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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Rocks and Shoals (Review)

The opening arc of the sixth season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is one of the most ambitious storytelling experiments in the history of Star Trek.

To be fair, it is not entirely unique. In some ways, it mirrors the storytelling arc that unfolded across Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Both Kirk and Sisko are separated from their home and from their first officer and from their iconic command, before eventually finding their way to reunite with both. Obviously, a three-film trilogy is distinct from a six-episode arc, even before talking about the tonal, thematic and plotting differences between those three iconic films.

The Jem'Hadar warship that fell to Earth...

The Jem’Hadar warship that fell to Earth…

More than that, the success of the this arc would embolden the production team. They would attempt an even more audacious experiment to close out the seventh season of the series. The sixth season opened with six interconnected stories following the Cardassian reoccupation Terok Nor, building to Sisko’s retaking of the station. The seventh season pushes that even further, with a much more tightly integrated ten-episode arc that attempts to tell a single cohesive story. It is an even bolder creative decision than this arc, committing more strongly to the premise.

Ronald D. Moore’s departure from Star Trek: Voyager early in its sixth season would turn these experiments in serialisation into an evolutionary dead end for the franchise. It would be four years before Rick Berman and Brannon Braga would attempt to a tell a story on that scale. Indeed, faced with declining ratings and the spectre of cancellation, Star Trek: Enterprise attempted what was (on the surface at least) the even more ambitious attempt at a season-long arc across the entirety of the third season.

Winner takes it war...

Between a rock and a hard place.

Still, the six-episode arc that opens the sixth season of Deep Space Nine remains an impressive moment in the history of the franchise. Indeed, contrasted with the sprawling ten-episode arc that closes the series or the season-long arc on Enterprise, it could reasonably be argued that this six-episode stretch does a stronger job of balancing the integrity of individual episodes with the demands of the larger arc. These six episodes are all very strongly connected to one another, with a clear sense of story and character progression, but they also retain their own identities within that.

Rocks and Shoals might be the best example of this, an episode that delicately balances its own storytelling with the needs of the arc as a whole. Rocks and Shoals is at once a great episode in its own right and an essential part of a much larger story.

Express elevator to hell.

Express elevator to hell.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – A Time to Stand (Review)

And so Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has changed once again.

A Time to Stand represents a new beginning for Deep Space Nine, kicking off an ambitious six-episode arc that effectively sets up both the status quo and the tone for the final two years of the series. To be fair, this version of the show is very clearly the model to which the fourth and fifth seasons had been building. It is not quite a second (or third, or fourth) pilot in the style of The Search, Part I and The Search, Part II or The Way of the Warrior, but it is very clear that Deep Space Nine is entering a new stage of its evolution at the start of its penultimate sequence.

Touching reunion.

Touching reunion.

More than that, this opening six-episode arc very clearly serves to set up and establish themes and ideas that will play out across the series’ remaining episodes; Kira suggests she will support Odo’s decision to return home in Behind the Lines, Damar’s alcoholism and the shame it hides is introduced in Behind the Lines, Sisko talks about the house that he plans to build on Bajor in Favour the Bold, the Prophets promise that a price will be exacted from Sisko in Sacrifice of Angels.

Although the formal declaration of war came at the end of Call to Arms, the sixth season premiere truly ushers in the era of the Dominion War.

New frontier.

New frontier.

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Trials and Tribble-ations (Review)

Trials and Tribble-ations is a love letter to the franchise.

The thirtieth anniversary of Star Trek was a big deal. In many ways, the thirtieth anniversary celebration marks the end of the franchise’s cultural peak. Star Trek: The Next Generation is still fresh enough in the cultural consciousness that the anniversary is a big deal, even if the ratings on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager are not necessarily what everybody would want them to be. The decline that would last through to the end of Star Trek: Enterprise only really comes into play in the wake of the big anniversary.

You know when you've been Gumped.

You know when you’ve been Gumped.

The thirtieth anniversary of the franchise was an embarrassment of riches, particularly from the perspective of a rather limp fiftieth celebration. Even the disappointment of Flashback was dwarfed by the abundance of affectionate homages and triumphant celebrations of a television series that had gone from a cult failure repeating endlessly in syndication to a pop cultural juggernaut with two television series and a successful film franchise running simultaneously. Trials and Tribble-ations was very much the cornerstone of all this.

Sure, there were other celebrations to mark the franchise’s big three-oh. While Flashback might of been a bit of a disappointment as a big anniversary special, Future’s End, Part I and Future’s End, Part II were a loving ode to Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Indeed, Star Trek: First Contact went even further and threw Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan into the mix, blending the franchise’s most acclaimed and most financially successful films together for the occasion. Captain Janeway even crossed paths with the cast of Frasier to mark the occasion.

Quite the lineup.

Quite the lineup.

In spite of all of that, Trials and Tribble-ations stands quite apart from all the noise around it. There is a legitimate debate to be had about whether it is unequivocally the best of these productions, although it stands a very strong chance of winning that particular argument. However, there is no denying that it is the best celebration of the thirtieth anniversary. It is an adoring and affectionate love letter to the Star Trek franchise, one that seems to have been produced with giddy grin on its face and a skip in its step.

However, Trials and Tribble-ations works even beyond that. It is not simply a loving tribute to a monument of American popular culture, although that would be entirely justified. It is an acknowledgement to the decades of fandom that kept Star Trek alive during its occasional adventures in the wilderness.  Trials and Tribble-ations does not just praise Star Trek for surviving thirty years despite being cancelled after three seasons, but which captures the enthusiasm that sustained the series across those thirty years.

Doesn't scan.

Doesn’t scan.

It would be easy for a thirtieth anniversary special to treat the occasion as an act of cultural archeology, the careful and ritual unearthing of a popular artifact with all due reverence paid. Indeed, this was arguably the central problem with Flashback, an episode more interested in Star Trek as a memory and as a subject of nostalgia than a living breathing organism. Trials and Tribble-ations instead opts to treat Star Trek as a living and breathing organism, something tangible and material rather than abstract and ethereal.

Indeed, the episode ends with the revelation that the past is not another country. Sometimes you can bring something back. Even if that thing is a tribble.

You can go home again...

You can go home again…

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Little Green Men (Review)

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

Little Green Men might just be the best Ferengi episode from the seven-year run of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

It helps that the episode is very clearly a passion project for writers Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe. More than any other Star Trek show, Deep Space Nine had a deep and abiding affection for classic cinema. Michael Piller might have tried to steer the first two seasons of Star Trek: Voyager back to classic western storytelling tropes, while Rick Berman and Brannon Braga might have promised that Star Trek: Enterprise would be a “back to basics” reimagining of the show, but Deep Space Nine was a show that adored old-school Hollywood.

Quark's Family Vacation...

Quark’s Family Vacation…

This was reflected in a number of ways. In Past Tense, Part II, B.C. planned to escape to Tasmania because Errol Flynn was born there. There was also the fact that Ira Steven Behr could never resist the lure of a good homage to classic cinema – even when it was not the best of ideas. Meridian was written as an attempt to adapt Brigadoon to the Star Trek universe; Fascination was based on the 1935 adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s DreamRules of Acquisition was basically YentlProfit and Loss was Casablanca.

It seemed almost inevitable that at some stage the cast and crew of Deep Space Nine would find themselves colliding with classic Hollywood.

"Well, it's not a saucer..."

“Well, it’s not a saucer…”

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Way of the Warrior (Review)

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

The third season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was really just a dress rehearsal for what lay ahead.

The third season had been a tumultuous time for the show, with Michael Piller departing the franchise to pursue opportunities outside Star Trek. It was the year directly after the end of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and all attention was focused on the pending release of Star Trek: Generations and the launch of Star Trek: Voyager. On top of that, the third season suffered from a great deal of confusion and disorganisation throughout the year, making it very hard for the production team to set an end goal for themselves.

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

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

In fact, the third season of Deep Space Nine was such a mess that the production team had not even managed to hit the end of season cliffhanger that they wanted. The Adversary had been drafted at the last possible minute when the studio vetoed the idea of ending the year with a Vulcan withdrawal from the Federation. This is not to discount the long list of impressive episodes produced during the season, but it does illustrate that the third season of Deep Space Nine had not progressed according to plan.

At the same time, it was a vital learning experience for the show. It provided a clear framework for what followed, providing producer Ira Steven Behr with a foundation from which he would build the rest of the run. The work put in during the third season would pay dividends in the fourth and fifth seasons, as the show began to play with and pay off ideas that had been carefully and meticulously established during that most chaotic of seasons. In fact, the show begins paying off those dividends with The Way of the Warrior, the first episode of the fourth season.

Klingons woz 'ere...

Klingons woz ‘ere…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Acquisition (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This January, we’re doing the first season. Check back daily for the latest review.

Acquisition feels like a misstep for the first season of Star Trek: Enterprise.

It’s not the worst episode of the season. In fact, it falls rather comfortably into the show’s “big middle” – the random and generic episodes that take Star Trek clichés and execute them in a competent manner while overlooking the opportunity to do something a bit more novel and exciting. Acquisition ranks with failures like Civilisation or Sleeping Dogs or Rogue Planet. It is competently executed and contains a few moments of merit, but there’s a feeling that this has all been seen before.

"Take us to your leader."

“Take us to your leader.”

Of course, Acquisition serves to foreground a number of pressing concerns about the production of Enterprise. It’s something of a lightening rod to certain aggressive elements of fandom. Bringing back the Ferengi for a guest appearance proves that the show is more of a prequel to Star Trek: The Next Generation than to the original Star Trek. Glossing over continuity issues by refusing to name these marauding aliens demonstrates that the show clearly doesn’t care about continuity at all. Trying to do a comedy episode featuring the Ferengi demonstrates the producers have no idea what does and doesn’t work in Star Trek production.

All of this is, of course, nonsense. Acquisition isn’t a bad episode because it plays with continuity, or because it features the Ferengi. It’s a bad episode because it’s a comedy adventure that isn’t particularly funny or exciting.

"Hey, at least we got here before the Borg..."

“Hey, at least we got here before the Borg…”

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Season 3 (Review)

This September and October, we’re taking a look at the jam-packed 1994 to 1995 season of Star Trek, including Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Star Trek: Voyager. Check back daily for the latest review.

The third season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was a turning point for many reasons. The most obvious was that Star Trek: The Next Generation had gone off the air, meaning the first half of the third season was broadcast during a window where Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was the only Star Trek show on the air. The show was no longer the goofy kid brother to a much beloved mainstream television show. It was out in the syndication market place by itself.

More than that, though, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was no longer the child of the franchise. With Star Trek: Voyager on the way, launched as the flagship of UPN, Deep Space Nine was left to its own devices for the first time since it was created. Voyager was the high-profile standard-bearer for the franchise, serving as the cornerstone of a new network. In contrast, Deep Space Nine chugged along in syndication, with the powers that be working overtime to bring Voyager to screen.

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In some respects, this was a tough time for Deep Space Nine. It was no longer the newest and freshest Star Trek. It was no longer the bright promising future of the Star Trek franchise. The novelty of having a second Star Trek show on the air had worn off. (Indeed, the decision to treat Voyager as the eighth season of The Next Generation was largely a response to how Deep Space Nine was not filling the niche.)

At the same time, the fact that Michael Piller and Rick Berman were focused on other projects meant that Deep Space Nine really came into its own during the third season. Ira Steven Behr had helped run the writers’ room towards the end of the third season of The Next Generation, and was the logical choice to take the reigns on Deep Space Nine. His influence on the show had been obvious since the beginning, becoming more pronounced after The Maquis.

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However, the third season saw Behr becoming the driving creative force on Deep Space Nine, a changing of the creative guard. Ronald D. Moore and Rene Echevarria joined the show from the staff of The Next Generation. Given all this drama behind the scenes, the third season was as chaotic as you might expect. There were all manner of production problems that haunted the third season, with a sense that Deep Space Nine was being produced by the seat of the producers’ pants.

Episodes tended to get shifted around in production order. Various scripts ended up produced under time constraints so tight that there was no opportunity to properly polish them before putting them in front of the camera. There were rumours that Colm Meaney might have been considering leaving;. Episodes had to be extended into two-parters at the last minute. The show had great ideas, but difficulty realising them. The season as a whole was rather oddly paced, plotted haphazardly. And yet, despite all this, the chaos felt necessary.

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