Star Trek Deep Space Nine – From Worst to Best

Season One of Star Trek Deep Space Nine (or DS9 as I’ll refer to it from now on) has got a lot of ‘boiler plate’ episodes, not actually bad as simply predictable stories with no real impact or stakes to them. Episodes where the dread word ‘anomaly’ tends to get passed about a lot. In Trek anomalies are convenient bits of pseudo-science, essentially magic, which creates a very plot specific effect that will require another bit of made-up science to fix.

I’m planning to watch DS9 from start to finish in order for the first time ever, courtesy of Netflix. In the past I’ve watched a majority of the episodes in different ways: VHS, BBC2 and Sky TV, and in a patchy order. Will viewing it as one long epic make me feel differently about some episodes and characters? Will I discover some lost gems or find my memories do not live up to harsh reality of the screen?

Back to Season One. At this moment the production team still seem to be finding out what kind of show they are making. Compared to these high pressure days where a network  show can be cancelled after a handful of episodes, it seems remarkable that they were given three seasons to really exploit how good their premise was. Anyhow at least I can rely on Odo and Quark to enliven any story with some banter, and already there are hints that this was a show prepared to end an episode without every problem neatly reset. Then there is religion. DS9 is still the only Trek incarnation to really grapple with faith in anything like a nuanced way. Watching these episodes again, the other element that is leaping out at me is Avery Brooks’ downright odd acting. Because it is Star Trek his distractingly emphasised delivery of his lines somehow fits in, but I couldn’t imagine it working in any other more realistic show like say The Wire or anything involving naturalistic acting. But here amongst all the other fairly broad playing he gets away with it. And after the diplomatic Captain Picard who sometimes seemed a bit too polite, his more aggressive manner does make him a convincing Starfleet military officer.

I’m going to be covering each season’s episode from the least to the greatest of its year.

An episode focused on Dax in which she largely sits in her room not saying anything. The twist is painfully obvious as soon as the victim’s wife Renora appears. It’s just painfully dull, the kind of characters-earnestly-discussing-a-fantasy-problem situation that sketch writers like to lampoon Trek for. And it only emphasises that the team are not doing enough with a potentially great character.

Move Along Home
Game obsessed aliens is quite a fun idea, but this is an episode made up of budget-saving filler and even the cast look clearly fed-up with some of the challenges in places.

The Passenger
When ideas run out, have a crewmember taken over by an evil alien. This really does feel like a rejected Star Trek The Next Generation plot.

It’s not bad, just the kind of escapade than any incarnation of Trek (or Stargate or Babylon 5) could do.

The Storyteller
In which Bajorans are basically portrayed as superstitious idiots. With the real heir to the Storyteller job obvious from the start, there’s no sense of jeopardy. However Bashir acting as O’Brien’s publicity officer is amusing.

Past Prologue
Kira’s struggle with her new role as part of the establishment after years of being rebel fighter was her defining quality in season one and it was explored a touch repetitively. This isn’t bad but once again it’s pretty obvious where it’s going.

If Wishes Were Horses
Not quite as bad as I remember, but still a generic Trek episode that any incarnation could do.

Brian Keith brings a lot of class to his guest star role. But it is yet another rerun of “Kira torn between being a rebel and being part of the establishment”, and so not as interesting a story as it might have been.

Q turns up and whilst John De Lancie is as entertaining as ever, as is Jennifer Hetrick as his partner Vash, it’s basically a shallow, broad comedy episode. However having Quark being openly criminal but still allowed to carry on at the end, does again point out that this is a different kind of Trek.

Dramatis Personae
DS9 characters should be above the Trek trope that characters have to be possessed by aliens to be less than perfect. But this remake of “Day of the Dove” does build on the existing tensions between the characters and thus is more thoughtful than many episodes this season. Plus it gives us our first encounter with slinky evil Kira.

The Forsaken
Quite a sweet episode thanks to the Odo / Luxania sub-plot that builds to a genuinely touching moment. The pompous Federation ambassadors visiting the station are quite funny too.

Nothing about it is subtle, but this look at the occupation and its legacy on both Bajorans and Cardassians is creditably serious.

Great episode for Odo and one of the first stories dealing with the “otherness” of the Delta Quadrant, full of races who don’t care about the Federation at all. The twists are satisfying and there’s a feeling of groundwork being put in for later stories.

Emissary: Parts 1 & 2
The best of the Trek pilots, setting up the scenario, introducing the cast and telling a pretty good SF adventure too. The battle prologue is a great hook and lends an epic quality. Some lovely character moments too, such as Kira mocking Bashir for his patronising “frontier” comment, or Picard slightly awkward but genuinely considerate farewell to O’Brien. The conversation with the wormhole aliens teeters on corny portentousness but the way their timelessness is depicted is clever. It all feels organic and excellently paced.

Captive Pursuit
Another ABC Trek plot but the performances of Colm Meany and Scott MacDonald are splendid and the episode is the kind of combination of action and philosophy that is the bedrock of Trek.

Battle Lines
A great SF idea and a satisfyingly cynical attitude about violent human nature. Getting rid of a significant supporting character was a bold move that sets off a fascinating ongoing storyline in the next season. Surprising to learn that in the first draft that role was taken by an original character, whose loss would have been far too predictable. Good call by the producers.

The Nagus
Yes it’s as broad as a whale wearing a red nose but for entertainment value I loved this episode with the shameless Ferengi. Even if the plot is predictable, there’s plenty of energy and the comedy sings. I actually can say I enjoyed this as much as the later Tribbles episode.

In the Hands of Prophets
This tale of religious and secular intolerance is the moment DS9 really feels like it has gelled into Trek’s boldest incarnation. Even though teacher Keiko O’Brien is meant to be a voice of reason, her barely disguised contempt for the religious protesters makes her almost as unsympathetic as Kai Winn. Both Louise Fletcher and Rosalind Chao are excellent in this. There is a real feeling in this story of the stakes being raised. Kira’s open faith also adds an interesting extra layer to what could have been a very one-sided drama. Her final scene with Sisko is a lovely summing up of the whole season and almost makes one wish the Trek season formula did not always insist on ending with a cliffhanger. Having a satisfying wrap-up can be just as effective and subtler too.

One thought on “Star Trek Deep Space Nine – From Worst to Best

  1. Hi Gareth. I accidentally received a DS9 season 1 box set from ebay and it’s still sitting on the shelf! Maybe I’ll dip into those ‘not quite so bad’ episodes you mention and maybe I’ll even get onto season 2. All the best, Adrian.


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