At the Brink

“Timescape:” Puzzling Puzzles that Puzzle

Marie Brownhill
Game Industry News is running the best blog posts from people writing about the game industry. Articles here may originally appear on Marie's blog, Fan Collective Unimatrix 47.

While I had thought to do “Second Chances,” which is another great Riker episode, I always find the story of Thomas Riker depressing, and considering life these days, I don’t think we need anything else to add to the melancholy. I therefore opted to cover “Timescape,” which is, while not the best of season six’s offerings, at least a great deal of fun. Considering the spottiness of season seven, prioritizing fun where we can get it makes a certain amount of sense.

Plot Ahoy!

The episode opens with Dr. Crusher healing a fairly serious scrape on Commander Riker’s forehead that he sustained while attempting to feed Data’s cat, Spot. While there, the bridge comms Riker to alert him of a distress signal coming from a nearby Romulan Warbird, and Riker sends the Enterprise to intercept. The scene shifts to a runabout in which Counselor Troi, Commander Data, Commander LaForge, and Captain Picard sit, discussing their experiences at the recent conference from which they are returning. During their discussion, Counselor Troi notices that everyone seems to freeze for a few seconds. She shares her concerns with the newly reanimated crew, and they remain somewhat skeptical until they notice Troi herself freeze. Data determines that, based on Tricorder readings, time has stopped for three seconds but only for Counselor Troi. Suddenly, one of the nacelles ceases to function, and diagnostics indicate that the nacelle in question is out of fuel because it has been running for forty-seven consecutive days. Data and LaForge conclude that the area of space they currently traverse has been shattered into various temporal pockets in which time moves at different rates.

They carefully plot a course through the temporal “shards” and proceed to the rendezvous point where they find no Enterprise. LaForge identifies a potential signal in the distance, so they guide the shuttle toward it. They then discover the Enterprise frozen in what looks to be a pitched battle with a Romulan Warbird. LaForge and Data adapt emergency transporter armbands to provide a subspace isolation field that will insulate Captain Picard, Data, and Troi in a pocket of their own time while exploring the trapped Enterprise. Once aboard, they discover Romulans on the bridge and throughout the ship in various threatening poses, including one firing a lethal blast into Dr. Crusher’s abdomen in Sickbay. In Engineering, Data discovers a warp core breach in progress as well as an energy beam flowing from the Enterprise to the Romulan Warbird. Captain Picard begins cackling hysterically after drawing a smiley face in the plumes of smoke emanating from the breaching core, so LaForge beams all three crewmembers back aboard the runabout where they deduce that Picard suffers from “temporal narcosis.”

Troi, Data, and LaForge beam over to the Warbird where they discover the Romulans to be on full evacuation alert rather than battle-stations. Data points out that the engine core is completely inactive, something which should be impossible considering that the Romulans use an artificial quantum singularity as a fuel source. The three crew members conclude that the Romulans did not attack, but before they can determine what went wrong, a Romulan attacks LaForge, sending him into near-fatal neural shock. Troi traps him in the slower-moving time shard, and she and Data beam back to the runabout with the injured Romulan.

The Romulan, who isn’t actually a Romulan, explains that his species incubates their young in natural quantum singularities, which they incorrectly assumed the Warbird’s drive to be. When they nested their young inside the drive, the drive shut down, forcing the Romulans to call for help. The Enterprise responded, but the energy beam from the Enterprise interacted negatively with the nest, causing the time/space fracturing previously observed. The “Romulan” then confesses to attacking the Enterprise to stop the beam in order to protect their young, and he mentions that another of his species is still present before disappearing completely.

Picard remembers that tricorder emissions mysteriously caused the time in the shards to run backwards, so they extend the effect to cause time to reverse itself on the Enterprise in order to stop the ship from initiating the power transfer beam. They fail, partially due to the interference by the female alien, and when time resumes, Data orders a containment field erected around the warp core but cannot stop the transfer beam without causing feedback sufficient to destroy the ship. Picard orders the evacuation of the Romulan ship completed and remotely pilots the now-empty runabout into the energy beam, interrupting the beam and destroying the runabout in the process. The Warbird disappears as does the female alien. The actual Romulans explain their actions, which were perfectly innocuous, and the ship proceeds to the Neutral Zone where they can send the Romulans on their way. In his own quarters, Data experiments with the human perception of time.


To be fair, there’s a lot about this episode that makes very little sense. Having a power source that cannot ever be shut down seems like a terrible idea when it comes to a starship. How do you scrap something like that when it becomes obsolete? Do you move the drive and risk shattering the space-time continuum? I have no ideas; I’m certainly the furthest thing from a physicist. The bit with the tricorder emissions is just a fancier version than “reversing the polarity,” which is basically just code for “magic” in Star Trek, and here, it just seems silly. “Temporal Narcosis” is ridiculous, even taking into account Star Trek’s very, very high bar for terrible technobabble.

Still, while technobabble does comprise a significant portion of the episode, the point isn’t actually to craft a technobabble story. “Timescape” is an episode in which the technobabble serves the mystery, not the other way around. It’s not even a “whodunnit” in the sense “Suspicions” was; “Timescape” is a puzzle story. There’s no overarching evil plot; it’s just a series of events that our intrepid runabout crew must piece together into a cohesive whole that makes sense. Frankly, the lack of overarching evil plot contributes greatly to the charm of this particular episode because not everything has to be a plot. Sometimes, events simply occur, and “Timescape” lets that happen in the TNG universe.

Other highlights include the continued evolution of Troi’s competence. Here, her knowledge of Romulan ships from “Face of the Enemy” proves to be useful, and she gets the chance to be in place to save Dr. Crusher from the disruptor blast. Patrick Stewart’s hysteria feels strange, but it’s supposed to be. However, the smiley face in the smoke did go on to become one of those bizarrely iconic and meme-worthy images from the series. Personally, I even like the crew’s ongoing misadventures with Spot, though I’d love to know what Riker was doing to get scratched on the face where he was. It’s remarkably similar to the recurring injury his brain created in “Frame of Mind.” Even Data’s experiments with a kettle to evaluate whether a watched kettle will really boil is charming.

“Timescape” certainly isn’t one of the great TNG episodes, but it’s enjoyably fun, which is quite sufficient in and of itself.


Three cups of Earl Grey Tea

Stray Thoughts from the Couch:

  1. There is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it uncredited appearance by Patricia Tallman as the female alien who attacks Data. You might recognize her as Lyta Alexander from Babylon 5, which has its own fraught relationship with Star Trek.
  2. The episode makes a number of call-backs, including to plexing, a technique Troi taught Barclay. The isolation field is from “Time’s Arrow” I and II, and the armbands previously appeared in “The Best of Both Worlds Part II.” I appreciate seeing the series pull from its own canon.
  3. Adam Nimoy directed this episode, making it his second and last episode for TNG, the previous episode being “Rascals.”
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