Star Trek TOS: “All Our Yesterdays” offers a star-crossed romance for Spock…


The third and final season of the original “Star Trek” (1966-9) (TOS) is often unfairly maligned in fandom for its drop in quality from the previous two. Yes, it’s true that creator/producer Gene Roddenberry took his hands off the wheel, along with a revolving door of producer/writers, including Gene Coon and John Meredyth Lucas. Also departing were story editor Dorothy Fontana and cinematographer Jerry Finnerman. The third season of TOS was produced by Fred Freidberger, who later developed a reputation as a show-killer after overseeing the final seasons of “Space: 1999”(1975-7) and “The Six Million Dollar Man” (1973-1978). Even before Friedberger came aboard, TOS was on the chopping block, with the show pushed to a Friday, 10 pm broadcast slot (this was long before VCRs, DVRs and other means of time-shifting). Perceived by the NBC suits as a ratings under-performer, the network wanted to get rid of TOS.

Much later in his life, a time-traveling Spock (Leonard Nimoy) would once again find himself in the past, wearing furs, on a savage, frozen, inhospitable planet in “Star Trek” (2009); a situation that recalls the hours he spent with Zarabeth in Sarpeidon’s ice age, 5,000 years earlier.

Despite the circumstances, and the exodus of backstage talent, that final season managed to produce a number of terrific episodes, including “The Enterprise Incident,” “Is There In Truth No Beauty?” “Day of the Dove,” “The Empath,” and “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.” As a lifelong fan of actor Leonard Nimoy’s half-Vulcan character of Mr. Spock, one of my personal favorite episodes of that final season (and in all of TOS) is the Spock love story, “All Our Yesterdays.” The episode was written by a fan, Jean Lisette Aroeste (1932-2020), who previously sold her spec script for “Is There In Truth No Beauty?” earlier in the season, with no prior TV writing credits. Aroeste’s two episodes showed a great affinity for the Spock character that evoked earlier episodes written by the legendary Dorothy Fontana (1939-2019).

“All Our Yesterdays” was the penultimate episode of TOS, airing on March 14th, 1969; one week before the justifiably reviled final episode, “Turnabout Intruder.” This eventful time-traveling story sends Kirk, Spock and McCoy into different eras of a doomed world’s past…

“All Our Yesterdays.”

The episode opens with the Enterprise entering orbit of Sarpeidon, the sole planet of the star, Beta Niobe, which will go nova in approximately three and a half hours. The once-inhabited planet (whose inhabitants were incapable of space travel) now reads as lifeless. Kirk (William Shatner), Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) beam down to investigate, with the few hours remaining until Beta Niobe explodes…

Note: “All Our Yesterdays” is also the only episode of TOS with no scenes taking place aboard the starship Enterprise. We only see the Enterprise’s exterior as it’s orbiting Sarpeidon and warping away when Beta Niobe goes nova. With the exception of Scotty’s voice (James Doohan), none of the secondary characters are featured, either; this story is focused entirely on the troika of Kirk, Spock and McCoy.

Reading Rainbow.
Spock, Kirk and McCoy meet the aptly-named librarian, Mr. Atoz (Ian Wolfe).

On Sarpeidon, the three men materialize inside of an apparent archive. Spock realizes that a massive power signature scanned from orbit is also present. Looking for answers, they run into an elderly librarian, aptly-named “Mr. Atoz” (Ian Wolfe), who seems confused by the Starfleet officers’ inquiries regarding the planet’s missing people. Rounding a corner, the trio meet another Atoz, who shows them the archive’s treasure trove of small metallic discs. Offering only vague answers to their questions, the second Atoz refers them to the desk… where they meet a third, angrier Atoz, who admonishes Kirk, Spock and McCoy for being “very late.” Kirk and company learn that this is the real Mr. Atoz, and that the other two are artificial ‘replicas’, designed for simpler tasks.

Note: Actor Ian Wolfe (1896-1992) also appeared in Star Trek TOS’ 2nd season episode, “Bread and Circuses” as elderly runaway slave, “Septimus.” Wolfe also appeared in many films, such as “Witness for the Prosecution,” “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” and “THX-1138.” The longtime actor also guest-starred on many TV shows, including “The Twilight Zone,” “The Invaders,” “All in the Family,” “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” and “WKRP In Cincinnati.”

Left: Kirk takes a look at Sarpeidon’s equivalent of Earth’s 17th century.
Right: McCoy scans a disc of the planet’s ice age, some 5,000 years earlier.

Hurrying the trio to make their selections before the nova event, Atoz boasts that he personally ensured the safety of all Sarpeidon’s inhabitants (“every single one”), while maddeningly avoiding where everyone went, insisting such information is up to “the individual’s choice.” The real Mr. Atoz then introduces the trio to the vast collection of “verism tapes”; small, metallic discs that, when placed in a compatible viewer, show images from Sarpeidon’s past. Kirk places a random disc into his personal viewer, and on the disc’s surface, he sees images of horses, buggies, and people dressed in clothing from an approximation of Earth’s 17th century. Elsewhere in the library, McCoy places another disc into the viewer, and sees images of a barren, frozen wasteland; possibly an ice age.

Note: The archive’s ‘verism tapes’ are a charming optical effect, bringing to mind the shiny, metallic ‘talking rings’ seen in George Pal’s “The Time Machine” (1960), or of future home entertainment media, such as laserdiscs, CDs, DVDs or BluRays, all of which were years away, back in 1969.

Is he live or is he Memorex?
Spock makes inquiries to Mr. Atoz about the ‘Atavachron.’

Elsewhere in the library, Spock is observing a large machine in a corner. Atoz walks over to assist. Atoz proudly tells Spock that “this is the Atavachron,” though he is somewhat vague regarding its exact function. After Spock absently hits a button on the console, Atoz asks him not to touch the control mechanism, suggesting it should be used only after Spock and the others make their selections from the library.

Note: Like the name “Atoz” for a librarian (“A to Z”), the Atavachron is also aptly named, since atavism suggests reversion to an earlier past form, while ‘chron’ suggests chrono, relating to time. Put them together and you have “Atavachron”; a device supposedly used to biologically prepare each subject for their chosen time by altering cell patterns and brain waves. This last part rings false to me, since Starfleet officers have traveled back in time on many occasions throughout the series, without any such device to ‘prepare’ them, biologically or mentally. More on my misgivings about the Atavachron later…

Top: Kirk hears a woman scream, and it’s off to the races.
Bottom: Spock and McCoy are in pursuit, as McCoy quickly regrets his library selection…

As Kirk continues to marvel at the images from Sarpeidon’s past, he hears a woman’s anguished scream coming from a nearby doorway. Calling for Spock and McCoy, Kirk rushes off in pursuit. Upon entering the innocuous-looking doorway, Kirk is then bombarded by a blinding flash of colorful energy and sound, before stepping into what appears to be a nighttime version of the ancient street he saw on the viewer. Spock and McCoy run off in pursuit of the captain—entering the doorway at the exact same time—only to find themselves at the base of a cliff, in a frozen, windy wasteland.

Note: In addition to the Guardian of Forever from Star Trek’s own “City on the Edge of Forever”, sci-fi and fantasies have had a long history with magical portals to other times and dimensions. There was Lewis Carroll’s “Alice in Wonderland,” as well as C.S. Lewis’s magical wardrobe in “The Chronicles of Narnia.” Later Star Trek series also featured the Iconian gateways (TNG’s “Contagion,” DS9’s “To the Death”). What is interesting about the time portal in “All Our Yesterdays” is that it appears to be just an ordinary doorway leading to the outside. Other than the imaginative optical and sound effects used whenever someone enters it, there is nothing remarkable about the portal’s appearance. I’d imagine in the early days of Sarpeidon’s time-travel technology, frequent workplace accidents occurred. You’d think they could at least mark the floor of the portal with yellow & black industrial tape…

“Here I come to save the daaaaayyy…”
Kirk is on hand to save a lady in trouble (Anna Karen Morrow), although, in this case, the lady is trouble.

A briefly disoriented Kirk locates the source of the screams; an unkempt, middle-aged woman (Anna Karen Morrow) who is being brutally manhandled by several fops with swords in an alleyway. The bullies accuse her of “thievery and purse-cutting.” Defending the woman’s dubious honor, Kirk jumps in and shoves one of the men to the ground, grabbing his sword as well. Lying in the dark alleyway, the fop assumes that Kirk is a ‘slave’ who needs a lesson taught to him. Another man then lunges at Kirk with his own sword, demanding that he defend himself. Well, anyone who’s watched Star Trek knows this is a bad idea, of course. Kirk is, naturally, a master swordsman (see: “Day of the Dove”). Within moments, Kirk hands them their asses, as they’re forced into a humiliating retreat. The surly crowd of locals laughs in amusement, while Kirk asks the woman if she’s okay. She suggests (in a cockney accent that’d make even Dick Van Dyke cringe) that they both make off before the “coxcombs” return with reinforcements.

Note: Kirk’s chosen time period seems a bit muddled, as are the dubious accents, but it’s vaguely suggested that this era is Sarpeidon’s rough equivalent of 17th century England, or perhaps their answer to the early American colonies. The ‘parallel worlds’ idea is an old Star Trek trope, and here it serves as writer Jean-Lisette Aroeste’s novel way of getting around any historical inaccuracies.

“Oh, so you got in a scuffle with some locals, did you? Well, we’re both freezing to death in our pajama tops…”
Kirk communicates across time to a nearly frozen Spock and McCoy.

As Kirk searches for the portal along a brick wall in the alleyway, his nervous companion is worried that her new savior might be out of his mind, as he looks for a ‘door’ back to the library. Soon, Kirk hears McCoy and Spock calling out to him. Spock tells Kirk that while they can’t see him, they hear him. Kirk asks where they are, and McCoy bitterly describes their freezing surroundings. Spock quickly surmises that the Atavachron was somehow tied into the viewers—allowing each person access to the time period they were viewing. By entering with McCoy, Spock now finds himself in McCoy’s time period. Neither Kirk nor Spock seem able to locate Mr. Atoz’s library. Before long, local law enforcement arrives to arrest Kirk and his companion on charges of petty theft and assault, with a new charge of witchcraft added, after several locals hear Kirk speaking to Spock and McCoy’s disembodied voices, which they assume to be evil spirits. It doesn’t help that one of the voices is named ‘Bones.’ Separated by thousands of years and unable to help each other, Kirk is dragged off to jail, as McCoy begins to succumbs to the ceaseless, freezing wind. Spock chooses to aid the frostbitten McCoy, rather than leave him to die from exposure…

Note: Spock and McCoy’s situation in Sarpeidon’s ice age is very similar to what Kirk and McCoy would go through, years later, on the frozen Klingon prison planet of Rura Penthe, in “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” (1991). In that film, a jailbreaking McCoy was once again succumbing to cold, as Kirk struggled to help him make it outside of the prison shield perimeter, where they could be detected and rescued by the Enterprise. The more things change, the more they remain the same…

Spock tries to reassure a disbelieving Zarabeth (Mariette Hartley) that he is not a figment of her imagination–despite the ears.

Unable to use his phaser to heat a boulder (for reasons unclear), Spock struggles to help McCoy to his feet in an attempt to find shelter. Suddenly, a mysterious, hooded figure cloaked entirely in furs stands before them. The stranger then points to a nearby cave, and signals them to follow. Once inside of the warm cave (with a convenient underground hot spring), Spock thanks the stranger, and tends to the unconscious McCoy’s frostbite. The stranger pulls back their fur hood, and reveals an incongruously beautiful young woman named Zarabeth (Mariette Hartley). With a kind voice, Zarabeth asks Spock about his name and origins. She also asks if they are prisoners, too. Spock tells Zarabeth that their presence in her time was by accident, not penalty. Initially overjoyed at the thought of having companionship, Zarabeth then suffers an anxiety attack as she realizes the pointy-eared man might be a figment of her insanity. Spock takes her hands and assures her that he and the doctor are real. She is not losing her grip on reality. Once Zarabeth is reassured, Spock turns his attention back to McCoy’s fragile health…

Note: A few things. First of all, the reason why Spock’s phaser won’t operate in severe cold isn’t made clear, and is never explained. This is odd, since we’ve seen phasers used to heat rocks before (“The Enemy Within” “Spock’s Brain”). Secondly, as they get to know each other, Spock tells Zarabeth that he is not from her world “at all,” and that his home “is a planet millions of light years away.” That would put Vulcan well outside of our Milky Way galaxy. A bit of bad astronomy on Spock’s part. Maybe we could chalk it up to the cold, or the Atavachron’s influence, or the sight of a pretty woman. Speaking of which, Mariette Hartley gives a phenomenal performance in this episode–Zarabeth’s anxiety and acute loneliness are almost uncomfortably realistic.

Kirk fought the law and the law won.
Kirk meets with the local prosecutor (Kermit Murdock) who may be a fellow time-traveler.

Meanwhile, in another time, Kirk rests in a Sarpeidon jail, which looks more like a medieval dungeon. Soon, a portly prosecutor (Kermit Murdock) arrives, with long silver hair and black robes. With an eyewitness constable (Johnny Haymer) at his side, the prosecutor meets with Kirk in his cell to get information on his alleged ‘witchcraft.’ Kirk tells the prosecutor that he’s a stranger from an “island called Earth.” Urged to continue, Kirk innocently states that he was “reading in the library” when he heard the woman scream. Mere mention of the word ‘library’ sends the prosector into an expression of near panic. Changing his tune, the prosecutor now believes Kirk to be innocent. As Kirk presses him for the location of the library, the prosecutor flees the interrogation, and leaves the jail in a near-frenzy. Seeing his only hope of immediate release fade, Kirk’s morale is further sunk from the woman he rescued, who mercilessly taunts him from her cell: “Witch! Witch!! They’ll burn ya…”

Note: It’s made crystal clear in this scene—-from terrific acting by guest star Kermit Murdock (1908-1981)—that the prosecutor is a fellow time traveler, like Zarabeth. Perhaps one of the billions that Mr. Atoz boasted about personally sending back in time himself. My question is, with so many Sarpeidon natives traveling back in time, wouldn’t the planet’s history be in a constant state of flux? How could they guarantee that Mr. Atoz and the time portal would still exist in the future? Now, if one accepts multiverse theory, then each traveler sent back in time would create their own timeline. That’s all fine and well, but how would they be able to yell through the time portal into the present-day if they now exist in an alternate universe of their own making? Time travel creates a lot of headaches…

Spock realizes that the temperature in the cave just went up a few more degrees…

Back in the ice age, a groggy, semi-conscious McCoy asks Spock if they’re back in the library and about the location of Captain Kirk. Spock explains their current dilemma, as their benefactor Zarabeth introducers herself, just before McCoy drifts back to sleep. With McCoy out cold, Zarabeth ditches her heavy fur cloak, revealing a bikini made of animal skins. Thinking aloud, Spock toys with the idea of leaving McCoy in Zarabeth’s care while he goes off to aid the captain. Unable to arrive at a sensible solution, Spock is worried that his famously logical thought processes might be affected by the Atavachron, somehow. Asking Zarabeth about her reason for being exiled, she explains that several of her kinsmen tried to overthrow a despot named Zor Kahn, and in a dubious act of mercy, Kahn chose to have Zarabeth exiled instead of killing her outright, like the others. Spock remembers reading about “Zor Kahn the tyrant” in Atoz’s library. Sympathizing with Zarabeth’s plight, he wonders if she might help him locate the time portal, in order for all of them to return to the Enterprise. Zarabeth then drops a bit of bad news—none of them can return to the future. The Atavachron alters the cell structure and brain patterns of its time travelers in order to make existence in the past possible; returning to the future is an instant death sentence. Spock is visibly stunned by the news…

Note: I realize that Spock is a fast reader, but when did he have time to read up on “Zor Kahn the tyrant” as he was chatting with Mr. Atoz about the Atavachron? Secondly, I have major issues with the Atavachron itself. Did Spock actually use it on himself when he absent-mindedly touched its controlling mechanism? If so, why wasn’t he killed when he returned to the future at the end of the episode?

“You’ve been working out, haven’t you?”
Kirk picks a helluva time to measure the jailor’s biceps…

Kirk, feeling restless, sees the woman he defended getting released, as he remains incarcerated (let no good deed go unpunished). Meanwhile, the jailor (Stan Barrett) is doling out soup for prisoners, and asks for Kirk’s cup. Holding his cup close to the bars as the jailor tries to pour soup into it, Kirk grabs the man’s arm and holds through the bars at a sharp right angle—threatening to break it if the man cries out for help. In a feat of extreme dexterity, Kirk manages to hold the jailor’s arm in place while also reaching for the keys on his belt, and unlocking his cell (!). Once the barred door is unlocked, Kirk then does a quick bit of Kirk-fu to render the jailor unconscious. He then drags the unconscious jailor into a corner of his cell. Kirk is just about ready to escape when he hears the prosecutor bellowing loudly for the missing jailor…

Note: The jailor needs to be fired. He had one free arm the entire time, yet never tried to defend himself, even once. You had one job, jailor…

Kermit Murdock is a very memorable presence in this episode, alternating between great pomposity and pathos.

Betting that the prosecutor is a fellow time traveler, Kirk waits for him to get closer to the bars. Kirk then opens the unlocked door and grabs the prosecutor by the hands. With the prosecutor at his mercy, Kirk then threatens to denounce the man as a fellow witch, since he’s also a time traveler. Begging for mercy, the prosecutor promises to help Kirk in any way that he can. Kirk insists that they locate the time portal. The prosecutor tells him the same story Zarabeth told Spock—the Atavachron altered their biology to fit this time, and that returning to the future would be instantly fatal. A confused Kirk says that he wasn’t prepared by the Atavachron. Alarmed, the prosecutor then insists that Kirk returns to the future at once, since an unprepared traveler can only survive for a few hours in the past…

Note: My personal theory is that the Atavachron doesn’t work as advertised, and that it’s used more as a deterrent; a means of keeping time travelers in their respective lanes. We’ve seen time travel used in Star Trek many times, and no one’s ever had to prepare themselves at a cellular level for the experience. In the words of time travelers Bill Preston and Ted Logan; “Bogus.”

Spock tries to soften McCoy up to the idea of staying… with Zarabeth’s help.

In the ice age, McCoy is visibly better, and tries some food. Complimenting Zarabeth on her cooking (and her looks), McCoy pours on the Southern charm, as he offers gratitude for her help in his rescue and recovery. Fearing that the usually cold Spock might’ve been lacking in grace or manners, McCoy is surprised to hear that Spock has been charming company. As Zarabeth walks away, McCoy presses Spock about their chances of rescuing Kirk. Spock reiterates what Zarabeth told him about the hopelessness of their situation, and that they can “only hope” Kirk is safe, wherever he is. An increasingly impatient McCoy isn’t having any of Spock’s sudden, uncharacteristic defeatism, growling at Spock, “Now you listen to me, you pointy-eared Vulcan!” In a startling display of anger, Spock then grabs McCoy by the collar; “I don’t like that! I don’t think I ever did, and now I’m sure!” A shaken McCoy quietly wonders, “What’s happening to you, Spock?” To which Spock retorts without thinking, “Nothing that shouldn’t have happened long ago.” It suddenly dawns on McCoy—Spock is reverting to the behavior of primitive Vulcans from 5,000 years ago…

“What do you have to say about my ears NOW, huh?!”

Note: Spock’s outburst at McCoy is genuinely surprising, and Nimoy plays it with the intensity of a man easily capable of murder. This is a side of Spock we’ve never seen before, save for his pon farr delirium in “Amok Time.” It also makes one wonder exactly how Spock is feeling the effects of his primitive Vulcan forefathers from so far away. Is it similar to the long-range telepathy we saw when Spock ‘felt’ the deaths of the USS Intrepid’s all-Vulcan crew in “The Immunity Syndrome”? Or is this reversion caused by Spock’s accidental touching of the control mechanism on the Atavachron? It’s never made explicit in the episode, but whatever the cause, it’s a great character moment. It’s one of the many ways Star Trek offered so many chances for Nimoy to play different facets of the “logical, unemotional” Mr. Spock.

“Gonna make a jailbreak…”
The Prosecutor helps Kirk locate the portal back to Atoz’s library.
Always loved the handsome production design and atmosphere of this episode—a cut above.

True to his word, the prosecutor aids Kirk in locating the time portal back to Atoz’s library. As Kirk presses his fingers along a familiar brick wall in the alley, his hand suddenly falls through the brick. The portal is located, and the nervous prosecutor hurries back. Kirk then steps through the portal, disappearing into the brick wall…

Note: The ersatz 17th century-equivalent street and back alleyway are handsome pieces of production design, with lighting suggesting candlelit interior spaces, behind the antique windows. There are even small pools of water in the street. Earlier, in the jail, you can see (on a big enough screen) drops of water falling from the imaginary ceiling. It’s common knowledge that the third season of TOS suffered from budget cuts, but looking at this handsomely directed, atmospheric episode, you’d never know it.

The librarians on Sarpeidon militantly enforce the no-talking rule…

Returning to Atoz’s library in the present, Kirk answers a communicator call from Scotty (James Doohan). Beta Niobe will go nova in 17 minutes. Kirk tells Scotty that McCoy and Spock are missing, but forbids him from sending anyone else. Soon afterward, Kirk is confronted by Atoz’s replicas, each of whom try to stop him. Knocking one replica unconscious with more of his Kirk-Fu, and locking the other in a storage closet, Kirk is then confronted by the real Atoz, who pulls a tiny stun gun on the captain. With a quick flash of light, Kirk is zapped into unconsciousness…

Note: One way this episode cleverly saved on money was to cast actor Ian Wolfe in all three librarian roles; Mr. Atoz and his two ‘replicas.’ It’s never made clear if the replicas are biological replicants, like those seen in “Blade Runner”, or if they’re mechanical androids. Either way, they are extremely vulnerable to physical force. I realize they were created to perform menial tasks in a library, but if they were androids, couldn’t they have been made a bit more durable than their frail, elderly prototype?

Spock’s three hour fling with Zarabeth is surprisingly moving.

Meanwhile, Zarabeth and Spock continue to learn more about each hour (in every sense). First, she offers the famously vegetarian Vulcan slices of meat. Realizing there are no Beyond Burgers to be had, Spock takes her up on the offer, and gingerly samples a few bites of “animal flesh.” Zarabeth then talks about her exile, and the two of them share their feelings on loneliness… something Spock can relate to, being the only Vulcan on a largely human-crewed starship. Spock also comments on Zarabeth’s beauty, for which he immediately apologizes, though she’s longed to hear him say it. Soon afterward, they share a tender kiss, and we see Spock smiling as he lifts her up, and gazes into her eyes. He then whispers loving words to her, before carrying her off to where we can’t see (at least not on television in 1969…)

Note: Other than his affair with Leila Kalomi in “This Side of Paradise,” this is the most passionate and free-spirited version of Spock we ever see in TOS Star Trek. Leonard Nimoy and Mariette Hartley have lovely chemistry together, as well. We later see Hartley fall for another famous scientist with issues of emotional control in a 1978 two-part episode of “The Incredible Hulk” (“Married”, parts 1, 2). Hartley deservedly won an Emmy for playing Dr. Caroline Fields, a terminally-ill scientist prone to seizures, who falls in love with Dr. David Banner (Bill Bixby), as the two of them work together to find cures for their respective conditions.

Looks like someone heard about the big sale on starship captains at Costco.

In the 23rd century, a dazed Kirk awakens to find himself on a flatbed cart being pushed towards the time portal by Mr. Atoz, who assures the confused captain that it’s for his own good. The still-weakened Kirk jumps off the cart right before it vanishes through the portal, in a rainbow flash of light. Kirk and Atoz then struggle in front of the portal, as their bodies oscillate between past and present. With a burst of determination, Kirk overpowers Atoz, and forces the old man to help him look for Spock and McCoy. Kirk’s communicator chirps again. Scotty is frantic. With no time to explain, Kirk tells Scotty to hit maximum warp as soon as the star explodes, whether they’re onboard or not. With only a matter of minutes to spare, Kirk forcibly directs Atoz to find the exact disc McCoy was looking at before his disappearance. Kirk tells Atoz he only knows it was a frozen wasteland. Atoz guesses it might be the Sarpeidon ice age. They begin their search…

Note: Good thing Sarpeidon only had one ice age. Earth has had at least five (so far). Kind of narrows down the search a bit.

Spock and Zarabeth, sitting in a tree…

In the past, McCoy is feeling well enough to get out of bed, and his first order of business is to confront Spock on his failure to locate Kirk or the portal. Spock reiterates their hopeless predicament to the doctor—as told to him by Zarabeth. McCoy, however, suspects Zarabeth is lying in order to keep Spock trapped in her time. Zarabeth states that she’s told them what she knows. A frustrated, angered McCoy, desperate to return to the 23rd century, violently grabs Zarabeth’s face, and accuses her of lying…

Note: Granted, McCoy’s threat of physical violence against Zarabeth isn’t acceptable. However, McCoy is not fully himself, either, after his recent bout of hypothermia, frostbite and shock. This is not the lovable, curmudgeonly doctor we know; this version of McCoy is both feverish and desperate to return to his life.

Even in his anger, Spock’s fingers around McCoy’s throat are in a splayed, Vulcan-like gesture.

Enraged by McCoy’s brutal interrogation of Zarabeth, Spock instinctively grabs McCoy’s neck and shoves him against the cave wall. Incredulously, McCoy asks, “Are you trying to kill me, Spock? Is that what you really want?” Spock stops in his actions, as he refuses to believe (or accept) what he’s doing. Realizing he has indeed regressed to the primitive, warlike Vulcans of 5,000 years ago, Spock confusedly states that he’s lost, and is unsure of his identity. He struggles for composure, and pleadingly asks Zarabeth if it is possible to return. Resigned, Zarabeth states that she honestly doesn’t know—she only knows that she can’t go back. McCoy tells Spock that he is going to try anyway, with or without their help. McCoy grabs some furs and exits the cave. Spock and Zarabeth quickly follow…

Note: This is one of Spock and McCoy’s most intense scenes together in the entirety of Star Trek. Sure, they’ve had their petty squabbles, blowups and rivalries, but this was attempted murder (!). Both actors play it to the hilt as well, since neither character is exactly in their right mind at this moment.

“Play it again, Sam….”
After some trial and error, Atoz finds the right disc as Kirk hears Spock and McCoy’s voices…

With Atoz seated at the viewer, Kirk stands by the portal, calling out for Kirk and Spock as Atoz slips in various discs of Sarpeidon’s ice age. With time running out, Kirk forces Atoz to try one more disc. Kirk then calls out through the portal, and McCoy’s voice replies, “Here we are, Jim!” Delighted that his friends are still alive, Kirk uses his voice as a beacon for Spock and McCoy to locate the portal. Finding the exact spot, Spock tries sending McCoy through it. McCoy feels unyielding rock. Yes, it’s the right place, but something’s wrong. Frustrated by the seeming malfunction, Kirk turns to Atoz, who suggests that both men need to return together, as they’d originally left. Kirk passes this information onto McCoy.

Note: The rules for Sarpeidon temporal technology are absolutely bonkers, but I give them a pass, because, as I’ve said earlier, Star Trek’s time travel rules are usually a bit silly when you try to explain them soberly to anyone else. In “Tomorrow Is Yesterday” we see a pilot beamed back to his jet at the exact moment he was abducted, yet failing to remember being disassembled atom by atom. In “City on the Edge of Forever,” the characters travel back in time through a large, glowing, sentient doughnut. Given all of that, the Atavachron and Atoz’s library are merely elements designed to support this story. To that end, they work well enough.

Spock and Zarabeth say goodbye.
Shut up, I’m not crying, you’re crying…

Facing too binary a choice, Spock can’t bear to leave Zarabeth’s side. She tells him she can’t return with him, as it would mean her death. Since remaining with Zarabeth would doom McCoy as well, Spock makes the logical, yet agonizing choice to return. As he turns toward the portal, Spock looks back to the heartbroken Zarabeth, as tears stream down her face…

Note: Yes, it’s clear that ‘unprepared’ time travelers might perish after a few hours in the past (we saw Kirk looking visibly fatigued and even dizzy before he returned). However, that could also be a side-effect from using the time portal itself (with its monstrous bombardment of energy), rather than a lack of biological preparation. Perhaps the Atavachron is only used to fortify time travelers against the radiation emitted by the time portal? That would also explain how Spock survived its effects upon reentering the present; he might’ve been given anti-radiation treatments afterward, aboard the Enterprise. If this theory is true, it makes Spock’s unnecessary departure from Zarabeth all the more heartbreaking…

Spock and McCoy go back to the future.
I imagine that a time portal which bombards someone in x-rays can’t be all that safe…

The portal is activated. The entranceway floods with light and sound as Spock and McCoy return, looking none the worse for wear. Atoz then quickly places his own disc into the viewer, pushes the two men out of his way, and jumps through the time portal himself! Kirk clasps the shoulders of his returned friends, telling them, “He had his escape planned, I’m glad he made it.” Opening his communicator, Kirk contacts the Enterprise

Note: In his final scene, Atoz proves my earlier point that the “instant death” awaiting unprepared time-travelers is a myth: Atoz slips in his disc, and then jump through the time portal, with no preparation from the Atavachron. I’m guessing that Atoz (and his replicas) knew the Atavachron only inoculated time-travelers from radioactivity, nothing else. Since he’d be the last user of the device, perhaps Atoz chose a time period where the radioactive side-effects of portal usage could be dealt with, after his arrival. Clearly, the Atavachron doesn’t rearrange cell structure or brain wave patterns, or Atoz would’ve had to use it right before he jumped (by the device’s rules, not mine). At any rate, brain wave patterns and cell structures shouldn’t matter to a time traveler. If I returned to the 1600s, I might have to get used to a lack of electricity, unclean water, grotesque civil inequities, and a lack of hygiene, but I wouldn’t need to have my entire cell structure rearranged…

Spock tells McCoy that he’s ‘returned’ in every sense.
The late Ann Crispin’s novels suggest that he may have left a part of himself in the past (more on that later).

As Kirk arranges their return to the ship, McCoy eyes Spock, wondering if he’s alright. Spock assures him he’s returned to the present in every sense. McCoy reminds him that it did happen. Spock replies, with a tone of sorrow to his voice, “Yes, it happened. But that was 5,000 years ago. And she is dead now. Dead, and buried… long ago.” The three of them are then beamed aboard the ship, just as Beta Niobe goes nova, and reduces the once thriving time-traveling civilization of Sarpeidon to cosmic dust.

Note: The 2007 remastered edition of “All Our Yesterdays” depicts a more faithful rendering of what a real star might look like as it goes nova. Not to nitpick, but given the speed of light as a universal constant, it would still take several minutes for the nova’s effects to actually reach Sarpeidon. Given how quickly we’ve seen the Enterprise go into warp, the ship would have a comfortable grace period to escape destruction, even after Beta Niobe blew up.

The Enterprise warps away in the nick of time, as Beta Niobe goes nova and reduces its sole planet to dust…

Note: Writer Jean Lisette Aroeste’s original title for the episode was “A Handful of Dust.” In fact, if you get a chance to see the original production sketches for this episode, you’ll notice it’s still referred to by that original title (from the “Star Trek Sketchbook,” by former producer Herb Solow and his widow, Yvonne Fern Solow). The title of “All Our Yesterdays,” (“And all our yesterdays have lighted fools…”), like others throughout the franchise, is a line from Shakespeare’s “Macbeth“; a play performed on the show, in-universe, during the Season 1 episode, “Conscience of the King.”

The End.

Summing It Up

“All Our Yesterdays” is a well-acted, eventful love story that offers nice insights into Mr. Spock. In a matter of hours, we see Spock revert to the more emotional state of his ancestors, allowing him to fall passionately in love with a near-stranger. Kirk is also kept busy with his own time travel story, where he finds himself accused of witchcraft in a primitive 17th century Earth parallel. Guest star Mariette Hartley (“Genesis II” “The Incredible Hulk”) gives an effective performance as Zarabeth, the unjustly-exiled young woman who is both savior and love interest to a confused Spock.

Guest star Mariette Hartley gives an endearing performance as “Zarabeth,” despite McCoy’s mistrust of her motives.

Other memorable guest stars include Kermit Murdock (“The Andromeda Strain”) as the allying prosecutor, and Ian Wolfe, who plays the cleverly named librarian, Mr Atoz, as well as both of Atoz’s ‘replicas.’ Director Marvin Chomsky (1928-2022), who would later direct the acclaimed miniseries “Holocaust” (1978), really pours on the atmosphere, with cinematographer Al Francis handsomely lighting the colorful, detailed sets. Despite some loopy time-travel logic, and a few odd plot holes, “All Our Yesterdays” best serves as an elegant showcase for the talents of the late Leonard Nimoy (1931-2015), whose brief, unbridled romance with Mariette Hartley’s Zarabeth generates considerable chemistry.

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, this is also one of the best love stories of TOS. It’s Spock’s answer to “City on the Edge of Forever,” complete with time portal, and a doomed romance. Produced during the waning days of TOS, “All Our Yesterdays” is an atmospheric, entertaining treat.


Author Ann Carol Crispin (1950-2013) had a celebrated career writing imaginative tie-in novelizations for franchises such as “Star Wars,” “V,” and “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Crispin began her tie-in novelization career with a sequel to “All Our Yesterdays” called “Yesterday’s Son” (1983). In the TOS-era novel, we learn that Spock fathered a child with the now long-dead Zarabeth, and that his son, Zar, left cave paintings and other signs of his existence behind. These traces are found by archeologists studying Sarpeidon’s past, using the Guardian of Forever. Spock then decides to use the Guardian to retrieve his son from Sarpeidon’s harsh past. Upon returning with Zar to the 23rd century, Spock is embarrassed by his son’s emotional nature, honed in the hostile environment of Sarpeidon’s ice age. A self-conscious Spock hides his relation to Zar, referring to him as “a distant relative.” Gifted with his father’s Vulcan telepathy, Zar is also able to communicate with the Guardian. During the course of the story, a Romulan threat is narrowly averted, and Zar elects to return to his native Sarpeidon’s past, but to a more hospitable era.

Author Ann Crispin (1950-2013) wrote a pair of non-canonical sequels to “All Our Yesterdays” that included Spock’s half-savage son, Zar, who travels 5,000 years into the future using the Guardian of Forever.

The TOS movie-era sequel, “Time For Yesterday” (1988), sees a malfunctioning Guardian of Forever causing premature star deaths throughout the galaxy. Spock, remembering his son Zar’s telepathic bond with the Guardian, retrieves him once again from Sarpeidon’s past. A battle-injured Zar has now grown into the leader of a community, who are warring with a neighboring clan. Telepathic Zar helps the 23rd century deal with the ‘malfunctioning’ Guardian, whose disembodied consciousness was off elsewhere, seeking its original creators. These creators, who now exist as energy-beings, are revealed to be mercurial, and somewhat godlike (not unlike the Organians). With his own people to worry about, a restored Zar elects once again to return to his chosen time, with Spock secretly aiding his son to win a prophesied battle. Spock then returns to the late 23rd century, alone.

Of these two sequels, I preferred “Yesterday’s Son”, as it deals less with Guardian of Forever shenanigans and more with the sudden fatherhood of Spock, whose son, Zar, is a deeply personal embarrassment. Crispin’s books don’t necessarily paint Spock in the most positive parental light, but they do make for compelling, if non-canonical, stories.

Where To Watch

All three seasons of Star Trek TOS are available to stream on Paramount+. The series is also available to own on physical media (DVD/BluRay) and can be purchased on (prices vary by seller).

Images:, Paramount+, Author

12 Comments Add yours

  1. scifimike70 says:

    Definitely one of the best saving graces for the classic Star Trek’s troubled final season. Thank you for revisiting and reviewing All Our Yesterdays. I remember learning about the significance of Mr. Atoz standing for A to Z in a Star Trek Compendium book I once had in my teens. Science fiction is very clever in specifically creating character names and their meanings.

    1. Star Trek Compendium; I love that book. Allan Asherman created the Memory Alpha of the 1980s.

  2. Corylea says:

    It’s so much fun to see you reviewing a TOS episode! And yes, “All Our Yesterdays” is a surprising gem in the second half of the third season.

    I’m assuming you’ve read Leonard Nimoy’s autobiography and recall how much trouble he had with the script for this episode. Spock was originally given NO reason for behaving strangely in the past, and Mr. Nimoy notified the showrunner that he couldn’t play Spock under those conditions. So the “5000 years in the past, back when Vulcans were savage” idea was tacked on. And yet what a fascinating window into Vulcanity it gives us! Since McCoy wasn’t affected by the savagery of humans from 5000 years ago, that means that Spock must be affected telepathically. Yet those Vulcans are NOT on the planet that he’s currently on. Wow! That’s some pretty powerful telepathy! It also makes sense of the way that Vulcans seem intent on policing one another and making sure they all adhere to logic. If every individual Vulcan is strongly influenced by the aggregate of Vulcan minds, then if a substantial minority of Vulcans were to fail to adhere to logic, they would undermine the composure of ALL Vulcans! There’s so much we could DO with this, story-wise!

    I assumed that Mr. Atoz had already been adjusted by the atavachron before the episode began, since he had his destination already picked out and all. And while it’s true that the crew of the Enterprise hasn’t needed to be adjusted for time travel, the people of Beta Niobe aren’t humans or Vulcans; they’re Beta Niobian. Perhaps their bodies differ in some way that requires the adjustments of the atavrachron, or perhaps their planet varies a lot more than Earth does, and they have not just an Ice Age but a Radioactive Age or something.

    Thanks for a fun write-up of this episode! Seeing Spock strangle McCoy for sassing him makes my day :-), and of course it’s always nice to see Spock in lover mode. I read where Mariette Hartley attended a Star Trek convention and said excitedly, “I got to schtup Spock!” And millions of fangirls wish they were she. 🙂

    1. LOL!

      Thanks Corylea!
      And yes, I read the Nimoy biography, but I’d forgotten about that until you mentioned it!

      As for Beta Niobean physiology? That’s possible, of course. But what happens if you have a long-lived Niobean; would they have to adjust their physiology if they live longer than X number of decades? Just seems odd, since they’re human in every other way, but yeah, there might be a physiological reason for the Atavachron.

      Personally, I think my anti-radiation/smokescreen theory fits, but yeah, yours is more plausible in-story.

    2. scifimike70 says:

      I remember Leonard Nimoy saying in one interview that he was somewhat relieved that the classic series ended after its third season, because he wasn’t really happy with how it was all going. Having to play Spock with such refinement and include the occasional challenges for emotional release can understandably take its toll. So I can appreciate how he preferred the realism for how it should work in this episode. Thank you for sharing your ideas.

      1. Thanks.
        And, as always, I enjoy yours as well!

      2. scifimike70 says:

        You’re very welcome and thank you too. It’s certainly an honor for one of sci-fi’s most complex and iconic alien beings like Mr. Spock.

  3. Cydonia says:

    Not meaning to be pedantic, but ‘Turnabout Intruder’ did not air a week after ‘All Our Yesterdays’.The night it was supposed to air (March 28, 1969), NBC preempted the show for a special report on the death earlier that day of former President Dwight Eisenhower. The episode premiered for the first time at 7:30pm on June 3rd of that year.

    Otherwise, an excellent essay on one of my favorite episodes. Heartbreaking and heartfelt, AOY was definitely a high point of the third season.

    1. Thank you!
      And thanks for that observation, too.
      I appreciate sharp-minded readers who contribute valuable insights.

  4. epaddon says:

    It’s interesting that in researching the development of this script, as late as the next to last draft, there is no actual intimacy between Spock and Zarabeth. He only at one point *fantasizes* about having her but it was only when Freiberger rewrote the final draft did it finally become a case of Spock and Zarabeth going all the way as it were, and that made the episode much stronger (and the earlier draft seemed to suggest that the source of McCoy’s desire to get back was the fact that Zarabeth wasn’t interested in him as opposed to Spock so it was more out of petty jealousy!)

    The earlier draft also clears up a bit of confusion regarding the Atavachron/Time Portal and why Zarabeth and no one else can go back. Originally, the Atavachron was simply the term for the portal itself. There was no “preparation” treatment at all. (which explains why we don’t see Atoz doing it at the end etc. in the final version) The reason why Zarabeth and no one else can go back is that apparently time travel has been around for a long time, because Zarabeth tells Spock she went back into the past in the days of Zor Khan which was 100 years before the time of Atoz and the Nova which means even though she’s only by her clock been in the past for about a few months if she were to return to the present with Spock, she would rapidly age a hundred years and die. Evidently that explanation was considered so implausible that they came up with the device of the Atavachron as a separate thing from the portal to give us this “preparation” argument that would establish Zarabeth and everyone else being sent from the same time period as Atoz roughly. But the fact the Atavachron originally referred to the portal itself explains Zarabeth’s line, “The Atavachron is far away.”

    Mariette Hartley’s Zarabeth was the first crush of my life when I saw her in this episode. And today it’s fascinating to see how she gives such a great performance and is more than just a sexy woman in a cavegirl costume. The way she gives just a faint smile and a nod of her head when Spock asks, “You were sent here as a prisoner?” before she answers him is the mark of an actress who’s immersed herself in the backstory beforehand. It makes her character and her plight real and why the episode’s tragic romance end far surpasses “City On The Edge Of Forever” IMO.

    1. Thanks for that insightful comment. Much appreciated!

      And I much prefer the idea that if a time traveler native to the past goes further back in time, returning to the future would instantly accelerate their age. That was also a device also used in the 1937 film “Lost Horizon,” where people sacrificing the long life of Shangri-La would age instantly and die upon leaving. The Atavachron ‘preparing’ people struck me more as a bluff to ensure people wouldn’t return. Perhaps Kirk simply wasn’t feeling well because he drank some of that nasty jail water…?

      I also agree that Mariette Hartley gives an amazing performance in the episode; also loved her Emmy-winning, heartbreaking performance in “The Incredible Hulk” two-parter “Married.”

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