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Season Three was the year Deep Space Nine found its footing and it was also the year science fiction would never be the same again. Everything to be discovered within this ripe collection of twenty six episodes is simply fantastic and about as aesthetically pleasing as it gets. Welcome to the wonderful world of Benjamin Sisko and his not so reliable space station.

Year Three: Thing are not looking too good for the crew of the Cardassian station. The Federation and indeed the whole Alpha Quadrant is on the brink of chaos as the mighty Dominion casts its long shadow over every potential threat. I guess it’s a good job the Defiant is here to keep them at bay! There were some really great episodes this season, some so good in fact they further excelled Deep Space Nine’s march into classic territory, even at this early stage. By this time, the characters were already legends, giants amongst the television audience, and it only got better.

There were also some notable changes during the third outing. Two years had now passed since the airing of the pilot, and the show had gone though its minor teething problems. It was now time for the writers, producers and actors to push the show – push it as hard and fast as it would go. Ira Behr took centre stage from this year, replacing Rick Berman and Michael Piller who had by that time joined Jeri Taylor on the overseeing of Star Trek: Voyager. This creative power change left Behr to manipulate and craft the show as he saw fit. As he demonstrated in Deep Space Nine’s first two season’s, Behr knows how to tell good stories and flesh out the many characters – he was the right man to be handed the reigns and it came at the best possible time. Now, let’s go on to discuss some of the standout episodes season three spawned – there were quite a lot!

Season two ended with a bang (no pun intended). The Dominion kamikaze ship that slammed into the galaxy class starship caused such a huge stir in the Alpha Quadrant that an elaborate ripple of fear and curiosity is awash over every major player. Klingon’s, Cardassian’s and of course the almighty Romulan’s are keen to find out more about the Dominion. I suppose it was only fitting that those daunting words uttered by Sisko right at the end of ‘The Jem’Hadar’ deserved a two-part treatment, and that’s exactly what ‘The Search, Part I and II’ provides.

Ironically, the title has a double-barrel meaning. Yes, there is a search for the Founders (the race said to be in control of the Dominion army that destroyed the Federation ship) but Odo is also on a search for his people. In this episode, we find out exactly who they are in a very memorable last sequence to this two part story. Perhaps the one thing fans will always remember this episode for is the introduction of the Defiant, Starfleet’s answer to the badass F-15 fighter jets. The central story also plays out very well and further sets up the ruthless aliens as pivotal antagonists. All in all, ‘The Search’ is a great way to open the new season and gives plenty of action, drama and wonder to get the ball rolling for even bigger possibilities.

‘House of Quark’ steps down on the highbrow and lends a lighter side to the foray. Armin Shimmerman is a genius, but the writers really owed him this episode and he makes it all his own. Every scene is endlessly spectacular and every time Quark opens his mouth to speak, laughter is guaranteed to follow. The story is also cleverly charming. As Quark closes up for the night, a drunken Klingon refuses to leave the establishment without a fight. Drawing a knife and marching towards the helpless bartender, something quite unexpected happens; Quark seemingly kills the warrior. Eventually, the dead warrior’s wife boards the station and Quark ends up going to Kronos (the Klingon homeworld). It’s essentially a hugely enjoyably romp, but it works on so many levels you can’t help but grin from ear to ear as the story unfolds.

‘Second Skin’ gets an honourable mention too. This is the episode where Kira awakes in a Cardassian home, with a Cardassian face! She is told endlessly that her life as a Bajoran was a hoax, mere memories fed to her from the Obsidian Order (the Cardassian FBI). Maybe it’s down to the gripping performances or the strong writing, but as the episode wears on, you begin to believe as Kira does, that she is indeed not who she thought she was.

‘Civil Defence’ is, for me, one of the cherished gems of this season and entertainment so endearing you could just say it’s a classic. It’s one of those classic situation episodes where something wild happens that affects the entire crew on such scale and anticipation never before seen. The story is second to none, the action is spectacular and the creativity of the direction is stellar. ‘Civil Defence’ is not the best this season has to offer, but it comes mighty close.

Jonathan Frakes (aka Commander Will Riker) makes his mark on Deep Space Nine with several credits this season, some for acting and some for directing. As for the acting, ‘Defiant’, another double-barrel title, sees Frakes reprise his Thomas Riker character from Star Trek: The Next Generation, the twist – he has joined the Maquis. Establishing more back-story for the human rebels, ‘Defiant’ also proves its worth into this honourable mentions list for one of two reasons. The first is that it ties up a loose end from the second Trek series and secondly, it is just a really great episode. Jonathan Frakes is typically glowing and it’s great to see him resurrect one of his characters. It’s equally delightful to see Sisko and Gul Dukat team up on the Cardassian homeworld. Great stuff!

Another double you can expect to enjoy is ‘Past Tense, Part I and II’. Deep Space Nine often does these huge episodes, so massive in scale they can often be confused with actual movies; this is one of those events. From the title, you might have guessed that time-travel is involved here, but don’t worry, this is exquisitely glorious time-travel! The story is plausible and even the way in which they end up stranded in the past is somewhat logical. Put it this way, it’s one of the more intelligent time related stories this franchise has spawned. Part II is probably the better of the two and features an inspiring little sequence toward the end where O’Brien and Kira visit the same location in different eras. When two stoned hippies emerge from a van and see both Kira and O’Brien transport away before their eyes, you know this is a totally different Star Trek right there and then! The feeling that moment inspires can only be described as euphoric.

Up next is an episode that actually doesn’t rank amongst the best, but one scene toward the end forces me to acknowledge it. ‘Life Support’ is probably the weakest episode in this season, but it does feature the sad end of a long time character, Vedek Bareil. It’s very last sequence features some beautifully direction, music and another touching performance from Nana Visitor. ‘Heart of Stone’ is another example of a cheesy-sounding concept turned great episode when Kira becomes trapped in a crystalline rock that expands around her body. The twist at the end is sure to send a shudder down your spine.

‘Destiny’ is tinged with age-old Bajoran mythos and religion that should draw you in, if not, the story will. Deep Space Nine is getting good at giving me goose bumps, and this episode is absolutely no exception. When the mystery surrounding an old prophecy is revealed the hairs begin to rise on your arms and neck. ‘Prophet Motive’ is another hilarious Ferengi comedy episode that will evidently bust some guts. Wallace Shawn is back as the Grand Nagus and this time he threatens to change the ways of his entire race – by making them a non-greedy civilization! I don’t really need to tell you that comedy ensues; Wallace Shawn’s voice alone is enough to crease me.

Miles O’Brien suffers another paradox in this season’s seventeenth episode entitled ‘Visionary’. Just as with season two’s ‘Whispers’, Miles finds himself in an unprecedented situation that is as bizarre as it is arresting. This episode is just marvellous, a real corker and one that never wears thin. Visually, its heart stopping and it’s a creative masterpiece to boot. However, it does effectively set up a dangerous Romulan threat that will be touched upon more thoroughly a few episodes from now. It’s this kind of integral continuity that makes ‘Visionary’ and the whole show that much more intelligent and complete. Nothing is quite as gratifying as seeing these events envelope such a great concept and then for it to be revisited just down the road.

‘Distant Voices’ borrows some structure from ‘Visionary’, only instead it lumps the life-threatening dilemma on the suave doctor Bashir. Being both scary and thoroughly intimidating, ‘Voices’ encapsulates a darker side of Trek by travelling down that dangerous old road, the kind of road hero’s will ward off. The lights go out and the shadows consume everything in sight; Bashir, you might say, is in jeopardy. When an alien attack leaves the good doctor in a telepathic coma, he must fight for his survival in a truly outlandish way. If the sequence where Bashir is running down a hallway escaping the dimming lights doesn’t at least creep you out, then you are a better man than I.

The second trip into the mirror universe proves a little more than it’s worth in ‘Through the Looking Glass’. This episode isn’t as good as ‘Crossover’, but it does capture that same magic and consuming excitement as its coveted predecessor. It also brings back some of those ingenious characters, such as the always brilliant alternate Kira. Andrew Robinson (Garak) also gives a truly noteworthy performance.

The third two-part bonanza in season three just so happens to be one of the best the series created, at least in these early years. I found the best way to adequately describe them would be to compare each part with Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill volumes, only in reverse. The first part is the talky, cerebral accretion and the second part is the mammoth, bona-fide action spectacular. The opening chapter, ‘Improbable Cause’ has one of the best scripts I have ever come across in television, regardless of genre. All I can say about this story is that it is affecting on so many levels of brilliance and encompasses a genuine timeless clarity. It is perfection.

From a story point of view, it is not all that hard to grasp. Garak’s shop explodes, Odo launches an investigation and along the bumpy road to justice the shape-shifter uncovers small pieces of a much larger puzzle. The Romulan and Cardassian intelligence departments have joined together without the consent of their governments to launch a full-scale invasion against the Founders. This leads to a breathtaking conclusion where Garak reacquaints himself with an old friend, somebody who offers him a front row seat to the forthcoming attack.

The second episode, ‘The Die is Cast’, loses some of the vibrancy from the first part, but it ultimately comes down to this; this is a shockingly good conclusion. What it lacks in cohesion from part I, it makes up for in graphic imagery and adrenaline-induced action. Garak’s torture of Odo is also one of the standout scenes, one that is perhaps the most famous of all in this season. The makeup effects used to convey Odo’s flaking body is nothing short of stunning, and it helps fuel the emotional power this one scene captures. Other noted scenes include the epic Romulan/Cardassian attack of the Founder’s homeworld and the twist that follows. In all, this double-story is one to cherish and one that endures the passage of time in the best possible way. The word ‘classic’ doesn’t do it justice enough!

Some other’s to mention before we reach the grand finale would have to be ‘Explorers’, where Benjamin and Jake Sisko set sail for the stars in a solar wind ship. ‘Family Business’ is the episode where Quark and Rom must go to the Ferengi homeworld when they discover their mother has committed a horrid crime; that of earning a profit. This episode joyfully dances around Ferengi traditions in the most tasteful way; this is quite ironic considering Ferengi are more often that not the tasteless beings of the galaxy. ‘Facets’ sees Jadzia undergo a Trill tradition that enables the opportunity to meet her former hosts. A glorious and somewhat inspired moment comes when Odo portrays Curzon Dax with his shape-shifting talents.

Season three is a truly great season of a show that just gets better and better. But the grand finale, ‘The Adversary’ gives us something extra to ponder; what would happen if the Founders replaced key members of the Alpha Quadrant. Indeed, you don’t find out until season four (five specifically), but the question is raised here in the most audacious way.

Season three was another good year for visual splendour, yet the DVD team seem to have missed out on the opportunity of improving things. It’s no surprise that the Trek DVD’s lack the quality they deserve, but they are still impressive enough to recommend. In this season, such episodes as ‘The Search’ and ‘Civil Defence’, by all rights grim, dark episodes, blend nicely with more vibrant episodes such as ‘Defiant’ and ‘Profit Motive’. In all honestly, season three is marginally better than season two, but still not good enough for an eight out of ten rating or above. What you can expect here is a show that looks the part, but may leave you wondering what it would have been like had it been given more of a cleanup.

Due to the fact that this boxed set differs little from the previous sets, I have used some material from prior reviews to flesh out this section. There really isn’t much to say about the audio that was already spoken of in the season one and two review to be perfectly honest. Everything is pretty much as it was back then, everything, right down to the finest point. Dolby’s 5.1 soundtrack still envelopes the listener in a great environment and it still cracks out the old space rumble that monopolises the optical shots. Perhaps one slight improvement in this season however would be the use of lower end frequencies which improved marginally over its forebears. With slightly more action and more spatial scenes, the subwoofer gets a healthier workout. Save for that, season one and two are practically identical in this department to an enjoyable sonic third year.

Somewhat predictably, season three brings nothing new to the fold, but once again will provide you with about an hour’s worth of decent features. ‘The Birth of the Dominion and Beyond’ is perhaps the best feature on the disc. It goes into some depth about the infamous Dominion, a race who from season three onwards helped to shape the mould that Deep Space Nine became. Included are some great interview segments as well as some memorable footage.

‘Michael Westmore's Aliens - season three’ once again examines all of the various creature and makeup effects that were used during the course of the season. ‘Time travel files - 'Past Tense'’ churns out some rather generic features with regards to the two-part time-travel episodes ‘Past Tense’ Part I and II.

‘Crew dossier – Odo’ sheds some light on the man of mystery himself and has some great interview material with Rene Auberjonois – would you expect any less? Also to be found here are some rather unscrupulous spoilers which I would advise caution against for those who have not seen the seventh season.

‘Sailing through the stars - a special look at ‘Explorers’’ has some revealing facts on the titular episode with the production designer Herman Zimmerman. Finally, the ‘Section 31’ hidden files scattered on both menu screens of the disc round out another season of features.

Season three was a great year for this show. It had almost everything to offer; drama, action, suspense and more character development than you can shake a Klingon Batleth at! Everything here was as good as could have been at the time and then some. Just as season two improved drastically over the already great first year, season three betters over season two in every way.

Visually, season three is pretty much the same as the first two boxed sets, so too is the audio. In all honestly, both A/V sides of the DVD is as good as it really needs to be. As for the extra features Paramount have provided, don’t get your hopes up too high and it shouldn’t disappoint.

Watch out for a fully in-depth fourth season review soon. Many wonderful things are about happen and some of the show’s best episodes can be found within.