This month thirty years ago, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the second Star Trek spinoff (not counting the 1970s animated series) premiered on independent TV stations. Right from its pilot episode “Emissary” viewers saw that this was a decidedly different Star Trek show. Its main character was not a white starship captain, it did not take place onboard a starship, and its ensemble cast of characters was very diverse for its time. More than that the stories were more grounded and tackled headier topics like religion and politics, while the characters were not clean-cut explorers who got along well with everyone. Instead they exhibited shades of grey and were quite flawed.
Many fans at that time were put off by Star Trek: Deep Space Nine because it did not follow the typical Star Trek formula and was deemed to be too dark in tone. They wanted the loftier or swashbuckling tone of earlier Star Trek shows that took place on starships that met new aliens every week. With Deep Space Nine, the setting was stationary, pardon the pun, as it took place on an alien space station that was run by the human-centric Starfleet.
While Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was a success, it did not reach the level of adoration that earlier Star Treks had. Before it had time to build an audience, Star Trek: Voyager was launched a couple of years after Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and conusmed a lot of attention away as it returned to the trusted formula of a starship crew exploring space with a twist. However, in recent years, many have discovered for themselves what they initially missed or disregarded and saw its groundbreaking merits.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine starred Avery Brooks as Commander Ben Sisko, an emotionally fragile and jaded Starfleet officer, who was mourning the death of his wife. He is assigned to command the Deep Space Nine space station orbitting the war-torn planet Bajor that wants to be part of the United Federation of Planets. After their arrival, Sisko and his young son meet an eclectic group of characters including Sisko’s second-in-command Major Kira Nerys, a strong-willed former freedom fighter, Quark, a greedy alien bar owner, Odo, a gruff shape-shifting alien security chief, and more. In the pilot episode, Sisko was seriously considering leaving Starfleet, but soon discovers a nearby stable wormhole that transforms Bajor and Deep Space Nine into a major gateway destination in the known galaxy. After an encounter with non-corporeal aliens in the wormhole, Sisko gains a deeper understanding of his life and moves on past his wife’s death with a renewed vigor as an officer. At the same time, he becomes a religious figure to the people of Bajor, who see his wormhole discovery as part of a prophecy about their salvation. This development, naturally, causes discomfort for Sisko, who is has his hands full keeping the peace, raising his son and running the station.
Thanks to its newfound importance, Bajor and the station becomes the centerpoint for intrigue and machinations from various parties throughout the galaxy and is so valued that before long a war breaks out for control of Deep Space Nine and the wormhole. When war breaks out, which was a first for Star Trek, its brutal horrors test our characters in relatable ways never seen before in a Star Trek show.
One thing that the show accomplished was that it embraced the now-common story arcs that continue from one episode to the next. Previous Star Trek shows followed an episodic formula with standalone stories. But by ditching that format, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine gave its characters and situations room to breath and develop. One example was the war arc that took place over several seasons, and culminated in an epic final season that was a fully engrossing and rewarding viewing experience.
Thankfully, the show has found a second life as more and more fans have discovered it and appreciated it. Even though there have been numerous Star Trek shows since, many consider Star Trek: Deep Space Nine to be the best Star Trek show of all time and they have a point. It stands out today because it did not follow the conventional Star Trek formula. It took risks and struck storytelling gold. It’s unfortunate that we have not had any followups or reunions with the show, but it is rumored that the new season of Star Trek: Picard will feature some kind of reunion related to Deep Space Nine, so we’ll find out soon. it is comforting to know that with the current slate of numerous Star Trek shows, not only has Star Trek: Deep Space Nine withstood the test of time but it has propered.