Nic's Reflections on the 20th Anniversary of the Premier of Deep Space Nine

Twenty years ago tonight Deep Space Nine premiered, and I was there in my parents' living room watching, and recording on VHS, the whole thing. It's hard to believe that that was twenty years ago, since, being the first 'spin-off' of TNG, I somehow have this perpetual feeling of it being a recent show.

I don't recall when I first heard about this new Star Trek show, set concurrently with The Next Generation, but set on a space station. But I know that I was looking forward to it. TNG was easily my favorite show on TV at the time (Quantum Leap was a close second), and the prospect of two Star Trek shows per week (airing every Saturday at 5 and 6) was very exciting. And yet, it was also an unknown. A show set on a station? Even at 15 years of age I knew that DS9 would have to approach things a bit differently than TNG. The stories would have to come to the crew, rather than the crew going to the stories. And while we're talking about the station, I don't recall whether or not I knew before the premier that the station was built by the Cardassians, but I did know it wasn't built by Starfleet. That meant the station would show a different design sensibility from what was established in TNG (and even the, at the time, recent Original Series movies). What that really meant for me was that the station's computers wouldn't be running LCARS. Don't judge. I loved (still do) the look of LCARS (kudos to Mike Okuda). Plus I've always been fascinated with computers, whether fictional or real. Their appearance and actions could be a strong selling point for me. And, with LCARS in particular, it just felt like Trek. So having this new show set on a station that didn't look like Trek, with computers that didn't feel like Trek, was a bit of a bummer. But concerns about fictional operating systems weren't enough to keep me away.

And so it began, with some opening text explaining the significance of the Battle of Wolf 359. Ah, hearkening back to Best of Both Worlds 1 and 2. Given that those episodes marked one of TNG's undisputed high points, incorporating them was seldom a bad idea. Soon we were introduced to the new show's Captain, who wasn't a Captain at all. In the Wolf 359 opening Benjamin Sisko is the first officer of the Saratoga, which is in a desperate battle along with dozens of other Starfleet ships against the Borg invasion, itself led by Jean Luc Picard. Or was it Locutus of Borg? That's a question Sisko would have to wrestle with in a very personal way, since in the opening few minutes we see Sisko's wife Jennifer killed in the attack. Ben is heartbroken, shook up (other officers have to remove him from their quarters and get him to an escape pod), and, judging by his blank expression in said escape pod as he holds his young son Jake and witnesses the destruction of the Saratoga, broken.

We fast forward three years, to find Jake fishing by a lake. Ben comes up and speaks with him, and we soon learn that Ben is to be the new Commander of Deep Space Nine, a station in orbit of the planet Bajor.

I won't bother recapping the entire premier. Memory Alpha does a fine job of that. Suffice it to say, the pilot does all the things a pilot should do, and does them well.

First, we're introduced to the setting: Deep Space Nine. Originally it was known as Terak Nor, a mining station employing Bajoran slaves. But now that the Cardassians are moving out (thanks to the Bajoran resistance), the Bajorans have invited the Federation in to help manage the station. And so, unlike TNG, the main location of this show will not be populated exclusively by Starfleet personnel and their families. Starfleet and Bajoran officers will be working together, which won't always be easy. This was a departure for Trek. Although members the Enterprise crews sometimes disagreed with each other on the best course of action in a dangerous situation, on the whole they tended to get along like peas and carrots. All very kumbaya, part of Roddenberry's vision of the future of humanity. But now, if the pilot is any indication, DS9 will chuck that out the airlock, at least to some extent.

As for the station itself, yup, it doesn't look nearly as cool to 15 year-old Nic as the Enterprise-D does. Cardassian architectural and computer design just isn't as cool. Oval screens, oval and round doors, lots of brown, red and green computer displays that look unintelligible. But, at least they have some Federation runabouts, and those look all Starfleet-y.

The pilot also introduces us to the main characters:

Ben Sisko - The new commander of DS9. He started out well enough in my eyes. I felt bad for him with his losing Jennifer and becoming a single father. His conversations with Jake showed he was a loving dad. He was initially unimpressed with the station itself, and so was I. But then he had a meeting with Captain Picard, and acted like a jerk. My jaw dropped. Picard is a good man, and Wolf 359 was not his fault. You don't need to despise him, and you certainly don't need to talk to him like that. Not good Sisko, not good. Copping an attitude with Jean Luc is a bad move. After that drama, he goes back to being likable. He shows he can be a bit more laid back that Picard, that he is willing to think outside the box to make a difficult situation better (like encouraging Quark to stay), and that he's the Emissary of the Prophets.

Kira Nerys - A Bajoran, former member of the resistance, now second in command of DS9. She's none too happy with the Federation being there, thinking them just another occupying force no better than the Cardassians. Consequently she has an attitude with the Starfleet personnel, but even by the end of the first episode she begins to soften a little. Going through their first ordeal together might help explain that. Except for that attitude towards the Starfleet folks, I liked her pretty well.

Miles O'Brien - Now that's what I'm talking about. Here's a great way to build continuity between this new show and TNG, take a well liked side-character from the latter (O'Brien had been around since the very first episode of TNG, and was indeed well liked) and make him a regular. He brought a sense of familiarity with him. But it was more than that. I had no doubt that O'Brien could work as a main character. What I didn't know was 1) how every year the writers would make something absolutely horrible happen to him, 2) that he eventually wouldn't be the only crew member of the Enterprise to wind up serving on DS9, and 3) just how much his eventual friendship with Julian Bashir would impact me.

Julian Bashir - The station's chief medical officer. He was an interesting combination. On the one hand he was pretty self-confident in his abilities, and came across as a bit condescending (he was excited to come out and practice frontier medicine). On the other, his condescension seemed completely unintentional, the result of over-enthusiasm and maybe even a touch of naivety. I'm not a big fan of hospitals and other things medical in the real world, so I don't naturally gravitate towards doctor characters. But he seemed like he'd be alright. Little did I know what secrets would be revealed through him and about him over the course of the show.

Odo - The Spock or Data of the new show. That is, the character who differs the most from the others, and is thus in some sense an outsider. Spock was the logical Vulcan. Data was the emotionless and yet somehow tender-hearted android. And Odo, Odo was a changeling, a shapeshifter. I had a hobby back in the day. I enjoyed watching special effect shots in slow motion (oh the wonders of VHS). I distinctly remember watching in slo-mo Odo's transformations in the pilot many times over. But my interest in Odo wasn't just for technical reasons. Those outsider characters tend to be my favorite, or one of my favorites, of their respective shows (years later The Doctor would be my favorite character on Voyager for the same reason). Odo would prove to not buck the trend. Some things I didn't know about him at the time: that he'd soon develop unrequited feelings for Kira, the full nature of his origins, and that I'd pick up and incorporate into my mannerisms the quick little bow he gives to Sisko after stopping Morn and Nog and still be using it twenty years later.

Jadzia Dax - Trill chief science officer. She was a man, baby. Now she's a woman. I'm typically drawn to the science officers. And yet although I had no problems with her or anything, she didn't immediately jump out at me. To this day I'm not sure why. As the show went on, it continued. I liked her well enough, but even when she m[spoiler]ies W[spoiler]f, it didn't change. You want to hear something many might consider heresy? I actually like Ezri Dax better. There, I said it.

Quark - I'd like to apologize to Quark for mentioning him last. As I watched the pilot, he was not at all the sort of character I expected to ever like. He was morally questionable, jerkish, and greedy. What I didn't know was that as the first season went along, the writers would continue trying to decide on exactly who Quark was, and between flashes of responsibility and teamwork, and a relationship with Odo that ceased being purely adversarial and started to include a strange sort of begrudging friendship, the course would be set for making Quark a very different and far more likable character than he was in the pilot.

So as to make Quark not the last one, I'll give an honorable, or dishonorable mention to Gul Dukat. He's the former prefect of Bajor, and the pilot's token Cardassian baddie. Little did I know that he would be a recurring character (one of many, a great strength of DS9), a very well fleshed out one at that, and that his questionable moral status (good guy or bad guy) would be a major source of interest for me.

And last, the pilot set-up an overarching question, really at least three questions, which the series would be concerned with:

Would the Bajorans and the Federation types get along? This was a question that would play out both on the individual level (Kira and Sisko, for example) and the planetary level (would the Bajorans view the Federation as allies).

What would be the result of having a stable wormhole to the Gamma Quandrant? The existence of the wormhole is the major discovery of the pilot. And it drastically changes the importance of DS9. Instead of being a little known station in an unimportant part of the galaxy, it would be a hub of scientific, economic, and as we later find out, military activity. It also looks really cool, and there are aliens in it.

What will become of this whole Sisko as the emissary of the prophets thing? Clearly at first he's skeptical and uncomfortable with the whole deal. But there was no denying the existence of the Prophets (or "wormhole aliens"), and with them being non-linear and all, when it comes to the future it was clear that they may know what they're talking about. Oh, and I'd like to take this opportunity to say the following: "Baseball!"

And so, when the two hours were over, and the credits rolled accompanied by the DS9 theme (which I wasn't ecstatic over at first, but really grew on me), a new chapter in Star Trek had been introduced. I knew that it had potential, but at the time I knew there was no way it would ever be as enjoyable for me as TNG. Now looking back, TNG will always hold a special place for me. And it will always be my favorite, because it's TNG. But DS9...might actually be the superior show in my eyes (if for no other reason that its first and second seasons weren't littered with...struggling...yes, I'll use that word...struggling episodes like those of TNG were).

Until next time, don't drink the water from the Denorios Belt. And I remain,

 - Nic

p.s. - Sisko was much nicer to Picard during their second meeting.

Posted on January 3, 2013 .