February 11, 2007

The Genius of DS9

Writing about web page http://www.startrek.com/startrek/view/series/DS9/

Star Trek CastOK yes it's a Star Trek post. It's not going to turn into one of those Picard vs Kirk posts (Picard by the way). I just had to express how brilliant this series is.

I haven't seen it since I saw the final episode back when it aired on Sky One. If you didn't have Cable or Sky you'd have to rely on terristrial TV... and anyone who spent their youth as a Trek fan yet lacked access to Sky 1 would find themselves relying on BBC2. And the problem with BBC2 was we'd frequently encounter this message:

"We're sorry to all our regular viewers/Star Trek fans, but this week's episode has been cancelled. Now we bring you snooker."

Yes... Snooker. The Non-Spectator Sport. It was the bane of my youth. How happy I was when I had access to cable! The deliciousness of Sky One. All those Trek repeats! Buffy followed by Angel!  New episodes of DS9 and Voyager up the wazoo. Those were good times. Good times.

Anyhow, I haven't watched it in many years and then a post a wrote a post a month ago that rekindled my passion for the show.  I went out to the Silk Market and obtained for a very reasonable price what appear to be all 7 seasons on DVD. I'm now half-way through season five. And I can only say that age has bettered the series.Worfs1

Unlike The Next Generation (henceforth TNG!) and Voyager (VOY) Deep Space Nine (DS9) has aged very well. Look back to the first series of TNG and while the first episode(s) will give you a jolt of nostalgia followed by a Patrick Stewart-induced (what an actor), you'll laugh your head off at the ludicrous eighties make-up and the frequently boring plots (saved by the acting). Voyager has remained the same as it always was, as irrelevent as it always was.

But watching DS9 at the same time as Season 6 of 24, it made me think how wonderfully DS9 addressed both issues of the time and issues of the day in what is often a more tactful, humourous and balanced way than TV shows of today (ie like 24).  Let's see what's covered:

1) Torture - Garak attempts to torture Odo.

2) Occupation and Resistance - Bajor and Cardassians.

3) Complex international politics - The interplay between the Federation, Klingons, Cardassians, Bajorans, Romulans and the Dominion.

4) Racism, Race-relations, interracial marriage and friendships - this theme occurs frequently eg Sisko as "Emissary", Jake and Nog, Rom and Leeta, Dax and Worf etc.

5) Creationism vs Science in schools - Vedek Winn vs Keiko O'Brien.

6) Freedom vs Security - When the founders start showing themselves on earth.

7) Paranoia and Betrayal - Ben and Yates, Garak.

8) War and the fine line between necessity and war crimes - Biological warfare committed against the founders.

9) Terrorism vs Freedom Fighting - this theme is often explored in episodes delving into Bajoran/Cardassian relations.

10) Religion vs Scepticism - the whole Prophets arc is beautiful. Aside from the moments in the wormhole where "linear' is used far too many times, I love the way Sisko balances his skepticism with at least partial belief (for example when Sisko has the vision concerning Bajor entering the Federation.

I've gone through some of the general themes and would love to hear more from you guys about which themes you consider particularly relevent in today's world. But since 2001 I think DS9 has become even more modern than it once was. Despite the odd crappy episode ("Filler" nonsense that plagues every series, like the episode on Risa - bleh) we see a strong series of episodes. We see continuinity in nearly every episode and, moreUSS Defiant importantly, we see constant growth.

Growth? In what way? Well like TNG, the first couple of seasons are interesting and exploratory. Like a baby on its first footsteps. The acting is generally good, but sometimes the actors are struggling to find the niche of their character. In the first season Siddig al-Fadil is clearly a bit over-the-top. It fits in well with his character I guess ( a brilliant doctor seeking to impress). But the acting flaws are present in all of the characters. But it makes their growth all the more impressive. By season three they are all truly comfortable with themselves and they compliment one-another. The acting continues to develop along with the make-up, specifial effects, plot and uniforms!

TNG was good. The acting was superb - practically everyone on the bridge except for Marine "Eye-candy" Sirtis was consistently wonderful. DS9 was brilliant and the acting matched the plots (with the exception of late addition Ezri Dax who made me want to punch her every time she spoke). VOY was like a stagnant pond. No real growth. Ensign Kim of season 1 was the same Kim of season 7. The only real change in VOY was the inclusion (and ruination) of the Borg.

DS9 knew what the audience desired and delivered it. We had great acting. Great plots. Consistency (of a kind - DS9idiots like me will notice how Sisko claims his father is dead before his father somehow works its way into the plot). Some fantastic CGI warfare. Lovable characters. Extraordinary scripting.  I don't know if it won any awards but by hell did it deserve to.

So if you're a Star Trek fan, dust off your old videos or invest in the DVD collection and watch DS9 once again, juxtaposing your nostalgia with moments of "Wow I wish Bush, Blair and the Israelis would watch this!" If you're not a Trek fan then give this a go. It's really worth it. And it reaches its peak when Sisko shaves off the 'fro and dons his magnificent goatee and everyone wears the Dominion War Uniforms. 

Oh and sorry Holly, but Voyager is a bit rubbish :P. 

- 15 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

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  1. What you say is Eloquent, yes, but TNG has Patrick Stewart and Data. So it clearly is the best! Data is cool :)

    11 Feb 2007, 19:44

  2. Look I’ll admit that Data is great. Despite Insurrection and Nemesis. And despite his poor career choices post-TNG (Dude! Where’s my car? Yuck).

    And I’ll go as far as saying Stewart is one of the finest actors ever. Levar Burton? Hello Captain Planet! When your powers combine… I’m still blind! Whoops

    It was great. Buuuut at the same time it was a big mix of hit and miss (which is why I say the acting is great but the stories not always quality). There were some good plots and some terrible plots. And it was very piecemeal. So we had a hundred and something vignettes with the only real sign of continuity being the odd episode featuring Plot Device x (where x= The Romulans!, The Klingons!, The Borg!, Q! and/or Lore!). But we had some real classics (in fact I think nearly all the season finales were excellent, especially All Good Things)

    Mmmm with DS9 we’ve got Rodenberry in his (space) grave. And we’re free of all the cloy parts of TNG. Finally some darkness! And DS9 brings it in buckets. Murders, treason, warfare galore! MWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAA

    And let’s face it DS9 essentially paved the way for Star Trek: First Contact (the best trek film). The new uniforms, the amazing early fight scene “Sir… It’s the quivers Enterprise”, Worf and the lovely darkness.

    Now all we need is a DS9 Movie. Perhaps one that brings Sisko back from the Prophets (I think they hinted to this in the series – in one episode Sisko relinquishes the role of the Emissary because he didn’t fulfil one prophecy: the Prophets would give him back his life). Plot Device x threatens the Federation and we get the great cast back and hopefully a great plot! Just NO MORE BLOODY TIME TRAVEL “Sir we’ve hit a Chromatom well of tachyon emissions that’s increasing the capacity of our Warp Dirve to Warp Factor 12 whilst simultaneously creating a subspace bubble of neutroniums making our biomemitic gel packs drive us back/forward in time! (AGAIN!)”

    11 Feb 2007, 20:21

  3. I never watched DS9 other than the odd episode. Might pick up a copy, perhaps on bittorrent.

    Have you seen any of the new Battlestar Galactica series? From what you’ve said in this entry I think you’d like it.

    11 Feb 2007, 21:30

  4. I was tempted to watch it, especially as some of my ubergeek friends had recommended it… but I have this kind of Battlestar Galactica-phobia that just makes me break into a cold sweat as soon as I want to watch an ep.

    But I haven’t really heard any bad things about it and I’ve had the eps for quite some time now back in the UK, so I’ll give them a go once I’m in the UK again :D.

    11 Feb 2007, 21:38

  5. Yeah I’d seen some of the episodes from the original series so I was pretty dubious about it, but I thought I’d try just one or two, and then I was hooked.

    11 Feb 2007, 21:42

  6. I’m sorry, but Voyager was freakin awesome!! What about that episode when they went back in time to the 20th century. Was so good!
    Wish they had more regular battles in DS9. The Defiant also was a crap ship. Where are all the big starships gone eh?

    12 Feb 2007, 00:13

  7. Thanks there Kunal ;) Actually, I don’t care, all my Trekkie cousins hated VOY as well.

    DS9 was the best though, it was the fact there was politics and ambiguity. I liked how Kira was essentially a freedom fighter/terroist thug who had to be brought up to Federation levels of civility as much as the Cardassians. I liked the way the comedy relief – Quark and his barflys – were actually both amusing as often relevant to the plot. Hell, it even went as far as to include a (really really tame) same sex attraction storyline (sort of) which is unheard of in most sci fi shows!

    And Colm Meany was brilliant.

    12 Feb 2007, 01:07

  8. First things first: I loved DS9. Admittedly have not watched it recently (I didn’t have sky, but discovered that Blockbusters rented out videos with four episodes on each well before they aired on the BBC). It was by far the best of the Treks (well except for Voyager obviously, who could forget that episode where Janeway and Paris got turned into salamanders and had salamander babies, pure sci-fi brilliance, we’ll never see it’s like again) but the thematic examples you gave just kept bringing me back to one thing:

    1) Torture – One entire episode is set in a single room, featuring the brutal torture and interrogation of the show’s star.

    2) Occupation and Resistance – Narn and the Centauri.

    3) Complex international politics – The creation of the Interstellar Alliance.

    4) Racism, Race-relations, interracial marriage and friendships – most noteably, Sheridan and Delenn

    5) Creationism vs Science in schools – Okay you can have this one.

    6) Freedom vs Security – The station’s declaration of independance from a corrupt earth government.

    7) Paranoia and Betrayal – Garabaldi, Bester and one of the most heart-wrenching moments ever seen on TV.

    8) War and the fine line between necessity and war crimes – Not so much war crimes, but the entire nature of war and it’s use in the development of civilisations is at the key.

    9) Terrorism vs Freedom Fighting – The Mars terrorist and again, the stations sucession from earth.

    10) Religion vs Scepticism – Brother Theo and the monks raising a lot of questions, and the whole show really hangs on the nature of religion and what a god truely is…

    So yes, my point being (and again, remember, I love DS9), for practically everyone of those themes I can’t help but thing ‘well Babylon 5 did them better’. I don’t want to get into a DS9 vs B5 debate as I do love them both (though for me B5 just edges it) but for me it was other aspects of DS9 that really won me over: the humour, the brilliant interplay between the characters (the Bashir/Garak relationship is truely wonderful) and the massive sense of scale with the Dominon War (B5 was always about the tighter more inter-personal stories so you were somewhat detached from the true nature of the war as a whole).

    Well anyways, three suggestions for you: first Pocket Books publish a brilliant series of tie-in books set post-DS9, covering what happens to the crew after the series ends. They’re far far better than any TV tie-in novels you might have read, and setting them when they do, and introducing new characters, means they’re not beholden to press the reset switch at the end of each story in order to preserve continuity. Along simmilar lines there’s a book by Andrew Robinson, the actor that portrayed Garak which basically tells his life story and it too is brilliant.
    Finally get over your Battlestar Galactica phobia. God knows the original was pap but close your eyes when the titles come on and pretend it has nothing to do with it. As it doesn’t really. Not only is it a brilliant show I’d reccommend to everyone but so far it’s covered at least 7/10 of your favourite DS9 themes, with religion being a major theme througout, and the start of series 3 has some of the most harrowing stuff about occupation and freedom fighting you will ever see on TV.

    12 Feb 2007, 02:26

  9. Hey Dean, thanks for the comment.

    I must admit I never really gave Babylon 5 a good look. It was most probably superficial at first (Christ those hairstyles make me want to break my TV >_< ) but since then despite becoming a bit more mature in my outlook, I’ve never given it a go. When I’m back in the UK, I’ll definitely have to give it a try. I’ve never really said ‘never’ to B5, an attitude reserved solely for Doctor Who (and oh my word are the new ones terrible) and (the old series of) BG.

    I’ve never been much into Sci-Fi literature because it’s often as prolific as it is crap, so it’s hard to get into the various series around. But I have read a few Star Wars novels in the past and I still have some fond memories of Shadows of the Empire (interesting if not quite Shakespeare). A good friend of mine was very much into Star Trek way back when and has a vast library of these Star Trek-related books from the Fiction to all those PC Encyclopedias/guides. I’ll try to borrow some from him. Are they still writing DS9 novels?

    As an aside, does anyone have any embarrassing ST-related stories from their youth? I used to sometimes go with this American friend to HS Kensington Pizza Hut (they had big tables and you could sit in a boothwhen it wasn’t too busy and have some greasy geek snacks) and have a go at playing the Star Trek Card Game. We didn’t really understand the rules at the time, so we developed what was actually quite the sophisticated rule system. We then began to get acquainted with the real system when we started going to a tournament every so often… hosted by an ubergeek in Imperial College London. Ah those were the days! In fact my friend had something like 8 copies of the Future Enterprise (OMG ULTRA RARE!!!!!!) which we traded for huge collections of black-border cards and assorted rares and the like.

    I still have that collection of cards in boxes, albums etc. I wonder if it’s worth anything now?

    12 Feb 2007, 04:02

  10. Dude that’s geeky.
    But cool.

    12 Feb 2007, 10:34

  11. Yeah B5 did have a tendancy to be a bit cheesy and suffer from the occasional bouts of over-acting and over-the-top dialogue. But once you start to get into it the characters are so strongly drawn and the entire thing so tightly plotted it ceases to matter.
    The DS9 books are still being made, they’ve just started on ‘Season 9’, the first 8 or so books making up ‘Season 8’. They’re not great pieces of literatute by any means, but they are basically episodes of the show in book form. Don’t blame you for avoiding the novel tie-ins in the past, they were 90% awful, and all lacked any sort of tension as you knew there’d be no long term changes made. But with all the Trek series currently off-air they’ve picked up a lot due to the increased freedom around what they can write.

    12 Feb 2007, 16:21

  12. Worf was in TNG and DS9, therefore they are both ace. Fact =p

    12 Feb 2007, 16:50

  13. still think TNG kicks it.

    12 Feb 2007, 18:40

  14. Dave Sparrow

    Don’t let old Battlestar Galactica put you off the new one, it’s so different it’s unbelievable. You are pretty damn right about DS9 though.

    Kunal – the Defiant was a great ship, it was only smaller because it didn’t have hundreds of people and their kids on board, something I never thought made much sense on TNG.

    21 Feb 2007, 09:51

  15. Aiysha Indeed! And it also had several other Star Trek regulars! We had Picard crop up in the very first episode. Thomas Riker (ie William T Riker’s transport clone, played by Frakes). The guy who plays the inventor of the first warp drive in First Contact manages to bag himself about 30 different roles. Tuvok appears in an alternate dimension (thankfully without Neelix, a reality we could all live with! And how could we forget that marvellous “Trouble with Tribbles” episode with Worf’s best line in any Trek series: “We do not speak about it!”

    Dave I’m definitely going to give it a try when back in the UK. :D And you’re right, the Defiant was a great ship, despite DS9’s battle inconsistencies. In that one minute ships are destroyed from a couple of phaser blasts, the next when we have some drama, shields manage to last for several minutes while wires and sparks inexplicably fly around the bridge. If we want bigger ships, we’ve got the Enterprise E but the Defiant was specifically designed to be a small, very powerful battleship without unnecessary crew or families, as you’ve correctly stated. And it was a very well-designed ship.

    DS9 was the only Star Trek series (although I guess you could include the opening scene from First Contact) to have had genuinely thrilling and fairly convincing battle sequences. Kunal was asking for more, but compared to TNG (let’s just be friends) and Voyager (let’s spend the firs three seasons with the crappy Kazon) -> the scenes were fantastic. In fact the series had three wonderful battles: Klingon’s assaulting DS9, the first massive Federation vs Dominion battle (Fortune Favours the Bold) and one just before the end of Season 7. In fact they hinted towards what would have been an amazing finale had they had the funding for it. Several thousand ships? Yes please!

    I just finished Season 7 the other day again and started up on Voyager. I’ve hit Season 2 and I’m already skipping chunks of episodes through severe boredom. Never had that problem with DS9.

    21 Feb 2007, 19:05

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