Thoughts on “Out of Time”

Written by  on July 13, 2000 

Thoughts by Thomas Lee

By Thomas Lee

With "Out of Time," Parallel Voyage has come full circle. Ever since "Homecoming," new stories of "Parallel Voyage" have been addressing issues raised in prequels to "Getting Home." Now, "Out of Time" elaborates on the events of "Challenger" as well as other stories in the "Parallel Voyage series—and ties "Parallel Voyage" in with Jeffrey’s other series, "Merrimac," as well.

"Out of Time" focuses on the experiences of Lt. Dan Phillips, formerly of the early 24th century, during the events of "Parallel Voyage." As "Out of Time" makes clear, the Dan Phillips we met in "Breakdown" is indeed the same Dan Phillips that we were first introduced to in "Assigned Duties" of Jeffrey’s other series, "Merrimac." Through him, we got to see the Challenger‘s crew’s perspective of how they ended up in the Delta Quadrant, circa 2375 (and an explanation of how an Excelsior-class starship—which was, at the time, one of Starfleet’s most powerful vessels—was mauled so badly by a single Gorn vessel. It still didn’t reflect too well on the Challenger‘s captain, though).

In a number of ways, Phillips is one of the best characters to provide a real outsider’s view of the events in "Parallel Voyage"—as a member of the Starfleet Division of Temporal Investigations, Phillips was not a permanent part of the Challenger crew, or even an officer primarily assigned to starship duty. In addition, his extensive knowledge and understanding of temporal physics, unmatched among the Voyager crew (including Seven of Nine) despite it being over half a century old, enables him to focus on the time travel that has been an important part of "Parallel Voyage" without straining credibility. It helps a lot that, as one might guess from his use of his own Stardate system instead of the official one in "Breakdown," Jeffrey takes the subject of time and temporal physics far more seriously than TPTB (who have tended to use it as just another form of technobabble throughout Voyager).

Phillips’s assignment to astrometrics was a stroke of luck – even before he had revealed his association with Temporal Investigations to Janeway, he had been given the shipboard assignment that was best suited his talents (prior to Harry and Seven’s upgrade of the Astrometrics lab, the primary purpose of astrometrics was to track the apparent positions of the stars in order to determine the current date, as we saw in "Future’s End" and the movie "First Contact"). Of course, this assignment would also put him in contact with Seven of Nine… and his girlfriend-to-be, Marla Gilmore.

In "Prodigal Daughter," we were introduced to Marla Gilmore’s friendship with Seven of Nine. Now, in "Out of Time," Jeffrey has gone into more detail about this less likely of friendships.

At first glance, the quiet, withdrawn, claustrophobic Marla is one of the least likely candidates to strike fear in the heart of Seven of Nine. But, after the events of "Equinox," that very same unlikeness is one of the things that makes Marla so terrifying to Seven. Just like how the Ewoks in "Return of the Jedi" didn’t know that the Galactic Empire’s stormtroopers were supposed to be invincible, Marla was too new to Voyager to understand that Seven was supposed to be superior to human Starfleet officers. Given how thoroughly Marla had wiped the deck of Equinox engineering with Seven (and how helpless Seven had been rendered onboard the Equinox), Marla represents to Seven how—if they were not so careful about harming her emotionally and physically—any of the adults on Voyager could similarly make her look incompetent.

Ironically, it would be precisely what Marla represents to Seven that would make her such a good friend for Seven, as Harry realizes. Far too often, TPTB have depicted Seven as so obviously superior to humans as to make one wonder why she should bother to make the effort to become human in the first place. While Harry Kim represents the best of humanity in traditional ways, Marla represents how being human can be superior to being Borg, even by Borg standards (such as her ability to comprehend temporal theories). In that sense, Harry and Marla would represent the yin and yang of why Seven should make the effort to become human. Furthermore, by interacting with someone like Marla, Seven would gain an understanding of the perspectives of those who are intimidated by her. Thus, together, Seven’s relationship with Harry and her friendship with Marla have given Seven a very powerful motivation to integrate herself into human society—a kind of motivation which TPTB have been conspicuously afraid to give the Seven of the "Bragaverse."

As for Seven’s possessiveness of Harry… given what we learned about her in "Breakdown" and the events of "Equinox," Seven’s irrational fear of Marla stealing Harry is understandable. After being thoroughly humiliated by Marla during the events of "Equinox," having her boyfriend stolen by Marla would be the "icing on the cake" of Marla’s demonstration of superiority over her ("See—I’m even a better romantic partner than you for the person best suited for you"). It not only lends detail to Seven’s insecurities regarding Marla, but it also follows up on the revelations of her fears of losing Harry in "Breakdown," and more importantly, the reasons behind her fears of losing Harry. It’s a conspicuous contrast with the "Bragaverse," where Seven’s "character development" (if it can be called that) very rarely is lasting or followed up on, and is primarily an excuse (and not a very good one) to have an inordinate number of episodes focusing on her that repeatedly cover the same ground ad nauseum.

Through Phillips’s efforts, we learned the fate of many (though not all) of the characters we were introduced to in "Merrimac" and left behind in the early 24th century. We also learned what became of Ilyana Ivanova-Phillips—a sadly ironic fate, given her pride in being assigned to the Enterprise-B. The manner of her death was a grim reminder that the glory deservedly associated with the name Enterprise was not obtained without a price in blood and lives.

Even so, Phillips has gotten off to a good start in reestablishing himself in the late 24th century. His reunion with T’Maril—and his meeting his "younger" half-siblings—went reasonably well, and he has already found a romantic match in Marla Gilmore. He was even able to retain his original profession, despite that it technically no longer existed by the 2370s.

Phillips may have had a greater transition than most of the Challenger crew to make—by the 2370s, Temporal Investigations was no longer part of Starfleet, but now existed as a purely civilian agency known as the Department of Temporal Investigations. Nonetheless, the bureaucracy of DTI handled itself well in "Out of Time"—the way in which DTI dealt with Phillips’s desire to remain both in Starfleet and in DTI speaks very highly of the organization’s flexibility and attention to detail (as should be expected of an organization that takes seriously a job of monitoring—and ultimately maintaining—the timeline). As for Phillips himself, the considerate ways in which Phillips arranged and handled his interviews with Janeway, Kirk, and Marcus did a lot of credit to him as a professional. That Jeffrey was careful not to attempt depicting a complete interview or report did a lot to preserve his depiction of Phillips as a competent professional who specializes in 24th century temporal science—in this case, "less was more." (It’s a lesson that TPTB ought to apply to their use of technobabble).

During the course of his interview of Janeway, Phillips remarked on the poor regard in which DTI is generally held in. No doubt this is due to the "X-Files"-like public image of DTI—surely it’s not a coincidence that the first DTI agents we were introduced to were named Dulmer and Lucsly (anagrams of Mulder and Scully)? To outsiders, they probably look like a bunch of busybodies wringing their hands over cosmetic scratches to the timestream after the real officers of Starfleet had just finished repairing the real damage themselves—as if there was anything DTI could do about any "inconsistencies" they might determine through their nitpicking aside from recommending reprimands and making themselves feel important by harassing those same Starfleet officers after the fact. After all, as far as the general public is concerned, whatever happened is now part of "the real timeline" anyways, right? Which leads to what I imagine is one of the most hurtful ridicules of DTI’s efforts—that "It’s all just a waste of time."

However, not only did Jeffrey’s portrayal of Phillips and other members of DTI help emphasize that these folks are serious professionals, but Phillips’s revelation of DTI’s use of "mop-up teams" helped reinforce that DTI’s work is for practical purposes, and not purely theoretical, though this point could have more strongly made by Phillips going into detail about what these mop-up teams do, and when. When I asked Jeffrey about this, he responded:

…what’s to say there weren’t any timecops in the background in First Contact? Their job is to repair the timeline—saying "Hey, I’m a timecop from (insert year here)!" would be kind of counter-productive. And I’m sure Riker et al caught hell for telling Cochrane so much about the future.

Actually, the majority of the damage to the timeline was repaired by Picard et al, so DTI didn’t have as much that they had to do. What a mop-up crew would have to deal with in that case would be events after the Enterprise left 2063—explaining who the "new" launch crew was & where they came from (and what later happened to them), covering up the nanopolymer used on the makeshift warp plasma conduit, possibly massaging the memories of Cochrane & Lily so that their memories of the Ent-E crew aren’t so specific (Betazoids/Vulcans/etc. would come in handy here)…

I see the mop-up crews as being from a point later in the timeline, like the Relativity. The reports are filed, then pulled out later when they have reliable time-travel technology. It doesn’t matter when the origin time of a mop-up crew is, as long as they go to the right destination time and do the job they need to do. Like Dan said, "After all, what is time, really?"

Conceivably, following the events of First Contact, DTI now has ships that can travel like the Borg Sphere did (if they didn’t already), paving the way for ships like Rasmussen’s timepod, the Aeon, and the Relativity.

It’s ironic that the more successful DTI’s "mop-up" teams are in minimizing timeline damage by a given incident, the less apparent it is afterward that a mop-up team was ever needed for that same incident in the first place. Those who serve in DTI probably have one of the most thankless jobs in the Federation. But the not-so-theoretical possibility of pastwards time-travel in the Star Trek universe makes it an important one.

"Out of Time" was a new perspective on "Parallel Voyage"—one that added to the series as well as integrating many of Jeffrey’s Star Trek stories, and even series, together. It even gave us a closer look at the Department of Temporal Investigations (for those who, like Jeffrey, have an interest in the events in "Star Trek" that DTI would look into, go here).

Which does lead to the obvious question—why can’t TPTB do this good a job of keeping the Star Trek franchise similarly unified?

Memorable Quotes from "Out of Time":

  • "Most people don’t seem to like timecops."
    —Phillips to Janeway
  • "How did you scare the big, bad Borg?"
    —Phillips to Gilmore about Seven’s fear of her
  • "I’ll let it slide….this time."
    —Gilmore to Phillips about his forgetting of their date.

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