The internet is a wonderful and scary place, filled with pundits, critics and commentators who examine the minutiae of everything so we don’t have to. The pop-culture subconscious they generate can form our opinion for us, sometimes with very little input from ourselves. But are all those ‘bad’ films and TV shows really as bad as the internet would have us believe? Are they not at least worth another quick look, before we cast them aside as irredeemable? We decided to bravely step through the office space/time portal for a last quick look at some of the most maligned…
Star trek fans are undeniably some of the most loyal, most devoted and most, well, fanatical of fans throughout sci-fi and fantasy. They are also, if the stereotype is to be believed, highly intelligent and skilled members of the more technologically minded professions. As a result, I fully expect to experience problems with my internet service, wireless networking and cloud storage, should I dare to treat Star Trek Deep Space 9 with the same disdain as I have everything else in this series of articles. So, I will tread with great care, believe me.
The problem is, I remember a world where Star Trek simply meant Kirk, Bones and Spock. I remember a time where even Picard didn’t exist. And I remember the reaction of so many fans as these new Treks materialised gently on our screens. The Next Generation arrived and was greeted warmly by expectant and optimistic fans, eager for new stories in a familiar universe, but DS9? The welcome was not so warm.
It’s not even a proper Trek! Where’s the Starship? Where’s the exploration? Where’s the continuing five-year mission? Where’s the shirtless and charismatic Captain, seducing all the Orion slave girls in a five light year radius? Oh, yes, Internet. I haven’t forgotten the complaints.
I do understand why there was such loud dissatisfaction, though, because it is very different from traditional Trek. It does have huge, long sprawling story arcs, spanning whole seasons. It does have a much more diverse ensemble cast. And it takes the somewhat traditional Star Trek vision of the almost sterile utopia we were so used to, and dirtied it up a little bit. It added currencies, which we’d never seen in a Star Trek before, and hand in hand with it came crime, and of course justice. All complex ideas, all rarely dealt with by a Trek before.
It also dealt with religion, another topic not often examined by this most secular of sci-fi shows. It gave us the Dominion, led by the Founders, shape changers who passed themselves off as gods to their subjects. And it gave us the ‘Wormhole Aliens’ or Prophets of Bajor, who send mystical visions to their people on Bajor itself through the Emissary, or Captain Sisko as we know him. This also became a new concept for the writers to bring in stories from other locations and times, as they had done before through the holodeck, but here the characters weren’t just pretending to be other versions of themselves. Here it could be ‘real’.
With complexity like this, it’s not surprising the fans were wondering what had happened to the simplicity of Trek, but DS9 wasn’t finished yet. As the seasons passed, we saw the Federation itself slowly decline towards an inevitable war, and we were forced to confront issues we didn’t ever dream of seeing on a show like Star Trek. Legions of drug addicted Jem‘Hadar go to war with our half of the galaxy, leading to strange, unexpected alliances between the Klingons and Romulans, for example. And there’s all the associated politics to go with that. Assassination plots crop up several times, and we become aware of Section 31, a secret splinter group within Starfleet itself, but with no boundaries.
Deep Space 9 saw clearly the original Star Trek design as a series of morality plays, and embraced it, raising the stakes as it did. It condensed the original formula for Star Trek, concentrated it into a stronger, darker, richer ‘flavour’. While it may have confused fans originally, for many of us it is now the most ‘Star Trek’ of them all, more exiting, braver, and more human than the others in many ways. It just expects more of an investment from the audience, which surely can’t be such a bad thing.