Flashback TV #3 – JJ Abrams rips off Star Trek Animated episode, “Yesteryear”
This episode of Star Trek, the Animated Series is one of the best because it provides a follow-up to a fan-favorite Original Series episode and does something unique with it. The Original Series episode it draws on for inspiration is “City on the Edge of Forever” by Harlan Ellison, a great one from the live action series. Gene Roddenberry de-canonized the animated series in 1988, but “Yesteryear” was an exception and it won critical acclaim for its efforts. The story centers around Kirk and Spock, who are using the Guardian of Forever to study past history, but screw up the timeline and have to set things right.
DC Fontana wrote this episode and I think she does a great job instilling a sense of courage, family, and honor in the script. Many of the elements she helped create for the story have been kept and remembered in Star Trek canon, such as Spock’s background. She explored bigger themes and even threw in the controversial use of euthanasia, but she was reportedly happy with the outcome overall, despite a brief fight over the content with the network.
It is Spock’s timeline that somehow gets screwed up. When he returns after using the Guardian, he finds another guy is now the Enterprise first officer. Spock finds out that he died in the past, and he has to go back to fix it. You’d think the new first officer might be apprehensive about this prospect, since fixing the timeline would fix him and his job too, but this Andorian guy just wishes Spock luck like a dope.
Spock goes back in time and we are given the animated version of Vulcan. Sarek is voiced by Mark Leonard and interacts with Spock throughout the show. A young kid does an alright job as young Spock, but James Doohan is really bad as The Guardian. Gone is the booming voice of Bart LaRue from “City on the Edge of Forever”. Instead, Doohan sounds aged and weak as The Guardian, which makes me think of an old guy when I hear the Guardian speak.
Spock jumps through the time portal and ends up in front of a pizza. The city ShiKahr looks unusual from the outside and seems surrounded by this large padded wall, which looks like a pizza crust. Going inside, Old Spock witnesses a scene JJ Abrams completely ripped off for the 2009 Star Trek reboot. Some kids tease and taunt Young Spock, insulting his father, so Young Spock attacks one of the kids in retaliation, just like in the movie. Also, Sarek gives Young Spock the exact same speech as in 2009 movie, encouraging Spock to find his way. It’s pretty blatant.
The death of Spock’s pet cougar-dog thing must have been sad to kids on a Saturday morning. There is a moral lesson in the death of Spock’s pet and the episode tries to remind us that death isn’t always supposed to be painful and traumatic. Spock chooses to release his pet doggy thing from that pain. It’s a pretty high level theme for an animated show. I’m surprised they left it in.
All in all, this is a great episode of The Animated Series. It is huge improvement over the pilot and the animation itself is really well-done, especially scenes on Vulcan. For me, the only blemish is the voice work of The Guardian, who comes off as a crippled old guy. The script tries to make up for it, and deliver something deeper, even in two-dimensions. The parallels to the Star Trek 2009 movie are surprising because JJ Abrams or somebody ripped off much of the dialogue used in this episode. Hopefully, people won’t forget that this episode was the first to show young kid-Spock struggling with his human and Vulcan side. Ironically, writer DC Fontana didn’t need a reboot to do it.