Who Is Actually Star Trek’s Most Reckless Time Traveler?

For a show titled Star Trek, it sure has told
an awful lot of time travel stories over the years, huh? Every Star Trek TV series and four of the
thirteen feature films have featured time travel. In fact, so many characters from all eras
of the franchise have time traveled and wreaked so much havok in the past, present, and future
that I feel compelled to ask the question: Who Is Actually Star Trek’s Most Reckless
Time Traveler? Because God knows there are plenty of candidates. No, not him – the real God. Thank you. It’s not just that time travel is a frequently
used trope in Star Trek – some of the most popular and critically acclaimed episodes
in the whole franchise are time travel episodes! Makes you wonder why they didn’t just go
for it and make a show called Time Trek. Sidenote: I’m a little disappointed no one
ever made that show, to be honest. Not only is it a solid premise – and if
you doubt that, check out Legends of Tomorrow – it’s a show about a team of time traveling
superheroes and it’s awesome – “Time Trek” is an amazing title! How has that never been the title of anything
other than an obscure 1970s video game? Sure, in 1993 there was Time Trax, which is
close, and is also undoubtedly the crowning achievement in the career of Dale Midkiff
– respect – but that had nothing to do with Star Trek! And is this series called “Trax, Actually”? I don’t think so. Was Time Trax really twenty-five years ago
already? Wow. Anyway. So who might be Star Trek’s most reckless
time traveler? Given the subject matter, it seems only fitting
that we proceed chronologically – and begin with the series that takes place the earliest
in Star Trek’s fictional timeline – Enterprise. At first glance this series would seem to
feature several promising candidates. Thanks to a recurring subplot about a temporal
cold war, the first three seasons are chock full of time travel! Crewman Daniels turns out to be a temporal
agent from the 31st century. Captain Archer travels into the future a few
times. Archer and T’Pol travel back to 2004 in
the episode “Carpenter Street.” The whole ship gets yanked back to World War
II for the end of season three and the start of season four. But this video isn’t about Star Trek’s
most prolific time traveler – it’s about the most reckless time traveler. And while Archer and the crew of his Enterprise
did quite a bit of time traveling, they always did so to correct temporal incursions, to
restore history that had been altered. Archer wasn’t being reckless. He was striving to put right what once went
wrong, hoping each time that his next leap would be the leap home. Still would’ve been a better ending than
“These Are The Voyages”. The next Trek series according to the franchise’s
in-story chronology is Discovery. I’m not gonna say much about Discovery in
this video because at the time of this recording we’re only about halfway through the show’s
second season. The first season featured a bit of time travel
– a time loop episode featuring Harry Mudd, and a time jump near the end of the season
when the crew comes nine months into the future while returning from the mirror universe – but
nothing that really qualifies as reckless. The second season’s major ongoing story
arc involves a mysterious time traveling red angel, but it’s not over yet. So I’m gonna wait and see how this one turns
out. What about Classic Trek? It not only originated the whole damn Star
Trek franchise, it also established that time travel was no big deal. Captain Kirk and the crew of the classic Enterprise
time traveled by accident in “The Naked Time” and “Tomorrow Is Yesterday,” both
season one episodes, and by the end of season two they’d gotten the hang of it so well
they were nonchalantly time-warping back to the 20th century to conduct historical research. It’s easy to forget just how casually time
travel is handled in that episode, “Assignment: Earth,” probably because Star Trek never
treated the subject that way again. When the crew traveled back to the 20th century
again in the film Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, it was treated as an incredibly dangerous
operation which they were lucky to survive. How did time travel go from routine to incredibly
dangerous? Easy: routine time travel is boring, and incredibly
dangerous time travel is dramatic and exciting, so the writers of Star Trek IV just ignored
the previously established fact that time travel was super easy and did what was best
for their story. It’s almost as if the creators of Star Trek
have treated its in-universe history as malleable rather than immutable since the beginning
and have always felt at liberty to ignore, add to or otherwise alter portions of it as
they saw fit to serve the needs of the story they were telling at the time, and those fans
who are upset at the producers of Star Trek: Discovery for supposedly pissing all over
canon should just get over it! They should just get over it! Where was I? Oh, yeah. None of this is to say that Classic Trek doesn’t
have any candidates for most reckless time traveler. I can definitely think of one: [McCoy from
“City on the Edge of Forever] It’s not his fault – he’s tweaked out
on cordrazine – but even so, Dr. McCoy jumps through the talking time donut and changes
history so the Nazis win World War II and the Federation never exists. If not for Kirk and Spock following him back
and stopping him before he can save that nice lady from getting pancaked by a truck, we’d
all be speakin’ German and fascists would be running this country! Thanks to Kirk and Spock, we’re not speaking
German. I don’t want to be too hard on McCoy, though. When he travels back to 1986 with the rest
of the crew in Star Trek IV he does have his wits about him, and he cautions Scotty about
giving away the formula for transparent aluminum because it would change the future. That’s responsible time traveling. Doesn’t do any good – Scotty’s just
like, “Whatever, for all I know Arnold Ripner over here invented it! History-shmistory!” But the thought is appreciated nonetheless,
Doctor. Let’s move on to Star Trek: The Next Generation. The TNG crew weren’t a very reckless bunch. Picard is so concerned about preserving the
timeline that he even makes Q promise that only his own personal history will be changed
when he’s sent back to the past in the episode “Tapestry”. Though he’s not always so careful – I
don’t think you went back and collected all those blinky things you stashed in the
lamps of 19th century San Francisco, did you, Jean-Luc? And where’d you get those, anyway? Did you bring them from the 24th century? That’s what I call planning for the future! Or the past. Whatever, you know what I mean. That lapse aside, Picard may have done a bit
of time traveling, but he’s definitely not a serious contender for “most reckless.” In fact, compared to the rest of the franchise,
the Next Gen crew’s experience with time travel is relatively slight. Other than that “Time’s Arrow” two-parter
that bridged seasons five and six, there’s no episode that features all or most of the
main cast on a time travel adventure. There are what we might call minor time travel
excursions, like in the episode “Cause and Effect” where the ship is caught up in a
time loop that forces them to relive the same day over and over again, or “We’ll Always
Have Paris,” where they experience brief temporal distortions aboard the ship as they
approach a lab where a scientist is conducting time experiments, or the series finale, “All
Good Things,” where Q sends Picard bouncing back and forth between past, present and future
in an attempt to stop a temporal anomaly that destroys all life on Earth – no big deal. The Enterprise itself doesn’t do any significant
time traveling until the film Star Trek: First Contact. And the Enterprise-E crew aren’t exactly
careful about avoiding contact with the locals when they get to the 21st century, but they
don’t really have a choice. Their mission is to prevent the Borg from
altering Earth’s history and by the time they get there, the Borg have already seriously
damaged the complex where Zephram Cochrane is planning to launch the first warp-capable
spacecraft, so it’s not like they can just hang back outta the way. And most importantly of all, they succeed
– they defeat the Borg and put history back on its previous course. Sure, that mini-crisis where Cochrane tries
to run away without making the warp flight could have been avoided if Geordi had just
kept his mouth shut about the monumental statue in the likeness of Cochrane people were gonna
erect someday – – but hey, Riker shoots Cochrane with a
phaser to keep him from escaping and they drag Cochrane back and force him to go through
with the flight, even going to far as to stay with him aboard the spacecraft the whole time
just to make sure he doesn’t make a break for it again like the drunken coward he is,
so it all worked out! Which means you got lucky this time, Geordi! Be more careful next time you’re talking
to a psychologically fragile historical figure! Think about the potential consequences. You weren’t like this before you got rid
of the visor, man. You’ve changed. Everybody says so. You don’t have to take my word for it. Let’s talk about Deep Space Nine, which
is not only my favorite Star Trek series but also features a shit-ton of time travel stories. The most well known of these is probably “Trials
and Tribble-ations,” because it doesn’t just send our heroes back in time – it Forrest-Gumps
them into a beloved episode of Classic Trek. And it actually works really well when it
could easily have been a cringe-inducing mess, so bravo, people who made that episode twenty-three
years ago – goddammit, I’m so old. Once again, I don’t think we can fairly
call the time travel in “Trials and Tribble-ations” reckless. At least not on the part of our heroes. Arn Darvin drags the Defiant back in time
to murder Captain Kirk, which would no doubt have radically altered the course of history
from that point on, but the good guys act to prevent that, and are very careful to blend
in and avoid altering the timeline. Yeah, there’s the gag at the end where it’s
revealed the promenade on DS9 is overrun with tribbles because a tribble was brought back
to the 24th century by a certain changeling whose name is derived from the Cardassian
translation of the Bajoran term for “unknown sample” – not saying who – but that’s
no big deal. The Klingons hunted tribbles to extinction
before, they can do it again. Give Worf his mek’leth and a keg of warnog
and he’ll have it sorted before roll call. For my money the best time travel episode
of DS9 – one of the best time travel episodes in all of Star Trek – hell, one of the best
episodes in all of Star Trek, period – is the “Past Tense” two-parter where as a
result of a transporter accident Sisko, Bashir, and Dax are thrown back to Earth in the year
2024 – – which for those characters is nearly 350
years in the past, but for viewers at the time the episode originally aired was almost
thirty years in the future, and is only five years ahead of where I’m sitting right now
in 2019. Where did the time go? I was 14 when this episode premiered. Fourteen. The time travel in “Past Tense” is accidental,
and Sisko, Bashir and Dax try to minimize their impact on the timeline. The presence of Sisko and Bashir does get
pivotal historical figure Gabriel Bell killed prematurely, but that’s the fault of one
Biddle Coleridge, not them. And Sisko successfully impersonates Bell and
gets things back on track. If we really want to find a serious candidate
for most reckless time traveler on Deep Space Nine, there’s only one worth considering:
no, not Molly! Her time travel didn’t have any effect on
history, and it was an accident. She wandered into a cave and fell into a time
portal – bratty little shit, you should listen to your parents! Cherish them! Because they’ll be gone before you know
it. Time moves so fast! You don’t even realize it’s happening
and suddenly there you are and you’re two months away from turning thirty-nine and you’re
like, where did my life go? . . . Quark. Quark’s who I’m talking about. He’s the candidate for most reckless time
traveler. Yes, he, Rom, Nog and Odo wind up on Earth
in the year 1947 through no fault or intention of their own, but once Quark figures out what
has happen, he immediately begins scheming to use his knowledge of the future to take
control of the planet and alter history to benefit Ferengi commerce. Luckily, everyone returns to their own time
before Quark has a chance to put his plan into action. Even if he was motivated by benevolence rather
than personal ambition and acquisitiveness, he couldn’t possibly have foreseen the results
of the kind of changes he wanted to make. Maybe the Ferengi Alliance would become more
prosperous. Maybe billions of people would die who didn’t
die in the old timeline. You can’t tell! I mean, deliberately trying to change the
future just because you think you get can it to come out better – that’s not just
recklessness, that’s arrogance at an almost unimaginable level. Looks like someone’s ears were burning! Like Deep Space Nine, Star Trek: Voyager had
more than a few time travel episodes. Like TNG and DS9 had done and Enterprise would
do, Voyager produced an epic two-part time travel episode, “Future’s End,” where
the ship is thrown back to Earth in the year 1996. But the really reckless time traveling doesn’t
start until two years later, when Voyager presented its 100th episode, “Timeless.” No one actually time travels in this episode,
but much of the show is set 15 years into the future, where it turns out the only survivors
of the U.S.S. Voyager’s crew are Harry Kim, Chakotay,
and the Doctor. An attempt to return to the Alpha Quadrant
using an experimental slipstream drive succeeded in bringing Voyager most of the way home,
but a slight miscalculation by Kim caused the ship to crash into an icy planet, killing
everyone aboard. Now Future Harry and Future Chakotay have
returned to the Voyager crash site, retrieved the Doctor’s holographic program, and plan
to send their past selves a message so they can avoid the crash and change history. And it works, of course. Future Harry sends the message, his past self
shuts down the slipstream drive just in time, and Voyager doesn’t make it back to the
Alpha Quadrant, but the crew doesn’t die, either. Which is nice for them. And Future Harry’s motivations are certainly
understandable, deeply human, even admirable. He’s so overwhelmed with guilt over, as
he sees it, getting his friends killed, that he’s willing to erase the last 15 years
of his life to undo it. But this episode sets a lousy precedent, not
just for the characters but for the show itself. The future we see during “Timeless” isn’t
the product of competing factions in a temporal cold war. The crew of Voyager didn’t die because of
someone changing history. It’s just what happened. And yeah, it’s sad. Harry made a mistake, and his shipmates died,
and he’s had to live with that. But that’s what happened. “Timeless” is the first time we see a
Star Trek series regular choose to alter the normal course of history because he wasn’t
happy with how it turned out. And it wouldn’t be the last. Which brings me the character who is actually
Star Trek’s most reckless time traveler. Oh, there are other characters I could mention
– Nero from the first Kelvin timeline film is a good one – sure, he’s thrown into
the past by accident and consumed by grief over the loss of his homeworld, but his presence
does trigger the creation of an alternate timeline and he does deliberately destroy
the entire planet of Vulcan. That’s some Galactic Empire shit – not
cool, Nero. And if I widen my focus to include guest characters,
there’s also Berlinghoff Rasmussen from the TNG episode “A Matter of Time,” who
plans to steal items of 24th century technology and return to the 22nd century to pass them
off as his own inventions; and Annorax from Voyager’s “Year of Hell” two-parter,
who uses his time ship to change all kinds of history in an attempt to restore his waning
civilization and bring his dead wife back to life. But who are we kidding here? Of all the candidates from throughout the
franchise, there’s only one character who deserves the title of Most Reckless Time Traveler. And she earns that title by doing Future Harry
one better, in the series finale of Star Trek: Voyager: “Endgame”. It’s now the early 25th century and the
former crew of the Starship Voyager are gathering together to celebrate the tenth anniversary
of their return home. They all seem to be doing well – Harry is
a captain, B’Elanna is a Federation liason to the Klingon Empire, Tom is a successful
author, the Doctor is married. It didn’t turn out so happily for everyone,
unfortunately. We learn that Tuvok is institutionalized,
suffering from a degenerative neurological condition, that Seven of Nine died sometime
before the ship returned to the Alpha Quadrant, and that Chakotay died shortly after the ship
made it home, judging from the date on his grave stone, having lived out his final years
heartbroken over the loss of Seven, who he was in love with or something – they kinda
threw that in right at the very end of the series. So Admiral Janeway does what any reasonable,
responsible person would do in her situation: she decides to travel back in time 26 years
– to the year in which the rest of Voyager’s seventh season takes place – and change
history so Voyager can make it back to the Alpha Quadrant much earlier than it originally
did, thus saving Seven’s life, sparing Chakotay from having to live without her, and enabling
Tuvok to seek treatment for his condition on Vulcan before it’s too late. Future Janeway’s motivation is sympathetic
in the same way as Future Harry’s from “Timeless,” but less so. Future Harry took it upon himself to wipe
out fifteen years of history because everyone aboard Voyager except him, Chakotay and the
Doctor had died because of a mistake he made. Future Janeway takes it upon herself to wipe
out twenty-six years of history where apparently everyone but Seven made it back home, and
everyone who did make it back home is still happy and healthy ten years later except for
Tuvok and Chakotay. I don’t mean to sound heartless here, but
aside from the tragic fates of Seven, Chakotay and Tuvok, this is a pretty fantastic outcome. Voyager was lost on the other side of the
galaxy, 75 years from home at maximum warp, but according to “Endgame” they made it
home in 23 years, most of the crew survived, and almost everyone who made it back was still
alive and well a decade later. Quit while you’re ahead! Or, no, don’t quit – keep living your
imperfect but, all things considered, very good life. Of course it’s sad that Seven and Chakotay
died prematurely and Tuvok developed a debilitating disease, but that’s what happened. And they weren’t the first members of the
Voyager crew to die or be seriously injured. I can’t help but notice Janeway didn’t
program her time machine to take her back far enough to allow her to prevent the deaths
of Hogan, or Carey – or what about Stadi and Cavit and the rest of the crew who died
when the ship was first pulled into the Delta Quadrant by the Caretaker? Shit, why not just go back far enough to prevent
Voyager from being stranded in the Delta Quadrant in the first place?! Chakotay and Seven won’t end up together
that way, either, but they won’t know the difference! Look, I get that when viewed from a certain
perspective, what Admiral Janeway does in “Endgame” is kind of awesome. She doesn’t like how things are, so she
takes it upon herself to change history, and she succeeds. That’s pretty badass, and while I don’t
think it was meant this way, it can be read as a metaphor for social activism. You don’t like the way the world is? Do something about it. You think the problems we face are too big
or too entrenched to solve? Try and find out. You might be surprised by how much you can
accomplish. If you look at it that way, Admiral Janeway
is a goddamn inspiration, and I want to acknowledge that before I go back to taking the piss out
of her. The problem is, Admiral Janeway doesn’t
resolve to build a better future by working to make things better in the present – she
decides she can build a better present by going back and changing the past. She’s certainly not the first science fiction
character to get that idea. But most of those other characters are the
villains of their stories, not the heroes. The heroes are the characters who follow the
villains back to stop them from changing history – like Picard and crew in Star Trek: First
Contact, or Kyle Reese in The Terminator, or Darien Lambert in Time Trax. Speaking of whom, I saw Dale Midkiff at a
convention a few years ago and swear to god, the dude looks exactly the same as he did
back in the day. And that was just . . . let’s see, that
was in 2012, so . . . seven years ago? Already? The point is, yeah, Admiral Janeway is audacious
and gutsy and she gets it done, but that doesn’t mean she ought to have done it! Arbitrarily changing history because you don’t
like how it turned out the first time? That’s more than audacity. That’s hubris. And, to look at this from a writer’s perspective,
it establishes that doing such a thing is not only possible but permissible in certain
circumstances. That’s a terrible idea, because it undermines
the stakes of any subsequent story – whatever is done can always be undone – and it creates
an inconsistency every time a writer wants to have something bad happen to their characters
and make it stick. If Admiral Janeway changed history to prevent
a few of her friends from dying or developing serious illnesses, why couldn’t Spock or
Kirk or some other character from the first Kelvin timeline film change history to prevent
the deaths of billions of people when Vulcan was destroyed? Inconsistencies like that don’t usually
bother me, because I think a particular story – especially a film – should be allowed
to set its own rules and establish its own stakes, regardless of what has come before. But I think we all know that there are quite
a few of our fellow Star Trek fans who don’t see things that way and will instinctively
zero in on any such inconsistency and obsess over it to the exclusion of everything else
for the rest of their goddamn lives. And that can be annoying, but in this case
it could also have been easily avoided if the writers of Voyager had just found a way
to end their series that didn’t involve the lead protagonist deciding to rewrite history
because the first draft didn’t suit her. Look, we’d all like to be able to go back
in time and change things in our past – things we’re ashamed of, choices we wish we’d
made differently. Hell, I’d like to think if I ever met my
past self, I’d at least have some wisdom to pass on that would make my life a little
easier, allow me to avoid making a few mistakes. But that’s just not possible. And honestly, that’s probably for the best. What the hell was that?! Hey, boy! Dad? No, that doesn’t seem right. Heh. Like Dad would ever show up in a Star Trek
video. No, shithead, I’m you! From the future! How far in the future? ‘Bout twenty years. How did you, meaning I, travel back in time? Temporal vortex. Hey, think fast! A Niners cap? What is this? A Niners cap. Why’d you throw it at me? It’s a gift! From me to me! Thank you. Wow. And it’s fitted! I’ve looked for these but I could only ever
find adjustable ones. Perfect! Where’d you get it? From you! And where do I get it? From me! Just now! Wild, ain’t it? How can that be possible? It’s simple. I come back in time from the future to now
and give you the hat. Twenty years from now, when you’re me, you
travel back in time to now and give yourself the hat! But that’s a paradox. Yep! The sequence of events you just described
is circular. You give the hat to me, I give the hat to
you, but where did the hat come from? It’s like a destiny thing, maybe? We were always supposed to have the hat? That doesn’t account for how one of us got
the hat in the first place! I mean, do I buy the hat at some point in
my future, before I become you and travel back in time to now? Maybe. What do you mean, maybe? You would remember doing that. And you would have had two of these hats until
you brought one back here to give to me. Did you have two of these hats? Come on, man, I can’t tell you that! Why not? Temporal Prime Directive. I can’t give you information about your
future. You just gave me a hat from my future! Well there’s nothing about the future written
on it! Ugh! Okay, forget the hat. Tell me something else about the future. I can’t! It could change my history. Just tell me something innocuous that couldn’t
possibly make a difference whether I know it or not. Okay. Um. I – you – live in Ohio. Do I like it there? Yeah, it’s okay. I’ve just got a little place, but it’s
nice. Right by the sea. You mean the lake? Right by Lake Erie? No, the sea. Ohio is on the east coast where I come from. This is the Atlantic Ocean. So we aren’t able to prevent the disasterous
effects of climate change. We barely even tried! Is that why you’ve traveled back in time? To change history and prevent a climate change-related
catastrophe that killed or displaced millions of people? No. I just came to give you the hat. You traveled twenty years in the past just
to give yourself a hat? Yes, because how else would I have it? But when you get back to your own time you
won’t have it! You just gave it to me! Do you see how this makes no sense?! But I will have had it! It’s not supposed to make sense! It’s time travel! God! Just leave! Get outta here! Go back to the future. I’m going, but it’s not because you told
me to. Whatever. It’s because that’s what I do now. Just go! Lemme ask you something: did this bit drag
at all? Because I seem to remember when I was you
it felt like it went on forever. You remember correctly. All right. See you later. In the mirror! That was weird. Though seeing myself from the future like
that . . . I don’t know. I’m not as bothered by the passage of time
as I was. It’s hard to explain. I feel . . . young. I feel young. And I do like the hat. I accomplished my mission. I gave my past self the hat. Excellent. Everything is proceeding according to plan. Nice. Any chance you can let me in on what the plan
is? What? Can you tell me what the plan is? The plan! Yeah, no, that’s just something I said. It’s like boilerplate villain talk. There is no plan. Then why did you have me go back in time twenty
years and give myself a hat? Eh. Gotta use the temporal vortex for something,
right? So there’s no larger purpose to any of this? Nope. You’re just making it up as you go along? Yep! And this whole deal with your mysterious identity
isn’t going anywhere, either? You don’t turn out to be someone important? Oh, this never gets paid off at all! Can you at least explain the hat paradox? No! Are you the Red Angel? Get out!

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