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Deep Space Nine at 25 – The Most Humanist of (Star) Treks

On Earth, there is no poverty, no crime, no war. You look out the window of Starfleet Headquarters and you see paradise. Well, it’s easy to be a saint in paradise. but the Maquis do not live in paradise. Out there in the Demilitarized Zone, all the problems haven’t been solved yet. Out there, there are no saints — just people.

– Benjamin Sisko, The Maquis, Part II

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is contentious.

Writer Ronald D. Moore has talked about the franchise as the bastard stepchild of the Star Trek franchise. Star Trek: The Next Generation actor Marina Sirtis has described it as little more than a hotel in space and not worthy of the franchise name. While the show was still on the air, Majel Barrett Roddenberry took the time to write a public letter denounced the show and its perceived connection to her husband’s legacy. This argument rages on-line even today, as fans argue about the series’ legacy and its place in the broader canon.

The charges against Deep Space Nine are clear. It is generally regarded as the most cynical of Star Trek spin-off shows, the series most likely to question and interrogate the underlying assumptions of the Star Trek universe. Deep Space Nine was the series that introduced and developed the Maquis, terrorists who splintered off from Starfleet. Deep Space Nine introduced the concept of Section 31, and the idea that Starfleet might be dangerous if left to its own devices. Deep Space Nine devoted its final two seasons to a war arc, a rejection of Roddenberry’s utopia.

However, these arguments are all based upon awkward presuppositions that reveal a lot about the assumptions of Star Trek fandom, and which tend to miss the forest for the trees. Deep Space Nine is a deeply humanist and optimistic piece of television, one has a great deal of faith in its cast and in people. As wary as Deep Space Nine might be about institutions and authority, Deep Space Nine fundamentally believes that people are good and that it is possible to peacefully coexist. The show simply acknowledges that this takes work, but believes it can happen.

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Star Trek – By Any Other Name (Review)

The first Star Trek pilot, The Cage, was produced in 1964. To celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, this December we are reviewing the second season of the original Star Trek show. You can check out our first season reviews here. Check back daily for the latest review.

By Any Other Name is very much a stock episode of Star Trek. It hits on all manner of familiar themes and ideas. It’s a story about powerful aliens who seem to overpower the crew, only to be outmanoeuvred themselves. It is about the Enterprise literally going where no human has gone before. It is about how humans are undeniably and incomparably special – about how becoming human opens up the aliens to a world of sense and experience.

However, By Any Other Name never really has anything particularly insightful to say about any of this stuff. The script to the episode is a mess, despite the best efforts of D.C. Fontana to develop the character beats. For a show based around such core Star Trek concepts and storytelling devices, By Any Other Name is surprisingly all over the place, with a wildly dissonant tone and a sense that the script was desperately padded in order to extend it out to the requisite fifty minutes.

"No dice, Captain..."

“No dice, Captain…”

By Any Other Name is not a terrible episode of Star Trek, but it’s not a particularly good one either. It is just “there.” In many ways, it feels like an example of an episode designed to fill a gap in twenty-odd-episodes-a-year schedule. After all, the last eight episodes of the season were pushed into production at short notice when NBC opted to pick up the show for the rest of the season during the production of The Gamesters of Triskelion. It makes sense that the episodes in this final stretch of the third season are somewhat rough.

By Any Other Name is a familiar Star Trek plot with a somewhat bloated script and a sense that the show is just trying to eat up minutes between here and the end of the season.

"It appears the rock knows as little as we do, sir..."

“It appears the rock knows as little as we do, sir…”

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Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Past Tense, Part I (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.

It’s weird to think that Past Tense aired at the very end of the period where Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was the only Star Trek on television. The two parts were broadcast in early January 1995, after the release of Star Trek: Generations but before the broadcast of Caretaker, the pilot episode of Star Trek: Voyager.

In a way, these are the most “Star Trek”-y episodes of the third season of Deep Space Nine. Embracing the franchise’s utopianism and optimism, the two episodes are even structured as a gigantic homage to The City on the Edge of Forever. Unlike the somewhat cynical and jaded run of episodes leading into them, Past Tense seems to exist as an episode that could draw fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation into Deep Space Nine.

Panic in the streets...

Panic in the streets…

It would have made sense to position the episodes earlier in the season, where they might have done a better job of attracting casual Star Trek viewers jonesing for a fix after The Next Generation went off the air. Unconnected to the serialised long-form plot of Deep Space Nine, engaging with important social issues of contemporary society and playing with familiar Star Trek tropes like time travel, it’s hard to imagine an episode of the third season of Deep Space Nine better suited to reeling in viewers.

As it stands, though, Past Tense aired at the last possible moment where Deep Space Nine could truly claim to be “the only Star Trek on television”, making the two-parter feel more like a footnote than a crescendo. It’s a shame, as Past Tense remains a vastly underrated instalment of the show’s third season.

Arresting drama...

Arresting drama…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – Déjà Q (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

Déjà Q is, in a way, the most quintessential of Star Trek: The Next Generation stories, one of the most perfect embodiments of the show’s philosophy. It’s the story about an alien who engages on a voyage of self-discovery, with the Enterprise crew serving as guides. It’s essentially an episode about what it means to be human, and is built upon the fundamentally assumption that being human allows a person the capacity for altruism and self-sacrifice.

It’s easy to imagine Déjà Q turning out unwatchable. This sort of “humans are brilliant!” storytelling was a staple of the show’s troubled first season, leading to episodes like The Last Outpost and Lonely Among Us. However, Déjà Q turns out to be quite the treat. It’s helped by the presence of John de Lancie’s superbly sardonic Q and Richard Danus’ decidedly wry script. Both of these help to temper the episode’s earnestness, leading to a show that is endearing rather than irritating.

Watching Déjà Q, there’s a sense that this is very much what Gene Roddenberry wanted the first two seasons of The Next Generation to be, but – at that stage in its young life – the show was never quite capable of producing something this charming.

Well, he knows how to make an entrance...

Well, he knows how to make an entrance…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Vengeance Factor (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

The Vengeance Factor is an ambitious little episode that never quite manages to follow through on its potential. Something of a Riker-centric romance to compliment the Troi-centric romance in The Price, the episode is an exploration of vengeance and generational strife – the cost of feuds that last decades, even centuries. It’s a story where Yuta’s thirst for revenge keeps her young, and one that opens with Crusher tracking the acts of piracy back to the Gatherers using a blood stain on a shard of metal. Subtle, it is not.

However, there’s something almost endearing about The Vengeance Factor, from its very eighties leather Mad Max reject space pirates through to the way that channels the optimism of Star Trek quite well. Although the ending is unbelievably forced, at least it is striking and effective. Far from perfect, and not among the high points of this third season, The Vengeance Factor still marks a sharp improvement from The Price.

There will be blood...

There will be blood…

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Measure of a Man: Extended Cut (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

We’ll be supplementing our coverage of the episodes with some additional materials – mainly novels and comics and films. This is one such entry.

This is a rare treat.

The Measure of a Man is generally regarded as one of the best episodes that Star Trek: The Next Generation ever produced, and a crown jewel in the entire Star Trek franchise. As such, it’s a prime candidate for this sort of lavish restoration treatment, with the blu ray collection featuring not only the televised version of the episode, but a special extended edition.

This extended edition was the version originally filmed and edited together, until the production team realised that it ran almost a quarter-of-an-hour over the slot allocated to the show on syndicated airing.

tng-themeasureofaman23

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Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Measure of a Man (Review)

This January and February, we’ll be finishing up our look at the second season of Star Trek: The Next Generation and moving on to the third year of the show, both recently and lovingly remastered for high definition. Check back daily for the latest review.

Ah, The Measure of a Man.

It’s the first point in the run of Star Trek: The Next Generation where we’ve reached an episode that could legitimately be ranked as one of the best that the show would ever produce. Even today, the episode remains a favourite of Star Trek fans around the world, and a superb demonstration of what the series is capable of. Almost half-way into the second season, we get a glimpse of what The Next Generation could be, and how it balance its own identity against the proud philosophical traditions of its parent series.

It’s also quite brilliant.

A Data with destiny...

A Data with destiny…

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