Captain's Blog pt. 16: Blink of an Eye

I'll wrap up my Voyager posts with a standalone blog for my favorite episode:

Today's plot summary comes via Seven and Naomi Wildman:

"How does this sound? The Weird Planet Where Time Moved Very Fast And So Did The People Who Lived There by Naomi Wildman."
"Your title is verbose. I suggest you try to condense it."
"The Weird Planet?"
"Better. But it lacks precision. The Weird Planet Displaced in Time."

Cute. I don't know why I get such a kick out of Naomi's and Seven's relationship, but I find it very endearing.

There's more to it, of course, and since we'll examine it in more depth than the capsule summaries provided for other episodes, let's start at the beginning. The Voyager approaches a planet that rotates 58 times per minute.

"That's one that never appeared on the multiple choice exam." - Paris.

While investigating, they got sucked into a gravimetric gradient that traps the crew in orbit. They take readings and discover that due to its tachyon core, the planet experiences time flowing at a much faster rate than outside its atmosphere. What are seconds to the Voyager crew are years to the inhabitants below. 

Meanwhile, the ship's arrival triggers an earthquake, and when the pre-medieval culture looks up to see the arrival of a new star in its sky, it is interpreted to be a new deity, "Ground-shaker," and is integrated into its culture.

I'll get ahead of myself a little here: the establishing shots of the planet, as seen in the title-pic, are used effectively to let the viewer know which stage of civilization the planet is in at that point in the episode.

The geological disturbances caused by Voyager's insertion into the planet's orbit accumulate over the centuries. At first the rulers make offerings/ declare certain plants taboo in an attempt to please the strange, foreboding new deity, then plead directly with it via letters and prayers. Once the culture enters the telescope and radio age, these pleas grow more sophisticated.

Ground-Shaker through the telescope.
Nevertheless, by the time Voyager becomes aware that the people are trying to communicate with it, centuries have elapsed between transmission and reception. As they are undoubtedly aware of its presence and as the ship has already altered the flow of civilization, Janeway sends The Doctor to the surface on a recon mission. He beams down, but his signal is lost.

They recover it almost immediately and beam him back up, but by that time, three years have passed below.

The Doctor tells them that "Sky Ship" is the planet's favorite topic of conversation, and everyone has a pet theory as to what it is and why it's there. He has also downloaded/ memorized hundreds of years of their geological data, and the crew realize the effect their presence is having on the planet's integrity. Their first attempt to break free causes even more havoc below, though, and they abort the attempt.

As primitive superstitions of its ground-shaking give way to scientific exploration and technological innovation, the planet sends up a spaceship to investigate.

Daniel Dae Kim plays Gotana-Retz, one of these astronauts. (He also plays one of the generic soldier-types sent along to fight the Xindi in season 3 of Enterprise.) They fly right up to Voyager and board the ship, only to discover the crew in some kind of stasis.

Not knowing of the time deferential, they are confused and head to the bridge. Once there, they enter the timestream of Voyager, and Tureena, the other astronaut, does not survive the transition. Gotana-Retz is brought up to speed on what the ship's predicament is and agrees to help the crew interpret The Doctor's data. As this is going on, Seven picks up a warp signature from the planet below (time still flowing fast on the surface) and seconds later, the ship is attacked by antimatter torpedoes and a tricobalt device. Clearly, the peoples patience and curiosity have turned into a determination to rid their skies of this cause of their suffering once and for all.

Gotana-Retz agrees to return to the surface to try and get the planet's government to stop attacking them long enough for them to break orbit. He agrees. As The Doctor walks him back to his ship, he asks Gotana-Retz about the sports team he'd followed while planetside, and then he and Gotana-Retz have the following exchange:

EMH (aka THE DOCTOR): It was a pleasure to treat a fellow citizen. Would you do me a favor?
GOTANA-RETZ: Certainly.
EMH: Find out what happened to a boy named Jason Tabreez. He lived in the Central Protectorate.
GOTANA-RETZ: Jason? An unusual name.
EMH: Yes. He was my son.
GOTANA-RETZ: But you're a hologram.
EMH: It's a long story. He's dead by now, but perhaps you could discover what happened to him. Maybe he had children or grandchildren. You... could tell them about me.

I love this little bit. The Doctor spent three years on the surface, after all, and it's cool to see this fleshed out. I'm touched, too, by this simple request to be remembered by his progeny. It's a recurring Trek theme, this "remember me" business, and a not inconsiderable part of my love for the show. (I also like the "Jason? An unusual name" line.)

As always, Robert Picardo manages to be both funny and poignant at the same time. One of The Doctor's finest moments, all in thirty or forty seconds of dialogue.
Only a few moments after Gotana-Retz's return, the tricobalt attack resumes in earnest - and by this time, the planet's technology is threatening to destroy the ship entirely. But, the attack suddenly stops, and a hologram of Gotana-Retz returns. He has explained the situation, and the Voyager is free to leave. Although it'll be some time before his people develop the technology to exist in the different time deferential and "join the rest of the galaxy," all is well. The Voyager leaves.

"I feel like I'm saying goodbye to an old friend."
The episode ends with Gotana-Retz, now an old man, sitting on a hillside and gazing wistfully into the sky. The star that is Voyager winks out and vanishes.

And if you can make it through that part without a lump in your throat, you're a stronger person than I.

"Blink of an Eye" was written by Joe Menosky and Scott Miller from a story by Michael Taylor. It was directed by Trek vet Gabrielle Beaumont.


  1. That's a damn good episode. Certainly better than the original series episode "Wink of an Eye."

    1. I'll agree that Blink is better than Wink, but I kind of like that old chestnut.

  2. A decent episode, yet another that dealt with a concept that I've seen in scifi literature. For example, you might enjoy Robert L. Forward's Dragon's Egg, dealing with intelligent lifeforms that evolved on the surface of a neutron star. They are non-humanoid, but they also experience time much more quickly, and learn to communicate with an orbiting human ship.

    This all isn't meant to dismiss Voyager or suggest it's behind the time scifi-wise. On the contrary; it's nice to see it actually deal with concepts that intrigue some of the best minds working in scifi - the late Robert Forward was a physicist, and noted for tackling some of the outer reaches of our scientific knowledge. In fact, this may be one of Voyager's (and Enterprise's) strengths - it benefited from the increasing popularization of science and more solid advances in what we know, at an increasing pace.

    1. It was also dealt with in Flash (original series) 145 by Gardner Fox. I'll link to that one when I get to "Wink of an Eye." I'm sure elsewhere, too, of course. I'll keep an eye out for Dragon's Egg.