“Wink of an Eye”
Star Trek: The Original Series
Season 3, Episode 11
Directed by: Jud Taylor
Story by: Lee Cronin
Teleplay by: Arthur Heinemann
Original air date: 29th November 1968
Wink of an Eye is part of a tradition in the time travel genre to explore and play with the passage of time. The concept here is fascinating and provocative: aliens that exist at a different rate of time than the rest of the universe. The Scalosians (great name, by the way) live in a hyper-accelerated time stream. As the Queen of Scalos, Deela, explains, they “move in the wink of an eye”. This makes the Scalosians invisible to the crew of the Enterprise, because they’re moving too quickly for the naked eye to perceive. To the Scalosians, the crew of the Enterprise are moving so slowly they appear frozen in time.
What a great idea. It’s one that’s explored again in Star Trek: Voyager, in Season 6’s Blink of an Eye. I was actually expecting Wink of an Eye to have story as well as conceptual similarities to that episode. Even though Blink of an Eye was very well-received, Voyager got a bit of a bad rep for recycling old Trek plots. Fortunately, Blink of an Eye copied very little from Wink of an Eye. In Blink, we have a planet and alien race that exist, naturally, in an accelerated time stream. When Voyager gets caught in the planet’s atmosphere, the ship ends up inadvertently impacting the race’s evolution, which all happens while the Voyager crew are trying the damndest to escape. In Wink, the Scalosians have been hyper-accelerated by a series of natural disasters on their planet. They didn’t used to be like this. And they’re dying out as a result. Crucially, this has made them hostile, preying on passing ships in an effort to propagate their race.
Wink presents us with an intriguing mystery. Captain Kirk and crew respond to a distress call from the Scalosians, but on beaming down to the planet, they can’t find them anywhere. Despite the presence of cities, the planet appears uninhabited. But Kirk notices a strange, high-pitched buzzing sound while on the surface. Kirk suggests that it’s insect life, but McCoy can’t detect any trace of it. Then a crewman, Compton, vanishes right in front of McCoy’s eyes.
Kirk and co beam back to the Enterprise to continue investigating. At this point, the Enterprise starts experiencing strange malfunctions. Later, Kirk hears the strange buzzing on board the Enterprise and he and Spock discover an alien device hooked into the ship’s environmental controls. The computer says that an unknown presence is trying to take control of the Enterprise.
Shortly afterwards, Kirk drinks coffee from a yeoman and, minutes later, notices that his bridge crew have started moving really slowly. It’s a surreal and effective moment. Then Deela appears and explains to Kirk that he has moved into their timestream thanks to a drug that they put in his coffee. He is hyper-accelerated like they are. This is what happened to Compton as well. Kirk attempts to shoot Deela with a phaser, but the phaser beam moves super-slowly, giving Deela time to move out of its path.
We learn from Deela that a series of volcanic eruptions on Scalos led to the emission of radiation that accelerated the Scalosians. It also made them sterile and caused all their children to die. Once a nation of 900,000, there are now only five of them left. Deela explains that their only hope of surviving is by procreating with other races. However, in order to do that, they have to pull those races into their timestream, a process that usually causes them to die quickly. Deela plans to mate with Kirk while the rest of the Enterprise are put into suspended animation by the device attached to environmental controls, to be preserved as breeding stock for when the Scalosians need them.
Kirk records a message for Spock explaining the Scalosian plot and secretly slips the tape into the computer for the Enterprise crew to find. Meanwhile, Spock plays a recording of the away mission on Scalos and speeds it up to such an extent that it sounds like the buzzing sound they’ve been experiencing. McCoy finds Kirk’s recorded message, also exhibiting the buzzing noise. Spock slows it down and realises what’s going on. He, McCoy and Nurse Chapel synthesise a counter-agent. Then Spock drinks the drugged Scalosian water so he can move into the accelerated timestream and give the antidote to Kirk.
I have to say that the concept and broad strokes of Wink’s plot are brilliant. Where this episode falls down—hard—is in the detail. There are serious plot holes and logical problems at the heart of all this. For instance, Kirk and the Scalosians seem to be able to interact with the ship’s systems in the accelerated timeframe in the same way the rest of the crew do in normal time, such as the transporter and when Kirk records his message. Why are these systems not ‘frozen’ in time as well?
Furthermore, why are all the doors open? Whenever we see Kirk and the Scalosians moving around the ship in the accelerated timeframe, they’re never seen trying to get through closed doors. The suggestion being that there was a moment when all the doors on the Enterprise opened at the same time.
In Blink, this is handled much better. It’s very clear when the two accelerated aliens come aboard Voyager that both the crew and the ship are ‘frozen’ and they have to manually open the doors to move around.
The biggest, most obvious logical flaw in Wink is that there are two stories that should be happening at totally different rates of time, and yet apparently unfold at the same time. It doesn’t make sense and it also reflects a major missed opportunity on the part of the writers to explore the implications of being in an accelerated timestream. By the time Spock and McCoy discover what’s going on, develop an antidote and find a way of sending Spock into the accelerated timestream, days if not weeks should’ve passed for Kirk, Deela and the Scalosians. They should’ve been able to succeed with their invasion plan a thousand times over. The writers appear to have forgotten that the Scalosians’ accelerated existence gives them an enormous advantage over the Enterprise crew.
I also thought this idea that the adjustment to accelerated time causes races to become docile and brainwashed into accepting the Scalosians’ cause was ridiculous. Why and how would this happen? It’s never explained. Presumably the writers thought this up just so Kirk could dupe Deela at the end.
Broadly, Deela is a good character, well-played by Kathie Browne, underpinned both by strong writing and poor writing in equal measure. Her first interaction with Kirk on the bridge is sharp. Her best scene is where she explains the history of the Scalosians and their need to mate with other races, and she and Kirk argue over the morality of what the Scalosians are doing.
But the stupid love triangle between her, Kirk and Rael, Deela’s chief scientist, weakens the characters involved and seriously cheapens the episode. We have several scenes of Deela fawning over Kirk, kissing him, calling him “pretty”, but Deela shouldn’t be concerned about these things. She needs Kirk to mate with. End of. Having her be attracted to him is just a way for the writers to perpetuate Kirk’s ladies-man image, but this is the last place that that was needed. We then have Rael’s jealousy of Kirk because he’s attracted to Deela, culminating in him attacking and trying to kill Kirk and Deela pulling a weapon on him.
These are truly dire scenes. Rael’s race is dying. They’re invading the Enterprise for the purpose of gathering mates in order to save themselves from extinction. To suggest that Rael would forget how important this is because of a touch of the green-eyed monster is farcical. And Deela’s rebuke of him is way too soft. Later, she even apologises for it.
Overall, despite the logical problems and the idiotic romantic subplot, I enjoyed Wink of an Eye. It doesn’t go nearly as far as it could have (and should have) with the concept, but it’s fun. And at the end, when the Scalosians’ plot fails, Deela’s interaction with Kirk is haunting and you really do feel sympathy for the Scalosians’ situation:
Deela: Don’t make a game of it, Captain. We’ve lost.
Kirk: If I sent you to Scalos, you’d undoubtedly play the same trick on the next spaceship that passed by.
Deela: There won’t be any others. You’ll warn them. Your federation will quarantine the entire area.
Kirk: Yes, I suppose it would.
Deela: And we will die and solve your problem that way. And ours.
I also liked the moment when Spock remains in the accelerated timestream so he can repair the ship at a uber-fast rate. It’s the only time in the whole episode when the fact that the events are happening at different rates actually has some impact on the story. It’s as if the writers were like—oh yeah, look how useful accelerated time can be!—despite having forgotten about it entirely during the invasion story. Bizarre.
One final thing. Wink of an Eye has the worst fight scenes and reacting-to-weapons-fire acting I’ve seen thus far on TOS. Even from William Shatner, who should’ve been a pro at it by this point. I laughed out loud on more than one occasion.
For a much better, more coherent exploration of the possibilities of existing at different rates of time, watch Voyager’s Blink of an Eye. (And if you want a really great non-Trek example, I recommend Doctor Who’s The Girl Who Waited, a Series 6 highlight.)