneck husband Darryl in Thelma and Louise. Especially that great scene on the driveway as he leaves for work, a brilliant ad-lib that Ridley Scott loved so much he kept it in the film.

Hear me out:

Kirk would "ALways. TALk. lIKE. this." like a constipated robot. Everybody loathes it.

Yet Picard's delivery is always so maudlin with the sopping melodrama and people yum it up. Even when it's supposed to be exciting.

But who said a captain isn't allowed to put on a theatrical ham-filled performance? I luv 'em both...

Wasn't it supposed to be a two-parter at one point?

The Castillo/Yar relationship doesn't hold up as well as the rest of the episode, though... a couple nice scenes that do lead to something far more brilliant, but it did get a little too soapy at times.

Crusher falls in love with a candle? That's hot... were the writers on fire that day or were they just lit up on something? xD

That episode was called "Sub Par" or something...

I thought that, based on how Starfleet ran its indoctrination tests in "Coming of Age", that they finally realized the alphabet had more than three letters in it... *evilgrin*

That line is better than both JJ sex trek movies put together.

"Parallels". Also mint.

I feel terribly guilty, because I was expecting to get to this episode SO MUCH that the hype ruined it for me. I mean, I thought it was a very good episode, but a part of me was expecting something different in some way. I don't even know what I was expecting, but after the episode was done I thought "Oh, that was it?".
I enjoyed other episodes a lot more in S4.

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