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Season Five:
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-520: "Children of Time"
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Children of Time

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season Five (1996-1997):

26 episodes @ 43 minutes each.
Get your copy of this 7-disc DVD set from the links below:
Region 1, NTSC, U.S.
Region 1, NTSC, Canada
Region 2, PAL, U.K.
Region 2, PAL, U.K. (Slimline Edition)

Children of Time

(Star Trek - Deep Space Nine episode production code 520)
story by Gary Holland and Ethan H. Calk
teleplay by René Echevarria
directed by Allan Kroeker
stardate 50814.2

This episode boasts a terrific concept for a rich story that is ripe with possibilities for many of the regular characters, and is very enjoyably on its best footing when exploring avenues of what each character may have spawned. But there is a whacking great flaw in the temporal theory that the A-plot relies upon for its main drama, making it very hard for wise audience members to get invested in this one.

Of course, we all expect the reset-button to be pushed on this conundrum in the end anyway, not least of all because the Stardate places this adventure just before Worf takes the Defiant to battle the Borg at Earth in the Star Trek 8: First Contact feature film.

What is curious is how close the episode comes to putting my usual temporal rebuttal on screen. We see Kira split into two duplicates for a moment, and we have Dax's descendant hoping to create two versions of the Defiant so that both hoped-for outcomes can co-exist. The script even uses the word "quantum" quite prolifically when trying to support all this. What the episode never does get right is the concept that you don't need complicated technology to achieve this kind of splitting into duplicates - it's already part of the background fabric of existence, and happens everytime any conscious creature makes a decision. We don't usually notice anything when it happens, because each duplicate branches off into his or her own "parallel" universe complete with quantum-complementary duplicates of everyone and everything else they ever knew or might bump into, and each version of the decision-maker remembers only the path he/she has chosen, possibly not ever realizing that the other choices exist in other universes.

In the case of "Children of Time", it is quite frustrating to constantly hear the argument that if the Defiant crew don't sacrifice themselves in a repeat of this planet's history, 8000 people will cease to exist. That's crap. Whatever happened to create these people most certainly took place in one of trillions of co-existing timelines. No matter what our current Defiant crew decide, it won't change the timeline that these people spawned from, or the legitimate 200 years of history now behind them. In fact, it is very likely that there are already all kinds of differences between the history that our Defiant crew has lived through vs. the one that the crashed Defiant crew could tell their descendants to look forward to. Plus, if they weren't isolated on a shielded planet in the Gamma quadrant, they may well have witnessed, if not influenced, a whole different 200-year galactic history to the one recorded in the crashed Defiant's computer records. You really have to wonder whether the Defiant that crashed on this planet first met some descendants from the crash before they got flipped back in time.

Each time through this loop, the Defiant is likely sliding to a parallel universe, bleeding information sideways through time, information that includes unrealistic expectations of what each new universe's Defiant crew may do. One of these loops could easily end up in a universe where there is no Defiant arriving at the planet, or one that has a very different crew. Do we even know if the entire crew manifest is EXACTLY the same as these colonists expect? A few differences would be an exciting twist.

In fact, we never do get any evidence in this story that the crew of the Defiant that crashed first met their descendants and visited with them for two days before going back in time, as our Defiant's crew is doing.

It's hard to believe that not a single character in this story, with all their scientific Starfleet background and 200 years to spare on thinking about it, couldn't come up with this better theory of time, even if just to entertain it as a possibility. Everyone seems to have a diverse opinion on whether the Defiant should sacrifice itself or not. What about a different opinion on temporal theory? Have they never heard of David Deutsch and Fred Alan Wolfe? Sadly missing.

Of course, science is rarely ever going to be strictly airtight in fiction like this, but I think the characters' approach to science is much more loose and clumsy in this episode than in most others. It starts on approach to the planet, as the crew has great difficulty explaining exactly what intrigues them about the planet, and what the difficulties of discovering more really are. In fact, it almost feels like each line of dialogue describes a completely different phenomenon or challenge. By the time we get to the end of the story, we have to wonder if it was supposed to be the entire barrier itself that flipped the Defiant back in time to crash, or if it was one particular sweet-spot on the barrier that did it. We also have to wonder what this interference is at the beginning that is increasing so badly and so rapidly that a probe will not be able to send readings about what is going on down on the planet. They can't even decide if the life they detect is on the planet or not, or tell trees and plants from fungus. This is a particularly bad plot hole by the time we get to the end of the show, because this same interference should prevent the Defiant crew from being able to tell if the colonists still exist down on the surface or not. Of course in my book, the colonists CAN'T simply vanish with a wave of time's magic wand. My model of time and choice is more elegant, and I can easily account for their continued existence. The only actual event that could contradict my theory of time would be the disappearance of the colony at the end, which we thankfully don't see. We just get a line of dialogue from someone taking a reading, and there's plenty of reason to distrust that reading's accuracy. In fact, for all we know, the quantum barrier around the planet may divide one universe from another. Any contact may be able to slide a ship from one universe to another, and the planet that you see from the outside may not be the same version of the planet that you visited when you were on the inside. Strange how all the characters have such convictions over what the magic wand of time will or will not do.

Let's think about the garden for a moment. Time's magic wand is supposed to erase the colonists as though they never existed, but our regular Defiant crew obviously will continue to exist as they have always done... but the garden is a joint creation between the two parties. Does this mean that the trees planted by the colonists will vanish or untransplant themselves, while the trees planted by the current Defiant crew stay where the crew put them? What about trees that were planted by both groups in tandem? Will Sisko's holes suddenly become empty, or trees that Bashir planted in Yedrin's holes suddenly be uprooted, but sitting on the ground in more or less the same place? It becomes ridiculous under the single-line rewrite model of time.

One also has to wonder why a good chunk of the colony's history is recounted by children who speak like adults and have their version of events taken 100% seriously, no tire-kicking or probing questions asked. The real point here is that our regular Starfleet characters appear quite undisciplined in scientific method in terms of how they observe, gather evidence, come to their conclusions, and articulate themselves. Rarely do they appear so sloppy.

Though the episode loses some points for trying to suggest (unconvincingly I might add) a society that eventually never happened, at least the story never really turns into an adventure that never happened. Sisko and his crew never actually do any time traveling themselves; they just hear reports that they might. Thus in the end, they accumulate full experiences that will be remembered and have impact on their continuing arcs on the show.

Nowhere is this more in evidence than in the relationship between Kira and Odo, who go through a number of particularly large turning points in this one. Theoretically, that is all good, and I have to say the look of the episode is particularly impressive here, with René Auberjonois getting to show more of his real face than usual, and getting to do it out on a gorgeous location shoot as well. But I'm still not sure about the believability of the whole Kira-Odo thing. It's a nice touch to see how Odo has blossomed after another 200 more years, becoming more open.... but that makes it all the harder to accept that he wouldn't have become interested in other people at several points during those 200 years, and that he wouldn't still be involved with someone else at this time. Perhaps the writers are banking a little too heavily on the audience siding with Kira's opinion on relationships rather than Dax's.

The biggest kicker is the thought that Kira might be upset with Odo for "causing" 8000 people to "cease to exist". Honey, get your temporal theory checked, not to mention your use of Defiant sensors through energy barrier interference. The colony still exists. Odo is guilty of nothing! This kind of misplaced emotion makes me want to rattle the desks in the DS9 writers' room to wake them up a little.

In the end, "Children of Time" does have its moments, mostly in the first half where the theory Dax's descendant puts forth creates a welcome oasis from the pointless drama that bad temporal theory will spawn. But, a bit too much emotion is misspent on the wrong idea in this story, and it is ultimately another frustrating example of how badly Star Trek writers consistently mess up their time travel stories and wallow in the non-existent necessity of sacrifice.

This Deep Space Nine Season Five story is available on DVD.
Click on the Amazon symbol for the desired disc format and location nearest you for pricing and availability:

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Season Five (1996-1997):

26 episodes @ 43 minutes each.

Get your copy of this 7-disc DVD set
from the links below:

DVD Extras include:

  • Crew Dossier featurette: O'Brien
  • Tribble-ations: Uniting Two Legends
  • Tribble-ations: A Historic Endeavor
  • "Section 31" episode featurettes
  • promenade tour revealing secrets
  • Michael Westmore's Aliens
  • Photo Gallery

Region 1 NTSC

Region 1 NTSC

Region 2 PAL

PAL (Slimline Ed.)

Article written by Martin Izsak. Comments on this article are welcome. You may contact the author from this page:

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Read the next Star Trek review article: "In the Cards"

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