Picard, Troi, Data and Geordi, en route to the Enterprise after a conference, encounter a series of odd temporal distortions. Eventually, they find that the entire ship is frozen in a moment in time, during what is apparently a battle with a Romulan warbird. Further investigation reveals that the ship is in the midst of a warp core breach, and that a destructive explosion is happening, albeit very slowly. Picard and the others must find a way to save the Enterprise, restore the normal flow of time, and unravel the truth of what is really happening with the Romulans.
Written by Brannon Braga. Directed by Adam Nimoy.
Timescape is, basically, a great episode of Next Generation. I don’t think I’d call it one of the best or anything. It’s not the deepest, or richest, or most memorable. It doesn’t redefine our understanding of the human condition, or explore hitherto unknown depths of our characters…but it’s just a solid piece of storytelling, with good pacing and plotting and drama all wrapped up in an intriguing science fiction premise. The result is an episode which you wouldn’t call a “classic” (in the same way you might Yesterday’s Enterprise, or The Best of Both Worlds) but which delivers everything you want from a standalone episode of television.
One thing I like about Timescape is that it’s truly an ensemble episode. It’s been a while since we’ve had one, but this is a story where there isn’t really identify a “focus” character, with Picard, Data, Troi and Geordi all sharing the weight, and all coming across as competent and intelligent individuals. It’s good to see an episode about these people just being friends and colleagues working together to solve a problem. It’s like the audience is being given an opportunity to breathe after the character-driven heaviness of Second Chances, Rightful Heir, and the like. But that doesn’t mean that the story is devoid of personal weight. The seemingly unavoidable harm that has come to Riker, Beverly, and ultimately the entire Enterprise, raises plenty of personal stakes for our heroes.
That leads into another thing I love about Timescape, which is the mystery inherent in the plot, and the way it is developed to keep the tension consistently mounting. Starting the story with odd things going on aboard the Runabout before bringing us the image of the Enterprise frozen in time, in the midst of apparent battle with the Romulans, is a great way of developing the mystery. The slow reveal that the Romulans are not the aggressors in this situation, that they are in fact just as much unwilling victims of the crisis is also an effective one. It’s a revelation that fits with the current development of the Romulans on the show. Last seen in The Chase, we were then given reason to hope for a better relationship with the Federation in the future. Too bad that was more or less the end of this concept. Do the Romulans even turn up in Season Seven of Next Generation, or do they remain unencountered by Picard and his crew all the way until Star Trek Nemesis?
In any case, Timescape works as well as it does because of its ability to blend solid low-key characterization, a gripping plot, and a compelling mystery which subverts our expectations.
Shout out to the Past:
There are several reference to details from previous episodes: the subspace force field used on Devidia II – from Time’s Arrow, and Troi’s experiences on board a Romulan ship from Face of the Enemy. The emergency transporter armbands from The Best of Both Worlds also turn up. And of course there are prominent references to Spot, Data’s cat. There is also reference to Worf’s calisthenic program and to the game parrises squares.
• Funny opening with Riker and Beverly – and Riker having been injured by Spot. And a great bit when Riker gives Beverly a phaser to help feed the cat.
• This is apparently the first and only appearance of the Runabout in Next Generation.
• Troi gets to do…what is that? A Scottish accent? Picard also gets to do an accent. And Data is playing particularly confused by these conversations.
• Troi says “I’m not sure”? Uh, yes you are! Something is definitely wrong!
• Nice directing and editing when Troi has her “blackout”
• The sense of threat mounts very well as they identify and try to escape from the temporal disturbance, after Picard hurts his hand. This continues later with the discovery of Beverly being shot and the warp core breach.
• Picard’s hand is a bit older than the rest of him now. So too is Data’s head.
• Let’s see if we can get through this episode without trite and cliched comments about “time” in the dialogue. Nope! “Seems that time is something that we have plenty of.” A predictable and weak line.
• A funny understatement that we accept because it’s Star Trek: “We’ve created an artificial pocket of time around you, so it’s probably playing trickes with your equilibrium.”
• Some good direction and optical effects on the scene with the frozen people when Troi is looking around sickbay. And the reveal of the moving Romulan is a bit reminiscent of the reveal on the creepy Romulan in The Next Phase.
• The episode is filled with people telling Picard to come to their location without telling him why (“I think you’d better see this,”) which I think in real life doesn’t make much sense.
• Genuinely creepy moment when Picard starts laughing and draws the smiley face on the warp core breach.
• “Temporal Narcosis”. Um, okay.
• Troi displays a good and competent knowledge of engineering
• Oh, no, the Enterprise has been destroyed…psyche!
• Troi makes a bold and commanding decision to save Geordi by putting him into the other time frame. Good move for her.
• Nice bit when Data moves out of the way of a crewmen walking backwards
• Nice that at the last moment the tension continues with Data being knocked out by the other alien.
• Prepare for pithy “time”-joke at the end! Engage!
• Data has a cute moment with his space tea kettle at the end.
Dialogue High Point
There isn’t much that stands out above the rest, so I’ll give it to Riker’s description of feeding Spot at the beginning.
I was just putting down the bowl of food. The next thing I know there’s a hissing ball of fur coming at my face. I hate cats.