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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – One Little Ship (Review)

“It was the sixth season, so why not do it?” observes Ira Behr, providing all the rationale the writing staff needed. “How many series can do a salute to Land of the Giants, to The Incredible Shrinking Man?” he demands. “We had to do this show! We owed it to all the schlock science fiction that had come before us. If we hadn’t done it, it would have been a crime – a creative crime, and, dare I say, a crime against humanity itself. And it just became clear to me, you know? Maybe the tumour moved a silly centimeter in my brain. But we just had to do it. And that was that.”

The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion

Isolinear jungle.

One Little Ship is not a bad episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Indeed, there is something quite endearing about the series’ tendency to swing for the fences with outlandish retro science-fiction concepts that would probably have worked better on the original Star Trek than on any later iteration of the show. For all that Move Along Home is a mess of an episode, it is certainly more ambitious (and more memorable) than The Passenger. There is something quite similar about One Little Ship. It is an episode that would never have seen the light of day on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Not a Jem of an episode.

To be fair, there are shades of this weird science b-movie aesthetic to be found in the first three seasons of Star Trek: Voyager: the “gee whiz” alien abduction story of The 37’s, starring a bona fides historical celebrity; the communist era body-snatching of Cathexis; the gigantic viruses in Macrocosm; the space elevator in Rise; the evil twin in Darkling; the reverse-aging of Innocence; the killer surrealist dream clown in The Thaw; even the split/conjoined personality stories in Faces and Tuvix.

These stories all have very retrograde quality to them, feeling more like the fevered imaginings of a fifties sci-fi writer than the disciplined and restrained aesthetic associated with the Berman era of Star Trek. However, none of these stories went quite as far as One Little Ship. Indeed, to find an antecedent for this episode, the production team would have to look back to the size-changing antics of The Infinite Vulcan from Star Trek: The Animated Series. There is something endearingly odd about running with this premise, particularly in the midst of the Dominion War.

“All right, you’ve all seen The Search, Part I. You know how this goes.”

Voyager would play with retro fifties sci-fi charm through the character of Tom Paris. The second season episode Lifesigns featured the memorable image of a convertible parked on Mars, while the fifth season episode Bride of Chaotica! wallows in retro sci-fi charm to the point that extended portions of the episode are in black-and-white. In some ways, these episodes fit comfortably alongside the goofy sci-fi trappings of One Little Ship. However, those episodes use the mediating reality of the holodeck to downplay the stylistic oddness.

In contrast, One Little Ship makes a point to treat this weirdness at face value. There is no disclaimer, no barrier between the pulpy sensibility of the story and the characters involved. The Rick Berman era of Star Trek had a tendency to take itself a little too seriously at times, as if worried that the audience might laugh at this audacious science-fiction franchise. There is something charming in the way that Deep Space Nine writing staff are willing to occasionally do something completely ridiculous and take it at face value.

“Okay, so our pseudo-science is a little spotty.”

If the fourth and fifth seasons of Deep Space Nine found the writers brushing up against the limits of the Star Trek franchise, the sixth season finds the production team pushing past those limits. This is true in a number of ways. In the most obvious manner, Deep Space Nine challenged the underlying assumptions of what a Star Trek show could be; A Time to Stand kicked off a two-year war arc, Inquisition revealed how nasty the Federation could get when push came to shove, In the Pale Moonlight implicated the series lead in political scandal and assassination.

There is a solid argument to be made that Ronald D. Moore’s Battlestar Galactica was even born from the sixth season of Deep Space Nine. Writers David Weddle and Bradley Thompson would go further and argue that those seeds can even be found in One Little Ship, what is nominally a mid-season breather episode surrounded by heavier material like Waltz or Far Beyond the Stars. That is how transgressive the sixth season of Deep Space Nine was, not so much straining against the limits of the franchise as bursting through them.

Chipping away.

However, the sixth season of Deep Space Nine pushes past those limits in another interesting way. There is a sense that the sixth season of Deep Space Nine is looking beyond Star Trek on a purely genre level. Far Beyond the Stars unfolded primarily within a vision of fifties America, reflecting the culture of science-fiction that existed more than a decade before The Man Trap was broadcast. In terms of plotting, One Little Ship harks back to the hokey fifties and sixties sci-fi of The Incredible Shrinking Man and Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman.

In the aftermath of the Second World War, science-fiction seemed to fixate upon the idea of pseudo-science affecting a sense of scale. Seemingly mundane everyday objects (and people) would find their size dramatically affected, usually through some mishap involving atomic power. The giants ants of Them!, the giant spider of Tarantula!, the monstrous bird from The Giant Claw, the oversized insect from The Deadly Mantis. The fifties was preoccupied with size and scale, particularly the anxiety that people might find themselves small in a world of giants.

“Attack of the Fifty Foot Jem’Hadar.”

To be fair, American popular culture was still fascinated with these ideas into the sixties. There is even some overlap between this weird b-movie pseudo-science and the launch of Star Trek. Fantastic Voyage, one of the most influential and iconic “size-changing” science-fiction films ever produced, was released a few weeks after The Man Trap was broadcast. The television series Land of the Giants premiered around the same time as the third season of Star Trek. It was still on the air after Star Trek was quietly retired.

At the same time, it is not unreasonable to suggest that the whole “wacky science causes people to get very small or monsters to get very large” subgenre of science-fiction was rooted in the fifties. It is worth noting that size-changing super-scienties Hank Pym was one of the earliest additions to the emerging Marvel Universe. He premiered in January 1962, as a result of the work of Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, and Jack Kirby; he appeared seven months before Thor, fourteen months before Iron Man, twenty months before the X-Men.

Things are looking up.

As such, these movies tended to reflect the cultural anxieties of a specific time and place. It could be argued, for example, that the fixation on making humans (and men in particular, in the case of Attack of the Fifty Foot Woman) smaller was a way of expressing an unconscious anxiety about the emerging women’s liberation movement based upon a framework established by women fulfilling traditionally masculine roles during the manpower shortage of the forties and which would lead to the high-profile feminism of the sixties.

While these science-fiction stories about size-changing are undoubtedly rooted in folklore tales of giants and fairies, their popularity in fifties America might be seen to reflect contemporary anxieties about the atomic bomb. Repeatedly in these b-movies, mankind is threatened by something that has been blown up to an absurd degree. This could reflect the public’s anxiety over the destructive power demonstrated by the atomic bomb. Despite the fact that atoms are the smallest constituent unit of ordinary matter, splitting them had the power to change the entire world. Small things, big changes.

“We can get out of here, with a little planning.”

In The Horror Genre, Paul Wells suggests that these fifties b-movies represented a shift in American horror and science-fiction, a moment that pivoted away from the old-world aesthetic of Europe in favour of something futuristic and distinctly American:

The Atomic Bomb was viewed not merely an agent of destruction, but also as a beacon to the Universe of an advanced technological society. In essence, if the monsters of the 1930s and 1940s were mythic, European, and of an “old world” order, subject only to isolationist rejection, then the 1950s alien can be construed as future-oriented, unknown, and modern; often accidentally, but necessarily, invited into the agencies of American progress. This horror, although unwelcome, was inevitable, and would have profound consequences.

As such, these size-changing stories tapping into that atomic anxiety represent an important moment in American cultural history. It feels entirely appropriate for Deep Space Nine to engage with these ideas, a trip into a fifties genre directly following a trip to a fifties reality in Far Beyond the Stars.

Plug and play.

(It is interesting to not how carefully One Little Ship hews to these tropes and conventions, even in its smaller plot points. One Little Ship is the rare episode where the crazy science cannot be attributed to some freak outside occurrence – the magnetic dust in The Enemy Within, the ion storm in Mirror, Mirror, the disruption field in Second Chances, even the sabotage in Our Man Bashir. The runabout in One Little Ship is intentionally shrunk, with Worf even making a big deal of how the research would grant them “a substantial tactical advantage over the Dominion.”)

So the problem with One Little Ship is not the ridiculousness of the premise. Indeed, the best moments in One Little Ship embrace that ridiculousness; Kira mocking the idea on the bridge, Dax using the runabout to gently access a keypad, Bashir and O’Brien surrounded by a brightly-glowing isolinear chip “forest.” The idea of three regular characters being shrunk down to about a centimeter tall is goofy enough, so there seems very little point in trying to fight it. One Little Ship should steer into the craziness.

Tall order.

The biggest problem with One Little Ship is that the episode never quite embraces the absurdity of the situation. It never goes full-tilt into the madness. Instead, the episode repeatedly stops short. There are charming conversations and a few striking visuals, but One Little Ship never feels as absurd as an episode like Little Green Men or The Magnificent Ferengi. There is a weird tonal issue with the episode, as if the writing staff are struggling to find the right voice for this particular story.

There are lots of possible reasons for this difficulty. The most obvious is perhaps a general sense of fatigue. The sixth season of Deep Space Nine contains any number of truly classic episodes, but it lacks the consistency that defined the fourth and fifth seasons of the show. More than that, the season lacks a clear sense of momentum or purpose. The fourth season was building towards a return to the Dominion story arc sidetracked by The Way of the Warrior, while the fifth season built towards the declaration of war in Call to Arms. The sixth season does not have a similar build.

Cutting O’Brien down to size.

The sixth season is largely coasting down from something. The sixth season opens huge. Not only does the sixth season feature the first extended on-going war story in the history of the Star Trek franchise, it also opens with the longest single story told on televised Star Trek to that point. There is a credible argument that the opening arc of the sixth season was the most ambitious storytelling that Star Trek had ever attempted to that point. The sixth season operated on a scale that was simply beyond anything the show had previously attempted. And it largely worked.

However, the sixth season flounders after Sacrifice of Angels. Part of that seems to be down to the fact that the production team have no idea what is waiting for them at the end of the season. The sense of build that drove the fourth and fifth seasons has evaporated. The Dominion War is a plot thread that will be left unresolved until the end of the seventh season. The big game-changing event at the end of the sixth season is the death of Jadzia Dax in Tears of the Prophets, but that was never a plot point that the production team had planned in advance.

Isolinear plotting.

As a result, there is a strange lack of direction to the sixth season as a whole. This might account for the variable quality of the season, where fantastic episodes are scattered among underwhelming adventures. Waltz leads to Who Mourns for Morn? leads to Far Beyond the Stars leads to One Little Ship. While the Deep Space Nine writers were always prone to improvise and ad lib, they tended to have some rough idea of where they were going. The sixth season lacks that sense of purpose.

In some respects, it feels like Deep Space Nine has really accomplished a lot of what it set out to do. It has told stories that would have seemed impossible even three or four years earlier. Rick Berman had fought with the creative team over serialisation, but they had successfully introduced it. Ira Steven Behr had met some resistance to the idea of crafting a long-form Star Trek war story, but he got around it. What else was left to accomplish? What taboos were still to be broken? How much further could the writing team push Star Trek?

“Well. It could be worse. We could have been de-aged to become children.”

That tiredness was reflected in the creative decision to tell this sort of story in the first place. There is a strong sense of “why the hell not?” radiating from One Little Ship. As René Echevarria confessed to The Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion, this was a story the franchise had consciously rejected for years:

“It’s a story that I’d wanted to do for years,” René Echevarria states enthusiastically. “In fact, I wrote a version of it as a TNG spec script, way back before I sold the producers my first episode [The Offispring].” Echevarria admits that he never sent that spec script in while he was freelancing, but he never forgot about it. It was only after he’d been brought on staff as The Next Generation’s story editor during that show’s sixth season that he broached the subject. “Jeri Taylor (then TNG’s supervising producer) looked at me like I was out of my mind,” he chuckles. And later on, after he moved to Deep Space Nine, “Ira looked at me like I was out of my mind.”

Echevarria notes proudly that he “worked on them for years. Every now and then I’d say, ‘We can always do the shrinking show!’ And after a while, whenever we got stuck, Ira would say, ‘We could always do that stupid shrinking show.’ And then one day we were really stumped. We didn’t know what were going to do for the next episode. I walked out of the room for ten minutes, and when I came back, Hans [Beimler] said to me, ‘We’re going to do the shrinking show.'”

The “why the hell not?” phase of a show’s production history typically arrives at a point when the writing staff are winding down, when all the big goals have already been accomplished. Think of Chris Carter finally greenlighting Vince Gilligan’s X-Cops pitch during the seventh season of The X-Files.

This image is presented with no comment.

To be fair, there is nothing inherently wrong with the “why the hell not?” approach to breaking an episode. Television production is tough, especially when a writing staff is expected to churn out more than twenty episodes in a season and particularly when the writing staff have largely accomplished what they set out to do. More than that, there can be an endearing and pulpy thrill to these sorts of stories, if told right. While there were a lot of “why the hell not?” stories in the final season of The Next Generation, stories like Masks were at least memorable.

The problem with One Little Ship is that it feels rather limp. There are a number of different reasons for this. The most obvious is the staff writing assignment. One Little Ship is a gloriously weird concept, one that seems to have been the product of the entire writers’ room. René Echevarria had been nursing the idea since before he successfully pitched The Offspring, while Ronald D. Moore would do a late polish on the story. However, the writers tasked with shepherding the idea to screen were David Weddle and Bradley Thompson.

Worf, warrior poet.

Weddle and Thompson are the weakest writers on the Deep Space Nine writing staff by a considerable margin. In their defense, Weddle and Thompson are the least experienced writers in the room, both in terms of writing for Star Trek and in terms of writing for television. Deep Space Nine probably has a stronger team of writers than any other Star Trek series, the contributions of Dorothy Fontana and Gene L. Coon to the original Star Trek notwithstanding. Weddle and Thompson might have been solid mid-tier writers on Voyager.

However, Weddle and Thompson are simply not the writers to carry a story idea like this across the line. One Little Ship needs a stronger sense of tone. If it is intended as a comedy episode, it needs a stronger set of jokes. Rascals is perhaps the most obvious point of comparison here, if only because it is an episode that is also about several members of the larger ensemble being transformed into smaller versions of themselves to fight an enemy that has hijacked the ship. Rascals is not a classic, but One Little Ship does not have a single joke as good as “my number one dad.”

“We’re in this episode, too.”

The episode’s charm comes primarily from the cast. Colm Meaney and Alexander Siddig have always played well off one another, and One Little Ship leans effectively into that dynamic. O’Brien is delightfully grumpy about this whole ordeal, the experience evoking enough traumatic memories of earlier encounters with strange interstellar phenomenon that he is not mad about being shrunk down to centimeter tall. As the chief medical officer, Bashir is largely useless, which means that he spends most of the trip needling his companions and complaining. Grumpy O’Brien and aloof Bashir is a good dynamic.

There is also a sense that Weddle and Thompson are not entirely sure how best to pitch One Little Ship. When the runabout is shrunk down, the Defiant is hijacked by a bunch of Jem’Hadar soldiers. These Jem’Hadar then attempt to force Sisko and the crew to reactivate the warp engines so that the crew can be taken to a prisoner of war camp. Meanwhile, Sisko decides that if he cannot outwit these enemy combatants, he will blow up the ship and kill his own officers. In theory, this should be a pretty heavy plotline, but then there’s also a tiny runabout.

“How is Captain Sisko going to get out of this one?”

There is something rather jarring in the tone of the episode. There is a great episode to be written about a bunch of Jem’Hadar hijacking the Defiant and forcing the crew to work for them. There is also a fun episode to be written about a group of regular characters who find themselves rendered tiny. However, given the differing tones of the two episodes, and the massive difference in stakes, the two concepts do not gel easily. Deep Space Nine has always treated the Jem’Hadar with a great deal of respect and credibility. So they don’t work as bad guys in a comedy episode.

This dissonance is apparent in a number of different ways, but it is most striking at the climax of the episode. When the crew make their desperate ploy to retake the ship, the two tones come into conflict. The runabout zips around the engine room, firing phasers and torpedoes at the Jem’Hadar like a surprisingly lethal insect. While this is happening, Worf seizes the initiative and snaps the neck of Kudak’Etan. It is a very quick and brutal end for the character, who had been presented as a credible threat. It is a visceral moment, at odds with the goofiness around it.

He’s got a whole lot of heart.
Oh, wait. Sorry. A hole in his heart.

Indeed, Ixtana’Rax ends up lying against the warp core with a hole burnt through his chest. He is clearly dying. Sisko leans over him, and there is a moment of respect for the fallen foe. “He should’ve listened to you and killed me when he had the chance,” Sisko admits of the deceased Kudak’Etan. Ixtana’Rax disagrees. “He was a First,” Ixtana’Rax insists. “They don’t need to listen. Obedience brings victory… and victory is…” Ixtana’Rax dies before he can complete the cliché, underscoring the tragedy of the Jem’Hadar.

It should be a very powerful moment. After all, the posing of Ixtana’Rax evokes the death the Founder in The Adversary, a scene with a lot of emotional power and with far-reaching implications for the rest of the show. It underscores the sense of the Jem’Hadar as soldiers who sacrifice themselves for uncaring gods, who devoted themselves to concepts and ideas that meant very little in the grand scheme of things. Ixtana’Rax is a good soldier who dies a meaningless death, like Remata’Klan in Rocks and Shoals.

“I… have a cunning plan.”

So trying to shoehorn all of that into an episode about a tiny shrunken runabout feels like a mistake. More than that, the script seems to toy with the idea of making the Jem’hadar comedic foils by suggesting a divide between the Jem’Hadar who reach maturity in the Alpha Quadrant and those who came through the wormhole from the Gamma Quadrant in the gap between In Purgatory’s Shadow and Call to Arms. This is a storytelling choice that is brought up in One Little Ship, and then quickly forgotten.

The idea of a class or cultural divide between the Jem’Hadar is interesting, subverting the idea of Star Trek cultures as monolithic entities. Sadly, the execution leaves a lot to be desired. Part of this is just down to terrible writing from Weddle and Thompson. The exposition in One Little Ship about the Alpha Quadrant Jem’Hadar and the Gamma Quadrant Jem’Hadar is just painful, as if the episode is perfectly willing to accept three lead characters shrunk to a centimeter in height, but the idea of two separate groups of Jem’Hadar needs to be restated again and again.


“I must admit, I was initially quite skeptical about you and the other new Jem’Hadar bred in this quadrant, but this is a most impressive debut,” Gelnon states after they capture the Defiant. He then needles, Ixtana’rax, “Do I detect a note of jealousy in your voice? I’m sure it must be difficult for you to watch a new race of Jem’Hadar beginning to supplant you and the other members of the old guard.” What an odd thing for a person to say, even a Vorta getting a thrill out of needling the Jem’Hadar.

“The Jem’Hadar bred here in the Alpha Quadrant have not proven themselves superior to those from the Gamma Quadrant,” Ixtana’rax states, which is just a clunky piece of phrasing that is completely unnecessary. Ixtana’rax repeats this exposition to Sisko, “He is an Alpha, I am a Gamma. His DNA and psychological profile are specifically designed for combat in this quadrant. The Founders believe that makes him a better leader.” There is even an extended conversation between Kudak’Etan and Lamat’Ukan in the corridor that reiterates the point again.

“You misunderstand how the captor-prisoner relationship works. I will tell you about the cracks in our organisation so that you can exploit them. And you will listen.”

The idea of Alpha and Gamma Quadrant Jem’Hadar is a nice piece of world-building, but the use of the plot point in One Little Ship cannot support the weight placed on it. The story would work just as well without the cultural divide, if Kudak’Etan were simply an inexperienced commanding officer without this weird two-quadrant rivalry. In order for One Little Ship to justify all this clunky exposition, something needs to happen. There needs to be a pay-off to this scheming and sniping beyond Kudak’Etan making the stupid mistake of trusting Sisko.

This exposition leads to some of the other issues with the episode. Most notably, One Little Ship invests so much time and energy into the divide between Alpha and Gamma Quadrant Jem’Hadar that it takes twenty minutes for the runabout crew to actually get inside the ship. This is largely the basic appeal of the episode, watching the tiny runabout flying around inside the regular-sized Defiant. It should not take twenty minutes to reach that point. It is a minor frustration, but it gets at the disappointment of the episode.

“Ahem. If you’ll excuse me. We have a wacky sci-fi plot to get back to.”

(There are lots of minor frustrations. When Dax beams O’Brien and Bashir into the isolinear chip jungle, the episode makes a big deal of their limited oxygen supply. However, the episode never quite explains why Dax cannot beam more oxygen into the air-tight compartment, even by beaming out some of the carbon dioxide to make room. In storytelling terms, that restriction is necessary to build tension. However, it never feels earned in the larger context of the episode around it.)

It does not help matters that the episode chooses to pitch the Jem’Hadar as squabbling bureaucrats. Deep Space Nine worked very hard to make the Jem’Hadar a credible threat in stories like The Abandoned and Hippocratic Oath and To the Death. Instead, One Little Ship plays them as petty mid-level staffers in the Dominion, making passive-aggressive swipes at one another and getting really upset when a new manager moves into the office. It is not a flattering look for the Jem’Hadar. It would certainly work better with the Ferengi or the Cardassians.

Nothing rounds out a comedy episode like mass slaughter of the guest cast.

“It must be gratifying for an Elder to end his career with a victory,” Kudak’Etan passive-aggressively swipes early in the episode. “I feel privileged to be here with you at such a moment.” His defining characteristic is immediately established as “jerk.” When Ixtana’ran points out that he is being premature, he falls back on schoolyard logic. “I am First. And I have declared victory.” Ixtana’ran responds like a wry sidekick in a British sitcom. “It is, of course, your prerogative.” He seems like he could be played by Rowan Atkinson.

This approach to the Jem’Hadar might work if it were a plot thread designed to pay off down the line, if the weird little detail about the Alpha and Gamma Quadrant Jem’Hadar was something that might play a role in ending the Dominion War. Sure, it is a weirdly comedic element, but the Dominion were famously seeded in Rules of Acquisition and Damar made his first appearance as little more than a named extra in Return to Grace. However, the plot point was quickly dropped and never even raised again.

“Don’t worry. I’m sure the writers are going somewhere with this.”

To be fair, the production team acknowledged that it was something of a narrative dead end. Ronald D. Moore admitted:

We dropped the ball on this one. It sounded like a cool idea at the time and we kept telling each other that we’d follow up eventually, but it just kinda got away from us.

The Deep Space Nine writers’ room had always been good at improvising long-form plotting, so it makes sense that not every piece would fit together.

We’ll take care of those Jem’Hadar in short order.

Indeed, there are quite a few narrative dead-ends over the seven-season run of Deep Space Nine. The character of George Primmin disappeared into the ether after appearances in The Passenger and Move Along Home. The station never had much luck with the Romulans either. Subcommander T’Rul was established at the Romulan emissary in The Search, Part I and The Search, Part II, never to appear again. Senator Cretak was introduced to fill a similar role in Image in the Sand and Shadows and Symbols, only appearing again in Inter Arma Enim Silent Leges.

To be fair, there is something to be said for world-building as its own end, in adding character and definition to a shared universe for its own sake. After all, the Star Trek universe is incredibly vast, and there is a lot to be said about adding shading and nuance to that universe without having a clear purpose in mind. After all, Klingon culture seemed to develop almost ad hoc, and it became one of the franchise’s great long-form arcs. However, the addition of the Alpha and Gamma Quadrant Jem’Hadar is striking so late in the game.

“We need a Beta plotline.”

It is perhaps an example of how Deep Space Nine is closer to the end to the beginning and that the production team are having difficulty charting a course for the sixth season. With only thirty-odd episodes of Deep Space Nine left, it would seem that the production team should be aiming to streamline the show’s narrative, rather than adding more detail to it. Unlike the elimination of the Maquis in Blaze of Glory or the introduction of the non-aggression pact in In the Cards, this addition to the mythos feels less like a step in a clear direction than a detail for the sake of it.

Interestingly, One Little Ship also reflected the sense of Deep Space Nine straining against its limitations in other ways as well. It seems rather strange that a throw-away episode about a miniaturised ship should become such a focal point, but it serves to illustrate the tensions playing out across the sixth season of Deep Space Nine as a whole. Had the series pushed as far as it could? Had the production team set out to accomplish all that they wanted? Would the writers brush up against some rules and expectations that could not be broken.

Engineering an escape plan.

One Little Ship became the most unlikely focal point in the evolution of Ronald D. Moore as a writer, providing a clear evolutionary bridge between Deep Space Nine and his reimagining of Battlestar Galactica. Apparently, the tonal shifts in the episode would have been much more pronounced if Moore had his way. In The Fifty-Year Mission, Bradley Thompson recalled:

Ron was rewriting a scene for One Little Ship. We had written this scene, which was pretty much stock television. The Jem’Hadar take over the Defiant and they say, ‘Okay, you’re going to do X, Y, and Z. You’re gonna get these engines up, or we’re going to do something really, really bad. And if you don’t do it we’re going to shoot this young ensign.’ And then the stock version that we gave to Ron was, the captain says, ‘Don’t worry, Ensign. Everything’s going to be fine.’ And Ron took a pass and kept the same line, ‘Don’t worry. Everything will be all right.’ And the Jem’Hadar blows her head off. And he says, ‘No, it won’t.’ The studio just totally freaked out when they saw that.

Ron came back after the negotiations happened about whether we can blow her brains out or not and says, ‘Okay, I’ve good news and bad news. Good news for her is that she doesn’t get her brains blown out. The bad news is that she never gets to exist at all.’

To be fair, it is easy to understand why the studio would have objected to the scene. The franchise had done hostage execution scenes before, most notably in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. However, it would have been a rather jarring and brutal scene to slot into an episode about the incredible shrinking O’Brien. It certainly would have seemed out of place with the playful banter in the closing scene, after everybody gets home.

Duct and cover.

It is interesting to wonder whether the studio objected to the scene in particular, or in the context of a playful episode that felt like a homage to fifties sci-fi. After all, Deep Space Nine would do its fair share of brutal war stories. … Nor the Battle to the Strong had one lead character leave another to die in the middle of a war zone. The Ship had a supporting character slowly die during an extended siege. Although there would be a lot of horse-trading involved, Nog would even lose a leg in The Siege of AR-558.

However, the debate does underscore the idea that there were still some boundaries imposed on Deep Space Nine, largely by virtue of it being Star Trek. The production team could not do whatever they wanted to do. The series had not evolved so completely into a series about space warfare that the writers could slot a harrowing execution scene into what was otherwise presented as a goofy and light adventure script. Deep Space Nine had very much shifted the boundaries of what it meant to be Star Trek, and even broken through some of them. But there were still rules.

Shrinking from his responsibility.

Indeed, David Weddle points to that hypothetical scene and the argument around it as a vitally important moment in the evolution of Ronald D. Moore as a writer and as a formative moment in the gestation of what would become Battlestar Galactica:

Brad and I always remembered that scene, and mourned its loss. It illustrated Ron’s boldness as a writer, and the moribund aesthetics of science fiction that very nearly strangled the genre in the 1990s.  When he finally made Battlestar, Ron rebelled against such restrictions and reinvented and revitalized the genre.

This is arguably one of the the strongest recurring themes of the sixth season of Deep Space Nine is this sense that Battlestar Galactica is bubbling away in the background, ready to burst forth from some of the season’s strongest ideas and cast off the last of the restrictions imposed by the Star Trek brand.

Bridging genres.

After all, the opening arc of the sixth season seemed to lay out a template for the “New Caprica” arc of Battlestar Galactica. The ethical wrangling of episodes like Inquisition and In the Pale Moonlight laid out a template that Battlestar Galactica would play with in stories like A Measure of Salvation. Even the renewed emphasis on divine intervention in the narrative arc of the characters as signalled by Sacrifice of Angels, The Reckoning and Tears of the Prophets teases the religious themes that Battlestar Galactica would embrace.

One Little Ship is perhaps notable as the counter-example. It demonstrates many of the things that distinguished Deep Space Nine from Battlestar Galactica, defining the boundaries that Battlestar Galactica would then transgress. The execution scene is one such example, the kind of brutal sequence that Moore would not hesitate to include in Battlestar Galactica. After all, Battlestar Galactica featured more than its fair share of brutal executions, from the state-sanctioned retribution in Collaborators to the hostage tension in Revelations.

Shades of grey.

Even beyond that, One Little Ship could be seen to typify the sort of storytelling that Moore would eschew on Battlestar Galactica. Moore would largely steer Battlestar Galactica away from its weird science concepts, beyond the Cylons themselves. It is impossible to imagine an episode of Battlestar Galactica built around “a rare subspace compression phenomenon” that causes ships to shrink. Battlestar Galactica was a much grittier show. When humour and goofiness did occur, it was rooted in the characters; Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down comes to mind.

There is a tendency to think of the decision to eschew this weird pseudo-science as a strength of Battlestar Galactica. After all, that was probably a large part of how Battlestar Galactica secured its cache as prestige television, despite featuring armies of killer robots. Indeed, One Little Ship hardly makes the most compelling argument for these goofy sci-fi high concepts. However, it also serves to demonstrate that Battlestar Galactica arguably traded one set of boundaries and restrictions for another.

Anomalous episode.

The biggest difference is that Moore got to choose those boundaries when he began working on Battlestar Galactica, while Behr inherited a lot of the restrictions imposed on Deep Space Nine. As with a lot of the sixth season around it, One Little Ship suggests a series that has in many ways grown past the limitations set upon it. The only real question is where it can possibly go next.

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

17 Responses

  1. I don’t know I find this episode light years ahead of Rascals. Rascals has that really bizarre and somewhat disturbing scene where child Keiko tries to have dinner with O’Brien, and continue their marriage as normal. There is nothing as weird as that in this episode, which yes I know sounds ridiculous when the episode deals with a ship shrinking to be really tiny. I also enjoy the subtle touches in this episode like Nog seemingly taking the most umbrage at Kira laughing about smallness. I agree the Jem’Hadar subplot is distracting and a bit tonally odd, but on the whole I think this episode works well enough as a bit of filler, even if there really should not be filler what with a war going on.

    • Interesting. I have a soft spot for Rascals, if only for the “number one dad” joke. And I don’t mind the Keiko scene, because I thought it captured the weirdness of what happens when you try to apply a ridiculous sci-fi concept to a more mundane interpersonal drama. (It kind reminds me of the deconstruction that Alan Moore did with superheroes, although obviously Rascals doesn’t carry it off anywhere near as well or as thoughtfully. But I kinda liked the “if you live in a universe that operates by these rules, eventually you’ll have to deal with something like this…” aspect of it.)

      • You say Darren that the primary cast of Rascals are reduced to children, but it’s only Picard. Keiko, Guinan and Ro are supporting characters. Wouldn’t The Terratin Incident have been a better example than The Infinite Vulcan? You said “television production is touch”, I think you meant tough.

      • Thanks David! Corrected!

  2. “Tough Little Ship”.

    That line was spoken by two different versions of Riker when describing the Defiant, and I think that should have been the title of this episode, because it’s a fabulous double-edged sword. But I digress…on with the review.

    Unlike VGR, DS9 gets increasingly ambitious with its storytelling. Where VGR is disappointingly content to play it safe far too often, that is something I will never accept of DS9, particularly in its final two years. It didn’t always work as intended (I’m looking at you Profit and Lace), but when it did, it turned out some of the most magnificent storytelling in the entire Trek franchise, like the epic six-episode arc beginning with A Time to Stand and ending with Sacrifice of Angels, to the recent likes of Waltz and the peerless Far Beyond the Stars.

    It’s ironic then to see the 50s SF of the previous episode feed into this one. The plot of One Little Ship even sounds like something Benny Russell might have dreamt up on his typewriter – while the Defiant is commandeered by the Jem’Hadar, a Runabout crew made up of Dax, Bashir and O’Brien investigate an anomaly that miniaturises them, and they go on a micro-sized adventure to get back control of their vessel.

    It’s difficult to conceive of DS9 trying a story like this on for size a year ago. The show’s ambitions are in a very different place now from where it first started, where it was often called TNG-lite back in the early days. But even TNG would never have attempted something like One Little Ship. It’s like the writers reconceived Fantastic Voyage as a Trek episode (in both cases, a beautiful woman is along for the ride).

    It’s a fascinating prospect that opens itself up to a whole world of possibilities that you wonder how a TV show could possibly do it justice (I expect to see it as an upcoming episode of The Orville). And that’s part of the problem with One Little Ship – it has the grand ambitions of much of this season’s best work, but unlike Far Beyond the Stars or In the Pale Moonlight, it only delivers middling results.

    Dodgy science aside, Fantastic Voyage and The Incredible Shrinking Man were classics. The former took the audience on a wondrous journey of discovery, as we got to explore a microscopic world we will never get to see, while the latter found a human heart inside of a similar, SF premise. And while there are some entertaining scenes from the Runabout crew’s tiny perspective, none of them hold a candle to anything the crew of the Proteus go through, or what Scott Carey endures.

    O’Brien and Bashir trying to make they’re way through an “optronic forest” or the Runabout crew trying to avoid being fried in one of the Defiant’s warp nacelles has some novelty value, but One Little Ship lacks what it would have took to turn the episode into a classic – sincerity. None of them seem particularly awestruck at what should have been the adventure of a lifetime.

    So that just leaves us with the Dominion invasion of the Defiant spearheaded by two genetically bred versions of the Jem’Hadar, where the new strain (Alphas) believe themselves superior to the old ones (Gammas). Dissention among the Jem’Hadar ranks is not something we’ve seen much of up until now, and One Little Ship is unique for the way it sets up this particular dichotomy…only to do absolutely nothing with it.

    Ixtana’Rax was the Jem’Hadar First until the creation of Kudak’Etan, the first of a new breed of Jem’Hadar soldier specifically bred to fight in the Alpha Quadrant. And it sets up a rare conflict between the two -Kudak’Etan’s youth versus Ixtana’Rax’s experience. But despite the writer’s intent to pour a little vinegar into the unquestioning ranks of the Jem’Hadar, the execution falls short of the idea (much like the episode itself).

    This conflict only serves to make Kudak’Etan into the idiot of the piece. He fails to heed Ixtana’Rax’s sound advice because he believes he’s superior to the old guard, only by virtue of being a so-called new and improved Jem’Hadar, and in the end this arrogant self-confidence is what brings about his downfall. It was probably wise that the Alphas and the Gammas idea was done away with, because I can imagine many future episodes with these similar drawbacks. At least the writers didn’t hold onto the idea the way they did with the Kazon being the principal antagonists of VGR’s first two seasons.

    One Little Ship shares the ambitions of S6, but it fails to take them and turn them into a classic episode of DS9. Its not a failure on the order of a Profit and Lace, but the episode fails because it’s reach never surpasses its grasp.

    • I don’t know that it never could have tried something like this before. It evokes episodes like Move Along Home, which I’ll admit that I’m fonder of than most. But, yeah, the execution is a large part of what lets One Little Ship down.

      • One Little Ship would have worked better as a VGR episode (Seven would have been the beautiful woman along for that ride) where I can easily imagine a similar phenomenon happening to the crew of the Delta Flyer (like when they investigated an undersea world in Thirty Days). What with VGR’s love of B-movie themes, and had it been afforded the same treatment of Bride of Chaotica, One Little Ship could have emerged a genuine classic (I even have the perfect title, Fantastic Voyagers).

      • That’s probably fair. Rare to say of a Deep Space Nine episode, though. 🙂

      • High-concept storytelling seldom works on DS9. The first season was littered with a number of these failed experiments (although I think Dramatis Personae is one greatly underrated exception).

      • Dramatis Personae is fantastic.

      • I know people often point towards Duet, Progress or In the Hands of the Prophets as contenders for best episode of DS9’s first season, but for me it’s Dramatis Personae. I know that may be a controversial choice but I just think it’s the highlight of that troubled first season and gives the entire cast of characters plenty of interesting, fun material to work with. An episode well overdue reappraisal.

      • Very much so. And one that existed to showcase the range and strength of the cast.

  3. I see the problems with this episode (especially after your review) but I never put that much though into it. I always liked it a lot – it has a very adventure-like quality to it, and the whole set-up is just funny. It always reminded me of playing around with those little MicroMachine-starship replicas/miniatures in my room – finally there was some explanation.

    I still like to watch this episode for its atmosphere and light-heartedness – even though it tends to reduce the Jem’Hadar to figures like the Nazis in “Indiana Jones”

    • I used to have those Micromachines too, but I could enver get any DS9 models except for the runabout, the station and the Galor-class cruiser.

      • I would offer to exchange models, but I got the Defiant etc. only once – they were in some kind of mega-package, which I found reduced in a supermarket 20 years ago. The package with runabout, station and Cardi-warship were available by the dozens.. Oh, those were good times, when plastic was still used for interesting stuff 😉

      • Ha! I might just go browsing on eBay now!

  4. The same basic outline of this episode as TNG’s Rascals: The ship gets commandeered by enemies only to be saved by the “shrunken” crew members.

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