Paramount was one of the last major studios to support the DVD format, but it certainly knows how to release TV shows on DVD. The studio is doing fans a great service by 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.
"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 Four box set includes the following episodes:
Disc 1: "The Way of the Warrior", "The Visitor", "Hippocratic Oath".
Disc 2: "Indiscretion", "Rejoined", "Starship Down", "Little Green Men".
Disc 3: "The Sword of Kahless", "Our Man Bashir", "Homefront", "Paradise Lost".
Disc 4: "Crossfire", "Return to Grace", "Sons of Mogh", "Bar Association".
Disc 5: "Accession", "Rules of Engagement", "Hard Time", "Shattered Mirror".
Disc 6: "The Muse", "For the Cause", "To the Death", "The Quickening".
Disc 7: "Body Parts", "Broken Link".
I've had problems with the way that some seasons of "Star Trek" turned out, but I've almost always enjoyed the way that each season of "Star Trek" began. Season Four is no different with its thrilling two-hour opener "The Way of the Warrior". In that episode, a Klingon invasion fleet arrives at Deep Space Nine in order to establish a military presence near Bajor. Reports of an uprising on Cardassia Prime give the Klingons an excuse to invade Cardassian territory because they want to see if the Dominion is responsible for political instability in the Alpha Quadrant. The Federation frowns upon the Klingons' aggression, so the two powers effectively go to war. Since Deep Space Nine is on the frontlines of an intergalactic conflict, Starfleet accommodates Captain Sisko's request to have Lt. Commander Worf (Michael Dorn), a Klingon raised by humans on Earth, transferred to the station. "The Way of the Warrior" ends with a spectacular assault on DS9 that includes hand-to-hand combat inside of the station itself.
It follows with reason that the best moments during Season Four involve some amount of fighting. You've got Starfleet fighting the Klingons. You've got the Klingons fighting the Cardassians. You've got everybody fighting the Dominion. You've even got a Starfleet admiral who wants to take control of the Federation in order to root out any changeling infiltrators.
Season Four introduces some key recurring characters, including Leeta (a Bajoran dabo girl), Ziyal (Gul Dukat's half-Bajoran/half-Cardassian daughter), and Weyoun, the smooth-talking Vorta who functions as a go-between guy for the Founders and their Jem'Hadar soldiers. We also learn about the social structure of the Dominion, which has "The Founders" (changelings like Odo), the Vorta, and the Jem'Hadar as the nucleus of the establishment that rules other planets and races in the Gamma Quadrant. The Jem'Hadar are genetically-engineered to think of "The Founders" as gods, the Vorta administer an addictive chemical to the Jem'Hadar soldiers in order to keep the latter in check, and the changelings destroy any race that doesn't want to toe the party line.
Have you heard of the saying, "Too much of a good thing..."? Well, that's what Season Four basically gives viewers--too much of good things. There are too many Ferengi- and Klingon-based episodes. I found it tiresome listening to Ferengis talking about making profit and scamming everyone else, and while the Klingons can often provide comic relief, they also got on my nerves with their constant shouts about honor and fighting. Another rather irritating occurrence was yet another instance of script-recycling--this time, "Starship Down" basically re-played what happened to the Enterprise-D during "TNG", with various sections of the Defiant cut off from each other, necessitating each section to do their best to keep the ship from exploding. As with the "TNG" episode, Worf is the one who eventually takes charge of the situation.
All in all, though, since Season Four of "DS9" was probably the first use of a season-long narrative in the "Star Trek" universe, there is much crescendoing excitement to be had. The stakes rise with each reference to the Dominion, and the tension reaches a high point when a surprise twist is revealed during the closing moments of the season finale. This is the first time that "Trek" experimented with sustained conflict, and it's compelling viewing indeed.
The 1.33:1 (full-frame on 4:3 monitors) video transfers still look a tad soft to me, and sometimes, I feel as if there are two or three layers of glass plates behind my TV's glass screen. On the other hand, I didn't see any physical defects on the source prints. Colors are vivid when appropriate, and the visual effects work looks very good. There doesn't appear to be any digital artifacting.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 English audio tracks are very good but noticeably less than great. There are a lot of explosions and fired weapons in Season Four, but the sound design doesn't feel as "full" as, say, the sound design for "Star Trek: Nemesis". 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.
All of the extras in the Season Four box set are found on Disc 7. Like most Paramount bonus offerings, most of the extras are featurettes.
There's "Charting New Territory: ‘Deep Space Nine' Season Four", an overview of the year's highlights as well as the addition of Worf and the Klingons into the mix. "Crew Dossier: Worf" focuses on the character's development during the course of the show's run. "Michael Westmore's Aliens: Season Four" is a brief featurette that covers some of the make-up work done for the show. "‘Deep Space Nine' Sketchbook: John Eaves" takes a look at the named-gentleman's illustrations for the show. Finally, there is a Photo Gallery (you advance through the stills with your remote control's directionality pad).
"Star Trek" buffs will get a kick out of the ten Easter Eggs that are on Disc 7. 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 and crew members. They're not hard to find--while you move the DVD cursor to access the featurettes, you'll stumble upon these Easter Eggs.
A custom plastic packaging houses seven 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.
In my reviews of the "Deep Space Nine" Seasons One and Two DVD box sets, I wrote about how "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. Of course, let's not forget that Worf was one of the major characters on "TNG", so the addition of Michael Dorn to the "DS9" cast was a way for "Trek" to re-connect with some "TNG" fans who had not followed the Federation to "DS9".
The show's shift in focus from "there is peace" to "there is war" was almost enough for me to give Season Four an "8" for its Film Value. However, as I noted earlier in this review, there were a lot of excursions to subplots that felt unnecessary and tiresomely repetitive. If I could, I'd try to persuade everyone to watch only the awesome episodes in the fourth year of "DS9". However, completists--I admit that I'm one of them--will insist on watching every minute of everything, so the end result is a season that merits a "7" because it is simultaneously greater and lesser than the sum of its parts.