Close Enough Timeline

A common plot in Time Travel stories: The time traveller messes up the past, and has to put everything back the way it was. This trope is when the time traveller, in the end, doesn't quite succeed. The traveller, however, decides that the change the new timeline has brought with it is either a pretty insignificant alteration that he or she could easily adjust to (often happens if he or she is locked out of further time travel), or even outright beneficial, and happily accepts it (i.e. s/he could probably erase the change completely with further time traveling, but sees no reason to do so). Usually played as a happy ending but Fridge Logic can reveal this to be based on Protagonist-Centered Morality. After all, maybe Alice got the promotion in this timeline but that means harm was done to Bob who got it last time around.

Compare Not Quite Back to Normal and In Spite of a Nail. Contrast Rubber-Band History, where the new timeline the traveller ends up with is ours. A Close Enough Timeline can be a result of Tricked Out Time, when the characters deliberately make sure that Grandfather Time says "eh, close enough".


Examples:

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    Comic Books 
  • In Paperinik New Adventures, Paperinik, the protagonist, is the one altering things, as he's forced to ally with the time pirate the Raider to try and prevent the destruction of Duckburg due an experiment with cold fusion going awry, at which point a squad from the Time Police shows up to try and make sure the events go as they're supposed to (and arrest the Raider now that they know is involved). In the end, after the Raider is caught, the Time Cops realize that making sure the timeline goes exactly as supposed would involve too many changes and be extremely difficult due Paperinik, so they settle to make the experiment fail in a non-explosive way and discredit the scientist who had tried it.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Back to the Future
    • In Back to the Future, after Marty returns to 1985 at the end of the film, everything is the same as when he left it — except the mall has a different name, his family and Biff have different fortunes (though Biff's proves not to be so different after all in Part II), and Jennifer looks different.
    • At the end of Back to the Future Part III, the only change is the name of the ravine to Eastwood Ravine.
    • Done in the Telltale games as well, where the only known differences are Doc stayed in 1986 part-time to take care of his father's estate (as Marty helped patch their relationship), he never got stuck in 1931 (because he knew who the speakeasy arsonist was in this timeline), and Edna married Kid Tannen.
  • Tim's goal in About Time.

    Literature 
  • In the Goosebumps book, the Cuckoo Clock of Doom, the main character is cursed by his family's cuckoo clock to be repeatedly sent mentally back in time into his own body at younger and younger stages of his life until he might be erased from existence. He alters the timeline so that it never happens, but his annoying and malicious sibling is erased from existence due to the clock's "defect" mentioned earlier in the book (the clock's year dial skips the sister's birth year, something that he caused when fixing the backwards time flow). He promises he should probably go back and try to fix it. Maybe. Eventually. "One of these days."
  • In Greg Bear's Eon, one of the main characters tries to get to one of these, after being unable to return to earth. She lands in a world where apparently the Egyptian dynasties never fell.
  • Discussed and then invoked in the story Be Here Now by Sam Hughes.
  • It's implied a time or two that this may be how travel between alternate timelines/universes generally works in the Perry Rhodan setting — you can't ever be wholly sure that you're back to your "original" time, but if it's close enough that the traveler doesn't notice any differences, does it truly matter? A somewhat classic example is the main protagonist's son Michael Rhodan, who was left for dead on an enemy planet in issue #399 but then popped back up in the distant past in the next story arc, apparently having escaped the planet's destruction via last-ditch time travel after all...only, his memories of the event don't seem to quite sync up with the actual report of his "death". Could be just the Rashomon effect at work, could be this trope with a Michael Rhodan from another timeline where things played out just that bit differently essentially replacing the original without necessarily even realizing it — without a body, there's no way to be sure one way or the other even according to at least one author.
  • In John Scalzi's Old Man's War universe, the FTL drive used by humanity works by not by actually going faster than light but displacing the ship to a different location in a different timeline every time they jump. Any differences between the timelines are so minute they can't be noticed—it may be as small as one particular atom somewhere in the universe decaying at a given moment instead of another atom—so there's no practical difference from the perspective of the travelers and indeed it's only theoretical scientists who really care about it.
  • Night Watch has Sam Vimes forced to become his own mentor when his original mentor, John Keel, is killed by the murderer Carcer (who was sent back in time with Vimes). Though told he has to keep the timeline intact, Vimes quickly decides to Set Right What Once Went Wrong by trying to prevent the Watchmen who died in the revolution from dying. With Carcer trying to Make Wrong What Once Went Right at the same time, things turn out mostly the same way and hardly anyone but Vimes, Carcer, and the History Monks know. Young Vetinari, however, was one of the few people who actually saw Vimes disappear and the marked difference between Vimes and the body of Keel put into replace him, and gets Vimes to confess it by calling him "Sergeant" and awaiting the response.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Given a Shout-Out at the 8th season finale of Stargate SG-1, where the team restores the timeline... except Jack's pond now has fish. He actually says "Close enough." - which, considering he's a fan of The Simpsons, is intentional Lampshade Hanging on Jack's part.
  • Red Dwarf uses this in "Timeslides", when the last change to the timeline puts everything back how it was except that Rimmer is alive. He dies seconds later and the change in his backstory is apparently forgotten.
  • Sliders:
    • They travel to a world which is almost identical to their homeworld. At first they are certain they are home. Quinn is a bit suspicious and points out small details like who played in the Superbowl a certain year or that an old classmate didn't have braces like he remembered were different. The others think he's crazy. Then Wade discovers that the Golden Gate Bridge is blue. Wade and Rembrandt seem tempted to stay anyway and Quinn's mother wishes he would stay. Quinn doesn't want to because he knows that his double is out there and may return home someday.
    • The same episode has Professor Arturo become a celebrity for "discovering" sliding. When confronted by the others, he claims he would've eventually figured it out on his own. Even when confronted with the picture of the bridge, he calmly calls it the "Azure Gate Bridge". Of course, it turns out this Arturo is actually native to this world and has kidnapped their Arturo.
    • One major episode plays with this: Quinn bases his entire criteria on what his "home" dimension is by whether or not the gate of his front yard fence is broken or not. Little does he know, his mother fixed the fence in his home dimension, destroying his theory in the process. They're initially uncertain because the newspaper out front refers to the Oakland Raiders (they were still in Los Angeles when the four of them started sliding) and O.J.'s trial, but it's the gate that convinces Quinn that they're not home yet. Moments after they slide, we see Quinn's mother pay a handyman for fixing the gate, something she was always bugging Quinn to do, but he kept putting off.
  • From The Whitest Kids U' Know sketch "Me and my Buddy:"
    So we go around doing the best we can
    Like we stopped Goldor from fighting Zenuzan
    But as a result that started Vietnam
    So I guess we'll call it a draw
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:
    • Happens in the 30th anniversary episode of Star Trek, "Trials and Tribble-ations", which revisits the events of the original series episode "The Trouble With Tribbles". Though they manage to foil Arne Darvin's plot to kill Kirk with a bomb disguised as a tribble, their very presence in the past causes a minor change in the timeline, as seen when Kirk is looking for who started the fight with the Klingons; said scene is edited to include Chief O'Brien and Doctor Bashir.
    • Another episode had Sisko attempting to invoke this: Sisko, Bashir, and Dax are sent back to Earth's Crapsack Past, and the guy who's supposed to trigger the events that make things better winds up getting killed preventing some thugs from mugging them. Sisko is well-versed in history enough to take the guy's place, assuming his name and doing the things the dead man was supposed to going to have done. This results in a timeline that's pretty much the same as the one they left... except Starfleet has some questions for Sisko about why he suddenly always looked exactly like historical hero Gabriel Bell.
  • Discussed in the Star Trek: Voyager two-parter "Year of Hell", where a Krenim scientist named Annorax created a weapon capable of erasing his people's enemies from history, but For Want of a Nail ensured this often also did things like eliminating the sources of cures for plagues, ultimately hurting the Krenim. He's been trying to fix it all with more and more erasures for the past 200 years, and finally manages a 98% restoration of the Krenim as they were before he started. His subordinate asks if this is a Close Enough Timeline, but Annorax has become a Knight Templar and insists it isn't. Somewhat understandably, this is because the 98% restoration still doesn't include Annorax's lost wife, who was wiped out with the very first erasure attempt. In the end, it turns out that the only way to fix everything is to erase the weapon itself, thus undoing all of the changes it ever made.
  • In the Charmed episode "Cat House", Phoebe and Paige go time-traveling through Piper and Leo's past, thanks to a botched spell. They manage to figure out how to fix most of the changes they cause, but they accidentally break Piper and Leo's wedding-cake topper and the episode ends with it still broken.
  • In Doctor Who this is how time travel works. If time remains basically the same then it's fine. However there are fixed points in time which cannot be changed.
    • In the episode Father's Day, Rose convinces the Doctor to let her visit her dad, Pete, in the 80s (who was struck and killed by a car when she was a baby). In a split second decision, she saves his life. This causes a problem. Time starts warping, the offending car gets stuck on an infinite loop, and scary time monsters appear to destroy the whole area and stop reality from tearing itself apart. Eventually Pete realizes what's going on, and that him being alive is what is causing the problems. He then decides that only he can save everyone by sacrificing himself to the looping car. At the end of the day he still dies, but in this timeline he gets to live a little longer, spend time with his grown-up future daughter, and be a hero for once. A Pyrrhic Victory if there ever was one.
    • The ending of the episode also reveals that the circumstances of Pete's death were slightly altered; at the start, Jackie said he died alone, whereas at the end she says a mysterious blonde woman held his hand until the end. Guess who?
    • Vincent and the Doctor has the Doctor and Amy travel back to meet Vincent van Gogh after seeing a monster in his painting. They find the Monster is an alien and change events so it no longer appears in the painting, but show Vincent he will be appreciated in the future. However Vincent still commits suicide, and the Doctor tells Amy they still made his life better. In addition, the monster in no longer in the painting, and Vincent dedicated another painting to Amy.
      • Which would fit the current theory that Vincent Van Gough didn't commit suicide. It goes that a youth from the local village accidentally shot him and Vincent claimed suicide so that boy wouldn't get into trouble. The main proof of it is that a suicidal man wouldn't give themselves a gut shot, the pistol not being found, and that when he left his village he was carrying art supplies.
    • ...until The Pandorica Opens implies that Vincent actually killed himself after receiving visions of the TARDIS exploding.
  • Apparently what results in the Farscape episode "Kansas". When the crew visit 1986, the timeline has altered for reasons which are undetectable, and John's dad is now scheduled to go on the Challenger space shuttle on its final mission, which didn't happen first time round. He wouldn't then be around to inspire John to become an astronaut, and then John wouldn't be on Moya and everyone's destiny would be different. Given that his dad's imminent departure on Challenger has seriously changed the course of the weekend for his family, they don't try too hard to replicate the original events of that specific weekend, but pick a remembered event that did cause John's dad to stay back from a different mission and try to replicate that. They don't succeed in every detail - John's dad has to be rescued instead of rescuing young John himself, but thanks to a bang on the head, he doesn't know that, so it works well enough. There are some hints (specifically, "Karen Shaw") that Moya's crew may have been around in the original timeline too, but possibly not doing the same things in every respect.
  • In the Once Upon a Time Time Travel two-parter "Snow Drifts" and "There's No Place Like Home", Hook and Emma completely fail in their attempt not to alter the timeline, before eventually deciding that as long as Snow and Charming's Meet Cute is in place, everything else will sort itself out. (A spot of Laser-Guided Amnesia helps too.)
  • Mirai Sentai Timeranger:
    • Subverted. In the final episodes, when the Timerangers are forcibly returned to their time, they find out that their lives have changed for the better, but when their superiors decide to modify their memories to adapt them to these changes, they reject it and decide go back to the past for the final battle.
    • Captain Ryuuya, however, attempts to play it straight, as he had seen two possible timelines leading to his current time, and attempted to make sure the "better" of the two would happen, except for one thing: have someone else die as Time Fire in the past instead of himself. In the end he fails, as he ends up being fatally shot while trying to stop the Timerangers from returning.
  • The Flash (2014): In "Flash Back", Barry goes on an adventure in the past. When he returns to the present, everything seems the same, except Hartley Rathaway/Pied Piper has inexplicably pulled a Heel–Face Turn and is a member of his team, with Barry's other friends saying he's always been there, thoroughly confusing Barry since he has no memory of the new timeline. Also, Hartley is on good terms with his parents, when in the original timeline, they had disowned him.

    Video Games 
  • Dragon Ball Xenoverse: This is the mission of the Time Patrol in game. While some things in-game are inevitably altered, such as Frieza going directly into his final form instead of transforming into each one consecutively, as long as history ultimately plays out how it was meant to (Goku successfully beating the bad guys), they're fine with it.
  • In Super Robot Wars Z, Setsuko's good ending is this one, everyone in her original team is alive and well and Asakim is no longer in her world tormenting her. However, the "revived" Glory Star team are alternate universe duplicates from a world where she never existed, so they don't exactly recognize her.
  • In Day of the Tentacle, the plan of the heroes is to change the past yesterday. They end up changing the past quite a lot, but manage to save the world. The Stars and Stripes ends up tentacle-shaped, though.
  • The multiple endings of Singularity have shades of this; even in the good ending the world isn't quite back to what it was before you started messing with the timeline, and is in fact ruled by an advanced (though *possibly* benevolent) Soviet Union.
  • In Time Hollow, Ethan doesn't bother fixing the timeline in which his friend Morris has dropped out of school because Morris seems happier that way.
  • Chrono Trigger can play out like this, depending on the player's choices. Most notably, the attitudes of the Mystics toward humans in the Present can be changed if the party defeats Ozzie a second time, and the southern continent can become a forest instead of a desert. Other minor changes include the mayor of Porre becoming more generous, Guardia castle suddenly having a treasury with the Rainbow Shell in it, and the Northern Ruins turning into the Hero's Grave. The existence of the Black Omen may fall into this category as well, since it doesn't really change much of history despite being there for thousands of years unless you choose to go through it in 12,000 BC. Chrono Cross, on the other hand, more fully explores the ramifications of the heroes from Chrono Trigger being OK with the Close Enough Timeline.

    Web Animation 

    Web Comics 

    Western Animation 
  • In The Simpsons episode "Treehouse of Horror V", Homer accidentally creates a time machine and inadvertently changes history, then struggles to change it back. The story ends with everything normal, except for people having long snake tongues. Homer names the trope by shrugging and saying "Eh, close enough."
  • Family Guy:
    • Peter goes back in time to relive his teenage years and almost loses Lois to Quagmire; he manages to fix everything, but Roger the alien is now inexplicably a member of the Griffin household.
    • Another time travel episode has Stewie and Brian go back to the pilot episode (multiple times), where their meddling results in a Bad Future. When they finally fix everything, they assume everything went back to the way it was. Then Peter shows up with his drinking buddies from the first episode, making a Brick Joke.
  • American Dad! episode "The Best Christmas Story Never Told" has Stan screw up the timeline in an attempt to "save" Christmas; after fixing things, his guardian angel informs him that gun control laws are less strict now (It Makes Sense in Context). Roger is also more bitter, because he rode the rise and fall of Disco thanks to a dropped Greatest Hits tape acting as a Timeline-Altering MacGuffin.
  • In the Earthworm Jim series, the universe was destroyed, but then rebuilt. Everything was the same "except the main character of Death of a Salesman is now named Urkel."
  • A different take on this is the Futurama episode "The Late Philip J. Fry." Professor Farnsworth invents a time machine that allows travel into the future only. Fry, Farnsworth and Bender discover that traveling to the end of time brings them back to the beginning (twice!), and they eventually return to their era shortly before they left. However, this universe is "slightly lower" than theirs, and they land on their duplicate selves, killing them.
    • Also, Farnsworth kills Eleanor Roosevelt in an attempt to snipe Hilter.
    • A straight example in "All the Presidents' Heads". At the very end, the crew corrects for their previous interference in 1775, re-ensuring American revolutionary victory... and a new colonial flag depicting Bender and the phrase "Bite my fhiny metal aff."
  • Played with in Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated: the series ends with the Eldritch Abomination beneath Crystal Cove being removed from history and existence. While this is far, far better for most of the people in the world (who avoid having their lives ruined or being eaten by the entity), the gang lament that since they're in a world with no mysteries to solve it's not one they belong in. So, after angsting for a bit, they decided to go on a road trip.
  • Darwin and Gumball's time travel adventures in the The Amazing World of Gumball episode 'The Countdown" ends this way.
    Gumball: This looks suspiciously normal. (blinks with vertical eye slits) Eh, I can live with that.
  • Parodied and deliberately exploited in Rick and Morty in the form of parallel universes. Rick and Morty find an Alternate Timeline that is exactly like the one they left except that that universe's Rick and Morty died instantly in the experiment that, in their home universe, set off the chain of events that essentially ended the world. This allows "our" Rick and Morty to take their places.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/CloseEnoughTimeline