Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in Retrospect
To me, Star Trek has always primarily been about the voyages of the starship Enterprise. So, when Star Trek: The Next Generation premiered in 1987, it was easy for me to latch onto entirely new characters on an all-new ship which carried that name. As our favorite Vulcan would say, it seemed like the only logical way to move the saga forward after the movies proved successful. And in 1991, we saw the peak of that premise’s popularity with TNG’s spectacular fifth season as well as the release of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, which brought the original cast’s adventures to a satisfying end.
Before Gene Roddenberry’s passing in 1991, producers Rick Berman and Michael Piller reportedly approached him to discuss their idea for a Star Trek spinoff series about a space station at the edge of the Federation frontier, based near an interstellar wormhole. It isn’t much of a stretch to believe that Roddenberry gave his blessing to this concept, since he himself had contemplated such a format during the development of TNG, envisaging that warp-driven starships might be obsolete by the 24th century.
Berman and Piller’s idea was greenlit at Paramount Television, and they were given the opportunity to develop a pilot for the series. That episode, “Emissary”, would be a rather profound look at the human condition. Deep Space Nine was off to a great start, introducing us to a new cast of colorful and three-dimensional characters worthy of the Star Trek title.
A most unusual cast member was the Ferengi businessman Quark, played by Armin Shimerman. With the Ferengi having been introduced on TNG as the wheeler-dealers of the universe, DS9’s examinations of capitalism and opportunism that Quark’s presence provided were interesting… and amusing. Quark also played well against Odo. They were two extremes who, exchanging witty banter, provided thought-provoking debate and even some relief when they were able to put aside their differences to solve a problem. The most gratifying name on the main cast for me, however, was that of Colm Meaney as Chief O’Brien, having been introduced and developed in TNG.
But even though I thoroughly enjoyed “Emissary” when it was first broadcast, I would not be a regular viewer of Deep Space Nine during its initial run. I was fresh out of high school and starting college by that time and would be working and studying while the series continued to air. I didn’t think then that DS9 would have as long a run as Star Trek: The Next Generation, despite being really impressed with “Emissary”. My father would continue to watch and tape the show, just as he had reruns of Classic Trek and TNG during their runs, and I would occasionally watch one with him.
After Generations hit the movie screens, Worf (Michael Dorn) eventually joined DS9 as well, and the show found its footing with the Dominion War arc. However, that arc (combined with the stopping of the Borg invasion in First Contact) caused me to really begin to wonder what had happened to the spirit of exploration in Star Trek. This notion was addressed in the film Star Trek: Insurrection, by which time DS9 was in its final season.
During the initial run of the show, there were a few DS9 episodes I particularly liked. Among them were “Duet”, “The Maquis” two-parter, “Explorers”, “The Visitor” (which moved me like few things ever had), “Far Beyond the Stars”, and, of course, “Trials and Tribble-ations”.
Years later, when all seven seasons of the show were readily available on Netflix, I finally had the chance to binge-watch the entire series… and felt truly inspired. There were so many more good episodes that I had never seen that touched on a lot of issues people face in many walks of life, including the toll on soldiers who fight and defend what they love. Some might say that a war story is not what Star Trek should be about, but it is a real issue that people do face, and I can’t think of very many shows that did it better. DS9’s characters faced challenges, moral dilemmas, had to compromise their principles more than once, and suffered tremendous losses, but through it all, they continued to endure.
Overall, if I had to pick a favorite character, it would be Sisko. Meanwhile, the character progression that impressed me the most was probably Kira’s, as she went from being a Bajoran freedom fighter, not trusting anybody except her fellow Bajoran freedom fighters, to accepting the responsibilities of administration and going through spiritual healing. I liked how devoted she was to her faith in the prophets.
Deep Space Nine included some of the greatest storytelling Trek ever saw, in which great risks were taken with the characters and with Gene Roddenberry’s vision. Examples include the two-parters “The Maquis”, “Homefront”/“Paradise Lost”, as well as the show’s feature-length series finale, “What You Leave Behind”. Great gains were realized from these risks.
Star Trek may still, for me, be about the voyages of the starship Enterprise, but Deep Space Nine proved the Trek universe is big enough to appeal to those who see beyond that scope. While not quite the rating hit that TNG was, it’s fondly remembered today, for very good reason, and will continue to be remembered as a high point in the franchise’s history.
A freelance writer, Douglas has several years experience writing newsletters, sales copy and movie reviews. He is also the author of the screenplays Supralight and Bloodstone: The Sorceress and the Warrior. His reviews of Star Trek films (as well as a DS9 retrospective) have been published on the TrekSphere website.