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Friday, 8 April 2016

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine 1-01: Emissary, Part I

Episode:1|Writer:Michael Piller|Air Date:03-Jan-1993

This week on Sci-Fi Adventures I'm watching Emissary, the very first episode of the second Star Trek spin-off, Deep Space Nine!

Not to be confused with The Emissary, which was a second season episode of the first Star Trek spin-off, Star Trek: The Next Generation. That was the one where they stuck Worf's ex into a torpedo and fired her off into deep space because some grumpy old Klingons were waking up, or something. It's not important right now.

I've seen almost all of Deep Space Nine before, though it's been a while now and I've only seen it once so what I have in my head may not match what I see on the screen. In fact I'm hoping it doesn't, as I remember this leading into the worst season of Star Trek since the first year of Next Gen. But I've got a season one box set sitting here, so whether it's good, bad or terrible you'll be getting that much out of me at least. I'll put up a new review every two weeks or so, and then decide what happens next when I run out.

Sadly DVD's still the best quality we've got at the moment, transferred from old low-res tapes, but I'm hoping by watching all these fuzzy interlaced episodes with their sparkling cross colour artefacts I'll be tempting fate into giving the series a proper HD release like the Original Series and Next Gen got. And the movies. And the bloody Animated Series!

If scrolling through 50 images with spoilers underneath each doesn't appeal, then maybe just skip to the review at the end of part 2. Then you can tell me what a big mistake this all was in the comments.

I'd forgotten the episode started with Star Wars scrolling text! It doesn't hang around for nearly as long though and it's missing the John Williams score (producer Rick Berman disliked music that drew attention to itself or was good). But at least it's got a bit more drama to it than the opening narration you usually get out of Star Trek:
And that's from one of the better movies!

Once the text's all scrolled off somewhere else we're left with a black screen and Patrick Stewart gets the first spoken line of the series: "Resistance is futile."

Hey, it's Locutus himself making a cameo on the viewscreen! I wonder if this is reused footage from Next Gen, or if they talked Patrick Stewart into wearing the Borg makeup again.

Locutus asks the crew of this ship we're on to disarm their weapons and escort his Borg vessel to Earth so they can get on with the assimilation of humanity. He knows they're not going to do it; the Borg have been at this for a while now and I doubt anyone's ever replied 'sure, we'll help you wipe out our entire civilisation'. But it doesn't cost them anything to be polite.

You know, it occurs to me that we don't know what ship we're on yet.

Oh damn it's Avery Brooks with hair, and without a beard! It's like seeing Will Riker without a beard during the first season of Next Generation, it just doesn't feel right.

Here's how he looks in season 4 for comparison. That beard's like Superman's glasses; he becomes a different person when it puts it on.

This nameless lieutenant commander isn't the captain of this ship, but he's clearly the person we're meant to be paying attention to as the bridge crew gets to work readying weapons.

Oh they're on one of those old school USS Reliant-type ships from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan! I've always liked that design, it's like a remix of the refit Enterprise that's built for getting the job done rather than showing off.

The thing is, that movie's set 80 years before this, so they may well be going into battle in an antique. I mean we already knew they were screwed, as this is a flashback to a battle where every Starfleet vessel was destroyed, but their ship is extra screwed. 

The bridge crew are still getting on with the business of yelling out information to each other, but no one's contrived a way to reveal the name of their ship yet, so I'm just going to tell you it's the USS Saratoga.

They're apparently not the brightest crew in Starfleet either as they're doing it all wrong. You don't fire phasers from the sensor dome! They're supposed to come out of little phaser emitters a bit further up, next to the registry number. Like, duh!

Then again how can I claim to know where the phasers shoot from on the Saratoga? I've never seen the ship before, I'll never see it again. It could transform into robot mode for all I know and start smacking enemies around using one of its warp engines as a club. It doesn't much matter really, as the Borg Cube they're fighting is just going to laugh it off either way.

Oh, that's a nasty cut.

The Borg ship is grabbing the Starfleet vessels with its tractor beam one at a time and then slicing them up. Once this Excelsior class ship is done with, the Borg go after the Saratoga, wrecking the bridge and giving the stunt and pyrotechnic crews something to do.

That's the good thing about pilot episodes, they've got a way higher budget than a typical episode, so they can show off a bit (plus having the movie models handy helps). In this case they're finally showing off the famous Battle of Wolf 359 that took place entirely off-screen during TNG season 4's Best of Both Worlds, Part 2. It's very much the Federation's equivalent to 9/11 in how it shook them up and made them rethink their priorities, so right away it starts the series on a darker path.

Right now our hero is definitely reconsidering his priorities, as he leaves the smoking wreckage of the bridge and races through the smoking wreckage of the corridors to get his family to safety. Interestingly these hallways of this ship don't look like a redress of the Next Generation set. Okay maybe that wasn't that interesting.

Another thing I've noticed is that these people look like part of the film crew who wandered onto the set by mistake and began to suffocate in the smoke they're pumping in. It's so weird seeing people wearing regular clothes in Star Trek, especially as these must all be civilians they deliberately dragged into a war zone! Sure there's billions of civilians back on Earth who are going to be assimilated if they don't stop the Borg, but they could have at least dropped these folks off in escape pods along the way.

Okay, there's no way those windows match up to anything on the model. Sorry I'm nitpicking again.

This is what's left of our hero's quarters after the Borg attack brought the ceiling down.

And this is what's left of his wife Jennifer after the ceiling fell on her.

Our hero gets his son Jake out of the wreckage, but Jennifer's trapped and thoroughly dead. And so they all learned an important lesson about what happens when you bring your family into combat.

Lieuntent Bluealien passes Jake to an Ensign and then drags Avery Brooks out of the room before he can overact any more. Well it's maybe not overacting, but it's certainly a special kind of acting that only Star Trek leads can get away with. No one has ever yelled "HELP ME!" the way Brooks does in this scene, and no one ever will again.

Okay that's a cool shot. Some nice synchronised jolt acting as well, which really helps to sell that they're in an escape pod being fired off into space.

Damn, the Saratoga exploded with so much force that it became a different model with a wonky warp engine in just a single frame!

Fortunately the Borg aren't all that interested in escape pods, so the survivors get to carry on surviving. And that's where this ends; I'd need to get Next Gen's Best of Both Worlds two parter to see what happened to the Borg Cube in the end (spoilers: they don't assimilate Earth).

Three years later, Jake has been replaced with series regular Cirroc Lofton, and he's not happy. His father's been reassigned to a crappy space station orbiting an alien planet called Bajor, and that means he's getting dragged along too.

A voice contacts our hero over his combadge, which is a really weird word now that I've seen it written down, and he calls him Sisko. Five minutes in and we finally get the main character's name! He's just calling to tell him they'll be docking at Deep Space Nine in seven minutes.

Surprise, he was fishing in a starship holodeck! They decide to save the pond and take it with them.

It's weird how they went to the trouble of designing a brand new holodeck just for this one scene, seeing how we'll never see this ship again. I guess they were trying to make sure no one can confuse this ship with the Enterprise.

They walk past a huge window and look out to see... station Deep Space Nine!

I love the effort put into this one shot, as the camera follows the two actors from the closing holodeck door, turns around to show the space station out of the window, then pulls in to reveal Bajor behind it and the reflections of the actors as they walk away. I'm not sure the reflections make any kind of sense considering where they were standing, but I don't care, it looks cool. Also expensive.

And that's the end of a really long teaser.

Well it's nice to confirm that I'm definitely watching Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. I'd hate to find they'd slipped an Enterprise disc into my DVD box by mistake. Oh great, now I have the theme caught in my head.

One thing that's new about Deep Space Nine's titles is that there's no opening narration. No one says a thing about space being the final frontier, or that people are going where no people have been already. We just get this kind of dull music playing as the station rotates and the credits come up. Not that I dislike the theme, it's infinitely better than Enterprise's 'Faith of the Heart', I just feel like I could hear it once and then live without it for the next 174 episodes.

Something else that's new, is that this is the first of the Star Trek series where the actors have more interesting names than the characters they play. It stars Avery, Cirroc, Nana, Siddig, Colm, Armin, René Auberjonois and a woman called Terry.

Oh right, here's one other thing I've noticed: Emissary has a special version of the title sequence which is missing the wormhole, as the crew don't discover it until later in the episode... but it's also missing Bajor and they don't move the station away until even later in the episode! The camera continues spinning around the station throughout the credits so there's nowhere for the planet to hide, and it's absence is made even more obvious by the fact that the title sequence is bookended by two shots of the station in orbit.


See, there it is! Bajor's a big-ass blue planet, you can't miss it.

Also the Enterprise has shown up, straight after dealing with the dastardly Cardassians in Next Gen season 6's Chain of Command. You know, the one with four lights in it.

Hang on, I just have to whine about the design of Deep Space Nine station for a second. Those inwards curving docking pylons are an absolutely stupid design, as they give ships less room to dock. I mean I respect that you should keep your prongs inside your shield bubble, no one wants exposed prongs, but having inwards facing airlocks stuck right up at the end means that you can barely fit one ship in that space at a time. Plus the airlocks around the outer docking ring are recessed! It's like the designers were determined to make sure that only the tiniest ships can dock with the place.

Okay I'm done now. Station looks cool, I want one.

On board we meet Next Gen's Chief O’Brien, and he's in a new uniform! The series immediately demonstrates why he'd be wearing a different outfit to work on a dirty beat up space station by showing that this one's designed to let him roll his sleeves up. Weirdly Star Trek: Voyager uses the work uniforms too despite being on a nice clean starship, and Deep Space Nine's crew would eventually switch to using the First Contact movie starship uniforms.

Oh, the place is dirty and beat up because the previous owners had fun wrecking the place before leaving. Sisko explains the situation in his very first station log narration. A long time ago there was a nice happy planet called Bajor, and the Cardassian Empire decided they'd invite themselves over for a long brutal occupation and strip mine the place. Decades later the Bajorans finally managed to kick them out, and got this old Cardassian ore processing space station in the bargain. But the Cardassians are still a threat, so the Bajorans asked the friendly Federation if they'd like to run the station for them (which they'd of course protect with their advanced starships). So it's all pretty simple really.

O'Brien explains to Sisko that the Cardassians stripped the station of everything of value before they went home, and they've left it ruined and near defenceless. Now the civilians with shops here are packing up to leave and no one's cleaning up the debris as O'Brien's repair crews are busy with repairing things. He's the station's new Chief of Operations by the way, which basically makes him their Scotty.

Hang on... so Sisko just came on board now and found that O'Brien's already been here for two days. But Sisko's ship must have arrived before the Enterprise as you can't see it docked in the teaser. Unless it dropped O'Brien off, left and then came back again. Maybe Picard saw a shiny subspace anomaly fluttering by and took the ship out to chase it.

C'mon episode, show me a wide shot of Ops, give me something to screencap! The stations command centre is a massive elaborate set with a proper ceiling, monitor screens in the walls and at least one functioning lift which can drop below the floor, but the director kept the camera tight on the actors as they walked around so I can't get a good picture. It was shot with a servo-remote-controlled camera crane apparently, which sounds like a nice toy.

A Bajoran officer called Major Kira's currently occupying Sisko's office, so he decide it's about time he introduced himself. Weirdly O'Brien gives him a warning about Bajoran women before he goes in, like he's judging them all on how the misanthropic Ensign Ro acted in Next Gen. Makes him seem like a bit of a xenosexist. Then again I guess they had to do something to make her seem alien.

You see there's basically three kinds of aliens in TV sci-fi:
  • The awkward and expensive kind like Rygel, Yoda, Jabba the Hutt, those guys from District 9 and the blue Avatar creatures, brought to life with animatronics, 3D motion capture and muppets.
  • The slightly less alien but kind of convincing type like the Narn, the Cardassians, the Ood and Scorpius, involving lots of latex and very patient actors.
  • And then you've got ones like the Vulcans and Babylon 5's Centauri, which definitely require a bit of time in the makeup chair, but basically class as 'human, except slightly not'.

The Bajorans like Kira here are 100% category 3. In fact so are the Trill, meaning that when Dax eventually shows up she'll have a bit of paint on her temples to indicate that she's not of our world. Basically the producers didn't want to cover up their pretty female actors with latex. Plus it wouldn't be smart to make the local aliens expensive to mass produce. The actors playing Quark and Odo on the other hand, those guys really suffered for their craft.

Anyway, we learn that Sisko requested a Bajoran as his first officer and Kira was assigned the job, so she's next after him in the chain of command. She's also downright furious about the fact that the Bajorans only just got done kicking the Cardassians off their world after 60 years of horrific occupation, and now they've gone and invited the Federation in to replace them!

Sisko knows the Federation's genuinely only here to help (and eventually persuade them to join up as a member), but Kira's been a resistance fighter since childhood and she doesn't want another major empire with an agenda moving into her home. So there's main characters with actual conflicting objectives in a Trek series!

Their pleasant introduction is interrupted though when they receive news of trouble on the Promenade (basically the station's shopping centre).

Turns out that a young Ferengi and some other alien without a speaking role are stealing ore samples, but they're stopped by the station's security chief/mall cop Constable Odo. Ore samples, seriously?

The thief has the ingenious idea to try throwing his flail at the Constable, but that doesn't quite go as expected. 

Odo's basically a sapient puddle of brown goo who can perfectly mimic any object, except a human (he's actually trying to look Bajoran, but that's basically the same thing). There's good two reasons for that limitation I suppose: the ability to imitate other people would make him too powerful, and it means they get to give him that cool 'unfinished face' look. Plus it's a metaphor for how he doesn't know who he is or what a creature like him should look like.

A Ferengi called Quark appears and explains he runs the local gambling establishment, or used to anyway. The thief is his brother's kid and they're leaving the station tomorrow, so he'd appreciate it if he could be released into his custody. Sisko tells him it's not going to happen, not yet anyway. He's got something he wants in return.

But first Locutus wants to speak with him on the Enterprise. Uh, I mean Captain Picard. 


Deep Space Nine Sisko and Picard
For some reason they're having a chat in the briefing room instead of Picard's ready room, but I can't complain about the view.

Picard greets the Commander with a smile and a handshake, but Sisko immediately ruins the mood by revealing he served on one of the ships at Wolf 359. It was the worst day in both their lives so that's made things kind of awkward, especially as Sisko obviously blames him for his wife's death.

The Captain spells out that Sisko's job here is to help Bajor recover and get them into a place where they're ready to join the Federation. Sisko tells him that maybe he doesn't want a job here, maybe he'll quit and find civilian work instead. It's pretty brave to start a new series by having the lead character openly despise the lead of the current series, but it makes this a good scene.

Now that his chat with Picard has been concluded, Sisko can pick up where he left off with Quark. Hey he's changed into the DS9 jumpsuit! Right after he made it clear he didn't want to be here.

Sisko explains how it's going to be to Quark. He needs the shops to stay open to provide services for the station crew and for that he needs a community leader who'll stick around and be an example to the others. So he'll get Quark's nephew out of spending time in a Bajoran prison if he agrees to keep his bar running. We're getting to see how Sisko solves problems and it's not necessarily the squeaky-clean Starfleet way.

The next problem is that Bajor's provisional government is on the verge of collapsing, and that means civil war. Sisko's only hope of bringing the people together is for someone to convince Bajor's reclusive spiritual leader, Kai Opaka, to call for unity. And seeing as no one else seems to be doing it, he's going down to the planet himself.

Deep Space Nine Bajor matte painting
Wow, Bajor truly is a blasted miserable wreck of a planet isn't it? Well that bit of wall in the foreground is anyway. I imagined it would look like Berlin after World War II, all devastation and ruins, but the place is downright picturesque. So much so that it's obviously been painted.

What I love about this matte painting though is how it isn't one, not entirely anyway, as people are walking around, the water sparkles and there's multiple scrolling layers to it. Plus I'm convinced that that everything from that tower forward is actually a model.

For a while the producers actually considered having the series set on Bajor instead of a space station, but decided they could do without the cost of building sets on location. Plus Star Trek fans want to see space! 

Sisko has no trouble meeting with the reclusive Kai Opaka as it turns out she's been waiting for him. Waiting to grab his ear so she can read his 'pagh' that is. Sisko's not impressed, but he's polite about it.

Trouble is that Opaka's a very cryptic and unhelpful woman. She claims she can't call for a unified Bajor as "I cannot give you what you deny yourself." "Look for solutions from within, Commander," she elaborates. Star Trek never really had much interest in exploring religion until DS9 so I suppose it makes sense that it struggles at its first attempt at showing the space pope.

She's going somewhere with all this though, and she takes him down to a sparkly thing she keeps in a box in the basement.

Deep Space Nine tear of the prophet orb
She calls it the Tear of the Prophet and leaves it at that, sneaking out of the room and leaving Sisko alone with the mysterious orb. Then there's a flash and...

...Sisko's at the beach! Great transition, terrible vest. It does that thing I don't like, where it mimics the two colour Starfleet uniform.

After getting over the shock Sisko begins to realise something: the sand's burning hot and he needs to get his feet elsewhere. So he runs for a nearby towel and ends up kicking sand all over his wife.

Yep, it's Jennifer Sisko, alive enough now to have a speaking role!

Commander Sisko figures out that he's been sent back in time to the day he met her, or perhaps he's just been given a vision, either way he gets to be with his wife again! He offers her one of the lemonades he found himself holding and turns on the weird charm. Most of the time when Star Trek characters are thrown into situations like this they immediately work on trying to get back out, but I get the impression that Sisko would give everything up to stay here.

But he can't. He finds himself back on Bajor again, where Kai Opaka lays out the situation. There were 9 of these magic orbs, the Cardassians have stolen 8 of them, and sooner or later they're going to use them to find a way to destroy the Prophets' Celestial Temple. Basically she's worried that they're going to blow up their equivalent of Asgard or Mt. Olympus, which would kind of demoralise every believer on the planet.

So Sisko has a quest: to take the orb and use it to find the Celestial Temple before the Cardassians do.


To study the orb he'll need scientists and luckily two of them have just arrived. Here's a rare glimpse of Dr. Julian Bashir and Lt. Jadzia Dax in their starship duty uniforms. There's more good news: the Promenade's been cleaned up a lot now and Quark's bar is back in business. Also the Enterprise is leaving so he doesn't have Picard looking over his shoulder any more.

Dr. Bashir's having less luck though, as he starts running his mouth in front of Kira and all the wrong words fall out. Unlike Sisko he deliberately chose this posting because he wanted to be out on the frontier, in the wilderness! Kira corners him, points out that his wilderness is her home, and recommends he gets to work bringing his Federation medicine to the 'natives'. "You'll find them a friendly, simple folk," she adds. Bashir's expression afterwards is somewhere between embarrassment and fearing for his life, it's awesome.

Elsewhere Dax is playing around with the Tear of the Prophets and manages to accidentally give herself a vision of her past. Only instead of lemonade at the beach, she gets to go through surgery!

Dax is actually an old friend of Sisko's, or at least Curzon Dax was. He's lying next to her on the other bed now in fact, dying.

Jadzia is a Trill, a race that discovered a while back that they could stick a worm in their gut to share its thoughts and memories. They pass the creature to a new host when they die, so Jadzia Dax has inherited the memory and skills of several lifetimes of former Daxs... and also their last name. You'd think a race with so much accumulated wisdom would know to put the fluorescent lights above the surgical table, not in the surgeon's line of sight.

Turns out this orb is a handy way for the writers to show important pieces of backstory. I hope O'Brien uses it next so we can get a five minute clip of him standing at his transporter console on the Enterprise, waiting for something to do.

Hey O'Brien changed back into his starship duty outfit too.

He's returned to the Enterprise one last time to say goodbye, but it'd be too expensive to bring in all the Next Gen actors so he finds that the night shift is on duty. A nameless lieutenant offers to let Captain Picard know he's here, but he doesn't want to bother him. After all he was just the transporter chief on the ship, no one the Captain knew or cared about.

Surprise! Picard arrives in the transporter room as he's leaving, as he'd like to beam him over to DS9 personally. The ship's still docked at the station so he could just walk across, but I suppose if anyone gets to transport out it's the transporter guy.


But the minute the Enterprise leaves, a Cardassian ship drops by to say hi. Meaning we get the first appearance of Gul Dukat! AKA. Charming Space Hitler. He was actually going to be played by a different actor, but it's fortunate they recast the character during production, as Marc Alaimo is dead-on perfect in the role.

Gul Dukat used to be the Cardassian Prefect of Bajor, ruling over the planet from his office here on Deep Space Nine. Which is now Sisko's office, so that's something weird to think about. Gul's his rank by the way, not his name, though it might as well be. Why the Cardassians have made up ranks while the Bajorans use human ones is a mystery that's never solved, though I bet it's the Prophets' fault somehow.

Dukat explains that he's only here to help them through this difficult transition. After all, the station is barely operational, with few defences, and far from the Federation fleet. Funny how listing weaknesses can kind of come off like a threat. Dukat's heard about Sisko's visit to the Kai as well and he knows he's got the orb on the station, so he'd like to share information.

In the meantime his men will be "enjoying the hospitality of the Promenade". So that means the DS9 crew can't make a move without them and their ship outside spotting it.

Down in the science lab, Dax has made a discovery: the Cardassians still use flickery old CRT screens. Also the grey lines covering everything are actually strips of tape. And thus the secret of why DS9 must never get a HD remaster is revealed.

While the Cardassians tried to study the orbs themselves, Dax has gone with a different approach, looking through Bajoran records for reports of weirdness in space and putting them on a map. A pattern soon begins to emerge and the Celestial Temple is likely right there in the middle of it. You'd think that someone would've thought of doing this before, but I guess they were busy with the occupation and everything.

So now the crew have a destination to try, but they can't make a move with that Cardassian ship nearby, as they'll lead them right to it. Their solution: kick the Cardassians out of Quark's and give them a bag for their winnings. They take the bag to their ship, the bag is actually Odo in disguise, Odo sabotages their ship from inside, problem solved! Picard would likely not approve.

Oh wow, they built a giant sized section of the inner ring and one of the docking bays, big enough to fit a whole shuttle on the lift. I'd forgotten about this.

Deep Space Nine carries runabouts though, which have a bit more range to them than a typical shuttle, plus room in the back for a toilet. They're like the midpoint between a Star Trek shuttle and the Millennium Falcon, which is as good an explanation as any to why they've got exposed boxes and devices sticking out all over the hull. Starfleet generally likes to keep that crap inside the hull, so they don't have to send a Wookiee outside with a wrench to fix it. Also like Thunderbird 2 and the Eagles from Space 1999, runabouts have a detachable pod in the middle section that can be swapped out for different missions. In seven seasons I don't think this ever gets mentioned or used once.

Anyway, Sisko and Dax take off in the Rio Grande and head to the Denorios Belt in search of the Celestial Temple. To be continued!

Click the link to jump to the second part, where Sisko finds himself unstuck in time, the station becomes unstuck in space, and Dukat gets himself stuck in the Gamma Quadrant: Part two.