I never really liked Star Trek: The Original Series. A pile of the films were bad too. There I said it.
As a kid in the 80s I did however love Star Trek: The Next Generation. I tried to re-watch Season 1 again a few years ago and remembered it having a few stinkers. I can’t remember why I never really got into Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but I think I only started watching it around Season 4 or so when Worf joined the crew. At that point I thought it was great. I did then watch Star Trek: Voyager. Which again had a pile of stinkers but some really cool concepts.
One thing I didn’t do though was go back and watch the rest of DS9. I had intended to watch TNG/DS9/Voyager in order at some point. Netflix scooping them all up has made it possible. I figured though, that as I had already seen the others I’d start with DS9. That way if it was removed before I finished all 3 series it wouldn’t be so bad.
So I dumped my comic backlog aside and started watching DS9 Season One. It was a mixed bag and there are definitely some great elements to it, but some of the bad is really really bad. I’ll try to give a short overview of each episode and what I liked/disliked about each as well as links to the excellent Memory Alpha Star Trek wiki.
The background to the show is that the Cardassians have been an occupying force on the planet Bajor. They also controlled a space station nearby called Terok Nor which was originally built by Bajoran slave labourers. After 50 years of occupation they withdraw leaving the station behind. Over the period of occupation Bajoran freedom fighters/terrorists (depending which side you are on) fought back against the Cardassians. Starfleet has sent a delegation to run the station to keep the peace among the transition to a new free Bajor. The hope obviously being that Bajor will join the Federation.
Unlike previous exploration series of Star Trek this one is set in a fixed location with small expeditions out. Focusing on geopolitics and long story arcs it really is very different and ground breaking. It definitely follows previous shows in tackling social issues especially tackling religion and spirituality, albeit some clumsily and also highlights other issues in troubling ways which aren’t really addressed. But I’ll come to that later.
I’m starting to write this whilst half way through season 2 with only fleeting knowledge of later events so I’ll try to discuss things with the knowledge of the show as you are watching it. I expect to fail and be ignorant of how important things are later.
Episode 1/2: Emissary
The new commander of the station Benjamin Sisko arrives alongside his son Jake. His wife had died previously in the battle at Wold 359 so there is tension with Jean Luc Picard with the Enterprise involved. This allows O’Brien, Keiko and their daughter Molly to transfer. This hand off from the still continuing TNG show helps introduce audiences to already known characters.
On the station in this episode are a number of new characters, some fully fleshed out characters of their race who had previously been in an episode or 2 of previous shows. Major Kira is a former Bajoran rebel now liaison to the provisional government with the station. Odo is a shapeshifter of unknown origin, in charge of security. Quark runs a gambling den and bar alongside his brother Rom and nephew Nog. Jadzia Dax is a Trill symbiont, who has known Ben Sisko in her previous host. Changing hosts over the years allows her to comment on what it was like being a man chasing women in a previous life etc. This clearly makes some characters uncomfortable but seems natural to her and to some others. Doctor Julian Bashir is the least likable character of the show. Being a total sleazeball and consistently sexually harrassing female crew members is the main driver for this as well as being a smug condescending dick. Garak is a Cardassian on the station who is merely a simple tailor running a clothing shop. These form the main body of the senior crew for the show and recurring characters given A or B plots.
Kai Opaka is a spiritual leader of Bajor and provides the hook to the story plot as well as introducing the prophets and Bajoran religion. One issue I’ve always had with Star Trek is that it’s great that it highlights diversity amongst species encountered but not within species encountered. So although there are exceptions and I remember things changing later in DS9 for example, you can pretty much take for granted that all Ferengi are obsessed with profit, all Klingons love fighting, all Vulcans are introverted logicians, all Bajorans are of the same religion etc.
In discussion of the Bajoran religion, Ben finds out they have Orbs which appear in space and provide visions. on further investigation they discover they all originated in the same rough area of space. As explorers they go to this location and discover a wormhole. Travelling through and back they realise they have found the first ever stable wormhole in the Star Trek universe which allows travel 70,000 light years to the Gamma Quadrant and back. The opportunity for exploration and commerce as well as making Bajor a now major strategic point for this radically change the expectations of all on the station.
Following up more on the Bajoran religion they go inside the wormhole and communicate with the entities the Bajorans refer to as prophets. They declare Ben to be their emissary which from here on will have a massive effect on his relationship with the Bajorans and Cardassians.
This is all from the first 2 episodes but serves to highlight the total shift away from the Monster of the Week formula of previous Trek outings.
Episode 3: Past Prologue
Tahna, a Bajoran, arrives on the station and tests Major Kiras loyalties when it is suspected he is plotting against the Federation. From his point of view the Cardassians have been replaced by the Federation and must be opposed too. Cardassians and Klingons are also on the station with the Klingons involved in smuggling bomb parts to Tahna to blow up the wormhole. His plot doesn’t really make sense. The Federation take over the station in alliance with Bajor. The wormhole is then discovered. He thinks that if the wormhole is destroyed then the Federations motivation for staying will be nullified. I suspect the outline for the series had the wormhole already existing or something and the writers got confused as this makes no sense at all.
In the end he is caught and Ben offers the choice between arrest by the Federation and Bajorans or being handed over to the Cardassians where he will likely be tortured and killed. Whether he would follow through with such an act is unknown.
Episode 4: A Man Alone
An episode which opens with Bashir clumsily hitting on Dax and doesn’t really improve. The plot can be summarised as
Man tries to frame Odo for the murder of his own clone. No idea what the writers were on. The only highlights are Jake and Nog starting to become friends and Keiko starting up her school on the station.
Episode 5: Babel
The episode has a rubbish McGuffin, but the story around it is not terrible. People start suffering from Aphasia and fail to communicate with each other. In a show with universal translators where first contact with a new species is flawless, communicators and computers all interfacing each other it’s interesting to see everyone being thrown out of their depth.
Episode 6: Captive Pursuit
The episode opens with an argument between Quark and Sarda, a
Dabo girl. Quark had hidden a clause in her contract saying she has to have sex with him. I think at this point every episode had shown Bashir sexually harassing a colleague and now Quark. No repercussions or even acknowledgement of any of it until now.
The station has first contact with a species from the Gamma Quadrant, a Tosk. It turns out that they are genetically bred for and only exist to be sought by a group called the Hunters. Maybe they were a terrible prototype for the Hirogen. O’Brien has sympathy for the Tosk and helps him to escape the Hunters. For the first 2 races to be encountered from the Gamma Quadrant they were both a bit rubbish and I don’t think they recur.
Episode 7: Q-Less
The episode opens with Bashir hitting on some poor woman and then Vash, a character who briefly appeared in Next Generation shows up. In the background of the scene is everyone’s most annoying recurring character: Q. Vash and Q had been seen going off to explore the galaxy. Vash wants to leave him but Q the narcissistic possessive arsehole won’t let her go. There’s a McGuffin plot and snore. Terrible episode made worse by Q being in it. They could have cut him out and still had basically the same shit story. I have to admit, at about this point I almost gave up on the show on the watch through.
Episode 8: Dax
Dax and Bashir are working together. As they finish for the night Dax wishes to retire for the night. Serial harraser Bashir tries to get her to agree to let him walk her home. For fuck sake, will someone neuter this sex pest. Dax is kidnapped by people who are arresting her.
She is charged with murder due to a crime committed by a previous incarnation of Dax. The story is actually really good. It lets you learn a lot about the Trill, how they change with each new host/symbiont pairing. It’s all about the self and uniqueness of each pairing and whether one can be tried for crimes of another. It’s exactly the kind of episode I remembered liking from the later episodes I saw – exploring philosophy, morality and the rights of an individual.
Episode 9: The Passenger
Bashir is possessed by a dying alien and spends a chunk of the episode acting woodenly and putting on a crap voice. I’m really not selling this show by this point, but stick with it, it gets better :(.
Episode 10: Move Along Home
A delegation of Wadi arrive on the station from the Gamma Quadrant. The third race from there we meet, to never meet again because they are pants. They trick Quark into transporting some of the senior staff into a game and he has to play the game and help them escape. Taking risks by gambling and escewing greater profits where necessary. It’s good in that it helps flesh out Quark as an interesting character who sometimes puts the needs of others first. The Wadi are shit with a crap catchphrase they keep repeating in an annoying loud voice whilst banging sticks together.
Look writers, you know when you were told you could create completely new races from a new quadrant of the galaxy, is this the best you could come up with, or were you trying to create a contrast with some of the great ones we meet later? I seem to recall the same thing happening in the early days of Voyager. And lets be honest, in the middle and late days too.
Episode 11: The Nagus
Grand Nagus Zek, the leader of the Ferengi has arrived to save the season! Brilliant character with more personality than every new race we have met so far. Zek dies and Quark replaces him as Grand Nagus. He tries to transition to his new position of power. One interesting funeral rite you find out is that Ferengi sell the remains of their dead. With certificates of authenticity obviously. Quark has to deal with people scheming to double cross and kill him, including Rom. Eventually we find out Zek isn’t really dead, he was just wanting to see if his successor was up to the job or not. A Chekovs gun (not that one) is left with you realising Quark is going to be key to Ferengi interests in the Gamma quadrant. Yay for the abandonment of bad plots and the laying down of story arcs.
Episode 12: Vortex
Someone called Croden kills a plot enabling character. Upon arrest by Odo he says he recognises him as a Changeling from the Gamma Quadrant. This is the first time we have heard of any possible origin for Odo so his interest is piqued. He shows him evidence of this knowledge by way of a token which behaves in the same way he does and is capable of morphing shape. When hearing he would be taken home where he faced execution, he tries to convince Odo to travel to the planet where he found the pendant instead. Odo although curious can’t agree because of justice etc.
On the way home they are attacked by the twin of plot enablining dead character. Croden convinces Odo now to flee into the area where the pendant was found. When they arrive on a small planetoid he rushes off leaving Odo behind. Odo catches up and it is shown that he is really after a stasis chamber where his daughter is. On his planet a criminals family are killed and he managed to rescue her. Odo takes pity and allows the two of them to take refuge on a Vulcan ship and is prepared to lie about his death. It shows Odo is not a mindless cop only caring about justice in the legal sense, but in the moral sense too and also has empathy for other outcasts. He also strays into moral relativism by not recognising another worlds notion of justice as justice.
Episode 13: Battle Lines
Great episode with the Kai Opaka visiting the station and wishing to travel through the wormhole. She, Ben and Kira travel through and end up stranded on a prison planet. Here life meaning life is an understatement. Nano-bots keep reviving the 2 sides of a civil war who have been dumped here every time they die. They continue to exist as a warning to others. Kai Opaka dies and is revived here. When they investigate they find out that once this has happened it’s like Royston Vasey – you’ll never leave. She is happy to stay and explore her Pagh because religion and stuff.
Episode 14: The Storyteller
A disappointing dip in the show where we get a Bashir and O’Brien bonding story. They end up in some bizarro region of Bajor where O’Brien becomes the white saviour of a cargo cult. Jake and Nog meet a girl their age. It’s bad.
Episode 15: Progress
I don’t know if great episodes like this appear so because they normally have a bad one next to them. The A-plot is Kira trying to convince an elderly Bajoran and his family to leave the moon they live on so that industrial works can take place. He refuses as it’s his home and is willing to resist to do so. He is a great character for a one-off appearance and helps navigate scenes and conversations around so Kira sees her own struggle against the Cardassians as an analogy to his situation.
The B-plot is also great, Jake and Nog try to trade widgets for other types of widgets in an effort to make Latinum. Jake appears to be the better businessman of the two which is also amusing.
Episode 16: If Wishes Were Horses
What was I saying about good episodes appearing better because of crap ones being around them? It’s terrible prosthetics time as a bunch of characters from peoples imagination appear starting with Rumpelstiltskin. Bashir had an active imagination too. Oh yeah it’s Dax, in love with him. And described by the real Dax as
really is submissive, isn’t she?. Oh well it’s all japes. Bad episode is bad.
Episode 17: The Forsaken
Lwaxana Troi appears on the station amongst a delegation. When she discovers Odo she wants to add him to her bucket list having never encountered his species before. He’s take aback as he is private and doesn’t value relationships above friendships. It’s as annoying as Bashir as she tries to manoeuvre to let them spend time together. There’s some bad CGI of fire and nothing much else happens in this bad episode. Oh come on series, surely you can end on a high having given us 1 good episode out of the last 4.
Episode 18: Dramatis Personae
Thanks for delivering on my pleas you writers of 20 years ago. The crew start to not act themselves and split into factions with plots and counter-plots. An airborne McGuffin is causing them to see conflict and conspiracy everywhere. The kind of episode that really works in a stationary location where everyone can easily get cabin fever.
Episode 19: Duet
Aamin Marritza, a Cardassian, arrives on the station with the symptoms of an illness he could only have contracted if he was involved in slave labour camps for Bajorans. As they investigate his story you start to really get a picture of the way the Cardassian military works to fake, delete and cover up data with plots and sub-plots and cover stories for cover stories. Major Kira has to wrestle with her immediate need for justice and the need to find evidence to back up events. Brilliant episode made better with great characterisation by Aamin.
Episode 20: In the Hands of the Prophets
Secularism is explored with some religious groups from Bajor unhappy that Bajoran religion is being taught as philosophy and not fact in the DS9 school. Vedek Winn is the main antagonist and becomes a recurring character helping to show the different religious schism on Bajor. Eventually they result to terrorism and bomb a school unhappy that their magic sky fairies aren’t given enough respect. Especially as she speaks to them through a magic box whearas Ben has only met them and been conferred the title emissary by them.
So a bit of a mixed bag. Loads of new characters and races introduced. Some as 1-dimensional, some as fully fleshed out. Some great exploration of philosophy and sci-fi analogies of real life situations. A set up of the conflicting planets around the station and the complexities of their societies. Much, much better than the previous formula of just monster or McGuffin of the week. A Ferengi or Klingon ship approaches, go get the racial stereotype trope manual out so that this captain is as interchangeable as another etc. As I finish this I’m part way into season 3 and can’t believe that some of those people and ideas that DS9 is best known for haven’t even been mentioned yet, never mind made an appearance.
The character of Bashir really is a downer for the show and I’m glad that they tone him down a lot in future episodes. I think I’m more annoyed that you never even see him get a slap and I can’t remember anyone ever complaining about his behaviour. Meanwhile every time Quark is greedy it’s shown as a bad thing. All thieves and troublemakers are shaken down for their morality by Odo. The reaction to Sisko contemplating handing someone over to be tortured to death is definitely flagged as being wrong.
Some episodes were total stinkers, but sadly it reflects on Star Trek poorly that I think there are probably less of those than there were in season 1 of Voyager or Next Generation.
If you’ve never watched DS9 before but are familiar with the Star Trek universe I’d definitely give it a shot. If you’ve never seen Star Trek I’d say to watch Next Generation and then pick this up at the appropriate time. If you aren’t a fan of Star Trek or science fiction then I’d question why?
Science fiction is best when, and the best science fiction does hold a mirror up to our world. By setting the Original Series 300 years in the future they were able to show Russian and American crew-mates at the height of the Cold War and TVs first interracial kiss. Deep Space 9 is showing you a planet recovering from decades of fighting off an invading army, where one side refers to the fighters as terrorists and the other as freedom fighters, after the end of the first Intifada.
CGI ages it and some of the technological ideas seem dated, but that’s because they were looking to the future as well as influencing it. Ok we don’t have warp drives or transporters. We do have tiny mobile devices providing instant communication. Siri let’s us ask the computer a question and it’s speech recognition can attempt to parse it and dictate an answer back. Padds they carry for data are a clear influence on the IPad and 3D printing is the very first step towards replicator technology. There’s clearly a difference watching a science fiction show in the present and watching one from 20 years ago, but how amazing that some of the things in this show which did appear to be science fiction are now real, or very close becoming real?