This month marks the twentieth anniversary of perhaps the most underrated Star Trek show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. It differed from the other Trek shows in that it took place on a space station (the titular Deep Space Nine–DS9) near a wormhole and the characters often had to deal with the political and social ramifications of galactic events and encounters. In so many ways, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is arguably the best Trek show and certainly the best spinoff of the original Star Trek. A reason why the original is considered the best has to do with nostalgia and its iconic nature. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine or DS9 isn’t as fondly remembered as Star Trek or Star Trek: The Next Generation but it should be highly regarded.
Some early critics of the show complained that the stories were rather dark, bleak and depressing. This was because the show’s first two seasons dealt with rebuilding a shattered civilization. DS9 orbited an ancient world called Bajor and it had been occupied by the enemy Cardassians (who built the station using Bajoran slave labor), who were like the Nazis. The Bajorans were a rough analogy to the Jews after World War II and Israel at its beginning. The Bajorans were on the verge of a civil war and desperate. While their plight made for some terrific episodes (“In The Hands Of The Prophets” and The Circle trilogy), it probably turned off casual viewers who wanted to see the standard starship zipping around the galaxy and having the crew solving some kind of tech-based problem.
Being that the deeply religious Bajorans were a focal point in the early episodes, the show touched on religious matters. In fact, it was one of its core concepts. In the pilot episode “Emissary” the show’s main character, Commander Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks) was assigned to the station and later discovered a nearby stable wormhole that was created by enigmatic non-corporeal aliens. While this was a major scientific and socio-political game changer for the Federation and helped put Bajor on the map, this event had religious ramifications. It turned out there was a prophecy in Bajoran religion that a non-Bajoran savior called the Emissary would discover the wormhole and the “Prophets” that the Bajorans worship. Therefore, Sisko became a major religious figure among Bajorans who they believed would eventually bring them salvation. This was a role that Sisko and Starfleet was very uneasy with chiefly because of their secular nature and the whole Prime Directive thing of non-interference.
Timing Is Everything
A reason for why the show wasn’t a runaway hit may have to do with the timing of when it premiered. During that time, Star Trek: The Next Generation was at its peak in popularity and some fans probably wanted DS9 to be more of the same. Sure it didn’t make sense to go to the trouble of creating a new show just to regurgitate the same ship traveling premise but some just want the same formula repeated over and over. So DS9 in trying to be distinctive was probably too different, which is what Star Trek needed and still does. The show was murky in its morality, the main heroes often committed actions that were questionable. At the time, it was believed by the suits in Paramount Studios that people didn’t want Star Trek to be dark and ambivalent, which is one of the so-called reasons behind the creation of the next spinoff Star Trek: Voyager.
Now with all the publicity Star Trek: Voyager was receiving along with the continued popularity and coverage of Star Trek: The Next Generation, it was difficult for DS9 to get any attention. It became the redheaded stepchild of the franchise. While that was unfortunate, one good thing to come out of that was that it was largely left alone. As executive producer Rick Berman concentrated on Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: The Next Generation’s spinoff films, exemplary writers and producers like Ron Moore, Ira Steven Behr, Robert Hewitt Wolfe and René Echevarria were put in charge of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and made the show its own. They took risks with the characters and situations and it paid off creatively. Continue reading