The Great Star Trek DS9 Rewatch: Dr Bashir, I Presume

Following on from the success of Dr Lewis Zimmerman’s Emergency Medical Hologram, the esteemed researcher is looking to create a new Long-Term Medical Hologram – with Dr Bashir as the template. In order to build up the hologram’s personality, Zimmerman starts interviewing Bashir’s friends and family – leading to tensions when Bashir’s estranged parents come to DS9.

I find myself having mixed feelings about this episode. I like the story, from Robert Picardo’s turn as the creator of his Voyager character, to the debate over genetic engineering and enhancement. What lets it down are Bashir’s parents, neither of whom are particularly inspiring as characters. Richard Bashir has a hideous ‘alright guv’nor?’ accent that simply makes me cringe, whilst Amsha is far too passive – a typical blank slate female character who exists only as the family mediator. Much of the power of this episode depends on these being really strong, well-drawn characters, and ultimately, they just aren’t.

Please state the nature of the medical emergency

  • The original EMH (or EMH Mark I, as it will come to be known) isn’t designed for long-term use, but as we know, Voyager runs theirs for seven years, enabling him to gain sentience and a distinct personality. At this point, however, Dr Lewis Zimmerman knows nothing of this, as Voyager is lost in the Delta Quadrant and has yet to make contact with Earth.
  • In a post-Khan era, Federation law strictly prohibits genetic engineering for any reason other than to correct life-threatening birth defects. The Federation is meant to be a republic of equal opportunities, after all, and the scars of the Eugenics Wars will never quite heal. Would Julian have flourished without his genetic enhancements, or was his low IQ a disability that needed to be overcome? How much of Bashir is the original Jules, and how much is his new, advanced self?
  • Much as I enjoy this episode, I do feel quite ambivalent about how much it changes Bashir’s character. It establishes him as a bit of a Mary Sue – the ultra geeky guy with superior mental and physical abilities – and takes away some of the fallibility that makes him human. Even something as small as learning that he may have been letting O’Brien win at darts all this time, takes away a lot of the character’s nuance and relatability. It also sets the stage for all that tedious Section 31 stuff that’s still to come.
  • Genetic engineering is basically one of the biggest taboos in the Federation, and yet Richard Bashir’s punishment is a mere two years in a minimum security prison. To be honest, I can imagine that lots of people might think that’s an acceptable price to pay in order to get themselves a superior child.
  • In a world where no one needs to work to live, Richard Bashir is portrayed as a man of many jobs, none of which he excels at or even sticks at for very long. As discussed in the book Trekonomics, this goes some way to establishing the importance of reputation as its own sort of currency within the Federation. The accumulation of wealth is no longer a goal, or even necessary in order to live, but humans can still compete to excel in all fields from sports to science. The average person in the Federation doesn’t need to work – they could stay home and masturbate all day if they wanted to – but there still seems to be a stigma attached to not having a career, or better yet, a vocation.
  • Leeta is clearly desperate for Rom to ask her out, but even in this enlightened 24th century, she can’t bring herself to be the one to ask him out.
  • In this episode, we finally learn about Nog’s mother, Prinadora. Rom entered into a marriage contract simply because he wanted a child, but was later swindled out of all his money when he fell in love with his wife and consequently neglected to read the small print. Prinadora subsequently divorced him and married a richer man, leaving Rom to raise Nog as a single father. Although Quark describes this as being “stuck with Nog”, if Rom’s original goal was to have a child, then actually this was presumably what he wanted. Unless his plan was to be the kind of father who just does the fun stuff with their kids, and leaves their mother to do the hard, day-to-day childcare.

Summary – Doctor Bashir, I Presume: “Who were those people?”

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