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The 10 Best Alternate Universes In Sci-Fi

Whether they’re created by time travel or simply by the possibilities presented by the roll of a dice, some of the best moments in science fiction have happened while hopping between parallel worlds. Sometimes alternate dimensions are a place of unspeakable evil, other times they’re a perfect example of what might have happened had we gotten it right the first time. These are the ten best alternate dimensions in science fiction.


The Mirror Universe as seen in the Star Trek episode “Mirror, Mirror”
Star Trek’s “Mirror, Mirror” universe episode made such an indelible mark on our culture when it debuted in 1967 that it’s still the default way of explaining alternate dimensions, in just about any context. Like all the best original Trek episodes, it still holds up.

It revolves around a transporter accident which sends Captain Kirk, Dr. McCoy, Scotty, and Uhura to a nearly identical, yet fundamentally different universe. There the Enterprise is the tool of an organization called The Empire, which uses it to murder and threaten anyone who opposes it. They must attempt to blend in with a crew full of bloodthirsty killers, including an evil, goatee wearing Spock, while looking for a way to get back to their own universe without actually having to commit genocide. Other Star Trek series went on to visit the Mirror Universe, but none of them ever did it as well as they did it the first time. Remember to put on a goatee the next time you want to do something evil, then blame it all on your Mirror Universe counterpart if you get caught.

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Comments

  • Lucas VanEnger

    I would vote for any reality in which ‘Family Guy never made it to air… That show is trash and doesn’t belong on any list with Star Trek or Donnie Dark and the best of Buffy…

    • JT

      It’s weird the way Family Guy is such a love it or hate it affair.

      • geraldfnord

        I don’t find it weird given that (i.m.a[.|rrogant].o.) there is often something to love and something to hate…sometimes an entire episode will be worth it (e.g. when Meg calls out the family, at least until she doesn’t then kill them all as I’d advise), other times at five minutes’ time into the show I remember that I have a finite lifespan and turn it off.

        There are times when I feel as if McFarland or a writer says to himself of a script, ‘This was too smart and inciteful or weird, better add some vomit or moral ugliness so we don’t get called on being “fancy”.’

    • DZ

      Family Guy has it wrong anyway. It was occultism dressed as Christianity that created the dark ages. Once the bible was available to the masses and the reformation started taking place, then true Christianity broke free of Rome and scientific advances began to occur. A high proportion of the scientists of 17th century England were Puritans despite the fact that they made up only 4% of the population.

      • Guest

         Oh sure like the reformation didn’t kill thousand of people as well. I think you just assisted in proving the article’s author wrong.

        • DZ

          Of course people died from the reformation. Anytime people rebel from tyranny, there is war and death. The reformation however, did not preside over inquisitions and go looking for anyone who disagreed with their beliefs (ie – scientists for one). The reformation helped spur scientific inquiry, freedom of conscience, and social advancement. That is the main point.

          • Fredatreides

            And just like any other organized religion, all the Reform chuchs has given bith to bigotry at different degrees. Predestination is also a nasty concept that justify any kind of wild capitalism. About the “no inquisition” statement, I think the innocent people burned, crushed and hanged in the Salem collective hysteria, would tell you that torture and execution for religious purpose, be it institutionalized catholic cruelty of puritian mass hysteria, sucks all the same.

          • geraldfnord

            I gather you’re saying that people bought by the ransom of Jesus’ blood and infused by the Holy Spirit will behave as badly as anyone else.

            And it wasn’t pleasant to be have an enquiring mind in Cauvin’s Genevan oligarchic dictatorship.

      • geraldfnord

        I think it had more to do with Dissenters’ not being allowed to be gentlemen or nobles, or attend the major universities in England—and that there were schools in Scotland and Switzerland, wealth from the New World, and the enquiring spirit from the Renaissance and the rudiments of modern math and science from sources Catholic and not—than any particular virtue to that sort of Christianity. It’s as if you were crediting the success of Deshi in American science, technology, and finance to the god Ganesh.

      • geraldfnord

        I’m sure that by ‘occultism dressed as Christianity’ you mean every important church from Peter to Luther; interesting that God would allow His People to deviate so far and so long, perhaps you’re a predestinationist so you don’t think it would have changed who were saved and who were damned….

        But, in any event, I still feel compelled to mention the obvious: to many of us, ‘occultism dressed as Christianity’ looks like ‘superstition dressed as superstition’, providing us with a little laugh on our way to the lake of Fire and the Worm that Gnaweth and Dieth Not.

  • http://www.facebook.com/IamonewhoisMany Justin Hall

    I enjoy family guy but I still think it has no business being on this list. :-/

  • http://www.facebook.com/terry.l.welch Terry Welch

    As much as I hate to disagree about anything (*cough cough*), I think you missed the boat on the Buffy alternate universe. You can say I’m stretching the definition of “alternate universe,” but clearly the best use of the theme on Buffy was the episode “Normal Again” from season 6. Not only does it suggest the entire series might have been the fantasy of a paranoid narcissist (Buffy herself), but it never solidly rejects that possible conclusion, as most mainstream television shows would.

    • geraldfnord

      I’m amazed no-one has mentioned an intersection of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Mirror, Mirror”, when in “The Replacement” (S05E03)
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      both Good Xander and Bad Xander simultaneously say, ‘Kill us both, Spock!’

  • http://twitter.com/EzShake Ezekial Shake

    alternate universes is something I know about … most of those choices on that list were lame … but Spock with the goatee is one cool dude

  • Shane

    Evil Troy and Evil Aaaaaabed!

  • tankd0g

    Imma let you finish, but Charlie Jade had 3 universes.

  • Alalalalal

    I’m sorry reddit screwed your poll. Some Community fans can’t comprehend that some other shows are better.

    • JT

      I’m actually surprised the Whedonites let this happen, normally they are quicker on the draw.  They’re letting me down!

    • Cancegra

      In support of the show, nigga.

  • jawthumb

    I voted for community but it really didn’t deserve to be here.

  • Etc2913

    As a redditer and r/community subscriber, I am a little embarrassed at the rabid fanboyism my community has displayed.

    • Asd2

      why, it was a great episode in a lot of ways

    • A34532

      Agreed. Community is great, and deserves more recognition, but Fringe, being nuanced and based entirely on the idea of an alternate universe, deserves the Win.

      • Anonymous

        While true, the alternate Fringe universe isn’t interesting enough to compel me.  A world with better technology, yes, but “dark” Walternate is too paramilitary to make much sense.  To go from fringe, but respected scientist to head of “homeland” security is a stretch.

        However, Community set up the “dark” universe in a few minutes, and then showed the consequences in an entertaining way. 

        That being said, Star Trek is my fave mirror universe of all time.

        • Gene

          Walternate’s ‘dark’ because the Prime Universe Walter invaded and stole his son and in doing so shredded spacetime and threatened that entire Universe’s existence. It’s anger, grief and loss that drives the paranoia. Plus they still have the towers, and avoided who knows how many tragedies that are familiar to us? It could be argued that Blue Verse (our universe) is the dark version. How is that less engaging?

          I’m not gonna argue The Mirror Universe, but Community’s was a quick and dirty gag engine and definitely not the best storytelling that show has to offer.

          • Anonymous

            Disagree.  What I’ve seen of Fringe, Walternate’s world is a world that embraces Walter’s magical science.  An interesting premise, but it lead to a massive disaster and the destruction of this world.  

            As for the towers, the best example of this device is in the comic “Ex Machina” which has one tower standing.  It allows as a point of reflection, it represents a failure that means even more in a world where both towers are gone.  The hero managed to only save one, his greatest regret.  To us, this would seem like a triumph, to the world of Ex Machina, it was his greatest failure in the eyes of the populace as well.

            In Walternate’s world – why are they standing?  Were they able to predict things?  Is the nightmarish police state of an America too difficult for the towers to come down?  In Walternate’s world, the towers are a point of contrast, but there’s no thematic resonance as to why things are the way they are.  What actually makes Walternate’s world?  Is it a scientific utopia or a dark dystopia?  It trades in between these and makes little sense.

            As for Community’s dark world, it’s in itself a parody of dark worlds and a commentary on it – it’s based on a die roll.  It reveals a lot as to how the study group interacts, who these characters are, and how they fit together.  Each one of the universes – including the “darkest” and “prime” – had something to say about relationships.  Which is the reason why one watches a show or comes back to serial fiction.

            Star Trek explored the similar character dynamics, and established the goatee trope.

            Fringe doesn’t explore this.  It’s an excuse to kill off familiar characters and not as well thought out as the prime universe is.

  • http://twitter.com/PixelSith64 Michael Martin

    Toss up between Community and Fringe, two of my favorite shows on TV right now… Community’s darkest timeline was absolutely hilarious, but we only saw a little bit of it. With Fringe, these alt characters have grown and become interesting and have actually gotten to the point where we care about them (sometimes). This time, I’m going to have to go with Fringe, but Community is a close second.

    • Ben

      How could the stargate episode where Jack and Sam are married in an alternate reality get missed of this list! Not stargate fans?

  • Corrosivepress

    Though “Mirror, Mirror” is still the hands down best — I must give mad props to J.J. Abrams for his re-boot of Star Trek. It took HUGE balls to re-work a pillar of the sci-fi world, just to say  the rules of the last four decades no longer apply!

  • Corrosivepress

    By the way, does “Dallas” fit in this subject? Since Bobby Ewing dreamt an entire season that didn’t really exist in reality.

    • geraldfnord

      “Newhart”—all but two minutes of the entire run weren’t real.

  • Corrosivepress

    One more thing — you ignored everything done on “THE TWILIGHT ZONE,”
    which was one of the first shows to deal with many alternative
    universes. Like the one where ugly was pretty, and those pretty were
    sent to ‘camps.’ Or the commuter who got off the train to a perfect world to escape his horrible job and harpy wife.
    Even Billy Mumy as the devil child. And so, so many other stories.

  • DanBlaze

    Community… Over 6000 votes versus less than 300 for the rest, what nonsense come on who’s set up a voting macro?

  • http://www.shockandblog.com/ Jinx McHue

    Only an ignorant boob would consider Christianity to be the cause of the “Dark Ages.” A popular meme right now among neo-atheists is that “when Christianity ruled the world, it was called the ‘Dark Ages.’” Of course, there are a number of problems with that claim. First off, Christianity did not rule the world at the time in question. Second, the “Dark Ages” were not “dark” because of Christianity’s influence. Finally, the “Dark Age” has become a much shorter, quite a different measure than what it was originally intended due to discoveries about the level of human activity at that time. In fact, the phrase has fallen pretty much entirely out of use by most serious historians.

  • http://twitter.com/theterriblehook The Hook

    Super cool list! I hate to see the alternate universe where this list sucks…

    • geraldfnord

      Best line on the subject, in a “Stargate: SG-1″ episode: Carter (a brilliant physicist) is attempting to explain Wheeler-Everett cosmology to the group, and Jack O’Neill (not at all a physicist except as it counts toward flying, Blowing Things Up, and Stealing All Your Stuff*) grumpily asks:

      Are you saying that there’s a universe in which I just understood what you said?

      *a.k.a. ‘looking for strategic alien technology—he’s not a ‘looter’, he’s just ‘getting supplies’

  • Solgazer

    Start Trek was amazing aaaannnnd then they showed that this brilliant piece of cinema was apparently a complete accident when they released the abysmally, atrociously stupid Into Darkness. A sad, sad day indeed.

  • Random

    I was a huge fan of sliders until they lost the real Quinn Mallory (aka Jerry Oconnell) and it all went downhill from there. That really was a great alternate universe show.