Thursday, 23 July 2015

TV Series: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Is it really four years ago that I began to watch "Star Trek: The Next Generation"? I moved through the series slowly, only watching a few episodes each month, as if I were watching a real television series. Almost. If I'd been watching it as it were broadcast I would have been watching for seven years, but that's only because the series wasn't broadcast every month of the year. As it is I calculate that I watched an average of one episode a week for the last four years.

Now I've moved on to "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" (which I'll refer to as DS9 for the sake of brevity). I missed the beginning of this series when it was first broadcast. I began to watch it in 1997 in the middle of the fifth season, and I was hooked for the next two years. (It finished broadcasting in June 1999). Since then I haven't seen any episodes repeated on television. It's interesting to finally catch up on the early episodes that I missed, 16 years later.

When asked which Star Trek series I like most I always reply "the original series" without hesitation. I feel sentimental about it. I grew up with Kirk, Spock and McCoy at an early age. I've watched the episode so many times that I only need to watch a few random seconds of any episodes to remember which one it is. And yet I have to acknowledge that the following series did things better. For instance, in "The Next Generation" the captain rarely took part in an away team, which makes a lot more sense. In the original series only Kirk, Spock and McCoy were fully developed as characters, then Scotty, Uhura and Sulu as peripheral characters, and everyone else was a hazy shadow in the background. In "The Next Generation" all of the Enterprise's principal crew members are shown in detail in one episode or another.

In DS9 the character development is taken a step further. Unlike the previous series DS9 isn't set on a space ship travelling through the galaxy constantly encountering new situations; it's set on a space station, and so the interaction between the regular cast members isn't just a matter of sub-plots, it's the principal dynamics of the series. It's all about the characters, so they're shown in their full richness from week to week. The series even has the flavour of a soap opera, which I mean as a compliment.

Rather than it being a well disciplined star ship crew, the series opens up with characters who distrust and sometimes even dislike one another. The series begins soon after the end of the war between Cardassia and Bajor (which was sometimes mentioned in "The Next Generation", but never shown in detail). After the occupation of Bajor the Cardassians abandoned their space station near the planet. Bajor requested the United Federation of Planets to administer the space station with their help, even though Bajor was not yet a member of the Federation. This leads to two main factions within the station, which the Federation renamed "Deep Space Nine". Most of the Bajorans accept the Federation, but some think of them as a new occupying force. Ferengis operate businesses on the space station, often using shady means to make a profit.

One thing contained in DS9 that's absent from the previous series is religion. The Bajorans are a deeply religious people, and we repeatedly hear that only their faith helped them survive the Cardassian occupation. Commander Benjamin Sisko, the head of the space station, is considered by the Bajorans to be the Emissary of the Prophets. Despite his natural scepticism as a man of science he accepts this role.

Sometimes episodes deal with topics that are thinly veiled references to current topics in our real world. For instance, in the season one episode "In the hands of the prophets" a religious leader interrupts school classes because they teach scientific theories that contradict the Bajoran beliefs. This leads first to children being taken out of school, then to acts of violence.

Another example is the episode "Duet", in which a Cardassian visits the space station who used to work in a labour camp where the Bajorans were raped and slaughtered. He was only a filing clerk, but does this make him innocent of the crimes committed in the camp? There are passionate arguments for and against his innocence. Do the survivors of the camp want justice or revenge?

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