Ah, Deep Space Nine. The so-called ‘red-headed stepchild’ of the Star Trek franchise. DS9 was different in various ways. It never had a time when it was the only Star Trek series airing on TV. It was set on a space station instead of a starship travelling at high warp. It was the first Star Trek series to try having non-Starfleet personnel as part of the main cast. It even had a black single father as the commanding officer, which was a big deal back in the day (and probably even now is a bigger deal than it ought to be).
For me, choosing a DS9 top ten was difficult. I feel like it doesn’t have as many stand out episodes as TNG and Voyager. And yet, in its favour, it doesn’t have such long stretches of mediocrity as either of its contemporaries. Anyway, after much thought, I present to you, in no particular order, my DS9 top ten.
Trials and Tribble-ations
“Do they still sing songs about the Great Tribble Hunt?”
In this special 30th anniversary episode, the DS9 crew must travel back in time to the original series’ episode The Trouble With Tribbles. Using what was then state-of-the-art digital wizardry, our heroes are inserted into scenes from the original episode, whilst humorous quips and asides abound as Sisko and the others attempt to find the would-be assassin of Captain Kirk. Even though I know it’s written purely to appeal to Trek geeks suchs as myself, I fully and wholeheartedly embrace that fact, and adore this episode. After it, it entirely encapsulates everything that’s fun and a little bit silly about Star Trek.
“It was me all along. I’ve been dragging you through time like an anchor and now it’s time to cut you loose.”
And now for something completely different, as we move on to one of the few moments in Star Trek that has actually made me cry. This episode is set in a future where Sisko has been lost in subspace, and has been showing up in front of Jake every few years. Now an old man, Jake has never been able to let go of his grief and get on with his life, because the hope of getting his father back has always been dangling tantalisingly just out of reach. Tony Todd does a brilliant turn as older Jake, and his recounting of his life is both a classic tragedy and a study in the devastating effects of grief and loss. On top of that, the ending is just heartbreaking. Truly Star Trek at its best.
In the Pale Moonlight
“So I will learn to live with it…Because I can live with it…I can live with it.”
No discussion of the best episodes of DS9 would be complete without mention of arguably its best and most memorable episode – In the Pale Moonlight. With the Dominion War going badly for the Federation/Klingon alliance, it seems like only one thing could possibly turn the tide – for the Romulans to join the war. Since there’s no real incentive for the Romulans to break their non-aggression pact, Sisko decides that he must manufacture evidence of the Dominion’s plans to attack them. What follows is one man’s trip down the road to hell, as Sisko is forced to take darker and ever more morally dubious actions to fulfil his original plan. This episode really marked Sisko out as a very different sort of Starfleet captain – one who wasn’t afraid to put aside his enlightened 24th century humanity and morals if it meant getting the job done. Kirk would never have thought to do something this subtle and deceitful, and Picard would have been physically incapable of it.
“Doctor, Elim is Garak’s first name.”
Of DS9’s many recurring characters, former Obsidian Order agent Elim Garak was definitely one of the most interesting. Having been exiled to DS9, Garak has been rely on a neural implant that turns pain into pleasure in order to endure his new living conditions, but in doing so has become so reliant on it that his life is threatened when it breaks down. Naturally, Doctor Bashir is keen to save his friend’s life, but in trying to elicit details about Garak’s past that could help with finding a treatment, he is fed all kinds of tall tales. Although we never find out for sure, we’re left with the feeling that there’s a nugget of truth at the centre of all of Garak’s stories. More than that, we’ve had a rare glimpse into some of the raw emotion that drives him, ever lurking between his glib and sarcastic exteriot.
“The Argrathi did everything they could to strip you of your Humanity and in the end, for one brief moment they succeeded. But you can’t let that brief moment define your entire life.”
The DS9 writers absolutely loved putting O’Brien through the wringer at every turn. In this outing, he gets wrongfully accused of espionage by an alien race, and sentenced to twenty years in prison. His crewmates arrive swiftly to bring him home – only to find out that O’Brien has already lived through those twenty years of imprisonment in his mind. Now, he must readjust to life on board DS9, all the while hiding a terrible secret about his time in prison.
Star Trek characters always overcome traumatic events with amazing rapidity, but we’re lucky here to get an entire episode devoted to the aftermath of a traumatic experience, and how it almost drives O’Brien to kill himself. Suicide is often a taboo subject, and so to see a major character come so close to taking his own life is a bold move for a family show.
It’s Only a Paper Moon
“When the war began… I wasn’t happy or anything, but I was eager. I wanted to test myself. I wanted to prove I had what it took to be a soldier.”
Speaking of PTSD, we now segue nicely into season seven’s It’s Only a Paper Moon. Back in season one, Nog was your typical annoying soap opera kid, getting into scrapes and leading Jake astray. But the writers decided to do much more with his character, and in time he knuckled down and became the first Ferengi in Starfleet. Gung-ho and eager to please, Nog threw himself into his combat duties during the Dominion War, only for it to all go horribly wrong when he lost his leg during The Siege of AR-558.
Roll forward to this episode, and Nog has a new prosthetic leg, but he’s still a very damaged man. Unwilling to face the real world, he retreats to Vic Fontaine’s holographic nightclub, where he becomes thoroughly absorbed in helping Vic run his establishment. But Nog can’t keep running away forever, and eventually he has to face up to his fears.
“He’s a Cardassian. That’s reason enough.”
“No… It’s not.”
Season one had more than its fair share of terrible episodes, but hidden amongst them is this gem. Duet is an important turning point for Major Kira, a former Bajoran who has spent her life hating and despising the Cardassians – and with good reason. In this episode, Kira crosses paths with a man who might just be the infamous Gul Darhe’el, the brutal “Butcher of Gallitep”. But as the story unfolds, we learn that things are not exactly as they seem, whilst Kira comes to realise that not all Cardassians are the evil monsters she once thought they were. It’s the first step in Kira’s journey from hot-headed freedom fighter to a more mature and nuanced character.
Far Beyond the Stars
“You can deny me all you want but you can’t deny Ben Sisko – He exists! That future, that space station, all those people – they exist in here!”
Although I’m not entirely sure how I feel about Far Beyond the Stars as a part of DS9, I can’t deny that it is indeed a very good story. Plagued with doubts about his future in Starfleet, Sisko is sent a vision by the Prophets. In 1950s America, Sisko is Benny Russell, a science-fiction writer who must conceal his race from his readership. Surrounded by alternate versions of Sisko’s friends and crew, Russell is inspired to write a story about “Deep Space Nine”, a space station captained by a black man. Sadly, the era is not quite ready for such a thing, and Benny has to fight to get his voice heard. As an intriguing alternate universe episode, and an important examination of racism, Far Beyond the Stars definitely deserves a place on this list.
“Benjamin Lafayette Sisko, what the hell has gotten into your head? You actually thought I was one of them, didn’t you?”
One of the things that disappointed me during my DS9 rewatch was how so many the big two-parters didn’t live up to my expectations. I was sure I had enjoyed them greatly when I first saw them, but now I felt they were somewhat lacking. Not so this mid season four two-parter, however, which raises the stakes by bringing the Dominion threat to Earth.
Over the course of the two episodes, Sisko finds himself drawn into Starfleet’s increasing paranoia and heightened security measures, to the point where they seem to be ruining the peace of Earth as much as any shapeshifters might be. A sterling performance by Brock Peters as Sisko’s father brings our captain back to his senses, and he comes to realise that the nature of the threat may not be exactly what he thought.
Nor the Battle to the Strong
“The battle of Ajilon Prime will probably be remembered as a pointless skirmish, but I’ll always remember it as something more. As the place I learned that the line between courage and cowardice is a lot thinner than most people believe.”
Edging onto the list after much thought is this entry from season five. Having decided to make a career for himself as a reporter, Jake Sisko accompanies Dr Bashir to a planet besieged by hostile Klingons. At the start of the episode, Jake is raring to go, and keen to report on something exciting, but soon enough, the realities of war trickle in. At first finding himself of little practical use, Jake starts talking to the officers present, and is disgusted by the cowardice of a man who shot himself with a phaser to get away from the fight. In due course, however, Jake’s own mettle is tested – and in the first instance, he too cannot help but run away.
Unlike TNG, where Roddenberry insisted that everyone was enlightened and perfect, DS9 was not afraid to make its characters flawed, and Jake is an excellent example of this. Jake isn’t a Starfleet officer, trained to within an inch of his life. He’s a young man, with much to learn about what it means to be brave. That he both redeems himself by saving lives, and then goes on to write a warts-and-all report of his experience, are both testaments to the strength he finds within himself.