In 1993, for the first time there would be two series of Star Trek running at the same time. For it’s final two years The Next Generation would be joined by Deep Space Nine, a new show that would boldly….stay in the same place every week, set not on a starship but a stationary federation outpost. A liberated Cardassian station would be the base for a star fleet crew, overseeing a troubled Bajor recovering from occupation while exploring a recently discovered wormhole that enabled transport into a stretch of space millions of light years away.
With a wild frontier vibe, DS9 became a melting pot of diverse races and cultures (Commander Sisko being the first person of colour to head the series was not an accident), allowing Ferengi, Cardassians, Bajorans, to interact with each other on a daily basis. The regular cast stretched beyond Star Fleet and would grow with minor characters becoming important players such as Garek, Nog, Weyoun, Martok and Damar.
DS9 was an ever evolving show both in characters and storylines. Relationships would grow and change, there would be mysteries over certain characters, and life altering events and revelations would have consequences down the line. While not a straight serial, the series pushed the boundaries of the single episode format favoured by networks at the time to allow for long running story arcs, in particular the epic build to the war with Gamma Quadrant empire The Dominion.
DS9 became my favourite Star Trek series, in fact one of my favourite series full stop. Back in the dark days when it could take a year for episodes of American shows to reach UK screens (it’s still mind blowing to me that it’s common place to be able to watch the likes of Walking Dead and Game of Thrones the same day as in America) I’d go to comic fairs, hunting for bootleg VHS copies to get to see the final few seasons early.
The problem with being such a lover of DS9, trying to whittle my favourite episodes down to ten was an almost impossible task, especially if I wanted to express the breath of experiences I felt across the seven seasons. Furthermore, because I was such an avid lover of the incredibly great Dominion saga, there would naturally be a bias in that direction, which I didn’t want as DS9’s strength was in it’s rich tapestry of arcs and characters.
So, I’ve decided to cheat (go on call the cops I don’t care) and split my favourites over two pieces. This piece is dedicated to my top ten favourite DS9 episodes which were not connected to the Dominion War. This will allow my next piece to do justice to the greatness of the slow build conflict with the Dominion with my favourite ten episodes from that amazing arc.
Just like my previous pieces on TOS and TNG, the episodes will be listed in date order as opposed to ranking them in terms of favourite.
1 Homecoming, Circle, Siege (Season Two, Episodes 1,2,3)
While the very first episode of DS9 “The Emissary,” is essential for new viewers to be introduced to the series setting and character of Sisko, another great recommendation for first timers is this opener for season two. It’s a vast story with many layers that empathised the complications DS9 faced on the frontier of space, and had to be told over a whopping three episodes, the longest of any Trek at the time.
Kira Nerys rescues Li Nalas a Bajoran resistance leader from a forgotten Cardassian labour camp. Greeted as a hero by the Bajoran people, his return causes problems politically with the unstable government, building to the turmoil is an impending coup by a militant group called the circle. When the Federation orders all Star Fleet personal to evacuate DS9, Sisko ignores orders and leads a resistance against the Circle.
This is a well paced saga, mixing the action with lots of political intrigue and scheming. It’s a complex scenario, conveying the difficulties that come with even positive changes of regimes and is an example of how DS9 was able to explore such issues better than previous Trek’s.
This is also the first time we get the a sense of family and community which has slowly developed amongst the regulars. Kira at one point is been reassigned to Bajor and she surprisingly shows affection for the rest of her crew who she’s started to regard as friends. Sisko has shown to how he has grown from the first episode when he resented his DS9 post, now is prepared to rebel against orders and fight for his home.
This three parter is ambitious and realises the potential that DS9 ‘s freedom from Roddenberry’s philosophy afforded it.
2. The Marquis (Season 2, Episodes 20 & 21)
Yet more complex themes were explored in this two parter that also helped to establish a continuity and cross over with the other Trek series at the time (TNG was coming to a close, while Voyager was waiting in the wings). The Marquis built on a storyline established in a TNG episode, where Federation colonists opted to remain on planets ceded to Cardassia in a peace treaty.
Tensions have risen, and guerrilla warfare has begun to break out between Federation and Cardassian colonies in what is supposed to be a demilitarised zone. When a resistance group emerges called The Marquis, Sisko attempts to bring a halt to the fighting and avoid a renewed war. His duty weighs especially heavy when he discovers the leader of the Marquis is a Starfleet officer and one of his oldest friends.
With shades of the Palestinian, Israeli conflict, this story has parallels with any powerful forces oppressing a smaller community. The situation opens up some eye opening conflict with Sisko and Kira, the latter obviously from her freedom fighter/terrorist background has sympathy towards the Marquis.
This is another story that highlights the darker complexities of DS9 life and stabs at the romanticism of the Federation. Sisko himself has an impassioned speech at Kira, where he lambastes the complacency of the Federation, that they’ve lived on the paradise of Earth so long they’ve lost touch with the realities of live across the universe. He could easily be talking about Western societies today.
While the final showdown with the Marquis lacks a satisfying sense of real closure, this is a challenging two parter. It’s also provides the welcome joy of the Sisko and Dukat dynamic and is one of the many times the Cardassian was forced into an uneasy alliance with the regular DS9 crew.
3. Defiant (Season 3, Epsiode 9)
By season three, DS9 was changing. The emergence of the Dominion as a major threat had meant DS9 finally got it’s own starship, the heavily armed, over powered, arse kicking bastard known as the Defiant (or as the fine folks at Geekjuice have called it “Captain Sisko’s motherfucking pimp mobile”). This fucker even had a damn cloaking device.
Although introduced in the season three opener, it was here that we really got to see what this badass could do, when Johnathan Frakes guest starred as Riker to steal the Defiant and unleash it on the Cardassians. When I say “Riker,” this is not the Wil Riker we know so well, but instead “Thomas Riker”, who was a duplicate Riker created in a transporter accident and was discovered after seven years marooned in the Season 6 TNG episode “Second Chances.” Confused?
“Thomas Riker ” turned out to be a lot more rebellious than Wil and ended up joining the Marquis and masqueraded as Wil to charm Kira to get access to the Defiant and take it on a rampage into Cardassian space. Sisko is forced to work with Dukat as an adviser to stop Riker’s assault before it leads to a war.
This is an exciting episode, that really enhances the Defiant’s aura as a fearsome, capable warship. There’s a bit of a “Hunt for Red October” influence on the episode, with Sisko and Dukat back in a Cardassian command centre trying to manoeuvre and outwit Riker. This gives us more opportunity for Sisko, Dukat interaction, with even some common ground seeming to be reached between their complicated relationship as they discuss the difficulties of being fathers in the face of their duties.
Jonathan Frakes also seems to be having a blast playing the looser and cooler Thomas Riker, and it’s a shame that we didn’t get to see more appearances of the character. The episode also has a wonderful bit of foreboding, with hints that something mysterious is going on with the discovery of a secret Caradissian fleet that has even Dukat disturbed. What ever could that be?
4. Way of the Warrior (Season 4, Episode 1)
Season Four of DS9 saw the show enjoying a bit of a new found swagger. The opening credits had been slightly revamped, the theme music subtly jazzed up, while the addition of a few ships flying around DS9 gave the station a bit more life and vibrancy. Storywise, the threat of the Dominion had got the various Alpha quadrant powers in a state of high alert and paranoia, especially Cardassia which had locked down it’s borders with rumours seeping out of turmoil and revolution.
The season opened with this feature length episode, which saw a massive Klingon fleet arriving at the station supposedly to aid security against the Dominion, but secretly to stage an invasion of Cardassia (on the suspicion the Dominion were behind a coup there). The Klingons returning to being antagonists to the Federation paved the way for a new but familiar addition to the cast in Michael Dorn as Worf from the now ended Next Generation series.
While DS9 never got it’s own theatrically released film, Way of the Warrior is practically a Deep Space Nine movie, one which despite it’s television budget is better than most of the actual Trek cinema fare. It’s another great introduction episode, all the characters getting moments to shine, with the growing threat posed by the Klingons (the canny Quark is the first to realise something is going on), and culminating with a spectacular battle inside and outside the station. It’s as violent and bloody as network TV can allow, and some brutal displays of combat, with bodies from both sides littering the station. We even get to see enemies Dukat and Garek battling on the same side.
Away from the action, there is deep soul searching from Worf as following the destruction of the Enterprise (the episode takes place after Generations) he’s now a man struggling to find his purpose. With his duty causing him to be cut off from his people, he’s questioning if he belongs in Star Fleet and DS9 proves to be a much better fit for his character. It’s also clear from his very first meeting with Dax that the chemistry between them is absolutely sizzling.
Way of the Warrior is an absolutely breathtaking ride, sending the show in a new direction and with some of the most exciting action scenes in Trek history.
5. Home Front/ Paradise Lost (Series 4, Episodes 11 & 12)
While the threat from the Dominion may be instigating events in this two parter, the villains here are actually the more militant members of Starfleet Command. After a bomb blast at a Federation conference, thought to be by one of the Dominion’s changelings, Sisko and Odo travel to Earth to advise on security. However further disturbances lead to a disturbing build towards martial law.
Tensions are rife throughout the first part, with the suspense building along with a sense of helplessness and paranoia at how far the Changling’s may have infiltrated Earth. Even Sisko is adamant that freedoms need to be restricted in the current crisis and at one point is so fearful he’s driven to suspect his father may be one (the scene where he can’t help himself check a drop of his father’s blood is chilling in how far he has been consumed), yet he begins to suspect a conspiracy may be at play from within Star Fleet.
This is a powerful storyline, once again showing Starfleet in a less than glowing light. The theme of fear causing us to surrender freedoms proved to be ahead of it’s time, and raises questions on how security should be allowed to go in the name of protecting people. Questions that in the 90’s we never thought we’d have to ask. A telling moment comes when Sisko is approached by a Changeling and is told only a handful of them are on Earth, and already they’ve managed to bring it to it’s knees by doing very little.
As DS9 continued, the episodes would become more action orientated, but here saw the very best of the roots of Star Trek philosophy. Stories that asked questions and were driven with by underlying social issues.
6. Crossfire (Season 5, Episode 13)
Ongoing romance was a lot more prevalent in DS9 than other Treks, and one of the longest slow building, will they? won’t they? relationships was that of Odo and Kira. By this time in the series we know that the seemingly stern Odo has feelings for Kira, which she is totally oblivious to seeing there relationship as purely friendship.
Crossfire rarely shows up on best of lists, but the first time I saw it I found it moving but unbearably heartbreaking at times. The episode opens with Odo preparing for his weekly meeting with Kira and you can see the joy and excitement at just the prospect of being in her company. He’s then forced into the unenviable position of acting as bodyguard to the visiting Shakaar who starts to strike up a romance with Kira.
It’s impossible not to feel sympathy for Odo as he’s forced to witness their blossoming relationship up close, the pain on his face palatable especially when he has to stand duty all night outside the couple’s quarters. As he has to put up with both of them confiding in him their feelings for the other, Odo is distracted and the security work he prides himself so much on suffers.
My favourite part of this episode, is that Odo’s plight goes unnoticed by the all his colleagues, ironically the only one who notices what he’s going through is his adversary Quark. The adversarial relationship between the pair is one of the most interesting throughout the series and though it may be criminal vs police, there is a bond that shows through at times, even if the two never admit to it. Quark reaches out to Odo and although he claims it’s purely because he runs a betting pool on how quick Odo solves a case, you sense there is a more genuine motivation at work.
True love doesn’t come to Odo in this episode, but there is still an uplifting resolution as Odo maturely learns to live with Kira finding romance with another. There’s a telling scene where Odo informs Kira that he won’t have time for their face to face briefings, and you see a look of disappointment on her face saying she thought he enjoyed them, and it’s clear that she did too.
It’s an emotional episode and I’m sure many people who’ve had unrequited feelings, will relate to, but it’s also hopeful and a lesson on moving on. The final shot is excellent (with shades of the end of The Searchers) sees Odo smiling contently at seeing Kira happy with Shakaar and stepping out into the station, proudly taking back his role as the guardian of the station.
7. Trials and Tribble-ations (Season 5, Episode 6)
The original Tribble episode “The Trouble with Tribbles,” narrowly missed out on my TOS top ten, possibly because this DS9 tribute episode I love even more. In a way it’s the best of both worlds, as Trials and Tribble-ations (what a title), mixes in the DS9 cast with footage from that original episode.
Designed as a celebration of Star Trek’s 30th anniversary (Voyager did a similar less well remembered crossover), the Defiant is sent travelling back in time to the scene of the original Tribble episode where Arne Darvin the Klingon agent humiliated by Kirk in that encounter intends to rewrite history. The result is one of the most fun episodes of DS9 as the Defiant crew disguise themselves in TOS uniforms to hunt the Enterprise for Darvin.
Star Trek fans were in heaven at this episode. Never before has sheer nostalgia worked so well, with Sisko and crew being inserted into key scenes and share the screen with Kirk and co. Gags come thick and fast, O’Brien and Bashir end up in the lineup disciplined by Kirk, Jadiza is the one throwing Tribbles at Kirk’s head at the end (she also reveals she hooked up with Mccoy as a previous Dax), Sisko gets Kirk’s autograph and naturally Bashir gets to say “I’m a doctor, not a historian.”
The crowning moment is several of the crew getting involved in the big bar room brawl with the Klingons from the original episode (there’s a funny moment when they mistake the randon gut sat next to Scotty as Kirk). Even greater in that scene is the moment that had us fans were all wetting ourselves in anticipation from the start of the episode. When the Odo, Bashir and O’Brien discover the gold suited human looking beings around them are actually Klingons, all eyes turn to Worf who manages to avoid an explanation with “It is a long story…we do not discuss it with outsiders.”
The episode also plays around with the ridiculousness of the concept of time travel, with the show narrated by Sisko retelling the story to agents from the Department of Temporal Investigations. Between rolling their eyes when they realise Kirk is involved (apparently the most violations in history), disagreeing on the number of Enterprises and scoffing at Sisko’s insistence if they’d altered the timeline they would know about it when they got back (“Why do they always say that?”), the two’s poe faced, dry reaction to everything are hysterical.
Trials and Tribble-ations is fan appreciation at it’s most enjoyable fun.
8. Children of Time (Season 5, episode 22)
Almost an old school Trek premise, leading to a strong story of morality, brings us one of the most moving episodes presented in DS9. The Defiant investigates a planet in a “Quantum Bubble,” finding a colony of 8,000 who claim to be their descendants. It seems when they attempt to leave and pass through the bubble the Defiant crew are destined to be thrown 200 years back in the past and become marooned on the planet (and establish the community). The dilemma now becomes that since they know what’s going to happen they can take steps to avoid it and get home, although the descendants will be now doomed to never exist.
This is wonderful Science Fiction, a true test of the crew’s sense ethics and sacrifice. There is much soul searching, particularly for those with family back home on DS9 on whether they can bear to leave those lives behind. The questions are further compounded with the knowledge that Kira has been injured and while definitely die if she doesn’t get back to DS9. When balancing themselves against the beautifully idyllic paradise their descendants have created, the question of the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few has never been more poignant.
Children of Time is one of the most Star Trek true shows of DS9’s later seasons, which despite been a self contained episode has revelations with very real consequences to come. It also provides one of the most kick in the guts moments in all of Trek.
9. Empok Nor (Season 5, episode 24)
Probably the only Trek episode that scared me as an adult, Empok Nor crosses over into the horror genre with a frighteningly dark, psychological thriller. When O’Brien needs parts to repair the station, he Nog, Garek and a shuttlecraft of new characters who may have well wear red shirts, journey to another abandoned Cardassian Station on a salvage mission. However the station may not be as abandoned as they assumed.
O’Brien is the perfect person to build this episode around. His job as a engineer gives him an everyman vibe (as opposed to the more warrior capable likes of Worf and Kira), ramping up his vulnerability. Also due to his service in the first Federation-Cardassian war, O’Brien has always had a lingering mistrust of “Spoon-heads” (the racist term afforded to Cardassians), so when it’s discovered the crew are trapped on the abandoned station with two awakened from stasis Elite Cardassian guards, it adds an personal element.
Atmospherically the episode is tense unsettling. The station is mostly in darkness and feels claustrophobic, with the Cardassian threat possible lurking around every corner in the shadows. But the intensity really kicks in when Garek starts to show psychotic tendencies and turns on his fellow crew members. Andrew J Robinson has always brought a restrained menace to his portrayal of Garek and here is really able to let loose with the dangerous viciousness that he’s capable of.
Even by DS9 standards, Empok Nor is a ground breakingly different Trek episode that successfully blends a horror vibe into the show.
10. The Magnificent Ferengi (Season Six, episode 10)
One of the many impressive achievements of DS9, was to take the a failed TNG villain concept in the Ferengi and flesh them out to produce successfully meaningful and entertaining episodes built around them. In the process, we ended up a diverse range of Fergeni characters, ranging from the insidious, the dangerous and sometimes even lovable.
The Magnificent Ferengi brought together most of these characters into one story, as Quark puts together a team of his brother Rom, nephew Nog, the returning Brunt and Gaila plus new character Leck (a Ferengi mercenry) to rescue his mother who has been kidnapped by the Dominion. Quark plans to trade a captured Vorta (the slimy Keevan from “Rocks and Shouls”) for her, returning to Empok Nor for the switch. And on the way maybe make a little profit.
This is a really fun episode, full of laughs (the holodeck training mission where the Ferengi prove how inept they are in battle is funny) and naturally featuring Ferengi a fair share of squabbles and backstabbing. A hilarious addition is a cameo of Iggy Pop as the chief Vorta, which is bizarre casting on the face of it but really fits in on the craziness of this episode.
11. Far Beyond the Stars (Season 6, Episode 13th)
Yes, I chose an eleventh episode, report me. I just couldn’t whittle my list down to ten, and if I was going to lose an episode from the list it sure as hell wasn’t going to be one of the crowning moments of Avery Brookes seven years as Benjamin Sisko.
Sisko seemingly has a vision, that transports him into the life of a sci fi writer in 1950’s New York named Benny Russell. He works for a pulp fiction magazine with a staff made up of people who resemble his crew mates back on the station (as do other people who make up his day to day life.) Prejudice is rife as the magazine hides the fact that Russell is black, while fellow writer KC Hunter (a likeness of Kira) is forced to hide her being a woman. Russell becomes inspired by a random illustration of a space station that looks like DS9, and writes a hopeful story of a time without racism and where the lead character is a black captain.
One of the issues with Roddenberry’s vision of a mankind that had evolved from prejudice, is it prevented Star Trek from covering themes such as racism in anything but metaphorical situations and with races other than humanity. Thus for the first time the character of Sisko was able to feature in a story that dealt with prejudice towards his skin colour. Thus it’s tough to watch this normally confident, tough commanding figure having to cower before police officers (resembling Dukat and Weyon) and ultimately being physically assaulted by them in a truly horrifying scene.
The story draws on the prejudice within the science fiction industry of the time, with Kira’s character based on real life writer CL Moore who like many women had to change her name to hide her gender. Ultimately, Russell’s story of a black space captain is cruelly pulped by the publishers, leading to the traumatised writer given a impassioned, angry speech.
Far Beyond the Stars is brilliant, cleverly merging the regular cast into a new 1950’s world and delivering a powerful, heart rending story. The episode also leaves hints that the Star Trek universe may actually be in the mind of Benny Russell, in fact an original idea for the ending of the episode is rumoured to have seen the camera pull back to reveal him on the set directing the tv show of DS9. This mind boggling possibility were sadly quashed when the true nature of the visions were revealed in the season seven opening arc.
Nevertheless, this is Star Trek at it’s daringly finest.
As a finish this piece I just remembered that a late episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, more than hints that the entire series is all in the mind of a mentally ill Buffy trapped in a catatonic state. Fuck!
Next up I’ll be presenting my DS9, Dominion War special, featuring my top ten episodes from the greatest arc in Trek history.
Until then, stay calm, stay inside and make yourself happy