|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.
ON STARDATE 9521.6, CAPTAIN
HIKARU SULU OF THE
FEDERATION STARSHIP EXCELSIOR
SPENT THREE YEARS ON HIS FIRST
ASSIGNMENT AS MASTER OF THE
VESSEL CATALOGUING GASEOUS
PLANETARY ANOMALIES IN THE
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is what's left of our hero's quarters after the Borg attack brought the ceiling down.
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.
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).
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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'.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.