Tuesday, November 1, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 5: A Matter of Time

The Next Generation, Season 5
"A Matter of Time"
Airdate: November 18, 1991
108 of 176 produced
108 of 176 aired


The Enterprise is tasked with helping Penthara IV, a colony that has been struck by an asteroid and faces catastrophic environmental consequences. En route, the Enterprise encounters a mysterious shuttle, whose occupant claims to be a time-travelling scientist from the 26th century. Now Picard must manage the crisis on the planet below while resisting the urge to press the man who may know the outcome of his efforts for help.

Sooo.... a great-great-great-great granny Menage A Troi is out of the question?


Kevin: Overall, I find the ideas of this episode pretty entertaining. Both the planet in peril and the time travel story are chock full of some great science fiction. The climate changes of an asteroid impact were realistic, and I liked watching the crew try to solve it, and then deal with the unintended consequences of their attempts to solve the problem. I also enjoyed the philosophical implications of the time travel story. It's an interesting twist on the classic time line problem. Instead of being tempted to change their own past, they are being asked to respect the integrity of someone else's. The scene between Rasmussen and Picard just before he makes his decision is pretty good, and even though a con-man, he parries Picard's rhetoric well.

Matthew: I agree that the entertainment value, as well as the "huh, interesting" value are pretty high. I did have practical questions about just how much CO2 the Enterprise could loosen with its phasers, and how quickly this climate change would occur. The marriage of the two stories, however, was odd. I kept asking myself throughout the episode "why aren't people more suspicious?" Rasmussen is treating this relatively benign "disaster" on Penthara IV with the sort of exaggerated import that seems more appropriate to the events of "Redemption" or "Best of Both Worlds." Someone, at some point, just has to say "This guy is a con. These events simply aren't that important." The best we get is Troi's again completely ineffectual and non-specific deception-sense.

Kevin: I liked the comedy in the episode. Rasmussen's interactions with Data and Crusher in particular were pretty hilarious. One problem with the time traveler plot is that, even from the beginning before any of Rasmussen's shadiness has revealed itself, his story doesn't quite pass the smell test. I can understand the idea of going back in time to learn about history, but short of your own history books recording your trip, how could anyone not think that going up to people and shaking their hand would butterfly effect itself all over your time line? Picard should have immediately been more suspicious of Rasmussen's story, is what I'm saying.

Matthew: Definitely a nice backdrop for comedy. Worf was given lots of straight man material, Picard had a look on his face as though Rasmussen had passed gas in every scene, and it was fun to see Troi dislike someone so intensely. I did find it a little strange that Rasmussen was trying to get jiggy with Troi, then Crusher, with such rapidity. It seemed as though some scenes had been cut, setting up Troi's distaste, and making Crusher's look of betrayal at the end more understandable. The comedy would have been better with a few more scenes establishing and paying off on character interactions.

Kevin: Another concern I have is the ethics of the plan to burn off the excess material in the atmosphere. Why not evacuate the planet before trying? Given the number of cities they rattle off, it seems like there are lot, but let's assume there are too many to even partially evacuate in the time allotted, did everyone on the planet get on board with this? I sure as hell wouldn't. It seems like Picard and the scientists on Pethara IV are making a momentous decision on behalf of a lot of people with questionable authority to do so.

Matthew: Yeah, I kind of don't get the peril. So there are 20 million colonists. Fine. Can't you just replicate 500,000 space heaters? This is a post-scarcity society, people!


Kevin: Robin Williams was originally intended to play Rasmussen, but scheduling conflicts arose and Matt Frewer was cast, and I have to say I am glad. I just can't think of Robin Williams toning down himself enough to not swallow the episode whole. His characters have one volume, and can you picture Mork/Mrs. Doubtfire/the Genie on the bridge of the Enterprise? Frewer did a good job of being quirky and slippery. Like I said, I particularly enjoyed his scene with Picard.

Matthew: Sooooooo happy that Matt Frewer got the nod over Robin Williams. Yikes, that would have been disastrous. Like Joe Piscopo times a billion. The way Frewer played it made a ton of sense - absent-minded quirky professor to everyone's face, shifty con-artist behind their backs. Stewart was very good in the scene you liked - he really seemed concerned about the fates of 20 million people.

Kevin: The rest of the crew did a decent job, but it's not like the script gave them a lot to do. I liked everyone discussing what they thought were the greatest advancements of the last century. I also thought Gates McFadden shutting down Rasmussen was comedy gold.

Matthew: Yeah, McFadden's scene was really, really good. I wish we had been given more of both her and Marina Sirtis interacting with Frewer.

Production Values

Kevin: The planet shots were good, and I liked the changing weather matte painting of the cities on Penthara. The plasma effect on the Enterprise was good, but for some reason, it just didn't set me on fire.   I also get the idea of the shuttle, but the exterior was a little too glittery for even my taste, but the interior was cool, if not a fairly obvious redress of a standard shuttle.

Matthew: There were a lot of neat Okudagrams in this episode, mainly centered around planetary topography and phaser drill sites. I liked the look of the phaser drilling itself. The shuttle worked for me. The holofoil interior was a bit "Quantum Leap" of course, but the overall aesthetic was "other" enough to evoke an air of mystery. The optical effect of the disappearing door was really nicely done.


Kevin: I'm giving this a 3. The philosophy of time travel stuff is fun and reasonably well explored, but I don't think it elevates an otherwise solid episode to a truly great episode. The acting was able, and the production values were at least okay, but in the balance, I was entertained but not blown away.

Matthew: Yeah, this is merely average. The ideas could have been really interesting, but weren't developed outside of dialogue. The plot just wasn't broken in the most interesting ways. We didn't get a truly compelling "Next Hitler" scenario, nor did we get the juicy character interaction we should have. I kind of think it would have been more interesting if: 1. they had discovered the fraud earlier, we got some scenes of 22nd century historians interrogating him, and then the dilemma were whether to send him back or not; 2. Data had been trapped in the ship with him and had been forced to find his way back. So it was a novel idea that was a little flat in execution. "Future's End" in Voyager did it better. That's a ho-hum 6 from both of us.

1 comment:

  1. In Symbiosis Picard was unwilling to inform one party that they were being held in bondage by anther party selling them a narcotic as a cure and here he is going through various mental exercises trying to get Rasmussen to tell him how to help those people in peril? I didnt like that.