And then, “Yesterday’s Enterprise” came along.
The week after it aired, people were coming up to me, asking me I’d seen that really cool episode of Star Trek that aired over the weekend…you know that one with the other Enterprise and the other time line?
Next Generation had a buzz about it, not just among the Trek fans, but among regular TV watchers. And it was cool to admit you watched and liked Star Trek…well, at least the Next Generation.
For me, this signalled a point where Next Generation “arrived.” It was in the midst of the third season, which I think was the turning point for the show. It was in the third season that Next Generation came into its own, found its storytelling voice, began to use its history to tell richer stories and began to take some storytelling risks.
“Yesterday’s Enterprise” is among the most successful. It came about from executive producer Michael Piller’s desire to find and encourage new talent. The concept for this one came in as a spec script by a couple of free-lance writers. Piller liked the idea, had someone on staff re-write it and tweak it a bit and we’re left with one of the best episodes not only of Next Generation but, perhaps of all of Star Trek.
The Enterprise is exploring a rift when suddenly a ship comes through. In the wink of an eye, reality changes. The Federation is at war with the Klingon Empire and Tasha Yar is still alive. The ship that has come through is the NCC-1701 C, a previous Enterprise. The ship was on it way to its destruction, trying to defend a Klingon outpost. Since it went forward in time, it never arrived and instead of the Klingons being impressed by the gesture by the Federation (the ship is destroyed and all hands lost), relations continue to deteriorate and war breaks out. The time line we see is dark and bleak. We find out the Federation is losing and on the brink of falling to the Klingons.
It’s hard to really encapsulate this episode in just words–it’s one of those you have to see. Visually, the story is a stunning one, with the usually bright bridge shot in shadows and ten forward well lit. Seeing our familiar characters in this new universe, with vestiges of the characters we knew in there, but instead having to live in this set of circumstances is superb. And then the Trek ideal that one person can make a difference…to see that holds true here, even under the most beak of circumstances….it’s all superbly done.
Add to it that you’ve got action, some great performances and a good musical score and you’ve got one of the best episodes in the Trek canon. It also set up a lot of things for later seasons when the Tasha Yar from this timeline goes back in time to have a meaningful death. It’s no wonder everyone who saw it was buzzing about it…it’s one of the great hours of Star Trek.