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Babylon 5.1
by Rick Norwood

Sometimes a television episode can be good in itself, but bad for the series it's a part of. Two examples of this were broadcast last week, one on Voyager, one on The X-Files.
Star Trek Voyager, "Relativity" (***)
by Nicholas Sagan, Bryan Fuller, and Michael Taylor
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Ratings are based on a four star system.
One star means that the commercials are more entertaining than the program.
Two stars watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars is good solid entertainment.
Four stars means you never dreamed television could be this good.

Star Trek: Voyager This episode made me smile twice before the opening credits. First, it opens with a spectacular CGI effect of the Utopia Planetia Spacedock, where Voyager is being readied for her maiden voyage. Then, there is a neat narrative hook, which lets us know that time is out of joint.

This is another story of the Federation Time Patrol from the 29th Century. A "time" bomb has been planted aboard Voyager, and the Federation Timeship Relativity recruits Seven of Nine to travel through time to locate when and where the bomb is/was/will be planted. As one character says, "I gave up trying to keep my tenses straight years ago."

There is a lot of confusion, the kind that gives O'Brian headaches when he tries to work out the temporal mechanics. Some of the paradoxes are enjoyable, as when Seven discusses the events shown in the film First Contact (****). How does Seven know about these events? They only became a matter of public record in Stardate 50893.5, while Voyager left the Alpha Quadrant in Stardate 48315.6? No explanation is provided, but several possibilities come to mind, all of them interesting. On the other hand, the unexplained fact that the bomb can be observed in its hiding place aboard Voyager at a time prior to the time when the bomb is hidden is merely annoying. And the three year delay between the time the bomb is planted and the time it is set to explode seems merely arbitrary. Tuvok says, "Like most time paradoxes, it's implausible but not necessarily illogical."

We do learn that the time police can arrest someone for a crime he would have been going to commit.

Kate Mulgrew does a good job of playing her four year younger self, with her old hairdo. The references to other episodes are enjoyable. This kind of internal consistency and intelligent attention to detail keep Star Trek far ahead of most tv sf. And the flavor of infinitely recomplicated time paradoxes reminds me of the kind of SF Robert Silverberg was writing in the 50s. Since most tv SF is stuck firmly where written SF was in the 30s, the plot seems advanced -- relatively speaking.

The X-Files, "Field Trip" (***)
written by Frank Spotnitz, Vince Gilligan, and John Shiban

X-Files In a nice bit of opening banter, Mulder speculates that mysterious lights are caused by flying saucers. Scully is skeptical. Mulder challengers her "You always react like that, but who's right 95% of the time."

This is one of the 5% where Scully is right and Mulder is wrong. It's not flying saucers, but rather hallucinogenic mushrooms, as we learn by neatly dropped visual hints long before either Scully or Mulder suspect.

The rest of the show is an enjoyable pair of interlocked twin fantasies, with guest appearances by Skinner and the Lone Gunmen.

So, what's so bad about a couple of three star episodes.

The problem is this.

If we do not care what happens to the characters in a series, we loose interest. But how can you care what happens to characters if time travel can rewrite events, or even erase everyone. With a heavy reliance on dreams, holodeck fantasies, and time travel, Voyager is in danger of causing our suspension of disbelief to come crashing down around it.

And X-Files is already asking us to swallow a lot. Too many episodes that are hallucinations, imaginary stories, or, in one case, a comic book are going to make viewers ready to send the series to the twilight zone.

Copyright © 1999 by Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.

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