Star Trek The Next Generation: A Matter of Time

Picard: “Every choice we make allows us to manipulate the future.”

A time travelling historian lands on the Enterprise as they try to assist the people of Penthara 4 with the after effects of a meteor strike. Unfortunately, they only make the situation worse.

I have a thing for time travel stories so this is one of my favourite episodes. Add to this Canadian actor Matt Frewer and we have a winner. Matt Frewer has been all over sci-fi beginning with the iconic Max Headroom. In this episode he appears as an historian from the future but is really a con-man from the past.

 I must admit that when I first saw this episode I was totally taken in by Berlinghoff Rasmussen or whoever he was. His admonitions to the crew about not asking questions, his curiosity about the details of the Enterprise and his heartfelt conversations with Picard all seemed to point to an annoying but sincere academic (which most of them are). Watching the episode again, knowing he is a fraud changes the whole viewing experience. The passionate argument made by Picard, for information to assist with his choice for Penthara 4, was particularly poignant and this time I caught the obvious discomfort that Rasmussen shows while the Enterprise prepares to shoot phasers into the planet's atmosphere.

The episode was well written from the point of showing the con. Rasmussen was very quick on his feet, throwing in little details that an historian might notice, charming with praise and attention and even giving the crew questionnaires. Frewer plays Rasmussen nicely with the right mix of persistence, guile and irritation so that while we can believe that he might be what he says he is, we also can understand why there might be suspicion. Of course, there are also some huge holes in the story line, such as how Rasmussen found the Enterprise in the first place or how setting off electrical charges in a planet's atmosphere would calm activity in the planet's falling apart mantle but as usual it is best to ignore such things and enjoy the story.

Discussions of time travel have the usual caveats and they were certainly talked about in the episode, don't share information, be careful how you interact so as not to change the time line but I enjoyed how this episode played with that a bit. The plea made by Picard for information talked about the exceptions to rules. Picard refers to the Prime Directive and assumes that Rassmusen has something similar but he challenges such ethical rules and when and how exceptions should be made. Do the lives of 20 million people justify changing the future? And whose future is it? A time traveller may wish to preserve their future but why should someone in the present care about that? And conversely, why should someone in the future care about the fates of those who are long dead? It is a done deal as far as they are concerned. This kind of philosophical discussion is why this show stands the test of time (not to mention the superb acting).

Another reason this show continues to be relevant is the highlighting of issues that continue to be current. The side plot is the ecological crisis happening on Penthara 4. In trying to address the issue the Enterprise makes it worse. They assume that they have enough information to 'fix' things but nature and the workings of a planet are much more complex than we humans understand. Although in the end it is a quick fix that works, at least the possibility that science is not always the answer is there.

Bits and Pieces

In my experience everyone hates questionnaires.

Troi's interactions with Rasmussen were fun. One would hope that an empath would be able to detect a con.

At least Riker was suitably anxious about blowing holes in the planet with phasers.

New Seattle has two tropical rivers running through it.

Of course the time machine was going back to New Jersey.

Quotes

Worf: “They want you to move over, sir.”
Picard: “Reply that the Enterprise isn’t going anywhere.”
Worf: “Not the Enterprise, sir, you.”

LaForge: “If I hand my assignment in on time, can I get a peek at next week’s poker game?”

Rassmusen: “You know, some of my best friends are empaths. They trust me.”

Beverly: “I could be your great, great, great, great grandmother.”

Picard: “Well, I’ve never been afraid of reevaluating my convictions, Professor and now, well, I have 20 million reasons to do so.”

Maybe not the best episode of STTNG but one of my favs. 4 out of 4 time travelling historians.

1 comment:

Mallena said...

Matt Frewer always makes an excellent addition to any show. I liked this one a lot, also.