I’m a tough audience at the moment. I might be bingeing certain series on DVD to avoid being caught with my thoughts, but we’re not talking about mindless rubbish here. I have not had a television set for seven years now, and I have broken the habit of TV, the habit of switching on and watching what happens to be there instead of choosing only to watch what is of interest.
Though I’m a long way into this Deep Space Nine watch-through, it’s still the nearest I let myself come to dull, predictable, lazy episodes, or ones that are flat and banal, as the Quark-centric ‘Prophet Motives’ of a fortnight ago demonstrates. But last week’s O’Brien-centric ‘Visionary’ was one of the strongest episodes I’ve seen, and the standard was kept up by this week’s Bashir-centric ‘Distant Voices’.
I was a little bit suspicious of the quasi-comic open, which featured the Doctor and Garak lunching. It’s a couple of days to Bashir’s birthday and he’s being grumpy about it because it’s his thirtieth and, well, you know. Their conversation is interrupted by an unusually subdued Quark, introducing a Lethian who wants to buy some biometic gel, for purposes of a McGuffin nature.
Bashir refuses. The substance is both dangerously unstable and highly Restricted. But when he returns to his Infirmary, he finds the Lethian ransacking it. He tries to fight him, but is incapacitated by some form of electrical discharge through his head, emanating from the Lethian’s hands. Cue theme music.
The Doctor awakes to a strange situation. Lights are flickering, comms are down, all electrics are non-functional and no-one is around. What’s more, Julian has suddenly started to silver at the temples. That it’s some form of hallucination or fugue is obvious, with the Doctor’s concern about aging somewhere at its root, but the situation is unusual, with no immediately obvious pattern.
DS9 appears to be deserted, but there’s noises in Quark’s. He’s cowering behind the bar, terrified, whilst something out of sight is wrecking the joint, bit by bit. Quark is pure fear, to the slightly annoying point that, whilst he clearly knows who is doing all this, it’s all ‘he’ and not the name.
Nevertheless, that’s the last weak moment. ‘He’ is the Lethian, and he is destroying DS9. It’s a crisis situation, made worse by Bashir periodically hearing whispering voices that no-one else can hear. Only when he runs into a bunch of the others – The Chief, Odo, the Major, Dax – does it begin to start making sense.
Not at first, because they’re all shouting and suspicious of one another. The Chief’s turned into a cowardly pessimist, Odo into a paranoid, the Major is all shouty and Dax just wants to blaze away with a phaser. But the Chief manages to repair a comms panel, and Bashir’s voices come through loud and clear.
It is an hallucination, brought on by the Lethian’s telepathic attack. Julian’s body is dying – represented in the hallucination by his ongoing aging – and the others aren’t real. They are aspects of his personality, clothed in the bodies of those close to him, representations. Some are negative, others positive. Dax is his confidence, Sisko his professionalism. But the Lethian is taking and destroying these manifestations, slowly stripping his mind. And the Doctor is aging ever more rapidly.
I have got to say that, once past the superficial and unconvincing graying temples, the make-up showing the successive stages of Bashir’s aging was superb and completely convincing, aided by a magnificent performance by Siddig el Fadil, who brought an increasing frailty to his part that echoed every chronological shift with exactitude, and ensured that at no time were we dragged out of the story by any discernible artificiality.
The whole hallucination echoed Powell & Pressburger’s legendary A Matter of Life and Death, in that to survive his real life organic degradation, Bashir had to win his hallucination, by restoring the station. By the time he reached Ops, there was only one personality left, Garak, physically helping him after a fall and a broken hip. And Garak was being intensely negative, undermining and denigrating all Bashir’s efforts as impossible.
Because ‘Garak’ was the Lethian: in Bashir’s brain, accessing all his memories, reminding him of all the times he’s given up, not fought for what he wanted, settled for less. He can’t succeed now.
But he still can. As Bashir’s physical prowess has grown increasingly limited, his will has only strengthened, until its something unbreakable. He gets to the Infirmary: Ops is the centre of the station but this is his centre. His defiance is unbreakable. The things he could have done but didn’t have only led to his being where he is, and that is where he belongs and won’t exchange. He restores the lights, quarantines and sterilises the Lethian in his mind. And wakes up in his body.
The episode ends with Bashir and Garak once again enjoying lunch, but with Bashir considerably more sunny than at the start of the episode. What pint being grumpy about being 30 when you’ve discovered what it’s like to be 100+? Garak, however, is concerned, as any friend would be, that Bashir’s mind picked him out to be the Lethian: the traitor, the underminer, the destroyer. The Doctor attempts to reassure him that the Garak of his hallucination was not the real-life Garak, but the tailor remains unconvinced. Which lead to the best closing line of the entire DS9 to date and an out-loud belly-laugh. Bashir sees Garak as untrustworthy.
“There’s hope for you yet.”