WARNING:  This article contains spoilers for "A Matter of Time", TNG's latest release.  Those not wishing to know plot details are advised to stand clear. Well, that was certainly *interesting*, but I'm not sure how well it worked... I liked it okay, but it didn't always feel quite right.  More after this:

The Enterprise is en route to Penthara Four, where an asteroid impact has caused a dramatic drop in temperature on a global scale.  They find a temporal distortion along the way, however, and are greeted by one Professor Berlingoff Rasmussen, a historian from the late 26th century! While his manner is at times irritating, Rasmussen's credentials are solid enough to Picard that he's willing to grant Rasmussen every courtesy, including filling out the questionnaires Rasmussen intends to distribute among the bridge crew.  Rasmussen marvels over everything, from little details in Picard's ready room to Data, "the Model T of androids."  However, he refuses to answer any question *about* the future, claiming that he doesn't want to influence the past, which is sensible enough. As the Enterprise reaches Penthara Four and prepares to trigger a greenhouse effect by drilling down to pockets of carbon dioxide in the crust of the planet, Rasmussen continues his study.  Although he still says nothing, he more and more frequently drops hints that something big is going to happen that day--and even more peculiarly, seems to be surreptitiously pocketing items (a scanner, a tricorder, etc.).  The phaser drilling begins, and is successful--the planet now has enough time to fix itself.  Picard is pleased, and Rasmussen seems almost jubilant. Rasmussen continues his enquiries, trying to win Troi's trust (an attempt which fails) and trying to romance Beverly (which also fails, when Beverly points out that she could easily be his "great, great, great, *great*...grandmother").  However, the bridge crew's slight annoyance at Rasmussen's attitude is swept away when a series of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions begin rocking the planet below them--and all of them occur exactly where the drills were.  Further, the volcanic ash being thrown up is compounding the problem, and before long the sunlight will be completely blocked, plunging the planet into an ice age.  After some analysis, Geordi and Data come up with a plan with both good and bad aspects.  The good news is that they can, in effect, turn the Enterprise into a "lightning rod" and sweep the dust away with an ionizing phaser blast into the upper atmosphere.   The bad news is that the margin of error is very small--and if it isn't done just right, the entire atmosphere will burn off, killing every being on the planet. Picard, caught in a dilemma, turns to Rasmussen in the hope that he can point Picard the way.  Rasmussen refuses, however, since anything he may say or do could end up altering Picard's choice, and thus his own history.  Picard tries his best to persuade him otherwise, but to no avail.  In the end, he decides to try Geordi's plan--and to his relief, it's successful. Rasmussen then prepares to leave, but is surprised to find the Enterprise crew blocking his way into his ship.  It seems that they've noticed the various missing items, and want a look inside his ship for them.  He initially refuses, but after it's pointing out that he'll never get in if they can't, agrees to let Data, and Data *only* (as Data can be ordered never to reveal any future secrets he sees) come inside to look.  Data finds the items, but is threatened with a phaser by Rasmussen, who turns out not to be an historian from the future, but rather a disgruntled inventor from the PAST.  He swiped the time pod from the *real* 26th-century historian who visited him several weeks "ago", and planned to take the items he stole back to his time and "invent" them over a few years.  He now intends to take Data as well--but fortunately, the computer picked up the weapon when the door was opened and deactivated it.  Data drags Rasmussen back out, and the now-emptied time pod vanishes back to where it came, leaving Rasmussen to the mercy of 24th-century historians who will, no doubt, be very interested in studying him. Okay.  That's the synopsis [blissfully, far shorter than the last two]; now, here's the commentary. The show was definitely an interesting one.  Its primary goal seemed to be to put Picard in a reverse-Prime-Directive dilemma, and in PUTTING him there, it did well.  It also used time travel in a rather more...frivolous...way than we've seen before [although it's hardly new to those who follow "Doctor Who" or the occasional episode of the recent "Twilight Zone"], which was fun.  And it had a hell of a guest star.   So what was missing?  Well, a few things. Firstly, I think that after the obviously-draining task of both parts of "Unification", most of the regular cast was a little off this week--especially, bizarre as it may sound coming from me, Patrick Stewart. And even more rare than me criticizing Stewart's performance is me criticizing it for being too over-the-top, but that's precisely how I felt about some of it, mainly his debate with Rasmussen over altering the future or not.  Not only do I have a few objections to Picard's characterization in that scene, but I thought Stewart's performance was off.  Sigh.  [That's not a global problem, fortunately--some of the regular characters came off fine, most notably Geordi and Worf, and most were off only subtly and in a few places.  But something didn't quite work.] Secondly, I'm skeptical about a lot of the technobabble used to save Penthara Four.  While I think the temperature drop at the beginning was actually fairly realistic [I admittedly haven't read any papers on nuclear winter, but the numbers sounded plausible], the temperature rise after the CO2 was released was simply WAY too fast [the same problem from "Half a Life" rears its ugly head...], and the solution to the quakes/volcanoes problem didn't sound coherent to me even after a second look.  (And what the HELL was that coming out of the deflector dish?)  It just didn't quite hang together for me. On the other hand, the Rasmussen plot hung together nicely.  The only thing I caught Rasmussen discussing which *hadn't* already been mentioned before he said anything was the discussion of Worf as a Klingon--but by then, he'd been left in his quarters, and could very easily have called up a history of the Klingons.  Everything else--Picard's name, Data's name, Data's creator, etc.--seemed to fit.  (He did slip at least once--he really should have known Data's capabilities re: music were he REALLY from a future where Data is only a "Model T"--but that's forgivable.  Besides, I'm at a loss about what the hell that musical bit was supposed to do anyway.)  They were clearly building up to have Rasmussen not be legit--which actually made the ending slightly disappointing, as I was hoping he WOULD turn out to be legit--but there was essentially no hint about *how* he wasn't legit, and the revelation of his true origins really took me by surprise, which was very nice.  (Much worse would have been what I was dreading--that he was from the future, but was from the "wrong side", and was trying to alter history to his favor somehow.   Old news, guys--thanks for not doing it.) And then, of course, there's Matt Frewer.  Whee, but he's fun!  Okay, so I wished he'd been a little more Edison Carter and a little less Max Headroom; a good role was a good role, and he ran it for all it had.  Someone give this guy another shot at a series, please?  [Guess it'll have to be NBC this time; both ABC and CBS have cancelled shows of his by now...] Most of the characterization itself was fine, but two bits struck me as a little off.  The first was Data's musical bit--smacks too much of "In Theory" for me, sorry.  I didn't see the point, and didn't find it particularly funny.  The second, and far more important, was Picard's whole plea to Rasmussen.  Stewart's performance aside, I can't believe Picard would disregard the "changing the past" problem so quickly.  This is a man who has devoted his LIFE to the Prime Directive (yes, he's broken it a few times, but with good reason, and has been willing to sacrifice his life to protect it); I simply don't think he'd do that.  It represents, I think, a rather strong alteration in his character--and not one I like.  [If I accept that, though, some of his arguments were good.]  He was fine everywhere else, but I really don't think he'd have "knuckled under" to expedience that quickly. Here's an exceedingly rare and exceedingly odd problem:  I think the sound editing was off for some of the show.  Most of the first act sounded both louder than necessary [as though the actors were shouting a bit], and somehow hollow.  Could someone more familiar with sound technology than I comment on whether sound dubbing problems could have caused this?  It *felt* dubbed, somehow.  [And, to be fair, the initial idea about this was raised by my wife, not by me.] A few short comments, observations, and quibbles: --"If I hand my assignment in on time, can I get a glimpse of next week's poker game?"  Geordi doesn't get many lines, but when he does they can be fun.  :-) --Geordi discusses the earthquake, and says "*if this was Earth*," then giving a Richter scale measurement. Bzzt. Wrongo, lads. The Richter scale relates, if I'm remembering correctly, to energy released by the quake--the particular planet involved has nothing to do with it. --The best in-show quote of the week was one of the one's in last week's preview:  "Everyone dies, Captain!  It's just a question of _when_!" --The best non-show quote of the week came during the "lightning rod" sequence:                 "What the hell are they doing?" --me                 "I don't know, but I think it has something to do with the Ark."  --Lisa --So the pod was heading back to New Jersey.  Any bets it overshot and went back to Grovers Mill in 1938?  :-) --There was another ST6 ad after the opening credits.  Wow.  It's going to be a long seventeen days. That should about do it.  This was fun, but something just didn't feel quite right.  Worth a watch, though.  So, the numbers: Plot:  7.  That seems to be a good balance of the Rasmussen plot and the planet plot. Plot Handling:  5.  Something was off, but I don't know what. Characterization:  8.  Generally good, with a bit off for Picard and Data.   Some came back for Rasmussen, though--he was great.  :-) TOTAL:  7.  Not bad, but not fantastic. NEXT WEEK:  Reruns, so I get a vacation.  Whee!  (See you folks for the ST6 review on 12/7...) Tim Lynch (Cornell's first Astronomy B.A.; one of many Caltech grad students) BITNET:  tlynch@citjuliet INTERNET: UUCP:  ...!ucbvax! "Everyone dies, Captain!  It's just a question of _when!"                 --Berlingoff Rasmussen, "A Matter of Time" -- Copyright 1991, Timothy W. Lynch.  All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...

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