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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Our Man Bashir (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.

Our Man Bashir is an underrated masterpiece.

It is possibly the best holodeck (or holosuite) episode in the history of the franchise; only Ship in a Bottle can really compete. A lot of this is down to the production value of the episode; Our Man Bashir looks and sounds beautiful, a delightfully detailed throwback to its source material. The production team on the Star Trek franchise seldom get enough credit for their skill at realising alien worlds and cultures from scratch, but their beautiful evocation of sixties design is breathtaking. Our Man Bashir is a clear forerunner to Trials and Tribble-ations, less than a year away.

"The name's Bashir, Julian Bashir..."

“The name’s Bashir, Julian Bashir…”

However, there is more to it than that. Like Little Green Men, Our Man Bashir succeeds as a (relatively) light-hearted run-around that never loses track of its characters. The first three seasons of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine struggled with the character of Julian Bashir; audience members could wait entire seasons for a good Bashir episode. With the fourth season, three come along at once. Our Man Bashir might look light and fluffy – and it largely is – but it never loses sight of its core character dynamics in the midst of all the fun unfolding around them.

More than that, Our Man Bashir plays into the broader themes and strengths of the fourth season. The climax of the episode feels like Deep Space Nine is ruminating on its new-found place dictating the direction of the Star Trek canon. Bashir’s decision to “save the day by destroying the world” feels oddly prophetic. The fifth season of the show would find the writers destroying some of the most fundamental rules of the franchise in an effort to keep things vital.

Got some bottle...

Got some bottle…

According to The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine companion, the production on Our Man Bashir ran significantly over. Most episodes of Deep Space Nine were produced within seven days; occasionally a particularly demanding episode might extend into an eighth day of production. In contrast, Our Man Bashir took nine days to produce. Given the demands and deadlines of television production, that is quite a considerable amount of time. The fact that Our Man Bashir got the budget and the time to extend by two whole days is a testament to the production team.

The production value on the episode is fantastic. The costumes are wonderful – Our Man Bashir would be a memorable episode even if its only innovation was to put Garak in a turtleneck sweater. The sets are also impressive; they don’t look particularly convincing, but that is the point. They are a stylised affectation of sixties production design, harking back to the sort of theatrical design and exaggeration that was common in the media of the time. The sets look like sets where William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy might have filmed.

A giant freakin' laser...

A giant freakin’ laser…

This is a very important detail. Modern Star Trek often seemed to aspire towards “realism” and “groundedness.” The sets designed for the various spin-off shows (and feature films) look much more sturdy and convincing than those featured on the original Star Trek show. This attitude arguably played a part in the admitted seriousness of Star Trek: The Next Generation, right down to Rick Berman’s instruction that the background music in the show should function as “wallpaper.”

In contrast, Deep Space Nine was a lot more comfortable with the franchise’s pulpy roots. When Star Trek: Voyager opted to celebrate the franchise’s thirtieth anniversary in Flashback, it did so by taking a trip back in time to Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country. Although it featured the original cast, the film had been released less than five years earlier, as part of the celebrations around the franchise’s twenty-fifth anniversary. In contrast, Deep Space Nine took its cast all the way back to 1967 to visit The Trouble With Tribbles.

Put a cork in it...

Put a cork in it…

Even the soundtrack to Our Man Bashir feels brash and vibrant. It is an example of Deep Space Nine growing more and more adventurous now that it is the oldest Star Trek show on the air. In fact, according to Ford A. Thaxton, the soundtrack to Our Man Bashir was so popular that there were actually plans to release it as an album:

When GNP Crescendo Records had the Star Trek franchise, we always wanted to do some more DS9 because while [GNP] Crescendo had done the pilot (Emissary), they hadn’t done any more than that because musician’s union regulations during that period were very cost prohibitive. So, they eventually did The Best of Star Trek – those two releases – which had something from each of the series.

They had done well, and there was talk about doing a third one, which is when I prepared Our Man Bashir with Mark, and James edited it together and signed off on it. The problem there was, they didn’t do a third one, and there was apparently some other issue at some point… that’s why they never showed up.

It is easy to see why the soundtrack to Our Man Bashir was so popular. It is one of the most distinctive Star Trek soundtracks in the history of the franchise, and perfectly blends together the big-band feel of John Barry with the aesthetic of Deep Space Nine. It sounds like Jay Chattaway is having the time of his life.

Un-Bare-able...

Un-Bare-able…

While Deep Space Nine would never go that far out again – although Badda-Bing Badda-Bang comes close – it is an example of the show’s willingness to push just a little bit further than the other Star Trek spin-offs. The third and fourth seasons of Star Trek: Enterprise were ultimately willing to embrace the style and tone of the original Star Trek, but that was still a clear sense of trepidation and anxiety. In its final years, Enterprise was beginning to embrace the enthusiasm and dynamism that made Deep Space Nine such a thrilling part of the franchise.

It would easy to let the review of Our Man Bashir turn into a list of the superb production elements and design choices. Bashir’s Hong Kong apartment is quite brilliant, complete with rotating bed. Doctor Noah’s secret mountaintop lair feels like something from The Avengers or Doctor Who brought to life, complete with a giant map of the world he plans to conquer. The costuming is exquisite and – as with Little Green Men before it – there is something delightful bizarre about seeing this much smoking on a Star Trek show.

A view to a kill...

A view to a kill…

Much like Little Green Men, there is a sense that the production team is going back to the pop culture of the era that spawned the original Star Trek. Ira Steven Behr and his staff have always been fans of classic pop culture, to the point where several episodes of Deep Space Nine are really just riffs on classic movies transposed into a Star Trek setting. It makes sense to have the production team riff on James Bond in the same way that it made sense to have them dig into forties and fifties sci-fi films or (perhaps more tenuously) visit sixties Vegas.

After all, the broadcast of Our Man Bashir might have coincided with the release of GoldenEye, but the script is not about modernising or updating the iconic sixties secret agent. The setting is explicitly a throwback, populated with the sorts of retro production design that GoldenEye was consciously avoiding. In fact, when Honey Bare is checking the giant laser controls, the sound effects feel like they might have been taken from the ambient sounds on the bridge from the original Star Trek.

Shaken, not stirred...

Shaken, not stirred…

It is easy to forget just what a cultural force James Bond was during the mid-sixties, coinciding and overlapping with the British Invasion. It was a worldwide phenomenon, as Time reported in 1965:

There seems to be no geographical limit to the appeal of sex, violence and snobbery with which Fleming endowed his British secret agent. In Tokyo, the queue for Goldfinger stretches half a mile. In Brazil, where From Russia broke all Rio and Sao Paulo records, one unemployed TV actor had only to change his name to Jaime Bonde to be swamped with offers. In Beirut, where Goldfinger outdrew My Fair Lady, even Goldfinger’s hat-hurling bodyguard, Oddjob, has become a minor hero.

Given the impact that Star Trek would have on popular consciousness, it makes sense for the two to overlap with one another. Both Star Trek and James Bond are iconic signifiers of the sixties. That makes them perfect fodder for a mash-up.

Falcon's Crest...

Falcon’s Crest…

The episode features some great performances. Alexander Siddig and Andrew Robinson play perfectly off one another, making it all the more tragic that this would be their last two-hander. The primary cast seem glad to take a break from their usual personas. Colm Meaney slips comfortably into the sort of jerkish thug he tended to play in American films during the eighties and nineties. Terry Farrell is delightful as Bond girl. Michael Dorn is delightfully deadpan as a henchman.

However, the two best supporting performances come from Avery Brooks and Nana Visitor, who have proven their aptitude for this sort of storytelling as early as Dramatis Personae and Crossover. Brooks was born to play a Bond villain, his larger-than-life performance style lending itself to crazy motive rants and insane plots. (“Like letting the air… out of a baLLoon.”) Having shaved his head between the third and fourth seasons, Brooks had well and truly made Sisko his own. Our Man Bashir is just Brooks letting loose.

Jaysus... even when they play mortal enemies, Bashir and O'Brien are bro-mantic...

Jaysus… even when they play mortal enemies, Bashir and O’Brien are bro-mantic…

In many ways, Our Man Bashir seems to cleverly foreshadow a lot of the developments coming down the line. Brooks’ performance here is not the first time that the actor has gone after scenery with the reckless abandon of a rabid William Shatner. Our Man Bashir belongs beside classic Brooks performances like Dramatis Personae, Crossover or Facets as a demonstration of his increasingly theatrical approach to the material. This is Avery Brooks turning it up to eleven. And it is glorious.

While Brooks initially limited his application of this style to characters other than Sisko, it would not be long before this stylised performance would bleed into his portrayal of the show’s primary character. Brooks’ heightened delivery is arguably another example of how Deep Space Nine was more willing to embrace the theatrical stylings of the original Star Trek than any of the spin-offs. His work here prefigures later performances in scripts like Rapture, For the Uniform, Waltz, In the Pale Moonlight and Far Beyond the Stars.

Of course Bashir's fantasy involves rescuing Dax...

Of course Bashir’s fantasy involves rescuing Dax…

Nana Visitor is just as good cast as the sexy Russian spy Colonel Anastasia Komananov. (The only way the character could seem more stereotypically Russian would be to call her Ilyana Rasputin, and that was trademarked to Marvel.) Visitor is cast in the role of seductress, much like in Dramatis Personae and Crossover. She is very good at it. Visitor also puts on a truly delightfully brilliantly terrible Russian accent. She throws herself into the role with the same enthusiasm as Brooks.

Of course, Visitor is also somewhat more understated in sections. Most notably, Komananov is the holographic character who spends the most time with Bashir and Garak. In a sense, Komananov is the audience’s gateway into this make-believe world, something that Visitor sells very well during Noah’s big rant about his evil plan. Bashir and Garak are unfazed, because they know that this is a paper mache world with no real consequences. However, Komananov does not have that larger awareness. As such, Visitor plays the scene with a palpable horror.

Keeping Odo in the dark...

Keeping Odo in the dark…

Our Man Bashir is a holodeck (or holosuite) episode, so it comes with a fairly sizable suspension of disbelief in order to generate real stakes and involve the primary cast in the plot. A terrorist attack by a Cardassian separatist movement blows up a runabout transporting half of the regular cast. The station tries to transport them off as the bomb explodes, leaving their patterns trapped in the computer. The computer uses those patterns to populate Bashir’s holosuite program.

It’s all fairly logical so far, if a little transparent. It even makes a certain amount of sense that Bashir and Garak cannot do anything that might affect the rendering of the adventure – no calling for the arch, no requesting assistance. It is analogous to working on a document you can’t save. And the safety feature is turned off, because of course the safety feature is turned off. At the same time, there are some fairly arbitrary rules imposed. Apparently once characters are killed, their patterns are deleted. This sounds questionable. What if you want to run the program again?

Beaming with excitement...

Beaming with excitement…

Of course, this is all just a convenient set of contrivances that exist to ensure that Bashir and Garak cannot simply leave the program and that the episode has some dramatic stakes. There is, of course, something rather sly about a James Bond adventure where the eponymous hero cannot kill anybody. It does feel like the sort of challenge that people might set for themselves if something like the holodeck existed. Can you do a complete playthrough of “Julian Bashir in Noah’s Ark” without killing anybody?

In a way, this serves as a (very) gentle critique of the source material and its somewhat cavalier attitude mortality. In fact, approaching the climax of the story, Bashir makes a nod towards that most familiar of Bond clichés. “If this programme ends like the others, either Komananov or Honey Bare will be killed by Doctor Noah,” Bashir warns Garak. “The other’s supposed to end up with me. In either case, we have to make sure that both of them survive.” It is a tried and tested Bond formula, applied most egregiously in The World is Not Enough.

Mona Luvsitt is actually a pretty great late Connery/early Moore Bond girl name.

Mona Luvsitt is actually a pretty great late Connery/early Moore era Bond girl name.

It’s easy enough to excuse the death of a character when that death comes as part of a formula, when you are convinced that the character is little more than a plot object in a make-believe world. Bond is typically the only character in which the audience and the film are actually invested, and the supporting cast exist as an extension of the fantasy that Bond represents. While the death of one of the Bond girls ramps up the tension, there is always another ready to fall into Bond’s arms for the requisite double entrendre.

One of the joys of the holodeck, at least in theory, is the way that it provides a chance for characters to step into another story. This has arguably been a contributing factor to the use and abuse of the holodeck as a storytelling device – it allows the production team to get away from the Star Trek universe for a week and to indulge in making a different kind of story. It can often feel like a cynical exercise, an attempt by the production team to put together an episode of Star Trek that is not really Star Trek.

Suits up...

Suits up…

What elevates Our Man Bashir above so many of the franchise’s holodeck episodes is the fact that it uses this storytelling mechanism for a little bit of contrast and comparison. Our Man Bashir was broadcast just a week after the release of GoldenEye, a film absolutely preoccupied with the validity of James Bond in the modern world. Using the characters of Bashir and Garak, Our Man Bashir offers an interesting exploration of the type of fantasy embodied by these sorts of spy narratives, populated with romance and mystery and disposable women.

Our Man Bashir is essentially the story of how Garak is far too cynical for a conventional James Bond narrative and how Bashir is far too idealistic. By playing with the expectations and rules of the narrative, Bashir is able to manipulate the story so that nobody dies. He offers an ending to the narrative that manages to keep both of the women (and both of the henchmen) alive. There is no unnecessary death, no needless violence. Bashir essentially gets to be a bigger hero than Bond, engineering a solution to an impossible situation that keeps everybody alive.

Kiss of death...

Kiss of death…

After three years struggling with how to write Bashir, it seems like Deep Space Nine finally has an understanding about how best to use the enthusiastic young doctor. The three Bashir stories in the fourth season are all superb, and all work because they operate from a firm understanding of who Bashir is and what he wants. Since his introduction to Kira in Emissary, the show has reinforced the idea that Bashir is more romantic than pragmatic; a character with an idealistic and arguably simplistic understanding of a complicated universe.

The three Bashir stories from the fourth season through Bashir into conflict with that vastly more complicated universe, presenting him with horrible situations that do not always have straightforward answers. In Hippocratic Oath, Bashir finds himself asked to break the Jem’Hadar addiction to ketrecel white. In The Quickening, Bashir finds himself unable to engineer a cure to a deadly virus unleashed by the Dominion. In Our Man Bashir, Bashir is confronted by a narrative that is written to end with a significant number of deaths.

Garak puts his neck on the line...

Garak puts his neck on the line…

Deep Space Nine is considered to be the most cynical of the Star Trek series, and understandably so. It tended to deal with pretty heavy subject matter in a very direct way. While never as nihilistic as Battlestar Galactica, it often seemed quite grim in comparison to The Next Generation or Voyager. However, Deep Space Nine retained more than a sliver of optimism and idealism. Most notably, all three of the Bashir episodes in the fourth season hinge upon the idea that Bashir is actually correct and that his idealism is a virtue.

In Hippocratic Oath, Goran’Agar sacrifices his life to protect Bashir and O’Brien, demonstrating that the Jem’Hadar are not the remorseless killing machines that O’Brien fears them to be. In The Quickening, Bashir is eventually able to synthesise a vaccine against the deadly plague, even if he cannot cure those currently infected. In Our Man Bashir, Bashir manages to save the lives of everybody trapped on the holodeck despite the cynicism expressed by Garak about the need to know when to quit.

Doctor Noah...

Doctor Noah…

As with Hippocratic Oath, the bulk of Our Man Bashir is driven by the conflict between Bashir and another more cynical member of the primary cast. Garak was a member of the Obsidian Order, and so he knows what it is like to be a real spy. It certainly doesn’t include penthouses in Hong Kong. “I take it your character is some kind of rich dilettante with a fascination for women and weapons,” Garak reflects on first visiting the penthouse. He seems to understand this whole James Bond thing intrinsically.

“Actually, my character is far more disreputable,” Bashir confesses. “I’m a spy.” Garak is understandably confused. “A spy?” he ponders. “And you live here?” Bashir explains, “This apartment, my clothes, weapons, even my valet were provided to me by my government.” Garak deadpans, “I think I joined the wrong intelligence service.” It’s a stock critique of the power fantasy behind the James Bond mythos – the reminder that it is just a fantasy – but it does provide a nice set-up for the episode’s central conflict, as Garak viciously tears into Bashir’s heroic escapism.

Smoke 'em if you got 'em...

Smoke ’em if you got ’em…

It helps that Siddig and Robinson play beautifully off one another, with the episode capitalising on their banter to keep things running over. Garak is a consummate deadpan snarker, who manages to provide levity in even the grimmest of situations by offering a rather matter-of-fact assessment or opinion. Chained to the drill that will burn to the planet’s molten core, Garak is quick to let Bashir know how unsatisfied he is. “I don’t know if I’ve made this explicit to you or not, Doctor, but I really don’t want to die chained to a twentieth century laser.”

It is, of course, perfectly in character for Bashir to fantasise about being James Bond. Bond embodies many of the stock masculine traits that Bashir seems to aspire towards, with his aggressive pursuit of women and the none-to-subtle imperialist subtext to the stories. This is a character who arrived on Bajor thrilled at the opportunity to practice “frontier medicine” and decided that being told it was “not necessary” to walk a woman home was an invitation to follow her back to her quarters.

Some men just want to watch the world drown...

Some men just want to watch the world drown…

And so there is a sense that Garak’s initial observations about the fantasy are entirely accurate in their assessment of Bashir. “Is this fantasy of yours really truly revealing of your inner psyche?” Garak muses. “Is that why you’re so protective? Are you afraid that I’ll find out some humiliating secrets about the real Julian Bashir?” Garak might be exaggerating slightly, but the fantasy is entirely in keeping with what we know about Bashir, right down to the foolhardy romantic heroism that led to him trapping himself in a turbolift with Dax in Starship Down.

Still, Bashir is not the only character illuminated by the experience. The episode builds to a climactic confrontation between Bashir and Garak beneath Noah’s mountain lair as the two argue about whether the time has come to cut and run. “Yes,” Garak concedes, “they might be killed, and that is unfortunate. But there comes a point when the odds are against you and the only reasonable course of action is to quit!” It is a delightful deflation of the heroic fantasy at the heart of Bond, an acknowledgement that the real world doesn’t necessarily reward good people.

"Well, this is unprofessional..."

“Well, this is unprofessional…”

When Bashir asks if the Obsidian Order taught him that, Garak replies, “As a matter of fact, they did. That’s why I’ve managed to stay alive while most of my colleagues are dead. Because I know when to walk away. And that time is now. And you’d know that, Doctor, if you were a real intelligence agent.” It is, in many respects, a stock criticism of escapist entertainment – a reminder that these sorts of fantasies draw on misapprehensions and misunderstandings of real-life situations that are much less romantic and exciting. That they trivialise real horrors.

The contrast between Bashir and Garak provides a relatively substantial context to what might otherwise be a light (and fun) run around adventure. After incapacitating O’Brien-as-Falcon, Bashir confronts Garak. “What do you want me to do? Kill him?” Garak is blunt. “I want you to stop treating this like a game where everything’s going to turn out all right in the end,” he insists. “Real spies have to make hard choices. You want to save Dax? Fine. But you may not have the luxury of saving everyone.” It’s the old “optimism is foolhardy” argument.

Moving mountains...

Moving mountains…

Interestingly, Our Man Bashir doesn’t let Garak score that particular point. The show is not that unrelentingly cynical. As with O’Brien’s anxiety about the Jem’Hadar in Hippocratic Oath, the script suggests that Garak’s cynicism is not a valid (and certainly not a fatal) criticism of Bashir’s heroic idealism. Instead, the argument is used to make a point about Garak. Much as it seemed like O’Brien was projecting his own guilt and anxieties about his time as a soldier on to the Jem’Hadar, it seems like Garak is projecting his own self-hatred on to Bashir.

“It’s time to face reality, Doctor,” Garak advises. “You’re a man who dreams of being a hero because you know, deep down, that you’re not.” There is a sense that Garak is talking more about himself than Bashir in this case. Deep Space Nine has never questioned Bashir’s heroism of itself. It might have suggested that he was naive and foolhardy, but the show has never suggested that Bashir’s enthusiasm and idealism mask a more cynical or cowardly streak. The show’s criticisms of Bashir tend towards a lack of self-awareness rather than active self-denial.

A slippery slope...

A slippery slope…

In contrast, Garak is much more conflicted. As much as Garak might claim to be cynical and detached, the show has repeatedly suggested that he is more idealistic than he would like people to believe. Although the specifics of his exile are never revealed, The Wire suggested that Garak resents his own softness and his own weakness, which occasionally manifests itself in idealism. Profit and Loss suggested that the character might be a romantic on some small level. Over the course of the series, he finds himself embracing the role of hero more and more.

As such, it would seem that the holosuite is not the only thing that is projecting. Garak’s critique of Bashir seems to be a projection of his own insecurities. Even in the context of Our Man Bashir, Bashir is never less than heroic. Even within the confines of the holosuite, playing along after the safeties have been disengaged represents a very real risk. There is no irony or deconstruction here. In fact, the episode steadfastly refuses to teach Bashir a lesson in any form. He gets to save everyone, and the episode even ends with him vowing to return to the fantasy in future.

That sinking feeling...

That sinking feeling…

In many respects, Deep Space Nine tends to treat Bashir as the archetypal “Roddenberry” character in the cast, the romantic idealist who believes that the universe is fundamentally wondrous and that people are inherently decent. This does make him an easy target for the occasional cheap shot, but it also demonstrates that Deep Space Nine is still (broadly speaking) optimistic in its meditation on the human condition. Bashir is frequently thrown into conflict with his more cynical and experienced crewmates, but he is quite frequently vindicated.

In the early seasons of Deep Space Nine, Bashir could often feel like a cast member from The Next Generation who had simply shown up on the wrong set. His enthusiasm and idealism (and occasionally his arrogance and self-centredness) would have been much more comfortable on the Enterprise than on Deep Space Nine. More than O’Brien or Worf, Bashir felt like he belonged at Picard’s staff meetings. It felt appropriate that Bashir should be the character to cross over from Deep Space Nine to the Enterprise in Birthright, Part I.

Things can get quite heated...

Things can get quite heated…

As such, there is considerable symbolic import to the climax of the episode. The twist that sees Bashir “saving the day by destroying the world” is a delightful bit of narrative sleight of hand that cleverly plays up the fictionality of the holosuite program, but it also plays out as something of a metaphor for the emerging direction of Deep Space Nine as a television show. Although The Next Generation had been off the air for a year at this point, the production team were only getting used to being the senior Star Trek show.

With Voyager unfolding in the Delta Quadrant, Deep Space Nine had complete freedom to set the course and direction of the larger Star Trek universe. It would have been impossible for Deep Space Nine to attempt a narrative as ambitious as the Dominion War (or even the crisis with the Klingons) while The Next Generation was on the air, the shared universe serving as something of a narrative straitjacket. However, without an elder sibling to stop it, Deep Space Nine was free to truly shake things up.

I love that Garak took the time to put on a tux before crashing the program...

I love that Garak took the time to put on a tux before crashing the program…

Starting with the fourth season, Deep Space Nine would become a rather fundamental examination and exploration of the underlying principles of the Star Trek universe, pushing the franchise further than it had ever gone before. This applied structurally, with Deep Space Nine adopting a semi-serialised style in contrast to Voyager’s generally episodic approach; it also applied philosophically, with Deep Space Nine taking the Star Trek franchise to war. These sorts of decisions represented a clear break from what came before, and would provoke considerable backlash.

However, Star Trek had been airing continuously for almost nine years. Almost a decade had passed since Encounter at Farpoint had brought Star Trek back to television. There had been two Star Trek shows running concurrently for three and a half years by the time that Our Man Bashir was broadcast. Quite simply, television had changed and Star Trek needed to change along with it. As the fourth season progressed, it seemed like the writing staff were becoming more and more aware of the fact that the show would have to reinvent Star Trek for a new generation.

Elim "third wheel" Garak...

Elim “third wheel” Garak…

It seems highly unlikely that Ronald D. Moore drafted the climax of Our Man Bashir as a statement of purpose, but the final confrontation between Bashir and Noah seems to play out an internal philosophical discussion about the future of Deep Space Nine. Having Bashir at the centre of this conversation is quite a nice touch, given the character’s roots in Roddenberry’s idealistic humanism. If Bashir can accept that sometimes the underlying rules of the franchise need to be changed, then anybody can.

Stalling for time, Bashir suggests that maybe it is time to stop taking the old order of things for granted, that maybe there is room to shake up the narrative a bit. When Noah describes Bashir as “a man who has spent his entire life dedicated to fighting against…”, Bashir cuts him off, “Yes, but all that’s about to end now, isn’t it? You’re going to destroy this world and start a new one. What’s the use of me continuing to defend a doomed planet? Can you see the sense in that?” It’s all gloriously tongue-in-cheek, but it does touch on some of what is to come.

"I only gamble with my life. And money. Mostly money..."

“I only gamble with my life. And money. Mostly money…”

(Indeed, even Noah gets to do his own little bit of foreshadowing, as he admonishes what he considers to be Bashir’s misguided heroism. “What is it you understand, Mister Bashir?” he asks rhetorically. “That you should’ve killed me when you had the chance? I agree. But then again, I suppose it wouldn’t be very heroic. I, on the other hand, have no pretensions about the idea of being a hero.” This attitude would arguably come to define Sisko in contrast to Kirk or Picard, particularly in episodes like For the Uniform or In the Pale Moonlight.)

Deep Space Nine was always a show that had been sceptical of the franchise’s utopia, but that tendency become more pronounced from the fourth season onwards. Indeed, Our Man Bashir comes right before the two-part Homefront and Paradise Lost, a story that takes a long and hard look at just how fragile Star Trek‘s utopia could be. Deep Space Nine was never particularly malicious in its criticisms of the Star Trek utopia, instead examining the franchise’s core ideas from a different angle.

Enchanté...

Enchanté…

What if the only way to save the day was to destroy the world? In Paradise Lost, Sisko finds himself confronted by the same question, whether he is “willing to destroy paradise in order to save it.” It is a tough question that Star Trek had – broadly speaking – avoided to this point. There are no easy answers to those sorts of questions, despite how comfortable an absolutist rhetorical position might seem. This is not to dismiss or belittle the more absolutist tendencies of other Star Trek shows, merely to demonstrate that Deep Space Nine was staking new ground.

Was Deep Space Nine willing to risk destroying some of the underlying principles of the franchise in order to save it? Was it worth presenting these sorts of questions and dilemmas, even if they risked upsetting certain sections of Star Trek fandom? These were the sorts of questions being broached in the writers’ room and around the production office at this point in the show’s run. Our Man Bashir might not be the most obvious example of the show playing with this idea, but it is definitely there.

Fools Russia in...

Fools Russia in…

In fact, the show’s underlying philosophy tends to shine through in its portrayal of Noah himself. The genocidal madman shares more than a few traits with the Founders, the shape-shifting bad guys who are Deep Space Nine‘s ultimate adversaries. When Komananov accuses him of being an anarchist, Noah rejects the labour. “Quite the opposite,” he insists. “I believe in an orderly world. A far cry from the chaos we find ourselves in today.” The line might easily have come from the Cardassians or the Female Changeling, the show’s primary antagonists.

Given that Sisko would identify the Dominion’s desire to build a “perfect order” in In the Pale Moonlight, it seems to suggest a recurring theme in the writing of Deep Space Nine. The show is sceptical of authority structures throughout its run. Perhaps reflecting its position as the scrappy younger sibling of The Next Generation, there is a rather reckless and loose anti-authoritarian streak running through Deep Space Nine, a streak that informs a lot of its attitudes towards the larger Star Trek franchise.

"You have no idea how long it took the wardrobe people to figure this out..."

“You have no idea how long it took the wardrobe people to figure this out…”

Bashir’s holonovel would pop up once more in the show’s run, making a quick (and altogether more generic) appearance in A Simple Investigation. There would be a verbal reference to it in Change of Heart. According to Andrew Robinson, it was phased out for reasons similar to the reasons that the Sherlock Holmes program was phased out on The Next Generation:

[T]he James Bond spoof that we did, that was a lot of fun. It was hellacious to film, because I probably spent more hours in that makeup on that show than any other show. The show was a bear. They really were trying to make a James Bond movie, but it was an enormous amount of fun. And I thought that Winrich Kolbe, the director, did a wonderful job on it. Unfortunately, we ran afoul of the James Bond people, and we were going to do a lot of those, but that was the one and only.

It would be replaced by another collection of sixties pop cultural iconography in His Way, reflecting the production team’s affection for sixties popular culture. It is probably for the best. Our Man Bashir is a great episode, one that might have been diluted by the decision to return to the well once too often. It stands out as an oddity, but a lovable oddity.

I'll drink to that...

I’ll drink to that…

Our Man Bashir is a delight. It is a highlight of one of the strongest seasons that the franchise ever produced, and a tremendous amount of fun for all involved.

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

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  1. Such a great episode. The music and the ending are most memorable to me. Bashir and Garak made a great team, and it’s a shame this storyline was never replicated (though, if it ran over to 9 days, I can see why they didn’t). Great stuff.

    • It is probably my favourite Holodeck episode, with Ship in a Bottle the only one that comes close. As you point out the music is fantastic, but so are the costumes and the set design. It’s a shame that this is really the show’s last great Bashir/Garak episode, as the rest of the run shares the Garak love across the larger ensemble.

  2. When I first saw this episode I enjoyed it dice I love bond James Bond and Star Trek, but I thought it was just a filler episode. Later, however, after seeing the episode that reveals Bashie to be genetically engineered, this episode is much more important. It shows that the holodeck is the only place where Bashir can be the superman he could be, but is not allowed to be in real life. I realize that this may have been unintentional, but it works well.

    • That’s actually a very nice touch, I’d never pegged it like that. (And it does cast his “shooting Garak in the neck” bit as rather less reckless than it initially appeared.)

  3. A wonderful episode, and I agree a surprisingly insightful one.

    On a, perhaps less insightful level, Nana Visitor really makes a sexy Soviet!

  4. That Garak slips so seamlessly into this sort of adventure (is he supposed to be Felix?) proves that Ronbinson is an actor of no small talent. “I joined the wrong intelligence service.” Ha!

    I wouldn’t say the episode is flawless. But then again, most of his faults can be leveled at the source material. (As a rule, Bond movies sag in the first and third acts. Info dumps, static camera, people sitting and talking.)

    • Robinson really is fantastic. I remember hearing a rumour that he was invited to join the primary cast towards the end of the show, but politely turned them down. Which was probably for the best, but Garak would easily have become one of my favourite Star Trek regulars ever.

  5. I hadn’t realised that this was Bashir and Garak’s last adventure together. Oh well, it was a good one to go out on. And with Alexander Siddig and Nana Visitor a couple in real life when this episode aired, it makes their romantic scenes that much more fun to watch.

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