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Up your wormhole: Star Trek Deep Space 9 turns 20

Defiantly different yet still boldly going

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Classic episodes include the comedic Rules of Acquisition, which introduced the inexplicable game of Tongo to the DS9 universe, and Blood Oath, which saw the return of Klingon warriors Kor, Koloth and Kang from the original 1960s series.

Star Trek: Deep Space 9

Ferenghi landlord Quark (Armin Shimerman) proved in instant hit...
Copyright: Paramount Pictures

Futuristic technology naturally played a big part in the show. DS9 had a well established litany of technobabble to call upon, but innovated as well. We got a portable(ish) hologenerator, a portable Starfleet computer that looked very much like a modern laptop and a Cardassian medical tricorder worn like a glove.

Season Three was to prove pivotal for DS9. Suddenly it was the only Trek show on air. TNG had bowed out in a blaze of glory and incoming newbie Star Trek: Voyager wouldn’t clash until episode 11. Unfortunately, backstage pressures were building. The show wasn’t generating the same buzz as TNG, and its preoccupation with Bajoran religion and politics were proving a turn-off. The solution was to step up the threat of the kick-ass, drugged-up Jem‘Hadar, and to draft in the Defiant, the first Federation warship to employ a cloaking device. DS9 found its action mojo, even if it meant flip-flopping on the original premise.

Reflecting a wider talent draft from TNG, Jonathan 'Riker' Frakes guested both in front and behind the camera. The fans seemed satisfied. Ratings solidified, averaging twenty points higher than its nearest syndicated competitor, the pneumatic Baywatch. But that didn’t stop the studio demanding yet more shake-ups for Season Four. Enter everyone’s favourite Klingon, Worf.

Star Trek: Deep Space 9

...as did Constable Odo (Rene Auberjonois), though Nana Visitor's Kyra Nerys suffered from the designers' fascination with nasal prosthetics
Copyright: Paramount Pictures

Executive producer Ira Steven Behr recalled: “Of all the TNG characters, probably the one who would fit in the best would be Worf.” The story possibilities were strong. The Federation was no longer on speaking terms with the Klingon Empire, leaving Worf very much out on a limb. His arrival, in the two-part The Way of the Warrior is fondly regarded as one of DS9’s best episodes.

Season Four also saw co-stars Siddig and Visitor become an item off camera, necessitating the writers to work Visitor’s pregnancy into the series. My personal season highlight? Little Green Men, in which Quark, Rom and Nog wind up in Roswell, New Mexico…

Season Five conveniently corresponded with the 30th anniversary of the franchise, and in celebration DS9 gave us Trials and Tribble-ations, which inventively (and expensively) mashed the cast into the classic TOS Trouble with Tribbles episode, creating a ratings smash in the process.

Star Trek: Deep Space 9

But it required the arrival of Worf (Michael Dorn) to give the ratins a much-needed lift
Copyright: Paramount Pictures

Season Six similarly broke new ground, opening with a six-episode arc that flew in the face of the episodic nature of TV shows of the time. And it wrapped by killing off one of its key characters.

Deep Space Nine was to enter its final season battered in the ratings by a double whammy of Hercules and Xena Warrior Princess. Audience tastes were clearly changing. Still, plot-wise DS9 went out with all phasers firing. The Dominion War came to a fitting conclusion, and the show culminated with a final two-parter that once again returned DS9 to the top of the syndication charts.

Once described as the Rodney Dangerfield of the Star Trek universe, because it “didn’t get no respect”, Deep Space Nine may not go down in the history books as the greatest of the TV Treks, but it was consistently the most interesting. I for one wouldn’t say no to a return visit. ®

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