Once more, Brannon Braga sets out to find some new ways of
manipulating time to create an interesting story, and in this
case I think it's largely a success. There are some obvious
parallels between this story and Doctor Who's massively popular
"City of Death" story, in that we have
time running at different speeds in different areas of space,
which is a nice concept. Where the Doctor Who version says that
is pretty much a useless thing to create because one timestream
has no way of interacting with the other until the one snaps back
into perfect sync with the other like an elastic band that had
been stretched too far, Braga here delves into the Trek warehouse
of technobabble and devises a way to make that interaction happen
which works for the episode. I'm not going to say it's
scientifically airtight, but I think the mechanisms for making
it work are fleshed out and visually demonstrated well enough
that we can go with the premise for the episode.
And what Braga seems to have achieved here where so many other
writers failed is to realize the time travel fantasy so popular in
Star Trek and American sci-fi of the "rewind machine", where you can
roll time back and have another go at something. I usually balk
at these sorts of things, but by the time they get around to
that concept in this episode, enough groundwork has been laid for
it to fit in really well and in quite an acceptable manner.
If there's a drawback to the scientific concepts here, it is perhaps
that they seem to get a bit too cerebral and intangible at times
while the technobabble goes into overdrive.
Thankfully, there are good visuals like the black spots in the
singularity, and the recurrence of frozen people all through the
episode helping to keep the main ideas clear.
And there is a healthy palette of interesting ideas all through
the piece, including non-scientific freak-out moments where
the characters deliver strange emotions or other responses,
helping to keep things lively and unpredictable. Nice.
Two minor aspects of the main plot seem a bit out of place.
Why does the second alien try to stop Data's plan to fix everything,
other than to artificially create a bit of extra excitement
in the climactic moments? If he/she had been on the ball and truly
known what he/she was doing, surely he/she would have helped him
instead of hindering him.
Secondly, there is a curious vagueness to astronomical geography
in this episode. Specifically, where is all this supposed to be
happening? We ask because it seems like we're on the Federation
side of the neutral zone, particularly after the clue we get in
the dialogue in the wrap-up, and we don't see a way for a Romulan
ship to innocently be here without violating the treaty. Even if
it isn't on the Federation side, there isn't really any space
where both of these ships could be innocently engaged in helping
each other out. This episode seems to echo "The Next Phase"
from the previous season a bit too closely,
while ignoring the political ramifications a bit too completely.
There is a bit of a B-plot here exploring the human condition,
specifically how the passage of time can be viewed differently
based on perception - and the A-plot has certainly worked extremely
well in externalizing a sci-fi metaphor for that. Interestingly,
this B-plot only really gets two scenes. The first one comes
before the titles before the main story kicks in, but sadly
I think the point is a little too lost while the characters
seem to be rambling on about nothing in particular. You have
to wait until the very last scene of the episode before any sense
is made of why we had all that rambling at the beginning in the
first place, after which it is all tied up rather nicely.
It would have been nicer to get a stronger immediate reason
for that first scene, like better humour, but at least these are fun
characters that we don't mind spending extra time with anyway.
I've always taken issue with Riker's statement that
"humans don't have an internal chronometer", which stuck out
for me as I had recently taken courses teaching people how to
focus their mental powers to, among other things, use
internal biological rhythms to keep track of the passage of time,
and to know internally when to wake up or how to stay in sync
with the natural world. In fact, check out the female lead
of the TV series "JAG", Major Sarah Mackenzie, who is as human
as ever and boasts an internal chronometer that is never more
than 30-seconds off. With training, we could all do that.
"Humans don't often become aware of
or learn how to use their internal chronometer" is probably
a more accurate statement. But of course, we're splitting hairs
over one line, while the rest of the scene works really nicely.
As time travel episodes go, "Timescape" is one of the better ones.
It's fairly unique, full of interesting ideas, and makes fair
and poignant comment on the human condition. When all is said
and done, this one gets my blessing.