Star Trek: The Animated Series


3.5 stars

Air date: 9/15/1973
Written by D.C. Fontana
Directed by Hal Sutherland

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

In perhaps the best and most celebrated outing for The Animated Series, a revisit to the Guardian of Forever ("City on the Edge of Forever") by Spock and Kirk, conducting historical research by observing history (this seems like a really dangerous way to study history), results in a change that erases Spock from the timeline. Spock and Kirk return to the Enterprise, where no one remembers Spock (except Kirk, who was on the mission with him through the time portal). Stationed at Spock's post is an Andorian everyone else knows as the first officer for the past five years.

It turns out Spock in this timeline was killed while still a 7-year-old child on Vulcan. Spock recalls from his original past that he was saved by a much older cousin named Selek, who resembled his current-day self, and he realizes that he was the one who saved himself. This had happened during young Spock's kahs-wan maturity test on Vulcan, but it didn't happen "this" time because Spock was using the Guardian of Forever to study history "instead" of saving himself. So now he has to go back in time again, and save himself as he was "always" supposed to. Time paradoxes, man.

Spock uses the Guardian of Forever to travel back to Vulcan just before before his kahs-wan trial. Posing as "Selek," distant cousin of the family, he ventures into town and recalls the beauty of his homeworld. (Spock's running log is especially valuable as a tool of narration, as it gives us insights into the character's thinking.)

We witness young Spock being bullied by other Vulcan children for being a half-human "Earther" whom they see as a failed Vulcan; he can't even properly administer a Vulcan nerve pinch. (A similar bullying scene would later be used in the 2009 Kelvin reboot film.) Sarek has a discussion with Selek about the confrontation, apologizing for his son's un-Vulcan-like ways. (Mark Lenard crucially returns as the voice of Sarek.) Selek's conversation with Amanda, in which she notes he understands Spock more than her husband, strikes a poignant note. Spock tells her, "It is difficult for a father to bear less than perfection in his son. Spock will find his way."

In its very quiet, Vulcan-like way, this story provides another informative analysis of the human/Vulcan conflict always central to Spock's persona, and how he has learned to cope with it — as well as the quiet but omnipresent rift between him and his father (as also seen elsewhere, particularly TOS's "Journey to Babel"). The pressure on young Spock as a half-human misfit among his peers and a potential failure to his father weighs heavily on him, but Selek provides support, advice, and wisdom to his younger self, explaining, "Vulcans do not lack emotion. It is only that ours is controlled." It's always important to remember that Vulcans are not robots, but feeling individuals who have learned to suppress. Spock knows this better than most.

Selek follows young Spock into the desert where the boy faces the kahs-wan, accompanied by his pet sehlat, I-Chaya. During the night, the boy is attacked by a desert predator, but Selek saves the boy. I-Chaya is wounded and infected by the predator's venom, so young Spock travels back through the desert to the city to find a healer. But it is too late, as I-Chaya's infection is beyond hope. The healer gives Spock the choice to prolong his pet's life while suffering, or end the sehlat's life and its suffering. Spock chooses the logical path rather than the emotional shortcut, and returns to his father where he announces, "I chose Vulcan."

"Yesteryear" was written by D.C. Fontana, who wrote one or more episodes for TOS, TAS, TNG, and DS9. This is easily the most character-driven of all the TAS episodes, and it's a wonder and a bit of a shame this series didn't try to do more with its characters given its other limitations. At the end, Selek asks Sarek to try to understand his son. It's a personal plea that speaks to a torment long held by Spock over the lack of his father's acceptance. It's a message delivered in the most flatly neutral and emotionless way, but we know the feelings run much deeper than what Spock would ever show.

Previous episode: Beyond the Farthest Star
Next episode: One of Our Planets Is Missing

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11 comments on this post

Fri, May 26, 2023, 9:30pm (UTC -5)
The best of the animated series episodes. Just great-with the exception of the animation itself.
Sat, May 27, 2023, 2:32pm (UTC -5)
Just a wonderful little story with some deep meaning that fleshes out Spock's childhood. If this was a non-animated episode, it would be 4* for me.

It makes good use of the time portal from "The City on the Edge of Forever" though the twist here is that Spock can pretty much order the guardian where and when he wants to go. For 1970s animation, the landscapes on Vulcan as well as the decor in Sarek's home were really well done. Nice to have Mark Lenard as Sarek -- an instantly recognizable voice.

It seems a dangerous thing to do to study history by going through the time portal as the slightest change can alter future timelines. Kirk and teams of historians were going back to the beginning of Orion history.

Young Spock has to choose to whether to euthanize I-Chaya or prolong his suffering -- a tough position for a kid to be in, but he matures greatly after the incident. Young Spock decides to stay on Vulcan, but it's not clear if this is the time he's supposed to decide on going to Starfleet or not. In any case, the timeline is restored.

Elizabeth Palladino
Sat, May 27, 2023, 3:20pm (UTC -5)
This is one of my favorite episodes across all the Star Trek series. I recommend it to everybody, with the remark, "Yes, it's a cartoon for kids. Watch it anyway."
The background on Spock and on Vulcan is just priceless. D.C. Fontana (RIP) was always one of my favorite Trek writers--I just like her tone or something. One thing I thought was wise was that I-Chaya was not portrayed as being too cute and fluffy-puffy. That would have made her death just unbearable. As it was, the strength and maturity portrayed by child-Spock was meaningful and poignant without being heartbreaking for the viewers--many of whom were and probably still are children.
Joseph B
Sat, May 27, 2023, 3:21pm (UTC -5)
When I first viewed this episode in 1973 with a bunch of my Star Trek friends, our heads just about *exploded* !! We absolutely could not believe how good this was! Some of us even teared up at the end. Here we thought that “Journey to Babel” was going to be it as far as Vulcan backstories were concerned … and then this came along! Needless to say, we couldn’t stop talking about this episode … and nobody questioned if this animated series was “real” Star Trek anymore after this!
Sun, May 28, 2023, 6:27pm (UTC -5)
Definitely the best of TAS.

I did find it comical that the Andorian first officer was so nonchalant about Spock "restoring" the timeline and at a minimum, costing the Andorian's job, but possibly costing him his life.

Along with things like "Yesterday's Enterprise", our preferred timeline is incredibly, um, doctored.
Theta Sigma
Sat, Jun 3, 2023, 12:51pm (UTC -5)
I do like this episode a lot, it's a great look at Spock's backstory and a very touching story. I only wish it could have been made as a live action episode in some hypothetical fourth season of TOS, the extra runtime and Nimoy being able to utilize his full performance would have made the story even better, maybe one of the best in the entire franchise.
Sat, Jun 3, 2023, 10:45pm (UTC -5)
I recently watched the animated series for the first time too, and yeah, I really enjoyed this one. It was a very interesting look at Vulcan and Spock's upbringing.
Mark J
Tue, Jun 6, 2023, 11:59am (UTC -5)
I felt really sad for the death of I Chaya. This shows the quality of the story overall and as a metaphor for Spock choosing to fully commit to the ways of Vulcan

Dorothy Fontana really knew how to write character stories, especially based on Spock.
Trek fan
Mon, Jun 12, 2023, 9:43pm (UTC -5)
Very much a 4-star episode within the parameters of an 1970s animated series and booooo to Jammer for giving it only 3 1/2 stars without explaining the markdown. His bias against the TOS era is strong, neglecting and minimizing its creative genius. But to be fair, TNG is his first experience, and people seem to give whatever version of Trek they see first most credit for the franchise’s genius. After thousands of hours of later Treks, TAS must seem routine, but it built on the universe after TOS.

This is truly a brilliant Star Trek episode with a complex tapestry of themes, all the more impressive as a story for being told economically in 30 minutes. It used a welcome return to the Guardian (totally sensible that Starfleet would use it to study history) to expand and flesh out Spock’s character in a very touching way, much as the first Guardian story fleshed out Kirk. I love the psychologically deep irony that Spock has to save himself.

The voice work by the original Sarek and Amanda appearing with Nimoy is a nice touch, as is the appearance of Spock’s pet that he referenced to McCoy in Journey to Babel. I love the coming of age it depicts for Spock here, from his being teased as a child to him choosing the Vulcan way as he tries to follow his dad’s path. All stuff that makes it into the live action arc of Spock’s character, including the much-appreciated nod to its depiction of his childhood in the 2009 Star Trek, which seems to be that of the Prime Universe Spock before his parents die in an alternate universe twist.

Yesteryear is sophisticated, adult storytelling for a Filmation studio (and 1970s cartoon landscape in general) that otherwise gave us kiddie stuff like the Flintstones. But it’s done in a deeply moving way that’s accessible to kids; I remember it really touched me when I saw it as a kid in the late 1980s when animation wasn’t much better. Anyhow it’s not like anyone else was doing better animation on TV in the 70s. This series was truly groundbreaking in its little way for importing serious science fiction into a simplified format for younger kids. I think this episode is richer, more important to the Trek universe, and more deeply moving than anything we’ve seen on Prodigy or Lower Decks, even though Jammer inexplicably gives some of those episodes more stars than this one.
Thu, Jun 15, 2023, 6:51am (UTC -5)
Ah, Thelin... My favorite Andorian...
Mon, Jun 19, 2023, 5:38pm (UTC -5)
Why didn't we see Michael Burnham in this episode?

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