Picard and several others return from a conference to find the Enterprise frozen in time and apparently on the brink of destruction by a Romulan ship.
Plot Summary: While Picard, LaForge, Troi, and Data are returning from a conference, Riker receives a distress call from a Romulan ship and diverts the Enterprise to offer assistance. On the runabout, first Troi, then Picard, and soon the others begin to notice temporal disturbances – people freezing in place for minutes at a time, the starboard nacelle expending many days’ worth of fuel in a few minutes. When Picard tries to touch a bowl of rotten fruit that was fresh minutes earlier, his own hand ages rapidly and painfully. Data concludes that there are temporal pockets surrounding their runabout, each moving at a different pace. LaForge navigates around the fragmented spots to find the Enterprise, but the ship appears to be frozen at the center of the disturbance, facing a Romulan warbird in the act of firing its disruptors. When LaForge and Data adapt the emergency transporter armbands so they can board the Enterprise without becoming frozen in time as well, they find a motionless crew with Riker being wounded by Romulans on the bridge, Crusher being shot at in sickbay, Worf beaming injured Romulans aboard, and a warp core breach in progress. Picard begins to laugh, then to panic, leading LaForge to conclude that they will suffer temporal narcosis if they spend too long in the distorted time pockets. Data observes that time on the Enterprise is not completely halted, but moving extremely slowly, meaning that in about nine hours, the warp core breach will destroy the ship. Leaving Picard on the runabout to recuperate, the others beam aboard the Romulan ship, where Troi leads them to the engine room. The Romulans are in the process of evacuating the warbird and an unknown infection is disrupting the singularity that powers the ship. When Data scans the singularity, time suddenly begins to run normally and the Enterprise explodes. But moments later, time reverses itself. Most of the Romulans freeze in place once more, but one attacks LaForge, sending him into neural shock. Troi removes his armband to keep him from dying. The attacker turns out not to be Romulan at all, but an unknown alien attempting to rescue his young from the Romulan engine core, where their presence is causing the engine failure. The power transfer from the Enterprise damaged the nest in the singularity and caused time to rupture. Data discovers that he can adjust his scan to make time reverse before the Enterprise’s warp core breach. Picard sends Troi to sickbay to save Crusher, Data to engineering to stop the power transfer that will trigger the breach, and himself to the bridge to save Riker and take command. Data is able to shield the warp core long enough for Picard to fly the runabout into the energy transfer beam, interrupting it. LaForge is rescued along with the warbird’s crew before the Romulan ship disappears in a similar burst of energy that took the alien disguised as a Romulan.
Analysis: There’s a great deal that doesn’t make sense in “Timescape,” yet as long as you don’t think about it too much, it’s a very enjoyable episode. The frozen images of the Enterprise being hit by a Romulan disruptor and the warp core in the process of exploding are unforgettable, as is the look on Picard’s face when he watches his ship’s destruction, then watches it reverse itself. One of my favorite aspects is the attention to continuity detail: Picard asks LaForge whether he can modify the transporter armbands to work as they did on Devidia II, when the Enterprise crew stepped through a portal to 19th century San Francisco (“Time’s Arrow”), then commands Troi to lead the away team to the Romulan warbird because her recent experience has made her more familiar with its configuration than any of the others (“Face of the Enemy”). The character interaction is perfect, with a strong sense that these people really know one another and how to read each other’s reactions; there’s no silliness like when Chakotay announces in Voyager‘s fifth-season episode “Dark Frontier” that Janeway always fiddles with her comm badge when she’s plotting something, a behavior never once seen previously. It’s all perfectly in character from the opening minutes – first with Riker having to make the unhappy decision to divert from his rendezvous with the runabout to help the Romulans, whom he doesn’t really trust, then with Troi talking about the alien who tried to pick her up under the guise of researching mating rituals, to which Data responds completely earnestly that he had thought that would be of interest to Troi and is surprised she didn’t go off with the alien. It’s sweet and amusing, unlike Picard’s temporal psychosis which inspires him to draw a smiley face in the steam from the warp core breach…which isn’t supposed to be funny but frighteningly out of character.
I’m not going to pretend I understand the logic behind any of the science. I love the idea of energy beings that build nests in black holes, but it’s hard to fathom how a species sophisticated enough to make themselves look like Romulans could have been foolish enough not to recognize that the singularities powering their warbirds are not natural phenomena – I’d imagine they’d have to be surrounded by some kind of stasis field so they don’t destroy the ships for which they’re generating power. If Picard is wounded by touching the fruit that’s in a different phase, shouldn’t the mobile crew be unable to touch or move objects on the frozen Enterprise, or shouldn’t those objects shatter if the crew is protected? Nor am I clear how a tricorder scan could cause enough of a disruption to send time spinning forward and backward no matter what sort of beings are living in the singularity. We’re assured at the end of the episode that the babies and parents have surely returned to their own dimension, yet there’s really no evidence to suggest they haven’t been dematerialized or whatever you’d call what happens to an energy being. Obviously I’m no physicist, but the level of technobabble here reaches pretty ridiculous extremes. Anyone who watches Next Gen primarily for the science has got to find this installment a disappointment, and I’m a bit bummed that more time wasn’t put into developing the aliens – I’d like to know whether they have a home base or are wanderers incubating their babies in whatever singularities they find handy, and whether we’re supposed to believe these are just two of many or the last of their kind, which is why the survival of the young is so important. Certainly they understand that the Romulans and humans are intelligent life forms with which they might communicate, but there’s no evidence they ever tried to talk to the Romulans about their problem – instead they sabotage both the Enterprise and the warbird, willing to be responsible for hundreds of deaths.
It all works because of the character interaction. Poor Riker doesn’t get a break – first there’s a hissing ball of fur coming at his face when he feeds Data’s cat, then he’s stuck frozen after being knocked down and injured – while Picard suffers from a condition that would probably mortify him were it witnessed by any but his ship’s counselor, science officer, and chief engineer. Crusher and Worf barely have a line between them – the Romulans speak more, as does the villain, who in typical TNG fashion is actually not trying to hurt anyone but made an honest mistake. I think the reason the technobabble seems so relentless yet it doesn’t really bother me is that often one of the non-technical crewmembers gets to ask questions, giving Data or LaForge a chance to explain things dumbed-down for the audience, and most often Troi or Crusher gets that role, but in “Timescape” we see Troi only as scientifically sharp and possessing expertise that none of the others have where the Romulans are concerned. I really like her role in this episode. It’s pleasant, too, to see a Romulan storyline in which there are no Romulan bad guys or even those with problematic political positions; what looks at first to Picard like a straightforward attack and subsequent subspace disaster like something Sela would engineer turns out to be nothing of the sort, only the crisis hinted at when the Enterprise first receives a distress call. There’s unfortunately little time to meet any of the Romulans properly, but we see lots of intriguing frozen images of them helping injured colleages on the transporter padd and in sickbay, plus fighting the alien menace that Picard’s team doesn’t yet know isn’t Romulan. And it’s worth the rushed resolution for the denouement with Riker and Data, in which Riker suggests that Data test the maxim that a watched pot never boils by turning off his internal chronometer…so long as he isn’t late for his shift. Thus the time loop begins and ends with a smile.