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Author of New Pompeii & The Synapse Sequence

As a teenager, I was a big fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I’ve recently been re-watching episodes on the SyFy channel and liked the way that, over a 7 season run, certain episodes can be thematically grouped. For instance, the Q episodes, the Borg, the holodeck adventures, etc.

The ones that always grabbed me the most though involved time travel. Here, I’ve picked out several episodes that play around with time travel stories in the TNG universe:

Groundhog Day: Time being caught in an unending loop has been a big staple of time travel stories, whether used for comedic (Groundhog Day) or dramatic (Source Code) purposes. The TNG episode Cause and Effect uses this phenomenon, with the Enterprise destroyed at the start of the episode only for the action to pick up again a few hours before the disaster. Of course, déjà vu kicks in to alert the crew of their situation, including use of Riker’s legendary poker games and the bridge crew predicting how a pack of cards will be dealt. A very similar episode (Time Squared) involves the Enterprise stumbling across a duplicate of Picard, who has survived the destruction of the Enterprise in his past, but the main crew’s future.

Both of these episodes revolve around the same puzzle: how is the chain of events broken? Should Picard turn the Enterprise around, or continue the way they are going? Does inaction or action cause the start of the loop?

Travel to the Past: Star Trek has a habit of doing strange things to propel the crew backwards in time. In Time’s Arrow, pesky aliens are involved; with the discovery of Data’s head amongst artefacts that have been buried for 500 years – prompting the crew to head into the past. This plot device echoes the Delorean being hidden between Back to the Future Parts II and III, and sets up a nice triangle of cause and effect between the past and the present (and neatly avoiding paradox!). One of the great aspects of this type of time travel story though is its use in exploring the social aspects of the past and meeting famous people, with Mark Twain having a lead role in getting in the way of Picard and Co.

Frozen in Time: My favourite episode of TNG… is Timescape! In this adventure, Picard, Troi, La Forge and Data return to the enterprise aboard a shuttlecraft to find NC1701-D locked in a fire fight with a Romulan Warbird. With both ships frozen in time!

Things get more complex after Picard and co beam aboard; they find Crusher being hit with a disruptor blast, and Riker tangling with a Romulan on the bridge. If time starts moving again, disaster will no doubt ensue – but there are clues that everything isn’t as it seems…

Alternate Reality: TNG has some really good alternate reality episodes: there’s one (Parallels) where Worf skips between realities (including a brief, chilling glimpse of a war-maddened Riker in a timeline where the Borg have won) – but the most famous is Yesterday’s Enterprise. In this, a previous incarnation of the Enterprise is pushed forward in time creating changes to our ‘known’ timeline.

In a lot of AR, one reality is seen as being inherently better than another: I like the way in which Yesterday’s Enterprise presents some of the complexity, that there are winners and losers to choosing one timeline over another. It was also great to see TNG feel part of a wider universe (rather than a single ship fleet), which was something that DS9 also managed to achieve in its latter seasons.

Multiple Timelines: To finish off my list, the final two episodes of TNG, All Good Things, followed linked stories in TNG’s past, present and future as Picard tries to solve a puzzle set by the mysterious Q. I think this is one of the all-time great final episodes of any science fiction series. It builds off Picard’s strengths, whilst exploring his relationships with the rest of the crew – particularly Data and Crusher – whilst also tying directly back to the start of the series and the Encounter at Farpoint.

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As a final note on this post, I find it really weird (and brilliant!) that Melinda Snodgrass – one of the writers of TNG (both screenplays and tie-in novels) – is also a Titan author: and that her 2016 novel called The High Ground has the same title as one of her TNG episodes!!

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed my list of TNG time travel episodes, and the remainder of Rinn’s Sci Fi Month!

Nooooooo! Beverly!!!!!!!!!!!

Posted as part of Rinn Reads Sci-Fi Month - November 2016