The Animated Series‘ “Yesteryear” in Review
Of all the episodes from Star Trek: The Animated Series, this installment has been discussed the most. I guided its Memory Alpha article to “Featured” status. Here, I’ll share my opinion of the episode. But first, what’s the story? On its fiftieth anniversary, let’s go back to this time-travel tale…
At the Guardian of Forever’s planet, the Enterprise is helping a team of historians research Federation history. Kirk, Spock and a redshirt return from Orion‘s past, but McCoy and Scotty don’t recognize Spock. Another crewman, Commander Thelin, is now first officer. The timeline has been changed.
In the altered timeline, Spock’s death has led Sarek and Amanda to separate, and Amanda later perished in a shuttle crash. Spock died when he was just seven. The adult Spock recalls that, at the time, his life was saved by a cousin when he was attacked by a wild creature. As Kirk and Spock realise, this cousin, “Selek”, was actually his adult self. To restore the timeline, Spock will need to return to Vulcan’s past. Thelin accepts the necessary change, knowing it will save Spock and his mother. Spock bids farewell and steps into the Guardian, travelling to Vulcan’s past.
Young Spock is being bullied by a few Vulcan boys when his future self, posing as cousin Selek, arrives. He‘s welcomed into Sarek’s home, where Sarek admonishes young Spock for displaying his emotions while “Selek” privately explains to Amanda that he relates to the boy. Sarek assertively preps the child for an upcoming maturity test but — as young Spock reveals to his pet sehlat, I-Chaya — he’s less confident about whether he’ll succeed than his father is.
At night, young Spock attempts to set off on a mountain-climbing expedition alone but is followed by I-Chaya and the older Spock. The boy’s parents grow concerned about their son, Sarek admitting uncertainty about “Selek”. A grizzly le-matya chases young Spock but I-Chaya fights it. Adult Spock subdues the le-matya with a Vulcan neck pinch, much to the boy’s gratitude. He admits to being confused and conflicted about his parents’ differing approaches to parenting. I-Chaya collapses — injured by the le-matya — and is nearing death.
Since I-Chaya is too large to carry to a healer, young Spock hurriedly returns to the city and brings a healer back. Sadly, the injuries are too severe. Adult Spock helps his younger self see the logic in euthanising I-Chaya.
Returning home, young Spock notifies his parents that the trip helped him choose between his two worlds and that he has chosen Vulcan. Sarek approves and plans to bring I-Chaya’s body home, which the boy appreciates. “Selek” says goodbye to Sarek and Amanda, urging the father to understand his son.
Spock steps through the Guardian and tells Kirk there was only one change — a pet’s death. Kirk downplays its historical impact, but Spock notes its significance to some. Back on the ship, McCoy’s irritated by recalibrations for Spock, who mentions he’s lucky they’re not for an Andorian. McCoy questions this statement and Spock simply says times change.
An episode exploring Spock’s youth was always going to be, as he’d say, “fascinating.” And who better to take us back to that era than DC Fontana, the first person Gene Roddenberry told about his initial concept for the character? She deftly fulfils the assignment, letting us witness Spock growing up with his pet sehlat, previously referenced in “Journey to Babel”, which Fontana also penned. While any time portal could have sufficed, using the Guardian of Forever from “The City on the Edge of Forever” is fantastic fan service! The scenic vistas, flora and fauna of Vulcan are all captured in fantastic detail, adding to the sense of great world building. Continuity involving Spock’s schoolmates and his learning of the Vulcan neck pinch is also fabulous. With a runtime of only twenty-two minutes, it’s amazing how much story Fontana manages to include.
Majel Barrett and James Doohan, portraying various roles, deliver acceptable vocal performances. It’s excellent that Mark Lenard returned to voice Sarek for this production, and I love Leonard Nimoy’s sonorous voiceovers as the adult Spock.
The plot falters when it’s established that replaying Vulcan history without Spock has significantly altered the timeline, implying an overly fragile timeline where presumably every participant must be present for replays. Arguably even worse, Spock’s admission that his timeline reset attempt included his pet’s death technically signifies that he failed to reset the timeline as intended.
It’s remarkable and (probably unintentionally) amusing when the healer describes the childhood Spock as a practical joker. It’s even more astounding when the dedicated-to-logic healer arrives in a bright pink vehicle!
One historian on the planet is an impressive bird-like alien, more ambitious than would have been doable for TOS. It’s great to see unique aliens like this and Thelin. Speculation suggests Thelin may be an Aenar due to his grey skin. Shortly before the current SAG-AFTRA strike began, I had the pleasure of explaining this to Bruce Horak, the actor of Hemmer from Strange New Worlds. Even though he’d recently started watching TAS, this little detail had escaped his attention.
Personally, I connect with this episode (and Vulcans in general) especially because such characters as Spock and Sarek talk in an extremely literal way that is often associated with autism, a disability I have. Like young Spock, I have occasionally found difficulty in knowing what appeals to me. Hence, writing reviews such as this has been a challenge (due to my background of writing for Memory Alpha, I’ve always found fact-based writing much easier). However, by digging deep into identifying my likes and dislikes, crafting critiques is a hurdle I’ve thankfully overcome. Managing to review top-notch installments like this is deeply thrilling. Exceptionally acted with less annoying music than other TAS episodes, this is an outstanding story of youth and euthanasia, the best episode of its series.
Editor of WarpFactorTrek, Dan is an avid Star Trek fan who lives in Aberdeen, Scotland. Dan has loved Star Trek ever since discovering it in his childhood. He worked as an administrator, for six years, on the encyclopedic Star Trek website Memory Alpha, which involved studying the making of the various series and films. He has been mentioned in the official Star Trek Magazine, has qualified from a Star Trek course taught at Glasgow Clyde College, and coordinates the SubSpace Chatter (formerly The Scotch Trekker) YouTube channel, which regularly features live interviews with the cast and crew of Star Trek.