STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE: SEASON 1 - DVD review

...even its relatively weak first season was above-average viewing.

 
Eddie
Feng

Paramount was one of the last major studios to support the DVD format, but it certainly knows how to release TV shows on DVD. Unlike companies that release either "best of" compilations or entire seasons with months of waiting between sets, Paramount is doing fans a great service in releasing entire RUNS in one calendar year. 2002 saw the release of all seven seasons of "Star Trek: The Next Generation", and 2003 will see the release of all seven seasons of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine". Coupled with the special edition re-releases of the "Star Trek" feature films, there's an average of one new "Star Trek" release every month--a definite cause for celebration.

"Star Trek: The Next Generation" was doing so well in syndication that Paramount wanted a new show to expand the franchise. The powers that be launched "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" on January 3, 1993. Since "DS9" began its run while "TNG" was still generating new episodes of its own, a couple of crossover episodes were filmed for both "TNG" and "DS9". Some "TNG" episodes even dealt with the Cardassians (an alien race meant to be the villains in "DS9") without mentioning anything that might be happening on DS9 or on Bajor, a planet considering joining the United Federation of Planets.

"DS9" focuses on the Federation presence in the Bajoran system. The Cardassian Empire left Bajor after a brutal sixty-year occupation. The withdrawing Cardassian forces left behind a space station orbiting the planet, re-named Deep Space Nine by the Federation. Starfleet dispatches Commander Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks) to oversee DS9. His arrival in the Bajoran system was foreseen by Bajor's spiritual leaders, who think that he is the Emissary to the Prophets, the gods of their religious system. Sisko's arrival on DS9 triggers the opening of the Bajoran wormhole/Celestial Temple, the only known stable wormhole in the universe (i.e. its beginning and end points don't move or disappear). The "discovery" of the wormhole, which connects the Alpha and Gamma Quadrants, suddenly turns Bajor into a strategically important planet.

Sisko runs DS9 with the help of First Officer Major Kira Nerys (Nana Visitor), the Bajoran liaison and a former freedom fighter. They are joined by Chief of Operations Miles O'Brien (Colm Meaney from "TNG"); Science Officer Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell), a symbiont with a worm living inside of her; Dr. Julian Bashir (Alexander Siddig or Siddig El Fadil--the man changed his name sometime during the show's run); the shape-shifting Security Chief Odo (Rene Auberjonois); the Ferengi barkeeper, Quark (Armin Shimerman); Rom, Quark's brother; Nog, Rom's son; and Jake Sisko, Benjamin's son. Recurring characters include the Cardassians Gul Dukat and Garek, DS9's tailor.

The "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" Season One box set includes the following episodes:

Disc 1: "Emissary" (1.5-hour pilot), "Past Prologue", "A Man Alone".

Disc 2: "Babel", "Captive Pursuit", "Q-Less", "Dax".

Disc 3: "The Passenger", "Move Along Home", "The Nagus", "Vortex".

Disc 4: "Battle Lines", "The Storyteller", "Progress", "If Wishes Were Horses".

Disc 5: "The Forsaken", "Dramatis Personae", "Duet", "In the Hands of the Prophets".

The entire first season feels like an extended pilot. While the characters are strongly developed by the writers, there's also a lot of exposition that could have been done with more action, less talk, and more panache. Instead, we're given plenty of sub-plots that laboriously detail this little thing and that little what-not, an exercise that takes on the attributes of a dog chasing its own tail. Some episodes used the exact same mini-themes or ideas as installments in The Original Series as well as "TNG". For example, "Dramatis Personae" involved spirits possessing the people on DS9, something already done on "TNG"...and Miles O'Brien was possessed in both episodes!

There are great moments in Season One, though. "Emissary" begins with a bang with its depiction of the Borg attack on Wolf 359. (We never actually saw this attack in "TNG" since the Enterprise was temporarily disabled, preventing it from joining the fight.) We see Sisko having to leave his wife behind in an about-to-explode ship--an act that scars him for a very long time. The last two episodes of Season One, "Duets" and "In the Hands of the Prophets", are also quite riveting in their own right. In "Duets", Kira confronts a Cardassian who may have been responsible for monstrous atrocities. Kira must deal with her own violent feelings in the process of uncovering the truth behind the Cardassian's past. "In the Hands of the Prophets" will seem especially relevant to today's audiences as religious fanatics attack Federation "secularism". However, bear in mind that Christian institutions in the past caused as much grief as Islamic ones today. The point of "In the Hands of the Prophets" is that any sort of fanaticism is undesirable.

Some details in "DS9" bother me. For example, the Cardassian occupation of Bajor will remind viewers of Nazi rule and Japanese aggression during the first half of the Twentieth Century. Yet, the "Star Trek" portrayal of the Ferengi race (greedy aliens) will remind viewers of ugly stereotypes about a certain group of people persecuted by the Axis powers.

"DS9" was so overshadowed by "TNG" that it would mimic its predecessor's footsteps to a fault. The show's handlers couldn't impart a sense of direction to the proceedings until the third season, just like "TNG" didn't truly take flight until its third year. The first season of "DS9" won an Emmy for its opening credits theme music. The fourth season inaugurated a revised theme that featured an electronic beat to give the music more "pulse" and urgency--a change that recalls how the opening sequence for "TNG" was re-done for its third year. Finally, Worf (Michael Dorn), one of the seven major characters in "TNG", joined the "DS9" cast during Year Four. Worf's presence brought the Klingons back into the game. "DS9" Season One was a promising start, but it certainly needed time to find its footing...

Video:
For the most part, the 1.33:1 (full-frame on 4:3 monitors) video transfers look a tad soft to me. While the colors are vivid and life-like, I wanted more clarity and detail than the DVDs were willing to give me. This probably had something to do with the source masters, but the show's appearance on DVD look like digital videotape presentations rather than done-for-DVD work.

Audio:
Since most of the action in "DS9" Season One is station-bound, the Dolby Digital 5.1 English audio tracks are very good but noticeably less than great. Most of the bass comes from pulsing energy fields and hydraulics, so the audio doesn't sound very full on the low end. The rear speakers don't have much to do, and even the front soundstage seems mostly restricted to the center channel. Dialogue and music come across very well, though, and that's what counts when it comes to "DS9".

The episodes' original DD 2.0 surround English audio tracks are available (and recommended for those of you without DD audio receivers). English subtitles as well as English closed captions support the audio.

Extras:
All of the extras in the Season One box set are found on Disc 6. "Deep Space Nine: A Bold Beginning" takes a look at the creation of the show as well as some of the ideas and visual effects that make "DS9" unique. "Crew Dossier: Kira Nerys" focuses on Kira's development from an angry freedom fighter to someone who has found hope and peace. "Michael Westmore's Aliens: Season One" is a brief featurette that covers some of the make-up work done for the show. "Secrets of Quark's Bar" reveals how set decorators find items from everyday life (including a candle holder) to use as beverage containers. The "Deep Space Nine Sketchbook" charts the evolution of the space station during planning and model-building sessions. "Alien Artifacts: Season One" gives us a glimpse of various weapons used by the different races in "Star Trek". Finally, there's a stills gallery.

"Star Trek" buffs will get a kick out of the ten Easter Eggs that are on Disc 6. Collectively, they are known as "Section 31 Hidden Files", a reference to Starfleet's Section 31, a rogue group that acts like a secret police, much like the Romulans' Tal Shiar and the Cardassians' Obsidian Order. These Easter Eggs are basically a collection of interviews with cast members. They're not hard to find--while you move the DVD cursor to access the featurettes, you'll stumble upon these Easter Eggs.

--Miscellaneous--
A custom plastic packaging houses six disc trays that can be flipped like the pages in a book. Episode airdates are etched onto the discs themselves, while their stardates are printed on one of the inside covers of the plastic packaging. Everything fits inside a plastic slipcase.

Film Value:
In general, I felt that the first season of "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" lacked a clear sense of purpose. While I understand that the show's first year needed to establish its characters and its place in the "Star Trek" universe, did the whole year have to feel like a twenty-four-hour pilot? Still, while the execution was lacking in places, I appreciate the "DS9" concept. It was darker and edgier than "TNG", and the large roster of recurring characters meant that "DS9" could develop big story arcs as well as a self-contained reality. In a sense, "DS9" was less claustrophobic than "TNG" because we weren't stuck with watching the same seven principals every single week. The production values of "DS9" were high from the start, so even its relatively weak first season was above-average viewing. Of course, if you already have the seven box sets for "TNG" as well as the 2-disc special editions of the feature films, you might as well continue buying "Trek" on DVD. :-)

Ratings

Video
7
Audio
7
Extras
7
Film Value
7