There are tons of television episodes that tackle the wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey stuff that comprises time-space continuum, but these ten really stand out from the crowd.
This list is rather Star Trek heavy but that’s because Star Trek is the best. Obviously.
1. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: “The Visitor”
DS9 is the Star Trek that can make you cry, and this episode is the prime example. The episode follows Jake, the captain’s son, as an old man, telling the story of how his father disappeared when he was 18. The narrative moves through time as Jake recounts how his father’s dramatic disappearance, and occasional reappearance, affected his entire life. It’s a heartbreaking episode about the hopes that parents have for their children, the many ways that children depend on their parents and the sacrifices that one makes for family. The ending, where we find out just how much Jake loves his father, is brilliantly done.
2. Babylon 5: “Babylon Squared”
The crew of Babylon 5 receive a distress call from Babylon 4, the previous Babylon station that disappeared years before. Upon reaching the station the crew discover a temporal anomaly and a couple of mysterious characters. The episode poses a lot of interesting questions that are uniquely tied into the show’s ongoing story arc, but leaves on a note of mystery. The events are revisited in later episodes, and many of the questions are answered, and the significance of Babylon 4 to the world Babylon 5 takes place in is revealed.
3. Star Trek: The Next Generation: “Yesterday’s Enterprise”
When the Enterprise C, the predecessor to Picard’s Enterprise D, moves through a temporal rift, history is altered. The Enterprise D is no longer a peaceful ship of exploration, but a battleship, on the front lines in a decades long conflict between the Federation and the Klingons. This episode is great for many reasons, we get to see an entirely different take on the Star Trek universe, a character who died years before is back, and Picard must contemplate sending a crew back to face certain death in a gamble to change history. Worth it to see Patrick Stewart’s delivery of the line “Let’s make sure history never forgets the name…Enterprise.”
4. Doctor Who: “Blink”
Doctor Who is all about time travel, and has explored it in all sorts of different ways over the decades it has been on the air. I thought I’d choose this episode for a couple of reasons. First, it is one of the best episodes of Doctor Who. Second, it guest stars Carey Mulligan. Third, the unique villains use time travel as a weapon. Instead of killing their enemies, the Weeping Angels displace them in time.
5. Star Trek: “The City on the Edge of Forever”
One of the most famous episodes of Star Trek ever sees Kirk, Spock and McCoy travel back to 1930s New York, where Kirk meets and falls in love with a woman named Edith. However, their journey back has disrupted the timeline and in order for it to be restored, Edith must die. Kirk must choose—the life of a woman he loves or the future he comes from?
6. Futurama: “Roswell That Ends Well”
Fry travels back in time and meets his own grandfather. In a desperate attempt to prevent a paradox he tries to stop his rather accident-prone grandfather from dying, and winds up accidentally killing him. The solution to the paradox: Fry sleeps with his grandmother and becomes his own grandfather. This episode is also great for the way it explores the Roswell story. Fry becoming his own grandfather is explored further in later episodes.
7. Star Trek: Voyager: “Year of Hell”
One of the great things about time travel is that the “magic reset button”exists, which means you can damage or destroy the ship and kill all the main characters and it doesn’t matter. This double episode of Voyager gleefully gives in to all these temptations and shows a much darker version of the crew’s journey, where things that are damaged stay damaged and injuries and deaths matter. It also has a cool time travel idea at its heart—a fallen empire attempts to restore its former glory by wiping their enemies (and anyone else who gets in the way) from history.
8. Red Dwarf: “Backwards”
The crew travel back in time to contemporary Earth, but find themselves in a parallel universe where the flow of time goes in the opposite direction. Everyone walks, talks, and eats backwards. It’s great because the episode sticks to the conceit. In this universe, war is great (millions of people come back to life) and Santa is awful (steals all the kids favourite toys).
9. Star Trek: The Next Generation: “All Good Things…”
The final ever episode of TNG is one of the best, and really should have been the first Next Gen movie as it is superior to the tepid Generations in almost every conceivable way. The time travel conceit here is simple and mysterious, Picard starts moving backwards and forwards in time for no apparent reason. His backwards journeys take him seven years into the past, where he re-lives the events of the pilot episode. His forwards journeys take him decades into the future, where he is an old man who has been diagnosed with a serious illness. As the reason for his journeys is revealed, he realises that the very existence of the human species is at stake. This episode explores parallel universes, causality, the direction of time, and has a great performance from John de Lancie as the brilliant villain, Q.
10. Community: “Remedial Chaos Theory”
Technically nobody travels through time in this episode but it rates a mention due to its exploration of alternate timelines and causality. A housewarming party for Troy and Abed is shown in seven different timelines. In each timeline a different character answers the door for the pizza delivery guy, as a result later events diverge drastically. Exploring the larger unintended consequences of small actions, it works not only as an episode of Community, but as a great science fiction short. It was even nominated for a Hugo award.
Let me know your favourite time travel episodes in the comments!
This post was originally published July 9th at Momentum Books’ Blog.