Our reviews of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Season Two (published May 23rd, 2003), Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Season Three (published September 6th, 2003), Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Season Four (published November 3rd, 2003), Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Season Five (published November 11th, 2003), Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Season Six (published December 8th, 2003), and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Season Seven (published January 13th, 2004) are also available.
Life in the Star Trek future isn't always so warm and cuddly…
Born in the shadow of Star Trek: The Next Generation and with a controversial relationship to the similar sci-fi television show Babylon 5, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine took risks with the shift in locale and tone of the much venerated Star Trek franchise. While Season 1 suffers from some expected growing pains, along the way you can begin to appreciate the unique potential for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine to explore new facets of the familiar Trek universe, though the payoff is yet to come. As a DVD box set, compared to its older sibling, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is both an improvement and an annoyance.
Facts of the Case
Presented across six discs in airdate order, the episodes of Season One are listed below with brief comments and a quick letter grade. If you desire more extensive summaries (beware of spoilers!), as well as trailers and clips from each episode, look in the Library at the official Star Trek site (linked at right).
The Emissary (Parts I and II)
A Man Alone
Move Along Home
If Wishes Were Horses
In The Hands of the Prophets
Overall Grade for Season One: B
When Star Trek: Deep Space Nine premiered in 1993, for the first time in the history of the Trek franchise two Star Trek television series were in production at the same time. Just as when in later years when Star Trek: Voyager was put on the air while Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, this is not as strange as it might seem at first blush. Star Trek: The Next Generation was a "traditional" starship-based showcase for creator Gene Rodenberry's vision: a heavily utopian-flavored Federation grown beyond money that in theory worships at the altar of the Prime Directive.
On the other hand, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine reflected a significant paradigm shift away from such a "traditional" Trek series, although this was not as clearly apparent at the dawn of the series as later seasons revealed. In choosing to anchor the series not just on a Bajoran space station, but one in the middle of the Bajoran recovery from brutal Cardassian rule and at the dangerous frontier, as never quite before in the Star Trek universe we discover that all is not sweetness and light in the day to day life of the universe. Sometimes life is downright grim! What's more, you realize that commerce is a key fact of life for the universe and gain a greater understanding of the practical aspects of life outside of the rarefied air of an elite Federation starship (like the Enterprise!) Adding to the distinctiveness of this series, the heavy Bajoran flavor of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine comes with a healthy dose of genuine respect for their deeply held religious belief and a casual view of Federation pieties and bureaucratic procedures.
Though I was only dimly aware of the controversy at the time, crossfire between partisans of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Babylon 5 has raged hot and heavy ever since these similar shows first competed in the television marketplace. J. Michael Straczynski had "pitched" the full Babylon 5 concept in 1989 to many places, including Paramount, and soon began production of that series pilot, and a mere two months later the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine concept was in turn presented to Paramount brass. Though Babylon 5 had the early start, Paramount brought the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine pilot to air January 3, 1993, just weeks before the bow of Babylon 5 on February 22, 1993.
Ever since, the debate has raged as to whether one show "poached" off of the other. Aside from the most fanatical Trek partisans, no one seems to accuse Babylon 5 of that crime, but some credibly make the point in the other direction. However, to be absolutely clear, at no point has J. Michael Straczynski claimed that the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine creators (Rick Berman and Michael Piller) knew of the detailed Babylon 5 "pitch." Quite to the contrary, he describes both men in highly positive, ethical terms, though he fails to describe Paramount executives in such a manner. Of course, anyone in Hollywood is familiar with concurrent development patterns, though in such a gossip-riddled town, one can easily imagine how word of a hot project can soon spawn imitative fruit (and hence create the appearance of purely coincidental concurrent development). Though a truthful accounting is unlikely, Straczynski has his own measured but firmly stated view:
There's little question in my mind that the suits at Paramount wanted to co-opt what we were doing with B5. I know that they *resented* the show because it was, at that time, their belief that they pretty much owned the space SF genre.
I feel that they guided the development process in order to co-opt what we were doing. And nothing I've heard from my sources inside the studio has given me cause to think otherwise.
J. Michael Straczynski (posted on Usenet 2/19/01)
(If you wish to browse through a searchable archive of Straczynski's public statements in various Internet forums, look at the link at right.)
Along with introducing a new series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine introduced a new Federation leader and cast of characters. Though not yet a captain by rank in Season One, Benjamin Sisko is given a life and breadth by Avery Brooks (Spenser For Hire, American History X) that compares quite favorably to his predecessors (and successors), including James T. Kirk, Jean Luc-Picard, Kathryn Janeway, and presently Jeffrey Archer. Unique among those compatriots, Benjamin Sisko carries particular emotional burdens (at times affecting his judgment) and must deal with the joys and pains of raising his son Jake on his own, and unwillingly finds himself a significant religious figure in the Bajoran tradition as the Emissary of the Prophets. Though this short-haired Sisko has not yet developed the charisma and confidence that the bald Sisko of future seasons possessed, here in Season One you can see the beginning of Avery Brooks' development along with his refreshingly blunt and honestly emotional nature.
The other members of the typically ensemble cast are generally solid. Terry Farrell (Back to School) is a bit too bland, though to her credit she gives Dax a credible intelligence beyond the thin "Trek babe" writing she often gets in Season One. Nana Visitor (Dark Angel) takes full advantage of the excellent writing for Kira in Season One, with a strong, energetic performance that shines at moments of touching drama (as seen in "Duet" and "Progress") without sacrificing her feminine charms. Colm Meany (The Commitments, Mystery, Alaska) carries on with his endearing blue-collar engineer and family man from Star Trek: The Next Generation and Alexander Siddig (Reign of Fire) seems to have a lot of fun (to our benefit!) as the overly enthusiastic genius and James Bond wannabe Dr. Bashir. Rounding out the main cast, Cirroc Lofton is a tolerable Jake Sisko (improving as the seasons progress) and two fine actors, Armin Shimerman (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) as Quark and Rene Auberjonois (M*A*S*H, Benson, The Patriot) as Odo, rise above their sketchy writing and latex prosthetics.
Compared with the box set of Star Trek: The Next Generation Season Three that I previously reviewed, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Season One marks an improvement. As before, the colors are richly saturated and the picture is remarkable for its pristine clarity. Though edge enhancement is still a problem primarily with external shots of Deep Space Nine and starships of all sorts, Paramount seems to have the problem under better control.
The advertising copy for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine uses the Dolby Digital 5.1 remix as a selling point. That Paramount went to the effort is an undeniable fact, but Star Trek: Deep Space Nine does little to prove this fact to your ears. The front soundstage has proper depth and clarity, but while the subwoofer chimes in occasionally I never noticed the surround speakers announcing their presence. I am sure that they contribute their share of ambient fill, but no more.
On the last disc of the set is the collection of featurettes that constitute practically all of the bonus content. Deep Space Nine: A Bold Beginning (18 minutes) is a sunny-side up PR featurette about the creation and rush to initial production for the series. Crew Dossier: Kira Nerys (14 minutes) is a look at Deep Space Nine's second in command, primarily through clips of episodes and snips of interviews with Nana Visitor (in 1992 and 1999) and executive producer Ira Steven Behr. For good or for ill, this featurette spoils some of the developments of the series, so be warned. Also, what's with Behr's bordering-on-the-rude mirrored glasses look during his interview? Too much partying the night before?
Michael Westmore's Aliens: Season One (10 minutes) is a brief but fascinating look at the development and details of the make-up effects for the Bajorans, Cardassians, and the various background and "guest star" alien races for this season, heavily featuring an interview with Michael Westmore (from 2002). I can never get enough of this sort of content, and wished this were longer (and the more fluffy featurettes trimmed). Secrets of Quark's Bar (5 minutes) is a look at the mundane origins of various props used to dress Quark's establishment via a presentation by Star Trek archivist Penny Juday.
Alien Artifacts: Season One (3 minutes) is an even briefer tour by property master Joe Longo of various props used in the series (phasers, alien weapons, Bajoran orbs, tricorders, and more). This is so brief as to be forgettable, with none of the design details or depth to make a notable contribution. Deep Space Nine Sketchbook (5 minutes), with senior illustrator Rick Sternbach, discusses some design considerations for the art department and shows the sketch work and the resulting product for a handful of props, weapons, and gizmos. The photo gallery is a collection of 40 production, art department, and sketch still photos.
These items are spread out over two menu screens, each of which has a set of five Easter eggs. These ten Easter eggs are short (1.5 to 3 minute) clips of the main actors talking about their characters, a couple of the actors talking about their casting process, and one with Jennifer Hetrick discussing her guest appearance as Vash. Pity there's not an Easter egg menu with a "play all" feature!
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Just when you might think that studios have figured out the problem of finding packaging that is aesthetically pleasing and durable, along comes Paramount with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Season One. In a word, the packaging is hideous. The flexible plastic sleeve (similar to the one used by Toy Story: The Ultimate Toybox) is fine. The inner box is where the problem lies.
Other box sets use a fold out paper accordion for the discs (Band of Brothers), while others use a dual paper accordion style (X-Files), and still others use a book-like collection of hard plastic "pages" (Babylon 5). Star Trek: Deep Space Nine uses the latter system, but with an annoying twist. Covering over the inner stack of plastic "pages" on the right and left are stiff plastic foldouts. The aggravating problem here is that when you move the foldouts in order to access the central disc storage, the foldouts don't stayout of the way. This makes handling the discs less than ideal. At the same time, the plastic used feels flimsy and makes me wonder about its long-term durability.
One more aggravation related to the packaging and the bonus content for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Season One is the lack of an episode guide booklet. Sometimes you will plow through a season box set in order, and sometimes you want to watch specific episodes (or want to figure out which one to watch, based on a synopsis, a guest star, or whatever). In that case, having a booklet is a nice convenience and far handier than any on-disc supplement.
For the average Trek fan, whether you think Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Season One is worthy of your money ($130 list) and time is likely to depend on whether you prefer the typical Federation/starship paradigm, or are looking for a fresh angle on different aspects of the Trek universe. My personal tastes favor Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (and Babylon 5!), but your mileage may vary. If you are new to Trek, or sci-fi in general, by all means try and find a store that allows you to rent, as the time investment (nearly 16 hours!) is quite daunting, but helpful to understand the series as it progresses.
No first season is perfect, but Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Season One is a good start for a SF series, and may depart this court in peace. Paramount, on the other hand, is sentenced to sit in the corner and wear a dunce cap until they remedy the aggravating packaging (which I fear is a permanent feature).
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Scales of Justice
• DS9: A Bold Beginning
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