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Five years, one hundred and twenty four episodes and so many fond memories. That was Deep Space Nine by the end of its fifth straight season; a season stuffed full of great things, wonderful ideas and a growing sense of foreboding as the Dominion War finally ignites.

After the success of four straight years, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was in glorious shape. By the end of its fourth season it had effortlessly culminated and maintained well over ten million dedicated viewers in the US and a further bucket load internationally. Awards were also no stranger to the show by this time with it picking up many technical and even major accolades along the way. Captain Benjamin Sisko had also woven himself into Trek lore and was quickly regarded as a favourite amongst fans. It was, in as many words, a true and embraced gem by the end of 1997, and as fans well know, this science fiction spectacle had only just begun.

Unlike the previous years when war was only a threat, during season five the crew were thrown into utter disarray as the cold chill of intergalactic warfare was only but a fickle breath away. This cool and often chilling foreboding atmosphere makes season five the darkest and most frivolous to date. Gone are the bouncy days of Starfleet comfort, when the station's only nemesis was its own failings and shortcomings. The days of war are upon them. They know it and as viewers, so do we.

'Apocalypse Rising' begins the season pretty much where the last season left off; Odo has more than a strong enough hunch that Gowron, leader of the Klingon Empire, is a changeling. And who should infiltrate the stronghold but the valiant crew of Deep Space Nine! If this episode reminded me of one film in particular, it would be any Alfred Hitchcock thriller. The suspense was often unbearable as the crew, disguised as Klingon warriors, infiltrated Gowron's chamber in effort to reveal his true identity.

Season five is a huge triumph, one that finally embodies the darker, grittier side of Deep Space Nine we all came to love so much. ‘Apocalypse Rising’ really encapsulates this, if only for a brief moment. It even gets to the point where you can almost smell the stagnant fumes of war brewing as almost every episode passes. It shows on the faces of the weary officers, echoes in the dark corners of every part of the series and is a true testament to the greatness of the show in all.

What really separates it from others, however, is the serialised story I have touched on from time to time. Everything simply feels natural, even to the extent of breaking away from the usual Star Trek stiffness seen in most of the other series of the franchise. There are scenes that make you stop and think, make you just gawk at how such an audacious concept can feel so lifelike, so real. These are characters not bound by clumsy rules and regulations, but by emotion and a drive to do something with their lives.  

This is of course in major part due to the character portrayals, the dialogue and the sheer depth each character is given. Secondary characters play roles with integrity, roles that actually stand to mean something. Even the ones destined to be killed off feel very much a part of the show as if they were an important part of the overall story. I have never seen this level of care in a genre show before, and I doubt I will again any time soon.

This kind of thorough attention to detail is always a pleasure to observe and always manages to make me grin. I am proud to be a fan of this show; it is one of the biggest, absolute best television series ever to grace the small screen, but that is nothing when one is able to appreciate its many capital qualities. In fact in my books Deep Space Nine is one of the greatest endeavours into classic science fiction itself, right up there with the Star Wars saga and 2001: A Space Odyssey for pure genius and spectacle.

Moving onto more highlights this season, and at the risk of sounding over zealous we come next to the most famous episode of all time – Trials and Tribble-ations. Fans will of course know every line of dialogue in this gripping, mature homage to the Original Series episode ‘The Trouble with Tribbles’. What can I possibly say about it that hasn’t already been said a trillion times already? It’s a classic, it’s a legend. In fact it’s much bigger than that, it is the very definition of perfection – simple as that.

As the screenshots in this review clearly show, the episode not only references the original episode, but actually has the original crew interacting with the cast of Deep Space Nine. How do they achieve this I hear you call? Think back to films such as Forrest Gump and the way in which the technical crew were able to drop Tom Hanks into infamous video reels talking to famous political figures etc. The same method is readily applied here, and with spectacular results. Coincidentally both Star Trek and Forrest Gump were Paramount productions.

As for the story at the heart of ‘Trails and Tribble-ations’, it actually plays out like a wrap-around to the original episode, as if Sisko and crew had actually been there skulking in the shadows, dodging the timeline and such. I only wish Gene Roddenberry had been alive to see this episode, he would have been so very proud to see two legendary crew’s interact and intertwine with one another in such a magical way. In a way, this formula is exactly what the writers of the seventh feature film, Star Trek: Generations, tried to achieve, but failed pretty miserably in their botched attempt at financial deviousness.

Technically of course the episode is just amazing and so damn cool that my jaw never left the floor from which it had flopped down upon. The way the Deep Space Nine crew lucidly stole around the USS Enterprise – which by the way was lovingly re-created especially for this episode – is every Trekkies wet dream come true. There is even room for a few Klingon makeup references too, relating to the original appearances of the Cornish pasty headed aliens.

The big pay off and the single best scene in the whole series of Deep Space Nine is when Benjamin Sisko approaches Captain Kirk, speaks to him (no, this is no illusion) and actually asks for his signature was pure and utter arresting. The feeling that one scene captures cannot be put into words; it is simply the best thing I have ever seen – period!

Elsewhere this season ‘The Assignment’ sees the first of many mentions of the ancient Pah-Wraith beings. When Keiko O’Brien is possessed by them, she orders Miles to undertake several strange engineering tasks aboard the station, only to find that she is later attempting to sabotage the wormhole and the Prophets along with its destruction. What gives this particular episode its edge is the hostility of the Pah-Wraith, and how it refuses to let Miles deviate from its plans. To make matters all the more interesting, Miles is forbidden to tell anyone that Keiko has been possessed, and risks her immediate death if he falters. One thing I will say about ‘The Assignment’ is that it is not you’re a-typical filler material, this is very solid entertainment.

‘Looking for par'Mach in All the Wrong Places’ reunites Quark and Grilka, who previously appeared a few seasons back. Basically Quark has to fight for honour, in the usual Klingon tradition of course. Meanwhile ‘Things Past’ plunges into Odo’s past and unveils some disturbing truths about the constable that consequently forces Kira to rethink her trust in him. ‘The Ascent’ pitches Quark and Odo on a desolate planet fighting for survival and is an episode that embodies a part comedy, part traumatic air which works quite nicely.

Aside from ‘Trails and Tribble-ations’, perhaps the best episodic event in season five is a two part story which brings the promise of war so very, very close. ‘In Purgatory’s Shadow’ sets things up smoothly as Worf and Garak are taken prisoner by the Jem’Hadar. We also find out that Dr. Bashir has been replaced by a changeling and is committing a number of treacherous acts aboard Deep Space Nine. As legions of Jem’Hadar ships come screaming though the wormhole, the crew face the grim reality that the Dominion are taking over the Alpha Quadrant. The events of ‘By Inferno’s Light’ doesn’t aid matters either, as the encroaching Dominion try to destroy the Bajoran sun in effort to destroy the combined gathering fleet.

‘Doctor Bashir, I Presume?’ does one of two things. Firstly it houses a great cameo in the form of Robert Picardo, who plays Dr. Lewis Zimmerman, and secondly we find out that Bashir was genetically enhanced as a child. This might not seem like such a big deal, but it has a great many repercussions which alters and reshapes this character in so many ways over the next few seasons. We also get a little bonus within the confines of this episode; a stark naked Leeta drops her bathing towels at one stage. Sadly nothing substantial is shown, but the intentions were good.

Not everything is riddled in shadow during the apocalyptic fifth season; ‘Business as Usual’ and ‘Ferengi Love Songs’ manage to provide a quaint break from all the usual chaos and destruction. Yes, more Ferengi episodes, but come on, they are awesome little no-brainers you just have to admire.

‘Soldiers of the Empire’ pits the stout General Martok off against a dispirited crew of Klingon warriors, hoping for a lasting victory. ‘Children of Time’ is a superb time-paradox story which tells of the Defiant crew crashing on a planet, living out their lives over hundreds of years. Things get a little scary in ‘Empok Nor’ when a trip to Deep Space Nine’s sister station turns into a hellish nightmare.

‘Call to Arms’ is the finale this season, and what a grand closure it is. I can honestly say without fear of contradiction that this episode is hands down the greatest finale of the series, perhaps even the entire franchise. This is the episode where the epic Dominion War actually begins. There’s no more bickering and pointless squabbling, no more peace talks, nothing except a dreaded dive into the mouth of hell itself – war has begun.

In short, season five is more or less identical to season four with regards to image quality standards. There is still a healthy dose of unwanted grain peppered throughout each episode, but in all the print looks as solid and sharp as it has ever appeared before. Dark scenes are most commonly affected by the grittiness however, but as I have stated before it sort of suits the shows darker themes and nature. Still, it doesn’t get away scot-free when improvements almost certainly could have been pursued by Paramount.

All the Star Trek sets come complete with a beefy Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack and all of which sound pretty great by all measures. Deep Space Nine season five has some superb uses of LFE during climactic battle scenes and the clarity of the rich-sounding dialogue is always a pleasurable experience. Compared to the previous four boxed sets, season five doesn’t really improve much in way of actual quality, only stretches the palate to accommodate for the more robust action arcs.

‘Inside DS9’ is a feature with set designer Michael Okuda who takes us though the various pieces he created during this year of the show. ‘Crew Dossier: Miles O’Brien’ is a several minute feature about the infamous chief of operations.

'Trials and Tribble-ations: Uniting Two Legends' runs for nearly twenty minutes while `Trials and Tribble-ations: A Historic Endeavour' runs for roughly fifteen. Both are excellent featurettes and dole out plenty of interesting trivia on how the famous episode was produced.  

'DS9 Sketchbook' has John Eaves take us though the many conceptual drawings used on the show. `Michael Westmore's Aliens: Season Five' is another good documentary regarding all of the many aliens seen during the series. Lastly, the ‘Section 31’ files can be found on both menu screens.

Season five is a blast that has to be seen to be believed. Storytelling is cogent as always, but the show’s roots have somehow managed to burrow well beyond its corporate container in a way that suggests the producers were given practical free reign to do with the show as they saw fit. The result makes for a seamless, refreshing and ultra-taut success-story, and by that time was the best the franchise had to show for itself. And in the years to follow, it would remain so.

I do realise that my reviews are pretty flamboyant. They constantly ramble on about how great the show is with an almost supercilious air, but I honestly cannot repress the elated feelings I have towards Deep Space Nine, no matter how hard I try. In as many words, and like millions of others from around the world, Deep Space Nine is my favourite television show of all time.

The special features, image and audio aspects of the set are solid as always and should please DVD addicts and fans of the series alike. In all, season five is unmissable entertainment as both a series and a collector’s item DVD package. Buy it.