The Great Star Trek DS9 Rewatch: Past Tense I+II

When the Defiant returns to Earth so that the crew can give a report on the Dominion, a transporter accident sends Sisko, Bashir and Dax three hundred years in the past. Now stranded in San Francisco in 2024, Sisko and the others are in danger of getting embroiled in one of the major turning points of Earth history – the Bell riots. But Sisko’s plans to stay out of history’s way are ruined when Gabriel Bell – the key figure in the riots – is killed in front of him.

The big set piece of season three, Past Tense is something that everyone is supposed to enjoy – unless, like me, you remain resolute in your dislike of the vast majority of time travel episodes. I admit that there are good aspects to it – mostly thanks to Avery Brooks showing off his acting chops – but there’s also lots of silliness and stupidity, and as per usual, I’d rather be exploring the 24th century than tedious, near future Earth.

The Good

  • Sisko as Gabriel Bell. You get the impression of a man glad to be free of having to be a perfect 24th century, and able to indulge in his emotions in a bit, albeit for a good cause.
  • Jadzia in the fashions of 2024.
  • Bashir out of uniform and out of the office, giving his character a little more depth than he gets from his comfortable spot in the infirmary.
  • “You get on my nerves… and I don’t like your hat.”

The Bad

  • The stupid scenes where Kira and O’Brien beam down to different time periods – especially the hippy 1960s encounter.
  • The utterly ridiculous technobabble that’s used to frame the story. Chroniton particles have built up on the hull because of the cloaking device – but why? The cloaking device bends light, it has nothing to do with ‘time particles’. A singularity explodes, causing both the transporter accident and creating a convenient subspace bubble which protects the Defiant from changes in the timeline. You might as well say a wizard did it.
  • Tedious 21st century personalities: the rich guy who must come to terms with society’s unfairness; the good-hearted admin worker who is the only one allowed to scream and be frightened because she’s a woman; the young cop with a family he wants to get home to; the cynical and grizzled older cop, and the crazy guy with a hat and a gun.
  • The blatant attempt to shove a moral message down our throats. In general, I appreciate Star Trek’s morality play, but here it was just a bit too heavy-handed. “How did people let things get so bad?”

Other points

  • Why didn’t O’Brien, Kira and Odo use a bisection search to better track down the time period that Sisko and the others had gone to? They knew that anything after that time would be changed from the history they remembered, so they could use this to find the dividing line between ‘before interference’ and ‘after interference’. Instead, they wasted their time pissing about in the 20th century, before finally getting to the right time through a guess.
  • If they needed more chroniton particles for additional transports, couldn’t the Defiant have cloaked? I guess this might have dispelled the magic subspace bubble, but in a reality where Starfleet doesn’t exist, there’s no Treaty of Algeron to break.
  • Would the lack of Gabriel Bell really have changed history that much? If the sanctuaries were at tipping point, anyone could have stepped up and done similar. Besides, since Sisko would have already stepped in and changed things from a 24th century perspective, nothing should have changed anyway – except Sisko’s face being in the database as Gabriel Bell. Oh time travel, why do you mock me?
  • If all the senior staff have travelled to Earth on the Defiant, who’s in charge of DS9? It’s still in a vital strategic position, so I hope it wasn’t left to some ensign.
  • Sisko has a sister who lives in Portland.
  • Why didn’t Dax hide her comm badge under her jacket to prevent it from getting stolen?
  • What if the comm badges stolen from Bashir and Sisko are reverse-engineered by someone in the 21st century, damaging history by altering the rate of technological progress? Or maybe they were beamed back up to the Defiant by the automatic transporter cycle.

Summary – Past Tense: It’s just eight year to go until the Bell Riots! I hope you’re all excited.

One thought on “The Great Star Trek DS9 Rewatch: Past Tense I+II

  1. Re: chronitons: A perfect cloaking device would require that photons incident on one side of the ship emerge the other side as if there were nothing there. However, since something *is* there, they have to follow a longer path around the outside of the ship, lengthening their time of flight (to an observer). To make them emerge in the time that would be expected, you need either a warp bubble to bend the space, or to make the light travel faster than light. The former would have the side effect of making it impossible for the Defiant to see (since you need photons for that, but they’re all being redirected to the intended observers), so now you also need a photon duplicator, whilst allowing the original path to still be reached in the original (now faster than light) time. Faster than light photons requires causality violation, hence the chronitons.

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