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In Spite Of A Nail / Live-Action TV

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Strangely similar timelines in live-action TV.


  • 12 Monkeys: At the end of the pilot Cole successfully kills Jeffrey Goines in 2015, but this has no effect on the future, as his work is continued by others - most likely, the titular '12 Monkeys'. Of course it's also possible that Jeffrey Goines was never the one directly involved in the creation and release of the virus, which would void this trope.
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  • Babylon 5: In "War Without End", we see the Ivanova of a timeline where Sinclair and Babylon 4 never went back in time recording a message before Babylon 5 blows up. She's wearing the uniform that Delenn had made for her. But in this timeline, because Sinclair didn't go to the past, Delenn wouldn't have been born, because she's Sinclair's descendant.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • In the alternate Wishverse, Giles somehow got to Sunnydale despite Buffy's not being there and Giles not knowing that Buffy was supposed to be there, even though his sole reason for coming to the town in the normal timeline was to find Buffy and become her mentor. Cordelia questions this, but is killed before we can get an explanation.
    • Less bothersome with the other characters, because they all lived in Sunnydale independently of Buffy, and the divergence point was only about three years earlier. Which brings up an interesting general rule: The further back in time the divergence point is, the weirder In Spite of a Nail becomes.
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  • On Continuum, the time-space continuum is described as being extremely self-correcting and that most of the time even a Grandfather Paradox will not affect the major events of the timeline. In addition, a group of fanatical Time Police make sure that time travelers are stopped before they can do any real damage and that any significant changes are corrected. All of this ends up being subverted when a major historical figure travels back in time a week to change a major event in his own life and then sticks around to interact with the other time travelers already present in that time period. This is too much of a paradox and a Time Crash occurs where the entire future timeline is wiped out and a brand new timeline is created to account for all the changes.
  • A couple of examples from the Timey-Wimey Ball that is Doctor Who:
    • In "Inferno", the Doctor borrows power from the Inferno Project to jump-start the TARDIS and winds up in an Alternate History where Britain has been a fascist dictatorship for decades — but there's still an Inferno Project (though the alternate versions are closer to completing their project), run for the same purpose by the same people (although, again, not always in the same roles). Which is convenient, since he needs to borrow power from them again to get back home.
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    • In "Father's Day", Rose's father died alone in a hit-and-run accident when she was a baby. She goes back in time and saves his life instead. This creates a Temporal Paradox and prompts the Clock Roaches to start eating people. Her father ends up setting things right by throwing himself in front of the car that was supposed to have killed him, but this time Rose is there and comforts him while his life slips away, thus altering her own past in a trivial way that doesn't affect the greater march of time. This also affects the driver, as the accident is no longer a hit-and-run.
    • "Rise of the Cybermen": The Doctor, Rose, and Mickey visit an Alternate Universe where history is different enough that Britain has a black President (yes, president) and a thriving zeppelin industry — but Mickey was still born and lives at the same address (though he's named "Ricky" and implied to be gay, and his grandmother is still alive). Both of Rose's parents also exist in this universe under the same names, and were still married, although Rose herself was explicitly never born (with a dog taking her place) and Pete never died in the eighties. There doesn't appear to be a Doctor, though, or he's seriously shirking his world-saving duties. Until the series 4 finale, that is.
    • "The Shakespeare Code": Martha is afraid of altering history after landing in Elizabethan London. When bringing up the butterfly paradox, the Doctor says, "Tell you what: Don't step on any butterflies. What have butterflies ever done to you?"
    • In "The Waters of Mars", this takes a darker turn as the Doctor attempts to break the laws of Time in order to save someone that history says should have died. Despite his efforts, or rather because of them, she commits suicide, and history is altered but still preserves the key elements that cause the future to occur as it should. Among the altered events is the survival of two other people who should've died, and the revelation of what happened on Mars to the world (it was previously a mystery).
    • Played around with in "Vincent and the Doctor"; after helping Vincent van Gogh fight an invisible alien monster, the Doctor and Amy decide to take him to a present-day art gallery that is showcasing his works to cheer him up and show the impact his life will have. Vincent thanks them and goes on his way, after which Amy rushes them back to the gallery to see all the new paintings he came up with... only to find there are none; besides removing the monster from his painting of the church and dedicating his sunflower painting to Amy, nothing had changed and Vincent still killed himself at a young age due to his depression and various mental issues. Two episodes later, it's revealed there was a new painting; one of Vincent's last was a painting of the TARDIS exploding, and his newfound optimism came crashing down with the idea that his best friends died horribly in the future, leading to him committing suicide out of grief.
  • The 4th season of Eureka plays havoc with this trope. Five of the main characters accidentally travel to 1947 (the founding of Eureka) and bring the guy responsible for the city back with them to 2010. Specific things have changed while others are completely the same:
    • Allison still had a son, Kevin, by the same father, who looks exactly the same — but is no longer autistic. This one gets lampshaded, with Henry noting that no one knows what causes it in the first place, so it would be impossible to figure out how it changed. Jack hypothesizes that Kevin may have engineered the time travel incident in order to undo his autism, but as he didn't travel back with them he has no memory of ever doing so.
    • Allison is no longer head of GD (Fargo is) — yet she still lives and works in Eureka (as chief medical officer). It's mentioned that Fargo got to this point thanks to the influence of his grandfather. It can be assumed that, in this timeline, Grand-Fargo did not become a Human Popsicle early in his career and rose high in GD.
    • Henry is married to a woman he previously barely knew — yet still has the same garage and equipment and is still mayor of Eureka. Except both of them are members of the Consortium, although Henry doesn't know it, since his alternate self was erased the moment he returned to the present. And Alt!Henry is supposed to have asthma, and he continues taking the medicine while maintaining the ruse for his wife, despite the fact that it could be harmful to someone who isn't an asthmatic.
    • GD is much more of a DoD puppet with Fargo in charge — yet all the same scientists work on all the same projects as before.
    • Jo is no longer deputy and is now chief of GD security, with her replacement being Andy the robot. And due to him never having gone through Character Development, Zane never dated her.
    • Tess never left for Australia, so it is assumed that her relationship with Carter was perfect, and she was even moving in with him.
    • Fargo's girlfriend Jennifer is now rich and married to an astronaut.
    • All of the highly improbable events that occurred in previous seasons are assumed to still have happened, like Nathan being vaporized by a rogue experiment on his wedding day.
    • Henry uses the term "ripple effect" to explain why little if any history has changed on a global scale: the time travel hit Eureka profoundly like a wave, causing major changes which would have caused other changes - ripples - which would have caused other changes and so on, and affected areas besides Eureka, but the further away from Eureka, the less significant the changes would be, and the ripples would eventually stop.
  • This trope is explicit in Farscape. First mentioned in "Different Destinations...", when Harvey tells Crichton that "If nudged closely enough to course, events have a way of restructuring themselves. If the participants are the same, the venue's the same, the motivation's the same, then, well, the outcome is likely to be the same." It's confirmed by the Ancient "Einstein", and soon put to use again when the crew has to fix Crichton's past.
  • Friends:
    • Played with in the episode "The One That Could Have Been". It takes a look at the lives of the main six characters had each one had one significant change in their life: Ross never got divorced, Monica never lost weight, Chandler quit his job, Rachel got married, Phoebe became a stockbroker. In the end, by the time it's over most of their lives resemble their ones from the "real" world: Ross realizes is marriage is over while Carol gets together with Susan, Monica and Chandler have fallen in love and got together, Rachel's left her husband, Phoebe's lost her job as a stockbroker and is now performing her usual bizarre songs at Central Perk, etc. The director's commentary lampshades this:
      Kevin Bright: It would have been different, but ultimately it would have been the same.
    • Joey's case is an inversion, as his main "what if?" scenario is he was never fired from "Days of Our Lives" back during the events of the second season, and he's still happily employed as one of the regular cast members by the end of the episode. In the following season after "The One That Could Have Been" after learning some humility he's able to successfully appeal to the creator of the soap and is brought back. Notably, one episode that features a very brief clip from a "Days of Our Lives" episode is actually reused from the one shown in "The One That Could Have Been".
  • Fringe:
    • While the exact point of divergence of the two universes is not yet known, it's hard to imagine it could be later than about 1900 and revelations from Season 3 suggest it could possibly predate the dinosaurs. Despite this the majority of characters exist on both sides. In fact, we learn that the Bishops in both universe live in the same house and Peter sleeps in the same bedroom.
    • Barack Obama is president of the United States during the 2009-2013 term in both universes. In one of them, no one has heard of Andrew Jackson, who (in our universe) basically founded the U.S. Democratic Party that Obama belongs to.
    • Examined in the season 4 episode "Everything In Its Right Place", where two versions of Lincoln Lee compare their lives to find out where they diverged into Captain Lee being a hyper-confident badass and Agent Lee being a cautious By-the-Book Cop, and find that their lives were identical, down to every last detail, through high school. The confident version rejects the idea that his personality has to be dictated by his past circumstances, and proposes that he's the way he is because it's what he chose to become.
  • Hercules: The Legendary Journeys had an Alternate Universe ruled by "the Sovereign," the evil version of Hercules. The characters were relatively the same in both worlds due to a psychic link; the link was so strong that if a character dies in one world, this results in the death of their counterpart. Which, given how bloodthirsty the Sovereign was, kinda makes you wonder why people in "our" world weren't dropping dead left and right as he cut down their doppelgangers. It was also later discovered that if you were in the limbo-like realm which connected the two worlds when your counterpart died, you would not be affected. This was how the AU Iolaus was able to survive his counterpart's death and how Hercules was able to survive the Sovereign's death in later episodes.
  • Important Things with Demetri Martin: in the episode "Chairs," Demetri goes to a wedding reception, and must decide whether to sit next to an attractive young woman or a Cool Old Guy. We then see the results of both choices: either way, he runs afoul of a guy named Angelo and winds up tied up in a basement with a rat cage strapped to his face.
  • Journeyman:
    • The lead character of Dan Vassar, while traveling through time, meets and interacts with his friends and family in the past. This never has any impact on the present day and it seems no one ever asks the Dan in their time about something the time-traveling Dan mentioned to them.
    • In the next to last episode, Dan accidentally makes a change which replaces his son by a daughter, and advances technology to boot. This seemingly averts the trope, because changing the time of someone's conception did have an effect. Yet such a drastic personal and societal change didn't stop him from having the same people visiting him on the same date, his brother getting his girlfriend pregnant at the same time, him having a picture of himself meeting a scientist on the same day, etc. He even meets a psychic in the changed history, and a direct follow-on to that meeting in the fixed history with no indication that things have changed in any way. And the history with the daughter clearly wasn't a Stable Time Loop, either.
    • Rubberband History. It's stated pretty explicitly that there is some sort of intelligence guiding the "Journeys", and that is what keeps everything nearly identical. Likewise, Dan's son becoming a daughter was used because otherwise, what reason would he have to undo the massive technology jump he caused?
  • Legends of Tomorrow: History can be changed in minor ways without any effect on the timeline, which is why the Legends don't worry too much about displaying superpowers in the past. Furthermore, occasionally they discover "loopholes" (usually on accident) where major changes can be made without actually having any effect. For example, Helen of Troy has to be kidnapped to start the Trojan War, and trying to change that would rip the universe in half. But as it turns out, once the war has started, her disappearance doesn't have much of an effect, so Zari takes her to Themyscira so that she doesn't just die as a pawn in some meaningless power struggle. Zari eventually writes a program to search for these loopholes in an attempt to fix many of the things wrong with history, but she doesn't always find anything useful.
  • This is apparently how the world works in Lost, with one character explicitly stating that "the universe has a way of course-correcting" to make sure that changes to the past don't have any major effects. Although this could be wrong, as we've never seen anything that couldn't be explained as a 100% Stable Time Loop with regard to the actual time traveling. Even an apparent change to Daniel's journal in the past was explained when we learned about his memory problems. Desmond's future flashes, however, do allow him to change the future, but then apparently fate course-corrects back.
  • The Lucifer (2016) episode "Once Upon a Time" shows a world where Chloe's father was never killed and thus Chloe was never inspired to be a cop. Instead, she's an actress, Lucifer is still an arrogant club owner, Dan is now a corrupt cop (and as he and Chloe never met, let alone get married, their daughter Trixie doesn't exist); Linda is a talk show host, and more. Yet, when a friend of Chloe's turns up dead in Lucifer's club, the pair manage to end up working together to solve the case. Afterward, Chloe decides she wants to give being a cop for real a try and an intrigued Lucifer offers to help her.
  • Marvel Cinematic Universe: The Netflix shows take place in a New York City affected by "The Incident", however, evidence suggests that aside from the insertion of the invasion, the city's history has been unaltered. For instance, the Black Lives Matter movement is referenced in Luke Cage (2016). Likewise, Daredevil (2015) shows that the Fall Experimental Football Leaguenote  still happened, as Karen Page wears a Brooklyn Bolts T-shirt in one scene in season 1. The biggest difference is that the Real Life Hell's Kitchen has escaped its crime and poverty-stricken past and a crime-fighting vigilante would be rather unnecessary, so the Alien Invasion is mentioned as having wrecked much of that area specifically, causing a rise in violent crime and gangsters again so that the story has some reason for being.
  • Misfits had an episode where the Nazis won World War II. The characters looked exactly the same, and despite never knowing each other before the events of the series, they had met each other.
  • Mud, a BBC live action children's series from the 1990s, ended with the characters returning from a trip back in time and accidentally bringing Christopher Columbus home with them. They go home and everything seems normal, until they try to watch Baywatch — which their mother has never heard of, because the discovery of the Americas must have played out somewhat differently due to his absence. If this was supposed to be a Sequel Hook it fell rather flat, and the viewer is Left Hanging as to whether or not they manage to sort it all out.
  • Power Rangers
    • In Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, Kimberly's brief trip to Victorian-era Angel Grove didn't seem to change a thing, despite the fact that Goldar and the Monster of the Week followed her, requiring her to find that era's Zordon and Alpha 5, gain the Power Coins, and give them to the Rangers' great-great grandparents, to fight the villains Ranger-style. (And the present-day Zordon seemed to already know about it. Maybe because it happened already?)
    • Speaking of Power Rangers, the finale of Power Rangers Dino Charge involved the Rangers travelling back to the pre-historic era to defeat Sledge and his shipmates. The result of this involved next to no change in the future Earth aside from the teeny-tiny tidbit of dinosaurs never having gone extinct and co-existing with humans. How the rest of PR continuity (sans RPM) fits in with this has yet to be addressed.
  • Primeval:
    • In the 1st series finale, a change in the Permian era, i.e. over a quarter of a billion years ago, erases Claudia from existence while leaving the rest of the team untouched, down to the clothes they are wearing and Stephen still remembering having had an affair with Helen.
    • In season 2 we find out the full extent of the changes: the team has a new base, also Claudia isn't really gone, she just has a different name and personality. This is despite Professor Cutter repeatedly stating that screwing around with history has sent evolution down a completely different path.
    • This issue is actually given as a reason why everyone thinks Professor Cutter has just gone a bit nuts instead of history actually being changed. His response is that there could be many more changes he doesn't even know about.
  • Red Dwarf:
    • Hand waved in one episode by specifically erasing Kryten and Lister from history, yet having the two characters still running around trying to not be killed by the guy who erased them. They run into the main characters and find that their "twins" are slightly off and played by completely different people, like the "fraternal brothers" thing only even more distinct than that. Yet the ship still exists and the accident still happened and Dave Lister still managed to be frozen in stasis for three million years, etc. Ironically the Robotic Psychopath who erased Kryten and Lister did so specifically because he thought they were wasting their lives, yet their replacements were not different in any significant way at all.
    • The 3rd season episode "Timeslides" had Dave Lister changing history so that he became a millionaire and never left Earth, prompting the Cat and Kryten to vanish from existence ... yet, bizarrely, Rimmer (who was only revived as a companion for Lister) is still stuck on the ship, 3 million years into deep space.
    • 7th season episode "Tikka to Ride" has the crew accidentally avert the assassination of John F Kennedy, which results in a Crapsack World future where the US space program, and hence Red Dwarf, never existed ... yet, bizarrely, the crew and their time machine aren't similarly erased from existence. Then there's ... you know what? It's probably best not to think about it.
  • The Sarah Jane Adventures: "The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith" claims that when history gets "diverted", it tries to correct itself, explaining why, in a world enslaved by the Trickster since 1951, Rani's mum still exists and they "happen" to run into her.
  • Numerous episodes of Sliders, especially the one where everything was exactly the same except that women had moustaches, and the one where the sky was purple but things were much the same until the Robot War.
    • "In Dino Veritas" is perhaps the biggest of the series. Although dinosaurs survived, none of the featured or mentioned species seemingly evolved in the slightest in the last 65 million years. On the other hand, humans did evolve. Discounting the existence of living dinosaurs being a fact of life on this world and San Francisco being a dinosaur reserve, American society also seems to be largely similar to that of Earth Prime. The poacher is even concerned about being profiled on America's Most Wanted after the ranger discovers him in the dinosaur reserve. When Wade asks the ranger whether she has ever seen anything like the truth collar that she's wearing, the ranger replies, "Yeah, in a Frederick's of Hollywood catalogue."
    • In "Slide Like an Egyptian", the culture of Ancient Egypt survives into the present day and dominates the world. In spite of this, everyone in New Cairo speaks English, a language predominately derived from Latin, the language of The Roman Empire.
    • In "Slidecage", Kromagg Prime diverged from Earth Prime millions of years ago as two sentient species, humans and Kromaggs, evolved on that world. In spite of this, it still has Thanksgiving, Times Square and Beauty and the Beast (1987). Similarly in "Strangers and Comrades", it still has Robin Williams, the Land of Oz books (possibly the many adaptations including the 1939 film too) and Eliot Ness and the Untouchables (again, possibly the television series and the film based upon their exploits as well).
  • In Smallville, Clark visits a Mirror Universe where the major difference is that he was raised by the Luthors instead of the Kents. His other self was raised to be completely ruthless and evil, but for some reason was still given the first name of Clark.
  • In the Stargate SG-1 two-part episode "Moebius", the team muddles around with Egypt 5,000 years ago. Their admittedly small changes result in a world where the Stargate hasn't been discovered and the main characters aren't quite as cool. Those characters go back and fix things, which results in everything being the way it was before, with the exception of a pond that was but now is no longer devoid of fish (and the sudden existence of a certain lieutenant colonel)...
  • In Star Trek's "Mirror, Mirror", Kirk visits an Alternate Universe where the Federation of Planets is a repressive interstellar empire — but there's still a starship Enterprise, and it has mostly the same crew (although not all of them perform the same functions). Specifically for Mirror, Mirror there is a partial explanation in that the mechanism of transfer could only happen between realities in which the same (parallel) people were doing the same thing at the same time.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation:
    • In the episode "Yesterday's Enterprise", history changing so that the Federation has been at war with the Klingons for the past twenty years has no apparent effect on the Enterprise's command roster except for the absence of Worf and Troi and the survival of Tasha Yar. It does affect the rest of the ship's complement, though, as instead of nominally carrying 1,014 in Starfleet personnel, civilian crews, families, and passengers, it was a militarized ship capable of carrying 6,000 troops, and the only observed civilian on board was Guinan. (Wesley was still there, but as a fully-commissioned officer, when his "main" counterpart was still an acting ensign.)
    • Lampshaded in the episode "Tapestry". Picard becoming a paper-pusher assistant astrophysics officer instead of a legendary starship captain had no apparent effect on the rest of the crew roster (Except perhaps Dr. Crusher note ), but that was specifically because of Q's promise to Picard that anything he does in the past will not affect anyone else in the present. It's not at all clear that this is actually how things would have played out if Picard had truly failed to become the Captain he was.
    • Zig-zagged in "Parallels," which has Worf going through several dimensions; while Enterprise remains mostly the same, the changes keep mounting to the point where, in the final alternate universe, Wesley was the tactical officer, Picard died during the events of "Best of Both Worlds" (leaving Riker as Captain), and Troi had married Worf. They also ran into a Riker from a universe where the Borg had conquered the galaxy.
  • In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the Mirror Universe has the station inhabited with largely the same characters, even if some of them are there for vastly different reasons; such as O'Brien, who is (strangely) virtually the same as normal O'Brien (and not, like almost everyone else, evil), and is only on Deep Space Nine as a slave. And yet a later episode explicitly stated that Jake Sisko was never born there. So any future descendants of Jake will not have counterparts there either. The most baffling thing is that Vic is still on the station — but isn't a hologram.
  • In Season 6 of Supernatural an angel goes back in time and saves the Titanic from sinking. This resulted in thousands more people being alive today and many changes. However, the brothers are so central to the destiny of the world that new timeline arranges itself around them. They themselves are pretty much unchanged but the people near them have their lives altered in some ways big and small. Most likely this protection only applies to people closely connected to the brothers. The timeline appears to be trying to repair itself in that episode however, since the plot is kicked off when descendants of the people who should have died on the Titanic start dropping off like flies. This is the work of the angry Fate, who knows Castiel organized it all to get more souls for his side of an angelic civil war.
  • Travelers has possibly the most resilient timeline in all of fiction. In the second episode they save 11,000 people and there is absolutely no effect to the timeline. Half way through first season they manage to prevent an asteroid impact that kills 91 million people and the change to the future is so subtle that operations continue for weeks without them realizing that anything was altered at all.
  • In The Twilight Zone episode "The Parallel", an astronaut returns to an alternate Earth where his family and superiors are identical, but he himself has a higher military rank and the President is different.
  • In the Warehouse 13 episode "Endless Terror" Paracelsus goes back in time 500 years and kills the Regents of Warehouse 8. In the present, history alters so that he's run the Warehouse singlehandedly ever since, and it's now a high-tech monolith to artifact analysis and exploitation. Valda, who in the original timeline was a Regent who made a Heroic Sacrifice, is now Paracelsus's heavy; Vanessa and Hugo reluctantly work in his human experimentation unit; and Abigail is the Wetware CPU of the Warehouse computer systems. Lampshaded by Claudia, who says the same people are drawn towards the Warehouse in any reality, prompting Pete to sarcastically wonder if MacPherson and Sykes run the break room. Artie also notes that the logos of past Warehouses show that they were associated with the same empires, indicating that Paracelsus doesn't seem to have altered history beyond the Warehouse itself.
  • In The Good Place's second season, no matter how many times Michael tries to change the Bad Place torture scenario the four leads are trapped in with hundreds of reboots, Eleanor always ends up seeking out Chidi to become a better person and the group always end up growing as people and realizing that they aren't in the Good Place. Eventually, Michael gets frustrated by the failures, and under pressure from his boss, who thinks he's still on his second attempt, strikes a bargain to work with the leads to create the illusion that the torture is working.


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