TV - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

deep space nine

There is no scientific formula to prove what is a cult show and what isn't, so we just hope you enjoy our look back at those TV shows we personally think of as cult viewing. This week Kneel Downe on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine...

Box set time has arrived. But what to watch this year? Buffy and Angel have been watched to death. Firefly lasts only a week and (washes mouth with soap) even classic Who can sometimes drag.

May I suggest, gentle reader, that now is the time to revisit the crowded decks of Terok Nor? Deep Space Nine, take a bow. It cannot be denied that in the late 90’s Paramount did not just flog a dead horse but ground it down into mince, burnt the remains and buried what was left at the bottom of the garden. Yet, in-between the joy of STNG and the bumbling mishaps of Voyager and Enterprise there lies an oft overlooked gem. Debuting in 1993 and attempting to forge a new direction for the Star Trek franchise, Deep Space Nine was a bold stab at doing something different.

By relocating the action to a static space station and focusing more on the relationships of the main characters, the writers tried to take the show where no show had gone before. Admittedly, despite an excellent pilot episode, seasons one and two reverted to form and treated us to formulaic single stories with only the barest of arcs lurking in the background. Season three, however shifted up a gear and the steady reinforcing of the main cast's personalities and wants slowly began to forge for the show its own shape and form. The addition of the USS Defiant also added a much needed excuse to roam beyond the confines of the station and the sometimes dull politics of Bajor. But it is the introduction of the Dominion, founders and the aggressive Jem’Hadar that point the show in the direction it was meant to go.

Without a doubt, it is the beginning of season four that truly sees Deep Space Nine reaching the pinnacle, and maintaining it for the remainder of its 7 season run. A major shift into an almost soap opera style of storytelling and an increased emphasis on interstellar battles rapidly made it into a show you dare not miss. Surprisingly, for a Trek universe franchise, the tone becomes very dark. There are no black or white issues, instead a certain moral ambiguity and shades of grey colour the ongoing tale. Major characters undergo quite painful and heartbreaking story arcs. War and its consequences take centre stage and the nagging doubt that something really quite nasty could conceivably happen to one of the regulars hangs heavy over proceedings.There is, of course, comic relief: much of it revolving around Quark and his Ferengi cohorts and yet even here there is tragedy and character growth of a scale rarely seen in the Trek universe.Seasons six and seven maintain the quality, with villains changing sides once, twice or maybe more. The paranoia of shape shifters is played out nicely and the strands of Bajoran mythology at last begin to coalesce into something tangible. There is much to like, indeed love and admire here. The friendship between O’Brien and Dr Bashir rings true.

The steady descent into madness of Gul Dukat is played beautifully, adding sides and shades to a villain rarely seen in genre television. The relationship between a lovelorn Odo and Major Kira takes turns that pleasantly surprise and the ultimate fate of Captain Sisko is as poignant and unexpected as anything that happened to a certain Agent Dale Cooper. Often, unfairly, compared to Babylon 5, I would argue that this is somewhat missing the point. Babylon 5 is one man’s vision, shot through with the verve of an independent film maker. Deep Space Nine is, conversely, the efforts of a corporate, lumbering beast to do something genuinely new. Both succeed and both are worthy of your time. Still not convinced? How about a story that delves into racial hatred in American publishing? A reworking of an original series classic or the heartbreaking time twisted beauty of the episode ‘The Visitor’? Groundbreaking in its own small way, superbly acted and darker than your average Trek, perhaps now is the time to revisit this overlooked gem. And if you missed it the first time round then give it a rental at least. Who knows, you just may fall in love.The Prophets do move in mysterious ways…

Image - Amazon.