Today I wanted to talk about something I used to absolutely adore. That would be time travel. There is just something about the idea, being able to go back in time and correct a wrong. Or going ahead to see where things would go. I wrote many stories as a kid using time travel as a plot device. Most of them ripped of Back to the Future, but it was still fun.BTTFÂ is near perfect in my opinion, and just works on almost every level. But that being said, the time travel stuff is hard to swallow. I mean, how could you possibly set a time machine for a specific day and time, right down to the minute? They do make a good case for how the Delorean is how to do this but it still makes no sense. Plus, if Marty’s actions changed his family in the present then shouldn’t he be changed also? This griping doesn’t take away from the movie of course, which I have loved for nearly 30 years!
I guess that’s one of the fun things about time travel, it can lead to many questions and “paradoxes”. I decided the best way to look at all the different types of time travel is by checking out all the episodes of Star Trek that used it. And there are a few my friends.
Before I begin since there are so many episode and I don’t want to be here all day, I am not going to give an in depth plot breakdown or analysis. Just a very simple overview and my opinion on the time travel used. I will also skip over some where the time travel element just is not large enough to warrant a mention.
Tomorrow is Yesterday (TOS)
This is a classic episode, written by the great D.C. Fontana. The Enterprise is thrown into the 60’s where they accidentally bring aboard an air force captain. Nice episode but the more I watch it, the more I realize the ending makes no sense. How does the Enterprise sling shotting around the sun cancel out their first arrival? And if it does, then why do they have to transport Captain Christopher back? If he never went to the Enterprise, shouldn’t he just vanish? They have to beam the other version back? Either it happened or it didn’t! The time travel stuff makes no sense but it’s still a nice little episode. Maybe they are operating under the rule that two versions of yourself can’t exit in the same place twice, something DC Comics loved to use in the old days and was utterly ridiculous.
City on the Edge of Forever (TOS)
This is, at the end of the day, a love story. And so the time travel stuff is underplayed. The Guardian sends them back, and it’s destiny (or something) that gets Kirk, Spock, and McCoy at the right place at the right time. This would seem to be a case of the three having to go back in time to fulfill history, though I don’t think this is ever outright stated. Actually not my all time favorite because while this is a beautiful love story…it’s STAR TREK!
This was a backdoor pilot which explains why The Enterprise is in the past to do historical research which really makes absolutely no sense. If they could do that so easily why not do it all the time???? Kirk and Spock take a back seat to Gary 7, and while it’s still watchable it is far from the best Star Trek episode. The implication at the end is that everything happened as it was supposed to. Buutttt….if that’s true then wouldn’t the records of the day show the missile exploding the way it did? Kirk and Spock decide to check the record at the end of the episode, after the event which means the record would have been changed!
All Our Yesterday’s (TOS)
Never a favorite episode, very late in season 3 and really isn’t even worth discussing. There are some good ideas here but overall the episode is boring.
Yesterday’s Enterprise (TNG)
So we get to TNG. No it was not the first time travel story but “We’ll Always Have Paris” was god awful and I am saving my discussion on the confusing “Time Squared” for another day. Let’s start with this one. This was a great episode because it was so simple. A ship from the past came into the future and does exactly what it should do-alter the time line! This is one time travel story that actually makes sense…until Tasha Yar ends up living and having a Romulan baby. But that’s another story. I adore this episode and have watched it way more times than I’d care to admit.
A Matter of Time (TNG)
This is an interesting episode about a man who appear claiming to be from the future. The thing that always bugged me is that the episode contains a huge philosophical debate which ends up being pointless in the end when we discover where the guy really came from. Despite the cool ending I always feel like that whole fourth act was just a waste of time.
Cause and Effect (TNG)
Many of these are bottle shows and this one is no exception. But it’s still very well done, giving us a spin of the time loop premise. The Enterprise is caught in a loop and keeps repeating the same series of events over and over. Since it’s sci fi the show can make it sound plausible, and they creators did a nice job making the repeating scenes a bit different every time. Kudos to Jonathan Frakes who directed this one. Nice little episode with a time travel story that works, and we even get a cool Kelsey Grammar cameo in the end. What’s not to like?
Time’s Arrow (TNG)
This is the one time the crew actually traveled through time on TNG (not counting the movies). This episode plays very safe with the time travel in my opinion. We never really know if this is what was supposed to happen or is the interference from the Enterprise crew disrupting the time line. Time travel in this episode appears to circular, and it is established that there is no way to break that circle. We find Data’s head at the start of the first episode and end with his head waiting to be found at the end of the second. Everything happens as it was supposed to, and makes for a decent episode though maybe not the strongest.
Another favorite of mine! Rather than a time loop, we get the plot device of freezing time so that everything is stuck in one spot. I love this and it works in this episode. Picard, Troi, LaForge, and Data have to figure what the Enterprise did to fragment time all over the sector. Some area time is accelerated, and others it’s decelerated. This episode moves very quick and is a lot of fun to watch.
All Good Things…(TNG)
What haven’t I said about this awesome episode? Picard is shifting between the past, present, and future in this amazing series finale. Since Q is behind it, we can forgive the fact the time travel stuff makes absolutely no sense. This was so well done and I can’t get enough of it.
Past Tense (DS9)
I could do a whole article on this one. An accident sends Sisko, Dax, and Bashir back in time to a critical point in America’s history. They end up not only witnessing but being directly involved with a series of riots. Especially when Sisko has to take the place of the man, named Gabriel Bell, to ensure that history does unfold the way it was meant to. Apparently in the 2020’s the government will decide the solution to the homeless problem is to cage them away from society. This is a very compelling episode with a strong moral about the homeless and treating people like equals even if they are poor. But it gets to heavy handed in the end, and that spoils the show for me. I do like how the changes Sisko and Bashir make ripple through the time line and effect the future, it’s dumb luck that allows O’Brien and Kira to be spared the changes and able to find their lost comrades.
I love this episode, but to be fair this is known as the episode where the creators gave up trying to make time travel make any logical sense. Because it sure doesn’t here! But putting that aside it’s still a very well done show. And it’s nice to see a whole episode set on the station. An accident causes Miles to jump forward in time a few hours, and the back again. This gives him an insght on future events eich enables him to change them. Uh, if he jumps into the future shouldn’t teh future Miles remember it? The premise is flawed especially the last act when the past Miles interacts with the future Miles, and then changes places with him? Um, what? Still, nice bottle show and I really enjoy this one.
The Visitor (DS9)
An absolutely beautiful episode but it doesn’t really qualify for this discussion. I will say this is one of my favorites. Much like with City on the Edge of Forever, it’s a beautiful love story (this time about the love between a father and son) and the time travel angle is underplayed.
Little Green Men (DS9)
Campy and silly, this episode is harmless fun. It causes no paradoxes that make no sense, and works a diversion from the usual DS9 fare. Quark and Rom arrive on Earth in the 40’s…in Roswell, New Mexico. I think you can guess where this is going. This is Star Trek’s take on the infamous Roswell incident. Works better than it did in Independence Day anyway. It has the typical gags you would expect in an episode like this involving Quark, and there is no real damage to history in this one since it is decided to make sure everything is classified in the end.
Trials and Tribble-ations (DS9)
What can I possibly say about this episode? It is a Star Trek fans dream, and I adore it. The time travel here is accidental and the crew have to make sure the time line does not get disrupted. One time this was not “destiny”, something which even makes it into the script. They did a very good job of working the DS9 crew into the old episode, and you just tell there was a lot of fun being had here.
Children of Time (DS9)
Truly hated it, next…..
Time’s Orphan (DS9)
This episode had an interesting premise. Miles daughter Molly is caught in a portal, and when she is pulled out she is 18 and savage after years living on her own. This is an interesting concept, done very well. I do have to nitpick the ending. The O’Brien’s return Molly to the portal, and old Molly sees young Molly. The old Molly tells young Molly how to return home, and when she does Old Molly vanishes. This makes sense, if Molly doesn’t live there for years she will never become Old Molly. But, if this is the case why did the events of the episode still happen? The whole episode should have been wiped away and instead Miles and Keiko not only remember what happened but still have to face the consequences for there actions. Gripes aside I liked this episode.
Time and Again
Welcome to Voyager. This episode was OK, I think I saw it once. The ship discover a planet in ruins, and come to find out it was their fault. It’s kind of confusing and frankly not worth talking about. In the end Janeway and Paris ensure the planet’s destruction does not happen which also causes the episode to not happen, with only Kes with a vague feeling something occurred.
Future’s End (VOY)
I like the idea with this one. The execution…is ok. The idea is that Voyager returns to Earth…only problem is that it’s the year 1996! Basically it’s a story about the crew tracking a villain who has stolen technology from the future. It’s kind of boring but not to bad. At least in this one there is discussion on what could happen if they alter the time line, though as the episode unfolds we realize they are restoring things by being there. The big annoyance with this one is the beginning, when a Captain Braxton appears to destroy Voyager. Why? His world was destroyed by a temporal explosion and in the wreckage was a piece of hull from Voyager. So the solution is simple, go back and time and destroy Voyager with no idea how or why that got there! Dumb.
Before and After (VOY)
One of my favorites, as we watch Kes jump backwards. Starting with her death she randomly goes back to see her life on Voyager. For the viewer this is really a look at an alternate future which of course will never be. It’s also a decent Kes episode and how many of those were there really?
Year of Hell (VOY)
I could have easily skipped this one since it sort of doesn’t count as a time travel episode. What we have is aliens called the Kremin trying to alter the time line so that one person can be brought back into existence. The ship has temporal shields and temporal torpedoes which leave Voyager a wreck. It isn’t my favorite episode but it’s not the worst. I guess the downside is the ending when the reset button is pushed, and the ship is perfectly fine and no one has any memory of the events in the episode. Things like that tend to render the whole thing moot, and if you’re going to waste my time it had better be a fun watch.
Another episode I love. We see a future Chakotay and Kim trying to send a message into the past which will prevent Voyager’s destruction. This was the 100th episode and the really stepped it up for this episode. They do a decent job explaining how Kim can communicate with the past, well decent enough anyway, and the scenes all work and flow together. A rare well written Voyager episode.
On the other hand….This one is so much fun but also so maddening! We see a time vessel from the future recruit Seven of Nine to discover where a temporal weapon will be planted on the ship which will destroy Voyager. This episode has so many inconsistencies and plot holes, I could be here all day listing them. And it gave us the idiotic “temporal prime directive” which I always thought was ridiculous. You need to make a directive to tell people not to interfere with the past? Much like Visionary, a decent episode as long as you turn your brain off.
Um, I think I will skip this one for now. Like Time Squared I will have a lot to say about this one sometime down the road.
I have said that many of these were just good fun. This maybe the biggest one, since it makes no sense at all but it is a lot of fun to watch. A…something, causes time to be shattered on the ship so that there are various “time zones” representing the past, present, and future. Chakotay is the only one aware of this because…..of some reason. So as he wanders the time zones he gets assistance from the others including a Janeway from the pilot episode. This is really a tribute to the series which was in its last year. It makes no sense, but for a fan of the show all the references to previous episodes and little gags make it a fun watch. Stuff like the Doctor not having his mobile emitter, Seven of Nine still in borg form, and the return of Seska are all cool. I especially love the moment when a very borg Seven of Nine kicks Seska’s a**, I always hated her!
Voyagers final episode had Janeway from the future find a way to travel back and make Voyager’s trip end a little faster. It’s not bad, but the big gripe people have is with the ending when we don’t see the crew reunite with their families. This bugged me at first to but then I realized, we never saw them with their families in the pilot either. I think the series ended well and this episode is good. The time travel stuff is decent, we see the alternate future and it’s made clear that future will be wiped out when Janeway does what she has to do. It makes for a nice glimpse into what will happen to the characters after the show ends.
I am not getting into Star Trek Enterprise, that stupid Temporal Cold War was, well, strupid! How can I understand something the creators don’t?Â I will make one exception:
Carpenter Street (ENT)
I admit it, I like this episode. I am not sure why, maybe I am just that big a sucker for time travel stories. Archer and TPol arrive in the present day (at the time) to stop a Vidian threat. Ok so it isn’t the greatest episode out there overall I liked it. Hey, this is Star Trek Enterprise we’re talking about!
Let’s talk the movies instead.
Star Trek IV-The Voyage Home
I think I have made my feelings about this perfectly clear. It’s one of my all time favorite movies. I love how they use the same method used in the series, the sling shot effect. It’s only because it’s a Klingon Bird of Prey that there are problems. This movie is good, lighthearted fun and I still remember when I first saw it nearly thirty years ago!
The time travel stuff here is so awful, but thankfully the rest of the movie sucks too so it sort of evens outs. I mean, if Picard can use the nexus to go anywhere in time why would he pick ten minutes earlier??? DUMB!
Star Trek Nemesis
A good time travel story, who would have thought it? While I applaud the use of Borg why did they make a time travel movie after the previous film had time travel in it?? Anyway, it isn’t so bad here. We see that the Enterprise crew have to go back and stop the Borg from preventing First Contact. It’s not clear if this is teh way it was always supposed to happen, but we do a Borgified Earth before they trip to the past so we can assume it was not supposed to happen that way, but the Enterprise crew had to get involved to set things right. The only good Next Gen movie, and a decent time travel plot at that.
Star Trek (2009)
Probably the dumbest time travel plot of them all. The villain comes back after the destruction of Romulus. Rather than, I don’t know, just warning someone he decides the best revenge is to annihilate Earth and Vulcan while Spock (who was doing everything he could to save Romulus) watches. The plot is so bad but it was the first film so we can forgive the stupidity of it all.
As I got older I shifted my love for time travel to the idea parallel realities and alternate dimensions. But. that’s a subject for another article my friends.