Deep Space Nine s05 e22: Children of Time


A valley, in Time

Except for one minor flaw, at the end, created by TV’s insistence on spelling everything out, this was one of the best DS9 episodes I have seen, a bubble-story taking place in a bubble-environment, presenting a simple, yet beautifully complex moral question.

Returning from the Gamma Quadrant (I understand, for the last time until the ultimate finale), the Defiant, carrying all the senior staff, is eager to get home but is distracted into a detour by Jardzia Dax’s insatiable curiosity about a nearby planet screened by quantum fields. Sisko agrees a look, but on the way through the barrier, half the ship’s functions are knocked out and Kira takes an electrical discharge through the chest.

But this is nothing compared to the ship being hailed, immediately, by representatives of the 8,000 strong community below, representatives who know the Defiant‘s crew only too well. Their names are Yedrin Dax and Miranda O’Brien. They, like everyone else on this planet, are the descendents of the crew of the Defiant which, less than two days from now, will be thrown back in time 200 years, and be marooned on this planet.

It’s a simple, beautiful set-up, with a deadly edge. For once, it is a purely science fiction idea, of the kind rarely seen in DS9 which, for all its sophistication, is still basically space-opera.  And it carries with it a terrible choice. We know the Defiant will leave, that everyone will survive, as surely as we know that there are still four more episodes this season.

But in this fractal time-line, this isolated bubble in the Universe, it crashes back to the planet and the crew must make a life, using only the relatively limited technology that survives with them. And the electrical discharge that hit Kira kills her within weeks, for lack of the sophisticated infirmary on DS9.

In the two hundred years that have passed, the unwilling colonists have built an idyllic world, in beautiful country, and make no mistake, the valley in which this is set in beautiful and I immediately wanted to go there and go walking there. They have become a community, at one with each other. All the senior staff have extended families of descendents. Worf and Dax got married. There are Klingons here, not all of them biologically so, but all honouring Worf, Son of Mogh. There are Siskos and Bashirs, and even O’Briens, though the Chief, with a wife and children he longs to get back to, holds himself the furthest off these heirs, just as his original iteration did.

Even Yedrin Dax is the Dax symbiont, merged with another Trill: he is still Sisko’s friend and mentor, still the Old Man.

And it has Odo. The same Odo, now better able to control his shapeshifting so that he looks a lot more like Rene Auberjonois than he normally does. An Odo who has waited two hundred years to see Kira Nerys again, and to tell her, after all this time, that he loves her. Which disturbs her greatly. Even more so than the knowledge that she can visit her own grave and pray over it.

It’s an idyll. But it’s an idyll dependent upon a tragedy, the crash of the Defiant, the tearing away of these people from the lives they knew, the responsibilities they faced, the people they loved, like Jake Sisko. And it depends on Kira Nerys dying.

But Yedrin has a plan, a cunning plan, to get all around this. If carefully plotted, the Defiant‘s passage of the Barrier can create a Quantum duplicate, in effect two Defiants, one to stay and one to go home. It’s a beautiful construction that satisfies two impossible alternates. And we know it can’t work for where would there be a story, where would there be a shadow? And it can’t work: Dax figures it out, confronts Dax, who admits he’s only trying to ensure history repeats itself, out of overwhelming guilt at being responsible for the whole thing in the first place. Yedrin is trying to ensure that all his people, his community, his life, will still come into existence, instead of winking out forever, a closed loop, if the Defiant gets away.

Everyone is affected. The episode, without bogging anything down, makes time to show everypne’s reactions to this enclosed community, to get to know and understand these people, to see themselves in them, to really understand that these are our children and our children’s children. And to absorb that escape, returning to their own lives, means killing them. All of them.

In the end, even O’Brien comes over, once he’s unbent himself to plant with another Molly O’Brien. They will do it. They will let themselves crash. They will ensure that history is repeated exactly. Even though it can’t be, since this time the crew go into this with their eyes open and in full knowledge, that originally they didn’t possess, ensuring that their actions cannot replicate what once occurred, but that’s a subtlety too far for a TV show.

Except that, at the last moment, the decision is taken away from them. The auto-pilot, so precisely calculated, veers past the anomaly and through the barrier unscathed. Do Not pass Go, Do Not pass into the past, Do Not detect 8,000 life-forms on the planet below.

How? The course has been tampered with, history has been altered, irreversibly, but by who? The obvious candidate in Yedrin Dax, a last-minute change of heart, and the makers admit that in an older version of Star Trek that would have been the solution. But you and I who have been watching this episode with our eyes and ears and, most importantly, our hearts open, know where to look, and it is here and not the fact that, temporally speaking, the whole idea couldn’t work due to latterday foreknowledge, where the story’s one true flaw comes. We have to be told. It has to be made explicit. It has to be thrust in your face, where it cannot but have consequences that we will never experience because it will never be alluded to again.

Because it was Odo, of course. The older Odo, the more open Odo, the Odo that can tell a Kira who has literally stepped out of his memories that he loves her, and who is prepared to sacrifice himself and 7,999 other lives for hers when she has taken a decision in accordance with her religious beliefs that her death to facilitate their lives is her Path.

What consequences this has, if consequences there be, which I suspect there will not, for Kira and Odo in the present will have to be seen. Given how everyone has reacted, prepared to sacrifice themselves in their natural instinct to protect their young, the only human response would be indescribable guilt.  And given that Odo has been able to spill the beans because Odo linked with him, I would be expecting character swings as the two hundred years of now non-existent experience remains accessible to him. Which we’re not going to see, though I now have some nascent ideas for my own fiction arising out of this.

But if I were giving out ratings to these episodes, I would be awarding ‘Children of Time’ something like A-very-slightly-minus, or 9++ out of 10, because it was so very good, in a way that is only possible with a longstanding series in which we are sure of the characters already but which cannot be fully realised if they are to be the characters of which we are sure next week.

Which has a hard act to follow.

Deep Space Nine: s05 e21: Soldiers of the Empire


Star Trek: Klingon

Now isn’t that sooooo much better?

We came back to a serious reality this week with a Klingon-based episode in which General Martok is appointed to lead a rescue mission in search of a missing Klingon vessel on the Cardassian border, in which he takes Worf as his First Officer.

The episode cleverly plants a seed of doubt in the open, with Martok undergoing treatment from an openly disapproving Bashir for a potentially life-ending wound sustained in a holosuite battle programme with the safety protocols switched off. Actually, it wasn’t the holosuite, but rather combat with Worf: Martok was prisoner of the Jem’Hadar for two years, lost an eye, and needs to recover his edge.

All of this is laying the ground for what follows: Martok’s ship, the Rotarran, is a ship dogged by defeat, with a crew demoralised and bitter. In short, a powder keg. What’s needed is strong command, a properly Klingon thirst for victory and honour, in short the urge to give somebody a bloody good kicking. A Captain preoccupied by thoughts of his own experiences at the hands of the Jem’Hadar, and unwilling to take risks, is the worst possible choice.

In the end, with outright mutiny all but triggered, Worf has to challenge Martok under the Klingon code for command of the ship. This means a duel, to the death.

Yet the programme bottles out, as we always knew it would. I had no wish to see either Worf or General Martok die, but in an episode whose purpose was to take us on boarda Klingon ship, see Klingon warriors in action, live with them and see how they think and behave, to present a ritual battle that is insisted on being to the death, and let both participants live without any attempt to provide a justifiable, in context explanation why, for the first time ever, to-the-death is ok with to-the-first-wound, undermines the whole thing and draws the viewer out of the scene and into the contrivances of a long-running prime-time TV drama series.

Basically, what happens is that Worf’s challenge gets Martok’s dander up good and proper, so Worf allows himself to be beaten. Martok then allies the bloodthirsty crew into a battle against the Jem’Hadar which they win, and they all lived happily ever after.

I haven’t, thus far, mentioned that on this mission, Worf is accompanied by Jardzia Dax, who unexpectedly signs up (using her leave) as Science Officer on the Rotarran. Why? Well, we’re left to figure that out for ourselves, though it’s a good job she’s there. As First Officer, Worf’s duty is both to support the Captain and to stand for the crew, and his personal loyalty to Martok prevents him from properly fulfilling that latter duty. It’s Dax who takes on the informal responsibility of warning Worf just how close everything is to utter bloody disaster.

I’m in two minds about Dax’s presence. She doesn’t play any direct part in the story, and her unheralded inclusion comes right on the heels of a quasi-comic scene in Quark’s bar (without Quark, thankfully) that is directly inconsistent with her shooting off alongside her par’Mach’kai. Worf’s detachment from Starfleet duty means that the rest of the senior staff have to take over parts of his duty as well as their own. Bashir, Dax and O’Brien sit around and moan about this imposition, as devised by Kira.

Then, immediately after this little scene, showing the reality of DS9 being short-staffed with Worf gone, Dax buggers off alongside him. No, that little juxtaposition of scenes did not work one little bit.

Honesty compels me to admit that the underlying idea behind this episode is the same as the underlying idea between last week’s dross: to see one of the series’ alien cultures operating, up close and personal. But the Klingon ethos I found immeasurably more interesting (and entertaining) than Ferengi. Like its lesser equivalent, it is, at heart, one aspect of the human character elevated into a society, but it is one that I found more interesting to see, and to study.

And more relevant to the Federation/Dominion clash, currently undergoing its 1939-40 ‘Phoney War’ stage, otherwise  known a barely getting mentioned. I’m waiting for that to change, as it inevitably must. I suspect I’m going to have to wait until the only other episode I can remember from watching this twenty years ago: the season end.

That’s only five weeks away, right before Xmas…

Deep Space Nine: s05 e14/15: In Purgatory’s Shadow/By Inferno’s Light


Band of Brothers

Though we’re well into the block of DS9 episodes I have previously seen, I have to confess I have no recollection of this unexpected mid-season two-parter. Indeed, as this extended story is such a massive game-changer, moving the Dominion War out of its Phoney War stage and into a formal shooting match, there were times when I wondered if my memories were even more scanty, and that this was going to lead to the (temporary) abandonment of the station now, and not at season end.

But on this I was wrong, and happily wrong. It is, nonetheless, a foreshadowing of the inevitable to come, as betrayal follows betrayal, and the entire basis of the series shifts inexorably. To think that this all begins with a typically trivial open to the first part, as Odo reluctantly abandons his bed and reinstals all his shape-shifting gear in his quarters, under some one-sided joshing about romance from the Major, until Kira is summoned to the bridge over a mystery transmission from the Gamma quadrant.

It’s in a highly secret Cardassian code known only to two people, Garak and his mentor/unacknowledged father, Enabran Tain, and it’s a cry for help. Garak persuades Sisko to allow him a runabout, and the unlikely command of Worf (there’s an odd couple for you) to investigate for potential survivors of the disastrous Gamma Quadrant battle. All it leads to is overwhelming Jem’hadar odds and an asteroid internment camp with a motley group of prisoners.

These include Tain, near death from his heart, Klingon General Martok, a Romulan female, a robotic Breen. Oh yes, and Doctor Bashir.

This didn’t come as the surprise it ought to as my regular consultation of Memory Alpha had already revealed that our Bashir had been replaced by a Changeling four weeks ago, and the one we’ve seen over the last couple of episodes had been the wrong one, which was a shame. Meanwhile, the Changeling Bashir is still unsuspected on DS9, where things have suddenly gone tits-up.

Federation listening posts inside the Gamma Quadrant are going out one by one. A Jem’hadar fleet is on the move towards the Wormhole. Sisko puts the station on battle alert and a Federation fleet is on its way. The danger is so great, Sisko decides to take the ultimate fallback option: seal the Wormhole, even if Worf and Garak are trapped on the other side.

But someone sabotages the super-scientific rays that will do that. instead, the Wormhole is widened and stabilised so that it can now never be closed. And a Dominion fleet emerges, ready to overwhelm D9. End of part 1.

But they don’t attack. Instead, they move off towards Cardassian space, with Gul Dukat following. And here’s where the bomb drops. Cardassia has a new leader. He’s been negotiating with the Dominion for months. Cardassia has joined the Dominion. It will become strong again, great again. It will wipe out the Klingons. It will take back what it used to have. Bajor is not mentioned in this. But the new Cardassia leader, Dukat, promises Sisko that he is coming for Deep Space Nine.

So we switch backwards and forwards between the two halves of this story. On the internment camp asteroid, Worf distracts by winning gladiatorial fight after fight, his honour refusing to allow himself to yield. Garak fights another fight, against his claustrophobia, in a tiny, dark space, changing relays by hannd to contact the runabout and transport out.

At DS9, forces build. Chancellor Gowron brings a wounded Klingon fleet to the fight, and reactivates the Accords he previously broke. A Romulan fleet comes to stand by the Federation and the Klingons. A Dominion/Cardassian fleet approaches. Everyone is ready for the mother of all battles, but no-one can find the enemy. And Changeling-Bashir has stolen a runabout and is heading for Bajor’s sun with a bomb that, if detonated within the sun, will send it supernova, wiping out the entire system, DS9 and three spacefleets.

At this critical moment, a priority one message comes from the Gamma Quadrant from Bashir. Sisko, already aware that there’s a Changeling on board DS9, after Changeling-Bashir has, cunningly and mis-directingly, proposed this, immediately susses things out and sends the Defiant, under Kira and Dax, to destroy the runabout. Which, after risking going to warp inside a solar system, they succeed in doing. The day is saved.

The only immediate effect is the installation of a permanent Klingon military force on the station, under the command of General Martok, as recommended by Worf. Everyone’s back, everyone’s back to normal. But it’s a new normal, are set normal, that will now prevail until the end of Deep Space Nine. I very much look forward to it.

I’ve left out a lot of what happens. The mark of a well-written story is that the over-arching story accommodates several smaller, more personal tales, both absorbing and showcasing hese within its major structure, in perfect balance. Worf’s fights. Garak’s need for Tan’s acceptance and his subsequent confrontation with his fears. Zia’s choice between her father and Garak, between two sides at war. All these things are handled with nuance and conviction. If you want to call these a B story, you’d be wrong, because they are integrated within the A story, so that all this pair of episodes is an A story, and indeed an A+ story, but they are worthy of the A story: nothing falls short here.

So the ground rules change. And I look forward to next week’s episode most fervently.

Deep Space Nine: s05 e08 – Things Past


A change of visual style for Terok Nor

…and they woke up, and it had all been a dream.

That’s not the explanation given at the end of this historical episode, but the idea that this week’s story is the result of a kind of telepathic matrix forced onto Messrs Sisko, Dax and Garak by Odo is merely a quasi-gobbledy-gook scientific rationalisation of what is, when you come down to it, a dream. But a dream of historical events, a dream that digs into Odo’s character, and one that deserves a little more credit than I’m going to give it today.

I was less impressed than I might have been with ‘Things Past’, in which the aforementioned quartet found themselves projected back seven years, to DS9 when it was still Terok Nor, and still under Cardassian occupation and Gul Dukat. The show is built around the revelation about Odo’s past that comes near the end, and is the catalyst for Odo’s mind releasing its subconscious control of everyone,and waking up, and it was such a pity that the open gave the game away so clearly and so quickly.

The set-up is the return of our quartet from an Historical Convention on Bajor, about the Occupation, where Garak’s attempts at putting the Cardassian point of view have not gone down well. Odo, however, has gone down a storm:  the Bajorans see him as fair, wise, reliable, the servant of justice, not the Cardassians. Odo seems reluctant to acknowledge his reputation.

From that point, the rest of the episode became utterly predictable. Our quartet  ‘wake up’ on Terok Nor, supposedly nine years ago, when the security chief was a Cardassian named Thrax. It’s an odd set-up: our heroes are dressed for the time but see each other as they are, whilst everybody around them sees them as the Bajorans they are supposed to be.

From Odo’s nervous-growing-into-desperate behaviour, added to the fact that it’s soon proved that this story is taking place seven years ago, after Thrax has left Terok Nor, spills the beans quite comprehensively, but the dictates of the story demand that none out of Sisko, Dax or Garak makes the connection that is screamingly obvious. This is compounded by the discovery that Thrax is a shape-shifter, at a time before the discovery of the Wormhole, when there is only one shape-shifter in the entire  Alpha Quadrant.

I hate the ones where everybody has to be so completely dumb for it to work.

The story turns upon the fact that Suusko, Dax and Garak have been projected into the identities of three innocent Bajorans, accused of and executed for the attempted assassination of Gul Dukat. Thrax/Odo decides that the evidence, collateral as it is, is sufficient, but Odo/Odo knows that he was wrong in the past, because he refused to investigate deeper, that he was too much concerned with the preservation of order – which was brought about by Occupation and threatened by Resistance – than with justice.

Once Odo re-witnesses the executions, having fully acknowledged to himself his guilt, he releases the others and everyone wakes up. Odo now has to confront the trashing of his otherwise impeccable reputation, and the disappointment of Major Kira, who demands to know if this was the only time. Odo cannot do better than to say he hopes so.

A potentially powerful episode undone by its inability to shield any of its twists and turns.

Of relatively minor interest, the ‘explanation’ was intended to foreshadow the soon-to-come revelation that Odo isn’t quite as much the forever-Solid he’s supposed to have become, whilst Marc Alaimo’s presence enabled the writers to illuminate more of his character as the ‘protector’ of the Bajorans under his ‘care’, and an astonishingly arrogant display of ‘fatherliness’. No wonder Dax belted him round the back of the head first chance she got.

Sadly, though I know I would have watched this episode back then, I have absolutely no recollection of it. Next week, however…

Deep Space Nine: s05 e07 – Let he who is without sin…


I make no comment

What an odd episode that was. It’s no surprise to me that, on reading up about it afterwards, I learned that writers, director (Rene Auberjonois) and producers all wanted to go back and have another crack at it, because they felt it didn’t work, which justifies me in feeling that it didn’t work, though I think I come to it from a slightly different standpoint.

The idea behind ‘Let he who is without sin…’ is pretty simple. Dax and Worf’s relationship is now well-established, enough that Sisko and Odo can joke about the number of minor injuries their violent love-making is causing to each other. That in itself fulfills the episode’s self-set brief, to address 24th century sexuality. But it isn’t the shocking thing it’s meant to be, partly because we are twenty years on and attitudes, understanding and acceptance are correspondingly more developed, but also because the open, and the early part of the episode are played so much for laughs, and character-driven laughs at that, that the idea is turned too far into a comedic element  and not as potentially transgressive.

But the differences in culture and personality between Dax and Worf are causing them some difficulties in that both are expecting something the other finds makes them uneasy. Worf’s uptight, Dax is free-spirited, to put this in Sixties’ terms, and each is simultaneously trying to change the other whilst refusing to budge from themselves.

The lovers are off on vacation to the pleasure planet, Risa, Dax to enjoy, Worf to talk about their relationship. Circumstances force on them Bashir and Leeta (another splendid guest appearance by Chase Masterson, here to show those areas of the female body that Terry Farrell can’t), and, more unpleasantly, Quark. He’s there to be a Greek Chorus, they’re here to conduct the Bajoran Rite of Separation, though we don’t learn this until halfway through (after this, Leeta is free to go and shag the brains out of, of all people, Rom.) All of them are really there to confuse and frustrate Worf even more.

And this is where the whole problem lies. Risa is a pleasure planet, supposed to be about sexual and sybaritic indulgence, under an artificial resort climate. It’s supposed to be decadent, it’s supposed to make the viewer think about the acceptability of that kind of lifestyle four centuries hence (after they’ve finished w*nking, of course).

But this is Prime Time American Network TV in the mid-Nineties, and there isn’t a hope in hell of getting to show anything that remotely indicates that kind of hedonistic lifestyle, and without that you have a colossal failure on your hands. People wander round in beach gear, and even then that means swimsuits for the women (I saw one extra in a rather unskimpy bikini in the background), with kaftan-like shirts tied round their waists. Decadent?

Oh sure, it’s implied that everyone’s having sex all the time, nonstop, except when the camera’s on them, which means that the imagination has to do what it can, unstimulated by the rather antiseptic atmosphere of the resort (even Southport is racier). But nobody except the most diehard of puritan is going to be shocked by something that is all Tell and no Show.

And, speaking of puritans, this paradise has to have them. They are the Essentialists, led by Pascal Fullerton (Monte Markham). They wear the guise of a political movement, fundamentalists harking back to the days of blood, toil, sweat and tears, by which the Federation was originally built in a hostile galaxy, and they are determined to return the Federation to that essential basis of fear, paranoia and eternal, rigorous watchfulness against its enemies. To them, Risa is a canker, the ruination of the Federation, an artificial pleasure world, softening, weakening, poisoning America’s… sorry, the Federation’s precious bodily fluids. To prove their point, they insist on dressing up in floor-length, full-body covering clothing in drab and dull colours, on the beach in direct sunlight.

In short, they are what every puritan has been since time immemorial: haters of fun, pleasure and enjoyment. They cannot stand to see people being happy, they insist on destroying it, they are the Daily Mail, and I am immediately and implacably opposed to them wherever they raise their hydra-like heads.

So it really doesn’t matter what clothing their arguments are dressed up in, they are the eternal enemy so far as I am concerned. It leaves me unable to take their arguments remotely seriously, which in turn weakens the drama as I cannot see them as more than straw men. And given that Worf, due to his strongly controlling instincts, not to mention a hefty dose of Klingon chauvinism, even listens to them, let alone goes over to their side, is enough to set a permanent block against him. How can Dax possibly forgive him for this?

We know she will though, and he does repent and return to the side of the angels, but it does him no favours to have this temporary aberration be the result of what is really only a fit of adolescent pique, a tantrum thrown by a teenager who hasn’t yet worked out that you don’t get to tell her what she can and can’t do all the time.

No, Worf’s dereliction is too offensive for me to forgive, and its rationalisation too unbecoming to accept. It’s also accompanied by the cliche of forcing Worf into the corner of having to reveal a deep-rooted childhood trauma that explains everything. It’s also an unfortunately ill-chosen story for a British audience since it involves the thirteen-year-old Worf playing ‘soccer’, going up for a header, scoring the winning goal but in doing so jumping so ferociously he clashed heads with the defender, broke his neck and the kid died the next day, and all the time I’m thinking, with that on his forehead, how the heck can he direct a header anywhere?

It really is a shame, because there were good ideas in this episode, and it did hit the funny-bone more consistently than any previous DS9 episode I’ve seen. Vanessa Williams was a Special Guest Star as Resort Director Arandis, ex-lover of Dax’s previous host, Curzon, and his killer (death by sex), but apart from tormenting Worf further by making him suspect a lesbian affair for which there were neither grounds nor any discernible sexual tension, her presence was wasted.

But no, it didn’t work, it couldn’t have worked and it couldn’t work even now, because we’ve seen too much real, actual transgressive sex onscreen for Risa to shock us with its licenciousness, because long before it got near to a 2017 version of Shock, it would have been wading thigh deep in Disgust.

And no, I didn’t remember a bit of it.

Deep Space Nine: s05 e06 – Trials and Tribble-ations


ds9
See what I mean?

It’s been a long time, since October 13 2015 in fact, since I sat down and watched the two-part opening to Deep Space Nine, ‘The Emissary’, with the intention of watching, and blogging, the series in its entirety. I came at it from the perspective of someone who had, in the late Nineties, watching something like two-and-a-half to three seasons of the show, in the middle of its run, but who had seen neither the beginning nor the end.

Watching DS9 then was partly ritual, as was all television when you were more or less tied to transmission times. On Wednesdays (I think it was, or maybe Thursdays) I would get in from work, doff my jacket and tear off my tie and sprawl on the couch to watch. I think the programme was broadcast from 6.00pm to 6.45 pm, on BBC2: once it finished, I would busy myself about an evening meal.

For a long time though, it’s been evident that my memory has tricked me, has expanded the experience as I drew further from it. It wasn’t two-to-three seasons. It wasn’t even one. Because, after twenty-one months of weekly viewing, and as Ive known for some time, I have finally caught up with that first episode of Deep Space Nine. And I know why I watched it, where I’d had no interest in the past. It’s because it’s this specific story, ‘Trials and Tribble-ations’, because of what it did, because it was an audacious and astonishingly successful merging of DS9 and it’s ultimate parent, Star Trek, the one with no sub-title, the one they now call The Original Series.

I’m old enough to remember watching Star Trek the first time round, just arriving in my teens. It excited me then. It surprises me to think back and realise that my parents must have enjoyed it too, else how would I have seen it at all? I don’t remember them as being into SF in any way. That would be me, alerted by The Lord of the Rings in the back end of 1973 to the infinite possibilities, and devouring books left, right and centre all along the spectrum between Hard SF and Mystical Fantasy thereafter.

Ironically, that interest in SF soured me on the original Star Trek. It was the Seventies, I was at university, I was growing to understand that my political and social instincts were wholly liberal. Between the two, I found it impossible to suspend my disbelief to accept a future that would be governed by the mores of mid-Fifties, middle-America.

I suppose I must have seen ‘The Trouble with Tribbles’ at least once, though I don’t remember anything of it. I remember Tribbles: little, hairy balls that shivered and squeaked but showed no signs of actual characteristics. I never could accept them as real because they looked like children’s playthings, to be waved about in the excited hand of a toddler but abandoned not too long after because they simply didn’t do anything.

‘Trials and Tribble-ations’ was conceived as DS9‘s contribution to the Star Trek 30th anniversary, although broadcasting it in the week of the anniversary would have meant it opening season 5. Though the episode is every bit as light-hearted and insignificant as the original episode, it’s one of the most involved episodes ever of DS9 because of the sheer amount of detail that went into it and, of course, the astonishing technical work that made this episode not merely possible but stunningly good – even when set against the standards of today.

The story is simple. It’s framed around an enquiry by Starfleet’s Temporal Investigations Bureau into an incident in which the Defiant, and the entire senior staff of DS0 travel back in time just over one hundred years. Captain Sisko narrates the adventure to agents Dulmur and Lucsly (it is an example of the level of intricate in-joking that these two names are near-perfect anagrams of Mulder and Scully). The Defiant has been on a secret mission into Cardassian space to collect a Bajoran orb, as it turns out the Orb of Time. They also pick up a stranded seeming-human, a trader named Barry Waddle, played by Charlie Brill, a name any old Trekkie would recognise. Brill is not what he seems and uses the Orb to send the Defiant back in time and across two hundred lightyears. When the viewscreens clear, the first thing is comes up is a spaceship. The U.S.S. Enterprise. The ‘Enterprise.

Because the whole point of this story is to dress Messrs Sisko, Dax, Bashir, O’Brien, Odo and Worf up in the Starfleet uniforms of the day, transport them onto the Enterprise and Space Station K7, onto absolutely 99.9% perfect replicas of the stage sets, and have them experience a shadow story created in and around and based upon ‘The Trouble with Tribbles’.

And, what’s more, have them appear with, and interact with Messrs McCoy, Scott, Chekhov, Uhuru and most especially Mr Spock and James T. Kirk as they appear in the parent episode.

How they do it is ingenious, and in one instance resolves a minor quibble from the original show (whose writer, David Gerrold, not only approved the notion but got to play an Enterprise crewman in two brief scenes). The MacGuffin is brilliantly conceived: Waddle is actually the original Klingon spy, Arne Darvin, the villain of ‘The Trouble with Tribbles’, whose plan to destroy Federation colonisation by poisoning their grain supplies was defeated by Kirk, who used a Tribble to expose the surgically-altered Darvin as Klingon. Disgraced by his defeat, Darvin, once again played by original actor Charlie Brill, intends to go back in time and change history by killing Kirk, via a bomb in a Tribble.

But we all know that the story, however cleverly put together, how carefully interwoven into the established events, is ultimately just a vehicle for the sheer fun of going back and playing Original Star Trek one more time, and to recreating those days, down to sets, uniforms, hair-styles (Terry Farrell suits the old ultra-sexist micro-skirt and boots: I just wish Nana Visitor hadn’t still been pregnant as I would have loved to see her beamed aboard).

The episode stands or falls on its effects. Film qualities have been matched throughout to almost exact duplication: there are only a few scenes where the lower quality definition of the original stock is evident and even then you have to be looking for it. But what impresses even now is the quality of the digital matching.

Mostly it’s done by inserting the DS9 gang into the background of existing scenes, which is marvellous in itself, especially when Sisko and Dax turn up on the Bridge, but the standout scene has to be the one where Kirk confronts the crewmen who have gotten involved in the canteen brawl with the un-cornish-pastied Klingons. Kirk is on stage right, facing a line of men stage left, ranging towards the perspective point.

From camera front to back these are Scottie, Chekhov, O’Brien, Bashir and a half dozen original extras. O’Brien and Bashir, inserted into the middle – the middle – of a scene, with original footage foregrounded and backgrounded.

There are so many details to what goes on. I’m not going to detail these: you can read them via these links: here and here. The amount of effort, and money, that went into creating a gigantic cosmic in-joke is astonishing, but the outcome is well worthwhile.

This was my first Deep Space Nine, and this is the first time I have seen it since that time I watched it out of curiosity, and it’s delightful how much of it I remembered. It was intended as a one-off, as indeed the episode was, in every respect. But somehow, without knowing anything about these characters, I switched on BBC2 the same time the next week, and for all the rest of the season. Then life changed, and the easy days of coming home from work and doing whatever I wanted went with them, in exchange for better, I’m glad to say.

So, for the next twenty episodes I’ll be in that narrow zone of nostalgia, as I go through real recollections. The Great Deep Space Nine Rewatch. By the time I get back to ‘new’ episodes, it will be the New Year.

Deep Space Nine: s05 e03 – Looking for par’Mach in all the wrong places


Grilka

For once, I’m not entirely sure what I want to say about a DS9 episode, let alone how I want to say it.

‘Looking for par’Mach in all the wrong places’ (apparently the longest title for a DS9 episode and the second longest for any Star Trek series) was a purely character-driven episode. It was directed by Andrew J. (Garak) Robinson, though he doesn’t appear in the episode, it was, at the suggestion of Michael Dorn, based on the famous French play, Cyrano de Bergerac, and it initiates the relationship of Worf and Dax as a couple.

It also heavily features Quark and, surprisingly, is actually bearable.

This episode also has a B story which, in standard DS9 fashion, is introduced first in the open, with Doctor Bashir eavesdropping on a seeming row between the O’Briens, which turns out to be a row between the Chief and the Major, their live-in guest whilst Kira is carrying Miles’ baby.

This switches to our A-story, with Dax and Worf present to see a tall, bold, long-striding Klingon woman arrive on the station. Worf falls for her instantly, like the proverbial ton of bricks, though his romantic ideals are shattered when he follows her to Quark’s, and sees her enthusiastically embrace the proprietor. For this is Grilka, and Mary Kay Adams for a second and final time, and she is Quark’s ex-wife, as anyone who recalls ‘The house of Quark’, exactly two seasons ago, will remember (I didn’t).

So, Worf is smitten, and Dax displays considerable equanimity in listening to his moon-struck babblings about how glorious Grilka is. Worf even makes a start on traditional Klingon wooing, only to be told, not unkindly, by her aged Counsellor, Tumek, that as a dishonoured traitor to the Empire, it’s no chance whatsoever, and as a Klingon brought up by humans, Worf wouldn’t know how to woo a Klingon woman anyway.

This is like a red rag to a bull, and this is where the Cyrano bit comes in, because when Quark asks for help in wooing the statuesque Grilka, Worf takes over as his mentor, wooing by remote control, and getting a hell of a long way with it.

Unfortunately, the remote control bit has to become a little more direct. Quark’s filthy and demeaning attentions prove to be too much for Grilka’s bodyguard, Thopok, who demands satisfaction, with bat’leths.

Dax quickly cooks up a device that enable Worf to see through Quarks eyes and control his movements and effectively fight his duel for him without even being in the same holo-suite. Apparently, everybody seems to be incredibly fussed about the way nobody explains just how this little transmitter/receiver device work, and the decision not to explain because that would just bog the story down in unnecessary detail, and I don’t get why all the fuss: this is the twenty-fourth century, I don’t need an explanation for how a scientifically advanced device works and yer dern tooting it would have killed the momentum in its tracks.

Anyway, lots a by-play later, the Quark-puppet wins his duel, spares Thopok’s life and has Grilka jump his bones with true Klingon aggression. Worf, who has proved his point without anyone but Dax knowing, who has won his woman only for her to go off shagging Quark, gets an undeniable touch of the melancholies, from which a by-now frustrated Dax, tired of trying to make him see there’s a randy Trill under his nose, starts a bat’leth fight which draws both into a pyre of lust that ends wiith them shagging (tastefully offscreen, of course).

Both couples wind up in the Infirmary with cuts, bruises, dinged ribs, strains (I will reject all advances from Klingon women if this is what it leads to), causing Bashir to mentally wince so much, he probably pulls a mental hamstring himself.

For all this is an overtly sexual storyline, its ironic that the only female flesh we get to see is in the B story. No, not Rosalind Chao, though it was noticable to the unreconstructed among us just how clingy was that top she was wearing at the start, but Nana Visitor, clad in but a light, and short purple slip, having a massage from Chief O’Brien that started at her pregnancy-swollen ankles and got a long way up her unclad thighs.

If the A-story was about a love triangle, the same went for the B-story, as Miles and Nerys found themselves developing an unexpected – and unwanted – attraction for each other based on their close proximity, that was clearly capable of going beyond the purely sexual.

Everybody seemed to see there was something at least potentially going on except, naturally, Keiko. This was an interesting story, and an interesting twist on human relationships, with Miles and Nerys trying to distance themselves from each other to avoid nearing the point of lost control, whilst not letting the oblivious Keiko see that there was anything to back away from.

Matters came to a head when Kira abruptly decided to take several days leave in solitude on Bajor, only for a horrified Keiko to insist the Chief go with her, to look after her. The problem was, this was a gorgeous place in the most romantic of settings…

The drawback with this story was that its treatment was too light, and it was concluded without an ending. Miles and Nerys recognise that they daren’t go off together, and that there is too much of a potential affair that neither wants. So Kira shoots off for some no-doubt pregnant nookie with Shakaar, and O’Brien heads home to (unseen) lie to Keiko about some miscommunication meaning she’d jetted off without him, which wasn’t going to work for a second, or change any of the genuine fears that prompted Keiko to send her husband off with his baby-mother, or actually resolve anything, and I bet we don’t hear of this storyline again.

Basically, this was a lightweight script, with some comic elements that worked mildly successfully, a deliberate contrast that would perhaps have worked better if it were not thrown in so early in the season, when there was so little to contrast it to. But Quark, despite having a major role, was perfectly bearable, because he was playing against his usual, money-grubbing Ferengi self.

At least we’ve now hurdled into the Worf/Dax relationship.

Deep Space Nine: s05 e02 – The Ship


The Captain and Kilana

Deep Space Nine‘s 98th episode was a curious collection of bits that, for the most part, were well-made in themselves but which didn’t, for me, quite cohere into a substantial whole. The effect was unusual, a bit like the curate’s egg, though without anything in it that was specifically bad.

This was a story for half the cast, Sisko, Dax, Worf and O’Brien, in the Gamma Quadrant on a McGuffin Mission, examining a remote planet for its mining potential. The other half, Odo, Bashir, Quark and Kira, had a ‘B story’ of their own though it’s stretching the boundaries of the term to apply it to something begun and ended in a single scene, lasting about ninety seconds, if that, so we’ll ignore it.

The Sisko Four were in a party of nine, which meant that, even though none of them were wearing red shirts, you knew the other five were going to be for the chop the moment the story really began. Three of them made it onto the guest star list, though only F. J.Rio as O’Brien’s assistant, Muniz, had any kind of role. Four got killed more or less immediately: Muniz was mortally wounded and took most of the episode to die, teasing the audience into hoping for better, because his gently disrespectful attitude towards the Chief, and his obvious competence were the makings of a very appealing recurring character. We could have stood a lot more of Muniz, but his fate was pre-determined.

The open took us from some gentle ribbing between O’Brien and Muniz whilst exploring rough terrain, to the expedition successfully establishing the target planet as worth mining, to a ship coming out of cloaking and crashing not far away, to the discovery that it was a Jem’Hadar ship.

This was a brilliant opportunity to get acquire and study hot Dominion technology, and Sisko was determined to gran it with both hands: it was no less than his duty. This led to an oddly atmospheric explanation of the upside-down ships, all flashlights, darkness, hissing pipes and odd camera angles coming together to create a brilliantly effective impression of a kind completely alien to DS9.

The ship contains 29 bodies, its entire Jem’Hadar crew being dead.

Next up was the arrival of another, this time intact Jem’Hadar craft, destroying the runabout and opening fire, killing all the metaphorical ‘red-shirts’ except the belly-shot Muniz, and beseiging the Sisko Four inside.

This Jem’Hadar lot are led by a Vorta, of course. Pleasingly, this was not the ubiquitous Weyoun, but rather Kilana, played by Kaitlin Hopkins as a hesitant ingenue, inexperienced, gently flirtatious and all the while displaying enough cleavage to stun an ox. They want their ship back, and are willing to return everyone to DS9, intact, rather than start a fight.

Sisko, naturally, refuses. Apart from it being his Duty to the Federation, and his personal commitment, he doesn’t trust anyone from the Dominion further than he can spit.

Kilana tries again: this time she only wants a mysterious something off the ship and Sisko can have the rest, which he also turns down, ordering everyone to find out what this so important thing is. They’re all convinced it’s some form of military advance but I could see quite clearly what was coming, and it was a little less than convincing that no-one out of four such hardy and experienced Dominion fighters couldn’t even conceive of the most obvious explanation: there was a Changeling on the ship.

This wilful ignorance persisted even though the Jem-Hadar laid down an ongoing barrage of shells detonating outside the crashed ship, taking great care not to so much as scratch its paintwork. Meanwhile, the bombardment frays everyone’s nerves. Muniz continues to die, still clinging to his irreverent attitude, but getting progressively worse. O’Brien refuses to accept the inevitable and keeps reassuring him he’ll be saved, and even Sisko supports this attitude. This leads to the inevitable conflict between O’Brien and Worf over the latter’s cold-eyed clarity, and his Klingon belief that Muniz should be told the truth, so that he can prepare himself, or even that his struggle should be ended, to give him a death with honour, not this unworthy outcome.

We’re running out of time now, so the pace has to be forced. Muniz expires. Sisko and Dax discover some disgustingly greasy drips coming from the ceiling that prove to be the Changeling, a revelation only to the cast. It’s dying, unable to maintain its structural integrity, and spills all over the floor before turning into carbonised ash. Instantly, the bombardment stops. Kilana teleports aboard. All the Jem’Hadar have committed instant suicide, totally offscreen, because they let their god die. Sisko and Co can go, unmolested, and take the ship with them, no worries, as long as she can scoop up a test-tube worth of the Founder’s remains to take back to the Dominion.

This is the only scene that doesn’t work of itself. Sisko has lost five crewmen, but it seems to be the suicide of the purely homicidal, psychotic Jem’Hadar that pushes him to the edge of mild hysteria over so many people dying for this, and all because he and Kilana didn’t trust each other. It doesn’t work because it’s false. There’s a war going on and you’re not supposed to trust the enemy, especially when they’ve got overwhelming superiority in numbers and weaponry and are promising to let you go. Sisko’s sudden horror at this tragedy and his feeling of responsibility, which will be further developed in a subsequent scene with Dax, also doesn’t work because it has no basis in reality: with the exception of Muniz, who we assume could have been saved with proper medical attention, all the deaths took place before Sisko first spoke with Kilana, so his near-hysteria is for the death of the Jem’Hadar.

Nevertheless, there was an effective closing scene with O’Brien and Worf. The Chief is in the hold with Muniz’s coffin, talking to him, when Worf enters. The Klingon identifies O’Brien’s actions as echoing the Klingon tradition/rite of ak’voh, of friends guarding the body of a dead warrior from predators until it is ready to go to Sto’vo’kar. He joins O’Brien in his vigil.

As I said at the beginning, with the exception of the scene I’ve identified where Sisko nearly gets hysterical, the various elements of this episode are handled well in terms of both writing and acting, and that of the initial exploration of the ship in effects and cinematography, but somehow it didn’t come together as a whole. This was an episode I’ll remember for its parts rather than its sum. And I don’t mean Kaitlin Hopkins’ cleavage when I say that.

Deep Space Nine: s04 e24 – The Quickening


Doctor and Patient

Maybe it’s just the coincidence of approaching the end of a Deep Space Nine season so shortly after the current television season has finished, but I find myself wanting to get season 4 over. Episodes like this one are either a symbol of why I want to get to the end or else a sign of my own staleness.

‘The Quickening’ was basically a two-hander featuring Doctor Bashir and Jardzia Dax, that developed in its last ten minutes into a Bashir solo. Because of the unwritten law that everyone in the cast had to appear, we began with a completely irrelevant, stapled on half-open, so that Odo, Worf, O’Brien and Quark could have a line or two to speak that was so bloody irritating in itself, even before it became totally out of keeping with the episode as a whole that I refuse to even credit it, and a coda with a word or two from Sisko that at least followed the story. Kira fared slightly better: she was the third member of the expedition into the Gamma Quadrant, but she got despatched into hiding from the Jem’Hadar for most of the episode.

I’m only going on about this for so long because I’m getting increasingly irritated at watching stories that are at least perfectly decent being bent out of shape, in an obtrusive manner, just to cram in an otiose line or two from a cast member not required for the story.

It put me in an awkward mood to begin with, which was then exacerbated by the lead-in to the plot. Kira intercepts a distress message from a planet under attack that turns out to be 200 years old. The attack was by the Jem’Hadar, punishing a world that had defied the Dominion by seeding it with a fatal virus that affects the entire population by causing facial and body lesions that, at an unpredictable point, turn red, causing indescribable pain and inevitable death.

The planet’s civilisation has collapsed, it is a ruin, it’s entire existence focused upon death, or rather escaping the death that follows when the lesions quicken.

This is what Bashir and Dax discover when they beam down, although it hurt the episode, at least for me, that they appeared out of nowhere, as complete strangers, dressed radically differently from everyone else, and nobody noticed. The absence of an reaction didn’t sit right, and was yet another example of weak, lazy writing, ducking logic in order to get to the ‘real’ story and thereby undercutting its reality.

At first, that story seemed to hold a tinge of more Federation cultural imperialism. A woman quickened, and Bashir and Dax help her to Trevean, who appears to be revered in the way a Doctor in a plague camp might be. Only he’s not a Doctor in Bashir’s terms because all he does is give those who have quickened a swift-acting poison, and a speedy and relatively pain-free death, as opposed to the drawn-out and agonising one imposed by the virus.

Bashir is convinced he can cure the plague: after all, he’s already saved one plague-ridden planet with just one hour’s diagnosing. He and Dax set up shopped, aided by the heavily-pregnant Ekoria, a sweet and gentle guest appearance by Ellen Wheeler. Trevean (Michael Sarrazin) hangs around making vague threats about liars and what happens to people who arouse false hopes that are never followed up on.

Bashir fails. He seems to be making progress towards a cure but the plague then rapidly and violently mutates, in response to the electrical fields generated by his equipment. Trevean has to step in rapidly to administer his potion, wiping out the entire clinic except for Ekoria, who is unaffected for no better reason than that the plot requires it.

Dax, who has spent most of the episode with her hair distractingly down for no reason other than to make her look different, goes home but Bashir determinedly stays, with Ekoria as his only patient, grimly clinging onto enable her baby boy to be born. There’s a twist coming, we know there’s a twist coming, and even before it’s somewhat blatantly foreshadowed by the total absence of all that antigen from Ekoria’s body, the ending is obvious. Ekoria gives birth, but dies almost immediately. But she lives long enough to see and understand that her baby is born free of the plague: Bashir has inadvertently created not a cure but a vaccine.

And Trevean, after being a slightly low-key heavy throughout, turns saviour, begging to be shown how to administer the vaccine to every pregnant woman. No-one alive will be saved. But within a generation, the plague will be eliminated. It’s a win, but not enough of one to console Bashir, as his distracted response to Sisko’s congratulations shows us.

So. If I were rating episodes, I’d give this a C+ as it is, with prospects of it having been a solid B if not for the strictures of the time. Tighter writing, dumping everyone but Bashir, Dax and Kira, with maybe Sisko to round things off, either tone down on Trevean the threat or else make that a bit more actual, these would have made this a much stronger episode, and me a lot more convinced today.

Deep Space Nine: s04 e23 – To The Death


Bad guys

An unusual episode as we close in on the end of season 4. Superficially, it was a simple, indeed almost simplistic story with no long-lasting effects or implications: Sisko and Co have to work together with a team of Jem’Hadar to take out a bunch of rogue Jem’Hadar in possession of an Iconian Gateway. Apart from the unusual sight of Federation and Jem’Hadar cooperating, that was more or less it.

But the simplicity of the premise gave the writers an opportunity to expand the story by expanding the characters, and to show them acting and reacting in the face of a vital, yet dangerous mission, that might claim their lives.

Most particularly, the episode took the opportunity to give an insight into Jem’Hadar life: their loyalties, their beliefs, their complete dedication to the fight. In the person of their First, Omet’iklan (a wonderfully poised and quiet performance by Clarence Williams III), we saw them as something other than crazy badass killers: his speech when they were armed, beginning with the encouraging words, “We are dead,” and ending with “We go to reclaim our lives,” was a masterpiece of taut, concise writing that opened up an infinity of cultural perception.

In contrast, on the DS9 side of the scales, the most effective scene featured O’Brien and Dax, prefacing the commencement of the engagement. O’Brien brings his latest goodbye message to Keiko and Molly to Dax, ruefully reflecting that it’s the eleventh time he’s recorded such a message, and how each time he goes through the emotional churn of expecting this one to be the one they will finally get to hear. Dax is reassuring about her belief that he will die in bed at the age of 140, but reveals that she records a similar message to her mother: everyone does.

It was things like this, an unexpectedly rounded consideration of what it is really like to be in such a situation, that gave depth to, and greatly expanded an episode whose premise was perfunctory.

It was also needed in view of the story’s rather weak start. The rogue Jem’Hadar attack Deep Space Nine, destroy part of a pylon, and make off with power equipment that they intend to use to boot up the Gateway and enable themselves to teleport instantly across galaxies. Sisko takes the Defiant to chase them, and comes across a disabled Jem’Hadar warship, pursuing the rebels, who have crippled it, this bringing the two sets of enemy together in joint pursuit of a common danger.

That’s fairly contrived to begin with, but contrives to undermine itself by apparently having DS9 be attacked, part destroyed, eighteen dead, over a hundred injured, and all this happen forty-five minutes before the rest of the station notices.

There was also a very weak piece of scripting midway. Omet’iklan’s team were under the command of Weyoun (or rather the first of his clones, not that this is anywhere spelled out or so much as hinted at) and were supposed not to know anything of the Gateway in case they went over to the Rogues. But Omet’iklan and his band know all about it. “How do you know?” asks Weyoun in consternation. “That is not important,” replies Omet’iklan, immediately revealing that the scriptwriter hasn’t got a clue about how the Jem’Hadar know and is settling for springing it out of thin air because it suits his plot.

But these are mere cavils. Overall, the writing was very good and very effective, and the episode deserves a high rating.

We’re now only three episode from the end of season 4. And I’ve still not yet caught up to the first episode I ever watched. I’m pretty certain I know which it is, and it’s not that deep into season 5…