Part II – Alternate Realities
Is “Yesterday’s Enterprise” alternate reality just an altered time line?
“Yesterday’s Enterprise” begins in “our” familiar TNG reality. The crew discovers a strange phenomenon, and suddenly and unexpectedly the uniforms and the bridge arrangement transform
, Worf vanishes and Tasha Yar is back from the dead.
Our protagonists have kept their defining personalities and characteristics, yet only remember a history of two decades of war with the Klingon Empire (and Wesley looks cool wearing a regular kind of Starfleet uniform) with only [the] Guinan, familiar with Tasha Yar for a long time and therefore “genuine” to this reality, realizing that things are somehow not the way they are supposed to be.
The (or an) Enterprise-C
has travelled into the future which is a “universe at war” and where the Sternbach design is known to be the “immediate predecessor” of the “Battleship Enterprise” “1701-D”.
protagonists in both realities are unable to define what kind anomaly they are dealing with exactly and what effects it has on spacetime.
“Our” Data observes “most unusual gravimetric fluctuations”. He can’t say whether it is a wormhole or not: “Like a time displacement, but it does not have a discernible event horizon. The phenomenon does not have a definable centre or outer edge.” It seems “it is and yet it isn't there”.
The “other” Data, replying to Picard’s theory that the Enterprise-C
has travelled from the past to the future, suggests: “If that hypothesis is correct, the phenomenon we just encountered would be a temporal rift in space. Possibly the formation of a Kerr loop
from superstring material. It would require high-energy interactions occurring in the vicinity for such a structure to be formed. The rift is certainly not stable, Captain. It could collapse at any time.”
The one thing that’s obvious and clear is that the anomaly has characteristics of a gateway connecting the past and the future to enable the Enterprise-C
to arrive from the past (and later return to it). Other possible characteristics of the anomaly remain unknown and unexplored (we see a ship of war, not scientific exploration).
But already early on it seems that the screenplay writers (too many?) were confused, unless they deliberately wanted to portray a battle-weary, fatigued and exhausted “other” Picard, considering his erratic statements in this episode:
- “Commander, if that ship has travelled into the future, we could be dealing with variables that will alter the flow of our history.” How comes? While the ship could shed some light on the story of her disappearance, a look back into history would hardly “alter the flow of [current] history” (unless Picard won’t exclude the possibility it came from an alternate universe. Learning from an alternate universe was one concern in “In A Mirror, Darkly”)
- “The Narendra Three outpost was destroyed. It is regrettable that you did not succeed. A Federation starship rescuing a Klingon outpost might have averted twenty years of war.” Riker: “That won't accomplish anything, sir. There's no way they can save Narendra III.” (and to assume they did would raise some hard-to-answer and hard-to-rationalize questions)
- Riker: “But that's what you're talking about anyway, isn't it? Altering the past.”
Picard: “We're talking about restoring the past.”
Picard: “Even their deaths might have prevented this war. If the Enterprise-C returns to the battle and its mission is a success, history will be irrevocably changed. This time line will cease to exist and a new future will have been created.”
And this is where the headaches begin, and we have a contradiction at our hands. If Picard were seriously talking about “restoring” the past and not
altering or changing it, the Novikov self-consistency principle
must have been on his mind, according to which the Enterprise-C either did
defend the Klingon outpost to buy Klingon refuges the time to escape or it did not
. It is as simple as binary language (Yes or No) or 2+2=4.
If it did not, the future looks like the “universe at war” and any attempt to change the past will somehow fail (IMHO “The [original] Twilight Zone” had a couple of very good episodes to illustrate this).
If the Enterprise-C
moved forward in time and space, but “our” TNG universe is a result of her defending the outpost, she would be eventually going back in time one way or the other to ensure history will happen as it did.
The beginning of the episode shortly suggested that this was about to be happening, but probably would have only made a mediocre episode in terms of drama in contrast to the good Tasha Yarn
we got instead (Maybe the appearance of this Enterprise-C
in “our” reality would have constituted some kind of paradox and therefore we witnessed some cosmological self-correction process or the like?).
Wikipedia lists the TNG episode “Time’s Arrow” (canon) as a good “Novikov” example where things always happened the way they did happen (and if you’re involved you just ensure to “make it did
happen” which is essentially what we saw in the TOS episode “The City on the Edge of Forever”, despite the Guardian’s “Your vessel, your beginning, all that you knew is gone
”, apparently a plot device to scare Kirk, Spock and the audience and to highlight the importance that they do not fail).
The mere presence of Samuel Clemens (“Mark Twain”) in this particular time travel episode is a brilliant hint of irony, because he was the culprit (possibly for personal reasons) who gave birth to the “You could change the past” idea in 1889 before Igor Dmitriyevich Novikov replied a 100 years later “You won’t”.
While these erasing-the-present-because-the-past-has-been-changed time travel stories admittedly make good drama and entertainment (e.g. “Back to the Future”), logical sense these make not – despite claims to the contrary by Spock in TOS (my personal candidate for “the most irreconcilable plot errors in Star Trek” thread we recently saw).
The sudden transformation of solid materials, Tasha Yarn’s return from the dead, a completely new history with 22 years of events preceding the episode (unless the protagonists’ memories were implanted), it’s brief and short-lived existence in spacetime (apparently ending the moment the Enterprise-C had returned to its time) would imply the existence of some cosmological mechanism with some form of awareness capable of intelligent design which is usually attributed to our definition of God or an omnipotent being like Q.
Simply put, and as a rebuttal to Spock’s line in “The Conscience of the King” (“Even in this corner of the galaxy, Captain, two plus two equals four.”),
there are corners in the Star Trek universe where 2+2 = 4 (“Time’s Arrow”) and there are those where 2+2 equals something else than 4 (especially in Cardassian interrogation centers
) as apparently suggested in “Yesterday’s Enterprise”.
One (2+2=4) is a child of logic and reason, the other (2+2=?) one of ignorance and fantasy, but is the context from where the belief has arisen that only the Enterprise-C
seen in “Yesterday’s Enterprise” has to be the real thing while the one on the conference lounge wall of the Enterprise-D
can’t be it.
IMHO, performing what seems to be a logical deduction (how the Enterprise-C
supposedly looked in “our” universe) based on an illogical concept and/or context should be questionable and isn't really solid evidence.
Still, changing the past is possible in Star Trek but if the future departure point into the past vanishes because the past has changed, the inevitable conclusion would be a shift or whatever one may call it of the “new” past into some kind of alternate universe where a new time line unfolds.
Indeed, the distinction between alternate time line, alternate reality and alternate universe is difficult to determine and essentially they could be one and the same, “a rose by any other name”.
To be continued in Part III (Alternate Universes)…stay tuned