Thoughts on “Tempus Fugit”

Written by  on September 20, 2000 

Thoughts by Thomas Lee

By Thomas Lee

If there is any one Season 5 Voyager episode that, in a nutshell, represents what had gone wrong with "Star Trek: Voyager," "Relativity" would be a pretty good candidate. "Relativity" is a story that, ultimately, was done for the express purpose of showing off Jeri Ryan (in this case, often with a Starfleet uniform in place of her usual costume and prosthetics as a ‘special attraction’) and to further glorify the characters of Seven of Nine and Captain Janeway (the message being that Janeway and Seven are so superior that even 29th Century timecops need their help). As is usually the case with such J & 7-glorification stories, the glorification was partly done by inflicting on the rest of the characters a terminal case of the stupids, and the timecops of "Relativity" arguably suffered the most of all this way. Indeed, in regard to the portrayal of the timecops in "Relativity," the story was so bad that Jeffrey singled it out for particular criticism when he remarked about Star Trek’s portrayals of timecops:

"Trials and Tribble-ations" came close to how I see the timecops doing their jobs, but it didn’t go into enough detail about what they DO with the information that they gather. As for "Relativity," I would like to think that it just didn’t happen in this timeline—it’s the worst portrayal of a timecop that I’ve ever seen.

In addition, for temporal science enthusiasts like Jeffrey, further insult was added to injury by the sheer illogic of the story’s grasp of time travel. As more than a few fans have lamented, Voyager’s writers have used time travel as an excuse to throw logic and consistency out the window, and "Relativity" was among "Voyager"’s worst offenders in this regard.

However, as readers of "Tempus Fugit" [TF] now know, Jeffrey couldn’t resist the urge to try to make a good story out of the mess that is "Relativity." Indeed, Jeffrey has taken what was arguably one of Voyager’s weakest episodes—and turned it into the story that "Relativity" could—and should—have been.

Although TF is as much a Seven story as "Relativity" was, the central themes of the two stories are very different. In contrast to the blatant "superiority of Seven and Janeway" theme that pervades "Relativity," TF’s central point is how experience and training can overcome readily quantifiable advantages. Although this theme existed to a small degree in "Relativity" (as shown by Janeway’s ability to handle a counter-tampering mission far more cleanly than Seven), it has been magnified and made central to the plot of TF.

In Braxton’s initial recruitment of Seven, he emphasized just how important her Borg cybernetics were in her qualifications to carry out a mission as a timecop. Although an initial (theory-based) "qualification" seemed to indicate that Seven was ready, the actual mission quickly proved to be too much for her limited experience, and not just as a timecop—Seven’s social inadequacies caused her no small amount of grief in her attempts to be unobtrusive. Furthermore, her cybernetics even became a liability at a crucial point in the mission. Eventually, Seven did manage (albeit via a past version of herself) to complete the mission—but at an unacceptable amount of damage to the timeline’s integrity.

In contrast, when Phillips was recruited to undo the damage alternate-Braxton (and Seven) had done, he pulled off his mission with such expertise and professionalism that he made his success look easy. (It was an indication of just how superior Phillips’s skills are that Janeway, for all of her theoretical knowledge and pride, insisted that Phillips be retrieved and sent instead of attempting to handle the mission herself—which was borne out by Phillips’ squeaky-clean intervention.) This showed that what made a successful timecop was not hardware (cybernetic or otherwise), but experience, professionalism, and training—three things that Seven sorely lacked, for all of her Borg abilities and hardware.

The same could also apply to a comparison between Dan Phillips and the crew of the Relativity. Even though the latter has access to historical information and technology far beyond anything Phillips had ever imagined, the conversation between Phillips, Braxton, and Duquesne quickly showed that Phillips is, by a fairly wide margin, the best-qualified timecop on the entire vessel. This point was made most bluntly by the inability of the Relativity‘s crew to even discover on their own that Phillips was a DTI agent in the first place, despite careful records kept for just this eventuality (to say nothing of Seven’s attempt to point this out to them)—apparently, they had come to rely so heavily on their technology that they had lost the skills to employ that same technology to its fullest potential.

The theme of theoretical versus practical advantage was further explored in TF’s rewrite of the Ping-Pong match in "Relativity." In "Relativity," the Ping-Pong match paired Tom Paris and Seven of Nine against Harry Kim and B’Elanna Torres. This incongruous pairing not only upset P/T and K/7 fans alike, but it also represented Mr. Braga’s favoritism towards two characters (Seven of Nine and Tom Paris) set against two characters in his disfavor (B’Elanna Torres and Harry Kim) as well as the lengths to which he would go to show it off.

In contrast, TF’s version of the Ping-Pong match not only makes much more sense relationship-wise, but it also reinforced TF’s theme of theoretical versus practical abilities. As mentioned in both TF and Relativity, Seven has "a visual acuity index of 99.6" as well as Borg-enhanced physical abilities, and Harry was not only Captain of the Starfleet Academy Velocity team ("The Disease"), but the three-time Academy champion of Parrises squares ("Tsunkatse") as well. Throw in Harry and Seven’s ability to work well together, and you’ve got what should be the most formidable sports duo on Voyager.

However, in the actual Ping-Pong game, the impressive theoretical edge of the K/7 team proves insufficient against the P/T team. On paper, B’Elanna (who is hardly clumsy) would be a significant impediment to a K/7 victory (and Tom would be the theoretical weak link in the P/T team)—but, in the end, it was Tom’s experience and determination to win that proves crucial in putting the P/T team ahead of the theoretically superior K/7 one.

The Ping-Pong game also represented a means by which the Parallel Voyage Seven of Nine can be compared and contrasted with her Bragaverse counterpart. In the latter, Seven is disdainful of human recreational activities, and only participates when Tom Paris appeals to her sense of Borg superiority. In contrast, the Seven we see in TF has embraced the Ping-Pong game as a recreational activity to be enjoyed with her friends and her lover (who she even credits by name for training her, and whose present status in Seven’s life mocks the Bragaverse episode "Someone to Watch Over Me"). It’s scenes like this that emphasize the progress that Seven is making in the Parallel Voyage timeline—and her stagnation/regression in the Bragaverse.

Despite Duquesne’s admonition to Janeway and Phillips to keep quiet (and his statement that their memory engrams would not be resequenced), I wouldn’t be surprised if Janeway and Phillips had been, without their knowledge, "integrated" with the current timeline (much like what we saw done with Captain John Christopher and the air police sergeant in the TOS episode "Tomorrow is Yesterday"). Not only would this address how, by their intervention, the particular timeline from which Janeway and Phillips were taken from now no longer exists, but the "integration" would ensure that Janeway and Phillips wouldn’t remember anything about their experiences with the Relativity to reveal (accidentally or otherwise).

As one might expect, Jeffrey, being the temporal science enthusiast that he is, gave the wobbly temporal science (not to mention the story logic and integrity) of "Relativity" a complete overhaul for TF. With cheap (but grossly illogical) laughs such as Seven’s multiple mission fatalities and present-Braxton’s arrest eliminated, TF actually flows in a credible manner that "Relativity" never even attempted to do, and thus shines under a level of scrutiny that "Relativity" quickly falls apart under.

Furthermore, the timecops in TF (even including the alternate-Braxton) got a partial makeover from their Keystone Kops portrayal in "Relativity." Though they were still not up to Jeffrey’s standards in regard to the competency and professionalism one should expect from timecops, it was still enough for them to help Seven complete her mission without dying once. (In all fairness to Jeffrey, he couldn’t give the Relativity timecops anywhere near a realistic level of professionalism without eliminating the need for them to recruit Voyager crewmembers in the first place). Many of the plot points made in "Relativity" in order to promote Seven’s superiority strain credulity. For example, given the rate of technological advancement in the Federation, Seven’s cybernetics should be pathetically primitive by 29th Century standards—by the mid-25th Century, I’d expect Band-Aid-sized adhesive devices that could do everything that Seven’s optical and cranial implants were capable of and more (the Doc’s mobile emitter to me has always ‘actually’ represented very late 24th Century tech instead of 29th).

In contrast, though, TF strongly implies that the ultimate purpose of Seven’s recruitment by Captain Braxton was to get her to move to the 29th Century as a Federation timecop (especially with the nullification of her timeline of origin). In this light, many of the apparent inadequacies and limitations of the Relativity‘s technology can be explained away as the crew not examining the capabilities of their own ship carefully enough in their focus on getting Seven (as symbolized by their overlooking of Dan Phillips).

Now, Seven does have a few things in her favor as a potential timecop. Her eidetic memory will come in handy for counter-tampering missions (in which no amount of knowledge about the time period is sufficient), and her cybernetics do have potential special applications (though for this to be realized, they will need updating and much better camouflage than the pathetic version defeated by 24th Century tricorders in both "Relativity" and TF). Even so, if she stays to become a field agent, she’s going to need a lot of training and experience to realize her potential (not to mention socialization and humanization).


Unlike "Relativity," TF deliberately ends with an unanswered question—namely, what became of the Seven of Nine whose adventures we followed in the story. I asked Jeffrey about this, and he responded that, for the moment, the fate of the alternate Seven was something best left unresolved for the time being. (As for being returned to a timeline that no longer exists, Jeffrey remarked that it was similar to what we saw in "Timeless," where the "canceled" timeline first runs its course before being absorbed into the new timeline).

In any case, this ending scene demonstrates just how far Seven of Nine has come in her relationship with Harry Kim. There was a time when Seven would have eagerly embraced staying in the 29th Century, with its troves of knowledge, history, and technology. But, as we learned in Jeffrey’s previous episode rewrite "Breakdown," Seven now places a very high priority on her relationship with Harry—and now, at the end of TF, we’ve learned just how much Harry now means to her (more than her own life, if need be).

If the Harry Kim from the (now) alternate-Seven’s timeline is brought to the 29th Century, he could provide much-needed lessons to the crew of the Relativity on how to make the most of the technology at their disposal (a skill Seven still has much trouble with). In addition, it’ll probably be (no pun intended) just a matter of time before Seven looks up the historical records to find out what happened to and between her and Harry in the standard timeline…

Although the USS Relativity was depicted as a timeship in "Relativity," it was depicted as something much more capable in TF. The original version could only operate with and along the "main" timeline, while the TF version was capable of working with multiple timelines (even those that have been eradicated)—a capability that begins to approach that of the Q Continuum itself. Given the efforts of the Q to encourage humanity to reach for its potential, maybe this is what the Q had hoped for when they (somehow) ensured that the Guardian of Forever would no longer be available for use by the Federation.

Upon finishing TF, Jeffrey remarked,

I said it ["Relativity"] didn’t happen—which is still somewhat the truth. The episode, as seen on TV, didn’t happen. ["Tempus Fugit"] is MY take on what it could have been.

In any case, the point still stands that, with "Tempus Fugit," Jeffrey has taken one of Voyager’s Season 5 biggest losers—and transformed it into a story that actually works (no small feat given how dysfunctional "Relativity" was).

Memorable non-"Relativity" quote from "Tempus Fugit":

  • "Give us a few minutes."
    "I don’t have a few minutes."
    "You’re not thinking fourth-dimensionally. To you, it will have only been seconds."
    —Duquesne and Seven of Nine

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