For me, the best thing to come out of the big Star Trek revival of the eighties was the TV series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. (DS9)
I mean Star Trek: Voyager was just awful, man, awful. Its only redeeming feature was that it wasn't quite as shallow as Star Trek: The Next Generation. Fans may have been willing to lower their standards for that, but cinema-goers weren't, and its ill-conceived movie spin-offs ultimately took down the entire universe.
Star Trek: Enterprise? Well they made a moderate effort, leading to a much larger one in its second half. Yes, Enterprise became really enjoyable to watch after a while.
But when it comes to quality, for this viewer the only serious challenger to the original 1960/70/80/90s live-action/cartoon/movie series is Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
Although it didn't start out that way.
Essentially a spin-off from The Next Generation, DS9 initially ran concurrent with that series, and was set on a space station that literally wasn't going anywhere. For an episode of this show to happen, new life and new civilisations had to seek them out. It began, it plodded, it stayed there, and for a while it seemed to have even less idea than Next Gen just where the series might be going, boldly or otherwise. Deep Space Nine just sat there spinning its wheel(s).
So they filled-in with comedy.
I'll never forget the moment when I first perceived that mischievous spark in the show's creative forces, and smiled. It was during the first season episode Move Along Home. They're all trapped in some futuristic life or death game. We see the thing that's stalking them's point-of-view. It whirls past each of them, pausing momentarily to threateningly consider each crewmember for attack, even the show's comedy doctor, who at that early stage was such a loser that I found him reminiscent of Red Dwarf's Arnold Rimmer. So there was Dr Bashir, standing there gawping, looking all terrified in a red-shirted sort of way. Then the alien's point-of-view duly swung onto the next person.
And then it swung back.
And then it zoomed-in on his cowardly Dr-Smith type gurning.
Yes, they had abandoned the drama of possible sudden death for laughs, but were still playing it straight! Priceless!
After that revelation, the series really never looked back, which is a good way to go when it's only episode 9 in a run of about 175.
That's not to say that DS9 was a brilliant series though. In most 22-episode seasons, I reckoned there to be one episode that was a stinker, about half a dozen that were the pinnacle of the television industry, and however many remaining episodes at the very least watchable.
As you can tell, it's really those half a dozen GREAT episodes each year that are the source of my gushing here today. Best of all, these were always the editions that moved along the overall storylines, making it possible to actually skip all the rest of the instalments. These ones were cleverly written, hilariously performed (in a good way), and the direction was so good that it would flag itself up pretty well in the opening shot.
It was certainly worth wading through all the other static episodes just to find these classics, but like I say, every week DS9 was usually at least fun.
I suspect it owes much of its success to rival space-station TV series Babylon 5. At the time, that series was making a huge effort over itself to be something really special and intelligent, with the result that DS9 compared as a bit silly. Consequently however, from season 3 onwards, DS9 suddenly upped their game and rushed to catch up. A real-life war broke out across the airwaves, one which was to the benefit of both series, and of course the viewers.
However while Babylon 5 unquestionably proved itself the far more credible of the two shows, the flipside of that coin was that Deep Space 9 enjoyed a much greater creative freedom to be imaginative. For example, in If Wishes Were Horses, the crew's desires became real. You couldn't get away with something as ridiculous as that on gritty Babylon 5.
But what exactly was DS9 all about then? Well, if you're looking for a season-by-season synopsis or episode guide, then I'm afraid you've come to the wrong blog. I'm not here to educate, just to enthuse about how much I enjoyed the whole seven-year yarn.
To that end, the rest of this post is a quick shortlist of my favourite Deep Space Nine episodes. It goes without saying that it is far from exhaustive.
They really should have given the movie series to this team to make instead…
Due to the vagarities of syndication, and BBC2, episode numbers here are approximate.
Two recurring characters from Star Trek: The Next Generation drop in and, once the DS9 cast are safely out of shot, proceed to set about tying up their own series' loose ends. They so know their audience.
#9: Move Along Home
The 'life-or-death game' story already mentioned above. At the conclusion, our heroes survive the deadly game because, heh heh, y'know, it turns out that it actually was all just a game! Brilliant ending!
Much as I normally dislike science fiction's human-interest stories, this one had me hooked, and condemned.
O'Brien spends the entire episode quite logically deducing that his colleagues are plotting something behind his back. At the end, he uncovers their big secret: they all know that he is just a clone of O'Brien, programmed to kill them. Whoa - I didn't see that coming!
#38: Blood Oath
Three Klingons - namely Kor, Koloth and Kang - all return from the original 1960s series of Star Trek, still played by the same actors, and nobody mentions it even once. So cool.
The return of the mirror universe. You know the one. They should have called this Spock's Beard.
Chief O'Brien (he gets all the best episodes) is arrested and tried on the Cardassian homeworld (read: police state), where the defence counsel's role is to validate the prosecution. He really doesn't have a hope. Nonetheless, these are the show's final lines:
Defence counsel: "What happened?"
Odo: "You won."
Defence counsel: "They'll kill me!"
#52: Civil Defense
The station's old automated defence systems from years ago kick-in and take over. Gul Dukat looks so at ease swaggering through the storm of automatic phaser beams without getting hit!
#58: Life Support
Accidentally suffering braindeath midway through delicate peace negotiations, our old friend Vedek Bareil has half of his brain replaced with an artificial one, just soas he can complete the vital deal. But then the remaining natural half of his brain fails too. So do they replace that as well?
#63: Distant Voices
Dr Bashir awakens to find Deep Space Nine somewhat deserted and in a state of disrepair. Presently, he realises that he is in a coma.
#73: The Visitor
Captain Sisko is killed in an accident on board the USS Defiant. His distraught son Jake lives out the rest of his life, growing old, and witnessing what becomes of Deep Space Nine over the many years to come. But every once in a blue moon, he impossibly glimpses his dad again.
#78: Little Green Men
The Ferengi characters (the series' comic relief) are accidentally thrown back in time to July 1947, where they crash on Earth in a town called Roswell. Guest stars Conor O'Farrell as a smilier version of his Majestic 12 role in Dark Skies!
#80: Our Man Bashir
Enormous 007 spoof. If you flicked past this, you might well have mistaken it for an actual James Bond movie.
#89: Hard Time
Convicted of espionage for asking too many questions, Chief O'Brien is sentenced to have the memory of twenty years of prison implanted into his mind. This has exactly the opposite of the desired effect, especially when he murders his cell-mate over some pieces of bread. Again, actor Colm Meaney gets another really interesting script to perform.
#97: Apocalypse Rising
For an undercover mission, everyone is surgically altered to look like Klingons. Worf has four hours in which to train them to behave like Klingons, but they are all too polite. This scene felt like watching Dad's Army. I kept expecting Private Gok'frey to ask if he might be excused for a moment.
Worf: "Let's start with you. I'm waiting."
Odo: "I don't understand. What exactly…"
Worf: "I am not interested in excuses! Are you a Klingon warrior or an Alverian dung beetle?!"
Odo: "I really don't see the point…"
Worf: "Don't look away from me! I called you a dung beetle!"
Odo: "I heard you."
Worf: "And what is your response?"
Odo: "You should have your eyes checked."
Worf: "This is not going to work."
#100: … Nor the Battle to the Strong
Jake learns first hand the horrors of war. Yet again, it's like watching a different show.
#102: Trials and Tribble-ations
Charlie Brill as Arne Darvin (yet another returning Klingon from the 1960s series) hijacks the USS Defiant and takes it back in time to kill Captain Kirk and change the past. In surely the most meticulously-planned TV programme ever filmed, our heroes go after him, infiltrate the old-style Enterprise, and stumble around all the old sets and footage trying not to change history, with an ever-increasing fail rate. By the time they've misidentified William Shatner's body-double as Kirk himself, O'Brien and Bashir find themselves involved in a full-scale punch-up with the old goatee-bearded Klingons, for which they then get arrested and interrogated by the real Kirk!
Pretty well every single line in this one is a joke, right down to the characters Dulmer and Lucsly, whose names are anagrams of Mulder and Scully. Joy, pure joy. I think this one was the pilot for Futurama.
#104: Things Past
Sisko, Odo, Dax and Garak spend a harsh while on Deep Space Nine during the Cardassian occupation a few years earlier.
#110: In Purgatory's Shadow
Not so much an episode as an instalment, with umpteen longer plotlines flowing through it. In this one, Garak and Worf take a ship through the wormhole, where they discover that the Jem'Hadar are about to mount a full-scale invasion of our quadrant. They just manage to send back a warning message before getting captured. To protect the quadrant, Sisko has to face destroying the wormhole while Garak and Worf are still in captivity on the other side of it. Garak and Worf get taken to a detention centre, where Garak meets his estranged father and watches him die. Another fellow inmate is Dr Bashir in an old-style uniform, meaning that the one back on Deep Space Nine has been a doppelgänger for some time now. (noone ever twigs that it presumably delivered Kira's baby recently) Back at base, the evil duplicate Bashir sabotages Sisko's plans to blow-up the wormhole, and so the Jem'Hadar do invade…
#124: Rocks and Shoals
A fairly dull episode, but worthy of note for our heroes' opening crash-landing deep in hostile territory, and subsequent hysterics at O'Brien's horror over tearing his pants.
#135: Far Beyond the Stars
In 1950s America, author Benny Russell invents a series of adventures about Deep Space Nine and its occupants, which his publisher then pulps because he is black. In one of the series' trademark long takes, Benny breaks down making an impassioned speech about how the characters are real "because they're in my head!" He gets taken away by an ambulance.
141: In the Pale Moonlight
Romulan Senator Vreenak: "It's a faaaaaaaaaaaake!"
Captain Sisko relates to camera how he tried to tell one lie for the cause of good, and succeeded, despite the final unintended cost turning out to be two people's lives.
Garak: "That is why you came to me, isn't it, Captain? Because you knew I could do the things you weren't capable of doing yourself? Well, it worked. And you'll get what you wanted -- a war between the Romulans and the Dominion. If your conscience is bothering you, you should soothe it with the knowledge that you may have just saved the entire Alpha Quadrant, and all it cost was the life of one Romulan senator, one criminal, and the self-respect of one Starfleet Officer. I don't know about you, but I'd call that a bargain."
Tremendous drama, I felt so bad for the guy. I still do.
#152: Take Me Out to the Holosuite
Calling themselves the Niners, the gang have to beat the Vulcans at baseball. All this one was missing was a laugh-track.
#158: It's Only a Paper Moon
Nog deals with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder by burying himself in a holosuite program of 1960s America. Almost guest-stars Jeffrey Hunter on TV.
#163: Badda-Bing Badda-Bang
An easter egg in the holosuite program of 1960s America activates, and the only way of turning it off is to mount a heist movie tribute. By this point the series has become something of a musical, thanks to regular appearances from holographic cabaret singer Vic Fontaine, who despite not being real, in this one is the only character in jeopardy.
#173: What You Leave Behind
The series' closing episodes leave the more extreme comedy behind to become an unbroken nine-part serial, or ten if you're watching the syndicated two-part version of this finale. The scenes in Mila's home on Cardassia Prime are reminiscent of Father Ted. This last episode features so many guest-characters that the 'also starring' sub-credits go on for just ages.
The story concludes with Captain Sisko existing in some sort of other realm within the wormhole, but promising to return one day, maybe in the future, maybe in the past. It's a strange ending, that to me implied hope of a reunion movie one day. Well, it's been approaching 15 years now, so maybe that day is not so far away.
There is so much more that I could say about this series, but here I've really just tried to convey how much I enjoyed it. I'll leave you with this uncompromising moment from near the end of the last episode. Quark's long-term nemesis Odo is leaving Deep Space Nine for the final time.
Quark: (to Odo and Kira Nerys) "I knew it! When I saw the two of you slip out of the holosuite, I said to myself, "That no-good, misanthropic, cantankerous, changeling is trying to sneak off the station without anyone noticing."
Odo: "That was the idea."
Quark: "Well, it's not going to happen."
Odo: "Apparently not."
Quark: "So now that I'm here... isn't there something you want to say to me?"
Odo: "Such as?"
Quark: "Such as, 'Good-bye, you certainly were a worthy adversary', or maybe something with the words 'mutual respect' in it..."
Quark: "No? What do you mean 'no'?"
Odo: "There's nothing I want to say to you."
Quark: "You're telling me that after all these years... after all we've been through, you're not even going to say goodbye to me?"
Odo: "That's right. Nerys, I'll be on the Runabout."
(Odo steps around Quark and leaves forever)
Quark: "I guess that's it then..."
Kira: "Don't take it so hard, Quark…"
Quark: "Hard? What are you talking about? (breaks into a smile) That man loves me. Couldn't you see? It was written all over his back."
All that said, I still think that the final line of the series should really have gone to Morn.
(available, if you have enough gold pressed latinum, here)