"Time's Arrow, Part One"

Season Five, Episode 26
Teleplay by Joe Menosky and Michael Piller
Story by Joe Menosky 
Directed by Les Landau   
Main Cast:
Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard
Jonathan Frakes as Commander William Riker
LeVar Burton as Lt Geordi LaForge
Michael Dorn as Lt Worf
Gates McFadden as Dr Beverly Crusher
Marina Sirtis as Counsellor Deanna Troi
Brent Spiner as Lt Cmdr Data

Guest Cast:
Whoopi Goldberg as Guinan
Jerry Hardin as Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain
Michael Aron as Jack London
Barry Kivel as Doorman
Ken Thorley as Seaman
Marc Alaimo as Frederick La Rouque
John M. Murdock as Beggar
Sheldon Peters Wolfchild as Joe Falling Hawk
Milt Traver as Scientist
Michael Hungerford as Roughneck

"This investigation started with your death. I'm just trying to make sure it doesn't end with it."
--Picard to Data


Picard and Data are called to an archaeological excavation site on Earth where the archaeologists have come across something disturbing indeed -- Data's severed head. Evidence points to aliens visiting Earth in the late 19th Century and a fossil suggests they were from Devidia Two. Picard takes the ship to Devidia, where Data discovers a race of aliens who are slightly phased out of due to a time-shift. Data uses a force-field to phase into the alien's environment where it becomes evident that the aliens are somehow going back in time to Earth to feed off human neural energy. Data gets caught in their time distortion and finds himself in 19th Century San Francisco, cut off from the Enterprise crew. He wins some money playing poker and checks into a hotel, trying to build a device to communicate with the Enterprise. He's surprised to find Guinan hosting a party in the near vicinity and discovers that she was indeed living on Earth at this point in time (her species evidently have a much longer life-span than previously realised). He tells her his predicament, only to be over-heard by one Samuel Clemens, the larger than life "Mark Twain". Meanwhile, the Picard leads an away mission (at Guinan's request he heads it) to follow Data back in time and rescue him.


This episode isn't a write-off by any means, but on both counts as a time-travel story and a cliff-hanging season finale, it is something of a disappointment. The problem doesn't so much stem from the premise, which actually incorporates some good, intriguing ideas, as it flounders on its execution. No doubt about it, as fun as Time's Arrow is, it could have been a lot better.

There were definitely some interesting concepts here, such as the discovery of Data's head in an archaeological dig on Earth and the disturbing notion of aliens travelling back in time to Earth. But, alas the plot handling was pretty much by-the-numbers, leaving me cold in a number of instances. For a start, the notion of finding your own decayed remains is one that is quite terrifying. But despite a log entry by Picard stating how shocked the crew is and one or two nice sprinkles of dialogue, you just don't get much of a feel for this supposed "shock-wave". There was a nice scene with Riker and Troi where they discuss how much they've come to care for Data, but apart from that the emotional reaction evoked by the discovery seems forced and ineffective. Perhaps part of the problem is Data himself. As much as I love the character, I've often felt that because he feels no emotions, it's very difficult for us to get emotionally involved in the character when he isn't himself! There are exceptions to this, The Offspring notably, but this is the unfortunate curse of Data stories and it's much in evidence here.

That part of the episode definitely felt a little flat and it wasn't much helped by the inordinate amount of technobabble that flows and flows. It takes the plot a long time to actually get anywhere which is something the writers' just couldn't afford to do, especially given the horribly rushed resolution in the concluding part. When Data finally arrives in 19th Century San Francisco it's quite a relief, for at that point the episode was in serious danger of getting boring. I don't know what the problem was but it took about half the episode for anything to actually happen! 

Data's exploits in 19th Century Earth were certainly entertaining to watch and helped no doubt by the terrific sets, costuming and props, which were just superb. And I have to admit that it was great fun watching Data interacting with the "natives", so to speak, with no one quite understanding what he's saying. The problem is that it's overdone and got tiring pretty quickly, leading me to wonder why these people speak like they are from the 1990's and not the 1890's. Think about it, wouldn't it have made more sense if he'd been able to understand them? And didn't the constant "communication problem" also seem a bit odd, making it look like Data had never been around people full stop? (I guess you could argue that on the Enterprise he's so used to talking in technobabble mode that he's capable of little else :-) ). So, as much as it was fun watching Data trying to bluff his way through this time period, it did raise a few credibility questions. We've seen the "crew member trying to adjust to life in the past" scenario done far more effectively in the film Star Trek IV: The Voyager Home.

The use of historical figures actually seemed a little gratuitous. I don't have a problem with it so long as there's a point to using them, and based on this and the resolution in Part Two, I'm not convinced there is. Still, Jerry Hardin did a great job as Samuel Clemens, delivering an entertaining (not to mention thoroughly OTT) performance. I can't say I was as happy with the bellboy Jack (London). Actor Michael Aron really started to get quite annoying after a while and it was during his scenes that I started to grow unhappy with the fact that in terms of dialogue neither the writing nor the acting seemed to suggest this was the 19th century, leaving a slight lack of credulity.

The shipboard side of things had one or two problems, as well. For a start, it was a surprisingly that Riker is the one who gets all worked up about saving Data when a more logical choice would have been Geordi (when in actual fact we don't get to see him react at all). Still, I guess it is in-character to have Riker kick up a trantrum every so often. I couldn't help but chuckle at Worf's attempt to cheer him up; "It could be our fate to die along with Data. If your remains were in that cavern, they would have turned to dust long ago." You gotta hand it to him, the guy sure knows how to cheer someone up. :-) 

Another thing I had a bit of an issue with was the use of Guinan. OK, so even if she was living on Earth back then (and even if she hasn't aged a day, either!) I don't understand her need to insist that Picard lead the away mission. This doesn't make sense, because in essence it is Guinan's future self that arranges their first meeting. Obviously at the time she would have had no idea about this, and obviously if they had met in the past the present-day Guinan would remember it. But, why would she have the need to press the issue and ensure that Picard does go? It doesn't really make sense and I'm starting to doubt if I'm making any sense! As Miles Edward O'Brien once said, "I hate temporal mechanics!"

We finally got a glimpse of the actual aliens toward the end. Nice special effects, but I'm a little confused by the actual aliens themselves. They feed off human neural energy yet they live on an alien planet. Come on, it's a little contrived, isn't it? They have to resort to time-travel in order to feed themselves? What a bitch, eh? I would have liked to have learned a little more about these aliens. Why do they need to feed of humans and why did they choose to go back to that particular time period? Or have they been to different time periods or even different planets? Still, given that Geordi spouts such an enormous amount of technobabble that you could be forgiven for thinking his speaking in tongues, it's probably just as well they didn't explain this any further. The concept is an interesting one but it's not fleshed out at all well and the fact that these aliens have infiltrated Earth to feed off humans is not milked for the potential it's worth. And I'm sorry, but that handbag with the laser beam was actually quite funny!

By the time we reach our conclusion, we're asked to suspend disbelief that the ship's entire senior officers have willingly embarked on a deadly mission to rescue one missing crewman. They have absolutely no idea what they'll encounter through that energy vortex (it could, for all they know, have killed them!). Yeah, it's a reasonably effective cliff-hanger but it's also one that bears little scrutiny. 

And so we have Time's Arrow, Part One. On the whole it's fun and quite entertaining but it's also glib and riddled with logistical problems and far too much technobabble, which more often than not is used to constitute plot. As the end credits roll you're left feeling you had just watched forty-five minutes of exposition, a build-up to something that never quite happens (and sadly doesn't happen in the concluding part, either). It's there, but it's slim.

Rating: 6

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