The Events of This Universe are in Flux
Taking a Second Look at the Star Trek Timeline
Five years ago I took a look at the Star Trek Timeline to try and figure out just how everything fit together. For those with only a passing interest in the series this probably seems like a silly thing to do: all the shows align, more or less in chronological order of their eras, and then there's the Kelvin movies which are their own thing. Case closed. Except... not really, and there's a big reason for that.
Back when there were only a couple of shows and movies, yes, it was easy to piece everything together. There was one timeline and it was simple and easy to follow, without any fuss. Stat Trek: The Original Series carried into the The Animated Series, the original era movies, and then into the Next Generation era and so on. That's simple to track.
Everything changed after the third (and final) Next Gen era show, Voyager, went off the air. After that series, the producers of Star TrekOriginally conceived as "Wagon Train in Space", Star Trek was released during the height of the Hollywood Western film and TV boom. While the concept CBS originally asked for had a western vibe, it was the smart, intellectual stories set in a future utopia of science and exploration that proved vital to the series' long impact on popular culture. decided to do a prequel show, Enterprise, and that caused some big issues. See, the technology on Enterprise (a show made in 2001) looked substantially better than in The Original Series, a show produced 35 years earlier. Of course it would as productions had improved over time, especially for sci-fi shows, but that didn't stop the fans from asking, "why?"
The issue could have been left unaddressed, mind you. The producers and writers didn't have to go, "hey, maybe we should explain this." They did, though, and they introduced the Temporal War, a war across the timeline waged by various factions. It was touched off when the Na'kuhl, an alien species that wanted to see the Federation wiped away, made changes to Earth's own history in an attempt to do just that. The conflict was referenced repeatedly in Enterprise until it was finally resolved in the fourth season two-part episode "Storm Front". And that could have been that... except the Temporal War presented some opportunities for the series producers as a whole, and they were loathe to avoid it.
Not that the results of it were obvious to fans at the time. Enterprise went off the air with more of a whimper than a bang after four seasons, and then we didn't get any Trek on the small screen for over a decade. The time in between was taken up by the Kelvin universe and it's own adventures of the original Star Trek crew.
So to explain this, we have to dip once again into time travel. As we learn in the first of the films, Star Trek 2009, the events of this timeline were kicked off when Spock (in the late 24th Century), in an attempt to stop a supernova from wiping out Romulus, used Red Matter in front of the star to create a black hole and suck up the energy. It failed, and Romulus was destroyed, but in the process the Red Matter created a rift that sucked in Spock, along with a ship full of angry Romulans, into the past (the mid 23rd Century). This resulted in massive changes to the timeline (George Kirk died protecting his family, Sam Kirk never joined Starfleet, James T. Kirk was delayed in joining as well, etc.) and it caused time to diverge so completely that a new timeline was made.
This presents us with some interesting ideas, such as changes to the timeline create new timelines, and also it means that we can track where timelines diverge and which materials are where on the timeline. So let's get back to the idea that technology has changed due to the results of time travel changes and see if we can track what shows go where and how.
The technology on The Original Series is ancient looking in comparison to every show that came out after it, save one: The Animated Series. If we suppose that time interference would result in changes to the look of things, then that means that any show or movie with much better looking tech and design is probably on a new timeline. I think that means we're safe to probably put TOS, TAS, and the first of the films, The Motion Picture, on the original timeline. Everything else that comes after, though, really should be up for debate. Why? Because of how the rest of the eras tie together.
When we look at the shows and movies, after The Motion Picture things change. A new set was built for the Enterprise-A, the uniforms changed (and have remained, for that era, in the red-coated style), and everything feels very different across the other five films from The Wrath of Khan to The Undiscovered Country. And then we even have a few episodes from Next Gen where characters from the past wear these old, red-coat uniforms, and that carries into Generations. So that's one reliable chunk with a distinct style. If one chunk is in one timeline, you'd assume they all would be.
Now I hesitate to say that everything from the Next Gen era is either in or out of one timeline or the other, but we can come up with a distinct point where everything shifts: Discovery. That show is set, at the start, ten years before The Original Series, and it has massively improved tech in comparison to the original show. Hell, it's second season features the original Enterprise and it, too, looks substantially better now. Sure, we could just chalk that up to improvements in production and budget for the shows, and that's true, but the series also gives us an explanation for it that we'll get to shortly.
Looking at the Next Gen era, though, there is one episode we have to mention: "Trials and Tribbilations". In that episode the crew of Deep Space Nine is sucked back to the era of Kirk and Spock and they end up going through a side-plot of the main "The Trouble with Tribbles" episode, right down to the production matching the old technological style of the original episode. It's a great, cute episode, but it also means that, from a timeline perspective, we have a point where the tech of the timeline hadn't yet changed. My argument here would be that everything still using the old production style, or referencing the old production style, exists in the original timeline. So all of the shows and movies from The Original Series through Voyager are one chunk, unified and complete in their design and timeline.
After that is when Enterprise came out and, in effect, the timeline resets from there. So you could argue that any show that has come out after Enterprise exists on a new timeline, one we could call the "Enterprise timeline", and that's when everything diverges. It doesn't diverge a lot, mind you, as most events along the timeline remain set and proper. We still have Kirk and Spock and Uhura (so far) in the original series, and the technology of the Next Gen era (and all her characters as well) seem to be the same. We had the Enterprise-D show up in the third season of Picard and she looked as good as always.
Now, the franchise does have a way of explaining this: "the timeline will, over time, look to shift back to normal, realigning events as best as it can," that is, barring some timeline shattering change that can't be easily massaged over. There have been stories where the timeline has changed so much that a new universe envelopes the characters (and that doesn't even get into the Kelvin timeline and its own shenanigans). So changes done to Earth's timeline in, say, the 21 century could cause the Enterprise era (22nd century) to seem substantial different, and the The Original Series era (23rd century) to seem somewhat different, while the 24th century of the Next Gen productions, and beyond, remain unphased. Nice, simple, maybe a little pat, but it works.
Now I did say that the producers would likely want to encourage this, and there's a reason why: the original timeline for the series is laughably out of date now. As referenced in The Original Series, we should have seen massive increases in generic manipulation, the rise of Kahn, and, eventually, World War III, all by the end of the 20th century. If you look outside you might just notice that we missed that by a long shot. So, in Enterprise, they introduced the idea that the rise of Kahn was delayed by 30 years (into the 2020s). And this could have similar consequences for everything else that was predicted to happen in the 20th and 21st centuries. But, by the time of the 23rd century and beyond, things will have more or less adjusted with, just maybe, some new coats of paint here and there. It works.
We also have to note that after Enterprise, everything that happens in the Next Gen era from that point forward has to be acknowledged as happening in the new timeline. This works because what crossovers we've had (specifically Strange New Worlds and Lower Decks crossing over in "Those Old Scientists") uses the upgraded 23rd century production style. Thus, the changes to the timeline have propagated up and down consistently.
So what does that make the final timeline, then? Of course this comes with the caveat that we have to accept these as different timelines, and I'm sure someone could debate the relative merits of putting one show on one side or the other of the Original / Enterprise timelines, but for all the evidence we have, this seems to work:
Star Trek: Enterprise
Star Trek: Discovery (S1 & S2)
Short Treks (S1 & S2)
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds
Star Trek: The Original Series
Star Trek: The Animated Series
Star Trek: The Motion Picture
Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home
Star Trek V: The Final Frontier
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
Star Trek: Generations
Star Trek (2009)
Star Trek Into Darkness
Star Trek Beyond
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Star Trek: Generations
Star Trek: First Contact
Star Trek: Insurrection
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Star Trek: Voyager
Star Trek: Nemesis
Star Trek: Lower Decks
Star Trek: Prodigy
Short Treks (S2)
Star Trek: Picard (S1 & S2)
Star Trek: Picard (S3)
Star Trek: Discovery (S3-S5)
Short Treks (S1)