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Yesterday's Enterprise

Over on the Tor.com website, kradical has been blogging a re-watch of the entire Star Trek: The Next Generation series. Keith has just gotten to the episode "Yesterday's Enterprise", and it prompted me to reply about how important that episode was for me.

Here's what I said:

Keith, I'm delighted that you finally reached "Yesterday's Enterprise," which I consider probably the best episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation (although it sometimes gets edged out by "The Best of Both Worlds"). I've been waiting for this opportunity to tell you that "Yesterday's Enterprise" is the reason I started watching Star Trek again. I hope you will indulge me.

You might recall that I mentioned in one or two of my other responses to your re-watches that I missed much of the early Next Generation episodes and eventually had to catch up with them in reruns and the like. There's a reason for this. TNG premiered in syndication the same year I entered college, and given how busy I was, if I was going to make a point of watching any television show on schedule it had to captivate me. Not only would I have to give it my time because I was getting accustomed to a college workload (studying Physics, already a tough field that required a lot of study), but I would also have to find the show on a channel in an unfamiliar city.

The fact that there was a new Star Trek show on did interest me of course; how could it not? My memory tells me that I did manage to catch "Encounter at Farpoint," "The Naked Now," and one or two other episodes from season one when they were first broadcast, but I found them, well, lacking. In the end, I wrote off the new Star Trek series as not worthy of my time or attention. Ironically, channel 56 in the Boston area still showed the original series in syndication five nights a week, just before dinner time, and my roommates and I tended to watch it before traipsing off to the dining hall. The new show was there, but we were still much more interested in re-watching the original.

Flash forward to my junior year. I found myself at home in New York City during some break (perhaps it was spring break? I don't recall) and if I recall correctly, my brothers weren't at home, just my parents, so I had a lot of free time. Glancing through TV Guide, I noticed that Star Trek: The Next Generation was going to be on in the afternoon on channel 11, and since I did like science fiction and Star Trek and I had nothing better to do, I decided I might as well catch the episode. I went upstairs to my bedroom, where we had a small color television set, and I lay on my bed and watched the show.

The episode was "Yesterday's Enterprise."

The moment the teaser ended, my jaw hit the floor (metaphorically speaking). I said to myself, "Okay, this is interesting," and watched the entire episode, my eyes glued to the set (again, a metaphor). As the final credits rolled, I realized that the show had become good, possibly great, and I made a point of keeping up with it from then on.

I often think about the inflection points in life, the events that change our pathways and set us on certain courses. It's possible that had I missed that broadcast of the show, I might have come back to TNG anyway; but had channel 11 been showing an episode like the previous one, or a season one repeat, I might very well have simply given up on the show again. And while Trek is not necessarily the reason I became a science-fiction writer, as I did read and watch a lot of other SF, I can't deny that it has had a lot of influence on my path.

"Yesterday's Enterprise" was tailor-made to appeal to me. I love time-travel stories, and one in which an entire alternative timeline is posited and then erased, with no one the wiser, resonates with me more than almost any other type of science-fiction conceit. I'm still sometimes amazed that they managed to pull it off.

Comments

"Yesterday's Enterprise" is the first episode from Next Gen that I remember... Next Gen had been on "in the background" during my college years and I didn't pay much attention (I wasn't an original series fan), but that episode made an impact, and the next year when a friend talked me into watching all the season 1-3 eps he had taped, I was willing to because of that episode.

One of my stories that didn't make it into the Strange New Worlds anthologies was related to "Yesterday's Enterprise." For me, the other "big impact" episode was "Lower Decks," although ultimately DS9 edged out Next Gen for me.
"Yesterday's Enterprise" is my favorite TNG episode; in fact, it just might be my favorite episode of any Star Trek.
I'm pretty sure I agree with you, although others that contend for that title for me include DS9's "The Visitor" and "In the Pale Moonlight."
Oh, the stories I heard about ST-TNG from a friend who worked on it... That being said, my favorite of all the Star Trek stories remains "The Corbomite Maneuver", which was the epitome of what it was about - for me anyway. Not only was it about exploring the Unknown, but it showed us not running away from it and not abandonning our better qualities, and in fact becoming better people.
That was a good episode. I was watching the show regularly by then, more-or-less enjoying it but not really committed until the third season. (The first season was pretty bad.

I wasn't a fan of the original show. I had the opposite experience there that you had with "Yesterday's Enterprise"; the first episode I saw, after much enthusing by friends that I needed to watch Star Trek, was "Spock's Brain". I didn't go back for a long time, not until I saw the DS9 tribbles episode and that led me to the original. The power of first encounters works both ways. :-)

What did you think of "The Inner Light"?
"The Inner Light" is also one of my top-rated episodes. I suspect that had I skipped "Yesterday's Enterprise" and seen that one when it was broadcast, it would have brought me back to Trek as well.
Years ago, a friend of mine on some mailing list posted the Top Ten Reasons Why The "Yesterday's Enterprise" universe was better than the regular continuity. The only ones I can remember at the moment:

* Constant phaser fire creates "feel good" ions in the ship's atmosphere.

* Dark red-alert lighting hides the ugly lounge look of the bridge

And the number one reason: three words: Tasha, Tasha, Tasha!
I think a Next Generation series set during a war with the Klingons would have made for great drama. That said, we did get the war with the Dominion on DS9 just a few years later.
I was just a bit ahead of you in school, apparently; I caught fairly few of the first-season episodes when they were first broadcast, and didn't really have a chance to watch the series regularly until the third season. By the time I felt I was actually trying the show out, it had gotten past its painfully long period of finding its feet.

And I didn't even own a video recorder yet, at that point.
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