Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Season 1
Action fans often griped about the Byzantine plotting and talk-heavy nature of Deep Space Nine, the third live-action Star Trek TV series, which launched in 1993 and ran concurrently with its predecessor, Star Trek: The Next Generation, for a year. The fans' consternation was understandable; Deep Space Nine was the first Trek series set in a fixed locale, where the previous series' vaunted "strange new worlds" and "new life and new civilizations" were less of a focus, and where pitched space battles were (at least initially) as rare as a tittering Vulcan. But the series frequently turned those apparent limitations into strengths. Unable to follow its cast to a new world and a new episodic plot each week, Deep Space Nine built up complex, internal story arcs instead of relying on ever-changing external threats. At the start of the 20-episode first season (included in full on Paramount's initial DVD box set, alongside half a dozen featurettes on everything from the series' genesis to its set and prop design), Trek's protagonist-generating intergalactic political organization, the Federation, is taking control of a battered, remote space station known as Deep Space Nine. The station orbits the planet Bajor, which has just been liberated from the heavy-handed rule of the exploitative Cardassians. Though some Bajorans welcome the Federation, other factions resent the outside interference, or suspect the Federation of inimical, imperialist motives; meanwhile, the Cardassians want their chattel planet back, or at least spitefully want to harm it and its protector. As early as the first episode, the battle lines are drawn for a three-way standoff in which no two partners are comfortable with each other. In its broadest lines, the story sounds contrived, but DS9 seized on Star Trek's greatest strengths–occasionally inspired writing, unlimited imagination, and the freedom to grapple with political and social issues under the metaphorical veil of an elaborate fantasy world–and channeled them into an ongoing story that made the political personal and vice versa. As if consciously creating an antidote to Next Generation's occasionally bland nobility (and ensuring as much internal tension as possible), series creators Rick Berman and Michael Pillar packed their characters with consuming flaws. From the hot-tempered, shortsighted commander (Avery Brooks, Star Trek's first black leading man) to the emotional second-in-command (Nana Visitor) to the prickly security officer (Rene Auberjonois) to the arrogant, naïve doctor (Alexander Siddig), most of Deep Space Nine's principals are proud, temperamental, and dangerously self-righteous. Blinkered thinking and selfish acts are common, as the series lays the groundwork for seven TV seasons of exquisitely shaped religious and social conflicts and political maneuverings, against a backdrop of the usual Trek-load of squabbling alien cultures, technological trappings, and science-fiction tropes. Amid all the internal struggles, something unique formed: a Star Trek series that fully explored the profound and fascinating possibilities of a single world rather than skimming across the surface of dozens of worlds in turn. Deep Space Nine wasn't the most popular of the Star Trek brood, but it remains the most ambitious to date, and perhaps the one most deserving of release on DVD, where viewers can explore it as thoroughly as it explored itself.