Wed
Jul 10 2013 5:00pm
Ten Great Television Episodes About Time Travel

Star Trek Time Travel

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.

41 comments
Scott Silver
1. hihosilver28
Nothing about Fringe's "White Tulip" episode? Not only does it have the great Peter Weller, but it is one of the best self-contained Fringe episodes and plays out like Groundhog Day. I'm not a huge fan of the show, but that episode floored me.
phonos
2. phonos
Great choice of photo for red dwarf "backwards". Stargate did some great time travel episodes, the ground hog day episode was hilarious - haven't we all wanted to improve our golf game by using a wormhole to lengthen our drive...
Alyx Dellamonica
3. AMDellamonica
I have to put in my pitch here for "Genesis," the Quantum Leap pilot.
Edward Forrest Frank
4. edfrank
The Year of Hell was far and away the best time travel story of the entire Star Trek continuum. In general I was not a big fan of Voyager, but this two part episode was amazing.
phonos
5. Evan Torelli
I would actually rank 'City on the Edge of Forever' first and 'Blink' second. Otherwise, I pretty much agree with the list.
phonos
6. TK1123
The trouble with the 'Year of Hell,' was that it probably *shouldn't* have been a time travel episode at all- it should have been the backbone of a DS9-style arc where life in the Delta Quadrant got really hairy for a bit. I seem to have more than the typical quotient of affection for "Voyager"- as has been pointed out elsewhere, in terms of its committment to an inclusive humane vision of a space family exploring the great beyond, it was probably the most Trekky Trek of all- but what it frequently lacked was a helping of grit appropriate to the gravity of their circumstances, and while some of that grit was metted out by Seven's episodes of PTSD and body horror...they didn't lose much, up to and including defanging the intended permanent existential threat of the Borg. Spending a few episodes (or a season) limping would have given us the opportunity for all manner of good Captain Katie mama-bear action, and the making of friends with disparate alien races to get supplies and protection ("Darmok," where if the talking doesn't start, Voyager will run out of air. Or whatever.) There was maybe one episode where anyone touched on the notion that the Federation penchant for cooperation and organization was going to keep them alive, and that episode made no sense, as I recall.

I do understand why they didn't take that road. Voyager wasn't DS9, nor should it have been. But I would have traded any number of weird space anomalies or broken holodecks for a few more glimpses of trying to stay alive far from home.
Cain Latrani
7. CainS.Latrani
@6

Took the words right out of my mouth.

Personally, I would have preferred the entire show to run like Year of Hell, as they couldn't really properly deal with whatever major problems came up with the ship. It annoyed me right out of the gate when, by the end of the first episode, the entire ship was fully repaired and ready to roll.

Shouldn't that level of damage have needed a slightly larger repair crew to get it done that fast? Or a stay in drydock?

Mostly, though, my biggest complaint against Voyager, which I did love despite its flaws, was that they never did more with the Maqui crew members, and the simple reality that, when they got home, all of them were going to jail. Regardless of their actions in the Delta Quadrant, they were still terrorists under Federation law.

While it never bothered me that they had a rather quirky crew, a fact I genuinely enjoyed, the harsh realities of ship damage was sort of waved away and rarely dealt with. I was kind of hoping, going into it, that it would be somewhat more realistic.

Ah well. What might have been.
Scientist, Father
8. Silvertip
I actually give a shudder when it looks like time travel is going to play a role in a story. It just opens the door to too much lazy writing, and the plots tend to crumble upon examination (with the Voyager finale being among the worst of the bunch). Occasionally, as in "City on the Edge of Forever" or the fourth Star Trek movie, it can become just a single conceit that sets up a nice story, but the more integral it is to the forward drive of that story the more harm it does to the plot.

All that said ... no "Trials and Tribble-ations"?????

S
phonos
9. Dianthus
I don't remember the title, but The X-Files also presented a Groundhog Day-style episode. It was a later entry, and featured the actor who played Ed on Northern Exposure. He was robbing a bank (Mulder's).
phonos
10. KF
@1: Agreed about "White Tulip." Also "And Those We've Left Behind," from a later season in Fringe. Both very moving time travel episodes, and probably among the best made for TV.

There's also "Back and Back and Back to the Future," from Farscape, which is a lot of fun. "He says he is experiencing the future." "The future? He can barely function in the present."

I'd guess there's some Twilight Zone eps that should be here as well, Maybe "Walking Distance."
phonos
11. Ragnarredbeard
#3 Yesterday's Enterprise was great. Capt Garret was every bit the equal of other Trek Captains. Too bad they killed her off.
phonos
12. alea_iacta_est
@6 & 7 If I recall correctly, it was mentioned in the dvd commentary that the original idea by the writers had been to make Year of Hell last an entire season, with the ship getting more and more damaged every episode. However, the producers (or something) were too fond of the stand-alone format that Voyager was using, and were wary of forcing the viewer to watch every week in order to follow the story, so they didn't allow that. A pity, if you ask me, thought the two-parter it ended up becoming was pretty good as well.
phonos
13. wingracer
When I saw the title, I immediately thought of Babylon Squared. I loved that show and that episode and the arc that surrounds it is one of the biggest reasons.

I didn't think of remedial chaos theory because it isn't about time travel but I'm glad it was included. Absolutley brilliant episode.

"I wonder what's happening in the darkest timeline?"
F Shelley
14. FSS
Bah...i like "sliding frasiers" way more than most of these...
phonos
15. Darman1136
Can't remember the name but the Stargate SG1 episode where they keep living the last 14 mins. O'Neill and Teal'c hitting golf balls through the gate.
David Stumme
16. grenadier
TNG: "Cause and Effect" should have been on the list.

DS9: "Trials and Tribbleations" comes to mind too

Also, some representative episode of Quantum Leap. Perhaps The Leap Home, or Lee Harvey Oswald.
phonos
17. Matthalaboo
No mention of "The Constant" in season 4 of Lost?? The single best episode of the series and a brilliant sci-fi concept in and of itself!
phonos
18. Solid Muldoon
Every episode of The Time Tunnel.

I can't help it. I'm old.
Amanda Martino
19. isismaat
I second the vote for TNG's "Cause and Effect." Also casting votes for DS9's "Past Tense" and the first season Doctor Who four-part Aztec episode arc.
Joseph Newton
20. crzydroid
@15: It's "Window of Opportunity" and it's not 14 minutes. It's at least several hours to one day. I think 14 planets were caught in the temporal loop, which is maybe where you're getting the number 14 from.
phonos
21. FredG
I'll second Quantum Leap's "The Leap Home". The scene where Sam sings "Imagine" to his little sister makes it well worth a viewing.
Mike Conley
22. NomadUK
Star Trek (TOS) had several time travel episodes, the finest of which (and by far my favourite ST episode, full stop) has already been mentioned. But for sheer fun, it's hard to beat 'Tomorrow is Yesterday', which is worth viewing solely for the exchanges between Kirk and the USAF colonel:

COL FELLINI: What's that, a uniform of some kind?
KIRK: This little thing? Just something I slipped on.
[...]
KIRK: All right, Colonel, the truth is, I'm a little green man from Alpha Centauri, a beautiful place. You oughtta see it.
FELLINI: I am going to lock you up for two. Hundred. Years.
KIRK: That oughtta be just about right.

Classic.
Michael Grosberg
23. Michael_GR
It should be mentioned that "Year of Hell" Was written by Ronald D. Moore, so in a way, that Voyager season-arc where they are pursued, the ship is increasingly damaged and beloved crewmwmbers get maimed or killed? It exists and it's called Battlestar Galactica.
phonos
24. Kevin Lindgren
If you're gonna go back through Science Fiction past to 1966 to get to City on the Edge of Forever, why skip over Terry Nation's classic Genesis of the Daleks from 1975 as Tom Baker's Doctor is sent into the remote past to stop the creation of the ubiquitous Daleks aka "Mark III Travel Machines" by the insanely-blinded-by-science scientist Davros. It's the moment in Who history back to which many, many threads converge, from the Russell Davies era Time War, to Sarah Jane in The End of Time Parts I & II to the many sequels of the Sylvester McCoy era. Also featured, the Doctor's cool recounting of the history of Dalek Wars and Davros' creepy speech about the joys of destroying, well, everything. All that plus the classic trio of Tom Baker, Liz Sladen and Ian Marter. Oh, yeah, there's Nyder, too! I think there's something round about number 4 that could get bumped. . . .
Kevin Lindgren
phonos
25. Slider
Way back in 1980 the BBC screened a one-off programme called 'The Flipside of Dominick Hide' which dealt with the whole grandfather time travel paradox. I have very fond memories of watching that and I think it's what made me a huge time travel fan. I also think you should have mentioned the BBC series 'Goodnight Sweetheart' as a light-hearted and very enjoyable treatment of time travel. But, the best is yet to come! American cable TV channel STARZ is about to produce a TV series based on Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series in which time travel is the central plot theme. Even better news - Ronald D. Moore is in charge!
Tom Smith
26. phuzz
Farscape - "…Different Destinations"
Bercause if Trek can do it, Farscape can do it darker, funnier, more sweary, and just plain better ;)
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
27. Lisamarie
Since somebody mentioned Red Dwarf...I used to watch that show when I was in high school/college, I think it was on some PBS station or something. I tried to show it to my friends and they just thought it was weird. One of my memories is an episode where they go back and time and prevent Kennedy's assasination, but then end up having to re-do it because of the effect on history...and end up being the shooter on the grassy knoll. Am I totally making this up? Haha. I used to love that show!
Justin Bailey
28. PaulAtreides
@ Phonos & Darman1136

The SG-1 episode you are referring to is ‘Window of Opportunity’. The Season 2 episode ‘1969’ is also a light-hearted time-travel episode where the team is sent back in time due to a solar flare-up when they were travelling back to earth, causing the wormhole to slingshot them around the sun (Star Trek IV…). They then have to duplicate the scenario to return back to their own timeline, forcing them to find their stargate in the past.

Although not up to par as some of the Trek episodes listed here, an honorable mention is the SG-1 episode ‘2010’, where a supposedly benevolent species, the Aschen, has given the human race access to advanced technologies and an anti-aging vaccine. However, the vaccine is also causing the human race to become sterile so that the Aschen came take over the planet once the humans are extinct. I thought this proved to be an intriguing science fiction story; slow, methodical, and unknowingly cooperative takeover of an inhabited planet.
alastair chadwin
29. a-j
Lisamarie@27

No you didn't dream it. That was the opening episode of one of the later series and the plot is much as you remember it but with added comic cannibalism!

I'd put in a plea for the third Sapphire & Steel adventure which featured a time thing that could re-animate old photographs and trap people in them. In fact, all six of the Sapphire & Steel stories were never less than interesting even if the quality could vary quite wildly. For those unaware of the series, it was a British late-70s show which starred Joanna Lumley and David McCallum as aliens who investigated incidents where time had been breached. Well worth checking out.
Rob Rater
30. Quasarmodo
I suppose a lot of Heroes could be considered time traveling episodes, thanks to Future Hiro, but the one I would consider really great and more specifically time travelly would be "Five Years Gone" from near the end of the first season.
Scott Silver
31. hihosilver28
@17 *slaps forehead* Should never have forgotten to add that. "The Constant" is a seminal piece of television and one of the most emotional hours I have ever watched. I also think the entirety of season 5 is pretty fantastic as far as time travel is concerned.

@30 Yes, that episode is good, but it's tainted by the fact that Heroes became an absolute piece of trash by the premier of season two.
George Jong
32. IndependentGeorge
I consider Futurama's "The Late Philip J. Fry" to be an all-time Science Fiction classic.
Marie Veek
33. SlackerSpice
@27: There's also "Timeslides", in which Lister uses mutated developing fluid to give his teenage self the idea for the tension sheet, changing history so that he was never on Red Dwarf.
phonos
34. TK1123
Oh! I nearly forgot! Stargate: Universe's first season episode 'Time,' is in my opinion a gem. It's one of the only time travel stories I can stand to rewatch without the scale of the paradoxes starting to drive me to drink. It's concise, leaves bits to the imagination, has a fair level of dread, is low on technobabble, dodges the reset button, and in terms of story mechanics beats the pants off most of this list.
phonos
35. AndyP
@16: The Leap Home - my favourite ever Quantum Leap, and the only one I still rememeber. Sam singing John Lennon's Imagination, only for his younger sister to get upset because she knows she's never heard that song.

@30: Five Years Gone - cracking episode before it all went a bit pear-shaped.

@29: Sapphire and Steel! I LOVED that series. "Sapphire and Steel have been assigned". Aah, fond memories.
phonos
36. Jeff R.
There is a serious lack of Stargate on this list. (Including all of the ones mentioned, the final SG-1 movie, and Atlantis' The Last Man.) And on this site in general. And on the SF fanish internet in general. The franchise ran for a combined 18 seasons, but can't seem to buy respect these days with a platinum credit card.

Also needs more Twilight Zone. At the very least, 'Profile in Silver' from the 1985 series.
Paige Madison
37. paigemadison
When it comes to Babylon 5, Babylon Squared is merely the setup. The payoff is in War Without End Parts 1 and 2. I quite admire that JMS was able to pay off Michael O'Hare's storyline even after he wrote him out of the story after Season 1. My mouth dropped at all the revelations in that episode.
phonos
38. Jeff R.
Also, "Before and After" was far superior to it's disappointing followup "Year of Hell", as a Time Travel Episode, episode of Voyager, and as a TV episode in general.
phonos
39. Mark H
Thanks for all the comments, guys! Some great suggestions there, I may have to write another post. I am kicking myself for forgetting Quantum Leap.
Tim Marshall
40. smaug86
@9 That episode was "Monday" from Season 6. Great episode.

Fringe should definitely been represented here and I "third" the nomination of Lost's "The Constant". Such a powerful and poignant episode. I also submit, Angel's "I Will Remember You", Eureka's "Founder's Day", and The X-Files' "Triangle".

I prefer All Good Things over Yesterday's Enterprise if only a single entry per show was allowed, simply because it was such a satisfying conclusion to the series for me.
phonos
41. Reiko
I'm a little surprised nobody's mentioned Andromeda yet. There are several good thought-provoking time travel episodes in that series. Two of the most memorable for me are the early first-season "Angel Dark, Demon Bright" and the mid-second-season "Ouroboros".

In the first one, Captain Dylan Hunt and his crew are thrown back in time to a pivotal battle, only to find the opposing forces far larger than history records them. They realize their intervention is crucial to maintaining history and the known outcome of the battle.

In the second one, a "tesseract" device starts causing spacetime ripples that result in the future version of Trance Gemini appearing to replace the present version in an attempt to find and steer events toward the "perfect" future.

Honorable mention goes to the third-season "The Unconquerable Man", which is considered a clip show, but shows an alternate history where Gaharis Rhade, the original first officer of the Andromeda, killed Dylan instead of the reverse. Time travel gives Rhade a second chance to do what's right.

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