“The Counter-Clock Incident”
Written by John Culver
Directed by Bill Reed
Animated Season 2, Episode 6
Production episode 22023
Original air date: October 12, 1974
Captain’s log. The Enterprise is ferrying her first captain, Commodore Robert April, and his wife, Dr. Sarah Poole April, a pioneer in space medicine, to Babel for their retirement ceremony. As they pass by the Beta Niobe supernova, Spock detects a ship travelling at warp 36. It’s on a collision course with the supernova, but they don’t respond to hails. After Sulu puts a tractor beam on them, they make contact with the ship’s sole occupant, but only long enough to say she must continue on course or she’s doomed. (She’s also speaking backwards.)
Sulu tries to disengage the tractor beam, but controls no longer respond. The Enterprise’s velocity increases to past warp 20. When the alien ship encounters the supernova, Kirk hopes that it will be destroyed and they can break off—but when the vessel makes contact with Beta Niobe, it isn’t destroyed, and the Enterprise is still being pulled in.
However, instead of being destroyed, the Enterprise finds itself in another dimension, where space is white and the stars are black. According to Scotty, all the controls are functioning backwards. Dr. April’s Capellan flower, which died right before they hit the nova, re-blooms, and eventually reverts to being a seedling.
They once again contact the alien, whom they can now understand without the translator. She’s an explorer named Karla Five, and she accidentally traversed into the forward universe via a star that went nova and sprung to life. Her theory is that when novae happen in the same place in both universes, it can serve as a portal. However, Amphion, the star in the backwards universe, has finished its nova cycle and is now a star.
Karla Five offers to escort them to her homeworld of Arret, in the hopes that their scientists can help. When they arrive, Kirk, Spock, and April beam down to Karla Five’s son’s lab. (Her son, Karl Four, is an old man. Her father is an infant.) Spock and Karl Four work to find a star that is going nova in both universes—but there isn’t one. April suggests they create a star, which would do the trick.
They find a dead star that corresponds with a star that is going nova in the forward universe. They use Karla Five’s vessel to achieve the speed they need to get through the nova. Unfortunately, they’re de-aging to the point where they no longer have the knowledge to operate the vessel. Only Spock and Arex, who age more slowly than humans, and the Aprils, who are older than dirt, are capable of operating the ship. April takes command and ignites the star; then they go through and make it home.
Unfortunately, they’re stuck at the ages they were at when they went through the nova. However, running everyone through the transporter restores them to their original ages, er, somehow. Dr. April floats the notion of them staying younger, but April doesn’t want to relive his life, because he couldn’t improve on it. But then Starfleet Command sends a message to the Enterprise as they arrive at Babel, rescinding April’s mandatory retirement and allowing him to continue his ambassadorial role.
Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Apparently there’s a backwards universe where everything works in reverse. Also, if you’re de-aged, running through the transporter will fix you right up!
Fascinating. Vulcans being longer-lived than humans was seen in “The Deadly Years” and “Journey to Babel,” and it enables Spock to still operate the ship under April’s command even as the rest of the crew has reverted to childhood.
I’m a doctor, not an escalator. McCoy fangoobers over getting to meet Dr. April and show her his sickbay.
Hailing frequencies open. Uhura mostly just gets to open hailing frequencies—at least until she becomes too young to remember how to operate the console.
Ahead warp one, aye. Sulu catches Karla Five’s ship in the tractor beam, but that just drags them along for her ride. Sulu also becomes too young to operate the helm.
I cannot change the laws of physics! Scotty mostly just whines about how badly the engines are being borked by travelling so fast.
Forewarned is three-armed. Arex is still at his station when Spock takes over the helm, implicating that his species is also longer-lived than humans, as he’s able to stay old enough to work the console longer than Sulu or Uhura (or Kirk).
“Jim, I didn’t realize how many of the tools I use in sickbay were designed by Sarah.”
“As the first medical officer aboard a ship equipped with warp drive, I’m afraid I had to come up with new ideas all the time.”
“Your modesty is unnecessary, Mrs. April—your achievements as a pioneer doctor in space are well known.”
–McCoy praising Dr. April, with her being modest, and Kirk praising her career while simultaneously undermining it by referring to her improperly as “Mrs. April.”
Welcome aboard. Just the usual suspects in this one: James Doohan provides the voices of Scotty, Arex, April, and Karl Four, while Nichelle Nichols is not only Uhura, but also Dr. April and Karla Five. George Takei, as ever, does Sulu.
Trivial matters: This is the final episode of the animated series, and also the final onscreen appearance of Arex. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Sulu, and Scotty will next be seen onscreen in The Motion Picture, along with Chapel, Rand, and Chekov.
“John Culver” is actually a pseudonym for Fred Bronson, who used the nom du plume because he thought there might be a perceived conflict of interest, as he was employed by NBC at the time as the show’s publicist. It turned out not to be an issue, as he found out later. Bronson would later co-author two episodes of The Next Generation, “Ménàge à Trois” and “The Game.” His writing partner for both was Susan Sackett, whom he introduced to Gene Roddenberry, and who became both Roddenberry’s personal assistant and illicit lover.
Robert April was one of the names Roddenberry used in early drafts of “The Cage” for the captain of the Enterprise before he settled on Christopher Pike. Bronson thought it would be nifty to establish that Pike’s predecessor as Enterprise captain was, in fact, April.
The Aprils would go on to appear in lots of tie-in works: the novels Final Frontier and Best Destiny by Diane Carey, which chronicled the earliest days of the Enterprise under April; the Marvel comic book The Early Voyages written by Dan Abnett & Ian Edginton; the IDW comics Countdown to Darkness and After Darkness written by Mike Johnson and Crew by John Byrne; the short stories “Though Hell Should Bar the Way” by Greg Cox in Enterprise Logs and “Ill Winds” by Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore in Mirror Universe: Shards and Shadows; and the YA novels Starfleet Academy: Crisis on Vulcan by Brad & Barbara Strickland and Voyage to Adventure by Michael J. Dodge.
Dr. April’s reference to being the first chief medical officer on a ship with warp drive would later be contradicted by First Contact and the series Enterprise, which put the discovery and implementation of warp drive before the Aprils were born.
For the second week in a row we get a reference to Capella from “Friday’s Child,” this time Dr. April’s flower. In addition, the Enterprise is initially en route to Babel, also the destination of the Enterprise in “Journey to Babel,” and they go through the Beta Niobe supernova, first established in “All Our Yesterdays,” and come home through the Minara supernova, first established in “The Empath.”
To boldly go. “It gave all of us a second life.” Star Trek’s history with TV finales is fraught with awfulness, and this one is no different. Only TNG managed to end on a high note. To be fair, neither “Turnabout Intruder” nor “The Counter-Clock Incident” were written with the intention of being any kind of “series finale,” but even so, they’re just awful episodes to go out on.
The episode isn’t entirely without merit. It’s fun to meet the Aprils, and I especially like that both of them are pioneers. Robert April was the first captain of the Enterprise, and Sarah April was his chief medical officer. Of course, this is still Gene Roddenberry’s original Star Trek, so every bit of progress involving women comes with an asterisk, in this case, everyone referring to Sarah April, not by her rank or her title, as is proper for someone who was the chief medical officer of a starship, but as “Mrs. April,” because obviously the fact that she’s a wife is way more important than showing her rank and position the same respect that everyone else on the ship gets.
Yes, that pisses me off. A lot.
Anyhow, the turning-the-crew-into-kids plot is one that is never worth doing ever, even if it is easier to pull it off in an animated series. And the episode doesn’t even really do anything with it, as the kid-ification of the crew doesn’t happen until the last five minutes or so. Prior to that, we’ve got a lot of trying to untether from Karla Five’s ship and a lot of slogging exposition. Even “Rascals” gave us O’Brien family awkwardness, Picard’s inability to command respect, etc. This episode doesn’t even do that, and then on top of it, gives us the lamest of lame-ass handwaves by having the transporter fix it all. Worse, it has the transporter fix it all off-camera. Sheesh.
The Aprils are interesting characters and fun to see, and—well, that’s it, really. A poor end to a series that deserved a better ending.
Warp factor rating: 2
Next week: Animated Series Overview
Keith R.A. DeCandido will be in Ticonderoga this weekend at James Cawley’s re-creation of the Star Trek original series set, along with fellow Trek scribes Kevin Dilmore, Michael Jan Friedman, Dave Galanter, David R. George III, Robert Greenberger, Glenn Hauman, William Leisner, David Mack, Scott Pearson, Aaron Rosenberg, and Dayton Ward. There will be a meet-and-greet from 1-6pm on Saturday the 6th of May. More details here.