Time travel is on the agenda for Strange New Worlds’ new season. They use a gadget that references an ’80s sci-fi show with a Star Trek connection.
The following contains spoilers for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 2, Episode 3, "Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow," now streaming on Paramount+.
Star Trek loves its gadgets, and indeed at least a small part of its legacy comes from how flat-out cool many of its devices are. That starts with the ships themselves, along with the irresistible visual hook of the transporters. Even the usual sci-fi ray guns became something fascinating, with phasers and photon torpedoes suggesting something far more epic and adventurous than any mere laser could convey.
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 2, Episode 3, "Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow" delivers a fun wrinkle to that with its frustratingly simple time travel device. It's based on the MacGuffin from an obscure '80s television series called Voyagers!, based around a similar idea of fixing history when it strays off-course. There's even a common thread in one of the most notable creative forces in the Star Trek franchise.
The "time machine" in "Tomorrow" comes courtesy of The Department of Temporal Investigations, a branch of the Federation government dedicated to preventing incursions in the timeline. In this case, they're trying to stop a Romulan plot to murder Khan Noonien-Singh sometime in the 21st century when he's still a boy. Doing so will spare Earth a genocidal murderer, but also doom it to eventual defeat at the hands of the Romulan Empire. The DTI agent assigned to the case is fatally wounded but is able to reach Khan's descendent La'an Noonien-Singh on the Enterprise of the 23rd century and pass off his device to her.
It looks like a garage door opener with a single glowing red button in the center, which becomes a point of contention when it zaps La'an and an alternate version of James T. Kirk into near-future Toronto without a clue how to get home. There are no elaborate controls, virtual screens, or even an apparent power source. Just the red button. Later, after the pair have thwarted the Romulans, the button turns green, allowing La'an to return to her own time where a DTI agent discreetly retrieves the device. The simplicity becomes a reasonably funny gag, as the two baffled Starfleet officers try to make sense of such a ridiculously simple gizmo.
Gen-Xers are most likely to spot the resemblance to Voyagers! which ran Sunday nights on NBC for a single season in 1982. It roughly anticipated the likes of Quantum Leap, though it was aimed at a much younger audience. Its two heroes — an ex-pirate named Phineas Bogg and a modern-day orphan named Jeffrey Jones — shoot around to interesting points in history and correct damage to the timeline. They use a device called an Omni to travel. Like the one in "Tomorrow," it flashes red when history veers off course and turns green again after they've fixed the damage: letting them pop off to the next adventure.
Voyagers! is a case of a good concept ruined by poor execution. The central duo is charming — Bogg's an overconfident Han Solo type propped up by Jeffrey, who knows more about history than he does — but the scripts are clunky and the plots very predictable. It also aired opposite CBS's powerhouse 60 Minutes, then at the height of its influence, which doomed almost any competition to dismal ratings. It ultimately deserves its fate, though it legitimately tries to make history lively and exciting to its fans. The end credits also include a voiceover from one of the two stars urging viewers to go to the library and read up on whichever historical figure had just been featured.
The time travel device in "Tomorrow" is just a bit too on-the-nose to miss the reference, which suggests that someone on the Strange New Worlds team remembers the show fondly. That's surprisingly easy to do for Star Trek. Voyagers! Season 1, Episode 10, "An Arrow Pointing East," features a then-unknown actor named Jonathan Frakes, who played Charles Lindbergh on the eve of his flight across the Atlantic. That turns an otherwise coincidental gadget into a very deep Gen-X Easter egg.
New episodes of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds stream every Thursday on Paramount+.
A native Californian, Robert Vaux has spent over 20 years as a professional film and television critic: working for such outlets as Collider, Mania.com and The Sci-Fi Movie Page. His favorite superhero is Nightcrawler and his lucky numbers are 4, 9, 14, 16, 36, and 40.