Twitter bod Matthew Garrett (@mjg59) asked for someone to explain the change to “more militaristic” uniforms in Next Gen Season 3, and how that relates to the episode Yesterday’s Enterprise. Always one to take comments entirely at face value, I felt it worth taking up the challenge.
For those who don’t know anything about Star Trek, the “back” button is to the top-left of your browser window. For those who need a refresher on Yesterday’s Enterprise, it involves Picard and Co coming across a space thingy from which emerges the Enterprise-C, thought destroyed over 20 years ago. As soon as this happens, reality changes. Our regular Enterprise-D ship and crew are replaced with a more militant variety… including one Lt Tasha Yar, last seen as a post-mortem hologram back in Season 1. (It’s an amazing episode, by the way, with one of the strengths being how it handles the changed crew in various subtle ways. Yar’s sudden appearance is handled as though she’s been there all along… right up until it becomes important that she hasn’t.)
At the end (and, yes, spoilers for this quarter-century-old episode), the Enterprise-D sacrifices itself so that the Enterprise-C (with Yar going along for the ride) can get back through time, to take its place in the battle it was fated to lose, putting the timeline back on track. With the portal closed, we’re back to the standard crew, who just make a note about the brief reading of a space thingy, and (entirely unaware of what transpired) continue on their way.
Key to understanding this episode, and how it related to uniforms, is to realise that we actually have several alternate timelines. 3 of them, in total:
- The original timeline (timeline A) is our familiar TNG setting. In this, the Enterprise-C was believed lost in 2344 during a battle with the Romulans; in fact, it had been sucked through a temporal rift, leaving the timeline. The Federation and Romulans are in an uneasy cold war, but there’s little in the way of outright hostilities. This timeline continues until 2366 , when a time rift is recorded…
- Timeline B is the “alternate” timeline we see in this episode. In this one, the Enterprise-C was supposedly destroyed by the Romulans, Setting up an actual war between the two factions. The Federation is on a military footing… and it isn’t enough. In 2366, the Enterprise-C from our first timeline appears, hangs out a bit, picks up Tasha Yar, and is sent…
Well, not to timeline A. A rule of thumb for time travel is that there has to be a reality that existing before all this craziness occurred, from which the original time travel occurred. Otherwise, we’d get in an unstable time loop with no origin, and with the universe flickering between hot and cold wars. Besides, if the uniform changes are to be linked to this, we have to accept that, at some point, something changed. (There’s one more reason that I’ll get to below). So, no; they got pushed into:
- Timeline C. In this timeline, shortly after their Enterprise-C was sucked into a temporal rift (presumably going on to cause a Timeline D… try not to worry about that…) another Enterprise-C appeared. This is the one from timeline A. This Enterprise-C has had a short time to catch it’s breath, a bit of aid from the Enterprise-D, and the addition of Tasha Yar to its ranks.
Timeline C is the timeline we definitely see from this point on. In this one, thanks to that extra help and Tasha tagging along, the Enterprise-D loses less badly. Some of the crew are taken prisoner rather than killed. We know this because, later, the Enterprise crew would come across her half-Romulan child (Sela) as an antagonist… But that’s another story.
So. Timeline A, the ship is sucked into a portal, we get a cold war. Timeline B, the ship was destroyed, we get a hot war. Timeline C, the ship comes in and out of the portal, is destroyed… and we get a cold war. At first glance, this doesn’t make a lot of sense, but at the heart of this inconsistency is the explanation for the uniforms.
See, its not the destruction of the Enterprise-C alone that prevents the war, despite what the crews think; that’s just the sacrificial lamb. What keeps the Romulans at bay… is the time travel itself. In Timeline A, they’re blasting the federation flagship to pieces, when it suddenly disappears through a weird vortex. The Romulans didn’t lose, but they don’t actually know what happened. Is this some weird federation tech? Best hang back and keep an eye on things. Timeline B shows what would have happened if the rift didn’t open; they’d rip the Enterprise a new one, and follow on by confidently going to war against the whole Federation.Timeline C is a mid-point; the vortex makes them cautious, but they still win the fight. With Tasha and others surviving, we can assume the battle wasn’t as one-sided as Timeline B, though.
Maybe, in timeline C, while the Romulans didn’t go all-out war in the way they did in timeline B, maybe they’re still a little more aggressive. I mean, sure, maybe some of their prisoners claim under interrogation that the rift was just an accident, and Romulan interrogation is pretty effective… But they can’t be too sure. Maybe the Federation has some kind of temporal pocket to let their ships vanish from battle and fix their ships, or something. Even so, they still beat the flagship, even if it was four on one. So maybe the Romulans push a little. And the Federation has to push back. Not a whole lot, not “Our next Enterprise is a warship”, just a little. Enough to take things a little bit seriously. Enough that, when Benjamin Cisco suggests building a new kind of ship purely for fightin’ Borg, they don’t suggest hugs instead. Maybe, just maybe, enough to tweak the wardrobe of their troops.
The outfit change in Season 3? It was because the entire reality changed. For the first two seasons of Next Gen, we were in the touchy-feely timeline A. For Season 3, we were in the ever-so-slightly grimmer Timeline C, and we’d stay in this new timeline for the rest of Next Generation, Deep Space 9, and Voyager. Yesterday’s Enterprise wasn’t a simple “what if” tale that wound up being called back to in a couple of seasons… It’s a core episode explaining the fundamental shift in the reality we’d unknowingly been switched to 14 episodes prior. We’d been watching the post-shenanigans timeline the whole season.
We’ll never know what happened to our original Timeline A crew, going through a slightly simpler universe without Sela. Like the Timeline B crew, at best we can say that perhaps they were there for season 7’s Parallels. But whatever happened, and wherever their journey took them… their outfits were rubbish.