Now Playing: Yesterday Girl, by The Smithereens, a very underrated band. “I never think about the future, I just live for today. And if you want an easy answer, I’ve got nothing to say.”
Another time travel discussion. A few weeks ago, in Part 1, I discussed my lifelong obsession with time travel, as portrayed in popular media.
My first experience with the notion of time travel was in comic books, where it was governed by an indisputable rule. The past can’t be changed. Ever.
So that brings me to television. To my knowledge, there have been two major time-travel shows. (And I’m discounting the Terminator series here – I’ll address it with the movies in a later blog). I loved The Time Tunnel, in which two scientists are caught in a time machine that propels them into the past and future. It sticks with the basic tenet that history can’t be changed. So even though they were aboard the Titanic, they couldn’t change its fate, and so on.
Quantum Leap took a bit different path. I liked the show, because I like Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell, but they messed a bit with my time-travel stance. Sam (Backula’s character) put things right during his travels, meaning he did change history. Usually, they were small changes designed to help individuals. But in at least one episode, he made a big change in history. It allowed Jackie Kennedy to survive the assassination of her husband. That’s a bit iffy to me.
But my all-time favorite television time-travel episode was the classic Star Trek “City on the Edge of Forever.”
Here’s what happened: Dr. McCoy accidentally injects himself with a megadose of a wonder drug that causes him to become extremely paranoid – I know, it was a pretty short trip. Anyway, he escapes Enterprise security (as almost everyone does) and beams himself down to a planet at the center of a time disturbance. Kirk, Spock and a bunch of others transport down, find him but then watch as he breaks away and jumps through a time portal.
They’re horrified enough at that, and then they discover that he has changed the past to the point where the Enterprise no longer exists, leaving them stuck on this desolate planet.
As you might guess, Kirk and Spock find a way to travel through the portal, too, where they hope to stop McCoy from changing the past.
They find, in perhaps the most ironic piece of casting ever on television, Joan Collins running a 1930s soup kitchen in New York City. (And I must say that she’s actually fantastic in the part of Edith Keeler.) Anyway, she turns out to be a focal point in history. She’s due to die in a few days in a traffic accident in the original timeline. If she doesn’t, she goes on to be the key figure in a peace movement that delays the U.S. entry into World War II, which allows the Nazis to develop the A-bomb first and take over the world. (This is a pretty big leap of faith. No one could have stopped the U.S. from declaring war after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.)
And did I mention that, while Kirk and Spock discover all this, that the Captain falls in love with her. Not much of a surprise. He’s a pretty big horndog and pretty much fell in love with every guest star. Or they fell in love with him, only to be discarded after he’d solved that week’s crisis. (Which is a better fate than marrying a Cartwright. Certain death warrant there.)
Anyway, McCoy shows up, meets Edith Keeler and, with her help, gets over his paranoia (at least for that episode) and eventually runs into Kirk and Spock. She starts crossing the street to find out how in the heck they know one another – without noticing the big truck barreling down on her.
With a history-be-damned outlook, Kirk starts to save her, but is warned off by Spock. The chastened Kirk then stops McCoy from saving her.
And poof, history is preserved. Everybody lives happily ever after. Except Edith Keeler.
But at least for a bit, history is changed. Which is kind of distressing.
Or is it?
Edith wouldn’t have been crossing that street if the three Trekkers hadn’t come back in time. So there’d have been nothing to save her from. So the Nazis would have won the war. Since she died in the original timeline, it was only because the Trekkers came back in the first place.
Which means history wasn’t ever changed in the episode. It was only preserved. As I said in the earlier entry, “The past is for observing, learning from, but it can never be changed.” (How cool is it to quote yourself? As long as you don’t misquote yourself, that is.)
See how fascinating time travel is.
“Our heirs … will explore space and time to degrees we cannot currently fathom. They will create new melodies in the music of time. There are infinite melodies to be explore.” _ author Clifford Pickover