The Top 8 Time Travel Television Episodes (4 – 8)

New Year’s Eve is typically the day when we reflect on the year just passed and look forward to the year that is to come; time is on our minds. It’s also a day (well, night) of countdowns, just ask Dick Clark. So what better day to countdown the best TV Time Travel episodes than today?

Time travel is a staple of science fiction, but recently it’s been showing up on TV as an integral part of shows: The under-appreciated Journeyman, Life on Mars both the BBC and American version and the here then gone again Daybreak. Each uses time travel in a slightly different way, but they did/do bring time travel to the forefront for audiences. But time travel has been around for a long time on TV (think Time Tunnel so, in honor of New Year’s , I’m going to countdown my top 8 time travel television episodes.

One caveat before starting: These are only the best of the episodes I’ve seen. I can’t rightly rate those I haven’t.

(Update: It seems that the original post was too long for Movable Type’s liking, so it ate the last two entries. I have decided to split the original post into two parts.)

  1. Futurama : “Roswell That Ends Well” – The first animated show to make our list is Futurama. When it’s on, Futurama is very geeky fun, and it’s really on in “Roswell That Ends Well”. Here the writer spoof time travel in a big way, including time paradoxes, Area 51 and the alien spaceship ‘crash’ at Roswell , Gomer Pyle (!) and even a little shot at Star Trek: TNG in the form of Bender’s head. This episode starts out with a star going supernova, and just keeps going at a breakneck pace with the jokes and sight gags coming fast and furious as the crew tries to find a way back to their future.

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  2. Star Trek Deep Space Nine: “Trials and Tribble-ations” – Deep Space Nine also had its fair share of time travel episodes, none of which were as memorable as “Trials and Tribble-ations” as the crew of DS9 are transported back to the time of Cpt. Kirk and the events that unfolded aboard Deep Spacestation K7 during the original series “The Trouble With Tribbles”. This episode goes for comedy over drama here, and uses it to great effect, especially when O’Brian and Bashir get a good, long look at how Klingons used to look in the 23rd Century. The other standout here is the SFX. The creators did a bang up job inserting the DS9 crew into old footage as well as creating spot-on likenesses of the old sets. It all adds up to an entertaining and memorable episode. The one trouble spot, to me, was the whole Bajoran ‘Orb of Time’ business that just sounds like an accident waiting to happen. Who knew there were so many ways of screwing around with time?
  3. The X-Files: “Triangle” – The X-Files only had a handful of time travel episodes involving Mulder and Scully (“Monday” being the other, less interesting one), but “Triangle” is the best, and most interesting. This episode is pure X-Files, with Mulder off chasing down a mystery (the disappearance of the passenger liner the Queen Anne) while Scully and the Lone Gunmen are left to figure out what happened. Throw in some Nazis and 1939-era looks alikes for Scully and Skinner and you have the basis for a fun, yet dramatic, episode. I’ll also mention that this episode was shot to make it look like it was done in four uninterrupted 11-minute takes. Of course there are hidden cuts involved, but it sure has a very distinctive look that long takes give. As far as standalone episodes go, this one ranks high on the ‘ease of watching’ list, as you don’t really need to know much about that characters to get into the story, although the Mulder/Scully kiss isn’t as dramatic without knowing their history.
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    Part 2
  4. Justice League : Hereafter (Part 2) – Justice League has been on Cartoon Network in one form or another for several years. But back in the beginning, the show’s format was to break each story into two episodes or more. One of those stories was Season 2’s “Hereafter” where Superman is sent to the future due to a weapon blast. Part 1 basically sets everything up and Part 2 is the payoff (when I first saw this episode, I couldn’t belief just how good it was and that it was done for a show aimed at the younger set). When Superman awakes, he discovers he is on Earth, thousands of years in the future. The Sun is becoming a red giant (good science!) thus robbing Supes of his superpowers. He meets up with the last remaining human, Vandall Savage, the arch villain from Superman’s original time. What follows is a very science fiction oriented story that involves all kinds of SF goodness: wormholes, zero point energy and of course, time travel. But you also get an unexpectedly emotional story about loss, remorse reconciliation and friendship. The only thing that mars this otherwise stellar story is the inclusion of that old SF clich√©: giant, intelligent mutated ants. Still, we get an unexpectedly good story in the guise of an animated superhero show.
  5. Star Trek The Next Generation: “Yesterday’s Enterprise” – Every Trek series used, and abused (I’m looking at you Enterprise), the conceit of time travel. TNG used time travel at least 10 times during its lifespan, and like the series in general, the best episode came early in its life, during season 3, with “Yesterday’s Enterprise”. We start off with the, by now, ubiquitous wormhole, but the second the Enterprise C emerges, we realize something drastic has changed. The Enterprise D, and her crew, now have a decidedly militaristic feel, and as we go along, we realize that being blown into the future isn’t the ending fate has in store for the Enterprise C. We’re also re-united with Tasha Yar as the Tactical Officer on the Enterprise D, even though she’s been dead for almost 2 seasons. Something is amiss. Which brings me to the one thing I didn’t like: Gainan. I felt her whole character’s reaction was contrived and that the writers had no other way to force the plot along than to have her badger Cpt. Picard into following her intuitions. That and I realized that Whoopi Goldberg isn’t that great of an actor, especially compared to Patrick Stewart. Still, it’s one of those episodes that can be re-watched and enjoyed time and time again.
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    Parts 2 and 3

Continued in Part 2.

4 thoughts on “The Top 8 Time Travel Television Episodes (4 – 8)”

  1. Two comments on this post:

    1) It’s titled “The Top 8…”, then you say you’ll countdown your “top 7…”, and then you only list 6. What’s up with that? Where is my 2 and 1? Don’t toy with me, man! I have to know! (Unless you are counting the 3 episodes of B5 as 3, 2, and 1, but that’s cheating).

    2) You say that “Whoopi Goldberg isn’t that great of an actor”. Really? Would that be the Oscar, Tony, Emmy, and Grammy winning Whoopie Goldberg? Can I see your Oscar, Tony, Emmy, and/or Grammy?
    Just funnin’ with you, but I don’t think it’s fair to take a swipe at Whoopie for the role she played in that episode. It is one of my favorite episodes (and time travel stories) but I think it had to have some kind of external reference to work. Guinan was an obvious and good choice given the context, me thinks. Frankly the scene with her telling Tasha that she shouldn’t be there was both moving and creepy and has stuck with me for a long time. Good choice of story, though.

    3) I would also add the Deep Space Nine episode, “Time’s Orphan”. Crap, I’m tearing up just thinking about it. Anyway, the story is terribly moving, but also a different kind of time travel story from the usual “oh, God! We changed the past and have to put things right…or do we?” stuff that’s been done to death (but is still fun to watch). And speaking of acting, Colm Meaney has never gotten the credit he deserves for playing O’Brien, specifically in DS9. The man is the best actor the franchise ever had, and was grossly underutilized.

  2. Mike,

    When I checked my post last night after scheduling it, everything was there. I check again this morning and I see that MT has ‘eaten’ the last two entries. That sucks for several reasons. I’ll be working on fixing that this morning…

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