Fortune Favours the Bold


Deep Space Nine SmallThe following was written by myself for the Sci-Fi Studios Magazine. Please give the magazine a look, if you have the time. Otherwise, simply enjoy the article.

Deep Space Nine is one of the most critically acclaimed Trek incarnations. There, I’ve said it. Sure, The Original Series and The Next Generation undoubtedly hold special places in the hearts of a great many fans, but to those citizens of the world who aren’t Star Trek fans (or perhaps not even sci-fi fans), Deep Space Nine is very highly thought of. Being a fan, unfortunately, doesn’t grant you that godly power of critical acclaim. TV Guide stated that it would be remembered as the finest of all the Star Trek shows.

So why do some feel it faltered? Certainly, it isn’t the most popular in the Trek fandom, and is often overlooked by networks both in the US and abroad when it comes to repeats; it’s like a shameful relative that the others try to sweep under the rug.

Perhaps foremostly, DS9 broke the established Trek tradition in an almost endless list of ways: The first black Captain; the first Trek set on a station and not a starship; the first Trek to break away from the standalone episodes format and the introduction of complex story arcs. The show was notorious for its huge repertoire of supporting guest characters, as well as strong acting from many stars, notably the likes of Avery Brooks, Armin Shimerman and regular guest Jeffery Combs (a Trek fandom favorite). The show was notably darker than previous incarnations with bloody wars and main characters that were flawed (not the perfect humans emphasized by Gene Roddenberry.) Many hold Deep Space Nine to have the finest characters and indeed, cast, of any of the Star Trek shows.

DS9 not only refused to hide darker topics, it embraced them. The show was set after decades of repressive war and occupation of a devoutly religious society. It tackled politics and the human condition in ways that previous Star Trek shows had been too terrified to touch. It tackled controversial issues head on; combating racism, homophobia, colonialism and religious prejudice while crafting them all into a continuous, complex and developing story. The plots were advanced; the details intricate; the messages profound.

A story held on an immobile space station found scope for an immense diversity of ideas and characters; and that is where the true skill of Deep Space Nine’s writers comes into the light. They crafted such wonderful characters and stories, and they were no one-trick-wonder. Since then, members of the DS9 writing staff have either created or written for the new Battlestar Galactica, The 4400, The Dresden Files, Andromeda, The Twilight Zone, Medium, The Dead Zone and Wildfire. That is an impressive record.

All sounding good so far, so what went wrong? Before finding an answer to this popular sci-fi conundrum, did it actually fail? According to a press release, DS9 was the top syndicated television show in the USA in the demographics of adults 18-49 and 25-54 throughout its entire run. [1]

It wasn’t a show that “crashed and burned” in any particular way. The television industry was less competitive back then, especially on cable. DS9 held its ratings sufficiently to the point where it ended its own storylines naturally; there was no forced cancellation.

Deep Space Nine also had its fair share of awards. That list doesn’t look much like a failure.

However, given the nature of the show’s plotlines, it was very difficult to jump into the show at any given point and simply understand the plot and basic functions of the characters. This, coupled with the fact that it was not as popular as previous incarnations with Star Trek fans, the show was probably of limited rerun value to television networks and their stations since the show would have to be aired in its entirety to be successful. That’s over 150 episodes. Why air those when you could run big movies in its slot and pull in a far greater crowd that would not have been required to have watched the last 40 weeks of programming?

That is perhaps one of the main reasons the show failed — not because of quality, but because of type. There are few would argue that DS9 did what it did very well. It was dramatically powerful, magnificently produced, and the visual effects were far beyond its time. Yet to a wide number of people, it just didn’t have the appeal of the previous Trek series.

The setting of the dark space station was found by some to be dull, depressing, uninspiring; exactly what the original series set out not to be. Why watch a show that you simply don’t enjoy? Well, you don’t, according to the ratings records. While not being a total failure, the show did not enjoy the usual Star Trek success, and in the long run, drained the franchise of vital viewers.

In the long run, this seems to have created some resentment amongst Trek fans. DS9 is seen as the beginning of the demise of Star Trek. DS9 is unique in this sense, because it is easy to see at the same time how great the quality of the show was, and how this directly contributed to its downfall. The complex story arcs were not for Star Trek’s casual viewers; the dark issues and storylines were abhorred by many of those who felt these were simply not what Star Trek was about and many found themselves unable to become immersed in the complex plot arcs. Does that make it a failure?

It’s difficult to judge, overall. It would be like adding apples and oranges; you can’t end up with one or the other, you always have both. There were many ways in which Deep Space Nine, in true Star Trek fashion, portrayed many new issues, destroyed social taboos and stereotypes. And yet in so many ways, the show diverged so far from Star Trek’s safe, established stomping ground. Whether or not the show can be enjoyed and appreciated, is very much up to the individual viewer, and how much time they are willing to invest in the show. Invest that time and approach with an open mind; and I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

Chris McQuillan

1. Newswire, April 7 1999.

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