My Experience Writing DS9’s “Hippocratic Oath”
It was the fourth time I had come in to Deep Space Nine to pitch stories. I had sent in a Next Generation script, which had opened the door for me to pitch at DS9. On the first three attempts to do so, I hadn’t sold anything, but was invited back to pitch again, so I took that as an encouraging sign.
On this occasion, I was pitching to the entire writing staff, which was unusual. I guess they were just wrapping up a staff meeting and all decided to stick around for the pitch.
I presented three different stories. One was a fairly detailed pitch about Dr. Bashir being thrown into a brutal alien prison and being forced to kill to defend himself. From this, the writers took three words: Bashir in jail.
We all started riffing on prison movies like The Great Escape and Stalag 17, looking for a hook for the story. The writers settled on Bridge on the River Kwai as a good model. I had never seen Bridge on the River Kwai, but I certainly didn’t tell them that. I went home and watched the movie immediately, and understood what they were getting at: a story with Bashir essentially playing Alec Guinness’ role and Chief O’Brien as William Holden.
The producers married this with an idea they had bought from writer Nick Corea. Our heroes became prisoners of war of the Jem’Hadar, with Bashir being tasked with finding a cure for their addiction to a drug called “ketracel white”.
I was very fortunate to be given the opportunity to write the script for “Hippocratic Oath” myself, rather than simply selling the story. I had recently done a Writers Guild internship on DS9, which helped the producers have confidence in me.
We all got together for the story break. I love story breaks, where a group of smart, creative people toss around ideas and come up with the beats of the episode. The DS9 writers’ room was a fun, supportive environment. It took us a couple of days to hammer out an outline, then I was sent off to write a first draft. I had two weeks to complete the draft.
I really enjoyed writing this episode. The story put two of our heroes at odds with each other, and neither one was exactly right or wrong. I had the chance to explore the characters of Bashir and O’Brien, using their very different backgrounds to inform their argument about what to do. The young, idealistic Bashir wanted to help the Jem’Hadar break free of their addiction, while the tougher, more experienced O’Brien insisted that they couldn’t help the enemy in any way. I got to test their friendship, with Bashir pulling rank over O’Brien and O’Brien destroying Bashir’s work. It was very satisfying.
I don’t remember how long it took me to write the first draft of the script, but it was probably between one and two weeks. The draft was officially published on June 27th. I was, of course, quite nervous when I turned in my work and waited for feedback. The great news was… the producers liked it. I got the opportunity to do the first rewrite, which I had to turn around in less than a week. As a freelance writer, I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to write another draft myself. Usually, a freelancer would turn in a first draft, and someone on the writing staff would do any rewrites from that point on.
In the case of “Hippocratic Oath”, the script was handed off to writer/producer Ron Moore to polish, after the second draft. This made me happy, because I have always been a big fan of Ron’s work and I was very pleased with the work he did on this particular script. He added a lovely speech by the main Jem’Hadar about his relationship to the god-like Founders, which made the character much more sympathetic.
When the episode was shooting, I was able to go to the set and watch. It’s hard to describe the excitement of seeing the words I had written literally come to life. I was immensely grateful to everyone at Star Trek for giving me the chance to live out my dream of writing for television.
“Hippocratic Oath” had an even bigger benefit for me. At the time I wrote it, Star Trek: Voyager was just starting up, and they were looking for an entry-level staff writer. Ira Steven Behr, the executive producer of DS9, passed my script along to Jeri Taylor, one of the executive producers of Voyager. She liked it, and I was hired on staff. I spent the next three seasons on Voyager, writing or co-writing thirteen episodes. It remains the best experience of my professional life.
A staff writer on Star Trek: Voyager, Lisa Klink worked on that series for three years. She has also worked on several other shows, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Roswell, and Pandora. Lisa has written or co-written four novels, as well as short stories, graphic novels and screenplays.