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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Doctor Bashir, I Presume (Review)

Doctor Bashir, I Presume is a strange little episode.

It directly follows In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light, a two-part story in which it was revealed that Doctor Julian Bashir had been abducted by the Dominion at some point during the fifth season and replaced with a changeling infiltrator. Although the maths can be a little difficult to work out, it is suggested that Bashir was replaced by a changeling at some point before Rapture. With that in mind, it seems strange that the very next episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine should reveal that the recently returned Julian Bashir is himself an imposter.

"Oh, shiny."

“Oh, shiny.”

However, even on its own terms, Doctor Bashir, I Presume is a very odd piece of television. The hook of the episode is a guest appearance from Robert Picardo as Lewis Zimmerman. Picardo is making a crossover appearance from Star Trek: Voyager where he played the EMH, who had also made an appearance in Star Trek: First Contact. Picardo is a fine dramatic actor, but the character is notable for being comic relief. Doctor Bashir, I Presume begins as a light-hearted quirky piece, turning sharply at the half-way point to become a gritty science-fiction family drama.

All of this is quite jarring. However, Doctor Bashir, I Presume works surprising well. A large part of that is down to how strange the episode is, often feeling like an intimate family drama about recrimination and disappointment set against the backdrop of a massive science-fiction franchise.

A selfie with himself.

A selfie with himself.

Deep Space Nine is perhaps the most polarising of Star Trek shows. It is widely praised as recognised by certain segments of the fandom for its willingness to push bold ideas and brave new concepts, even those that ran counter to the mythology established by Gene Roddenberry. With its long-form storytelling and focus on characters, Deep Space Nine is arguably the Star Trek show that feels most firmly in line with the expectations of modern television. It was ahead of its time when it aired, and has aged rather gracefully.

Of course, there are other views that exist in opposition. Deep Space Nine tends to provoke disdain from the most hardcore of Star Trek fans who treat the series’ innovations and experiments as an affront to everything they expected from the franchise. Fans objected to Star Trek show whose mission seemed to be “to boldly sit”. George Takei suggested that the show “was the polar opposite of Gene’s philosophy and vision of the future”. Marina Sirtis claimed that Roddenberry would never have endorsed a show unfolding on a “hotel in space”.

"Room service is terrible here."

“Room service is terrible here.”

One of the least-discussed criticisms of Deep Space Nine concerns the show’s interest in character dynamics and relationships. To a certain traditionalist strain of fandom, Deep Space Nine veers towards the kind of drama that is pejoratively labelled as “soap opera.” The implication from these vocal online critics seemed to be that this approach toward character development had no place on prime-time science-fiction, accusing the show of having “SoapOperaVision” or being “a day to day soap opera.”

This is a loaded criticism, in a number of respects. Most obvious is the use of the term “soap opera” as a pejorative, framing the science-fiction series in terms of the serialised daytime dramas that emerged in the thirties. There is an elitism to this smug dismissal; the obvious inference is that a story focusing on heightened interpersonal dynamics is inherently more ridiculous than a science-fiction epic focusing on people who travel on ships that move faster than light and feature aliens with bumpy foreheads.

"Captain, I'm afraid our Yelp! rating has taken a hammering."

“Captain, I’m afraid our Yelp! rating has taken a hammering.”

As with a lot of the more reactionary trends within Star Trek fandom, like the preference for debates over “canon” rather than celebration of “fan fiction”, this argument has a decidedly sexist undercurrent. As Lynn Spigel argues in Welcome to the Dreamhouse, the exclusion of “soap opera” from the canon of worthy genres is very charged:

The early feminist work on audience cultures was a reaction against the patriarchal dismissal of mass forms as “feminine” and, therefore, degrading texts. It was an attempt to authenticate, or at least take seriously, genres such as the soap opera and the romance novel – genres that the canon of male-centred literary and art criticism deemed unworthy of study. It was an attempt to see these forms as cultural spheres in which women could extract not only individual narrative pleasure, but also could enter into an interpretative community that operates both in terms of, but also at times against the grain of, everyday female experience in Western patriarchies. Originally, then, the studies of fan cultures and audiences were motivated in terms of a dialogue with male-centred literary and art criticism, inheriting much of their critical power from test-based feminist studies, such as Tania Modleski’s work on soap operas. The polemic revolved around the sexism of institutional canons and the resulting degradation of female forms and female pleasure.

Given that the assumed audience for soap operas is female, there is something uncomfortable in the insistence that science-fiction is superior with its assumed male audience. Witness, for example, the outrage when fans of Twilight dared to enter the male-dominated space of nerdy fandom at Comic Con in 2009. (Never mind why fans are so eager to point out sexism in Twilight but bristle when the subject comes up in male-driven mainstream comics.)

Bashful Bashir.

Bashful Bashir.

Of course, there is no small irony in the fact that Deep Space Nine is Star Trek show most frequently dismissed with the gendered accusation of being a “soap opera.” After all, Deep Space Nine is perhaps the only Star Trek show without any prominent female staff writers. Women like Jeri Taylor, Lisa Klink and Jane Espenson have written for the show at various points, but the major Deep Space Nine writers are all men. This makes Deep Space Nine an interesting case; its soap opera tendencies deriving from an all-male writers’ room.

Ignoring the uncomfortable sexist undertones of the criticism, there is some substance to the criticisms of Deep Space Nine as a science-fiction soap opera. The show contains a number of major plot and character beats consciously evoke soap opera storytelling. These elements are all present in the various other Star Trek spin-offs, but not to the same degree and not with the same enthusiasm. On the other Star Trek shows, these aspects were the exception. On Deep Space Nine, they seem to be the rule.

Window into his soul.

Window into his soul.

There are dysfunctional family dynamics, like those between Odo and Mora in The Alternate or between Quark and Ishka in Family Business. There are dark family secrets, with Garak revealed as the son of Tain in In Purgatory’s Shadow and Dukat revealed to have hooked up with Kira’s mother in Wrongs Darker Than Death or Night. There are campy identical twins, with Deep Space Nine reveling in its characters’ mirror universe doppelgangers in episodes like Crossover and Through the Looking Glass.

Of course, it is worth pointing out that these elements are not necessarily indicators of quality. As easy as it is to mock soap operas, these themes can also be found in more “legitimate” (and even “great”) artforms like theatre and cinema. The familial dysfunction in Family Business was explicitly modeled on Eugene O’Neill’s A Long Day’s Journey Into Night, a play that won the 1957 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and is widely considered to be Eugene O’Neill’s magnum opus.

Walking into walls.

Walking into walls.

Star Trek: The Next Generation had done a number of episodes touching upon family history, from Datalore to The Icarus Factor to Homeward to Inheritance. However, what made Deep Space Nine different was its willingness to let these familial relations and character dynamics evolve over the course of the series. As C. Gregory argues in Parallel Narratives:

While the social and political ramifications of the unfolding of the overall story arc of the series grow ever more complex, the characters are allowed to grow in a way that was never possible in the more episodic earlier series. Whereas TNG, with its many ‘family’ orientated stories, emphasised the characters’ backstories, DS9 concentrates more on the growth the characters experience as a result of the unfolding narratives of the series itself.

In fact, this idea plays out over the course of Doctor Bashir, I Presume. A significant portion of the first half of the episode is centred on the idea of Bashir’s growth over the past five years, whether in the form asking him to compare his changing eating habits or the interviews with his fellow crew members who all argue that Bashir has come a long way since Emissary. The key point, even early in the episode, is that Bashir has grown over the past half-decade.

"Well, he never asked me to donate blood to save a Romulan. So there's that."

“Well, he never asked me to donate blood to save a Romulan. So there’s that.”

Doctor Bashir, I Presume builds from that starting point to something more intriguing. Still, what is most interesting about Ronald D. Moore’s script for the episode is the somewhat relaxed pace. Doctor Bashir, I Presume is not in any particular hurry to get to its climax. Instead, the episode waits until well past the half-way point to drop its central revelation about the eponymous character. After the mounting dread and forward momentum of In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light, the deliberate pacing of Doctor Bashir, I Presume is an effective contrast.

Doctor Bashir, I Presume begins with the announcement that Bashir has been chosen as the template for the replacement of the Emergency Medical Holographic Program, the proposed Longterm Medical Holographic Program. As part of this process, Doctor Lewis Zimmerman visits the station to begin a series of interviews and examinations. This leads the cast to reflect upon Bashir, but it also leads Zimmerman to invite Bashir’s parents to the station to help round out his profile of the dashing young doctor.

Engineering a success.

Engineering a success.

This inevitably leads to the episode’s big reveal, that Julian Bashir was genetically engineered as a child. This represents a major revision to the character, one that does not fit comfortably with the character’s backstory as outlined in earlier episodes like Melora or Distant Voices. Alexander Siddig has been quite vocal in his criticism of the decision, arguing it was a cynical attempt to make Deep Space Nine feel like a more conventional Star Trek show:

Oh, well, I felt a little f#!ked over with that. I thought that was a bit cynical. I got the sense that, by the end of the run, there were other Star Trek shows that were coming out which were more popular, pulling ahead of us. Deep Space Nine, you have to understand, in its time was not performing as well as the studio wanted it to or needed it to. And that was down to the fact that it was built on what was, at the time, a very wobbly foundation of long character arcs. These weren’t shows that were over in one episode and moved on to the next planet, dealt with that, and moved on again. These things went on forever, and people had to tune in again and again and again to find out what happened to these characters. That was unheard of at the time. And I think that now, because it’s more fashionable, Deep Space Nine has become a lot more popular and a lot more interesting to a lot more people.

So when that thing came along about enhancing me, I felt they were really trying—cynically—to make me more like Data, so that I would be more popular still, and I felt betrayed. It wasn’t part of our plan!

Indeed, it should be noted that the production team did make several attempts to give Bashir some classic “Spock” or “Data” lines in episodes like A Time to Stand. It is also worth noting that Deep Space Nine‘s requisite “outsider” character was Odo, much further from the “Spock” template than characters like Data or Tuvok or the EMH or Seven or T’Pol. Indeed, Voyager was adding another (arguably its third) “Spock” type character at the end of the season.

Copy error.

Copy error.

There is some logic to Siddig’s argument. Owing to the fact that it was not tethered to a particular network, Deep Space Nine had largely avoided too much executive meddling. The production team certainly enjoyed a greater degree of freedom than their counterparts on Voyager, which was firmly tethered to the nascent UPN. However, Deep Space Nine was not immune to notes from the studio. The Way of the Warrior had been driven by such concerns, with the studio seeking to shore up ratings by drafting in Worf and the Klingons.

The Star Trek franchise was just coming out of its thirtieth anniversary celebrations. It was still on a relative high following the critical and commercial success of First Contact coupled with the high-profile of the milestone. However, there was also a palpable sense of anxiety rising in the background. The Next Generation had only grown its audience over its seven years on television, but Deep Space Nine and Voyager were struggling to keep the pace. Indeed, both shows were losing viewers.

"We need more eyes on screens."

“We need more eyes on screens.”

This audience attrition would continue for another eight seasons, through to the sad and lonely death of Star Trek: Enterprise. However, there were already indications of trouble brewing on the horizon. While The Next Generation had been “the highest-rated syndicated drama in the history of television”, its spin-offs struggled to reach the same level of success. The vultures wouldn’t properly start circling until after Deep Space Nine was retired, but when those concerns did surface they were frequently suggested to have been long-simmering.

Whatever the motivation for retroactively making Bashir genetically enhanced, the idea came very much out of left-field. Unlike the arrival of the Dominion at the end of the second season, or the taking of the station at the end of the fifth season, Bashir’s secret history was not part of some long-term plan on the part of the writers. It was largely improvised due to the necessity of this individual episode, which explains the strange placement of the reveal. Bashir just exposed his changeling replacement in By Inferno’s Light, so it is odd to jump right to another big Bashir reveal.

Bashir is just projecting.

Bashir is just projecting.

Part of Alexander Siddig’s frustration with the reveal is rooted in the fact that he was not warned about it in advance. Siddig only found out about it when he received the script, which gives a sense of how suddenly the decision was made:

But it arrived, I didn’t know about it on Tuesday, and on Thursday the script arrived – we started shooting on Friday. I was so shocked. You know you get the impression that maybe the producers sit down and talk about strategies and character arcs with actors but this thing came out of the blue and p!ssed me off so royally. It was a reaction to the fact that the character was genuinely unpopular in the early days. Because he was not fancy; I mean this is a time where 90210 was at the top of the charts in American TV and this guy was so not the hunk, he was the anti-hunk. He was the –

He was a man of science! That’s what he was!

He was a man of science; he was like half good looking, rubbish at pulling girls. I mean it was all the wrong kind of archetypes. And so they kept trying to do things to make it happen. Eventually they did the Bond thing – they did the Bond thing before that actually. And that kicked it off. I have to say that I’m still pretty angry. Well, not angry…

Given Siddig had only been informed that he’d been playing a changeling replacement during the production of For the Uniform, one episode before the reveal in In Purgatory’s Shadow in which Bashir did not ultimately appear, his frustration at another big twist out of nowhere is understandable.

Gene's genes are still in the show.

Gene’s genes are still in the show.

To be fair, this is how a lot of the plotting decisions were made on Deep Space Nine. The production team were fond of improvisation, which worked very well in the middle seasons of the show. Deep Space Nine was an adaptable show. That was one of its strengths. The production team had managed to slip an entire Klingon conflict into the series without missing a beat or messing up their long-term plans. Doctor Bashir, I Presume is another example of this. It is a reveal that nobody planned that generates some continuity friction, but which fits the character rather well.

While the history of the Bashir family as articulated in Doctor Bashir, I Presume might jar with the backstory presented in Melora or Distant Voices, it certainly makes a great deal of sense given what we know about Bashir as a character. His desire to keep his enhancements hidden account for everything from his choice of a fringe assignment like Deep Space Nine as a posting to the suggestion that he consciously fumbled and obvious question on his final exam to avoid pressure and scrutiny.

Dabbling in Dabo.

Dabbling in Dabo.

Certain character choices make a great deal of sense, filtered through the lens of somebody trying to hide in plain sight. Bashir’s over-eager friendliness in early episodes like The Storyteller suggest a man trying too hard to convince his co-workers that he is just “one of the guys.” Bashir’s reluctance to play sport professionally despite his long-standing interest in tennis and racquetball in episode like Melora and Rivals also fits this revised narrative of the character. Similarly, his insistence on his own abilities in The Quickening becomes even more poignant.

Doctor Bashir, I Presume hinges upon the idea of genetic enhancement. It is a science-fiction concept deeply rooted within the Star Trek canon. Doctor Bashir, I Presume emphasises this continuity connection, evoking earlier stories dealing with the theme. “For every Julian Bashir that can be created, there’s a Khan Singh waiting in the wings,” warns Admiral Bennett, alluding to the villain from Space Seed and perhaps named for the writer of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Bashir describes himself as “unnatural”, an allusion to Unnatural Selection.

This success story doesn't scan.

This success story doesn’t scan.

The portrayal of genetic engineering in Doctor Bashir, I Presume plays into a broader theme across the franchise. For a franchise set in a future driven by wonderful technology like the replicator, Star Trek has a palpable anxiety about transhumanism. As Chris Hallquist reflects:

In short, according to Star Trek human enhancement will lead to nothing good: egotistical supermen think they can take over the world (or at least betray their species for its own good), loss of individuality and free will, and engineered slave races. Exceptions can exist, but they are forever doomed to remain exceptions.

It’s worth seeing what’s going on here: the writers are convinced something is yucky, but rather than trying to mount any kind of argument against it, they just show it almost always having horrible consequences regardless of whether those consequences are necessary or even particularly likely. Obvious solutions to the problems portrayed (like “try to replicate whatever went right with Bashir’s enhancements”) are never even considered.

After all, Doctor Bashir, I Presume was broadcast less than two weeks after Unity had tackled similar themes on Voyager, presenting the idea of a shared collective consciousness as something inherently monstrous. Star Trek has difficulty fathoming anything beyond human.

Crossover of note.

Crossover of note.

Of course, there is some merit to the science-fiction debate in Doctor Bashir, I Presume. As the millennium approached, the public consciousness was increasingly attuned to the moral and ethical issues of gene tempering. In 1994, the European Union had approved bromoxynil-resistant tobacco, the first genetically engineered crop marketed in Europe. In 1995, Monsanto launched the genetically engineered NewLeaf potato. By the middle part of the decade, genetically modified foodstuffs were a very much in the mainstream.

Space Seed was wrong when it predicted the Eugenics Wars taking place in the late nineties, as Voyager demonstrated in Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II. Nevertheless, the nineties saw an increased interest in the prospect of human genetic engineering. The exploration of the human genome had been a lightening rod for controversy, prompting no small amount of moral outrage. (The issue is still thorny.) Doctor Bashir, I Presume was broadcast in February 1997, eight months before the release of Gattaca.

"Um, Captain, you might want to adjust the lighting and saturation on your holo emitter."

“Um, Captain, you might want to adjust the lighting and saturation on your holo emitter.”

However, this science-fiction device is ultimately just a framework upon which the rest of the story might hang. Doctor Bashir, I Presume is not particularly interested in the ethics of genetic engineering. Nobody in the show seems to have an ethical objection to the blanket ban on genetic engineering, with the Bashir family simply accepting it as an necessary ethical compromise. Julian and Richard Bashir are both ready to face the consequences of their decision, with the biggest moral debate concerning whether Julian should be punished for something beyond his control.

Instead, Doctor Bashir, I Presume uses the genetic engineering angle as a window into a more intimate family drama. The episode is very much about the secrets kept by the Bashir family, and the simmering resentments caused by those secrets. While few people in the audience can empathise with what it must have been like to be genetically engineered as a child, many can understand the betrayal that Julian feels over the choices that his parents made in what they perceived to be his best interests.

Right on target.

Right on target.

After all, there is something very potent in the episode’s central theme. Bashir has spent his entire life hiding a secret from his friends and colleagues, living a lie designed to attract the least attention possible. That is a very human sentiment, one that resonates with any individual who has ever felt “other.” There are obvious parallels to be made with gay people forced to live in a closet and conceal their orientation from their best friends, just as there are obvious points of intersection with transgender individuals who have hidden their gender for fear of the consequences.

Bashir is hiding a secret that could potentially destroy his career and send him to prison. This is a secret that does not result from a choice that he made, but from a fundamental aspect of his identity over which he had no control. It is worth noting that this is still a concern in progressive first world countries, where members of these minorities will frequently feel the need to conform. This is to say nothing of the pressure to hide these aspects in parts of the world where they could be punished by death.

Just think of it as a "sci-fi Don Draper twist."

Just think of it as a “sci-fi Don Draper twist.”

As such, there is a metaphorical power to these revelations about Julian Bashir. They allow the show to touch upon issues of “passing”, of people forced to pretend to be something other than what they are in order to gain access to the same opportunities that others take for granted. The story might hinge on a science-fiction concept, but it touches upon far more fundamental ideas of identity and acceptance. These are issues that are relevant even beyond the narrow scope of genetic engineering.

(Even on a more basic level, Bashir’s story touches upon the rather universal fear of being seen as a fraud. Although it obviously has higher stakes for members of the LGBTQ community, most people can relate to the feeling of having to pretend to be something that they are not in order to integrate; laughing at an unfunny joke, omitting certain aspects of a history because the audience might not react well to them, keeping the head down. Bashir’s secret just takes that core anxiety and extrapolates it to its logical conclusion.)

Casting aspersions.

Casting aspersions.

In some respects, the family drama at the core of Doctor Bashir, I Presume feels like a spiritual successor to the storytelling that Ronald D. Moore employed with Family. That early fourth season episode of The Next Generation was similarly driven by long-buried familial resentment, a dysfunctional relationship eventually reconciled through confession. The Bashir family is broken in a manner distinct from the schism between the Picard siblings, but there is a strong connection between the two episodes. Indeed, both episodes are slow-building family dramas.

Like Family, there is a sense that Doctor Bashir, I Presume could actually work rather well as a stage play. The Bashir family presents itself as a functional family unit, but the layers are quickly and viciously stripped away as the episodes moves along. There are a lot of dialogue-driven scenes, particularly in the second act. The episode’s climax is not driven by action or technobabble, but through emotional catharsis; one of the act breaks finds Julian storming out of a family meal only to collapse in the corridor, tired and crying.

Long 26-hour day's journey into night...

Long 26-hour day’s journey into night…

Moore plays into this heightened familial drama with his script, which is heavily built around wordplay and verbal sparring. The characters on Star Trek do not banter like Whedon or Tarantino characters, instead speaking like they were lifted from a mid-twentieth-century stage play. “I’m still your father, Jules, and I will not have you talk to me like that,” Richard insists. Without missing a beat, Bashir replies, “No, you used to be my father. Now, you’re my architect. The man who designed a better son to replace the defective one he was given.” Word play burn.

Star Trek has a long history of casting theatrical performers in its lead roles, a tradition that has served it well. After all, Star Trek is a show featuring all manner of strange aliens and exotic sets. The drama should be heightened. As with Patrick Stewart and Avery Brooks, Alexander Siddig has always felt like more of a stage performer than a television actor. As a result, the big emotional scenes in Doctor Bashir, I Presume feel like they were lifted from a theatrical performance.

Jupiter Station rising.

Jupiter Station rising.

On almost any other television drama, this would seem out of place or excessive. People in the real world do not address one another in such bold absolute terms. It is as unnatural as anything done to Julian by his parents. However, Star Trek does not take place in the real world. So it can afford these indulgences. “What difference does that make?” Richard asks at one point. Julian responds, “It makes every difference, because I’m different! Can’t you see that? Jules Bashir died in that hospital because you couldn’t live with the shame of having a son who didn’t measure up!”

There is something quite interesting in all of this. As much as Doctor Bashir, I Presume is an unconventional Star Trek episode in terms of subject matter and pacing, Ronald D. Moore makes sure that it is reasonably conventional in terms of form. Characters still talk like they are in a Star Trek episode. Moore still affords them powerful monologues in which they clearly articulate both their personal history and their inner feelings, an approach that runs counter to the naturalism that was beginning to take root in nineties television writing thanks to Whedon and Sorkin.

"Ornaments or flowers or me? Hm. This was much sexier when Lauren Holly did it."

“Ornaments or flowers or me? Hm. This was much sexier when Lauren Holly did it.”

The result is a script that plays to the strengths of Star Trek as a franchise, even as it feels unlike what audiences have come to expect. While the monologues might seem a little indulgent, they are no less powerful for that. Amsha Bashir spends most of the episode relatively quiet. In fact, she seems quite marginalised in many of her early scenes, as Richard Bashir gets to tell stories and be the centre of attention. However, Amsha gets a beautiful monologue towards the climax in which she gets to lay out her own point of view.

“You don’t know,” she warns Julian. “You’ve never had a child. You don’t know what it’s like to watch your son. To watch him fall a little further behind every day. You know he’s trying, but something’s holding him back. You don’t know what it’s like to stay up every night worrying that maybe it’s your fault. Maybe you did something wrong during the pregnancy, maybe you weren’t careful enough, or maybe there’s something wrong with you. Maybe you passed on a genetic defect without even knowing it.”

The mother of all family issues.

The mother of all family issues.

It is a lot of dialogue to give a character in one scene, particularly a character who has been largely passive to this point in the script. However, it feels very much in keeping with the tone of the episode and the show around it. Without that monologue, Amsha could easily have felt like nothing more than a crudely-drawn archetype, a loving wife and concerned mother caught between Richard and Julian. However, with that monologue, Amsha lays out her own particular sense of guilt and responsibility as distinct from Richard’s shame.

Richard Bashir is an interesting character in his own right. He is quite unique in the context of the Berman era, a human being who is defined by his failures. Richard Bashir is a character who never managed to succeed in the world, and who projected his sense of inadequacy unto his young son. Richard has never held a steady job, preferring to constantly reinvent himself instead of committing to a single career for an extended period. Richard is also a practiced liar, capable of distorting and bending the truth to serve his purpose; he may even lie to himself.

Rom-ance.

Rom-ance.

Ronald D. Moore found Richard Bashir an intriguing character, perhaps as part of Deep Space Nine‘s larger deconstruction of the Star Trek universe. As The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion points out, Star Trek fans rarely see characters like that appearing on the show:

As longtime fans know, and as Ron Moore recites by rote, “The-Federation-is-a-very-nice-place-to-live. But -” he pauses “- that doesn’t mean you can’t be a loser and you can’t screw up. In the twenty-fourth century, everybody seems to have a job, and everybody’s taken care of and everybody has food,” he explains. “But there are people who are just not going to make it. And Bashir’s dad is like that, the kind of guy who’s always posturing himself as a success, but never has succeeded at anything.”

Much as with Julian’s attempts to pass himself off as something more “normal” and “average”, there is something very universal in this. Everybody knows somebody like Richard Bashir, or has felt like Richard Bashir at one point or another.

Pretty rich, coming from him.

Pretty Rich, coming from him.

Doctor Bashir, I Presume is also notable for its secondary plot, focusing on Doctor Lewis Zimmerman. There is a strange dissonance to this subplot, given that Zimmerman drives the primary plot for the first half of the show. After all, Zimmerman’s plan to model the new holographic doctor on Bashir is the driving force of the plot. Zimmerman invites Bashir’s parents to the station, and they make their (accidental) confession to a prototype version of the Bashir hologram. However, Zimmerman disappears from the primary plot once Julian Bashir’s secret is exposed.

In theory, Zimmerman remains an on-going concern for the story. “Julian, Zimmerman is going to file a report saying that Doctor Bashir is unsuitable for computer modelling because of his suspected genetically enhanced background,” O’Brien insists. Bashir reconciles himself to resigning “before Doctor Zimmerman files his report.” However, it is never revealed whether Zimmerman files his report. Instead, Richard Bashir confesses to Sisko and surrenders himself to the authorities.

Drinking in the atmosphere at Quark's.

Drinking in the atmosphere at Quark’s.

Instead, Zimmerman gets shunted off into his own subplot involving Rom and Leeta. The production team has been pushing the idea of Rom and Leeta as a romantic couple dating back to Bar Association, with Leeta acknowledging her attraction to Rom in Let He Who Is Without Sin… In some respects, this fixation on the “will they?”/“won’t they?” romance between two (admittedly minor) characters plays as much into the idea of Deep Space Nine as a soapy space opera (or a space soap opera) as the trials of the Bashir family.

The romance between Rom and Leeta is awkward, in the same way that the romance between Odo and Kira is awkward. Deep Space Nine is the Star Trek show with the strongest interest in romantic relationships, developing a number of strong romances across its seven year run. For the most part, these couples work very well. Odo is brilliantly supportive of Kira in episodes like Shadows and Symbols, while Kira is brilliantly supportive of Odo in episodes like Chimera. Jadzia and Worf work well together, as do Sisko and Kasidy.

Leeta. L-E-E-T-A. Leeta.

Leeta. L-E-E-T-A. Leeta.

However, Deep Space Nine tends to have a great deal of difficulty when it comes to starting these relationships between characters. There is a certain inelegance to the hook-up between Jadzia and Worf in Looking for Par’Mach in All the Wrong Places, but there is something downright creepy in Odo’s attempts to woo Kira in His Way. Similarly, Ezri’s romantic encounters during the show’s final season, with Worf in Penumbra and Bashir in The Dogs of War, also feel rather forced.

The romance between Leeta and Rom feels very much the same way, especially in the context of Doctor Bashir, I Presume. Zimmerman begins courting Leeta. Leeta goes along with it, but there is a recurring suggestion that her primary agenda is to force Rom to express his feelings. Leeta considers running off to Jupiter Station with a man whom she hardly knows, all while goading Rom to admit that he has romantic feelings for her. “If I had a reason to stay, I’d stay,” she coaches. “Do I have a reason to stay?” It’s super manipulative.

"I like to keep abreast of the situation. Er, I mean, sorry I'm such a boob."

“I like to keep abreast of the situation. Er, I mean, sorry I’m such a boob.”

There is also something faintly patronising about the coupling of Rom and Leeta. Like Odo and Kira, it is another pairing of a beautiful and social woman with an unconventionally attractive and socially maladjusted man. These pairings play almost like Deep Space Nine‘s variant on the cliché of sitcom marriages:

In the current sitcom lineup, by contrast, several shows pair extremely attractive women, who are often clad in plunging tops and tight jeans suitable for a Maxim photo spread, with TV husbands who are not only not studly, but downright fat, and a couple who are not only not mensches, but are ugly on the inside, too. On The King of Queens (CBS, Wednesdays, 9 p.m. ET), smoldering working-class babe Carrie (Leah Remini) is paired with beer-gutted Doug (Kevin James). On Grounded for Life (WB, Fridays, 8:30 p.m. ET), the lovely, voluptuous Claudia (Megyn Price—my favorite), is paired with the dumpy and scraggly-bearded Sean (Donal Logue). Perhaps the most jarringly incongruous couple appears on Still Standing (CBS, Mondays, 8 p.m. ET), in which Judy (legendary ’80s hottie Jamie Gertz) is married to the surly Bill (rotund, high-voiced English actor Mark Addy, whose character sounds just a little too English to be from Chicago). Bill is a scurrilous (and not terribly funny) creation, unpleasant even to listen to.

Although the reality is far more complex and multifaceted, the pop culture stereotype of Star Trek fans remains that of the socially maladjusted and unconventionally attractive male “nerd.” As such, the relationship between Rom and Leeta feels rather condescending, as if insisting that the awkward and ugly guy can land the attractive woman of his dreams.

"You want ROM? But, wait! My LMH will have oodles of ROM!"

“You want ROM? But, wait! My LMH will have oodles of ROM!”

There is something rather uncomfortable in all of this, playing almost like a sitcom version of the male gaze. In popular culture, it is widely accepted that women can value men for more than just physical attractiveness; that women can be drawn to men by their sensitivity and intelligence, rather than simply their good looks. However, this only seems to move in one particular direction. While television tends to pair beautiful women with men who are not conventionally attractive, rarely does it pair handsome men with women who are unconventionally attractive.

After all, Deep Space Nine works very hard to convince viewers that Leeta could be attracted to Rom. In Let He Who Is Without Sin…, Leeta describes Rom as “cute, and very sexy.” Indeed, her attraction to Rom is treated as a joke and punchline, with Quark and Bashir both thrown for a loop. However, the show never puts the same effort into explaining why Rom is attracted to Leeta. That attraction is just taken for granted, with the show seeming to suggest that of course Rom is attracted to Leeta because Chase Masterson is a stunningly beautiful woman.

Lo, Leeta!

Lo, Leeta!

To be fair, at least Rom and Leeta shared some meaningful scenes in Bar Association. However, there is a sense that their relationship is underdeveloped. There has certainly been nothing to reflect a chemistry between the characters or actors that demanded such a coupling. Terry Farrell and Michael Dorn played well off one another from their first encounter in The Way of the Warrior, and it is easy to see how the characters compliment each other. Rom and Leeta lack that instant connection.

Still, this coupling makes a bit more sense than the eventual pairing of Odo and Kira in His Way. The romance between Odo and Kira is consciously and repeatedly framed from Odo’s perspective, with little effort made to explain why Kira might be interested in a romance with him. After all, the episodes exploring Odo from Kira’s perspective, like Children of Time and Behind the Lines, suggest that Kira should probably be horrified by her suitor rather than intrigued. The romance between Rom and Leeta is slightly stronger, even if Leeta seems super manipulative.

Holo praise.

Holo praise.

Doctor Bashir, I Presume is notable for a guest appearance from Robert Picardo. Although this is the first appearance of Lewis Zimmerman in the flesh, it still marks a rare point of crossover between Deep Space Nine and Voyager. Picardo was quite fond of the idea of crossover between the shows, even if he understood why it didn’t happen more often:

It’s hard to do much crossover – it would be wonderful if Deep Space Nine was on a network for the sake of having a regular air time, and they could plan the kind of crossover things that have been done on Ally McBeal and The Practice, where they did a same-night airing. Of course that’s impossible. We could have a little bit of crossing over – probably from them to us makes more sense than from us to them, though if you’re having a show where you’re kind of saying goodbye to the whole facility of Deep Space Nine, it would be fun to see at least one Voyager guy roam through, or have a scene with Neelix where he’s getting advice or supplies from Quark for some reason. I think the fans would get a big hoot out of that.

Indeed, one of the things that is most striking about the Berman era of Star Trek is how little crossover actually occurs. These days, it seems like sibling shows are expected to crossover at least once a season, perhaps most obviously on the CW comic book shows like Arrow, The Flash and Supergirl. While that might have been too much, there is a happy medium to be struck; there was never a Star Trek episode featuring both crews.

What's up, Doc?

What’s up, Doc?

Of course, Voyager‘s Delta Quadrant setting made it difficult for the series to cross over with Deep Space Nine. Bringing Lewis Zimmerman to the station was an inspired touch, a clever way of getting around that particular geographic restriction. It was also a good choice from a performance perspective. Robert Picardo had stolen the show on Voyager, playing the breakout character of the EMH. Picardo had been given very little material in the first two seasons of the show, but had established himself as one of the show’s most important performers by this point in the run.

Picardo brings his endearingly abrasive personality to Doctor Bashir, I Presume. The episode is remarkably relaxed in terms of pacing, entrusting its cast to carry a relatively slow first couple of acts. As such, a lot of the charm in the first half of Doctor Bashir, I Presume comes from watching Robert Picardo share the screen with Alexander Siddig, Avery Brooks and Colm Meaney. Picardo proves himself well up to the task, making quite an impression in what could easily have been a cynical piece of cross-promotion.

"Oh, I reckon the EMH's programme has about another four seasons of life left in it."

“Oh, I reckon the EMH’s programme has about another four seasons of life left in it.”

Picardo has an endearingly wry sense of humour that bleeds through into the episode. On Hidden File 07, Chase Masterson recalls a delightful piece of improvisation from Picardo in the closing scenes of the episode:

Well, that was fine for Leeta and Rom. But not fine for poor Bob Picardo? Because Bob Picardo was left without the girl and – not only that – he had no one to go off in the shuttlecraft with. But not only that, they hadn’t written him an exit line. So, what is he going to do? Fade off into the sunset there? Just let us take the scene? Not Bob Picardo! The take was… that he used in the very first take that they shot, which I thought was funnier, which I thought they should have used, was as he follows the woman off in the shuttlecraft, he says, “Excuse me, Miss? Have you heard about my work on Star Trek: Voyager?”

It is worth noting how poorly disposed the Star Trek writers were towards improvisation as a concept. As such, it is a testament to Picardo as a performer that he was effectively allowed to write his own closing scene; even if he had to swap out a reference to Voyager for a reference to the kama sutra.

The love doctor.

The love doctor.

Doctor Bashir, I Presume is a wonderful piece of television, and a great example of the character-driven science-fiction drama that made Deep Space Nine so unique in the Star Trek canon. It is a little contrived and ridiculous, its dark character secret coming out of nowhere, but it uses that contrivance to tell a powerful and universal story about very human anxieties. Star Trek was always about exploring. Even in focusing on a genetically engineered character, Doctor Bashir, I Presume explores a more human frontier.

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14 Responses

  1. To be honest, the only time I felt Star Trek tipped into soap opera was the seventh season. Good god! We meet Worf’s brother, Deanna finds out she had a sister who drowned, Data finally dismantled Lore and also met his mother, albeit an android duplicate, Beverly Crusher found out about the sordid truth behind her grandmother, Picard and Beverly Crusher confessed their true feelings to one another, Picard met someone who might be his son, Alexander came back in time to kill himself, Geordi tries to save his mother, and Worf and Troi were constantly having a will they/won’t they relationship for the whole season. And people complain about DS9 being too soapy? That is truly odd to me.

    • Yeah, I think the DS9 being soapy argument comes from the stories that focus on interpersonal relationship with a minimum of sci-fi elements. I mean, later in the season you have Ferengi Love Songs, in which Quark’s boss dates his mother. Okay, that’s a sitcom plot, but you sort of see the point. Odo confessing his love to Kira in Children of Time. Rom and Leeta beginning dating here, proposing marriage in Ferengi Love Songs and getting married in A Call to Arms.

      I love this attention to character, but I can see where the common fan complaint comes from. (Although I do find it absurd that character development is treated as something that doesn’t belong in Star Trek.)

  2. You make an interesting point about DS9 not being as well liked by the fans as the other shows. That seems to reflect my opinion as well. The characters are well done, the episodes are well written, and yet there’s something about it that I can’t quite put my finger on that prevents me from enjoying the show. To use a food metaphor, Voyager felt like a nice salisbury steak with a side of mac and cheese (good ol’ comfort food) where as DS9 feels like some kind of health-casserole, good for me and filled with things that I individually enjoy, but for some reason the sum of it’s parts doesn’t taste as great.
    To illustrate, I think this is a great episode, quite moving, but at the same time, a little unpleasant to watch. I can identify with Bashir’s frustration with his parents, but watching the episode doesn’t exactly give me any hope or optimism. Similarly, the last episode was a great one, but it’s about death, people suffering in prison and the situation of the galaxy getting worse. The show lacks real tension to let the drama really take grip, and there feels like there aren’t enough “fun” episodes to counterbalance it all. Even when they play baseball on this show, Sisko acts like a dick and the Vulcans are all asses. While TNG had it’s dark moments certainly, the fact the Picard Song exists shows that the show really knew how to have fun.

    • Interesting though I have to respectfully disagree. I always thought of Voyager as the Applebees of Star Trek. Generic, but serviceable if you know what to expect. I would compare DS9 to a gourmet hamburger joint. Rich, hearty, and numerous layers.
      I do agree that DS9 did struggle with lighter episodes, but some were quite good, such as Trials and Tribbleations and The Magnificent Ferengi. I think, however, that this is a universal problem with Star Trek, as the franchise rarely did fun episodes well. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any really good TNG episode that was just fun though I do have a soft spot for Barclay’s first episode, Hollow Pursuits. Voyager was similar to DS9 in that it some success, but for every Tinker Tenor Doctor Spy, there was a Spirit Folk.

      • I agree that Trials and Tribble-ations was a grand slam for DS9 light-hearted comedy, but DS9 didn’t seem to have enough of them. When I count my favorite episodes of DS9, Duet, The Victor, In the Pale Moonlight, Empok Nor, Improbably Cause/The Die is Cast, Children of Time, the stories all involve death or dead bodies in some way. I think Voyager managed to achieve a more fun atmosphere due to Brannon Braga, and his willingness to utilize B-Movie sci-fi elements. Even the average Voyager episodes tended to retain an element of goofiness to them that lent them a light-hearted attitude (The Cloud springs to mind). And some episodes are just fun, like Worst Case Scenario, (the crew enjoys Voyager fan-fics!), or Author, Author! (more Voyager fan-fics, plus the most badass readyroom in Star Fleet!), Bride of Chaotica! is a load of fun, even the short bit of the Captain Proton! program in Night was funny, with Seven disabling Satan’s Robot by just yanking out a wire and declaring “I AM BORG”. Even in the absolute terrible episodes like Threshold and Twisted, the silliness managed to keep my interest in the episode for the whole run.

        TNG had it’s fun moments usually nested in the episodes without transforming the entire episode into a comedy hour. Nearly every part of the “Picard Song” references an episode that had a fun Picard moment, even if the episode was semi-serious.

        DS9 tried to have fun episodes, and apart from Tribbles, I don’t think they really succeeded, even when they band together to rob a casino, it’s not really fun, it just feels like a diversion. They kinda pull it off in the with Our Man Bashir, but given this episode’s revelation, it completely transforms that episode’s subtext. In Our Man Bashir, we see that Bashir goes to the Holodeck as an escape, as it is the only means for him to be himself, and utilize his talents without the need to hide it. In that way, the episode is almost a tragedy about the life of Bashir, which undercuts the fun of the Bond tropes.

      • I don’t know. I have a huge fondness for some of the DS9 comedy episodes. House of Quark/Looking for Par’Mach In All the Wrong Places/Little Green Men/The Magnificent Ferengi/In the Cards. Even the subplot of Treachery, Faith and the Great River. But I think they work because they provide a sharper contrast to the show’s more sombre atmosphere. TNG seemed like a great place to work. DS9 seemed like a terrible place to work, although you get to meet interesting people.

        Our Man Bashir is my favourite holodeck episode ever, for example.

      • I think TNG just generally had a lighter tone.

        Seth McFarlane (yep) has described the USS Enterprise as the most productive and professional working environment in the history of television. And I think he’s right. It’s a show where most of the cast seem to really like one another, where everybody seems to know what they’re doing, and where even if horrible things happen, everything will probably be okay by the final credits. (Compare Geordi’s brainwashing in Mind’s Eye to O’Brien’s mind-alteration in Hard Time, for example. Or Redemption to In Purgatory’s Shadow/By Inferno’s Light.)

    • Yeah, TNG is definitely a lighter show. And it’s the Star Trek I go back to when I need an “upper.”

      At the same time, on rewatch, I’m surprised at the raw humanism of DS9. For all the show is considered the darkest and most cynical of the Star Trek shows, it never loses sight of the idea that people are basically decent. Of course, I am comparing it to the decade of “peak TV” that followed, where it seems impossible to find a single uncorrupted soul on any major prestige drama. (I’m exaggerating, but compare DS9 to BSG to get a sense of what I’m arguing.)

  3. Great review.

    I can understand why Alexander Siddig was frustrated but I really liked this episode and the direction it took Bashir in. I’m a fan of the episodes with the ‘Jack pack’ that this revelation led to and no appearance by Robert Picardo is ever unwelcome.

    • Yep. And, in an odd way, it helps Bashir to blend into DS9.

      To this point, Bashir has been one of the odd characters on DS9 (along with Dax), because he’s relatively well-adjusted and functional. There is no reason why he couldn’t serve on the Enterprise. By “breaking him” in this small way, DS9 effectively puts him on an equal footing with the other characters on this island of misfit toys. Ironically, in distorting him, he ceases to feel like such an odd fit. (We’ll talk about Dax a bit later.)

  4. “There is also something faintly patronizing about the coupling of Rom and Leeta. Like Odo and Kira, it is another pairing of a beautiful and social woman with an unconventionally attractive and socially maladjusted man. These pairings play almost like Deep Space Nine‘s variant on the cliché of sitcom marriages”

    I think the main reason for that is the double standard in Hollywood. After all, in the entire franchise, can you think of any female actress in the ENTIRE STAR TREK FRANCHISE that was overweight? I’ve been thinking all night and I can only remember that 4-armed piano player that sung Klingon Opera with Worf during that Spock TNG episode. The reason the average guy can get the good looking girl in TV shows is because that’s practically the only kind of girl that exists on TV.

    • I think it’s rather an universa tendency which has been going on for decades. The objectifying of women, the need to summarise people as limited characteristics (to relate or be related to), and the phycological beliefs that any relationship is only as stable as the male party is superior than the female one .

      I was shocked years ago reading about some female the big bang theory fans hoping that the show will be rid of Amy because she is an unattractive female version of Sheldon, and thus, not hot enough for him.

      It’s a very complicated issue. Especially now we’re in an era of everything happening so fast that it seems the only thing we ever need is of faster. We’re getting lazier in understanding others, and quicker to make judgements.

      For one time I thought this kind of problem presented only in the medium to an audience of a majority male. But apparently women at least sometimes objectify themselves, and allowing this kind of stereotype of relationship, as most of us have been taught to follow the society’s expectations; it’s safer, and easier, like Julian pretending to be a normal person.

      The funny part of Rom-Leeta relationship is it seems as long as they get together, Leeta loses most of her sharpness, descending to a little whinny and whining bride(-to-be) who cares only about her wedding and her fiancée/husband. I’m not saying she should be as keen as Kira to the whole Cardasian/Dominion occupation/invasion of DS9 and alpha quadrant, but still, her later scenes are rather demeaning.

      • It goes beyond society expectations, this is the result of something far more primal and basic, the need to appear “fertile” to pass on their own genes and propagate the species. Despite the fact that “society” no longer needs to follow such primitive motivations, it has failed to move beyond it for the most part.

        In the USA, 2/3 of adults are overweight, and 1/3 is obese, yet in entertainment, an overweight individual would be the rare majority. In Star Trek, there are the occasional fat actor, but they are rare, and in almost all cases, male (no female pakleds in this franchise!).

        Hollywood seems to exist in a parallel dimension of the real world. I find the Big Bang Theory offensive because it depicts nerd stereotypes (they don’t act like any nerds I’ve ever met) and the show just mocks them. Despite the fact the nerds have become mainstream, Hollywood still hasn’t caught up with the times, depicting a world filled to the brim with attractive people, while everyone else should be mocked. Your a nerd? Loser.
        Your fat? Loser. Your autistic? Loser.
        Again, I think this all stems from the primitive mindset, not from society expectations. It all boils down to the idea that the alpha male gets the fertile female. Leeta likes Rom? Well she can’t very ask Rom out, what kind of man would he be then? ect.

    • Yet I believe many society expectations come from primitive mindset, which is driven majorly by biological needs. And combined and complicated with modern society issues. It’s pushing us to stop thinking about what lies beneath the layers that a quick glance could provide but to pursue a quicker and easier choice. We’re controlled by this mindset, that particular traits are necessarily better than others, of which are definitely inferior, yet never consider where it comes from.

      Thus comes the objectifying complex. We feel so glad we could objectify ourselves, believing it’s a freedom that we should not give up. We feel so comfortable to objectify others, since we evaluate individuals by their similarity with or differences from us. It’s like a loop, objectifying ourselves and being objectified by others. Hollywood always encourages it, by presenting us with the stereotype of stereotypes.

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