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Sunday, June 14, 2009
Star Trek: the problem of time travel and Spock
*** SPOILERS ***
The Problem of Time Travel
Time travel, like any deus ex machina, always leads to major plot problems.
Most plots just avoid the issues entirely, and hope that the entertainment outweighs the flaws.
Sometimes they have the characters explicitly state: "um yeah if you think about this you'll get all tangled in temporal paradoxes so don't bother".
Others try to constrain the time travel in such a way as to make it possible only under circumstances that serve the plot.
There is lots of time travel in Trek (particularly Voyager), including in Voyage Home (ST 4) and First Contact (ST 8), both of which are movies I like.
The problem with unconstrained time travel is it breaks the rules of drama. In time travel stories, people are always rushing against time, while you're thinking... um, what's the rush? Just travel to yesterday sometime and fix it.
Now add to this the problem of Old Spock ("Spock Prime"). One of the ways you can get around time travel issues is by having the characters not know how it works, or how it happened. But Spock is a Science Genius. He has perfect recall. He knows 150 years of Federation history and galactic science. He's already travelled back in time in Voyage Home and knows about the Guardian of Forever, and he almost certainly knows about the Bajoran time-travel orb, just for three examples, plus he has this ship full of handy black-hole-making red matter AND he has Scotty, Super Engineer/Scientist. You're telling me out of all the thousands upon thousands of planets, devices, civilizations and scientific advances he knows about, there isn't one that would let HIM travel back in time AGAIN?
Particularly considering HIS ENTIRE PLANET INCLUDING HIS MOTHER ARE NOW STONE DEAD?
All Spock Prime has to say is "hi, sorry for the inconvenience, I'm just going to fly backwards around the sun in a certain way and un-f*ck this timeline, nice meeting you".
The Problem of Spock
Spock Prime loves peace. He has 150 years of deaths and wars in his head. You're telling me the most important thing for him is to help the Vulcan Colony? He's not going to try to stop the war with the Klingons? Make peace with the Romulans? Stop the advance of the Borg? Go to the Delta Quadrant and mind-meld the Dominion into pacifism? Or provide advice and information about the galaxy so that in a thousand thousand ways large and small, death and disaster is prevented?
Makes no sense.