Back in 1966, Star Trek was so new and unusual, most of the ideas were novel. The stories were interesting and strange and often quite deep. Creating new and compelling ideas must have been so much fun for the writers. Someone with a “what if” scenario offers one quirky idea after another and then weaves them into tales of adventure. It was, in many ways, a golden era for Science Fiction. It was uncommon to see space adventures on TV and when they would appear, very little offered the excitement of Star Trek. The big names gave us The Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone but they were anthologies mostly based here on earth. Lost in Space gave us a comedic take on science fiction and Doctor Who hadn’t hit its glory days in the US until some years later. Earlier shows like Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon were serial pulp, not thinking science fiction. So when Trek presented some of its new ideas, with a crew we had come to know and love, it was truly exciting. But, like this episode, the heyday was too brief and would fade in the wink of an eye… perhaps too fast to really appreciate because only 2 seasons have really held up during my return to this series. The third is, alas, mostly a mess.
Wink of an Eye offers us a really interesting idea: what if we were accelerated? Our lives move by so fast, we could do in an actual hour what would take days or even months to accomplish. Kirk finds himself accelerated to a speed that is invisible to the naked eye. In this accelerated form, he encounters the episode’s antagonists; a group of 5 Scalosians (except really 3 of them are just for show and have no place in the story. Deela and Rael are really the only Scalosians of any merit.) What do they want of him and the crew? Mates. (I mean that the way Donna Noble interpreted it in Partners in Crime.) Conceptually, we have an interesting “right to survive” episode full of moral ambiguity that makes us think. In actuality, we have a joke built on a really cool idea.
I should have seen how wrong it was going to get before anything even happened. Spock tells Jim that the people of Scalos are humanoid “judging from the paintings”. A) He says this while standing next to a statue in humanoid form. B) They had a recorded message showing who they were and what they looked like!! By Apollo, Spock, I thought you were related to Sherlock Holmes! Later, Spock analyzes recordings from the planet and watches the earlier scenes from the episode (out of order, I might add). How does he have this? Is there some invisible recording that goes on when they go down to the planets? Kirk doesn’t do much better. He’s angry when he learns that his ship has been invaded until Deela appears before him wearing Trek’s sexiest outfit to date. Suddenly his anger is gone and he smiles at the invader. Later, he compounds the 60’s attitude by admitting that he only looks at other women “if she’s pretty enough…” Well, Deela isn’t just pretty, Jim! She also knows how to use a Transporter on a Federation starship; it’s not all about the looks! And a couple of quick thoughts, literally: even if Kirk could be accelerated to the speed of Deela Sexy-Gown, would his clothes be able to sustain that rapid a movement? And if the Scalosians really move as fast as they seem to (able to dodge phaser fire, for instance), my guess is the time is out of sync between what they do to the Enterprise and how much time Kirk and Spock have to solve the story. (In other words, if an hour of our time gives them enough time to say, build a skyscraper… well, you see what I mean, right? It’s like the Flash – he might actually be able to beat the Hulk in a fight simply using his hyper-speed. Anyway, I’m mixing genre’s but I suspect you get the idea!)
Still, the concept was good and Deela was actually a very hard villain not to like. She’s gentle and sweet despite her plan and her self-assurance is a little unnerving. She really just wants to allow her people to survive by any means necessary. But that’s also where the episode takes its greatest plummet. Deela says Kirk is stuck in accelerated time, which of course, he is not. She realizes she’s beaming back to her planet where the 5 Scalosians will eventually die because Kirk will warn people away from this area of space. In effect, Kirk is beaming them back to a planet to die as a species. I’d call that genocide but he basically allows time to be the killer. However, they have a cure! Why didn’t Kirk and Spock offer it to the Scalosians?? Don’t say “the prime directive” because a race of 5 isn’t a breach of protocol especially when genocide is on the table! Why was the cure kept from those who needed it most?
And maybe that’s where a mighty series like Trek failed in the 50 minute format. We needed a little more time or maybe a bit less dialogue to turn a good idea into a great episode. Instead we are left with another season 3 flop. Not the worst that Trek has to offer, but depressingly far from the best. ML
The view from across the pond:
Long term readers of this blog may recall my pet theory about Doctor Who fitting within the traditions of children’s fantasy fiction, an approach which reached its peak during the Matt Smith era. You probably won’t be surprised to discover that I was delighted to find that same approach applied to Star Trek here, but the really clever thing is the way it is integrated with a solid bit of sci-fi.
That integration of styles is best illustrated by the buzzing noise that afflicts Kirk. It is insect like, comprised of little voices, as if he has been singled out to eavesdrop on a fairy realm. The revelation that it is the sound of somebody speaking in a plane of existence where time is sped up brings the idea firmly into the realm of sci-fi.
Kirk is eventually transported into the fantasy/sci-fi land by means of a magic potion, and when he gets there he finds the queen of the magical/pseudo-science realm. We lack the magic door which children’s fantasy fiction so often gives us (the rabbit hole, the wardrobe, the TARDIS), but note how consuming something from the magical world allows a person to interact there, just like Alice. When he gets there, Kirk finds the queen, but this being Star Trek the storyline of Kirk in Wonderland consists of Kirk going to the magical world and getting laid there.
That brings us to Deela, probably the most positive portrayal of female sexuality the series has ever given us. Star Trek has been so horrendously misogynous that the series desperately needed to show us a character like this. Note how the objectification of women infected the first and second seasons in particular, which gave us a parade of soft focus lovelies, whereas the third season has made some headway in offering a more balanced view of femininity, something that gets ignored by every Trekkie’s perception of the third season’s drop in standards (so far, I’ve seen a mixed bag, much like the other two seasons).
Deela is powerful, authoritative, flirtatious, and at times aggressive in her sexuality. She treats both Kirk and Rael as flawed beings due to their gender characteristics, and is a genuine threat to Kirk. It almost manages to be a gender-flip story; this being Star Trek, however, Kirk has to win through in the end, but he needs the largely asexual Spock to tip the balance in the sexually-charged battle of equals. An amusing indication of how far Kirk is out of his comfort zone can be seen when he tries to arm himself with a cushion at one point.
I got the strong impression here that the writers were trying hard to do something different. Even the ending, with Kirk asking his conquered enemies, “what do you want us to do with you?” is a subtle departure from what we are used to.
I have perhaps given too much of an impression that I loved this episode, but it does suffer from the familiar Star Trek problem of having about 25 minutes of story material stretched to fit the 50 minute format, sagging in the middle as usual. Trek nearly always requires some effort not to nod off part way through, but the difference here is the successful attempt to take the series into some very different territory. Star Trek has become a bit of a slog to get through at times, and this episode isn’t really an exception, but it does justify the effort, for once. RP