Is Star Trek-like Time Travel/Alternative Universes The New Thing For Genre TV?

[Spoilers] Is it just me, or is Star Trek-like time travel the new thing for TV? Just a few years ago dealing with hard sci-fi topics was taboo in TV, but these days you can’t throw a rock in prime time, without it jumping into a parallel universe. The latest example came last night in FlashForward, a show co-created by TNG era vet Brannon Braga that also includes Star Trek’s John Cho in the cast. 


[even more spoilers about lots of TV shows]

Flash Forward goes MWI

Any regular TrekMovie reader will know that Star Trek co-writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman did their homework when they set up the alternate timeline in their new film, using time travel to create a point of divergence (the destruction of the Kelvin) and then relying on the Many Worlds Interpretation of quantum mechanics to set up a parallel timeline/universe. Orci spoke about this at length in an interview here last year, and it was also covered in a follow-up article.

ABC’s FlashForward is one of of the hottest genre show’s of the year. The premise set up in the pilot was that everyone on Earth blacked out had their consciousnesses ‘flashed forward’ a few months, glimpsing the future. The mystery for the season so far has revolved around the causes of the Flash Forward, and if it is possible to change the future everyone has seen. In the Fall finale (the show comes back in March) last night, the show dipped its toe into the MWI, as this clip shows.

And the show also made its first hint that time travel may also be going on, as shown in this clip from last night.

Time Travel & parallel universes – all over the tube
But FlashForward is just part of a new growing trend. The last season of Lost (created by Trek producers Damon Lindelof and JJ Abrams) had the cast jumping around all season long, here is a clip showing a time travel ‘flash’ and also Sawyer giving his assessment of what is is like moving through time.

And the Abrams gang isn’t done. Abrams other show Fringe (co-created with Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman), has set up an entire parallel Earth (where they are keeping Leonard Nimoy and his character William Bell). Here we see the first season ender with Agent Dunham (Anna Torv) meeting William Bell on the parallel Earth.

And of course NBC’s Heroes is still limping along, and that show has dabbled in time travel and alternative timelines for a couple years. Even with the current season, it seems every other week the Star Trek-loving character Hiro (Masi Oka) travels back in time to try and fix something. Here is a scene from last season with Hiro jumping all over the place.

And of course there Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, the FOX show that came to an end last season. As part of the Terminator universe, time travel and alternative timelines were key components of that show. Here is the time-travel-astic finale of that series.

Of course the new show Stargate Universe is a ‘hard scifi’ show on SyFy, but it took them only 8 episodes until they dove into time travel this season, with "Time". Here is a the "Kino" web extra from that episode, discussing time travel.

Star Trek: the king of time travel
Of course time travel has been a component of the Star Trek franchise since the first season of Star Trek in 1966  ("The Naked Time"). Since then there have been dozens of time-travel episodes (and four of 11 movies also played with time). In a way, Star Trek has set the standard for time travel on TV, which now seems to be becoming a sub-genre or at least an accepted sci-fi theme. Some of the greatest moments in Star Trek (and TV) history, were in time travel/alt timeline episodes, like this one (from "Yesterday’s Enterprise)…

Perhaps the new Star Trek movie is helping, as just the latest blockbuster that traveled in time (with Back to the Future and Terminator also being classics of the sub-genre).  Maybe we will see more and more shows dealing with time travel and other ‘hard sci-fi concepts. As Damon Lindelof says in the video below (from Comic Con 2008), it would be a good thing if, with all the cop shows and legal shows and doctor shows, there could actually be a "critical mass" of shows dealing with time travel.






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Is it a wonder that all those shows are pretty much flops on TV?

I remember my disappointment when the very first episode of the “back to basics” series Enterprise immediately introduced a time travel subplot. They practically lost me right there. Although time travel has occasionally been used in Star Trek to great effect, far more often, it has been little more than a gimmicky source of nonsense.

They seem to have forgotten about the golden era of TV and all those great shows. Either that or we all just have gotten too blase with our entertainment.

This is why we need to have Star Trek The Experience back to get out of one reality and into another…or just loose ourselves in a better reality.

Esp 08 ”Time” is about the only esp of Stargate universe i have liked so far , trying add in too much drama and forgetting its a sci fi programe hope it does not go down the battlestar gac route (as personal i did not like the new BG at all).

@ #3

I second that! Quarks bar is the best!

Tos had many Eps on Time travel. The best being City on the Edge of Forever and my Fav. Tomorrow is Yesterday. One of the best Time Travel Shows of all is my personel fave. Quantam Leap. Staring Enterprises Scott Bakula. I hope he comes back as Sam Beckett for either a Movie or another Series. Even Stephen King has done a little Time Travel in the Langoliers. Great Miniseries. These were some of the best of Time Travel that worked. There have been others that simply floped. There was a very Short lived series last year that had a guy goiong back and forth through time but was a total flop. Don’t remember the name. Time Travel if done right can be realy cool and Spectacular. If done wrong is a joke.

Took the words right out of my mouth. Time travel can work really well on TV and in any other media, but Star Trek is not an example of how to do it well.
It seems to me that time travel plotlines that revolve around trying to change things are ripe for storyline potential. It speaks to a very basic desire that we’ve all had at some point: a desire to go back and fix our mistakes. But ultimately the reality of it is that there is no going back for any of us. Even if somehow we change the entire world we live in, the original mistake that was made was still the driving force that made that world a reality. So ultimately, a good time travel story should eventually force the character to come to terms with the fact that they can only really mend the mistake by accepting responsibility for it and working in the present to fix it.
Instead, Star Trek simply glossed over this potentially limitless pool of character development and simply let their characters get away with it guilt free. I think my personal “favorite” example of this was when Voyager had B’Lanna watch Harry Kim die in the first ten minutes of an episode, but then by the end of it they’ve brought in another copy of him and no one speaks of it again. Is anyone really so shallow as to not be at least a little bit bothered about the one who died?

Another great time travel movie was the Final Countdown. About a Nuclear Aircraft Carrier that was somehowe transported back to December 6th 1941. Wow. Think of the possibilitys of that. It had a pretty great cast. Kirk Douglas was the skipper and Marten Sheen. If you have not seen it you should. This Movie came out in 1978 or 79.

Wow, that Sarah Connor finale actually looks good, too bad that thing didn’t last. I remember when it was first promoted I just thought it would be another show about how a highschool teen douche becomes a hero whilst controlling his urges around females, so I never bothered to catch it. If I had known the show was focused on the adults I might’ve watched.


I was going to mention that one! The USS Nimitz goes back in time to the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor. Great one.

Also, Nick Meyer’s “The Time Machine” where HG Wells follows Jack the Ripper from the past into present-day San Francisco. I think they’re played by Malcolm McDowell and David Warner, respectively.

And no mention of the Family Guy where Peter marries Molly Ringwald in the 1980s instead of Lois? For shame!

Gad. Every decade or so, pseudo-science spits out a theory that’s more poetry than science. MWI? Nah. I’m just not buying it, at least not the way it’s spelled out in the scene above. As shown there, every whim of every human being spawns an entire universe. Um, them universe suckers is BIG. To think that each of us, and the drunk under the bridge, is creating a new universe every few microseconds or so… That’s… um…


*as coined by Neil Stephenson in “Anathem,” which also deals with multiple universes.

I’m just saying that if there are multiverses, then there’s got to be a better genesis mechanism than the bad vibes of a human mind.

Time Cop with Jean Claude Van Dam was actualy a good one as well. At least I liked it. It was his only good movie he did I actualy liked. They did have a short lived series but was not as good. I know the Twilight Zone had some good Eps on time travel as well as the Outer Limits and of course Dr. Who. Also there was another series back in the 60s. I think it was called Time Tunnel. But I probly am wrong. It was a great series as well. In one ep they went back in time and saved J.F.K from being Killed.

#7 what about trek 4 now that users time travels as a way to show how things may be if we carry on with what we are doing to ourself and our planet !ok they fixs things in the end but not before showing us that we still have a choice and we can still change our own future

And just to get a nit-pick in… check Geordi’s uniform in the very last shots of “Yesterday’s Enterprise.”

10. AJ – December 4, 2009


“I was going to mention that one! The USS Nimitz goes back in time to the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor. Great one.”

That was a great 3/4 of a movie. SPOILER! The big payoff never came as the Nimitz got pulled back toits own time, never having the chance to engage Yamamoto’s fleet. Great setup, though.

They should remake it now. Imagine the possibilities with CGI today! It would be the ultimate Combat Flight Simulator Pacific Theater game! This time, they could actually smoke some zeroes!

#15. I agree with you. They could actualy make a series about it. Have the U.S.S Reagon go back in time to Dec 6th and have them engage the Jap Fleet and then have the New York Report to the Presedent. Could you imagine what that would be like. Th U.S would realy be in great shape.

11- I think it’s a dumb name but I don’t understand why it is difficult concept to believe. Time moves in one direction, entropy occurs and you have the wave/particle duality. What is inconsistent with the idea that in a probability distribution all outcomes will occur though we will only sample one specific outcome in our path forward with parallel us’s seeing the other outcomes in parallel. THe notion of being able to break across from one to another seems to me whimsical, but I don’t see at face value what’s wrong with the theory of parallel universes.

Regarding time travel, even Farscape had it when when Crichton touched the quantum singularity and was leaping forward seeing different future scenes and possible outcomes change as he reacts to the information.

Taken in moderation I think it’s great for television shows. Enterprise missed the part about moderation.

So… perfect time for Doctor Who to hit in the USA?

16-They could actualy make a series about it. Have the U.S.S Reagon go back in time to Dec 6th and have them engage the Jap Fleet and then have the New York Report to the Presedent.

Dec. 7, 1941. That would be when virtually everyone knew Ronald Reagan as “The Gipper.” I think Roosevelt would be more than a little confused by a carrier named after the Gipper.

17- I’m probably not saying it right. I don’t have a problem with multiple somethings. I have a problem with those somethings being based upon the whims of humans. I mean, that makes a great Sandra Bulloch vehicle, but crappy science. The recent Family Guy about the multiverse is a perfect example of why I HOPE that’s not how it works.

#19. You are correct. But would add a little fun to it. Haveing the U.S.S Reagon would be interesting. But you could use any of the named Ships and send it back.

An interesting topic, considering that just about every movie or television program could be said to be set in an alternate universe, since the events differ from what happen in “the real world”.. For example, I don’t believe I’ve ever had a laugh track in the background when I say something funny.

One thing that’s always come to my mind with regards to Star Trek–what television programs appeared in the Star Trek universe instead of Trek?

Any discussion of time travel in sci fi TV should probably include Doctor Who, which has been running fairly steadily (save for a 16 year gap) since 1963 and is all about travel through time and space.

That STNG Episode was the best IMHO

They have done time travel so often that they did an episode spoofing the whole absurdity of the concept. Janeway even commented on how too much time travel gives her a headache.

Funny stuff.

I love flashforward( watch it every week); & I’m glad mr. Braga finally found a format for his love of time-travel stories. It’s not needed for ST; & I’ve never liked such stories for ST.It has always been story enough in S.T. to have humanity use its’ creativity & ingenuity in science & technology to escape the bonds of earth, reach for the stars, expand & grow, & discover other civilizations & worlds & have fascinating interactions with other races & civilizations.

THAT is Star Trek.

I LOVE MWI, and time travel. FF is a good show; so is SGU, in a different way.

BSG is the best written SciFi show since the Twilight Zone.

Thanks Anthony good summary.

Lost is incredible!!

Anybody remember Sherman & Peabody? The animated idiot geek boy and his intelligent Spock-like dog Travelling through time, setting right what once went wrong?

Wherever lazy writing pays the bills, there will always be time-travel providing an alternative to drama … but it seems unfair to blame it on Star Trek :(

28. I remember those guys! The makers of Quantum Leap should have cut Jay Ward’s estate a check! The cartoon “Time Squad” also had a similar premise. I think they did pay homage to S&P though.

I’ve long thought of “A Christmas Carol” as the original time travel/alternate future story.

The main characters on Time Tunnel tried altering history a couple times, but it’s hard to convince people that the Titanic is going to sink, or Pearl Harbor is going to get attacked before the fact it seems.

Time travelers on the Twilight Zone had even less luck changing history. One tried killing Hitler, and the rifle simply would not work!

#12 It was the 1980’s TZ that had an episode where Kennedy lived, but world events began to spiral into World War III soon after! There’s no way Time Tunnel would have gone near JFK only three years after the fact.

And of course, much of the Planet of the Apes movies deal with time travel, and whether one can alter the future.

Let’s make sure that history never forgets the name……….. Enterprise.

#1, Fringe is a flop?

Not only do I think it’s an excellent show, it does pretty well in ratings doesn’t it? I know the first season did pretty good.

I don’t know about the nay-sayers around here, but some of the best episodes of Star Trek (atleast according to me), dealt with time travel. Including the TOS favorite, City on the Edge of Forever. One of the best Star Trek movies dealt with time travel, namely First Contact. The most humorous Star Trek movie dealt with time travel, namely The Voyage Home.

Ofcourse, Star Trek isn’t the only source of good time travel materials. Among my favorite movies are the Back to the Future trilogy, Timecop (only movie with Jean Claude Van Damme that I actually liked), the movie Final Countdown with Kirk Douglas and Martin Sheen was a cool movie as well.

As has been said: If done well, the results are excellent. If done badly, the reputation of the movie/tv-series will suffer greatly.

Shockwave Part 1 & 2 from Enterprise was pretty good I thought, although the whole setup from the beginning with the Temporal Cold War, kinda turned off a lot of Star Trek fans from the show. Enterprise had it’s best years during seasons 3 and 4, and I think could’ve rebounded had it been given a chance to run the full 7 year term.

the nick meyer hg wells movie was called time after time-mcdowell was excellent in that movie–remember when wells went to mcdonalds n was delighted to find out that fries were pomme frits hehe
Sherman n peabodys improbable history like rocky n bullwinkle was some of the best animation on tv-animation very cheap but writing,humor, and fun satire cleverness was off the scale-

Ah, time travel.

Like #33, my list of “best Trek” episodes have the concept: TCotEoF, TVH, FC, OGAM, Year of Hell, Timeless, Shattered (does it count?), Yesterday’s Enterprise, et al.

On the other end of my list, there’s also another time travel concept gone wrong: Voyager’s Endgame. (Or maybe because I hated C7. I dunno.)

So, in conclusion, time travel is (very) overused and nice, but only when it’s written nicely.
(Or, IMO, when the titmeline is restored to the way it was)

flashforward was good begining but right now very boring and was my time.

Ugh, the Temporal Cold War.

They spent two whole seasons on this disjointed, incomprehensible nonsense. And just when the audience thought it was finally gone and forgotten (good riddance), they came back to it at the end of Season Three. It was as if they wanted Enterprise to get cancelled.

And despite filling up hours and hours of screen time, the TCW plot was so underdeveloped that we never did find out who the Suliban worked for. After four seasons, the super villain jokingly referred to by fans as “Future Guy” was still “Future Guy.”

That’s just good old-fashioned bad writing, folks.

#1 “Is it a wonder that all those shows are pretty much flops on TV?”


I do not think you know what that word means.

Time travel – or not…

I’m fairly confident that
any resurrection on the
ol’ tube will be based with
the Abrams time line.

If incorrect, I’ll go
back in time and
“fix” my post.

They should put some time travel in Dr Who…

Read Asimov’s The End Of Eternity and Heinlein’s All You Zombies and tell me if anyone can top these time travel stories.

40: LOL

Time travel isn’t the bad part. It’s that sometimes the writing is bad. In many cases with Star Trek in the Berman era, the writing was bad. But when time travel stories are written well, they could make every single Star Trek story about time travel and it would work.

Don’t forget Red Dwarf’s Back To Earth this year, in which they escape the TV universe and enter our world, or the Ninja Turtle special where the 1987 and 2003 turtles team up to save the comic book turtle universe…

Don’t forget – Doctor Who: “Rise of The Cybermen / Age Of Steel”

An example of how alternative universes CAN be done properly.

#10, that movie was called Time after Time with Malcolm McDowell and David Warner, both who are Star Trek alumns. I just bought that movie on DVD. It was a great movie with cheesy special effects, but great acting. And don’t forget Planet of the Apes, a Time related classic!

@28 – Actually, Sherman and Peabody traveled back in time to show kids a cartoony version of a particular invention, or event in history. It was actually a pretty interesting concept, and got people thinking about people like Alexander the Great, or Marie Curie, or Alexander Graham Bell.

And Peabody’s puns were groan-worthy, but priceless.

# 1: Yeah, Lost has been an absolute dog of a TV show. No success at all. No wonder it has only been on for 6 years. And Flash Forward is a real dog too. Not at all one of the hottest new drama series on TV. And Fringe has not loyal following. And of course this summer’s Star Trek was a terrible critical and box office flop. Probably no hope at all for any sequel and probably the end of any attempt to ever again bring Trek to the big screen.

The Stallone movie Demolition Man was a pretty good movie. Don’t know if it qualifies as time travel since he was just frozen for 25 years and didn’t actually travel through time.

#33: “I don’t know about the nay-sayers around here, but some of the best episodes of Star Trek (atleast according to me), dealt with time travel.”

I agree that time travel (and alt-universe) aren’t _inherently_ bad, but they’ve earned their reputation, time and again (ha!) by being a pair of gimmicks that attract lazy writing, simply because, for a lazy writer, these concepts are like a playground of pillows and hammocks for them to laze in. That we’re currently inundated with examples on big screen and small just goes to show (IMO) that in American TV and film, in particular, the corporate culture has come to entirely dominate what happens, because corporate drama is inevitably lazy drama.

#44: Amen.


Time travel… like JJ’s new Starry Trek… changes it all…

Ye’ Final Countdown nuts oot’ thar’… ye’, it be a grand film, but wit’ no payoff o’ Tomcats goin’ aftar’ Zeros…

But still that be tha’ point… history unfolds as a lady disrobin’… sometimes ye’ get a good show and sometimes ye’ see that she has cold, plastic Borg parts where she should have soft parts. But it unfolds as it should. Muckin’ aboot’ wit’ that may never let ye’ get a glimpse o’ breast.

Final Countdown, though a letdown at tha’ end, gives us tha’ lesson that tha’ US had ta’ enter WW2 ta’ stop them thar’ German-boyos. If they had “Mavericked” Zeros down then thar’ would be no (immediate then) US entry in tha’ war, eh? Or we would have a Carrier named tha’ USS Patty Duke?

Oh, me head hurts!

Is thar’ an alternate timeline where Tasha is lickin’ me ears instead o’ Geordi doin’ me laundry? Hey- them be my pants, LaFarrrrrrrrrge!