“Time line?! This is no time to argue about time! We don’t have the time!”
The Deanna Troi quote from Star Trek: First Contact was a particular highlight from the second film featuring the Next Generation crew. Stated with plenty of humour in a playful scene which came with a slight sense of irony as the whole premise of First Contact was to stop the Borg altering history by preventing mankind’s first contact with an alien life form, a task made that much harder by the fact it was time bound.
Star Trek: First Contact was by no means the first instance the franchise has utilised aspects of time as a plot device. Time travel and timelines has been a major feature in all incarnations of Gene Roddenberry’s idealistic vision of the future, both on the small and silver screen alike.
Since the famous opening monologue was first spoken in September 1966, there has been 725 episodes of Star Trek across its various spin off shows (Star Trek 79, Star Trek The Animated Series 22, Star Trek: The Next Generation 178, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine 176, Star Trek: Voyager 172 and Star Trek: Enterprise 98) not including Star Trek: Discovery for reasons that will be stated later in this article. Of those shows 47 episodes focus on time travel in one form or another; a whopping 6.5% of all Trek shows… OK I admit when you put it that way it’s nothing to sing about (or potentially write an article about) but what is interesting is that these episodes are often considered among the very best Trek episodes produced with Voyager and The Next Generation utilising this type of story arc the most.
"“Time travel. Since my first day on the job as a Starfleet captain I swore I’d never let myself get caught in one of these godforsaken paradoxes – the future is the past, the past is the future, it all gives me a headache.” – Captain Janeway"
The question is why? The answer is simple; because of the various connotations that can be brought in on a set of established story parameters. The great thing about sci-fi is the possibilities of storytelling are endless. The scope of the greatest stories and universes that have been created are testament to that, all unique from the ongoing fight between Jedi and Sith in Star Wars to the spice mining, sand worm avoiding world of Dune. Each story, whether it be in film, TV or book form establish a set of parameters that hold their universe together, this can be in the shape of its mythology or its use (or lack thereof) of science and any supernatural elements.
Star Trek is particularly bound by the parameters of its universe. Over the course of its 52 year history it has created an extensive back story which include a set of historical events both actual and fictional, characters, technology and alien species all form a part in over three hundred years of timeline spread over its 6 shows and feature films; more commonly known as canon.
What if you could play with these parameters? Change the shows dynamics and history all for dramatic effect. Create new versions of characters we have grown to love over the course of a season or two, or decide to wipe them out completely; altering the set canon history of an entire franchise at will by making the good guys bad and the bad guys good and then, just before the fan base race to their PC’s to post various degrees of distain on the fan sites, reset everything as if it all didn’t happen at all. That is why we love a good, well written time travel episode and Star Trek does it better than anyone. It has the capacity to change its parameters in such a way to invoke feelings of excitement, shock and strong emotion as all good story telling should do. It’s no surprise that the Star Trek: Original Series episode ‘City on the Edge of Forever‘ is often cited as the franchises greatest, as it encompasses all the best elements of time travel story telling.
"“You deliberately stopped me, Jim. I could have saved her. Do you know what you just did?” – McCoy “He knows, Doctor. He knows” – Spock"