Star Trek: It’s about time we talked about time

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Star Trek 2009

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Alternative Timelines

One of the main archetypes in time travel stories is the creation of an alternative timeline and although there are a few different theories the impact time travel could have, the standard rule of thumb in Trek is whatever changes are made in the past, has massive implications on the future i.e. the butterfly effect.

The greatest (and perhaps the most controversial) example of the alternative universe occurred in 2009 when J.J. Abram’s re-launched the franchise for a new generation of fans on the big screen and created the Kelvin Timeline. The premise is pretty basic really, an event in the future sends characters back in time that intersect with previously well known characters making them unrecognisable from those we have known for years. On paper it was the right thing to do (in this writers opinion) as it freed J.J. Abram’s team to introduce these characters in a new way to a new audience without affecting the already long established canon. In reality however, it had a massive impact on the existing fan base with many deciding not to acknowledge it as part of Star Trek at all.

On TV and back in episodic form the creation and then resetting of alternative timelines has brought us some of the most memorable episodes from all Trek TV series. As mentioned earlier the most popular episode in all of Star Trek is ‘The City on the Edge of Tomorrow’ in which Dr McCoy travels back in time and saves the life of Edith Keeler which impacts so much on the future that the Federation itself ceases to exist. Forcing Captain Kirk and Mr Spock to travel back to set things right in the most heartbreaking of ways. One of the few episodes in the whole franchise where our main set of characters win while losing at the same time. In Star Trek: Enterprise during the third season Captain Archer is infected with a strange sub-space parasite which means he can no longer store new memories and is replaced as captain by T’Pol. When next we see him its over 12 years later and we learn that the Xindi won and earth was destroyed (the prevention of which was the main narrative of season three) all because Archer wasn’t in command. An exciting conclusion to this episode called ‘Twilight’ sees the parasite removed and Archer restored as captain back at the point of the original infection.

Star Trek: The Next Generation probably has my own personal favourite when it comes to the alterative timeline story in the shape of Yesterday’s Enterprise’. It’s has a great premise that see’s the USS Enterprise-C (which we hadn’t seen on screen before I might add which makes it even more exciting) from 20 years prior travel to the present thanks to a rift in space time. In doing so it creates an alternative timeline that see’s the Federation at war with the Klingon Empire, a war that is not going well. Why? Because the Enterprise-C was suppose to be destroyed defending a Klingon outpost and by doing so, would have been seen as an honorable act and would have prevented the war they now find themselves embroiled in. This episode for me has everything that a time travel and alternative timeline story should have.

More from Star Trek

It sees dramatic changes to the surroundings as the Enterprise-D has become a war ship, characters, although pretty much the same have added depth,  hardened by the acts of war. The return of a character long since dead; Tasha Yar at her post in tactical with an opportunity to bow out fighting and with honour rather than being zapped by an overactive oil slick. It has tension, it has high stakes and it has death. At the end, the Enterprise-C with Tasha Yar on board is sent back to the past to a certain demise and the timeline is reset. Bravo.

This episode also stands out against all others such as Voyager’s ‘Timeless‘,  because it’s an episode that has true repercussions on later series with the revelation that Tasha Yar survived the journey back in time and gave birth to a half human half Romulan daughter, a daughter who is loyal to the Romulan empire. Played by Denise Crosby, Sela came to prominence in season 5 in the episodes “Redemption, Part II” and ‘Unification’. Proving that stories involving time travel give writers an opportunity to help shape future stories even if they haven’t specifically planned to do so.

"“Jim, I think I liked him with a beard better…” – Dr McCoy"