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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Hippocratic Oath (Review)

This February and March, we’re taking a look at the 1995 to 1996 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily Tuesday through Friday for the latest review.

Hippocratic Oath represents a return to normality for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The Way of the Warrior was a feature-length war epic tasked with introducing a new regular character and a new status quo, while The Visitor was an intimate character study that stood quite apart from the show around it. With Hippocratic Oath, the show gets back to business as usual. It even has a classic a-story/b-story split with Bashir and O’Brien’s Gamma Quadrant hijinx juxtaposed with Worf learning his place on the station (and the show).

This is not to suggest that Hippocratic Oath is a bland hour of Star Trek. Indeed, it is a tightly-constructed story that hits on some of the show’s core themes and most interesting dynamics. One of the problems with the third season of Deep Space Nine was the fact that it had a strong start but no idea on how to build from that. Hippocratic Oath seems to serve very much as a “business as usual” episode of the fourth season, helping to set a baseline of quality of the show going forward.

Awkward bromantic moment...

Awkward bromantic moment…

Hippocratic Oath is unlikely to be ranked among the best episodes of Deep Space Nine (or even the best episodes of the fourth season), but it does demonstrate that the show is working like a well-oiled machine at this point. The fourth season is really the point at which Deep Space Nine truly comes together. This is not to suggest that there were sustained high points in the past (the last eight episodes of the second season come to mind), but that the fourth season is really the first season of Deep Space Nine that can be said to truly work beginning-to-end.

Sure, there are bumps in the road – as there will be with any twenty-odd episode season. The fourth season produces Shattered Mirror and The Muse back-to-back, a double bill that can’t quite compete with The Assignment and Let He Who Is Without Sin… from the fifth season. These are very much the exception though. Even the episodes that do not entirely (or even remotely) work – like The Sword of Kahless or Rules of Engagement – are generally held together by interesting ideas and solid character work.

Deal or no deal?

Deal or no deal?

That is perhaps the key to the success of the fourth season, and what sets it apart from the earlier years of Deep Space Nine. It feels like the writing staff completely understands the characters and the space in which they operate. Rejoined feels like a more in-character love story for Jadzia Dax than Meridian. The fears of Julian Bashir feel much more clearly articulated in Our Man Bashir or The Quickening than they were in Distant Voices. Sisko’s romance with Kasidy feels more organic than anything in Second Sight.

There is probably no better objective measure of the success of the fourth season than the fact that it manages to do two successful Quark stories and three successful Bashir stories. Bashir has very much been a problem character for the show, with the writers struggling to get a grip on how to write storylines for the character. Bashir works very well as part of the ensemble, his optimism providing a marked contrast to the pragmatism of those around him, but the show has had difficulty leveraging that into stories around the character.

Worst. Commute. Ever.

Worst. Commute. Ever.

Bashir is a hard character to like. He is all brash arrogance and unquestioning self-confidence. He was introduced in Emissary as a character with no real understanding of how the world actually works, an assessment reinforced by his supporting roles in episodes like Battle Lines or Crossover. The character could easily be read as Ira Steven Behr’s commentary on the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation, a well-educated upper-crust well-intentioned overly-earnest toff.

Listing off Bashir-centric stories from the first three seasons is a depressing exercise. The Passenger. Melora. Distant Voices. Bashir stories tend to work better when the character is written into a two-hander, where his perspective can be contrasted with that of another character. Bashir and O’Brien work together well enough in Armageddon Game, but The Wire is probably the most successful Bashir story of the first three seasons, and it is just as much (if not more) a Garak story.

"This planet's taken. Find your own."

“This planet’s taken. Find your own.”

As such, it was fun to play Bashir off the rest of the cast, but made him difficult to write in isolation. It is no wonder that the studio wanted the producers to write Bashir out of the show in those early years, explaining that the character was unpopular with viewers. However, the production team kept trying to get Bashir to work. Unlike characters like Harry Kim or Travis Mayweather who were allowed to fade into the background, Deep Space Nine never gave up on any of its troubled characters. It was a decision that paid off in the longer term.

So, the fourth season of Deep Space Nine arguably has more functional Julian Bashir stories than the three seasons leading up to it. More than that, the Bashir stories after this point are also executed with a much higher success rate than they were before. There are still some questionable stories in the character’s future, but the show has a much firmer grasp on how the character works – or doesn’t. And a lot of that success comes off the back of three years of pretty consistently failing to make the character work, and learning from those mistakes.

Well, nobody likes a visit to the doctor...

Well, nobody likes a visit to the doctor…

As with a lot of things, writing is like flexing a muscle; practice, and it grows stronger. That applies as much to writing particular characters and genres as it does to the act of writing itself. If a writer continually pushes themselves, they will inevitably improve. However, this inevitably involves the risk of spectacular (and potentially humiliating) failure. It is perhaps telling that some of Deep Space Nine‘s biggest misfires are are due to clumsy execution of ambitious (or even just crazy) ideas rather than simple lack of effort.

While Hippocratic Oath is notable as the point at which Deep Space Nine starts to consistently handle the character of Julian Bashir, it is notable that this doesn’t feel like a big deal. Hippocratic Oath is not showy or spectacular. In fact, it is very much business as usual. In keeping with the general mood and aesthetic of Deep Space Nine, Hippocratic Oath feels like something of a tribute to a classic piece of cinema. According to The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, the writing staff compared it to Bridge on the River Kwai.

Like clockwork...

Like clockwork…

Deep Space Nine seemed particularly fond of these pitches. Rules of Acquisition is Yentl, Profit and Loss is Casablanca, Fascination is A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Citing the example of Bridge on the River Kwai, René Echevarria argued that this was an effective shorthand when developing story ideas:

Absolutely, it happens all the time. In fact, in Hollywood, people come in and pitch stories to producers as crosses between different movies. When we’re kicking around a story idea, we do that sort of thing all the time. “Hey, it’s Bridge on the River Kwai–they’re building the bridge”–that sort of thing, even though the context is completely different, because it gives us something to hang on to. It helps you see it in the largest sense, thematically. When you’re writing, especially when you’re writing under such time pressure, you know you lose your perspective on the whole scope of the piece and how it will affect the viewer who knows nothing, who doesn’t know what’s coming next. It helps to have these references that remind you that these scenes have an impact, and are intended to have an impact, and it’s not just you trying to get it done on time.

This is perhaps a reflection on the tastes of the writing team. Ira Steven Behr, in particular, is a huge fan of classic cinema. “Bashir and O’Brien do Bridge on the River Kwai” is a quintessentially Deep Space Nine pitch.

Diamonds are forever...

Diamonds are forever…

Hippocratic Oath is perhaps the safest of the three Bashir stories from the fourth season, which makes sense given that it is also the first of the three. In particular, it is very much a two-hander, in keeping with the most successful Bashir stories to this point. Hippocratic Oath is almost as much an O’Brien story as it is a Bashir story. The Storyteller had proved that putting Alexander Siddig and Colm Meaney together could elevate even the blandest material, so Hippocratic Oath throws them into a classic Star Trek morality tale.

One of the more interesting aspects of the relationship between Bashir and O’Brien are the inherent contrasts that exist between. Bashir is an officer, while O’Brien has been described as the franchise’s first working class character. Bashir is very British, while O’Brien is very Irish. Bashir is an idealist, O’Brien is a pragmatist. Bashir treat his time on Deep Space Nine as a romantic adventure, while O’Brien hopes to raise a family. Although Bashir technically outranks O’Brien, he does not have anywhere near the life or professional experience of the Chief.

Classic formula.

Classic formula.

So, when presented with the dilemma of what to do about the Jem’Hadar, Bashir and O’Brien fall on opposite sides of the issue. Bashir responds from an academic and idealistic position. The Jem’Hadar are a drug-addicted slave race, so freeing them from that drug-addicted slavery is the right thing to do. O’Brien is more concerned with the practical implications of the decision; having seen the violence genetically-engineered into the Jem’Hadar in The Abandoned, removing the only mechanism of control over the Jem’Hadar could have horrific implications.

Bashir’s position is argued from the first principles of the Star Trek franchise. Bashir is arguably the only character in the Deep Space Nine cast who would feel more at home in any other series, which seems to be the point of the character. However, Hippocratic Oath gives him the stronger argument. “Slavery is wrong” is not a controversial decision; it is the only morally justifiable stance on the issue. There is no question that Kirk, Picard, Janeway and Archer would all back him up in his decision – give or take a crisis of conscience over the Prime Directive.

Mister Grumpypants.

Mister Grumpypants.

O’Brien makes some convincing counter-arguments, but it never feels like Hippocratic Oath is selling Bashir short. “Stop being so naive, Julian, and look at them for what they are,” O’Brien argues, from an uncomfortable position of racial essentialism. “They’re killers. That’s all they know how to do. That’s all they want to do.” The climax of the episode proves O’Brien wrong, with Goran’Agar risking his own life to allow Bashir and O’Brien to escape – despite the fact that O’Brien effectively doomed the platoon of Jem’Hadar troops to what might be a slow and agonising death.

In fact, the script for Hippocratic Oath suggests that O’Brien’s arguments are anchored in his own personal experiences – that he might see the worst parts of himself reflected in the Jem’Hadar. O’Brien’s military experience sets him quite apart from most other major Starfleet characters in the franchise, at least until Deep Space Nine begins its transformation into a war show with The Way of the Warrior. The Wounded was the franchise’s first O’Brien-centric episode, and it was rooted in that past trauma.

A Worf in the fold...

A Worf in the fold…

O’Brien carries around an incredible amount of guilt about his actions during the Cardassian Wars. Discussing his first encounter with a Cardassian in The Wounded, O’Brien confessed, “I’d never killed anything before. When I was a kid, I’d worry about swatting a mosquito. It’s not you I hate, Cardassian. I hate what I became because of you.” Although O’Brien works hard to box that part of himself away, as demonstrated by episodes like Empok Nor. Still, it occasionally bleeds through.

Indeed, Hippocratic Oath emphasises O’Brien’s history as a soldier. Upon their capture by the Jem’Hadar, he is identified as the priority target. “You must have a great deal of experience,” Goran’Agar observes. “That makes you a priority target. We will kill you first.” When Bashir identifies himself as a doctor, the Jem’Hadar are completely disinterested. Arak’Taral suggests, “Science and medical officers are low priority targets. I submit we execute this one and use the other in a tactical exercise.”

Gun-to-his-head, Bashir isn't sure which of his three episodes from the fourth season that he prefers...

Gun-to-his-head, Bashir isn’t sure which of his three episodes from the fourth season that he prefers…

Even the climax of Hippocratic Oath hinges on O’Brien’s experience as a soldier. Improvising an escape attempt, O’Brien takes on the entire squad of Jem’Hadar soldiers using little more than his wits. The sequence is consciously framed so as to evoke Vietnam, featuring O’Brien setting booby traps and evading the enemy in an alien jungle, as if to underscore O’Brien’s history with that sort of guerrilla combat. This is not a situation which is as novel to O’Brien as it is to Bashir.

In fact, Hippocratic Oath suggests that O’Brien’s training as a soldier overrides his skill as an engineer. Empok Nor will make similar insinuations. Over the course of the episode, O’Brien repeatedly improvises weapons from generic Federation technology. He stuns a guard with a “plasma charge” generated from a medical scanner; he uses a tricorder to lure an enemy into a trap. When he arrives at the make-shift laboratory to rescue Bashir, he inquires, “Anything else around we can use as a weapon?”

Jungle warfare...

Jungle warfare…

At the end of the episode, Goran’Agar seems to recognise something in O’Brien. When Bashir asks why Goran’Agar refuses to leave with them, Goran’Agar seems to lack the ability to explain in terms that the medic might understand. “You are a soldier?” Goran’Agar asks. “I have been,” O’Brien answers, choosing his tenses carefully. Goran’Agar responds, “Then you explain.” The clear implication is that O’Brien is every bit as much a soldier as the Jem’Hadar are themselves.

This frames O’Brien’s objections in a rather personal light – suggesting that O’Brien perhaps sees the worst parts of himself in the Jem’Hadar, an embodiment of the primal violent impulses that war can bring out in a person. O’Brien’s arguments are predicated on the assumption that the Jem’Hadar cannot change. “You don’t know how the other Jem’Hadar will react when they’re off the drug,” he warns Bashir. “They may go marauding through the galaxy on their own. At least now the Dominion keeps them on a short leash.”

Dynamic transport pose!

Dynamic transport pose!

Hippocratic Oath is notable as the first Star Trek script (and the first produced teleplay) written by Lisa Klink. The fourth and fifth seasons of Deep Space Nine are notable for introducing a whole rake of fresh talent to the franchise, many of whom would go on to prosper elsewhere. In particular, it seemed like Deep Space Nine was a proving ground for writers who would enjoy more work on Star Trek: Voyager, with several future Voyager staff writers making their debut writing or pitching for the other Star Trek show.

The Visitor was written by Michael Taylor, who would become a staff writer on Voyager in its fifth season. Lisa Klink would join the Voyager staff almost immediately, with Resistance airing less than a month after Hippocratic Oath. Bryan Fuller would pitch two stories successfully to the fifth season of Deep Space Nine before moving on to the writing staff for the fourth season of Voyager. Although Jimmy Diggs never joined the Voyager staff, his pitch for Doctor Bashir, I Presume became a gateway for a stream of pitches to Voyager.

Bringing it to heal...

Bringing it to heal…

Voyager was not the only beneficiary of Deep Space Nine‘s fresh talent. Jane Espenson would write Accession before moving on to a long and fruitful collaboration with Joss Whedon, working on Buffy, Angel and Firefly. It is strange to see so many great writers slipping through the writing credits, moving on to other jobs elsewhere. To be fair, the writing staff on Deep Space Nine was so fully formed that there was not necessarily room for all (or any) of these writers. Even if there were, it is likely that many would have accepted other offers.

With all of this talent available to the show, it seems almost disappointing that David Weddle and Bradley Thompson were the writers selected to fill the vacancy left by Robert Hewitt Wolfe at the end of the fifth season. Ronald D. Moore has argued that Michael Taylor and Bryan Fuller “took a lot of crap” from more senior writers on Voyager, and it feels like Deep Space Nine might have afforded them more opportunity for growth or development – or even to make their distinctive voices heard.

"Guinan was a much better bartender."

“Guinan was a much better bartender.”

Klink credits chance as a decisive factor in landing her a job writing for the franchise, explaining that she managed to secure an internship on the show by sheer luck, and that this led to the assignment to write Hippocratic Oath:

That’s one more thing aspiring writers should know – you need to be talented and persistent, but you also need some pure, dumb luck to get your first break. Mine came at a “Duke in Hollywood” function. I went there to schmooze, of course, and who should I run into but René Echevarria, who I’d already pitched to a couple of times. We chatted for a bit. A couple of weeks later, I took the advice I’d read in some how-to book and followed up with a note. “Nice to see you” and all that. I mentioned that I’d just left an assistant job to pursue writing full-time. He called me a few days later. The WGA intern who was supposed to start at DS9 next week had flaked out. Was I interested in the job? Hell, yes! I got to spend six weeks in the writing offices, sitting in on pitches and story breaks, going to the set, soaking everything in. At the end of the internship, I pitched to them again. They liked one of my stories, which led to a brainstorming session that changed it completely, but I still made the sale. And because they’d gotten to know me for six weeks, I got the chance to write the episode. Usually, the show would buy the premise from a pitch and a staffer would write the script. This time, I won the lottery. That was Hippocratic Oath. I wrote the first and second draft, and then Ron Moore did a great polish. I got full writing credit anyway.

Ronald D. Moore’s uncredited polish makes a great deal of sense. René Echevarria had done a similar polish on The Visitor. It demonstrates just how effective the writing staff had become on the show.

Leaning back and relaxing...

Leaning back and relaxing…

Hippocratic Oath is also the third episode of Deep Space Nine directed by actor Rene Auberjonois. Auberjonois had directed Prophet Motive and Family Business in the third season, two Quark-centric episodes. He would direct two more episodes of the fourth season, with Hippocratic Oath and The Quickening both dealing with heavier subject matter and both Bashir-centric episodes. He would direct Let He Who Is Without Sin… and Ferengi Love Songs during the fifth season, and would direct one episode each during the sixth and seventh seasons of the show.

According to The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, Auberjonois had originally been scheduled to direct The Visitor in that production slot. However, a scheduling conflict then meant that Colm Meaney would be unavailable for the third episode of the season. So, the production order was hastily shuffled around so that Hippocratic Oath could be filmed while Colm Meaney was still available. (It was still broadcast after The Visitor, which did feature a very small cameo from Meaney.)

Bashir retains the title of "worst runabout guest ever."

Bashir retains the title of “worst runabout guest ever.”

Nevertheless, Auberjonois still cites Hippocratic Oath as the episode of which he is most proud (although he might actually be talking about The Quickening):

I did eight of them and I’m going to say this off the top of my head, so it’s not anything that should be carved in stone, but I would say that of the ones I did maybe two of them were shows I was really proud of, where I thought I truly brought something to them. I thought maybe four of them were fine. They were exactly what was written on the page and I delivered that. Everyone was very professional and did outstanding work, so the shows were good shows. And then the other two I’d look at and think, “I didn’t do very well by that,” and I was not pleased ultimately. But that’s sort of the way it is for every director, I think. When you direct something for television, the train is on the tracks and it is going, and you’d better be ready for that. And one of your responsibilities is to not derail the train. You have to make sure the train gets to the station on time and delivers its cargo, and some rides are ultimately better than others. So, for the most part, I’d say I delivered that. If one stands out, it’s probably Hippocratic Oath, which was a Dr. Bashir episode with people on this planet dying of a strange disease, and he ultimately figures out what’s going on.

It appears that the secret to a good Doctor Bashir episode might be “people on this planet dying of a strange disease.” Or Rene Auberjonois directing.

Sticking his neck out...

Sticking his neck out…

As if to demonstrate how much Hippocratic Oath represents a return to normality for the fourth season of Deep Space Nine after The Way of the Warrior and The Visitor, the episode engages in a whole host of quiet world-building. (As compared to the less-than-quiet world-shaking of The Way of the Warrior.) There is a sense that Hippocratic Oath is as interested in providing future avenues to explore as it is in telling this immediate story. It seems that there is much a larger context for everything that is happening.

The most superficial example might be the fact that Hippocratic Oath actually names the narcotic discovered in The Abandoned as “ketracel white.” However, that is just one example of how Hippocratic Oath fleshes out the Jem’Hadar and the Dominion. The fourth season moves the focus from the Dominion to focus on the Klingons, but including episodes like Hippocratic Oath and To the Death is a great way to keep the Dominion close to the show. There were points in the third season where it seemed the show forgot the Dominion existed.

Tough crowd.

Tough crowd.

It helps that the Klingons provide a much more pressing diversion than anything in the third season. Distractions and diversions are always more palatable when they are interesting in their own right. However, Hippocratic Oath does an excellent job of fleshing out and developing the Jem’Hadar, hinting at arcs and trends that would play out across the remaining seasons of the show. A lot of what fans take for granted about the Jem’Hadar is established here. Deep Space Nine has not forgotten about the Dominion.

Most obviously, this is the episode that imbues the Jem’Hadar with a sense of basic decency and integrity that sets them apart from the Vorta or the Changelings. Goran’Agar is the first truly sympathetic member of the Dominion to appear, and “the honourable Jem’Hadar” becomes a recurring archetype across the run of Deep Space Nine – particularly in episodes like To The Death, By Inferno’s Light and Rocks and Shoals. Goran’Agar is man who can be trusted to keep his word, and who cares deeply about the men under his command.

A good man goes to war(d)...

A good man goes to war(d)…

In some respects, Hippocratic Oath could be seen as an attempt to pull back from the unfortunate implications underscoring The Abandoned. Set against the backdrop of media coverage of racially-charged violence in Los Angeles in the mid nineties, there were aspects of The Abandoned that seemed a little insensitive. In particular, the episode felt uncomfortably certain in its assertion that violence and brutality were genetic (racial) traits. In contrast, Hippocratic Oath suggests that it is possible to overcome these factors.

Hippocratic Oath suggests internal tensions at work within the Dominion. The Jem’Hadar might be an army of disposable cannon fodder, but they are very much aware of that fact. Indeed, Hippocratic Oath is the first episode to suggest a strained relationship between the Jem’Hadar and the Vorta. “They are the ones we came here to escape,” Goran’Agar tells Bashir. When a fellow soldier asks Goran’Agar to kill him in accordance with military tradition, Goran’Agar insists, “We came here to be free of the Vorta. It is time to stop living by their rules.”

Heal thyself...

Heal thyself…

Although no Vorta characters actually appear in Hippocratic Oath, the episode dutifully sets up tensions that would inform To the Death and Rocks and Shoals. It is almost surprising that it did not play a significant role in the series’ end game. This is perhaps an indication of the show’s tendency to improvise and elaborate along tangents as opposed to towards a clear end goal; it could develop ideas and threads that would further particular plots without necessarily building to the climax of the series.

The strained relationship between the Jem’Hadar and the Vorta, not to mention the status of the Jem’Hadar as a slave race, is brought up repeatedly over the course of the show’s run. However, it is never quite tidied up at the end end of the seventh season. What You Leave Behind never pays off all the set-up. (One Little Ship is perhaps the best example of a big Jem’Hadar development that is completely dropped in the final seasons.) Of course, this suggests that such story elements are introduced in order to be “paid off”, rather than as interesting threads of themselves.

"This could be the start of a wonderful friendship..."

“This could be the start of a beautiful friendship…”

Hippocratic Oath also explicitly confirms something that has been heavily implied since the Changelings were revealed to be the Founders in The Search, Part I. The Founders have made themselves deities who deserve worship from their loyal followers. This was implied in the deference shown to Odo by the Jem’Hadar child in The Abandoned, and certainly fits with a race of reclusive shape-changers who have conveniently labelled themselves as “the Founders.”

“To us, they are almost a myth,” Goran’Agar confesses to Bashir. “But everyone in the Dominion, even the Vorta, serve the Founders. I have fought against races that believe in mythical beings who guide their destinies and await them after death. They call them gods. The Founders are like gods to the Jem’Hadar, but our gods never talk to us and they don’t wait for us after death. They only want us to fight for them and to die for them.” It is an interesting dynamic, one that would be reinforced by the almost religious rituals in To the Death.

"Hey, look, I found a nice planet set where we could put down..."

“Hey, look, I found a nice planet set where we could put down…”

The decision to frame the Founders in religious terms fits comfortably with the larger world of Deep Space Nine. The show is a lot more comfortable with religion and spirituality than any of the other Star Trek shows. The Bajoran religion has been a recurring motif throughout the run of the show, with the wormhole aliens identified as “Prophets” by the inhabitants of Bajor. The show has been quite even-handed in its exploration of that faith, juxtaposing Kira and Bariel’s more relaxed faith with the cynical manipulations of Winn.

The Jem’Hadar are presented as religious fanatics, who use their faith to justify horrific atrocities. In the Hands of the Prophets presented Vedek Winn as a hard-line religious leader, but the show has repeatedly suggested that her devotion is surpassed by her lust for power. Winn might speak of the Prophets, but she believes in her own right to wield power. In contrast, the Jem’Hadar genuinely believe in the Founders as a divine force; they generally do not question their orders. They worship blindly, allowing their devotion to forge them into remorseless killing machines.



Once again, the fourth season of Deep Space Nine seems almost prescient, touching on issues that would become a lot more charged and emotive during the War on Terror. In some respects, Deep Space Nine feels like a first draft project for Ronald D. Moore, a canvas against which he might develop the themes that would turn Battlestar Galactica into such a smash hit. Then again, these themes are not unique to the new millennium, even as they are rendered more timely by global events.

The nineties were a decade of existential and spiritual ennui, providing fertile ground for stories about faith and belief. In those godless times, without purpose or threat, it was fascinating to explore the sense of purpose that might come with religious devotion and adherence. The exploration of faith on Deep Space Nine has arguably aged than on most nineties television shows. In particular, the religious episodes on The X-Files tend to feel a lot more awkward and uncomfortable in an era where such religious faith has caused so much devastation and suffering.

Circle game...

Circle game…

Hippocratic Oath also provides a nice b-story that exists primarily to reassure viewers that Deep Space Nine is not transforming into “the Worf show.” The arrival of Michael Dorn in The Way of the Warrior was a pretty massive deal, and it would be easy to see how Worf might quickly overshadow the rest of the cast. After all, Worf was a character from a more popular iteration of the franchise with a built-in fanbase. He could easily smother the show and become the centre of attention.

Worf’s arrival on Deep Space Nine does not have the same impact as Seven of Nine’s arrival on Voyager. Part of that is down to the fact that the casts on Deep Space Nine and Voyager are radically different from one another. Deep Space Nine is probably the only truly balanced ensemble in the entire Star Trek franchise, with every character (and a significant portion of the guest cast) allowed room to grow and develop; Worf is joining a cast already fully formed. In contrast, Seven of Nine was joining a show where half the cast were already pushed to the background.

More than that, the writers are very careful about how much or how little focus they give Worf. Worf gets a b-plot in Hippocratic Oath and plot thread in the ensemble piece that is Starship Down. Barring his introduction in The Way of the Warrior, he does not get to headline his own story until The Sword of Kahless. Jake, Bashir, O’Brien, Kira, Jadzia and Quark have already headlined episodes by that point. (In contrast, two of the four episodes following Scorpion, Part II are centred on Seven of Nine.)

The b-plot on Hippocratic Oath is quite firmly centred around the idea that Worf will not be usurping the cast. It is a story about how Worf fits into the cast, but it is largely about Worf won’t be doing rather than what he will be doing. He will not replace Odo as Chief of Security on the station. He will not finally get to lock Quark in prison. The show is rather ambiguous on what exactly the job of “strategic operations officer” entails, but it is quite clear that it is “not what Worf was doing on The Next Generation.”

The plot does a relatively efficient job of assuring fans that Deep Space Nine will not be turning into The Next Generation. Worf will have to adjust to the show around him, rather than watch as it adjusts to him. Again, there is a sense that Hippocratic Oath is laying down an agenda for the year ahead, clearly demonstrating that Deep Space Nine knows what it is doing and how it plans to do it. The moral of the story might be a little obvious, but it is good for the show to articulate it so clearly and so early.

It is also nice to see that Deep Space Nine has not forgotten about the Klingons. One of the problems with the third season of the show was the speed at which the Dominion seemed to recede into the background after The Search, Part II. There were a number of references and a handful of appearances, but business seemed to continue very much as usual. Sisko and his crew seemed to traipse around the Gamma Quadrant as if nothing had changed in episodes like Meridian or Destiny, despite the fact that the Jem’Hadar had murdered an entire colony of people.

In contrast, a briefing sequence early in Hippocratic Oath affirms that the Klingons are still busy doing Klingon stuff. There is some nice world-building, the kind of fare at which Deep Space Nine was always very good. (As the Jem’Hadar sections of Hippocratic Oath demonstrate.) Even if the writing staff weren’t sure about where and when they were going to develop a particular thread, they tended to embellish and expand. There was a sense that the universe keeps moving around Deep Space Nine, even when the audience can’t see it first-hand.

“The Klingons have also attacked three more outposts along the Romulan border,” Dax warns the briefing. “In short, they’re reasserting themselves all over the quadrant.” Kira provides some nitpicking, pointing out that The Way of the Warrior was hardly an unqualified victory. “You’d think they’d be a little less aggressive after failing to conquer Cardassia.” Worf counters, “If the invasion was seen as a failure, Gowron would have been assassinated by now. He simply declared victory and returned home.” Imagine Gowron with a “mission accomplished” banner.

This does bring up one advantage of the set-up of Deep Space Nine. As much as fans might criticise the show as “boldly sitting”, it does explain how the series can embroil itself in long epic story arcs without being consumed by them. The Next Generation or Voyager could never really do an epic war plot, because that would demand that our heroes throw themselves into the conflict week in and week out. (Much like Ronald Moore did with his reboot of Battlestar Galactica.) They have a ship; this is an epic battle, they should be fighting.

In contrast, fixing the characters in a very specific location means that the war can take place over the next hill, as it were. It can intersect with the plot as necessary – whether through characters going to visit, the war coming home, the sound of distant thunder, or the posting of casualty reports – but it does not have to dominate the plot. Sisko cannot ride Deep Space Nine into battle, and even the Defiant is anchored to the station at this point. As such, the show can still do episodes like Our Man Bashir or His Way without breaking the overall mood or plot.

So it is nice storytelling to assure the viewers that the threat presented in The Way of the Warrior has not gone away, even if it will not dictate the plot of every episode of the fourth season. It allows Deep Space Nine to occupy a convenient middle-ground between the largely episodic structure of The Next Generation and Voyager and the more ambitious serialisation that would come to define prestige television during the new millennium. It is too much to suggest that Deep Space Nine mastered that balance, but it did a very good job of it for the time.

Hippocratic Oath represents a clear starting point for the fourth season, after the dust has settled on two of the most important episodes of Deep Space Nine ever produced. It might not measure up to the two preceding episodes, but it does a good job at setting the mood (and a baseline) for the year ahead.

You might be interested in our reviews of the fourth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine:

19 Responses

  1. So no Enterprise reviews for now?

    • I would expect them to land around April. They were supposed to be up in December, but then the X-Files revival was scheduled for January, so I wanted to finish those reviews first.

  2. I wish that there were more repercussions in the O’Brien-Bahir relationship from this episode, but the work with Jem’hadar makes it easier to forgive. When I saw their debut episode I thought they were essentially video game characters, but thankfully this did not turn out to be the case.
    Ronald D. Moore did such a good job of polishing scripts done by other writers whether it be In the Pale Moonlight or this one, I often wonder what would have happened if Ronald D. Moore had gone to Voyager as he had originally wanted. I suppose he may have been able to help Voyager reach its potential, but he also may have quit just as he eventually did.

    • Looking at Voyager, it really seems like the production team was scarred by the in-fighting during the second season. I’m kinda glad that Moore and Echevarria were insulated from all that.

      I do wonder if Braga’s approach to the final few seasons was largely a response to that; Moore sorta criticises the Voyager writing staff for not pushing themselves hard enough in his infamous “exit” interview, I suspect at least some of that is tied into the fact that everybody seemed to be pushing a dozen different directions in the second season and ended up going absolutely nowhere. After that, I can see a writing staff settling into a groove where “good enough” is good enough. And that’s arguably the biggest issue with Voyager from the third season onwards; it never pushes itself and settles for being the statistical mean of Star Trek.

      (In contrast, the TNG/DS9 (and even ENT) writing staffs all seem to have got along reasonably well with one another. Even the Behr/Berman arguments seem to have been somewhat exaggerated. In contrast, Piller and Taylor even seemed to snipe at each other through the fan press.)

      • And yet ironically VOY is the among the most popular of the bunch. Weird.

        I can only chalk it up to Mulgrew’s earnest performance and the strength of the regulars. Even Harry Kim had more character in his right pinky than Geordi LaForge ever displayed. And I think this is because the crew came across as, you know, hoi polli. They had lives and personalities outside of their jobs.

        Of course TPTB missed this obvious lesson, and ENT was filled to the brim with bland (at best) and unpleasant characters!

      • That’s an odd one. I know fandom doesn’t care much for Voyager. At the risk of being a cliché, neither do I. But it seems to fare much better in syndication than any Star Trek that is not The Next Generation. Which is perhaps revealing.

      • What is TPTB ed?

      • Sorry! The Powers That Be, the production team.

  3. This is the biggest cul-de-sac of the Dominion War arc.

    I get where Behr was going with this Jem’Hadar “civil war”. He’s trying to get away from the Roddenberrian fear of the Other. But it’s a distraction. An interesting facet to add their personality but one which ultimately won’t lead anywhere. (Like the “Alphas” from “One Little Ship”.)

    O’Brien did the right thing;; even without the drug, this race is intrinsically hostile. “To the Death” proved him right… I think the writers knew the rogue Jem’Hadar were not working out because it puts Starfleet in the odd position of re-enslaving the Jem’Hadar and working shoulder-to-shoulder with the Vorta. “Rocks and Shoals” is how this episode should have been done.

    • I’d also consider Bajor itself to be a big cul-de-sac, but arguably for the show itself rather then just the Dominion War.

      But you’re right. The Jem’Hadar suffer from DS9’s “make it up as they go along” aesthetic, in contrast to the more rigid planning on Babylon 5. I’m actually quite fond of the approach in general, if only because it allows the show to deal with network notes like “introduce Worf” and “maybe do something with the Klingons” without breaking their stride. And I don’t mind Bajor not joining the Federation, because the show seems to suggest the perhaps the Federation isn’t as perfect as it would claim to be. At the same time, I kinda wish the writers had sat down around this point and figured out roughly where they wanted Dukat or the Jem’Hadar by the end of the show.

      However, I can’t complain too much. While the Jem’Hadar thing is a dangling thread, I really like Hippocratic Oath. I don’t buy that the Jem’Hadar are intrinsically hostile. Garan’Agar seems no less reasonable than a Klingon or Romulan. (Then again, while I really dislike where Dukat goes after that point, I also really love Waltz. But more on that in a couple of months.)

      • “I’d also consider Bajor itself to be a big cul-de-sac”


        I cannot argue. But I think it also highlights an inherent flaw in science fiction: scale. We cannot empathize with a whole planet.

        Strangely, it’s got nothing to do with “goodies” or “baddies”. I think that’s why many viewers sided with Gul Dukat on the Bajor issue. Dukat gets a pass because he’s a regular and we’d miss him more than we would a planet of extras. Ditto with Spock & Vulcan, the Doctor and Gallifrey, etc.

        Going back to BSG again, a lot of time is spent on Caprica City before the bombings, through flashback. We have a hazy sense of the other 11 colonies, or the rest of Caprica. But at least Caprica City carries a real sense of loss. I dunno how Moore pulls it off. Maybe because the world itself is treated as a sort of character, with its own street names and such.

        Funnily now that I say that, I think I was mourning the loss of such nice architecture rather than the people, so I guess the point is moot!

      • I think BSG had the luxury of having the icongraphy of 9/11 to play with in this respect. Bajor might riff off the Holocaust, which very definitely has its own iconography, but it lacks the sheer media saturation of the urban horror of 9/11. Admittedly, Caprica doesn’t draw too overtly on that, there are no suicide runs or dust clouds that I can recall; but even the idea of a stealth attack upon a major (and distinctly western) metropolitan area disturbing a peaceful morning has a lot more heft now than it would have in the nineties.

      • When will S5 be reviewed Darren?

      • Plan is August for DS9 S5 and VOY S3. But that may slip. They will also likely be published at a slower pace. Maybe three a week.

  4. Don’t forget that Goran’Agar is Tosk from the S1 episode Captive Pursuit. He and O’Brien don’t get along nearly as well this time. Guerilla warfare in an alien jungle sounds a bit Predator. Worf would never replace Odo because they tried that with Primmin and Eddington and neither worked out. “Deep Space Nine will not be turning into The Next Generation”; it almost did in S1. There were times when the S3 writers didn’t seem to know what to do with the Dominion.

    • Yep. Season Three was very much a transitory season, one with lots of mistakes. But I think Season Four and Season Five are stronger for learning from those mistakes. (Which makes for an interesting contrast with what was happening on Voyager at the same time, where the production team was torn between Michael Piller insisting on repeating the same mistakes and Jeri Taylor wanting to play it entirely safe.)

  5. An excellent episode on all fronts that does ‘Dear Doctor’ better than ‘Dear Doctor’. The subplot is functional-it does drag the episode down somewhat, but it only illustrates how good the main plot is. It is, of course, superbly acted by Alexander Siddig and Colm Meaney, but it’s also engaging, even-keeled, thoughtful, and extremely intelligent. Very nicely done-I wish Lisa Klink had been hired. It seems like she would have made a fine addition to the staff.

    • It’s a wonderful little episode, overshadowed by the two leading into it, I think. That said, I do like the subplot, if only because it feels like a necessary bit of housekeeping when folding Worf into Deep Space Nine.

      • There’s no massive fan backlash to this or The Quickening. That’s how you do the ‘medical dilemma’ episode right.

        And I did say functional-I see why it was there, I just didn’t think it was transcendent.

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