Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"A Matter of Time"

**1/2

Air date: 11/18/1991
Written by Rick Berman
Directed by Paul Lynch

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

A cheerful man named Professor Berlinghoff Rasmussen (Matt Frewer, of Max Headroom fame at the time) appears before the Enterprise in a small shuttlecraft and claims he is a historian from the 26th century ... and that he has traveled back to the 24th century to witness history — specifically today — as it unfolds. Meanwhile, the Enterprise rushes to help a planet in terrible danger from atmospheric dust caused from an asteroid impact. A nuclear winter may be imminent. They must figure out a way to save the planet and its population of millions from the environmental catastrophe.

"A Matter of Time" is a story that stares the notion of a time paradox in the face and hope it blinks. The crew wants to know why Rasmussen has picked this day, of all days, to learn about the Enterprise and the 24th century. Rasmussen cites what is essentially the Temporal Prime Directive in explaining why he cannot drop any hints about what will happen or how the crew is involved in it. Could it possibly be tied to the planet facing the imminent catastrophe and the decisions Picard will have to make that could save or doom millions?

There's a scene midway through this episode between Picard and Rasmussen that is clearly meant as the centerpiece of the show, where Picard asks Rasmussen for help, and they argue over the ethics of Picard gaining access to information from the future if it means maybe saving millions of lives. It's one of those earnest Trekkian dialogue pieces that seems to be really striving to get somewhere thoughtful and interesting ... but it doesn't quite find its way to a point. Through all of Picard's pontificating and Rasmussen's evasions, they're ultimately just talking in circles and nothing is gained. Eventually I was waiting for crazed Doc Brown to show up, shouting, "It's your kids, Marty! Something's gotta be done about your kids!"

And if there's a bigger problem with "A Matter of Time," it's Rasmussen himself. It becomes difficult to stand the guy after a while, particularly once we know he's up to something fishy (we see him stealing components from various places on the ship). He's the sort of guy who finds an obnoxious and condescending way to make an allegedly wondrous 24th century historic moment all about ... himself. He claims to be a history buff, but he seems more like an overbearing kid trying to shoplift in a candy store while telling you how awesome you are. I tend to think a real observer from the 26th century wouldn't divulge the truth of his origins to those he's observing, and you'd think Picard would be more skeptical given that logical loophole. How does the saying go? You can't study something without inadvertently affecting its outcome. That goes double for time travel. Hell, just talking to Picard could cause the entire future to be erased (like it was/is/will be in Star Trek XI).

I guess we're supposed to find Rasmussen annoying, so we can enjoy the twist and his undoing; it turns out he's actually a con man from the 22nd century, who stole the time shuttle from a guy who was really from the 26th century and came to the 24th century to steal gadgets he could travel back in time to "invent." The scene where the crew confronts him over his thefts is kind of fun. (Data, making a matter-of-fact threat: "I suspect your hand will activate the panel that opens the door whether or not you are conscious.") But I must protest: If you cause a guy from the 22nd century to become trapped in the 24th century, haven't you just changed the past? Or was it always that way???

Previous episode: Unification
Next episode: New Ground

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16 comments on this review

Nic - Sat, Apr 2, 2011 - 3:43pm (USA Central)
You can tell this part was originally written for Robin Williams. Frewer is a good actor, but he just doesn't have enough bazinga to carry the full hour.
Matt L. - Fri, Apr 8, 2011 - 8:32pm (USA Central)
Just a little nitpick, but I think it's been well established by now that the future wasn't erased in XI.

Rather the timelines branched off so that you have two separate universes. This is one of the common theories to explain how time travel might be possible without creating a paradox.

This has nothing to do with the problems of this episode of course. I agree with everything you say. Just thought I'd correct the above misconception.
Nick Poliskey - Sat, Apr 9, 2011 - 10:42am (USA Central)
I always thought this episode was under-rated. This is actually my favourite episode of season 5. I think it is much more clever than people give credit.

First, I here alot of critiscm from the paradox pushers that be being so annoying and loud he was altering the past. I think one thing that never gets mentioned is the obvious fact that if the Enterprise and the Planet are utterly Annihilated!! Right! There is no future to change if no one that meets him is dead. That kept running through my head for the first 40 minutes of this ep when i first watched it. It never gets credit for that.

Second, and following from the first, so what if he steal trinkets? It's not like he was sabotaging engineering. I would be a real historian would find his actions quite realistic, particularily, with the knowledge the Enterprise was in her final hours. I mean seriously, if any of us could Marty McFly back to the last supper of Jesus, we wouldn't try to take a plate or a fork he ate with????

Lastly, I think there is an obsession with robin williams. Look, he is an annoying baffoon. I am so glad he didn't end up being here. If he was here you wouldn't be able to get "Mork on the Enterprise" out of your head the whole episode. Frewer does a fine job of dorky future/past scientist.
Marvin - Sat, Apr 9, 2011 - 6:17pm (USA Central)
If I Marty McFly-ed back to the Last Supper, I think it'd be his cup I'd have my eye on... ;-)
Elliott - Fri, May 13, 2011 - 6:51pm (USA Central)
Ick. This episode is emblematic of how TNG really had little left to say by this point. This episode is slow, empty and pointless. Picard's speech has none of the staying power of his season 1 speeches, which (though couched in bright, dated and often poorly executed episodes) meant something profound and worthwhile. Stewart as always gives an excellent delivery, but the content is just one big "?"

1 star.
Carbetarian - Tue, May 31, 2011 - 7:19am (USA Central)
Elliot-

Really, season one? I agree this episode goes nowhere. But, really? Season one??? The season that featured such unforgettable writing as Tasha's D.A.R.E. Speech? Ok...
Elliott - Tue, Aug 23, 2011 - 2:47am (USA Central)
@Carbetarian:

EAFP: "The same old story is the one we're meeting now-- self-righteous life-forms who are eager not to learn, but to prosecute to judge anything they don't understand or can't tolerate."

Justice : Data: "Would you choose one life over one-thousand, sir?" Picard : "I refuse to let arithmetic decide questions like that."

My personal favourite however is "Shut up Wesley!"
TH - Thu, Sep 8, 2011 - 8:30pm (USA Central)
@Elliott: with respect, none of those are "speeches". They are one-liners. Exclamations. He had some good speeches, but few if any in the first season.

I liked this episode; with respect, I note the paradox in your reviews that if you like an episode you will forgive the conceits that you will pick on if you didn't like an episode. In that vein, I say that the whole temporal analysis may be a plot hole or a paradox or unlikely, but I accept that conceit given the plot. Besides, remember that this guy is not, in fact, from the 26th century. He’s just pretending. It doesn’t mean he will get everything right. He (I imagine) picked a random day to come to the 24th century.

I think 2.5-3 stars is a fair rating for this one. As you say, ultimately there is no true moral debate here that goes anywhere, mainly because the Doc doesn’t actually have the answers. The episode becomes more about him than about the ‘nail biting’ problem the Enterprise faces. Probably because we all know that the planet won’t end up destroyed. That’s just not TNG. Because Picard must go without the Doc’s advice, there’s no moral issue because things work out anyway. Had the planet been destroyed or Picard chosen some negative path BECAUSE of the Doc’s refusal to help, there would be consequences, but ultimately it’s all for naught.
Nathan - Wed, Sep 28, 2011 - 3:54pm (USA Central)
Obviously his remaining in the Picard era did change the future, since the events in TOS episode Assignment: Earth never happened.
Kefka - Tue, Jul 10, 2012 - 6:00pm (USA Central)
Boy does this episode suck. The whole conversation with Picard about breaking the time line is totally out of character and the professor is really annoying, this and the wedding episode are the worst of season 5.
Patrick - Sat, Sep 1, 2012 - 12:14am (USA Central)
It's too bad there wasn't a retroactive call-back to this episode in Star Trek: Enterprise what with Rasmussen being from the 22nd century. (They could work "The Pegasus" in, but not this episode?)

Thankfully, ST:ENT stuck with the continuity from this episode in the sense that they didn't have surgical fields and phasers as mentioned by Worf and Crusher. Also in "The Outcast" it was mentioned that the Federation was founded in 2161. which they also kept for Enterprise.
mephyve - Sun, Jul 14, 2013 - 9:44pm (USA Central)
Every program has its filler episodes. This is just one of STTNG's. That is except for the fact that Picard ignored the Prime Directive again. Imo he should have ignored it in the episode in which the Crystalline Entity was destroyed. Ignoring it here reeked of unwarranted desperation. His reasoning about taking advantage of all the resources available, rang hollow, especially after Beverly was discouraged about asking if there was ever a cure found for a certain disease.
William B - Sun, Jul 21, 2013 - 5:16pm (USA Central)
Man, early season five kind of sucks -- "Darmok" is a classic and one of the series' best for me, and "Ensign Ro," "Redemption II" and "Unification I" and parts of "II" are quite good (to various degrees). But a lot of this does feel pretty meandering and lukewarm. Fortunately, the second half of the season, while actually much more variable -- "Cost of Living" and "Imaginary Friend" are worse than anything in the first half, I think -- also has so many more highs. I feel like I'm just waiting idly for whenever the sea change is, probably around "Conundrum."

Ultimately, what brings the central philosophical Picard/Rasmussen discussion about temporal ethics down is that we know it's moot anyway -- or at least do on a repeat viewings. Rasmussen is not making an actual argument, or is not supposed to; the conviction in the scene only comes from Picard, and so the whole thing is mostly Picard yelling at himself. There could have been an opportunity to connect in his new knowledge of what happened in "Yesterday's Enterprise" (from Guinan/Sela) and its potential impact -- he actually *did* create an evil maniacal dictator with his choices, at least in the way Guinan framed it in "Redemption II."

Anyway, this is a "comedy" episode so it should get a bit of a wide berth in terms of plausibility; still, the crew looks pretty foolish to go along with Rasmussen as quickly as they do. Rasmussen at least has some personality, but it's repetitive and grates after a fairly short period of time. The episode reminds me a little of Captain's Holiday, wherein the Vorgons claimed to be good time travelers but were actually evil time travelers; it works a little better here in that Rasmussen's coming from the past actually has set-up within the episode (the mystery makes sense in retrospect), so there's that. It's still a fairly weak show -- probably 2 stars or something like that.
Daniel Davis - Sat, Jan 18, 2014 - 11:13pm (USA Central)
You know, one thing always bothered me about this episode (and so many other Trek eps) is how they just leave these threads so unresolved.
What I mean is this- So they've sent the timeship back in time and stranded Rasmussen.
Except that, according to dialogue in the ep, they don't have the ability to break into the ship. The ship will only open up with Rasmussen's handprint. The ship's location is also only known to Rasmussen; being sent back to that location would most likely make it seem like a big immovable rock to the people of that century.
So all he has to do is just find his way back to New Jersey and get back in the timeship and he's back in business. And chances are, at some point he'll have access to a replicator and so be able to remake all things the Enterprise crew indignantly took back from him.
Psteve - Sun, Feb 16, 2014 - 12:45pm (USA Central)
@Daniel Davis

If he can just get to a replicator and make all that stuff again, it really begs the question why he didn't simply do that in the first place. That's the biggest problem with this episode for me. If the guy was only interested in acquiring technological trinkets so he could take them back to the 22nd century and 'invent' them, why did he try to pull an elaborate scam on the elite crew of a highly secure starfleet ship, when he could just go to Earth and pick up that stuff for free and nobody would even care?
Aytri - Mon, Sep 22, 2014 - 5:00pm (USA Central)
I like this episode a lot and thought Rasmussen was hilarious in an annoying-kind-of-way. I think Robin Williams would have overacted it too much, though it'd be cool to see him on TNG. Lines like "La Forge remained below..." and "Buck up, crewman. You'll be telling your grandchildren you were at Penthara IV", and the way he says he's from New Jersey, always get a laugh out of me. That he's making this fairly routine Star Trek mission out to be some universe-changing epic cracks me up too.

It's not one of my favorite episodes, but it's one I bring up a lot if me and friends are watching random Trek episodes on a drinking night and want something light and funny.

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