Fri
Dec 14 2012 4:00pm

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Timescape”

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Timescape“Timescape”
Written by Brannon Braga
Directed by Adam Nimoy
Season 6, Episode 25
Production episode 40276-251
Original air date: June 14, 1993
Stardate: 46944.2

Captain’s Log: Riker’s in sickbay with a very deep cut on his forehead. Crusher assumes it came from playing Parrises Squares or from Worf’s calisthenics program, but no: it was Spot, Data’s cat. Riker’s feeding him while Data’s gone at a conference, along with Picard, Troi, and La Forge. Since Riker hates cats (and the feeling is apparently mutual), this is truly the act of a friend. He’s then summoned to the bridge—Worf has picked up a Romulan distress call. They answer it, but with shields up and at red alert, just in case.

Elsewhere, the four who went to the conference on the psychological effects of long-term deep-space assignments are heading back on a runabout. The quartet gather for dinner and compare notes on the conference. Troi and Picard both had bad experiences, including Troi being very ineptly hit on, but La Forge enjoyed his symposium where he got to touch a plasma field.

In the midst of La Forge waxing rhapsodic about that experience, he freezes—so do Data and Picard. Troi is apprehensive, but then they start moving again as if nothing happened. Data and La Forge try to figure out if there’s a technical explanation. As Troi’s talking to Picard, she then freezes for three minutes, eleven seconds. La Forge compares the bioscan he took twenty-three minutes earlier to the one he’s taking now, and Troi has only aged twenty minutes. Picard orders Data to contact the Enterprise, but they’re not responding. The starboard nacelle on the runabout cuts out, the fuel and all reserves suddenly gone. According to the sensors, the nacelle’s been in constant use for 47 days.

When Picard goes into the back to check on the fuel-consumption logs, he notices that the bowl of fruit in the center of the table has gone rotten. When Picard goes to touch it, he screams in pain. His fingernails are now much longer, and his hand was metabolizing at a rate 50 times faster than usual. Data detects a spherical temporal disturbance in an area that includes both the table and the starboard nacelle where time is moving much much faster than normal.

They manage to escape the current disturbance, but sensors are picking up a minefield of temporal disturbances, and within each one time is moving at a different rate. La Forge and Data can maneuver slowly around them, and they head to the rendezvous coordinates. The Enterprise isn’t there, but La Forge picks up some metal. They navigate toward it, even as the temporal disturbances increase, and they find the Enterprise and a Romulan warbird, both frozen. The Enterprise is being fired on by the warbird, yet there’s some kind of energy beam moving from the Enterprise deflector dish to the warbird’s engineering section.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Timescape

This is the focal point of the temporal disturbances, and likely the origin of them. Sensors can’t penetrate the disturbance, but if they beam aboard they’ll become integrated in that timeline and freeze. Picard suggests a subspace force field like the one they used on Devidia II, and La Forge and Data technobabble their way into making it work with the emergency transport armbands.

The fields will only last an hour, and they can communicate among each other. La Forge stays behind to monitor and beams Picard, Data, and Troi to the Enterprise bridge. Riker and another officer are down on the deck, there’s damage on the ship, and three Romulans are on the bridge, all armed. The ops readout indicates a power surge in engineering, and the tactical readout shows that security was sent to transporter room 3 and sickbay.

They split up (they can do more damage that way): Troi goes to sickbay and sees a Romulan firing on Crusher. As she leaves sickbay, one of the Romulans blinks and turns her head, which should be impossible. Picard goes to the transporter room, where injured Romulans are beaming aboard while Worf (operating the transporter) and two security guards are watching. Picard doesn’t understand—is this a battle or a rescue mission?

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Timescape

Data goes to engineering, and there’s a warp-core breach in progress. It’s also expanding. Time is actually moving, it turns out, but at an infinitesimal rate—a warp-core breach, however, moves much faster. Only Data can detect the expansion of the flashpoint, but it’s still happening. It’ll take nine hours to complete. According to Data, the second beam is a power transfer to the Romulan ship.

As Data’s talking, Picard starts giggling. Yes, really. He’s drawn a smiley face in the smoke from the warp core explosion. Then he stumbles, almost collapsing, then starts screaming. Troi calls for a beam-out. Turns out the fields don’t provide 100% protection—Data likens it to nitrogen narcosis suffered by deep-sea divers. In order to prevent this “temporal narcosis” from being a problem, La Forge says they should limit their exposure—no more than ten minutes per trip and, like divers, they should stick together.

Picard stays behind this time, in order to recover. Troi—who spent several days on a Romulan ship—leads the team to the Romulan engine room. According to their readouts, the ship isn’t at battle stations, but in evacuation mode. La Forge meanwhile detects feedback along the energy transfer that may be the cause of the breach. But the Romulans were trying to shut down the transfer. This is looking less and less like an attack, but that doesn’t explain Crusher being shot or Riker being down.

The engine is inactive, but that’s not possible, as Romulan ships use an artificial singularity that can’t be shut down. When they investigate it, they find an aperture in the space-time continuum. This would appear to be the source of the problem. Data is also detecting something organic inside the aperture.

Then the aperture fluctuates, and time moves forward normally. The Romulans can’t see Troi, Data, and La Forge thanks to the subspace force fields (though there is one Romulan who appears to see them). The Romulans try to shut down the energy beam, but can’t. On the runabout, Picard watches the Enterprise explode.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Timescape

And then time moves backward, and everything reverses and goes back to the previous point. Data hypothesizes that his tricorder activated it. La Forge goes to check something, but notices one person he didn’t notice previously. That person then grabs La Forge, and they both collapse. La Forge is in neural shock and dying. Troi, showing some very quick thinking, removes the armband, which will slow down his personal timeline enough so that they might be able to save him if and when they fix this.

Data examines the Romulan—who doesn’t appear to be Romulan. They beam him back to the runabout, and Data determines that he may not be native to this space-time continuum. The alien awakens and explains that they incubate their young in a gravity well. They mistook the artificial singularity in the Romulan engine for a natural one. It deactivated the engine, causing the Romulans to send a distress call, which the Enterprise answered. The Enterprise power transfer harmed the young, and also caused the temporal disturbances.

The alien then dissipates before he can help them further, though he does reveal that there is one other of his kind.

Picard orders Data to do what he did before, only backwards: use his tricorder to scan the aperture but in a way that causes time to move backward and then forward instead of the other way around.

Data, of course, manages it, because he’s just that awesome. He sets the tricorder up on the Romulan ship to be activated remotely then goes to engineering. Picard is on the bridge, Troi in sickbay, armed and ready to save Crusher’s life. (So much for always sticking together.)

The other fake Romulan sees Data in engineering, tells him he must stop and grabs him—as before, they both collapse, but Data recovers more easily, and orders the power transfer stopped. Unfortunately, it’s already been started, so Data isolates the warp core with a containment field, but that’s only a temporary solution. Troi manages to save Crusher—it turns out that the Romulan was firing on the other alien, but the doctor got in the way—and Picard (after ordering La Forge beamed to sickbay from the Romulan engine room) remotely navigates the runabout into the power transfer beam, which cuts it off. The alien disappears from engineering, and the warbird disappears as well. (The fate of the Romulans still on board is never given, even though Picard claims that, somehow, everyone was evacuated.)

Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: Lots of fast-and-furious technobabble regarding temporal distortion and subspace fields, and other nonexistent stuff. My favorite is that the tricorder emissions just, y’know, make stuff happen without even a good made-up explanation. Data can do it by reversing the delta waves, apparently, which sounds way cooler than reversing the polarity....

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi’s expertise on Romulan ships from “Face of the Enemy” is referenced, and proves mildly handy. She also uses the same plexing technique she recommended to Barclay in “Realm of Fear” on herself after the first temporal incident.

If I Only Had a Brain...: At the end, Data does some experiments with time perception. He tests the aphorism “a watched pot never boils” by boiling the same amount of water 62 times, sometimes ignoring it, sometimes paying close attention, but it always boils in exactly the time his internal chronometer expects. Riker then suggests that he turn the internal chronometer off and try it—just so long as that doesn’t make him late for his shift....

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Timescape

I Believe I Said That: “Hello, Diane! I understand you’re an empath. I’m a very [winks] sensitive man myself. I’m doing a thesis on interspecies mating rituals. Would you care to join me in some ‘empirical research’?”

Troi impersonating Dr. Mizan’s impressively pathetic pickup line.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Timescape

Welcome Aboard: Michael Bofshever is the only credited guest star as the male alien. Patricia Tallman isn’t even credited as the female one, even though she has a line of dialogue. Tallman—best known as Lyta Alexander on Babylon 5—is a stuntwoman who has played a bunch of roles on TNG, and also was Kiros in “Starship Mine.”

Trivial Matters: Although runabouts were specifically created and designed for Deep Space Nine, this one-and-only use of them on TNG was the also the only time the aft compartment was ever seen. Amusingly, the set design was done on TNG as part of their budget as a way of cutting costs on the sister show, but then DS9 never used the fershlugginer thing. Although all runabouts seen on DS9 were named after rivers on Earth, this one never got a name, though some shots show the registry from the Rio Grande due to this episode reusing some footage from DS9 (more of that budget-saving...).

Writer Brannon Braga named one of the symposium speakers (Wagner) after someone he dated once, and another (Vassbinder) after one of his high-school teachers. Vassbinder will be referenced again, in “Journey’s End” by Wes Crusher, and by Chakotay in the Voyager episode “Year of Hell, Part II.”

This episode is the second use of the emergency transporter armbands, last seen being used by Worf and Data when they rescued Picard in “The Best of Both Worlds, Part II.”

For the third and final time, we get to see the Enterprise-D explode, the other two being “Time Squared” and “Cause and Effect.” In both cases, time travel was involved (gawrsh).

Adam Nimoy directed this episode, one of two Treks directed by the son of the guy who played Spock, the other being “Rascals.” First directing little kids, then this very-complex-to-film episode—no wonder he only did two....

Make it So: “It was really quite hypnotic.” Brannon Braga allegedly tried to outdo “Cause and Effect” with this one. At that, at least, he failed—as one often does when one tries to outdo one’s best work.

Having said that, this is a fun little episode. This is generally thought of as a time travel episode or, less charitably, as a technobabble episode, and those are both true, but what it really is, truly, is a mystery. Why is the Enterprise performing rescue operations for a ship that’s firing on them? Is Riker okay? Will Crusher die? And why can two Romulans move about freely?

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Timescape

Only some of the answers are satisfying (Riker, for example, just fell down), but it’s fun watching them try to figure stuff out. And one of the things that makes it all work are the character and continuity touches, from Riker’s apprehension about Spot to the use of past experiences from “Time’s Arrow” and “Face of the Enemy.” The discussion of the conference is a truly magnificent scene, from Troi and Picard’s complaints to La Forge’s rapture about touching a plasma field. And Brent Spiner does some great comic work here, from his quickly getting out of the way of a backwards-walking engineer to his actually being hypnotized by Picard’s monotone impersonation of Dr. Vassbinder to his reaction to the water boiling at the very end.

Not one of the greats or anything, but a fun, thoroughly enjoyable episode.

 

Warp factor rating: 6


Keith R.A. DeCandido needs to get this rewatch done so he can go see The Hobbit.

24 comments
Jack Flynn
1. JackofMidworld
Picard injuring his hand was sort of a catching point for me when I watched this one recently. I'm working on a story that includes time dilation fields and I ran through some of the math to compare time differences and then went over it with a few, more mathematically adept, friends. We decided that you wouldn't be able to physically move into a time bubble that was running slower because the molecules are moving so slowly that you'd never be able to move them. Reaching into one that was running faster...well, if his hand was in there long enough for his nails to grow that long. Pain, definitely, but, based on our math, I figured his hand would have atrophied blood loss & rotted away (though setting themselves up with a subspace buffer would work around that, so no issue from me with them transporting into it).

That's all of my technobabble for the day. Even with that personal hiccup, I liked the episode.
Mike Kelmachter
2. MikeKelm
I feel like I've seen this one before... we have vague time loop things going on like in "Cause and Effect", an energy transfer to a Romulan Ship and people out of phase like "The Next Phase", and an ongoing subplot of Data's cat from well, a bunch of things. Throw in a not so clear technobabble (I get that everything is working at a different rate of time (I'm not sure how that quite works because they never really explain it either) and the episode sort of left it a blah mark on me. There are some fun little gags here (time narcosis) and a good scene of four colleagues conversing at the start, but just nothing that really sticks out.

Plus this has to be about the 400th Romulan ship in distress we've come across (but we don't trust them!)

I will say though that the picture of the romulan standing over Riker sort of made it look like he was doing the robot. It makes you wonder if somewhere else is a Romulan doing the running man, another doing the sprinkler, another doing the funky chicken...

Oh wait- now that I look at the pictures it looks like Dr. Crusher is doing the running man.. apparently a side effect of temporal distortions is bad 80's dance moves...
Seryddwr
3. Seryddwr
Arggh! The smiley face! The smiley face!... what were they thinking? It doesn't even have a point, except to finish the act on a point of high drama - but it doesn't even do that, as the explanation afterwards for Picard's reaction is lame, and there are (IIRC) no real consequences. I always shudder with embarrassment at that point. (Though Patrick Stewart pulls off the 'emotional whirlwind' bit just afterward with aplomb, even for him.)
Mike S2
4. MikeS2
To each his own, because I thought when I first saw it and on the rewatch that this episode was one the best. The conversation in the beginning is one of those wonderful ordinary moments that don't happen enough (maybe I could just relate to their complaints about the conference way too much) and the frozen-time-mystery really worked. Directly comparing it to “Cause and Effect”, another high point, is not quite fair. Yes, it was a huge dud that Riker just had fallen down, and the Romulan who shot Crusher had a way more calm and deliberate look when frozen to have turned out to be shooting at a alien so frantically that he fired with someone right there behind it.

Still, we have aliens that make a nest in a black hole. The Enterprise blows up on screen, automatic +2. And Troi proves useful.

@3 Again, differing opinions. To me the smiley face was one of my favorite moments in the entire series. Picard is looking at a warp core breech that is going to destroy his beloved ship. He is looking at the exact moment. Normally cool under pressure, the enormity of what he is looking at short-circuits his brain, and he reacts first with absurdity and then with collapse.
Lee VanDyke
5. Cloric
Hey Keith, don't we see one of the alternate time-line Big-E's go ker-plowey in Season 7's "Parallels?"
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
6. Lisamarie
Great picture choice ;) I also agree that the smiley face was a nice moment of absurdity.

Funnily, I just kind of accepted the technobabble at this point, but that is one HECK of a cat scratch at the beginning.
Rob Rater
7. Quasarmodo
A couple of Enterprises go blamo in All Good Things too. Maybe we don't actually see the explosion from the outside though. Can't rightly remember at the moment.
J W
8. Susurrin
Put me down as another one who really liked this episode. Any time Troi gets to do something useful (and not be a vague mystic- "I'm sensing deception" or somesuch is gonna be a good episode in my book. Add in the Enterprise blowing up, Picard going temporarily bonkers, and the awesomeness that is data and you have a winner in my book.
Joseph Newton
9. crzydroid
This was one of my favorites back in the day. But I was a sucker for any episode dealing with temporal anomalies. The smiley face was my favorite part.

I have an issue with the visual effects having the beam NOT coming out of the deflector dish, but some random part on the ship. Rewatching this, it seems like there are some errors regarding exactly when certain events take place...in the frozen timeline, a bunch of things appear to be happening simultaneously, but when they start tampering with the speed, it appears as though some events take place sequentially.
Nicole Lowery
10. hestia
I rewatched this one not very long ago, and enjoyed it again. Of all things, I just really liked the scenes between the four characters on the shuttle...I find that even in episodes I don't like I often like scenes in which several characters just sit around chatting.

When I saw Serenity, my only complaint was that they didn't take the time to have one of the goofball dinner conversations they often had on Firefly. So apparently this is a theme with me.

I sure wouldn't like it if that was all they did. I like action and some tension. But I find a show lacking if it can't let its characters sit around shooting the breeze now and then, the odder the combination of characters, the better.
Seryddwr
11. lvsxy808
One little thing that I appreciated about this episode was that, for once, someone else got "possessed" and "impersonated" by non-corporeal aliens. It's always the Starfleet crew who get taken over every time this kind of thing happens (which is fairly often across the whole Trek 'verse). But this time we see that all the wacky high-concept stuff that goes on in the galaxy at large doesn't just affect Starfleet ships - it screws with other people too. And this time we're just there to help out.

Also:
Tallman—best known as Lyta Alexander on Babylon 5—is a stuntwoman who has played a bunch of roles on TNG, and also was Kiros in “Starship Mine.”
One of Tallman's most regular stuntwoman roles was, of course, as Kira Nerys. And she has played 8 different roles in 8 different episodes across TNG, DS9 and VOY, although all but "Starship Mine" and "Way of the Warrior" go uncredited.
Christopher Bennett
12. ChristopherLBennett
Fun episode, but yes, there were so many issues with the physics here. JackofMidworld covered some in post #1, but there's more. If time was slowed down, then their perception of acceleration due to gravity would've been slowed down too while they were on the ship, and they would've felt effectively weightless. Also, since all observers are required to measure the same speed of light, such severe time dilation/compression would've severely distorted the observers' measurements of distance and wavelength, so they wouldn't have been able to see normally in visible light. (Although I suppose the subspace fields could be correcting the red/blueshift?)

And I don't think there'd be any "smoke" from a warp core breach. An antimatter explosion would just be a burst of super-intense radiation that would vaporize things around it too quickly for there to be any kind of turbulence producing roiling smoke.

Still, it's a fairly solid Braga weird-science episode, and the use of the runabout aft compartment was cool. And I like stories where the villains turn out to be not so villainous. I wish there'd been more followup on the fact that a Starfleet vessel risked itself to rescue a Romulan crew. You'd think that would've helped improve relations.
Seryddwr
13. StrongDreams
Also, since all observers are required to measure the same speed of light

Well, Trek gave that up 40 years ago.

I can't remember where*, but some TV show had a bunch of characters talking about some mysterious technobabble phenomenon, and the least savvy character was complaining about not understanding, so someone else just said, "A wizard did it." Then as more confusing stuff kept coming up, they kept telling him "Wizard." That's how I feel about episodes like this. As long as the rest of the story is reasonably engaging, I can let the silly science slip by (unless its biology. Grrrrr.)

*Can anyone help me with the reference? I'm thinking Futurama, but maybe not.
Seryddwr
14. Seryddwr
The Simpsons, IIRC - Lucy Lawless being grilled by two seriously fanatical Xena watchers.
Seryddwr
15. Oldwizard
Together with other episodes like "Remember me", "Starship Mine", "The next phase" and""frame of mind", this stand out as one of my favourite episodes of the series. Technobabble? Who cares if it does not make sense! Though I recall an episode on DS9 when they sort of break the fourth wall when Nerys comments with something like "what the hell noes than mean", or something in the neoighbourhood then the technobabble goes a bit overboard. Not ask me to name the season or episode, but it might have been as far back as the pilot. Dunno.Anyway, great episode, stands out from the crowd.
P.S: Call me crazy if you want, but I sorta like "A fistful of Data's" too, though it might not be quite Star Trek. Yah, crazy right!? :-)
Alan Courchene
16. Majicou
@15: Memory Alpha reminds me that Q used the term "technobabble" in "Q-Less."
Seryddwr
17. Sanagi
This is my favorite Trek episode in the "Not an all-time classic, just good fun" category. The creepiness of the first couple of segments is great and the way the whole mystery unfolds from there is fun and fascinating, even if the neatness of it all is highly contrived. And although it's a time travel plot where everything just rewinds to the status quo at the end, the distortion bubbles are a wonderful twist that give the episode more of a horror story feel.
Michael Burke
18. Ludon
This episode reminds me of a film I saw in grade school way back when TOS was in first run. I want to say it was called Point Of View but I may be wrong. It started with you in a hallway and you go to a door when you hear a scream. You see a woman laying on the floor and a man holding a bloody knife. Then you hear interviews from all the neighbors and they all seem to tell a different story about who that man is. When you finally get to see what happened, you see that you had jumped to the wrong conclusions. He's an artist and she's his model. She had slipped and fallen and that was red paint on his palette knife. I can't help thinking about that movie whenever I see this episode.
Seryddwr
19. C. Wildeman
Yeah, this is a great episode. Good mystery, some timey-wimey stuff and a few laugh out loud bits (I love the look Data gives the kettle at the end).

But the thing that impressed me about the episode was all the Starfleet and Romulan extras who had to stand around stock still while the scene happened around them. Sure, there are a few noticeable wobbles, if you're really lookin' for them, but for the most part really good.

Well done you, anonymous extras!
Seryddwr
20. NullNix
Seryddwr@3, 'it doesn't even have a point' is key to Braga's "writing". The man simply cannot plot: with a few notable exceptions, his episodes are Just One Damn Thing After Another, with jumps between One Damn Thing and Another enacted by fiat of incredibly blatant authorial hand.

(Why yes, I am one of those people who thinks that Braga should have stayed *well* away from Star Trek. Perhaps he was good at surrealist setpieces, but anything larger, not at all.)
Seryddwr
21. mrow
I actually really like this episode...one of my favorites...
Seryddwr
22. BrendanP
Why are armed Romulans allowed ANYWHERE on the Enterprise, and why are any Romulans allowed on the bridge?
Seryddwr
23. Anthony Pirtle
I have a very hard time believing that the character Picard that was established over the past six seasons would suddenly be the type of guy who did impressions at dinner parties.
Christopher Bennett
24. ChristopherLBennett
@23: When you're used to seeing a person in a particular environment, they can surprise you with their behavior when you encounter them in a different context. People are mutable that way.

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