Looking Back at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Deep Space Nine was my favorite Star Trek–and my favorite TV show for most of the 1990s, edging out Babylon 5 and The X-Files, although I did buy all three on DVD and do binge-watch them occasionally. It was my first online fandon. When the internet was in its infancy, I discussed episodes on usenet groups, wrote fanfic, and made friends, some of whom I still keep in touch with. There’s a little model of the DS9 space station on the shelf above this computer, and somewhere around here in a box is a collection of DS9 and B5 action figures; they started out as chess pieces (with Dana Scully as a referee), and wound up performing scenes from Shakespeare’s plays and standing in for the figures in the nativity during the holiday season.
What We Left Behind, the recent documentary about DS9 which I only just received on BluRay, has been a huge nostalgia trip for me. While watching it, I’ve been looking back as well on something I once loved and remain fond of.
The conceit of What We Left Behind is that the DS9 writers are brought back together by a literally blue-bearded Ira Steven Behr to discuss an imagined 8th season of the show if they were given the opportunity to do one today.
Where are the characters 20ish years later?
And most important of all: Does Captain Benjamin Sisko come back from that overly bright, white place where he went to hang out with the Prophets in non-linear-time?
As the story for the first episode of this 8th season is developed, we see scenes from it as slightly animated storyboards.
One of the characters (I won’t say who) is killed. This death brings the group back together on the space station, which has become a Mecca-like shrine to the Emissary, Ben Sisko. Giant statues of him line the Promenade.
Kira Nerys, always religiously inclined even when she was in the Bajoran militia, is now the Vedek in charge of the station.
I’m not clear on whether or not Bajor joined the Federation after the series’ end, but Starfleet keeps a presence on DS9 which includes grown-up Molly O’Brien and Joseph Yates-Sisko, the son of Ben and Cassidy.
Jake Sisko, who has recently been visited by his Prophety dad, also makes his way to the space station to talk to his brother.
This story is interspersed with clips of fans talking about what they liked about the show, and Behr’s interviews with the actors and members of the production team who were involved with DS9 in its day.
A number of original series and Next Generation Trek fans didn’t like DS9 when it aired because it didn’t “boldly go” anywhere. We get some of their comments too in written form, read aloud by the actors.
As with the surviving Dark Shadows actors who appeared in the Dan Curtis documentary I reviewed a little while ago, I’m happy to see the cast of this show again, to see how they’re getting on or, in some cases, holding up.
Unlike the Dark Shadows cast, however, I met some of these people in person back around the turn of the millennium when I used to attend to Star Trek conventions.
In spite of the disdain of traditional Trekkers, and the show’s always being treated as a stepchild of the franchise, DS9 did make its mark on modern television.
The Homecoming / Circle / Siege three-story arc that opened DS9’s 2nd season in the autumn of 1993 is cited as a forerunner to the long arcs that are common with most TV shows today. Non-soap series were encouraged to keep their episodes self-contained and not part of continuing story-lines because of syndication issues.
I remember when these episodes aired; that was when the show really caught my attention.
I’d watched the beginning of DS9 in Denver with my brother, but moved to the DC area that spring and not only missed the end of the first season, but didn’t have a television all that summer. In the fall, I moved into a dingy little basement apartment, and bought a small TV and a wheelie cart to put it on. While I sat down on the floor and assembled the cart, I turned the TV on and came upon The Homecoming, which must have been a repeat from the previous week, since it was immediately followed by The Circle. Bajoran extremists attacking people on the space station to drive the Federation away, a legendary hero who knows he can’t live up to his legend, Cardassian behind-the-scenes intrigue, and Louise Fletcher and Frank Langella being all evil together. I’d thought that the first season was okay (it does have some very silly, best forgotten episodes), but this was good stuff. The show had really picked up!
This was DS9’s first foray into longer story arcs. By the end of the 7th season, they were doing a 10-episode run. It is the kind of series that lends itself well to binge-watching, and is apparently gaining new fans who are doing so through streaming video services.
All the actors who had to wear heavy latex masks describe how horrible the facial appliances felt. Michael Dorn recalls how long he had to sit in the make-up chair every morning to become Worf, and laughs about the one occasion when Colm Meaney, who didn’t normally do make-up, was also done up as a Klingon; the brow-ridge piece glued onto his forehead kept him from being able to shut his eyes.
After his last day working as Odo, Rene Auberjonois ripped the whole latex piece off at once and handed it to Ira Behr.
Behr still has it in a glass case at home, kind of creepy looking.
Nana Visitor remembers the writers suggesting an idea about Kira and Gul Dukat having an affair to her. It never went past that, since she vehemently objected, but the story eventually morphed into one that did air, where Kira discovers that her mother, whom she believed had died in a work camp during the Occupation, was once Dukat’s mistress.
Terry Farrell speaks tearfully about how she ended up leaving the show at the end of the 6th season after a contract dispute that made her feel not valued as an actor and not listened to.
A little time is given to the subject of strong female characters on DS9, beginning of course with Kira and Dax. I notice, however, that all the assembled writers for this documentary are men, which may explain why the two had so few Bechdel-Test-passing conversations, and those in the early seasons.
DS9 was never as “dark” or “gritty” as it was often said to be back in the day, but the show did deal with issues that continue to resonate.
When talking about Garak, Andrew Robinson is asked what the mysterious Cardassian was after when he approached Dr. Julian Bashir. He answers that, at first, all Garak wanted with the young doctor was to have sex with him.
This comes up again later, when Behr is going through a checklist of controversial topics that DS9 addressed. He says that they can’t give themselves a positive “check” for addressing matters of sexual identity. They did do Rejoined, an episode in which Dax meets up with a spouse from a former host’s life, now also a woman, but he thinks they chickened out with regards to Garak, whom he states was “obviously gay.” What if Garak had come out to Dr. Bashir after the doctor saved his life in The Wire?
Would they have been allowed to do that? Perhaps not, but Behr admits that they never asked.
This topic gets an X at first, but is later changed to a Question mark.
Talk about racial issues begin with how Sisko was toned down during the first seasons to not seem too threatening as “the black commander” and only resumed his shaved-head, badass, Hawk look as his character became more established. Sisko’s close relationship with his son Jake is also featured, and Ciroc Lofton talks about Avery Brooks being just as fatherly to him off camera. Later, the topic moves on to Brooks’ first effort as director for the episode Far Beyond the Stars, which was about a black man writing science fiction and facing bigotry in the 1950s. It aired around the same time as the riots following the Rodney King beating.
Another all-too contemporary subject, terrorism, comes up in the character of Kira. Clips from episodes remind us that she was far from apologetic about the things she did during the Cardassian Occupation. The writers wonder–would they have been able to write her in this same way in this post-9/11 world?
My conclusion from all this is that DS9 did do some boldly going… but not as bold as they might have done. What would the writers do if they were able to carry on with the series today?
The 8th season storyboarding concludes with Sisko making his reappearance just as a tense situation on the station is coming to a head… and then we’re told we’ll just have to imagine what happens next.
Well, I’ve done that for years.
Extras on the BluRay include deleted scenes, a brief recap of DS9 season-by-season, and a really interesting feature about the crowdsource funding of this documentary and how the producers received enough money to redo all the clips taken from the original show in HD.
It seems unlikely that there’ll ever be an official, cleaned-up re-release of the full series on BluRay the way the BBC is doing the old Doctor Whos, so the little bits here are very nice to see. They had to locate the film stored in New York and work from that, converting to modern TV widescreen in the process. The only thing that looked a little off to me was a big battle scene with the Defiant zipping around amid a variety of CGI spaceships, which looked somewhat cartoonish.