Deep Space Nine – s03 e15 – Destiny

Cardassian scientists
Cardassian scientists

Another good, indeed very good episode, the more so for maintaining a clear, distinct, single story throughout the full episode (with the exception of an extended open that set up the situation whilst doing its best to ruin it with Quarkian comic relief).

What made ‘Destiny’ so good was its careful combination of elements, based on a strikingly simple story. Two Cardassian scientists, both female (guest appearances from Wendy Robie, of Twin Peaks and Tracey Scoggins, of Lois and Clark) are coming to the station for a joint Bajoran/Cardassian attempt to establish a sub-space relay through the Wormhole,¬† allowing communication with the Gamma Quadrant.

But, as delivered in melodramatic fashion at the end of the open, an obscure Vedek, Yarka, demands the Cardassians be barred from DS9, by reference to Trakor’s Third Prophecy, delivered three thousand years ago.

The Prophecy is couched in splendidly metaphorical terms – peering through the Temple Gates, Three Vipers. A Sword of Stars, What’s more, it also centres upon the Emissary, who of course is Sisko.

Sisko’s status as the Emissary was established in the pilot episode, but very little has been done with or about it since, and the episode took the opportunity to examine how Sisko’s unwanted status plays with both him and his First Officer, Major Kira.

In essence, the Prophecy claims that the attempt to look through the Wormhole will drawn down this ‘Sword of Stars’ to close it forever, destroying the aliens who live within it, outside of linear time, who are the Prophets of Bajor’s religion, the appointers of the long-foreseen Emissary.

Sisko automatically rejects Yarka’s concerns, and the Prophecy. He believes it to be based in Starfleet rationality, and it primarily is. But Odo introduces him to an aspect he is deliberately self-blind towards: Sisko does not want to be the Emissary, it makes him incredibly uncomfortable. It leads to his rejecting the Prophecy because he does not want it to be true: it will overturn too much of his thinking.

In contrast, there is the Major. She is second in command to Sisko, she has to deal with him as her Commanding Officer, not as the Emissary, and she is aware of his discomfort. But when pressed upon her faith by Vedek Yarka, Kira has to admit that she does believe, and that she does believe Sisko is the Emissary.

The experiment progresses. Chief O’Brien and the younger scientist, Gilora (Scoggins) clash over upgrades the Chief has made to the station, which her calculations haven’t taken into account. They even clash over her belief that (Cardassian) men can’t do Engineering, all of which leads to a modestly amusing and tangentially relevant micro-sub-plot in which she interprets his defensive irascibility as Cardassian mating ritual (and she’s interested).

Once the Defiant is piloted through the Wormhole to set up the Receiver, the elements of the Prophecy fall into place with startling (but predictable) rapidity. A comet with a silithium core is passing nearby: one of the wavelengths used produced an unexpected, inexplicable, MacGuffinesque gravity surge that draws the comet towards the Wormhole: the silithium will collapse it,fulfilling the terms of Trakor’s Third Prophecy.

All hands on deck to avert this. The Chief and Gilora clash over his proposal to modify the Defiant’s phaser banks to produce a beam wide enough to vapourise the comet, but it fails, merely splitting the comet into three pieces. It seems to be a schoolboy error from O’Brien, but Gilora, having understood his pride and wishing to repay the embarrassment caused, reveals that the third scientist, Dejar, is a saboteur, of the Obsidian Order, who are opposed to peace.

The last desperate attempt to rescue the situation works. By using a space pod to get in between the comet fragments, Sisko and Kira are able to create a subspace field holding everything in. A trail of silithium escapes, but instead of destroying the Wormhole, it creates a filament, keeping the Wormhole fractionally open permanently and enabling communications.

To their joint amazement, and in different degrees of awe, Sisko and Kira realise that the Prophecy had been misinterpreted, and that their actions have actually fulfilled it.

So all is well, and the episode is even bold enough to close on a note of fore-shadowing, the first such since the series began. Yarka is glad to admit that his distrust of the Cardassians had coloured his interpretation of Trakor’s Third Prophecy. Oh, and incidentally, the Fourth Prophecy also concerns the Emissary: that in only a very short time, he will face a great and fiery trial…

Yes, a very good episode, and would that there had been more of this standard, and this seriousness, before now. I wonder how long it swill be before we see the terms of that Fourth Prophecy: it sounds like it would make a glorious season-closer.

Sandman Overture # 6

By chance, a couple of days ago, I came across my review of Sandman Overture 1, which I read with a grim smile at its optimistic cheeriness and enthusiasm. In particular, I couldn’t help but seize on the assertion that Neil Gaiman had written this preface to the Sandman series of twenty-five years previously, which is certainly what we were all led to believe: six issues, published bi-monthly, starting in November 2013, ending in September 2014.

Today, I paid a fleeting visit to the centre of Manchester to purchase issue 6, which appears exactly twelve months behind schedule, having scraped in just under the wire to do so.

And though artist J.H.Williams is notorious as a slow artist, it is not he who has to take responsibility for this fiasco. As early as the interminable delay between issues 1 and 2, Gaiman accepted responsibility for failing to provide his artistic collaborator with scripted pages to be drawn. I have heard nothing since that suggests that the ongoing difficulty in producing this book was down to anyone else.

Now, should he choose to exercise it, Gaiman has a ready-made excuse for these delays, in the form of his previous defence of George R. R. Martin. I’d like to say that I agree with every word Gaiman says at the other end of that link. Wearing the hat I wear as a reader of comics for fifty years, bearing in mind that throughout that period, and even now, comics is a serial form of fiction that is heavily dependant on the even rhythm of its schedule, I don’t regard such an explanation as adequate.

I have already said, as much as a year ago, that had I known what would happen, I wouldn’t have even started the story. I would have waited for the Graphic Novel collection, and I don’t mean the hardback volume that is already treading on the heels of this comic with a haste that is indecent in the circumstances. The paperback is at least twelve more months away.

But what, we dare ask, is my impression of the Distinguished Thing now that it is present in its entirety? I have carried the comic home without opening its pages, have written the first half of this blog whilst it remains in the Forbidden Planet bag, and I shall now read the story in its entirety, and only then offer my opinion.


And it is good.

It’s so very good, and so very wide, and it seeps into every part of a story begun twenty-seven years ago, and ended nineteen years ago, as if in every part of it it was in Gaiman’s head during the nights that followed the Great Storm, when the shape and the idea came about.

And Williams draws or paints or does both and neither as if he is shaping the stuff of dream instead of using pencil, paper, ink, or even pixels.

And it will need many more readings for me to appreciate the immensity of this story, including those readings that will be necessary to eradicate the thoughts and feelings that form the first part of this revue.

For it is very good indeed. But it carries within it a sense of completion that makes it very hard to imagine that Gaiman will ever return to The Dreaming again.

The Sandman: Overture, issue 1

I confused myself in the comics shop earlier, about how long ago it really was since Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series ended. but it is still the best part of twenty years since the final issue of the series, and twice as long as the series ran. And I’ve always been counted among those who would happily have sold a reasonably distant member of their family for another story. And now finally that’s not necessary (just as well given I don’t have any suitable kin to offer), because Gaiman has not merely agreed to write that one more story, but has actually completed it and the first issue has been published.

Of course, DC being DC, the event is going to be milked for all its worth and the herd in the next field as well for, whilst Gaiman’s story will consist of only six issues, these will only be published on a bi-monthly basis, meaning that the end of this story will not be known until September 2014. To ensure our money doesn’t get stagnant in our pockets keep us going in between episodes, we will be able to buy ‘Special Editions’ of the previous month’s comic, with ‘extras’. I will say no more.

So, what’s it like, returning to the Dreaming with Gaiman after all these years? Has he still got it? Does this feel right, does it feel authentic? Hell, yes, it’s like never having been away.

Gaiman’s story is the one before it all began, the one that ends with issue 1, almost twenty-five years ago, when Dream of the Endless was captured by the self-styled Magus, Roderick Burgess, returning from a mission that has left him desperately tired and weak. This is that story, so already we know two things. The first is that this is taking place during the Great War in Europe, and the second is all of Dream’s future to come.

Stories are always difficult to tell when you know their ending in advance. The ingenuity of The Day of the Jackal (on film at least) lay in how it sprang its story of why the Jackal failed, when his approach had been so impossibly meticulous. Gaiman has an advantage in that this story need not connect itself in such a sense to the already-known series, since all it has to do is to deliver a ‘desperately tired and weak’ Sandman to a pre-arranged point, but Gaiman wouldn’t be Gaiman if he ignored that challenge.

What we have so far is a mysterious dream sequence far away in space, on a planet that is not Earth, and whose inhabitants include a race of intelligent, if immobile plants, one of whom dreams of a strange black-petaled, white-faced plant that senses something deeply wrong on this planet, and then burns. This incident creates ripples: Destiny reads in his book of entertaining his sister Death, who is perturbed that she has just collected their brother Dream a hundred galaxies away, and it is never very good when one of the Endless dies.

Then there is the Corinthian, disobeying Dream by entering the waking world, by killing. He is brought to Dream’s London offices to be uncreated away from all his friends, but Dream’s intentions are disturbed by a summons: not a common thing but not unknown,yet this is a summons that cannot be refused. Dream has time only to return to the Dreaming, leaving the Corinthian to roam unchecked, to collect his helmet of office and his pouch of sand (he wears his ruby already) before being summoned in an instant¬†to, we assume, this planet of humanoids, insects and plants.

He arrives prepared for anything. Except for what he finds: a fold-out, four page spread of Dreams: nor dreams, but Dreams: himself, replicated, variegated, over thirty different incarnations, all answering the summons.

Where this leads is two months away, in another year.

Overture comes with alternate covers, at least for issue 1. As was traditional, Dave McKean has also returned, but series artist J. H. Williams III has drawn an alternate cover, as depicted above, which is the one I’ve chosen. Williams has been one of the leading artists in comics for over a decade, and he is immaculate in this issue, meticulous in his detail and in full command of his craft. Parts of the art is in black and white, although it might be better to describe it as grey and white. Practically the only quibble would be that, in the London office sequel, his Sandman is hugely reminiscent of the Shade, from James Robinson’s Starman, but then I like the Shade so I’m fine with that.

This is, as usual, very much a first issue, setup and mystery, and a generously depicted atmosphere. There are still stories to be told within Gaiman’s Dreaming, within Gaiman’s Endless. This is the first: I will not be alone in hoping it will not be the last.