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Under-rated episodes: "Wink of an Eye"

"Wink of an Eye" (TOS): An accelerated relationship

This used the same device of accelerated time as "Blink of an Eye" (VOY), but less systematically. The Enterprise answers a distress call to the planet Scalos and finds an apparently uninhabited city. It turns out that the Scalosians (now a small remnant) were by some strange (but natural) process accelerated in time, so that are too fast for the Enterprise crew to see. Also, their men became infertile. They survive by catching passing spaceships and taking some males to mate with. They know how to bring them up to their speed but believe it cannot be reversed. The new additions don't last long: they are very vulnerable to injury, which causes them to age and die. Before that they become docile and resigned to their situation. The Scalosians treat their captives kindly and believe it is an unfortunate necessity: their need to survive justifies them. Deela, the queen, has selected Captain Kirk. Kirk delays things; they go back to his quarters, and then next we see Kirk pulling on his boots while Deela is brushing her hair... Spock and McCoy eventually manage to save the day; I won't go into details.

Compared to "Blink of an Eye" (VOY) the acceleration is not systematic. The time scale is impossible to make work. The normal-speed crew seem to have an impossibly long time to do things, and things are inconsistent. Some reviews and fan comments have regarded this as fatally undermining the whole episode. But, as is often the case with TOS, this shows a failure to look at what the stories actually are. If you want it to be the sort of SF where the time ratio premise is carefully worked out, then indeed you will be disappointed. But that isn't the point. It's a story about the plight of the Scalosians. They are not bad people; you can understand why they are doing what they do, and they try to be as kind as possible and make their captives happy. The relationship between Deela and her assistant Rael is significant: he is jealous of her liaisons with alien males. Deela retorts: "I don't care what your feelings are. I don't want to know that aspect of it. What I do is necessary, and you have no right to question it. Allow me the dignity of liking the man I select." Deela is excellently played by Kathie Browne: apparently a bit goofy, until we see the steel underneath. At the end, when Kirk asks Deela what he should do, she says, "Don't make a game of it, Captain. We've lost." As she points out, the Federation will warn off ships, and they will die out. She does not know that Kirk now has a way to return to normal speed (and he doesn't tell her, not wishing to gloat[1]) and tells him he can still come and live comfortably on Scalos. They part without apparent bitterness. Deela may be in the wrong—Kirk tells her their survival does not justify what they do—but she is a character you like and respect.

That story, those relationships, those characters, are what the episode is about. The acceleration provides an interesting setting, but we should not ask too much of it.

Note: In one scene, where Kirk has just been accelerated, he tries to stun Deela, but the beam moves so slowly that she can step out of the way. Some critics have complained that if the phaser shot is at the speed of light, this is absurd. But who said phaser fire is at the speed of light? (Maybe this was said later, but not then.) In TOS, in accordance with Rodenberry's principle that things should be used, not explained, we are never told the details of phasers. Incidentally, the TOS phasers had a marvellous special effect—when someone was hit at full power their body glowed briefly, frozen in position, and disappeared. Perhaps this was partly dictated by photography. At any rate, it is far more impressive than the effects used in later Star Trek. (This is also true of the TOS transporter effect.)

[1] Presumably for some reason it wouldn't work for the Scalosians, but I'm not sure if this is made clear. [Return]

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