While I’m still making my way through season 3 (of 4) for Star Trek: Enterprise, its first two seasons suggest it will probably end up fifth of six series on my list of best Treks. That means that the number one itself is safe, and by a long shot. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was a new direction for the Star Trek universe. Set on an isolated space station orbiting the planet Bajor, a highly religious society that was occupied for decades by the Cardassians. Now liberated, Starfleet sends a Federation officer, Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks), to maintain relations between the Federation and Bajor, an advanced civilization hoping for membership, but plagued by the wars fought there recently.
Starfleet also sends engineer Miles O’Brien (Colm Meaney), who had served as transporter chief aboard the USS Enteprise captained by Jean-Luc Picard, science officer Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell), and doctor Julian Bashir (Originally credited as Siddig El-Fadil, but was changed at the actor’s request to Alexander Siddig in 1995) to help operate the station alongside their Bajoran liaison and second-in-command Major Kira Nerys (Nana Visitor), the station’s Changeling chief of security Odo (Rene Auberjonois), and Ferengi bar owner Quark (Amrin Shimmerman). Sisko’s son Jake (Cirroc Lofton) is along for the ride after Sisko’s wife Jennifer died at Wolf 359 where the assimilated Picard had been in command of the Borg.
Deep Space Nine is eventually relocated to a position just outside a newly-discovered stable wormhole between the Alpha and Gamma Quadrants. With the Trek property firmly ensconced on a space station, there was little room to explore strange new worlds or seek out new civilizations. Yet, it still boldly went where no other Trek series had gone before. With a largely serialized narrative, the show explored themes of war, regret, retribution, spirituality, and numerous other topics across its seven-year run.
As the series entered its fourth season, it picked up Michael Dorn’s popular Klingon character Worf, fresh off the then-departed Star Trek: Next Generation, as the station’s tactical officer. From there, the grandest plot line in Trek history began to unwind featuring the same Changeling Founders from which Odo descends and their Gamma Quadrant alliance called the Dominion as they manipulate the races of the Alpha and Beta Quadrants into a war that would pit the Cardassians against the Federation and Klingon Empires. The Cardassians become pawns of the Dominion who wish to assert there dominance through manipulation and brute force with their genetically engineered super soldiers, the Jem’Hadar, and their field lieutenants, the Vorta.
Farrell would also leave the show in 1999 to pursue other opportunities, including a series lead role in the CBS comedy Becker. Her departure at the end of season six left a vast hole that Nicole de Boer tried to fill as the ninth host of the Dax symbiont, a worm-like creature that bonds with members of the Trill race and then merges the consciousnesses of the prior eight hosts together with the ninth, making the symbiont over 350 years old. De Boer was added for only the seventh season meaning a lot of episodes were built around developing the character, which caused a slight hiccup in the momentum the show had built up to that point, but which ultimately didn’t hinder the show as it went out on a tremendous high.The series also introduced numerous recurring characters that added immeasurably to the show’s depth and created a rich tapestry of individuals who helped progress plot narratives and expand the Star Trek universe well beyond what it had already created in the course of three prior series.
Why does this series outperform the prior three and its subsequent two? Quite simply, the writing was unparalleled, a brilliant interweaving mix of gray areas that the Trek universe had never explored with any extreme depth. Across the span of seven seasons and 176 episodes, the show produced 48 four-star episodes, significantly more than the 28 from Next Generation, 15 from the original series, and 24 from Voyager. The average rating of episodes across the entire series was 3.29, 0.14 higher than The Next Generation. Because there are nearly 50 episodes that could be considered for inclusion on a top ten list, I’ve decided to break them down into a top twenty covered over two weeks.
In addition to the series’ high level of quality, it also broke new bounds with its numerous multi-part episodes. There were thirteen of them, two of which spanned three episodes, one that went on for seven, and another that extended to eight episodes. The seven-episode arc started at the end of season five and finished in season six as Sisko and company had to give up the station to Dominion-Cardassian control in order to maneuver and re-assert itself and, at the end of the arc, retake the station. Six of the seven episodes I rated four stars. The first three-parter was at the beginning of season two as a separatist movement on Bajor targeted the Federation and pushed to re-assert Bajoran independence. The second covered the end of season six and the beginning of season seven. It was the weakest of the multi-part groupings, but was no slouch. The final collection was the eight-episode arc that closed out the Dominion War at the end of season 7, culminating right before the final two-part episode closing out the series. This eight-parter was largely impressive, but had a few issues as it petered out at the end. It was a fitting conclusion to the years-long story arc, but could have been just a touch stronger.
Matter of fact, of the three sets of episodes, only four of them didn’t feature all four-star episodes, highlighting the overall strength of the series’ attempts at creating longer story arcs. Of the forty-eight episodes, there were ultimately thirty-one groupings. There are twenty-one stand alone episodes. In the end, I will have to eliminate eleven of the thirty one and it will be difficult. In addition to splitting the top twenty between this and next week’s posts, I will also split the eleven up between the two along the same lines. The first grouping I’ll briefly touch on are from the first four seasons of the show. The remainder will be discussed next week.