Sunday, December 8, 2013

Wink Of An Eye

Several Star Trek stories really grabbed me as a kid. The Galileo Seven was one. The idea of being trapped with hostile monsters who wanted to do nothing except kill you and all your friends gripped my imagination. Although probably not in the way Gene Roddenberry intended. He would have sat me down and given me a talking to about infinite diversity in infinite combinations if he'd seen me playing Enterprise crew vs hideous space monsters. That's the problem with coming back to programmes you watched as a child. Your quality criteria is totally different. The Alternative Factor was spooky, and the idea of spending eternity imprisoned, "with a madman at your throat," was something I didn't really understand but I found it haunting in a way I couldn't articulate. Now The Alternative Factor is just bad Star Trek.

Wink Of An Eye was another story that I loved and it's easy to see why. The idea of being speeded up to a point where your friends appear like statues, and you are moving too fast for them to see and hear, is irresistible. It was like the programmes you would sometimes see on television where people were speeded up until just doing something as basic as walking became funny, or things were slowed down until water appeared to flow like treacle. A sign that you've engaged with a programme is when you find yourself thinking about what you'd do if you were caught in the same situation. I remember wondering what I would do if I was speeded up like Captain Kirk and how I would try and contact my friends? I also remember not really understanding why Kirk couldn't just stand on one spot for a long time until someone else saw him. And, although I didn't get it at the time, that's the problem with Wink Of An Eye. Its plot is a cheat.

The whole idea of hyper-acceleration as presented in the script just doesn't work. The logic of the plot actually works against itself. Kirk is meant to be moving at a vastly increased speed compared to the Enterprise crew but Kirk's story line and that of the Enterprise crew run simultaneously, and we cut between them as if events are happening at the same time. When Kirk is first accelerated he meets Deela and leaves the bridge to investigate the mysterious device in Life Support. We cut back to the bridge crew reacting to Kirk's disappearance and then to Kirk arriving at Life Support as if the time it took for the bridge crew to react was also just enough time for Kirk to race through the ship.

For obvious plot logic reasons it's never clearly stated on screen exactly how much faster the Scalosians live. Phil Farrand in his book
The Nitpicker's Guide For Classic Trekkers once calculated that one minute of real time equals at least 840 minutes of Scalosian time; that's one minute of our time equalling 14 hours of their time. That's pretty fast. The bridge crew's discussion of Kirk's disappearance lasts 20 seconds. Unless my maths is completely shot, which is not impossible, that's around four and a half hours in Scalosian time. The Enterprise is a big ship but it seems unlikely that it would take four and a half hours so get from one area to another, even if you couldn't use the turbo lifts (from Kirk's perspective they'd be moving too slowly to be practical, you could wait several hours just for one to arrive). Kirk's story line and the Enterprise crew's story line should very quickly drift out of sync but they can't because this episode is trying to tell a logical and ordered story.

[Actually all this works if you pretend being hyper-accelerated actually means the Scalosians are slightly out of phase with our universe. They could be in a dimension extremely close to ours which somehow allows them to interact with our dimension but in a way that makes our time seem impossibly slow and theirs impossibly fast. Unfortunately this goes against the intention of the script which clearly states the Scalosians are just moving very very quickly.]

Don't get me wrong. The story is fun, in the same way an episode like The Gamesters Of Triskelion is fun. It's made by a production team who are still putting in as much effort as they can. There are visually effective sequences like Deela dodging a phaser beam, or little moments like Kirk's hair being ruffled in sickbay, or the dutch camera angles used in the hyper-accelerated world to make it visually distinct from the regular Enterprise; watch the sequence where Spock drinks the Scalosian water and see the way the camera tilts as the water takes effect, and then untilts in a single shot to show McCoy and Nurse Chapel reacting to Spock's disappearance.

It's because of episodes like Wink Of An Eye that Star Trek often gets lumped in with 60's camp like Batman and Lost In Space. Individually episodes like this are fun, but cumulatively they distort the memory of the series. Deela's introduction seems deliberately designed to be as silly as possible. Kirk explores the frozen bridge when a voice behind him says, "Captain." Kirk turns to see Deela, and he walks towards her across the bridge.

KIRK: Would you mind explaining [she grabs him and kisses him passionately. Kirk pushes her away] Who are you?
DEELA: Deela. The enemy.
[Fade to adverts]

The whole aesthetic of the series has changed.
Star Trek started dabbling with comedy when Gene L. Coon arrived as producer, but recently the tone has changed; and recently means since Spock's Brain. It's the difference between laughing with and laughing at something. It's now as if the production team are talking to us directly over the series going, "we know this is silly, and we know you know this is silly, so let's have some fun." The audience is presented with stories which involve a threat to the Enterprise and her crew, but that threat is made as frivolous as possible so the audience can laugh at the Enterprise crew for taking it so seriously. Maybe it's unfair to ascribe such cynical motives to the production team. Batman had just been cancelled by ABC but was offered a fourth season on NBC. If that deal had worked out the fourth season would have aired across 1968-69 with Star Trek's third season. Other programmes being made at the time include Lost In Space, Bewitched, and The Flying Nun. What we could be looking at is a production team doing their job of keeping Star Trek on the air by tweaking it to appeal to contemporary taste, and if contemporary taste leans towards self-mocking, frivolous and light-hearted then that's the direction the series will take. 

Enterprise crew deaths: Compton who is hyper-accelerated and then aged to death when he suffers "cell damage."
Running total: 49

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