Top 10 Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episodes
Tribbles, Ferengi, and James Bond spoofs: Gem counts down the best 10 episodes of DS9...
Ah, Deep Space Nine. Forget Picard’s Enterprise; my dream posting within Starfleet – now come on, we’ve all thought about it – would be to the space station on the wild frontier, populated by a motley crew of Starfleet personnel, Bajoran soldiers and shady characters of all species. During its seven-season run (1993-1999) DS9 repelled casual viewers with its ‘dark’ plotlines and complex moral dilemmas, even as it rewarded long-standing fans with fascinating character arcs and some of the finest acting ever seen in a Trek series.
Still battling the emotional damage inflicted by the loss of his beloved wife, Jennifer, at the devastating Battle of Wolf 359 – and in no mood to forgive Jean-Luc Picard, who was responsible for the carnage in his brief incarnation as Locutus of Borg – Commander (later Captain) Ben Sisko (Avery Brooks) was initially reluctant to bring up his only son, Jake (Cirroc Lofton), on a station in the thick of political turmoil. The reminders of its past as Terok Nor, a key outpost of the oppressive Cardassian Empire, were many, while the simmering resentment of Bajoran former rebels at Federation interference in their affairs was only complicated by Sisko’s acclamation as the ‘Emissary’ following his encounter with the mysterious wormhole-dwelling race worshipped by the Bajorans as the Prophets.
DS9’s first three seasons could be hard going, entrenched as they were in the intricacies of Bajoran religion and politics. Delving into such themes was a brave experiment on the part of creators Rick Berman and Michael Piller and showrunner Ira Steven Behr, but the show’s real brilliance began to show through from its magnificent fourth season onwards, when Worf’s arrival on the station brought some much-needed Klingon verve to proceedings, and as the sinister presence of the Dominion – oppressive rulers of the Gamma Quadrant and the people of mysterious station security officer, Odo (Rene Auberjonois) – heralded a long and bloody conflict. DS9’s crew may have spent less time boldly going than their TNG counterparts, but they also proved that sometimes, true bravery lies in sticking around long enough to pick up the pieces. Or in sitting through one of the episodes about Chief O’Brien’s family, none of which were ever in any danger of making this list.
10. ‘Duet’ (season one – written by Peter Allan Fields, story by Lisa Rich and Jeanne Carrigan-Fauci, directed by James L. Conway)
“You have no idea what it’s like to be a coward. To see these horrors and do nothing.” – Aamin Marritza
Sisko’s Bajoran second-in-command, the former rebel fighter Major Kira Nerys, is forced to confront the man responsible for the horrors at the Cardassian labour camp on Gallitep when he arrives at the station, suffering from a disease he could only have contracted there. His claim to be Aamin Marritza, a mere filing clerk, is revealed to be false when photographic evidence suggests he is actually Gul Darhe’el, the camp’s brutal commandant. He confesses, apparently unrepentant – but there is far more to his story than meets the eye. This early episode introduced us to Kira’s murky former life as a member of the Bajoran resistance, while doing what all the best science fiction should: namely, allowing us to view real-life issues of genocide, imperialism and collective guilt through the prism of a fictional conflict. Powerful performances from Nana Visitor as Kira and Harris Yulin as Marritza/Darhe’el made this a clear standout from DS9’s first season. Mention must also be made of the brilliant Marc Alaimo as Gul Dukat, the station’s former commander, whose mind games with both Sisko and Kira would only become more twisted – and more intriguing – with each season.
9. ‘Doctor Bashir, I Presume?’ (season five – written by Ronald D. Moore, story by Jimmy Diggs, directed by David Livingston)
“Why is everyone so worried about holograms taking over the universe?” – Dr. Lewis Zimmermann
A good crossover episode is always satisfying, and the opportunity to meet the creator of one of Star Trek: Voyager’s most endearing characters, the Emergency Medical Hologram, is too good to pass up. Dr. Lewis Zimmermann (Robert Picardo) is every bit as temperamental and pompous as the diagnostic tool made in his image, but lacks all the more appealing qualities fostered in the EMH by his contact with Voyager’s crew. More seriously for DS9, he also learns a dangerous secret about its likeable genius of a medic, Dr. Julian Bashir (Siddig El Fadil, aka Alexander Siddig). After initially playing the personality clash between Bashir and Zimmermann for laughs, the episode’s shock twist left us reappraising Bashir and finding new depth in a character who had previously been one of the series’ most lighthearted and affable personalities.
8. ‘The Way Of The Warrior’ (season four – written by Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe, directed by James L. Conway)
Kira: “Looks like the Klingons are here to stay.”
Sisko: “Maybe they are, but so are we.”
Although connections between DS9 and TNG had been made before – Picard’s appearance in the series pilot, a fleeting visit from Q, the presence of Miles O’Brien (Colm Meaney) – ‘The Way of the Warrior’ marks the arrival of one of TNG’s finest characters: the conflicted, brooding and sometimes unwittingly hilarious Commander Worf (Michael Dorn). Watching Worf interact with DS9’s established cast against an ominous backdrop of looming war between the Klingon Empire and Cardassia provides sufficient drama to launch DS9’s sublime fourth season into the stratosphere. Worf seemed truly at home on Deep Space Nine, even though his divided loyalties were never more apparent than here, as he was torn between the demands of his Klingon brethren and his respect for the Federation he had worked so hard to support. Michael Dorn summed up the episode most effectively when he stated that ‘the Klingons had finally gone nuts, basically’. They had, and DS9 was all the better for it.
7. ‘Our Man Bashir’ (season four – written by Ronald D. Moore, story by Robert Gillan, directed by Winrich Kolbe)
“Kiss the girl, get the key. They never taught me that in the Obsidian Order.” – Garak
Only one man was ever going to pass as a successful Bond-alike on DS9, and that was its suave doctor and holodeck obsessive, Julian Bashir. When a real secret agent – Cardassian tailor and superspy, Elim Garak – asks Bashir to let him observe the fun in Bashir’s ‘60s-themed simulation, both are shocked to find that several of the programs within it have been replaced by images of station personnel, whose identities have been storied within the holosuite after a near-catastrophic shuttle accident. Garak has his eyes opened to how much fun the spy game can be, Bashir gets to enjoy the company of a typically seductive Dax and an unusually amorous Kira, while Sisko gets to be a coolly menacing bad guy, Dr. Noah.
Intended as an affectionate homage to the spy genre, DS9 fell foul of MGM due to the similarities between its characters and a certain rather famous franchise, meaning that, sadly, the pastiche had to be a little more covert when the writers returned to this setting in the future. A shame, as DS9’s reputation for grimness was belied by the pure fun of episodes such as this. It also provided another outing for the irresistible pairing of Bashir and Garak. DS9’s supporting cast was always flawless, but Andrew Robinson’s portrayal of Garak as a man of endless mystery and impenetrable depths, as naturally appealing to the pure-hearted, boyishly enthusiastic young doctor as the latter was to him, made this one of the station’s most cherishable friendships.
6. ‘Trials and Tribbleations’ (season five – written by Ronald D. Moore and René Echevarria, story by Ira Steven Behr, Hans Beimler and Robert Hewitt Wolfe, directed by Jonathan West)
Dax: "He's so much more handsome in person. Those eyes!"
Sisko: "Kirk had quite the reputation as a ladies' man."
Dax: "Not him... Spock."
Speaking of pure fun, ‘Trials and Tribbleations’ could serve as the dictionary definition of the term. If ever a crew deserved to walk the hallowed halls of the first Enterprise, it was the crew of Deep Space Nine – and they got their chance when Arne Darvin, a surgically altered Klingon spy, went back in time for another chance to assassinate none other than the legendary Captain James Tiberius Kirk. Sisko and crew have to don the original series uniforms (cue much amusing confusion over the appropriate colours, as they forget that red serves more as a harbinger of doom than as a mark of command class in TOS). Worf’s lack of resemblance to 23rd-century Klingons baffles his crewmates, as does his people’s visceral loathing for that furry galactic menace, the Tribble. The top-notch editing techniques used here seamlessly intergrate the two crews, culminating in a supremely touching salute from one legendary captain to another, as Sisko does what even temporal investigator Dulmer (yes, and before you ask, his colleague’s called Lucsley) has to admit he would have done in his place. This high-concept, funny and sweet episode makes a bulletproof case against the charges of dystopian dullness often levelled at DS9.
5. ‘Little Green Men’ (season four)
“I know everything about you people...baseball, root beer, darts... atom bombs.” – Quark
As an unashamed lover of all things Ferengi, this episode couldn’t have thrilled me more. The marvellously conniving and avaricious Quark (Armin Shimerman), along with his sweet brother Rom (Max Grodénchik) and bright nephew Nog (Aron Eisenberg), finds himself stranded on the Earth of 1947, and is beside himself with glee at the prospect of all the things he can sell to a type of ‘hew-mon’ rather more gullible than those he has encountered before. Unfortunately, the hapless trio have landed in Roswell, at just the right time to spark off conspiracy theories by the dozen. Even more unfortunate, from Quark’s point of view, is the fact that the ever-suspicious Odo has stowed away on their shuttlecraft in order to spy on Quark’s shady business transactions. Another of the show’s wonderful tributes to classic genre fiction, ‘Little Green Men’ allowed us to see the Ferengi interact with a world altogether more to their liking than the sanitised Starfleet environment of the 2370s. The episode showcased the easy chemistry between Quark and family that would provide many more hilarious moments in the seasons to come; throwing Quark’s love-hate relationship with Odo into the mix was just the icing on the cake.
4. ‘Far Beyond The Stars’ (season six – written by Ira Steven Behr and Hans Beimler, story by Marc Scott Zicree, directed by Avery Brooks)
“You are the dreamer, and the dream.” – The Preacher
In 1950s New York, science fiction writer Benny Russell finds himself struggling with racial discrimination, police brutality and the inertia of his well-meaning colleagues as he fights to bring his greatest story to life in the pages of Incredible Tales. His boss, however, is adamant; nobody wants to read about the adventures of Ben Sisko, the black captain of a space station called Deep Space Nine. Benny’s constant visions of a brighter future, peopled by all those he knows – albeit in very different guises – are overwhelming.
Meanwhile, aboard Deep Space Nine, Sisko is unconscious, but experiencing Benny’s life as if it were his own. Can Benny bring his dream to a wider audience, and can Sisko find the strength and purpose he needs to keep on fighting the apparently hopeless war against the Dominion? ‘Far Beyond The Stars’ is beautifully acted by its ensemble cast, and what a treat it is to see the whole crew minus prosthetics for once – Rene Auberjonois (Odo) excels as Benny’s obstinate boss, Douglas Pabst, and who knew Michael Dorn was such a charmer? The episode is a love letter to science fiction and its endless possibilities, confirming its status as a source of hope and optimism. After all, as Sisko says to his father, for all they know ‘at this very moment, somewhere far beyond all those distant stars, Benny Russell is dreaming of us.” Just for a moment, we join Ben Sisko in wondering which is the dream, and which is reality.
3. ‘It’s Only A Paper Moon’ (season seven – written by Ronald D. Moore, story by David Mack and John J. Ordover, directed by Anson Williams)
“Look, kid, I don’t know what’s going to happen to you out there. All I can tell you is that you’ve got to play the cards life deals you. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, but at least you’re in the game.” – Vic Fontaine
You either love or loathe Vic Fontaine, and nothing I can say will persuade you one way or the other. For me, James Darren’s sci-fi pedigree (remember The Time Tunnel?) and air of charming insouciance made him the ideal holographic host for the increasingly damaged crew of Deep Space Nine as the war with the Dominion dragged on and on. An unusual episode in its focus on a supporting character, Nog, ‘It’s Only A Paper Moon’ focuses on the loveable Ferengi’s suffering as he recuperates following the loss of a leg in battle. Unable to share his pain even with his loving father, Rom, Nog retreats to Bashir’s ‘1960s Vegas’ holoprogram, finding solace in his discussions with laidback bar owner, Vic. However, as his family and friends grow increasingly concerned for Nog’s wellbeing, the empathetic hologram is going to have to pull out all the stops to give Nog his confidence back. A welcome change of pace from the horrors of season seven’s war arc, this episode was a brave study of post-traumatic stress and its devastating repercussions for an endearing character. Aron Eisenberg is justifiably proud of the positive feedback he’s said he received from war veterans on his powerful performance as the haunted Nog, in yet another of the richly layered, moving stories only DS9 tells so effectively.
2. ‘Once More Unto The Breach’ (season seven – written by Ronald D. Moore, directed by Allan Kroeker)
“When I reach the halls of the hallowed dead, I will find your beloved, and remind her that her husband is a noble warrior, and that he still loves no-one but her. Goodbye, my friend – live well.” – Kor
DS9 found yet another point of contact with the original Star Trek in the welcome guest appearances made by Kor, Kang and Koloth, three old Klingon adversaries of James T. Kirk’s and roistering mates of Jadzia Dax in her previous incarnation as the incorrigible Curzon. After Jadzia’s tragic death at the end of season six, a grieving Worf again crosses paths with Kor (John Colicos, otherwise known as the original Baltar in Battlestar Galactica) who requests that he find a place for him on Martok’s ship; he has fallen out of favour with the Empire. Martok loathes Kor due to a slight made against him many years before, and when Worf appoints Kor third officer on his own authority, the stage is set for a difficult mission. As Kor’s encroaching senility is revealed in front of his crewmates, the revered Da’har master must redeem himself by his noble sacrifice.
Klingon episodes are many things: violent, uproarious and often funny. Rarely, however, are they as deeply moving as this. Colicos’s superb performance as the elderly warrior is rendered all the more poignant by the knowledge that this was his final acting role before his death in 2000. He, Dorn and the excellent J.G. Hertzler as Martok bring grandeur, drama and pathos to a tale that explores the true nature of heroism. I don’t think you’re supposed to cry when Klingons sing, but then I am only a weak human, so no more can be expected. Perhaps the finest moment is the quiet tragedy of Kor’s growing confusion, displayed as, when fighting the Jem’Hadar, he exults in the opportunity to battle the Federation one more time, by the side of his friend, Kang... who has been dead for years.
1. ‘The Visitor’ (season four – written by Michael Taylor, directed by David Livingston)
“To my father, who’s coming home.” – Jake’s dedication
If you only ever watch one episode of DS9 – and you’d be a fool to stop there – then this should be it. ‘The Visitor’ is, quite simply, one of the finest hours of Star Trek ever made. We begin in the Louisiana bayou, where a young woman has sought out her favourite writer, an elderly Jake Sisko (played in old age by the magnificent Tony Todd, who also appeared in DS9 as Worf’s troubled brother, Kurn). She begs Jake to tell her why he stopped writing, and he takes her through the story of a terrible loss that has shaped his whole life. An accident aboard the station that apparently killed his father turned out to have doomed Sisko to a fate arguably worse than death; the captain’s been caught in a temporal inversion due to unusual activity in the Bajoran wormhole, and passes in and out of subspace at regular intervals separated by periods of several years, which to him pass by in moments. Jake tries everything to bring his adored father back, sacrificing his marriage and career to do so. On the night young Melanie visits him, Sisko is due to return, and Jake has one final plan to free his dad from his bizarre temporal limbo.
The unbreakable bond between Sisko and his only son (Cirroc Lofton) had been stressed many times, but ‘The Visitor’ confirmed it once and for all. Heartbreaking and thoroughly believable, with Lofton and Todd equally plausible as the broken Jake, everything here works, from the superlative acting to the pervasive air of melancholy. Sisko may be trapped in subspace, but Jake’s life has been held back by his inability to let go of his father, despite all Sisko’s pleas for his son to give up trying to save him. This episode only gains in emotional impact when rewatched with the knowledge that Ben Sisko will meet with a similar fate in the events of the series finale. Ira Steven Behr noted that the everlasting love here wasn’t a romance, but something altogether more relatable: the enduring devotion of a son to his father. Brilliant and beautiful, ‘The Visitor’ sums up everything that made DS9 so unforgettable.
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