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In order for me to survive the harsh winter that is already beginning to set amongst us, I always turn to my prosperous DVD collection for some last-minute salvation. Last winter saw Star Trek: The Next Generation help me through those cold months of winter. They somehow helped me feel warm inside, made me smile in the face of those horrid circumstances. It’s perhaps no great surprise; The Next Generation was a childhood favourite of mine and is still one of the best television shows ever produced to this day. But no, there will be no Jean Luc Picard for me this year, no Will Riker and no Deanna Troi to keep me company. This fall, I turn to Benjamin Sisko and his motley crew aboard Deep Space Nine for my comfort and enjoyment. I invite you to join me in experiencing one of the best shows ever to grace the small-screen as we buckle through the wind, rain and coldness of wintertime. During the next two to three months I shall be watching and critiquing all seven seasons of the show. I hope you enjoy reading the reviews; I know I will enjoy writing them.

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Series
Firstly, let me give you a rather lengthy history lesson. In 1993 the Star Trek cannon was at its topmost height. The folks at Paramount (a division of Viacom) were raking in upwards of a half billion dollars in revenue from this massively lucrative franchise every year. With a motion picture on the way and two more series’ in development at that time, the franchise was heading in a whole new area of vastness. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine made its television debut on the third of January 1993 (in the US) to the tune of tens of millions of eager viewers.

This should be no great surprise; Deep Space Nine arrived at a time when The Next Generation was also experiencing its best ratings. It’s probably no great shock then that Deep Space Nine held onto most of it’s initial viewers and wound up one of the most popular and watched series’ of the nineties. Indeed, while this particular show didn’t quite achieve the twenty-something million viewers its predecessor did, it was still phenomenally successful. As a genre show, Deep Space Nine is still to this day one of the most lucrative science fiction shows ever.

Star Trek Voyager descended just two years later in the midst of a torrent of competition. It arrived all the way back in 1995 when televised CGI was coming into its own and science fiction was still atop the ratings. While many, including myself generally acknowledge Voyager as the beginning of a downward spiral Trek has endured in the last decade or so, it was still a massive success with millions loyal fans. While Voyager certainly wasn’t a ratings failure, it did manage to spit the fan-base right down the middle. Personally, I enjoyed it, as did so many others, but even I am not blinded to the fact that it was truly a disappointing waste of seven years. Entertaining, yes, but it came off as just that, entertainment. It was rather like Star Trek’s very own big-budget summer action flick; big on visuals, slender on substance.

Still, it wasn’t until the most recent Star Trek: Enterprise when the franchise has found itself coming full-circle. Much as the Original Series, back in the psychedelic sixties, faced cancellation, so too does the latest instalment. For the first time in so many years, Star Trek has come under scrutiny from its fans, critics and even those who have previously worked on the franchise. It’s a sad story really, especially for someone who has found so much to love in Gene Roddenberry’s vision. Most pin the blame on Gene’s immediate successor, Rick Berman; a man who is held in the same light as George Lucas. Not the old Lucas mind you, but the new Lucas. The man responsible for seemingly ruining the great Star Wars franchise.

It seems odd then for me to re-watch the Deep Space Nine saga. It seems like only yesterday when I was hooked on this show, bracing myself for what would come next. I used to sit with a group of friends every week, awaiting the next gripping adventure on Sky One. We used to kick my parents out of the room, dim the lighting and turn the volume up as much as our old television set would allow. The teaser would begin, shortly followed by the amazing intro sequence and then the story would unfold for the next hour. It was amazing. Week after week for seven years we were all entranced by this series. The hiatus between seasons would literally kill us; it was unbearable to wait for so long for the next year of missions.

What makes Deep Space Nine so memorable and so damn-near-perfect was its vast character palette. After all, characters define and shape a series or a movie. It is especially important for a television show to succeed in this area and Deep Space Nine was triumphantly successful here. Unlike other shows in the franchise, the producers set everything up so well from the off that conflicts and dilemmas were more mature. I think most of this was in concept. Unlike the adventures of the Enterprise-D and the USS Voyager, Deep Space Nine was static and grounded, much like a sitcom perhaps. I think it was this aspect that made the characters, no, forced the characters to interact and form natural relationships or even oppositions. There is also a greater sense of continuity, with every episode feeling like the next page of a rather large book. Indeed, the show always flowed in this way, branching out from one moment to the next and all feeling connected and very much apart of the whole.

In analysing other aspects of the show you have to look beyond the exterior. First of all you have the darker look to the show. Its gritty, rougher-looking Cardassian sets were cold and sinister compared to the luxury of the Federation starships. You have Ops, the prominent command centre from where the crew manages any crisis that may arise. The Promenade was like the old western town with its sheriff office, church, medial centre, saloon and variety of shops. The wormhole also gave the show more depth as all sorts of weird and wonderful and even dangerous creatures came to visit. Bajor, the planet Deep Space Nine orbits is a war-torn world left in devastation from the recent Cardassian occupation. The Bajoran people themselves, a deeply spiritual, once peaceful people are now broken, divided and leaderless.

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All these things and more just merely touch the surface. When you start to look at the characters themselves you see how interesting this show gets. Major Kira Nerys is a Bajoran nationalist and usually angry woman. Her story is sad, one or pain and suffering. Her past is full of hate and anger, having spent her whole life fighting the Cardassian’s. Sisko and his teenage son struggle to adapt to the life of the station. Benjamin Sisko himself, a widower, single parent and deeply thoughtful man immediately has more background than any of the other Trek captains. His history is also one of pain and loss.

Odo, the station’s constable is a shape-shifter who doesn’t know of his species. He doesn’t know if he is the only one of his kind or the whereabouts of his people, if they indeed exist. Quark is the local Ferengi bartender and schemer who constantly aggravates Odo and tests the limits of his patience. Other Ferengi include Rom, Quark’s underappreciated brother and Nog, Rom’s son who befriends Jake Sisko to form an unlikely friendship against all the odds. Chief Miles O’Brien, who transferred from the Enterprise-D with his wife Keiko and daughter Molly also have conflicts. Keiko doesn’t like it on the station, she believes it is no place to raise their daughter and arguments often arise between the fiery duo. Miles himself constantly finds that he is in a loop. Fixing parts of the station he may have fixed just days before seems to get the better of him. In an interesting turn of comedy, Miles often argues with the Cardassian computer when it plays up (pretty much most of the time).

The Cardassian’s on Deep Space Nine are amazing to behold too. Evil, twisted and steeped in mystery, Garak, Gul Dukat and several others all come alive here. The same can be said for Vedek Winn (later Kai Winn) played by Academy Award winning actress Louise Fletcher throughout the series. Winn plays the twisted Bajoran religious leader and happens to be one of the most intriguing characters on the show. Her appearances are few and far between in these earlier seasons, but every one of them shines. Even the alien appearances on Deep Space Nine were beautifully handled and excellently portrayed. There were no so called ‘alien of the week’ shows here, because the very architecture of the show didn’t allow for such a concept.

Due to the nature of the show, all these character developments and more are the focus of almost every story, every script. The character development never stopped on Deep Space Nine, unlike many shows on television. The personas changed so much from season one to season seven that by the end they were hardly recognisable, yet somehow familiar. It is evident that characters in this season are totally different from the ones at the finale, seven years down the road. This feat is impressive, and the way in which the writers would constantly allow their creations to grown beyond the usual limits always wowed me.

As with all Trek series, the production values for this series were first-rate. The sets, the budget and the cast were all very epic. The sense of writing and direction were equally impressive. Even in this first season the writing was top-notch for the most part, often pulling out all the stops from time to time. I have always viewed Star Trek as a huge chunk of classic American craftsmanship. Every hallmark is in place, ranging from the musical orchestra, the cinematic-like visual effects and even the makeup designs. Everything is huge and of the uttermost cinematic prowess. This first season isn’t the best example of demonstrating the aforementioned scale, but really is impressive and sets the stage for the future years to follow. It is really season two and beyond that the word ‘epic’ really comes full frontal.

Ira Steven Behr practically owned Deep Space Nine from beginning to end. Rick Berman’s credits may be scattered onto every episode, but Behr was the man who led this show to ultimate greatness. Of course, it was thanks to Berman and Michael Piller for their extraordinary set up, but Behr (who was handed the reigns in season three I believe) turned Deep Space Nine from the darker Trek endeavour it was, into the all-time classic it is today. Naturally, he had heaps of help with a vast array of industry-talented writers and other great producers who knew what had to be done, and were not afraid of doing it.

There were some great episodes hidden within this debut season. The double-part pilot ‘Emissary’ is perhaps still the best of all the Trek pilots. It established the bulk of the characters and conceptual merits like no other. The image of Sisko weeping over his dead wife on the ruined ship, and of the Borg destroying the Federation fleet at Wolf 359 was truly powerful stuff in its day. Even now, the image of Sisko’s ship exploding as he escapes in the pod sticks with you. Watching those innumerable sparks and debris fly off in all directions as he looks through the glass is a classic moment. Truly great stuff, and being so early on in the series, this is a noteworthy complement indeed.

‘Q-Less’ sees the return of Q and Vash. I love this episode, it’s about as quirky as they come and never let’s up on the charm. Q was always one of my favoured Next Generation secondary characters, and he really gets to a chance to inflict his pesky side on the valiant Deep Space Nine crew.

‘Captive Pursuit’ plays out like one of those ‘alien of the week’ episodes but it is by far more interesting, and has a lot more depth. O’Brian befriends the station’s first visitor from the other side of the wormhole, but quickly becomes suspicious that Tosk is hiding information about the damage to his ship. O’Brian, who feels like he has effectively adopted this lonesome alien, feels responsible when more aliens come to hunt him down in a ritual that defies ethics.

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‘Move Along Home’ is a fun episode where Quark has to play his most risky game yet to save the crew from what appears to be a deadly game of life and death.

‘The Nagus’ was probably the funniest episode this season, when Grand Nagus Zek comes to the station to offer Quark the deal of a lifetime.

‘Progress’ was a sweet story about a stubborn Bajoran farmer who has to be evacuated from a moon in light of a harvesting project that will benefit thousands. Kira becomes unwittingly entangled in this man’s life, a man she can openly associate with and of whom she finds comfort to be with. The energy between Kira and the farmer in this episode is really second to none and brought a smile to my face the whole time. Of course, the episode eventually becomes more upsetting as Kira has to make a decision that will change his fate.

‘Dramatis Personae’ has the crew of Starfleet and Bajor go head-to-head in a deadly mutiny that could threaten the lives of everyone on-board. I loved this episode, everything was on form and the suspense was handed with a near Hitchcock perfection.

The best episode in season one was neither an action spectacular, nor a crisis episode, but of a smaller, two-part character drama. ‘Duet’ was that episode, and to this day stands as one of the most beautifully crafted science fiction dramas I have ever seen. The story is actually rather complex and I am not about to stray into spoiler territory for those who have never seen it, but it is an amazing episode. When a Cardassian comes to the station for reasons unknown, beyond the fact that he has an illness that needs treating, Kira becomes aware that he is in fact a war criminal. One of the most ruthless Bajor has ever seen in its bloody history with the Cardassian’s. The writing here is awe-inspiring to say the least, as is Nana Visitor and Harris Yulin’s performances. A classic if ever there was one!

Lastly, the season finale ‘In the Hands of the Prophets’ has the twisted Vedek Winn come to visit the station after hearing of Keiko O’Brien’s teaching methods. Unhappy that Keiko refuses to teach the children of her school about the Prophets, Winn begins to rally support of the Bajoran parents to boycott the teachings of Mrs. O’Brien. What I love about this episode is that it tackles a great many difficult issues, issues that closely mirror our own society today. You can easily find references to left-wing, right-wing groups in this episode, and the way in which the writers handle the scenario is commendable. It also wrings out the season with style, summarising just how far this crew have come in a rather short space of time.

In all, season one is a marvellous success marred only by the expected one or two weaker episodes and of the concept-orientated nature of this season. The writing is solid, the acting is fantastic and the production is eye wateringly good! As with many debut’s, season one does have the occasional cheesy moment or subplot but nothing as painful as anything in The Next Generation’s first time out among the stars. Another great thing I love about Deep Space Nine is the comedy. Quark and Odo’s constant bickering always makes me fold up with laughter, but this show makes room for all sorts of emotions besides that of amusement. It can just as easily be quirky or dramatic or painful to watch (in a good sense of the word). Only a mere handful of television shows I have ever seen can demonstrate this unique quality. Deep Space Nine is a gem, a truly brilliant masterwork and the last best product of the franchise. Season one is a blast, but it only gets better from here; much better!

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Video
Presented in a 1.33:1 (full frame) aspect ratio, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine looks the part of a modern DVD collection. The image, which has been cleaned up and digitally processed, looks great overall. Colours are handled well, blossoming though the darker look the show had. The wormhole in the pilot (and all subsequent episodes) is the most impressive visual feast, but due notice must be given to the polished look of the entire series. Cinematography was always great on Deep Space Nine, and the DVD handles this imagery beautifully. One sequence that stands out is of the farmhouse in the episode ‘Progress’, which, for example, looks sumptuous with those mellow hues and dusty looking furnishings that populate the house. The look of planetary scenes like this are great. The space-bound scenes are also a visual treat! When we pursue ships at warp or sub-light speeds, the stars that pepper the distance seem never to go out of focus or lose their realism.

Red, blue or yellow colours on crew uniforms never appear to lose clarity either, nor do the rich variety of lights scattered throughout the station, especially in Ops. Edge enhancement, however, is a problem. So too is the overall appearance of the image. While it is as good as it will ever look, it is far from perfect. There are often certain camera angles that highlight this ‘edgy’ look, but it is most notable on text, such as the opening logos. It’s not a big problem, but it is evident nonetheless. At the end of the day this is quite simply the best the show has looked and makes mince meat of the original televised broadcasts.

Audio
Dolby Digital 5.1 glory on Deep Space Nine was always going to be one of the most eagerly awaited features of the DVD. It won’t be until about season three until most of the action begins, but this first season did have some impressive uses of sound. For example, the eerie rumble of space and of course Dennis McCarthy’s opening music are all handled very well by Dolby’s track.

The battle of Wolf 359 in the pilot will also give your subwoofer a lot to play with, as well as the directional speakers. Being a television series after all, Deep Space Nine really is an impressive audio treat and for the most part, the provided 5.1 soundtrack is great. Voices are clear, music is drenched in clarity and the occasional action set-piece is going to ensure a healthy woofer exercise workout.

Ultimately, season one doesn’t really have that much audiophile material outside of the dialogue, but when the action comes, it does so in a big way!

Extras
For years I have been anxious for some Star Trek features, and Paramount did a mostly great job with The Next Generation sets, but do they uphold their dignity here? I’d have to say yes to that question. But firstly, let us talk about the packaging. One of the greatest things about these Star Trek DVD releases are the way in which Paramount are packaging the discs. Boxed in what is arguably one of the best sets on the market, these sturdy plastic cases are very luxurious to behold (you can expect to pay big bucks for them though). While the Next Generation sets had a silvery Starfleet look to them, the Deep Space Nine sets are dark and have a more angular appearance to represent the symmetry of the station. This looks fantastic as a completed collection upon one’s shelf!

All the bonus material can be found on the sixth and last disc in the set. Being an abbreviated season and consisting of 19 episodes, season one’s array of episodes only stretch the first five of these discs. Like the Next Generation features, you can expect a very formulaic run from here on out. This routine does unfortunately become a little stale in later sets, but they are still well worth watching.

Now, one thing that actually does vex me slightly is the way the features are just sort of hidden within the static image of the station. You have to navigate endlessly with your remote to find them all, which really gets annoying after a while. I don’t quite know why they chose to do this, but anyway, on with the features.

‘Deep Space Nine: A Bold Beginning’ is a fairly generic collage of old and new footage with cast and crew revealing all. Rick Berman gives us some insight into the creation of the show, as do other such powers as Michael Piller and the majority of the cast. Unfortunately, we never actually get to hear anything from some of the famous Trek directors. The creation of the station is also principal within this feature, showing us how it took the crew months of work to achieve the results they have now. It’s also pretty cool to see the many illustrations and conceptual drawings used early on.

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‘Crew Dossier: Kira Nerys’ starts a trend here that will expand with every boxed set. It doesn’t last very long, but shows us how Kira evolves over the seven seasons of the show.

‘Michael Westmore’s Aliens: Season 1’ also reeks of coolness as the Academy Award winning artist shows us that Deep Space Nine was easily the most complex and challenging show he has ever worked with. We get to see him building and designing various creatures for the season and putting emphasis on the hard work he and his team constantly do. Hats off to him, he has made some of the best aliens in all of showbiz!

‘Secret’s of Quark’s Bar’ shows us how the set was designed and also some of the earlier ideas for the promenade layout. This is a nice little feature, and once again shows off the scale of Deep Space Nine.

‘Alien Artefacts: Season 1’ has one of the stock managers show us the various items used during season one. Again, this is a feature that will recur as the boxed sets progress.

‘Deep Space Nine: Sketchbook’ has a lot to say for itself with loads of design illustrations used for the show. Chief illustrator Rick Sternbach is at hand to guide us through them and openly explains his ideas and creative thinking.

‘Section 31: Hidden Files’ are a series of ten small features buried somewhere within the outlay of the station. Find them, and each will act as little Easter Eggs with titbits of interview footage from various cast and crew members.

Overall
Like all television shows, movie franchises and such, Deep Space Nine runs along a formula; a set of parameters and rules or guidelines that make it what it is. Star Trek, like the James Bond movies, the Star Wars saga, Pixar movies and American sitcoms also has this formula. It has had it for forty years and lives by it to this very day. If you have never before seen Deep Space Nine, but have seen and enjoyed one of the many other series’, then I cannot recommend this show highly enough. It is a truly classic masterpiece that many openly confess as their favoured selection, myself including. Season one is a great start to this saga, and as mentioned above, really does improve vastly from season to season.

The boxed set is beautifully presented. While the image transfer is not without flaw, the show has never looked so good. You can’t really expect better than that! As for the audio, suffice to say Dolby’s 5.1 mix is good enough and may even surprise you from time to time. The extra features are also good; not as good as they could have been granted, but are mostly adequate all the same. Considering we’ll have several hours of bonus features by the time we reach the seventh season, you can really forgive any current disappointment.

Well, that’s it for now. Look out for the second season review within a week or two. Things really heat up in the second year; the Dominion makes themselves at home on the doorstep of the station and conflicts among the crew reach boiling point. There are also a huge variety of classic episodes, such as the infamous Crossover parallel. Until then, I’ll be in Quark’s enjoying some synthetic ale and perhaps indulging in a game or two of Dabbo.


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