Warp Factor Trek

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An astonishing thirty-one years ago, we saw the beginning of a series that’s actually quite different than how we now think of Deep Space Nine. How does it hold up today?

Log Entry

Scrolling text introduces the Battle of Wolf 359. There, aboard the USS Saratoga, Commander Benjamin Sisko’s wife, Jennifer, is killed. Sisko and his son Jake abandon the Saratoga, which is destroyed by Locutus’ Borg cube.

Three years later, Sisko has been assigned to supervise the Federation presence around Bajor. The Cardassians have recently withdrawn from the planet, with their space station now given the Starfleet label “Deep Space 9”.

Sisko is given a guided tour of DS9’s Promenade by Chief O’Brien

While Jake is disappointed by the state of the quarters available, Sisko and Chief O’Brien try to put the place together, with the help of an unwelcoming Major Kira Nerys. Despite some tension stemming from the Battle of Wolf 359, Picard briefs Sisko about Bajor, instructing him to prepare the Bajorans for Federation membership. Sisko, pleasing Odo, threatens Quark into staying as a community leader.

Bajoran religious leader Kai Opaka tells Sisko he will be special and shows him an Orb, the likes of which have been discovered over the past ten millennia. This one gives him a vision of his first encounter with his late wife.

Doctor Bashir and Jadzia Dax arrive and get to work. O’Brien bids farewell to the Enterprise-D and to Captain Picard.

Galaxy-class docked at DS9
The Enterprise while docked at DS9, about to depart

Gul Dukat arrives and Sisko allows his men to relax on the Promenade. Soon, Sisko and Dax investigate the source of the Orbs, the Denorios belt, by taking a Runabout there. They discover a stable wormhole. Inside it, they find themselves in a strange realm, which both see differently. Dax, in an Orb, is returned to the station. While the Cardassian ship heads to the newly revealed wormhole, O’Brien and Dax figure out a way to move the station to the Denorios belt.

Meanwhile, Sisko makes contact with aliens who live in the wormhole and don’t understand linear time. In the guise of various people from Sisko’s life and memories, they negotiate with his explanations.

The wormhole collapses, trapping Dukat’s ship. Due to his absence, Cardassian reinforcements threaten the station and eventually attack. Just in time, Sisko’s Runabout is released, towing Dukat’s ship from the wormhole. The so-called “Prophets” have agreed to let ships travel to the Gamma Quadrant, and Sisko tells Picard he’s looking forward to his duties on Deep Space 9.

Quark tries to negotiate with Kira over “new rules,” as station life goes on…

Status Report

Star Trek series premieres have to both establish themselves, while feeling kind of like the other shows. Thankfully, this one focuses more on doing things differently from its parent show, TNG.

After thirty-one years, it’s interesting to revisit. In fact, it’s a fascinating bit of Trek history — and indeed a fascinating and entertaining bit of US TV history.

Michael Piller and Rick Berman — the writers of this episode — on the Promenade set

It’s a well-constructed story, carrying us in a nicely linear fashion (perhaps deliberately, to aid in comparing our linear view to the Prophets’ inability to understand this) from meeting Sisko and Jake, and Locutus, leading us to the station, where we find the familiar Chief O’Brien, the snappy and Ro-like Kira, then Odo, Quark, Bashir, Dax…. We even meet Morn, Nog, and a yet-to-be-named Rom, all flowing naturally from the situations. In fact, the only person whose introduction is out-of-the-blue is Gul Dukat.

Weird as it is to see Sisko with hair and no beard — or note the dodgier wig on Odo — it’s a delight to see so many characters nail it from the start, especially René Auberjonois as Odo, Avery Brooks as Sisko, Terry Farrell as Jadzia…. Armin Shimerman and Marc Alaimo had played Ferengi and Cardassians before, so they had an advantage in this. And of course, Colm Meaney remains a reassuring presence as Chief O’Brien, who is bittersweet to watch, as it’s effectively his leaving episode for TNG. Even those who haven’t quite got their characters nailed down yet, such as Alexander Siddig as Doctor Bashir, are nevertheless interesting and promising.

Another interesting facet is the amount of both established and new-but-you-won’t-notice backstory. A certain amount of the backstory had been established with the Cardassians in TNG, but there’s actually a lot more new stuff that feels like it had been established before; it’s very cleverly assembled.

Filming Avery Brooks for Sisko’s tour of the Promenade

It’s immediately clear that Sisko is a different type of Starfleet lead — which, given how iconic Kirk was and how good an actor Patrick Stewart is as Picard — is a wise idea. There are also plenty of good lines from Quark and Odo.

Trek is about meeting and understanding new lifeforms, and so we have the Prophets, alien entities who do not perceive linear time. It’s a nice concept and comes across fairly well, setting up Sisko’s character arc. However, with thirty-one years’ worth of scientific development since, it must be said that Sisko’s confusion is a bit overplayed. All he has to do is big up the perception side, as we now know that every life exists on a range of space-time co-ordinates, of which we can only perceive the present slice but remember past slices and not know about future ones. Also, the sudden ‘Okay, it’s all about getting hung up on bad memories, ’cause those are the ones that leave scars’ is rather a disappointing wrap-up.

That’s the only real problem with it, though, apart from Dennis McCarthy’s attempts at futuristic bar music. Directorially, David Carson has some shaky edits in the opening scene but saves the best disaster stuff for the end, when the Cardassians are attacking. The effects look… aged but not dated, and Odo’s transformations still hold up.

Actors Avery Brooks and Cirroc Lofton with Director David Carson, crafting an adventure for all ages
Rating: 4/5

If you’re a younger viewer who’s never seen DS9 before, this will probably do a good job of hooking you. If you already remember it, this will hook you again, and make you wonder what else you’d forgotten. It’s highly recommended to those who know it and those who’d be new to it, definitely the best pilot episode of the Berman era.

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