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Paramount Studios presents
"At the request of the Bajoran provisional government, Starfleet has agreed to establish a federation presence in this system..."
DVD ReviewUpon learning that I had been given the task of reviewing Star Trek: Deep Space Nine—The Complete First Season, it was with a mixture of curiosity and a bit of dread. What led to the latter emotion? Well, a card-carrying fan of the first two series of the Gene Roddenberry franchise looked at me and said, "I hope they're paying you well." Yet here I am nearly a week later, 900 minutes wiser and on the verge of dialing a 1-800 number for my very own replica of a communications badge.
With its long delay from conception to air, the lack of a spaceship setting to drive plotlines and characters not initially as huggable/lovable as their fellow alumni, Deep Space Nine overcame these obstacles and initial spottiness to become what many small screen sci-fi aficionados feel is the best of all the Trek efforts.
Like the original series and The Next Generation, casting proved to be the key to initial success. But what made DS9 stand apart from its predecessors was its willingness to put together a crew that didn't play as a team from the opening whistle of the game, a setup made possible by the back history of Lieutenant Commander Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks). Three years prior to arriving for his new assignment, the New Orleans native held the same rank on the ill-fated USS Saratoga. In the midst of a bloody battle with the Borg, Sisko's wife is among the casualties and the young commander barely escapes with his only child, Jake (Cirroc Lofton), to safety.
Still reeling with bitterness in the present, Sisko hesitantly takes on the assignment of overseeing renovations to Deep Space Nine, a space station in Bajoran territory still recovering from previous attacks by the Cardassians. Once on board, he meets a wildly diverse set of crew members: Chief Security Officer Miles O'Brien (Colm Meaney), a recent transfer from the infamous Enterprise; the fiery Major Kira Nerys (Nana Visitor), a former Bajoran fighter extremely uneasy about the Federation's onboard presence; Dr. Julian Bashir (Alexander Siddig), the ship's charmingly cocky Chief Medical Officer; comely and brainy Lieutenant Jadzia (Terry Farrell), a Trill now playing host to the symbiont Dax (once a very close friend of Sisko's via a previous body). And finally, Odo (Rene Auberjonois), the ship's head of security whose talents as a shape-shifter are on a par with his dry wit that proves handy in verbal battles with chief nemesis Quark (Armin Shimerman), owner and bartender of the station's watering hole.
Just like Sisko, I found myself feeling very cool toward the inhabitants of DS9 and wondering if I should turn over the reigns for future missions to Starship dOc Officer Joel Cunningham (who did a wonderful job on the Star Trek: The Next Generation season box sets released in 2002). Despite missteps and early growing pains, I found much to like in these initial episodes: Brook's Charlton Heston-like regality as the future Captain, the terrific interplay of Shimerman and Auberjonois' never-ending insult barrages and Visitor's passionate take on Kira, which for my money is the most appealing female role to emerge from the Trek dynasty to date.
Episodes 1 & 2: Emissary, Parts I & II
Stardate: 46379.1 and 46392.7
"I love a woman in uniform." - Quark
A tad overlong, filled with too much philosophical new-age gobbledygook and an overstuffed plot line that's not easy to follow, the pilot for DS9 is salvaged by mostly solid acting, although Brook's initial stiffness in his role stands out (although he would improve dramatically in weeks to come). At the center of the story is Sisko's possession of a mystical orb given to him by Kai Opaka (Camille Saviola), the spiritual leader of the Bajorans who demonstrates the power of her gift by transporting Sisko back to the time that he first met now-deceased wife, Jennifer. Since eight other orbs are in the hands of the Cardassians, Dax and Sisko set out in a runabout ship in a quest to recover them, discovering a useful wormhole in the process. But the mission turns sour when a stray orb transports Dax back to home base, leaving the commander all by his lonesome on a uncharted planet where the mysterious force of the orbs holds him prisoner inside his own memories. Unfortunately, the haphazard and busy editing of these sequences combined with inane dialogue bogs this storyline down; I found the showdown subplot between Kira and the Cardassians much more involving (not to mention a memorable first encounter between the major and Quark at the local bar).
On a one to five scale, this episode merits 2.5 out of 5 space stations.
Episode 3: Past Prologue
"Go over my head again and I'll have yours on a platter." - Sisko
A slight improvement on the pilot, this episode finds the crew giving asylum to Tahna, a past ally of Kira's whose spaceship was destroyed by the Cardassians. While the major has changed her ways in battling enemies, Tahna hasn't, leading to a conflict that leaves Kira conflicted as far as loyalties are concerned. Aside from offering another good acting showcase for Visitor and a fairly exciting climax, the cast, writers and viewers are still in adjustment mode.
Like its predecessor, another 2.5 space stations.
Episode 4: A Man Alone
"Do not condemn this man because he is different than you are." - Sisko
Odo is named as the chief suspect in the murder of a Bajoran visitor; Jake fights boredom by befriending Quark's mischievous nephew Nog, creating even more havoc for Papa Sisko. This in turn inspires O'Brien's wife, Keiko, to start a school for the other restless children aboard the space station. On paper, these three wildly different plots don't seem like they would mesh, but while a far cry from the top-of-the-line episodes yet to come, this proved to be the series' most effective outing to date. Among the high points: A cute opening sequence where the unattainable Lt. Dax gets flirty with the lusty Dr. Julian, Odo's hilarious rant on male/female relationships and Sisko's moving defense of our favorite shape-shifter in front of an angry Bajoran mob.
In my teacher gradebook, I give this episode 3.5 space stations.
Episode 5: Babel
"Let birds go further loose maybe." - O'Brien
A seemingly simple repair job on the station's food replicators has a peculiar effect on O' Brien, who starts sprouting gibberish so incomprehensible, he makes King of the Hill's Boomhauer understandable. Soon, almost the entire DS9 population falls victim to the potentially fatal outbreak, leaving it up to an unaffected Major Kira to find an antidote. Another winning episode as the cast continues to gel, with the writing following suit.
Rating achieves of marking (er, sorry) 4 space stations.
Episode 6: Captive Pursuit
"I am Tosk." - Tosk
A nervous alien with vessel troubles hesitantly allows O'Brien to investigate his problems. Invited to come aboard DS9 between repairs, Sisko becomes suspicious of the stranger in town and alerts the chief officer to keep an eye on him (or it or whatever). Shortly thereafter, it becomes obvious why the strange being named Tosk (Scott MacDonald) is so jumpy, as three fellow aliens beam aboard with phasers in hot pursuit of their prey. Sincere intentions about the injustice of killing for sport aside, this outing did nothing for me. Still, Meany's likeable character, an exciting crew/hunters confrontation and Michael Westmore's amazing make-up job for Tosk keep the proceedings watchable if not exactly memorable.
I am Tosk (and you're not) and I give this episode two space stations.
Episode 7: Q-Less
Q: Picard never hit me.
Sisko: I'm not Picard.
After a hairy return in her runabout with an ensign aboard, Dax is freed from danger with the help of O'Brien, who is pleasantly surprised to find that her fellow passenger is old friend, Vash, whom he met while working on the Enterprise. But unbeknownst to him and the rest of the DS9 crew at first is the emergence of a third passenger: everybody's favorite intergalatical jokester (in his own mind, that is), Q (John de Lancie). Not long thereafter, Q's presence becomes known to all, coinciding with a series of events that endanger the space station, which may or may not be his doing. An alternately fun and frantic offering that feeds off the energy of de Lancie's guest spot, highlighted by a hilarious boxing ring confrontation with Sisko.
Although I'm sure Q would give it a five star treatment, I'll conjure up a rating of 3.5 space stations.
Episode 8: Dax
"Live, Lieutenant Dax. Live." - Enina
Arrested on suspicion of a murder that occurred three decades earlier while in her former host body, Curzon, Dax is curiously ambivalent about her impending fate. So, it's up to her fellow crewmates to dig up all the evidence they can to prove her innocence. Slow moving and predictable, this is like an intergalactic Perry Mason episode, complete with a last minute confession.
Not even Fionulla Flannigan's classy guest star turn can elevate this past two space ships.
Episode 9: The Passenger
Quark: There's something in her eyes when she [Lieutenant Dax] looks at me."
Odo: An allergic reaction, no doubt.
Kira and Bashir rescue a Kobliad woman from death at the hands of a murderous criminal who implants his consciousness inside the brain of someone aboard DS9. A well written episode filled with mystery and tension up until the very end, but lightened by yet another memorable Quark-Odo barside point-counterpoint debate on the Ferengi's infatuation with Lieutenant Dax.
This episode merits 3.5 space stations.
Episode 10: Move Along Home
"First contact is not what it used to be". - Sisko
A friendly wagering game of Chula, instigated by Waldi visitors to Quark's, places the ship's senior crew members in danger as they find themselves as human tokens in a contest in which they must find their way "home." A really cool change of pace outing that would be notable if only for the sight of Sisko and Company playing hopscotch in order to avoid a force field.
I'll hippity hop and give this outing a score of 3 space stations.
Episode 11: The Nagus
Gral: Grand Nagus Quark.
Quark: I like the sound of that.
At the center of the plot is the bartender's appointment as Grand Nagus of the Ferengi empire by the outgoing Zek (Wallace Shawn). No such honor goes unpunished and an assassination attempt soon follows. One would think an episode revolving around the appealingly smutty Quark would be a recipe for delight, but it's the series' weakest episode to date with very few laughs to be found. In addition, a subplot involving Jake and Nog's growing friendship seems wildly out of place.
Unfortunately, I can only delegate a measly rating of two space stations.
Episode 12: The Vortex
"I'm a security officer, not a combat pilot!" - Odo
Cliff DeYoung guests as Crodon, a Gamma Quadrant refugee who claims he can introduce Odo to fellow shape shifters in exchange for extradition. Nice opportunity for Auberjonois to showcase the more emotive side of his character for the first time (with an even better opportunity to come in Episode 17 discussed below).
Odo supplements this mini-review by materializing into a three space station rating.
Episode 13: Battle Lines
"Don't deny the violence inside you, Kira. Only when you accept it can you move beyond it." - Kai Opaka
As a shuttle carrying Sisko, Bashir, Kira and visiting Kai Opaka (Camille Saviola reprising her memorable role from the pilot) tours the Gamma Quadrant, engine trouble forces a violent crash landing on an unknown planet. In the aftermath, Opaka dies, devastating the crew. There's little time for mourning as a mysterious band of humanoids capture the officers who soon discover that the unchartered territory they've stumbled upon is a battleground for a war that never ends. Like the ashes of a phoenix, the combatants continually rise from the dead cursed to repeat the mistakes of war for all eternity. In the midst of the conflict, a shadowy figure emerges. Opaka has risen from the dead. Took half a season, but this is unquestionably the first classic DS9 episode that can proudly stand alongside the best efforts from Trek shows past. Suceeding on so many levels from its underlying anti-war stance to impressive fight choreography, not to mention astounding performances by all (especially Visitor and guest star Jonathan Banks as the cursed She-la).
An episode that will live long and prosper deserves the highest rating of five space stations.
Episode 14: The Storyteller
Dr. Bashir: I'm aware that I have a tendency to run off at the mouth sometimes.
O'Brien: Is that a fact?
Providing a much needed whimsical outing after the dramatic operandis of Battle Lines, The Storyteller teams O'Brien and Bashir as they travel to a Bajoran village to aid a dying spiritual leader known as the Sirah. As a powerful hurricane-like force threatens the area, the elder man collapses, leaving O'Brien to pick up where he left off by telling the story of how strength in numbers and a little faith will keep the disturbance at bay. Hailed as a hero, the beffudled chief officer finds himself crowned as the new Sirah, much to the chagrin of a potential local candidate. After being relegated to almost invisible status in recent episodes à la his stint on TNG, it's nice to see Meany given a chance to flex his comic gifts; he carries the episode quite well and the pairing with Siddig is inspired.
Settle in with your Sirah robes for this one, which merits 3.5 space stations.
Episode 15: Progress
"Bajor needs you...and I need you" - Sisko
Brian Keith (the beloved Uncle Bill from the original Family Affair) has one of his last great roles as an old Bajoran farmer set in his ways with no intention of moving off his home planet, who is targeted for a power extraction. Like earlier episodes, Past Prologue and Battle Lines, Major Kira again finds herself conflicted in matters concerning her heritage, but maturing in the name of progress. There's also a touching scene with Sisko as a once tense relationship grows warmer.
This episodes ropes in 3.5 space stations.
Episode 16: If Wishes Were Horses
Odo: You're disgusting!
Quark: It's a living.
Imagination can be a wonderful thing, but as the old saying goes, "be careful what you wish for." This concept is brought home by a silly yet entertaining chapter. Thanks to atmospheric conditions in their corner of the galaxy, a major league ballplayer from generations past, Rumplestilskin, and a flirtatious Lt. Dax lookalike materialize via the respective thoughts of Sisko, O'Brien and Bashir (oh, that Julian). For some Trek faithful this is nothing but a throwaway escapade, but I found it fun with a very resounding climax (which doubled as a good example of how well done the new 5.1 soundtracks for the episodes are, which we'll explore later in the review). And what girl-crazy male wouldn't want to have his very own Jadzia, hmm?
There's no hiding my awarding this outing 3 space stations.
Episode 17: The Forsaken
Odo:I am not like you! Every 16 hours, I turn into liquid.
Lwaxana: I can swim.
Original Trek cast member Majel Barrett shines in this warmhearted outing as a visiting Federation ambassador who develops a fixation on Odo after he recovers her stolen jewelry. Attempting to elude her advances by escaping into a turbolift, she catches up with him and goes rapturous when a system failure strands them. Terrific writing and effortless chemistry in the Barrett/Auberjoinois teaming make this a fantastic outing, particularly in the way Odo gradually reveals an unseen vulnerability for the first time.
Before I melt away into a pile of goo, I'll award this episode 3.5 space stations.
Episode 18: Dramatis Personae
"Just don't be surprised if the uneasy alliances on this station start to show a few cracks." - Dr. Bashir
Following the explosion of a nearby Klingon vessel, most of the DS9 crew begin exhibiting uncharacteristic behaviors and a potential mutiny instigated by Kira threatens the ship. Upon further investigation, Odo discovers that an energy matrix released in the aftermath is the culprit. Although the "parallel existence"-type storyline is derivative, the actors have fun putting different spins on their characters (especially the sexy interplay between Kira and Dax). But someone please tell me why Sisko was putting together a clock? A Captain Queeg Caine Mutiny in-joke? Who knows.
Don't question my authority as I bestow this installment with 4 space stations.
Episode 19: Duet
"Nothing justifies genocide." - Kira
Upon learning of a patient aboard the space station afflicted with Kalla-Nohra (a medical condition with origins in a Bajoran labor camp), Kira rushes toward the infirmary. Confirming her suspicions, the man turns out to be a Cardassian and upon locking eyes with the Major, he promptly attempts to escape, only to be subdued by Odo. Once in custody, evidence mounts toward the prisoner as being Marritza, a war criminal responsible for countless atrocities toward the Bajorans. A stark, powerful, unforgettable episode with first-class acting from guest star Harris Yulin (currently on 24) as the heartless villain with no conscience.
Another episode to file under indispensible; 5 space stations out of a possible 5.
Episode 20: In The Hands of the Prophets
"On your toes, O'Brien." - O'Brien
A visiting spiritual teacher (Louise Fletcher) objects to Keiko's secular curriculum at the DS9 school, creating a rift between Bajor and the Federation. Sluggish at the start and a little too overtly political at times, this episode recovers nicely in the homestretch and I appreciated its message of tolerance and respect for other beliefs; definitely a fitting end to Season One that leaves me highly anticipating Season Two.
As the curtain falls on our freshman season, we're left with a fine thought-provoking outing that merits 3.5 space stations.
Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+
Image Transfer Review: Transfers of television shows can be hit or miss depending on both the source material and those in charge of the re-mastering. It gives me great pleasure to report that Paramount scores big time on both fronts in terms of quality. At first, the bland colors and slightly noisy picture on the pilot episode didn't exactly bode well for future installments. But from episode 2 onward, talk about flawless. Beautiful colors just jump out, very little noise is present (unless you plant your peepers very close to your monitors) and the clarity is astounding for a small screen presentation. As as the show increases in quality, so does the picture; episode by episode you can see the evidence (better set design, more effective special effects and so on).
If this set is a harbinger of the dedication Paramount plans to devote to its television properties (Cheers and Frasier amongst others on the boards for DVD releases before year's end), we are in for some real treats.
Image Transfer Grade: A-
Audio Transfer Review: Paramount really went the extra mile with this set, not only including the original Dolby Surround soundtracks that graced the television broadcasts, but also creating entirely new 5.1 Dolby Digital re-mixes for every episode. Superb as those original mixes are, the 5.1 tracks are nothing short of breathtaking, with one of the best balanced soundtracks I've ever listened to. Dialogue and sound effects are firmly isolated in the center channel with every word easily understandable. As for the fronts, wow...terrific separation makes the program's excellent score come alive with a refreshing lack of shrillness and superb dynamics. Although DS9's format doesn't include the amount of action as previous Trek programs, the directional effects during dramatic sequences are not shortchanged. Another plus in the 5.1 soundtrack's favour is the persistent low frequency activity (particularly cool in the way it replicates the humming of the space station) to give your subwoofer a real workout. Rear speakers are mainly utilized as an extension of activity occuring in the fronts, but not in a fake or overprocessed fashion.
Audio Transfer Grade: A+
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 162 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English
Packaging: Unknown keep style
Layers Switch: none
Other featurettes include Secrets of Quark'sa Bar hosted by Trek archivist Penny Juday that shows just how much creativity goes into picking/shopping for items to supplement a TV bar (how a glass candleholder flipped upside down becomes a beverage container is a stroke of genius); Alien Artifacts, a fun look at some of the more memorable props used in Season One; Michael Westmore's Aliens, a terrific 10-minute segment in which the makeup genius covers most of the more memorable creations from DS9's freshman season, and Deep Space Nine: A New Beginning, likely the first in a continuing series of behind-the-scenes mini-documentaries chronicling everything you've always wanted to know about the show. A New Beginning covers the conception of the program and the hard work that went into the designing of the show. Personally, I would have liked more information on things like casting and the messages behind the program, but since 6 more collections of episodes are on the way, I'm sure those topics and more will be covered in greater detail down the line.
Rounding out the bonus disc are two galleries: The simply titled Photo Gallery, which features a variety of pics ranging from behind-the-scenes candids to publicity shots, and the animated Deep Space Nine Sketchbook, a montage of sketches with visual commentary by special effects supervisor Rick Sternbach.
Hard core Trekkers out there want more? Then you'll be giddy with delight at bonus Hidden Files, containing additional interviews with the cast.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsConsidering my complete unfamiliarity with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the quality of the show floored me once it found its footing. Paramount has done an amazing job with the transfers from top to bottom and long time fans who may be on the fence about plunking down their cash should have no reservations; purchasing The Complete First Season should be an "affirmative."
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