Today, we look at how the classic Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” essentially “saved” the series.
This is “All the Best Things,” a spotlight on the best TV episodes, movies, albums, etc.
This is a Year of Great TV Episodes, where every day this year, we’ll take a look at great TV episodes. Note that I’m not talking about “Very Special Episodes” or episodes built around gimmicks, but just “normal” episodes of TV shows that are notable only because of how good they are.
There’s a famous story about how Julie Schwartz and Carmine Infantino saved Batman from cancellation, and then the Batman TV show made it so that cancelation was never going to be a fear again for Batman. I believe it’s an over-exaggeration, but suffice it to say that Schwartz and Infantino did an important enough job that if you want to credit them for “saving” Batman, I don’t think that’s too big of a stretch (even if I don’t think the titles were literally half a year away from cancellation). That’s what I think about when I think about the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” and how it is often referred to as the episode that “saved” Star Trek: The Next Generation. I doubt the show would have been canceled without this episode, but at the same time, this episode was clearly very important. In the past, I’ve done a Pop Culture Questions Answered piece on “When did Next Generation get good?” and the best answer really is this episode, something echoed by the writers on the series, who felt that the success of this episode really gave them faith at a time when their faith in the series was severely shaken.
Based on a story by Trent Christopher Ganino and Eric A. Stillwell, the teleplay by Ira Steven Behr, Richard Manning, Hans Beimler and Ronald D. Moore was an early sign of how important Moore would soon become the the Star Trek franchise. It was released during February sweeps in 1990.
It is a mature, nuanced tale of the Enterprise-C falling through a rift in time. Its disappearance from history altered the present, with the Federation now at war with the Klingons. As it turned out, the Enterprise-C had responded to an attack on a Klingon outpost by the Romulans, and even though the Enterprise-C was destroyed in its attempt to save the Klingons, dying in battle to help the Klingons was the main reason why the Klingons made peace with the Federation. With Enterprise-C having instead traveled into the future, the Klingons instead have been at war with the Federation for decades, and the “current” Enterprise is a warship, and its crew have now been battle-tested. Also, amusingly enough, Tasha Yar (Denise Crosby) is alive in this timeline (after having died in the “real” timeline).
Guinan (Whoopi Goldberg) is the only one who knows the timeline has changed, and she convinces Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) that the Enterprise-C must go back in time and face its doom so that the timeline can be fixed. Picard struggles with the idea of sending over a hundred noble crewmen to certain doom, but the Enterprise-C’s Captain Garrett (Tricia O’Neil) insists that it be done. And when she is killed, as well, her second-in-command, Richard Castillo (Christopher McDonald) instead takes over and continues the mission.
Tasha Yar discovers from Guinan that she is dead in the “real” reality, so she asks to go with the Enterprise-C, and Picard allows her to go. The Klingons try to destroy both ships, but Picard and his crew cover for the C long enough for it to make it back in time and fix reality.
As noted, it’s such an ADULT take on time travel, it was really groundbreaking, and the performances by everyone involved were just outstanding (I’m a big Christopher McDonald fan, but he rarely gets to be as charming and as heroic as he is in this episode). Giving Crosby a better sendoff was also lovely.
The show really turned it around from this point forward, and we were soon in for a few of the best seasons in the history of the franchise.
Okay, if I’m going to have 347 more of these, I could use suggestions, so feel free to email me at email@example.com!