22023 "The Counter-Clock Incident"

(airdate: October 12, 1974)

Writer: John Culver [pseudonym for Fred Bronson]
Director: Bill Reed

Robert April: James Doohan
Karla Five: Nichelle Nichols

Sarah April: Nichelle Nichols
Karl Four: James Doohan

Stardate: 6770.3

Captain's Log: The Enterprise is ferrying Commodore Robert April, her first captain, to his retirement ceremony on Babel when the ship encounters an unknown vessel travelling at impossibly high speed toward the Beta Niobe supernova. The Enterprise attempts to prevent the ship from destroying itself but ends up being pulled after it, into a reverse universe where time runs backwards. In order to get back to their universe, a star needs to be going nova in both universes. Spock finds a suitable candidate, matching a nova currently happening in our universe, and the Enterprise is able to return home, despite temporarily dealing with a significantly de-aged crew.

Whoops!: Why does everyone suddenly start getting younger so rapidly at the end of the episode, given this wasn't happening at any point earlier on? [There was apparently an explanation cut for time that in the reverse universe, the faster you go the faster your age changes, which is the reverse of relativity in this universe - which still doesn't make sense, but at least is something; the actual broadcast episode doesn't even give us that as a fig leaf.] And why do the uniforms also conveniently shrink as the crew does? There's also the matter of how Spock can remain in command the longest because he ages slower than the others, even though he's roughly the same age as the rest of the command crew. And no one thinks to put April in command from the start, even though he's significantly older than anyone else (so he'll retain his knowledge longer) and has command experience with the Enterprise.
     Time runs backwards in the reverse universe, with people starting as elderly and growing younger until they reach the time of their birth. Yet Karla Five's son is significantly older, while her father is just a baby - shouldn't this be reversed? Presumably their ages relative to each other would be the same as in our universe, just running in the opposite direction; otherwise, to put it delicately, how on Arret did Karla Five give birth to her son?

Classic Lines: "What a blessing to be able to live one's life over again - if the life you've led has left you unfulfilled. No, Sarah, I don't want to live it all over again. I couldn't improve one bit on what we've had together."

Alien Love: Commodore April and his wife share a rather touching kiss at the end of the episode.

Library Computer: Commodore Robert April was the first captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise. He was present at the San Francisco Navy Yards when the Enterprise's "unit components" were built and considers the ship as rather like his child. Currently 75 years old, for the past twenty years he has been a Federation Ambassador-at-Large. He is married to Sarah April, his former medical officer aboard the Enterprise. He considers the Enterprise bridge "more like home than anywhere else". He was facing mandatory retirement, with a ceremony honoring his achievements to be held on Babel ("Journey to Babel"), but after the events of this episode the Federation was considering rescinding that retirement. He considers his life to have been fulfilling and has no wish to live through it all again. [Robert April was the name of the captain in Roddenberry's original Star Trek pitch.]
     Sarah April was the wife of Robert. She was the first medical officer to serve aboard a ship equipped with warp drive. [This was fine at the time of broadcast, when it looked like the show was set in the 22nd century, but it obviously causes problems with later installments of Star Trek. But a couple points before we completely dismiss the idea. First, it's worth noting that Phlox, the doctor on Enterprise, is technically a civilian, not a member of Starfleet, and so there's potentially some wiggle room regarding the meaning of "medical officer" - Sarah April might be the first Starfleet medical officer aboard a warp-capable ship. Second, it's never actually stated that the ship she first served on was the U.S.S. Enterprise, so we don't have to worry about pinning her service to the launch of the NCC-1701. Of course, this requires that Starfleet didn't have official Starfleet members as medical officers for something like seventy years, which is stretching credulity rather. Perhaps she means something different from what we expect when she says "warp drive", to mean something like "warp 9 drive"? (Though that wouldn't really jive with her other comments about being a pioneer.) Or maybe she's going senile and everyone's too polite to correct her.] Sarah designed many of the tools still used by Dr. McCoy. Her achievements as a pioneer doctor in space were well-known. She was interested in a purple orchid-like flower from Capella IV ("Friday's Child"), which had a lifespan of only a few short hours.
     Beta Niobe was a supernova, resembling a pink-and-light-blue cotton candy donut. Kirk called it one of the galaxy's most beautiful sights, but the nova is hot enough to destroy a starship. April noted that Kirk and the Enterprise were present when the star went nova ("All Our Yesterdays"). According to the star charts seen in this episode, Beta Niobe was located on the opposite end of the Milky Way from Earth. [This gets revised subsequently in the Star Trek universe, once the idea of dividing the galaxy into four separate quadrants is established. Also, believe it or not, this episode contains the first reference to the Milky Way by name in Star Trek.] Its counterpart in the reverse universe was called Amphion and was going nova at the same time as Beta Niobe.
     In a different dimension to our own but occupying the same space was a "reverse universe", a universe of anti-matter where time traveled in reverse. It was characterized by black stars shining in a white void. If two stars were going nova at the same place at the same time, it was possible to travel between the two universes, given sufficient speed (at least warp 22). [This process also presumably converts any matter passing through it into its anti-matter counterpart, and vice versa, given that neither ship exploded in the other universe. It's also worth noting that this sounds similar to the negative universe described in "The Alternative Factor", as well as the artificially-created "anti-time" universe in TNG's "All Good Things..."] People who passed into this reverse universe found their brains working in reverse; this meant they could understand the backwards language of the native inhabitants, but also that they had to relearn all the Enterprise's functions, as everything appeared to operate backwards to them now. As time was running backwards, people became younger rather than older. One native of this universe was Karla Five, a young blonde woman from the planet Arret [geddit?], which was located in the same place as Earth. Karla Five was an explorer of space, piloting an exotic, vaguely jet-shaped blue ship, which was capable of speeds of at least warp 36. Her son, Karl Four, was an aging scientist who was able to help Spock determine the differences and similarities between the two universes. She also had a father, who was just an infant at the time. By comparing the charts of the two universes, Spock was able to determine that, while there were no two novas happening simultaneously in both universes, there was a dead star in the same location as the nova Minara ("The Empath"), and so by igniting the dead star with sufficient quantities of positive matter, they could create a nova in the reverse universe and thus provide a gateway for the Enterprise to return home, with the help of Karla Five's now-unmanned vessel.
     While traveling at high warp through the reverse universe, the crew of the Enterprise experienced severe de-aging effects, such that the youngest crew member would return to the time of birth in slightly over eighteen minutes. As people de-aged, they also lost their accumulated knowledge. Fortunately the transporter contained a memory of the crew's original molecular structure and was able to reverse this de-aging effect.
     Vulcans age more slowly than humans or Edosians.
     Federation personnel are required to retire at the age of 75. [This directive is no longer in effect by the time of The Next Generation, given Admiral McCoy's appearance in the first episode. Perhaps April's actions here led to this policy's end.]

Final Analysis: "The flow of time is reversed in this universe. The longer we stay here, the younger we will become." The Animated Series ends with a fun, entertaining episode. The stuff with the reverse universe is rather clever, and Robert April is a great character, demonstrating that age need not be a barrier. The energy and goodwill the story builds up as a result of all this helps it power through the deeply silly climax, with the inexplicable de-aging of the crew. It's not perfect, but "The Counter-Clock Incident" is a strong entry and a fine send-off for the series.

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