Children of Time
(Star Trek - Deep Space Nine episode production code 520)
story by Gary Holland and Ethan H. Calk
teleplay by René Echevarria
directed by Allan Kroeker
This episode boasts a terrific concept for a rich story
that is ripe with possibilities for many of the regular characters,
and is very enjoyably on its best footing when exploring
avenues of what each character may have spawned. But there
is a whacking great flaw in the temporal theory that the A-plot
relies upon for its main drama, making it very hard for wise
audience members to get invested in this one.
Of course, we all expect the reset-button to be pushed on this
conundrum in the end anyway, not least of all because the Stardate
places this adventure just before Worf takes the Defiant
to battle the Borg at Earth in the
Star Trek 8: First Contact
What is curious is how close the episode comes to putting
my usual temporal rebuttal on screen. We see Kira split into two
duplicates for a moment, and we have Dax's descendant hoping
to create two versions of the Defiant so that both hoped-for
outcomes can co-exist. The script even uses the word "quantum"
quite prolifically when trying to support all this. What the
episode never does get right is the concept that you don't
need complicated technology to achieve this kind of splitting
into duplicates - it's already part of the background fabric
of existence, and happens everytime any conscious creature
makes a decision. We don't usually notice anything when it
happens, because each duplicate branches off into his or her
own "parallel" universe complete with quantum-complementary
duplicates of everyone and everything else they ever knew or
might bump into, and each version of the decision-maker
remembers only the path he/she has
chosen, possibly not ever realizing that the other choices
exist in other universes.
In the case of "Children of Time", it is quite frustrating
to constantly hear the argument that if the Defiant crew don't
sacrifice themselves in a repeat of this planet's history,
8000 people will cease to exist. That's crap. Whatever
happened to create these people most certainly took place in
one of trillions of co-existing timelines. No matter what
our current Defiant crew decide, it won't change the timeline
that these people spawned from, or the legitimate 200 years of
history now behind them. In fact, it is very likely that
there are already all kinds of differences between the history
that our Defiant crew has lived through vs. the one that the
crashed Defiant crew could tell their descendants to look forward to.
Plus, if they weren't isolated on a shielded planet in
the Gamma quadrant, they may well have witnessed, if not influenced,
a whole different 200-year galactic history to the one recorded in
the crashed Defiant's computer records. You really have to wonder
whether the Defiant that crashed on this planet first met
some descendants from the crash before they got flipped back in
Each time through this loop, the Defiant is likely
sliding to a parallel universe, bleeding information sideways
through time, information that includes unrealistic expectations
of what each new universe's Defiant crew may do. One of these
loops could easily end up in a universe where there is no
Defiant arriving at the planet, or one that has a very different
crew. Do we even know if the entire crew manifest is
EXACTLY the same as these colonists expect? A few differences
would be an exciting twist.
In fact, we never do get any evidence in this story that
the crew of the Defiant that crashed first met their
descendants and visited with them for two days before
going back in time, as our Defiant's crew is doing.
It's hard to believe that not a single character in this story,
with all their scientific Starfleet background and 200 years
to spare on thinking about it, couldn't come up with this better
theory of time, even if just to entertain it as a possibility.
Everyone seems to have a diverse opinion on whether the Defiant
should sacrifice itself or not. What about a different opinion
on temporal theory? Have they never heard of
David Deutsch and Fred Alan Wolfe?
Of course, science is rarely ever going to be strictly airtight
in fiction like this, but I think the characters' approach to
science is much more loose and clumsy in this episode than in most
others. It starts on approach to the planet, as the crew has
great difficulty explaining exactly what intrigues them about the
planet, and what the difficulties of discovering more really are.
In fact, it almost feels like each line of dialogue describes
a completely different phenomenon or challenge.
By the time we get to the end of the story, we have to wonder if
it was supposed to be the entire barrier itself that flipped
the Defiant back in time to crash, or if it was one particular
sweet-spot on the barrier that did it. We also have to wonder what
this interference is at the beginning that is increasing so badly
and so rapidly that a probe will not be able to send readings
about what is going on down on the planet. They can't even
decide if the life they detect is on the planet or not, or tell trees
and plants from fungus. This is a particularly
bad plot hole by the time we get to the end of the show,
because this same interference should prevent the Defiant crew
from being able to tell if the colonists still exist down
on the surface or not. Of course in my book, the colonists CAN'T
vanish with a wave of time's magic wand. My model of time
and choice is more elegant, and I can easily account for their
continued existence. The only actual event that could contradict
my theory of time would be the disappearance of the colony
at the end, which we thankfully don't see. We just get a line
of dialogue from someone taking a reading, and there's plenty of
reason to distrust that reading's accuracy. In fact, for
all we know, the quantum barrier around the planet may divide
one universe from another. Any contact may be able to slide
a ship from one universe to another, and the planet that you
see from the outside may not be the same version of the
planet that you visited when you were on the inside.
Strange how all the characters have such convictions over
what the magic wand of time will or will not do.
about the garden for a moment. Time's magic wand is supposed
to erase the colonists as though they never existed, but our
regular Defiant crew obviously will continue to exist as they
have always done... but the garden is a joint creation between
the two parties. Does this mean that the trees planted by
the colonists will vanish or untransplant themselves, while
the trees planted by the current Defiant crew stay where the
crew put them? What about trees that were planted by both groups
in tandem? Will Sisko's holes suddenly become empty, or trees
that Bashir planted in Yedrin's holes suddenly be uprooted,
but sitting on the ground in more or less the same place?
It becomes ridiculous under the single-line rewrite model of time.
One also has to
wonder why a good chunk of the colony's history is recounted by
children who speak like adults and have their version of events
taken 100% seriously, no tire-kicking or probing questions asked.
The real point here is that our regular Starfleet characters
appear quite undisciplined in scientific method in terms of
how they observe, gather evidence, come to their conclusions,
and articulate themselves. Rarely do they appear so sloppy.
Though the episode loses some points for trying to suggest
(unconvincingly I might add)
a society that eventually never happened, at least the story
never really turns into an adventure that never happened.
Sisko and his crew never actually do any time traveling themselves;
they just hear reports that they might. Thus in the end, they
accumulate full experiences that will be remembered and have
impact on their continuing arcs on the show.
Nowhere is this more in evidence than in the relationship
between Kira and Odo, who go through a number of particularly large
turning points in this one. Theoretically, that is all good,
and I have to say the look of the episode is particularly
impressive here, with René Auberjonois getting to
show more of his real face than usual, and getting to do it
out on a gorgeous location shoot as well. But I'm still not sure
about the believability of the whole Kira-Odo thing.
It's a nice touch to see how Odo has blossomed after another
200 more years, becoming more open.... but that makes it all
the harder to accept that he wouldn't have become interested
in other people at several points during those 200 years,
and that he wouldn't still be involved with someone else
at this time. Perhaps the writers are banking a little too heavily
on the audience siding with Kira's opinion on relationships
rather than Dax's.
The biggest kicker is the thought that Kira might be upset with
Odo for "causing" 8000 people to "cease to exist". Honey,
get your temporal theory checked, not to mention your use of
Defiant sensors through energy barrier interference. The colony
still exists. Odo is guilty of nothing! This kind of misplaced
emotion makes me want to rattle the desks in the DS9 writers' room
to wake them up a little.
In the end, "Children of Time" does have its moments, mostly
in the first half where the theory Dax's descendant puts forth
creates a welcome oasis from the pointless drama that bad temporal
theory will spawn. But, a bit too much emotion is misspent
on the wrong idea in this story, and it is ultimately another
frustrating example of how badly Star Trek writers consistently
mess up their time travel stories and wallow in the non-existent
necessity of sacrifice.