Star Trek: The Animated Series: The Counter-Clock Incident   Rewatch 
September 8, 2020 11:19 AM - Season 2, Episode 6 - Subscribe

When the Enterprise enters a negative universe, former captain Robert April saves the ship as the crew age backwards. (Series finale)

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Background information
Story and script
  • Prior to the writing of this episode – with its youthful depictions of the series' regular characters – child equivalents of the characters had been conceived as regular fixtures of the animated Star Trek series, before that concept was scrapped. (The Art of Star Trek, pp. 42 & 43)
  • The name Robert April was taken, for use in this installment, from Gene Roddenberry's files. (Star Trek: The Magazine Volume 1, Issue 17, p. 73) It originates from the first Star Trek pitch, Roddenberry's 1964 document Star Trek is.... Early drafts of the original pilot script for "The Cage" also listed the captain as having that name, although this was changed in subsequent drafts of that episode's script and various names were temporarily considered before Christopher Pike was chosen, James R. Kirk debuting in the second pilot episode, "Where No Man Has Gone Before", and Pike eventually reappearing in the original series two-parter "The Menagerie, Part I" and "Part II". The text commentary for this episode, written by Michael and Denise Okuda, states, "In writing 'The Counter-Clock Incident', Fred Bronson wondered if he might bring to life the original name of the Enterprise captain. Although 'The Menagerie' established that Kirk's predecessor was Christopher Pike, Bronson felt that there might have been at least one other captain before Pike. And April seemed a perfect name for that never-before-seen commander. Bronson checked 'The Menagerie' carefully. He was relieved to find that nothing in the episode suggested that there hadn't been another captain before Pike." In addition to featuring April here, Bronson also set the age of mandatory retirement from Starfleet as seventy-five years old since, at the time of writing this installment, he believed it to be a suitably advanced age. (TAS DVD text commentary)
  • It is not clear exactly why, when the Enterprise is hurrying towards a nova so it can return to "our" universe, the rate at which the persons aboard the ship are becoming younger speeds up. By way of explanation, Fred Bronson stated, "In our universe, the faster you travel, the slower you age (as Einstein told us). In the reverse universe, the faster they travel, the faster they age--or in this case, grow younger. There was an explanation written into the original script, but of course the show is only 21 minutes long on the air, so quite a bit was cut."
  • Robert April's Starfleet dress uniform was based on similar costumes used in numerous episodes of the original Star Trek series (beginning with "Court Martial"). (TAS DVD text commentary)
  • The text commentary for this episode regards the elaborate alien laboratory shown here as being one of several sets that were visualized for the animated series but would have been highly expensive to create for a contemporaneous live-action production. The commentary goes on to say that the lab's equipment would have been extremely costly, if built from scratch, and that Hollywood prop rental companies of the 1960s and 1970s had very few high-tech components that could be modified for such use.
  • Depicting officers having been reduced to children, such as in this episode, is another aspect of the outing that the text commentary cites as being a lot more expensive to do in live action than in animation. Even though new character drawings of younger crew members were not exactly free, they cost much less than if additional actors had been hired and provided with costumes and makeup.
  • The shot of the Enterprise and Karla Five's vessel flying right-to-left across the screen, during the countdown before escape from the reverse universe, is an example of a shot that used a smaller version of the Enterprise painting cel than was usual for the series. The actual escape from the reverse universe incorporates two shots (one a panning close-up zoom across the ship's primary hull, and the other an Enterprise flyby shot) that were created with a method called rotoscoping, which involved film of the original series ship in flight being projected onto an animation cel, on which an animator would then trace the image, drawing a series of illustrations. Although the technique was expensive, the cost was deemed acceptable, since such rotoscoped shots were used many times throughout the series. (TAS DVD text commentary)
Continuity and trivia
  • This is one of two Star Trek finales to not have the last line delivered by the captain of that respective series. Here, it is delivered by Sarah April. (The other is "What You Leave Behind", where the final line is delivered not by Benjamin Sisko but by Quark.)
  • This was the last episode of Star Trek to feature any scenes set in the 23rd century until DS9: "Trials and Tribble-ations" in 1996.
  • This was the last animated Star Trek production until ST: "The Girl Who Made the Stars" and "Ephraim and Dot", which premiered at the same time, in 2019.
  • At one point, there was a rumor that this episode – especially its conclusion, showing childhood Enterprise bridge officers – was meant as a pilot for a new animated Saturday morning series entitled The Star Trek Kids and that the proposed series was scheduled for production in 1975. However, this rumor turned out to be exactly that, having no basis in fact.
  • Following this episode's initial airing, it was more than five years before the public release of the next new Star Trek production, Star Trek: The Motion Picture. To date, this is the longest period of time in which the franchise lay dormant.
  • This episode was the last non-feature-length series finale in the Star Trek franchise until Star Trek: Enterprise's finale, "These Are the Voyages...", aired on 13 May 2005.
Poster's Log:

Some minor continuity errors with the crew can be seen as they grow younger - Kirk appears younger in a shot and then normal in the next, etc.

The Aprils' kiss after returning to "our" dimension is the only instance of kissing in TAS.

The concept of mandatory "retirement" will be seen again, most notably in TNG's "Half a Life".

Star Trek: The Official Guide to the Animated Series claims that Roddenberry's written reaction to the time reversal in the alternate universe was "So... how do they pee?"

One also wonders if Karla Five was meant to have given birth to her father (the baby Karl Six) or her son (the quite elderly Karl Four). Also, imagine the ennui that approaches as your family line gets shorter.

Poster's Log, Supplemental:

Happy Star Trek Day! 54 years ago today, Star Trek premiered on NBC; 7 years to the day later, The Animated Series made its first appearance.

Well, we've done it. 22 episodes of animated fun, adventure, mischief, and intrigue. We've seen things get added to canon, we've met new, fantastical species that could not have been brought to life outside of animation, and we've complained about the terrible animation errors. Thank you all for indulging me in a rewatch of this quirky little entry in the Star Trek universe - I hope you came away with some of the love I have for the series.

I'm going to take a couple of weeks to recharge, and then i've been asked to help CheesesOfBrazil with the ongoing TNG rewatch - you'll probably see me hop in somewhere around "Booby Trap".
posted by hanov3r (8 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Goodbye, Star Trek TAS. I hope to see another straightlaced take on animated Star Trek, though I have a lot of hope for the upcoming Anson Mount Pike series for good old-fashioned monster of the week type Trek.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 12:47 PM on September 8, 2020

This rewatch was a lot of fun. I hadn't rewatched most of these eps since their original airing, and while the potato quality of much of the animation was familiar, I found that I could appreciate many other aspects of it (in particular, the background/scenery design) much better. It's also cool that some of the newer Treks, actually starting with ENT, have made at least some of the things here canon, and seem to be continuing with Lower Decks' Caitian doctor T'Ana, as well as an appearance by a member of "Carter Winston"'s shapeshifting race. (I also think that we'll see at least one Edosian, Arex's race, on LOW, if this brief glimpse at the end of S1E1 is of that species.)

Anyway, this is a great way of ending the series, even though it's a bit disappointing to have such a short S2; TNG would do a de-aging of the elderly in "Too Short a Season" and of some of the crew in a later episode, but the progressive nature of it here was done well, I think; my personal favorite of the Trek Babies was Lil' Arex.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:46 PM on September 8, 2020

Also, much appreciation for you doing this, hanov3r, and looking forward to your posts on TNG.
posted by Halloween Jack at 1:47 PM on September 8, 2020 [1 favorite]

One complaint that I forgot to address about this one - Spock's overly pedantic level of precision in his timing. It makes sense to say "we will have 42 point 85 seconds to correct our course after the alien ship enters the nova", because that's a specific amount of time between two specific events. Saying "the other ship will contact the nova in 1 minute 58 point 3 seconds", though, is problematic - what's your mark point for the start of that time?

I know this is kind of a trope within Trek and I'm just an old man yelling at clouds, but it really stood out to me in this episode.

I have a lot of hope for the upcoming Anson Mount Pike series for good old-fashioned monster of the week type Trek

I am so stupidly excited for SNW that I do not have words.

my personal favorite of the Trek Babies was Lil' Arex.

Li'l Arex was definitely adorable. I was completely taken by Li'l Uhura's remarkably bulbous head. And now I really do want "Star Trek Babies" to be a thing, maybe with Nichelle voicing Dr. Sarah April, whose only on-screen feature is her legs and feet.
posted by hanov3r at 2:28 PM on September 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

Jimmy Doohan reprised the role of Robert April in the audiobook of Final Frontier, (no relationship to the movie of a similar title) which I probably listened to on cassette 100 times.

I'll give one more plug for Saturday Morning Trek, which covered this particular episode in the form of...breaking a combined sequel to this and The Alternative Factor as a story that could have taken place in a hypothetical season 3. They cover the episodes of the show in kind of a random order, so the last episode of the podcast doesn't correspond to the last episode of the series.

So long, TAS, we return you to the world of infinite reruns.
posted by StarkRoads at 7:26 PM on September 8, 2020

Considering that this was the "Bizarro World" TAS episode, it was a lot less bizarre than some. I really liked that the Aprils got some good screen time and that the aliens in the Uni-Reverse were so helpful.

For the Robert April appearance that I assume and expect they'll do in Strange New Worlds, I would fancast Jonathan Pryce (for the vocal similarity) but I guess he's too old now.

And now I have seen every minute of Trek! Thanks, hanov3r, for doing these.

BTW, if anybody missed the CBS Star Trek Day panels, a few of them got pretty Real, and if you're here reading this, at least a few of them are worth your while to watch after-the-fact, which you can do here.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 3:19 AM on September 9, 2020 [2 favorites]

It's worth noting that the people here aren't the only ones who found this episode really bizarre. When Alan Dean Foster expanded this episode into a novel, the characters discussed in retrospect the weirdness that a civilization would be born with all its knowledge, and then lose it. Sadly, they had that discussion AFTER they found out the whole thing had been an illusionary experiment by some weakly godlike aliens. Interestingly, the Klingons involved in the second part of the book revealed they had discovered a reversed time empire named Nognilk. Also IIRC the Federation and Klingons didn't pass the aliens test.
posted by happyroach at 1:21 PM on September 13, 2020 [1 favorite]

The Aprils having to choose between being young again OR regaining their memories of their life together is a good dilemma with dramatic potential but it was super rushed. At least, that's what I have to assume the dilemma was - based on what we're presented with on the show they really just decided to be old again for no obvious reason at all.

I would also have accepted "thanks, we'll stay behind in the universe where we have a life expectancy of 75 years"
posted by vibratory manner of working at 12:39 PM on July 4, 2021

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