Did ‘Star Trek: First Contact’ Change the Prime Timeline or Create a New One?

Jonathan Frakes as Commander William Riker, LeVar Burton as Geordi LaForge, and James Cromwell as Zefram Cochrane in "Star Trek: First Contact"

YouTube Jonathan Frakes as Commander William Riker, LeVar Burton as Geordi LaForge, and James Cromwell as Zefram Cochrane in "Star Trek: First Contact"

In the TNG movieStar Trek: First Contact,” the Borg created a temporal vortex so they could travel to Earth’s past. The crew of the Enterprise-E purposely got caught up in the temporal wake so they could follow the Borg into the past.

The Borg’s mission was to prevent First Contact Day, the first meeting between the humans and the Vulcans. They hoped to do this by destroying the first human-constructed warp-capable vessel, Zefram Cochrane’s The Phoenix. When the crew of the Enterprise-E deduced this plan, they did everything in their power to ensure that the events of First Contact Day happened as they were supposed to in order to preserve the Prime Timeline.

However, there is some debate as to whether their actions preserved the Prime Timeline or created a new one. Is everything after “First Contact” in the Prime Timeline or a new timeline?

‘Star Trek’s’ Rules of Time Travel Are Sketchy

Star Trek” has never really been consistent about the rules of time travel. In “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” the Enterprise-C created a new timeline, which was destroyed when it returned to its original timeline.

In the “Star Trek: The Next Generation” episode “Time Squared,” an alternate version of Captain Jean-Luc Picard vanished when the timeline was corrected. This proved that time travel could create single instances of new people and objects that assumedly existed in a slightly altered timeline without creating an entirely new timeline. It also proved that those people and objects would cease to exist when the Prime Timeline was corrected.

In the “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” episodes “Past Tense Part I” and “Past Tense Part IIBenjamin Sisko changed the Prime Timeline by setting up Gabriel Bell’s death, but he preserved the Prime Timeline by pretending to be Bell. This created a Predestination Paradox.

In the “Star Trek: Voyager” episode “Fury,” the original timeline became the alternate timeline when the events that damaged the original timeline were prevented in the alternate timeline.

DS9, “Voyager” and “Star Trek: Enterprise” introduced agencies within the Federation that were responsible for fixing the Prime Timeline when it was damaged. This suggests the canon rule is that the Prime Timeline can be fixed by traveling back to the incident that broke the timeline.

The only confirmed existence of alternate timelines in the current “Star Trek” canon is the Kelvin timeline, created by the 2009 “Star Trek” movie. A few other timelines were created by the events of the shows, but all of these were presumed to be negated by fixes to the Prime Timeline. The timeline created by the Guardian of Forever in the “Star Trek: Discovery” episodes “Terra Firma Part I” and “Terra Firma Part II” may still exist as well, though this hasn’t been confirmed.

So, though “Star Trek” has used several theories about time travel, in the majority of instances, changes to the Prime Timeline do not alter the Prime Timeline as long as they’re fixed after the fact.

What Does This Mean For ‘First Contact’?

According to the rules of the “Star Trek” canon, “First Contact” altered the Prime Timeline in order to preserve it. The Enterprise-E’s intervention in the events preceding First Contact Day became the official history of First Contact Day, creating a Pogo Paradox. These changes to the timeline were heavily covered up, though. The official story told in Earth’s history books is still that Cochrane and his crew conducted the first warp flight, with no mention of the Borg or the Enterprise-E.

In the “Enterprise” episode “Regeneration,” two Borg drones from the First Contact Day attack were discovered. Since official first contact with the Borg had not yet occurred, the researchers who discovered them had no idea what the Borg were. So, they reanimated them.

When the crew of the “Enterprise” was sent to apprehend the reanimated Borg, Captain Jonathan Archer pondered whether the official story of First Contact Day was actually true. He referenced a drunken commencement speech Cochrane once gave in which he told the true story of First Contact Day. Archer said that everyone had dismissed it as Cochrane’s antics since he was a known drunk. However, the existence of the Borg on Earth seemed to confirm his drunken story, leading Archer to believe that it was true.

“Regeneration” served as a confirmation of the fact that the events from “First Contact” altered the Prime Timeline instead of creating a new one. The details of First Contact Day came up a few times in TNG, “Voyager” and DS9 without reference to the Borg. However, inconsistencies with the events of “First Contact” could be explained by the fact that these events were covered up.

Fan Theory: ‘First Contact’ Actually Did Create a New Timeline

Some fans don’t agree with the canon explanation, though. They believe that “First Contact” did, in fact, create a new timeline. These fan theories posit that everything that happened after the events of “First Contact” actually happened in a new timeline, not the Prime Timeline.

According to these fan theories, the seasons of “Voyager” and DS9 that aired after “First Contact” happened in the new timeline. They also contend that all the events in “Enterprise” and “Discovery” happened in the new timeline. Fans who subscribe to this theory often point to the canon inconsistencies in “Enterprise” and “Discovery” as proof that they actually took place in a different timeline than the classic “Star Trek” shows.

Some fans posit that every time an instance of time travel occurred a new timeline was created. This would mean that the events depicted in all the “Star Trek” series happened in several alternate timelines that the people in them believed to be the Prime Timeline.

Supporters of the theory that “First Contact” created its own timeline point to the rules of time travel that created the Kelvin timeline. When the Romulan Nero traveled back in time, he changed the timeline so drastically that it created a new timeline. If this is how time travel works in the Trekverse, then it would make sense that the events of “First Contact” altered the timeline so much that a new timeline would form.

What Does Science Say About Time Travel?

Science’s understanding of time travel is always evolving. So, there have been many, varying answers to the question of whether altering the timeline through time travel will create a new timeline.

The latest paper on the subject came from a team of researchers at the University of Queensland. They examined whether deliberate time travel to change the events of history would actually change how history unfolded.

They determined that even with outside interference, the events of the timeline would eventually unfold as they were supposed to. The example they gave when discussing their paper with the university’s new service was trying to prevent the COVID-19 pandemic. If someone traveled back in time to prevent the first patient from being infected, the timeline would adjust itself so that the pandemic still happened. Someone else would be patient zero instead and events would proceed much as they had before.

So, even though with minor changes to the timeline, major events still occur. This suggests that changes to the timeline do not, in fact, create new timelines. If this is true, it confirms that “First Contact” altered the Prime Timeline instead of creating a new one.

In reality, no one has cracked time travel yet (as far as we know), so there’s no solid answer as to whether “First Contact” changed the timeline or created a new one. For now, the “Star Trek” canon confirms that the Prime Timeline was altered and no new timeline was created.

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