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-447/448: "The Search"
-452: "The Abandoned"
-457/458: "Past Tense"
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Star Trek Time Travel DS9 Season 3

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season Three (1994-1995):

26 episodes @ 43 minutes each.
Get your copy of this 7-disc DVD set from the links below:
Region 1, NTSC, U.S.
Region 1, NTSC, Canada
Region 2, PAL, U.K.
Region 2, PAL, U.K. (Slimline Edition)

Past Tense

(Star Trek - Deep Space Nine episode production codes 457 & 458)
story by Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe
part one teleplay by Robert Hewitt Wolfe, part two teleplay by Ira Steven Behr & René Echevarria
directed by Reza Badiyi (part one) & Jonathan Frakes (part two)

By now, Star Trek had settled into a pretty bad standard of time travel theory across the various permutations of the franchise, and for Deep Space Nine's first real time travel adventure here, this third season two-parter wriggles comfortably into the rut and provides one of the strongest pieces of imagery for how to get it wrong. Anytime I talk about how ridiculous it is to have historical records change with one sweep of Star Trek's magic wand of time, I think of the photo of Ben Sisko attached to an article of the impact Gabriel Bell had in the year 2024.

It is useful to look at the entire adventure from the point of view of Odo. Sure he has less to do than any of the other regulars, but he gets a bit of a touchstone perspective due to the fact that he stays in the series' present day throughout the whole thing. It makes no sense that the entire universe should change all around him and back again later. It would be another few months before the debut of "Sliders", when television would learn to finally start calling a spade "a spade", and a parallel universe "a parallel universe".

Is there any good reason for Odo and the Defiant to slide to a universe with no Starfleet, and then back? If so, it is lost in a flurry of technobabble that builds on crap that Star Trek writers had concocted for previous stories, and makes little sense on its own. For story purposes, the writers are trying to raise the stakes for the cliffhanger, à la "City on the Edge of Forever", which doesn't work since all timelines co-exist, or as Brannon Braga put it in "Parallels", all possibilities that can happen, DO happen in alternate quantum realities. Really, for all the impact that it has on the rest of the story, Odo could have stayed in the universe with Starfleet, and the tale would be on better scientific and metaphysical footing.

Also copying a pattern from the less successful "City on the Edge of Forever", it is unclear exactly how the impact of Sisko and Bashir's presence in the rioting situation can so impact the course of history such that Starfleet no longer exists. I'd sooner believe that perhaps a slightly less friendly version of Starfleet might be the logical extension of their version of history, perhaps with a different name, and easily with its headquarters in a different major Earth city. Having it not exist at all is going a bit too far to be believable.

But where this story is miles ahead of "City on the Edge of Forever" is in the human story created for Sisko, Bashir, and Dax. Sisko in particular gets good heroic involvement, and can keep his actions focused on his principles for the most part. The caveats are in using terrorism even if for a good cause, and in falsely borrowing Gabriel Bell's name. Bell's actions may need to be duplicated, but it is unclear how this is any better than having Sisko use his own name.

In any case, is "hostage taking" really the right approach? Although many good scenes are delivered where characters debate a worthy issue to an extent rarely seen on Star Trek, the situation in the Sanctuary blocks has arisen in part out of citizens expecting their governments to take care of them, and perhaps even more basically, from cramming too many people into too small an urban space. Perhaps a better idea would have been blasting the Sanctuary walls down irreparably, letting everyone out where they could proactively find or create their own jobs.

In the end, this story almost serves as a bit of a template for the time travel aspects of the upcoming feature film "Star Trek 8: First Contact", including going back to a time that is history for the regular characters but future for the audience (very cool), and including its choice of getting Jonathan Frakes to direct the second half. Unlike Star Trek 8, this one is a bit more clumsy with explanations of time travel dynamics, and is in danger of looking dated now that we're closer to 2024 when this is set than 1994/95 when this was made. It certainly delivers yet another most interesting drama for Deep Space Nine's third season, although the third season up to this point has been so good and so much better than the second season that "Past Tense" certainly has a lot of healthy competition. Bring it on.


(Star Trek - Deep Space Nine episode production code 461)
written by David S. Cohen & Martin A. Winer

Trying to get Starfleet personnel to take her thoughts seriously, Major Kira puts forward the theory that the information in this episode's prophecy traveled backwards in time via the Wormhole Prophet Aliens' ability to see all of time at once. Attempts to latch onto pre-ordained futures are at the heart of most of Star Trek's screw-ups in the time travel arena, (particularly in Trek's coveted philosophical arena), so we basically get another bout of the same here in this episode.

Predictions are often spouted clumsily whether on Star Trek or elsewhere. As here in this episode, they tend to not leave room for choices to lead to an unlimited number of other sets of circumstances. For example, how important should it be that the vipers come in a group of three? The Cardassians easily could have sent any other number of scientists, and the completely random fragmentation of the comet could easily produce many separate pieces. The fact that we end up with only three does in fact stretch credulity considerably. In the more elegant view of universes budding and branching off of each other endlessly, how many different possibilities should the Prophets have seen to tell the ancient Bajorans about?

In a rather clumsy way, it is implied that Sisko has a big important choice coming up in which he will shape events, but all other choices by everyone else seem to be implied to be unchangeable. Not very elegant.

What saves this episode - and in fact makes it quite excellent - is that it is a very real examination of what one can do in the face of such prophecies and those who believe in them religiously. If I was in Sisko's place, I'd thank Erick Avari's Vedek character for the information, and inform him that I'd be genuinely more vigilant while proceeding with the Cardassian project, which is a fair balance that should provoke fewer impassioned arguments from him. He does accurately alert everyone else towards dangers that they would have been unaware of otherwise. But are the Wormhole Prophet Aliens and any real time-traveled information actually involved at all? Even this could be a matter for speculation. Going any further than a bit of extra vigilance is uncalled for.

The best bits are the wonderful lines Dax has when she asks Sisko what he would do if he hadn't heard the prophecy at all. His response is immediate and decisive, and all the useless idle second-guessing stops. The plot moves forward. It's a very beautiful template for what to do after a thorough exploration of the issue. Nice.

O'Brien also has some very memorable interactions with the Cardassians this episode. Good stuff.

In the end, this is a very satisfying episode, which gets my blessing. Nice one.


(Star Trek - Deep Space Nine episode production code 463)
story by Ethan H. Calk
teleplay by John Shirley

Deep Space Nine was quick to jump into yet another story with time travel and predictions. It does at first look as though it is going to play things very safely and stick to a single line of time, with our protagonists discovering events slightly out of order. But things get much more complicated as the story progresses.

At first, there doesn't seem to be much room left in anyone's thoughts for the concept of events playing out differently to the way O'Brien sees them. But, the only event that appears to play out identically through both O'Briens' experiences is the bar fight. The dialogue surrounding Quark's maintenance request is quite different each time we go through it.

Of course, once O'Brien sees himself die in the future, we know the freedom to choose a different path will be exercised. The episode suddenly has to expand its view of time a little, and is the better for it. Still, a direct acknowledgement of things going a different way feels as though it has been skipped over.

In any case, the viewer becomes quite accustomed to seeing O'Brien skip forward five hours into some alternate possible future and then skip back into what we can only assume to be the same point in time, space, and choice that he left from. It feels comfortable and safe.

I began to take issue with the episode when O'Brien gets to the point where he wants to jump into the future on purpose. First of all, why do it with some half-baked radioactive poison running through your body? Why not employ some refined version of the engine mix formula that debuted in "The Naked Time" and got reused to good effect in "Star Trek 4: The Voyage Home"? The Starfleet personnel also seem a bit dim when it comes to other sources of information other than from O'Brien's time traveling. You've got Romulan guests on the station, and you detect an invisible quantum singularity orbiting the station. Knowing how Romulan ships are powered, as evidenced in the sixth season Next Generation episode "Timescape", how can you not expect that the singularity is the warp core of a cloaked Romulan ship? The crew really seemed to be unnecessarily daft about this point. Whether or not they needed to know that it started to fire on the station may be debatable; they certainly only ended up with an unproven theory about what the Romulans were up to in the end.

"I hate temporal mechanics."
"I hate temporal mechanics."

One of the most potentially cool things about this episode is the surprise mind-bending swap we get at the end. We are definitely in the realm of alternate timelines and branching universes when the O'Brien we've been following all along comes face to face with what would be commonly termed as "his double" were this an episode of the series "Sliders". For the first time in this episode (and this is supported by the slightly different method of time travel involved), we have to assume that in addition to moving into the future, O'Brien has slid sideways onto a timeline that did not branch out of the one he just left, and that he encounters a version of himself who has not already had this latest peek into the future. That's not too hard to believe, since this particular peek kills him.

In fact, there is massive intrigue and viewer interest generated in exactly how much of his past this new O'Brien shares with the one we've been following, since he ends up replacing our O'Brien. Fans of "Sliders" love to speculate that this may have happened to regular character Professor Arturo in "Post Traumatic Slide Syndrome", but here in this episode of Deep Space Nine, there is no doubt. The writers chose not to press the usual reset button, and went with something far more cool and intriguing. Nice. In fact, it triggers memories of the DS9 season two episode "Whispers" and all the trouble that Keiko, Molly, and the rest of the station would have in accepting a new version of O'Brien. Will the same play out here, or will the events of this episode be forgotten in future stories?

Of course, if the new O'Brien shares a completely identical history with our O'Brien prior to the beginning of the episode, and this event is never mentioned in any subsequent episode, it may all boil down to the same thing as having the reset button pushed. Except for the fact that the ride has been much more thought-provoking. In some ways the writers were spared a more detailed investigation of temporal mechanics, since O'Brien was no expert and gave us some nice character moments instead. And there's always the danger that the writers wouldn't truly get the concept well enough to articulate it any better.

By and large, this is a worthwhile foray into the world of time travel on Star Trek, though ultimately not one of its all-time greats.

These Deep Space Nine Season Three time travel stories are available on DVD.
Click on the Amazon symbol for the desired disc format and location nearest you for pricing and availability:

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season Three (1994-1995):

26 episodes @ 43 minutes each.

Get your copy of this 7-disc DVD set
from the links below:

DVD Extras include:

  • Crew Dossier featurette: Odo
  • The Birth of the Dominion and Beyond
  • Time Travel Files - "Past Tense"
  • Sailing Through the Stars - "Explorers"
  • Michael Westmore's Aliens

Region 1 NTSC

Region 1 NTSC

Region 2 PAL

PAL (Slimline Ed.)

Article written by Martin Izsak. Comments on this article are welcome. You may contact the author from this page:

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Read the next Star Trek review article: "Deep Space Nine, Season 4"

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