The Enterprise encounter Berlinghoff Rasmussen, a time traveler who claims to be from the future who claims, visiting out of historical interest. Meanwhile, the crew attempt to save a world from an ecological disaster, and Picard even begins to wonder if the Rasmussen can help them know what to do because of his future knowledge. However, Rasmussen is actually a thief from the past, who stole the time machine and is attempting to steal various pieces of technology to use to become rich in his own time. The crew discover this and stop them.
Written by Rick Berman. Directed by Paul Lynch.
It’s been days since I watched A Matter of Time, and I’m still not sure what I want to say about it. So let’s start with the basics. It’s not a particularly good episode of Next Generation. Nothing really happens that’s particularly memorable, and certainly not memorable 25 years later. The plot isn’t particularly engaging, although it’s nice to be reminded that the Enterprise‘s missions are sometimes ecological as opposed to diplomatic or military. The moral arguments being made are potential interesting but not particularly well-presented, and Picard’s speeches seem more than a little hypocritical. He claims to be a free thinker who has willingly disregarded the Prime Directive in the name of what is right, but it seems to me that we much more often see him as someone willing to let people die in order to fulfill Federation policy, which he believes to be pretty infallible.
On the other hand, A Matter of Time is not a terrible episode either. Nothing especially stupid takes place in it. Clues to the reveal of who Rasmussen really is and what he is up to are present but not overwhelming. And as stated previously, there is the potentially intriguing situation of the Enterprise wrestling with finding themselves on the other end of their own ideals of non-interference, and seeing the full impact of that.
But sadly the episode doesn’t really live up to this potential, and hangs or falls largely on Matt Frewer’s performance. And while there’s a little bit of a fun to be had with Frewer’s Rasmussen, I’m afraid he comes across too affected and annoying to really be believable. One gets tired of him quickly, which is a shame because the script gives him a lot of screen time.
Really, it’s with the whole believability-factor that the episode really fails. Of course, when you are coming into a speculative fiction show like Star Trek, you have to be ready to put up with a lot – warp drive, transporters, universal translators, and time travel in general. All of that I’m good for. But the Enterprise is a ship full of explorers and soldiers who have put up with a lot of nonsense over the years – for me, it’s unbelievable that someone like Rasmussen would turn up and just be given the run of the ship in the way that he is. He comes in and out of meetings, the Bridge, Engineering and into whatever other sensitive area of the ship that he wants to. And the whole time, he’s kind of annoying. Sure, Q does this – but with Q there is no way to stop him. But Rasmussen? Even if they believe he’s from the future, who’s to say he isn’t a Romulan spy from the future, come to find out how to destroy the Enterprise?
(A lesser point is how did Rasmussen, from the past, even find out enough about the Enterprise crew to pull off his scam? Has he been flying around for a while, looking for the Federation flagship? Did he just show up and get lucky?)
Of course, all of this would have been easily forgiven if the interaction between Rasmussen and the crew had been more interesting – if Rasmussen had been funnier or less annoying, or the moral quandary presented in a stronger way. But it wasn’t. So the result is an episode does not stand out as good or stand out as bad. In fact, it does not stand out at all. It’s easily forgotten with no one the worse for wear – even if did introduce us to the idea of the temporal prime directive.
Now, if the comments on IMDB are true, Rasmussen was at one point going to be played by Robin Williams, or even better, by Tom Baker. If either of those had happened, than this episode might have really stood out as something.
• Matt Frewer played Berlinghoff Rasmussen. He’s known to me as the star of the short-lived series Max Headroom, as well as playing Max in many Coke commercials. Matt Frewer also appeared in the terrible movie Short Time, as well as in the series Falling Skies, Eureka, and Taken. He also appeared in Watchmen as Molech, and as a creepy truck driver in Supergirl.
• Sheila Franklin plays Ensign Felton for the first of five episodes here.
Shout Out to the Past
There is a reference to both Khan Noonien Singh and Dr. Noonian Soongh, as well obliquely to Lore.
Setting Up the Future
Picard speculates about the existence of a temporal version of the Prime Directive. That concept was established as canon in Star Trek Voyager.
• There were nuclear winters in 21st century earth? It’s 21st century earth now!
• What “credentials” of Professor Rasmussen has Picard examined that would indicate that he was from the future? Some sort employment papers from a university? Is there really anything that he could show that would convince Picard of this? Especially if it didn’t have the man’s photograph on it?
• If I were Picard, I’d assume that the dimensions of the Captain’s ready room were readily available on any Federation database via the ship’s blueprints. All of Rasmussen’s “fanboy” antics on the ship are not only annoying, but also make his story less believable.
• Telurian Plague, referenced here by Beverly, was mentioned later in Enterprise
• “I hate questionnaires.” Fun line from Worf.
• Rasmussen does have an interesting line or two about history and people’s view of it: “Isn’t it fascinating how everyone has different interests when it comes to history. Different perspectives on progress,” and “Our Klingon friend is a perfect example of what I was trying to tell you. He views history through the eyes of a hunter, a warrior. His passion lies in the perfection of the tools of violence. How delightfully primitive.”
• I also like Geordi’s line about how he likes his visor: “It allows me to see. I like it just fine.” Also Rasmussen’s list of blind people: “Homer was blind and Milton. Bach, Monet, Wonder.” Actually, other than Stevie Wonder and maybe Homer, I didn’t know any of these guys were blind.
• Crusher’s rejection of Rasmussen is also funny: “You’re not supposed to be influencing the past, remember? And I am beginning to feel a little influenced. Anyway, I could be your great, great, great, great, grandmother.”
• Geordi is so likeable. When Picard tells him to leave because there’s no guarantee their plan will work, he replies, “There’s no guarantee it’s going to fail, Captain. I’d like your permission to remain here on the surface.”
Dialogue High Point
Again, the best line is Data’s, when he is confronting the now exposed Rasmussen in his time ship:
I assume your hand print will open the door whether you are conscious or not.