Timetravel in TV shows

Timetravelling in TV shows is always a precarious thing as it has to be done with the existing universe in mind and can’t rewrite previous episodes. Lost is something that managed to do it well, even though it seems incredibly confusing during the first watch. Now that Lost is finished I only have a couple things they never managed to resolve.

For the past couple of weeks I have been watching Stargate, a show I initially watched some episodes of when it was first on TV, but never got past the fourth season finale. So far I am through the first two seasons and should be starting on the third season at some point this week. The run so far has been enjoyable if a little basic. Just like Star Trek’s Deep Space Nine, it’s taken a while to establish everything in the universe and a lot of the episodes were a little too much ‘Monster of the week‘.

The penultimate episode of season two sends the team back in time to 1969 where they meet a younger version of General Hammond, their superior officer. Before their departure he gives Sam a note she isn’t meant to read. His younger self discovers the cryptic note written in his own handwriting and he is meant to help the team. Era specific hijinks ensue. So far, so boring. Eventually they make it back to present time via a detour to the future and General Hammond reveals he has known about it all along. The end.

This episode bugs me for many reasons. None of General Hammond’s reactions in the first two seasons make any sense. For example why would he oppose Teal’c joining the team or act surprised at Daniel Jackson’s existence? It also pretty much means that Sam can’t die as she will, in years to come, inform the girl from the future about sending them back. Of course it also means that neither Earth nor the Stargate can be destroyed, though there’s another Stargate on the planet, as well as many other factors.

Timetravel in TV shows works as long as it is sufficiently in the past or the future. Doctor Who manages this by travelling far enough ahead, such as the Earth’s destruction or far enough in the past to avoid meeting major characters of the show. Episodes such as the one with Rose’s dad is dealt with carefully.

Stargate’s episode is irritating and shows a disregard for the continuity and the show’s fans and it’s made me irritated about future episodes.


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