Friends and Fugitives
A loving tribute
Continuity & the Apes Timeline

I was but a lass in 1975, when Marvel Comics published its Ape Chronology, a timeline incorporating the events of the films, the TV series, and Marvel's own creative effort to fill in a few historical blanks. In this last regard the Chronology succeeded. But the recursive nature of their timeline perplexed me, and still does, because to my mind it doesn't address the 'paradoxes' (read: incongruities) initially raised by the films...paradoxes that appeared to be reinforced by the TV series.

Now, I'm by no means the only person to gnash their teeth over this. A lot of bananas have been peeled over the great Ape timeline debate. Did the writers goof, or was the proverbial rug intentionally pulled out from under us along the way?

It doesn't really matter. The fact is the contradictions have fueled some mighty ingenious explanations over the years. I like to view the debate as a gift from the writers to us fans, intentional or not.

My ideas on the subject are hardly ingenious – they're actually pretty simplistic – but this is my page, so of course I'm going to present them. What follows is a general rundown of events as handed us by the films and TV series, and my interpretation of them. I've excluded information from the books and comics to avoid further discrepancies. Please note: if you want to know particulars about any of the films, watch 'em!

Right, let's start from square one, shall we?

Planet of the Apes” – Taylor and his crew get things rolling by crash-landing in an ape-dominated future. Zira and Cornelius are introduced to us.

Beneath the Planet of the Apes” – The Earth is destroyed. The year is 3955.

Escape from the Planet of the Apes” – Zira and Cornelius are hurled back in time to the year 1973. During an interrogation by Dr. Hasslein, who wants to know how apes will rise to supremacy, Cornelius cites the following events from ape pre-history:

  1. A great plague wiped out (virtually?) all dogs and cats. As a result, humans took apes as pets.

  2. Two hundred years later, apes had evolved to the point that their owners began using them to perform simple chores. Eventually this led to institutionalized training and outright enslavement of the ape population.

  3. Another three hundred years passed before apes became capable of abstract thought and began to plot rebellion against their human masters.

  4. A gorilla named Aldo was the first to acquire the power of speech. He said 'No'. This event was later commemorated in the apes' Sacred Scrolls.

The paranoid Dr. Hasslein comes away believing Cornelius and Zira are the harbingers of a future in which the fall of mankind is assured, and that the only way to prevent that future is to destroy the two apes and their unborn child. Zira and Cornelius are murdered, but – perhaps pivotally – their child survives.

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes” – In 1991, a mere eight years after a plague dessimates the dog and cat population, humans have turned their fast-evolving pet apes into slaves. Caesar, the son of Zira and Cornelius, emerges as the leader of the ape rebellion. These events fulfill Cornelius's historical account except:

  • Caesar is the first ape with the power of speech (being the child of two evolved apes); and
  • because of Caesar's influence, the downfall of mankind occurs 500 years earlier, and in a different manner, than Cornelius's historical account suggests it should have done.
So what caused the variance? Was it some action or inaction on the part of Zira and Cornelius, or Dr. Hasslein? Maybe. Then again, none of the events of “Escape” could have occurred if Taylor hadn't first been thrown into the future....

The explanation may be simpler than trying to pin down a single future-altering event. Some theorists hold that it would be impossible to travel into our own past because, by mere virtue of our presence, we would change the fabric of that past. We would actually land in another universe, one where future events may or may not unfold as we know them to have happened.

If that's the case, then Zira and Cornelius didn't just journey back in time. They crossed into an alternate universe, one whose future might have been just as Cornelius recited – if he and Zira hadn't arrived on the scene.

I favor this theory for general purposes here because it helps explain the discrepancy in the film chronology, and where the TV series fits. It's my contention that the TV series occurs in a different universe, specifically from the last three films, and here's why:

  1. In the pilot episode, Virdon and Burke are shown a book that has in it a futuristic picture of New York City, circa. 2503. But according to the movie timeline, mankind fell to the apes in the latter part of the 20th century, making such a photo impossible. In fact the photo reflects the pre-history Cornelius was familiar with and related to Hasslein.

  2. Virdon and Burke – who launched in 1980 – never mention the story of Zira and Cornelius. Even if the media of their time ultimately reported that the evolved chimps from the future were a hoax, one of them would remember the press coverage and put two and two together. That they don't seems purposeful on the writers' part: Virdon and Burke don't mention Zira and Cornelius because that event never happened in the universe the astronauts come from.

  3. Virdon, Burke and Galen visit the remains of San Francisco-Oakland in two episodes. Although the astronauts have previously found evidence of lingering radiation, the damage they see in the city is consistent with general decay and earthquake activity over a long period of time, not a nuclear strike. In “Battle for the Planet of the Apes” on the other hand, San Francisco looks to have suffered meltdown from a nuclear airburst.
Obviously we're dealing with at least two separate timelines (i.e. universes). The first is the timeline Zira and Cornelius originated from. The second is the one they travelled back to in “Escape”. The TV series represents a potential third timeline, although it may also be a page of history from Zira and Cornelius's original universe; but clearly it isn't part of the universe in which Caesar led the apes to rebellion in 1991.

There's one further small but tantalizing distinction: the presence of dogs in the TV series.

In “Conquest”, Armando tells Caesar that during the 1983 plague, dogs and cats "all died within months". Cornelius isn't so absolute: he says hundreds of thousands died, and hundreds of thousands more had to be put to death to stop the plague's spread. Well, there are certainly more than several hundred thousand dogs and cats in the world. So working from the multiple universe theory, it's possible the severity of the plague was different depending on the timeline. Further, as Marvel put forth, it could be that the virus affected not only dogs and cats, but also caused the accelerated evolution of apes. (And, less dramatically, the de-evolution of humankind.)

This would explain why the evolution of the apes seen in “Conquest” took place within an incredibly short eight-year period: the plague was more severe in that timeline, severe enough to kill every dog and cat. Conversely, in the TV series timeline some dogs survived, and the evolution of apes into reasoning beings who could organize a rebellion against mankind took 500 years longer, indicating a less potent virus strain.

Essentially what all this boils down to is that the name Caesar, and his role in emancipating apes, would mean nothing to Galen or even to Councillor Zaius. In 3085, apes have only been in control of the world since the 26th century, or for some 550 years. Caesar, the son of Zira and Cornelius, is not part of their past.

However, that doesn't preclude the possibility that Zira and Cornelius are part of Galen and Councillor Zaius's future.

That's it for the moment. Feel free to lob fruit at me...Fresh produce is always appreciated. Alternatively you can e-mail your own perspective to me at

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