Revisiting Star Trek TNG: Yesterday’s Enterprise

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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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