by Jesse Merkel
While writing about which Star Trek was the best last month, my mind kept going to Deep Space Nine. Even though the show came in right in the middle as far as fan reviews, it has been my personal favorite for years. Last year, I had the chance to re-watch the entire series with my wife, who had only seen a handful of episodes on television in reruns.
During that time, I found myself constantly being reminded of why I loved Deep Space Nine so much. Not only was it a show that broke new ground and paved the way for other science fictions shows in the future, but it was, in my opinion, the most unique of all the Star Trek spinoffs out there. Even if you’re not a diehard Niner like me, you may have already come to this conclusion yourself.
Before this show, a Star Trek series had never had a serialized format to tell one single story before. Voyager may have had a singular focus, but was allowed to veer off much more often.
Some of the things that make Deep Space Nine unique are easily visible, while others take a bit of digging. Let’s get into what made DS9 different from other Trek as we knew it.
The Space Station
The fact that the show takes place on a space station is typically the first distinguishing factor. Most people are used to Starfleet captains zipping around from place to place in a starship. Giving the show a stationary setting changes the dynamic immediately. On a starship, there are new environments coming into view on a regular basis, whereas a space station has to be able to keep people entertained for long periods of time, hence all the restaurants and shops on the Promenade.
A deep space station functions as much as a center of trade and commerce as it does a defensive and scientific base. And while Deep Space 9 is a fairly standard Starfleet designation for a space station, let’s not forget that the station is both Cardassian in origin and located in the Bajoran solar system. This makes DS9 the first Trek not to be set against a typical Federation background.
While Benjamin Sisko was the first African-American to helm a Star Trek command, that’s not the only way he broke ground. He starts off the series as a seasoned commander, having already served aboard ships like the USS Saratoga, surviving the Borg assault at Wolf 359, and commanding the Utopia Planitia shipyards. And unlike Kirk, Picard, Janeway and Archer, Sisko is a family man, raising his son and mourning the loss of his wife.
However, that’s not all that Sisko has to differentiate himself from his ship, and no, I’m not talking about his temper, although that did give the audience more than its share of “hell yeah” moments. Ben Sisko was a builder. He’d never be content to hop from place to place, solving one problem and then leaving the aftermath behind. That’s why he was a perfect fit for the Bajoran situation. He’s a long-term problem solver and finds challenges in seeing something through until the end. If Sisko had been a natural explorer rather than a builder, the idea of the series going through one arching storyline would have quickly gotten stale.
The Supporting Cast
While the senior staff makes up the core of any Star Trek show, Deep Space Nine grew to have a massive supporting cast. Rom, Leeta, Damar, Kai Wynn, Weyoun, the Female Shapeshifter and Garak all have integral parts. Each one has a well-developed persona and purpose. A larger cast means room for more layered storytelling, which was essential to the premise of the show.
One thing that each of the characters shared was that they each came with a dark past. That darkness not only changed the tone for episodic science fiction, but allowed for more heart-wrenching and emotional moments. And let’s face it — sci-fi isn’t exactly known for tugging at the heartstrings of viewers.
A series about a race seeking Federation membership is one thing, but making that race a deeply spiritual one that’s coming off of 60 years of occupation, slavery, and oppression is something else entirely. The producers could have set the series on a beautiful paradise like Betazed. Giving the series such a rough and frontier background was a gutsy move. The wariness of the Bajoran people and the revering of Captain Sisko as a religious figure were fascinating, as was the structure of their faith revolving around the ‘prophets’ in the wormhole.
One part of Deep Space Nine that I love is the addition of Gul Dukat. Even when he was helping, the audience always knew that the only one he was truly working for was himself. The addition of Dukat gave Deep Space Nine one of the most well developed villains in the history of fiction. Dukat was there from the pilot to the finale. We knew his background and ambitions. We saw him as the leader of an empire and a broken down pauper. Incredible writing, coupled with Marc Alaimo’s King Lear-esque performance, gave audiences something truly chilling.
Yes, yes, we know that Gene Roddenberry probably wouldn’t have liked the war story. Still, that doesn’t mean that it wasn’t a fantastic piece of storytelling. Aside from “The Best of Both Worlds,” audiences had never seen the Federation and the Klingons get their asses handed to them.
Unlike other Trekkies, I don’t feel that it does a disservice to previous incarnations to say that the franchise was due for some heavy-handed action. Who among us can honestly say that they didn’t cheer when they first saw the Defiant’s pulse phasers rip through a Jem’Hadar ship, or saw the station deploy its new weapons array during “The Way of The Warrior?”
Despite all the action, it’d be a huge mistake to say that DS9 was light on philosophical debates and introspective episodes. Although action was a part of the majority of the episodes this series produced, I was just as drawn to episodes like “In the Pale Moonlight” and “Far Beyond the Stars.” After all, you can’t call it Trek if it doesn’t make the audience question what it thinks about society, the future or itself. In my humble opinion, DS9 was one of the best when it came to discussing morality in science fiction, in part because it dared to show the ugly side of the Federation.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was rare for its time. It was a sci-fi character study, an action-heavy war tale, and an emotional tale of redemption. It discussed morals without being preachy, and it showcased a diverse cast without coming across as holier-than-thou.
After Deep Space Nine ended, episodic science fiction became darker, grittier, and featured more intricate storylines. (Battlestar Galactica reboot, anyone?) Maybe it doesn’t deserve all the credit for all of the sci-fi shows that came after it, but one cannot deny that it was influential.
Do you think agree that Deep Space Nine is the most unique of all the Star Trek incarnations? Let us know in the comments!