TV Rewind: Deep Space Nine Dared to Boldly Go Where No Star Trek Series Had Gone Before

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TV Rewind: Deep Space Nine Dared to Boldly Go Where No Star Trek Series Had Gone Before

Editor’s Note: Welcome to our TV Rewind column! The Paste writers are diving into the streaming catalogue to discuss some of our favorite classic series as well as great shows we’re watching for the first time. Come relive your TV past with us, or discover what should be your next binge watch below:

From Captain Kirk at the helm of the Enterprise in The Original Series in 1966 to Michael Burnham steering Discovery through a fifth and final season this Spring, few franchises can boast a history as long and celebrated as Star Trek’s. The American sci-fi juggernaut has seen (between animated and live-action shows) over a dozen Star Treks boldly go—but while having such an expansive run is a testament to the longstanding power of Trek, it can also leave newer Trekkies unsure of which of the countless shows may be right for them.

Certainly, the modern era of Star Trek has gone out of its way to remember the franchise’s most beloved entries—Picard is, after all, a The Next Generation sequel series, and Strange New Worlds has no shortage of TOG easter eggs. But even when the franchise is actively working to honor its early Trek roots, there’s still so much out there for new fans to parse through that some shows end up caught in the shadow of their more frequently celebrated siblings. 

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is perhaps the most famous case of a Trek series that was (at least initially) stuck in another entry’s shadow. Premiering six years into The Next Generation’s seven-season run, DS9 was met with angry fan letters to CBS and online forums, complaining that this dark, brooding new Star Trek was hardly a worthy successor to a bona-fide classic like TNG. But, just as Star Trek: Discovery has grown into itself as the seasons progressed, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine quickly proved to be one of the franchise’s most compelling, tightly-written, and masterfully crafted series: a genuine hidden gem in a galaxy of lore and history, if ever there was one. 

The first Star Trek series not set on a spaceship (a directive straight from CBS, who fretted about having two ship-bound shows on the air at once), Deep Space Nine follows the many inhabitants of the titular Deep Space Nine station, an interplanetary trade hub and valuable strategic outpost, highly sought after for its proximity to a mysterious wormhole. Led by the warm but battle-hardened Commander Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks), the crew of Deep Space Nine work to maintain a delicate peace between the many warring factions that seek to claim that station for their own, navigating their own messy conflicts of interest along the way. 

Though (like most great Treks) it may have taken a season or two to find its footing, Deep Space Nine blossomed into one of the gutsiest, most well-written shows the franchise ever produced. Spearheaded by an unflinching Avery Brooks and led to success with an all-star ensemble cast, Deep Space Nine’s penchant for political intrigue, complex characters, and reliably strong writing earned the one-time black sheep of the family a reputation among fans as one of the enterprise’s most formidable entries.

With Star Trek, a series is only as strong as its Commanding Officer, and it’s not a stretch to say that Deep Space Nine struck gold with Avery Brooks as Commander Sisko. Equal parts paternal and pragmatic, Sisko begins the series as something of an uneasy diplomat, tasked by Captain Picard with convincing the people of Bajor to join the Federation. As the years progress and DS9 begins the transition from trade hub to military outpost, Sisko grapples with his personal convictions and fatherly duties (he’s the first Trek Captain to begin their series as a parent) while being forced to make messy, morally gray choices for the greater good of the station. 

As Sisko, Brooks personifies Deep Space Nine’s versatility and ability to seamlessly navigate genre and tone—whether he’s passing on his penchant for baseball to his alien crewmates in “Take Me Out to the Holosuite” or grappling with the realities of “In the Pale Moonlight,” Brooks brings a strength and conviction to Sisko that makes him a mesmerizing lead. Between his duties as Commanding Officer on DS9, position as unlikely religious icon to the Bajorans, and role as a single father to his son Jake (Cirroc Lofton), Brooks’ multi-faceted Sisko is the perfect reflection of Deep Space Nine’s serialized, character-first approach to story. 

But as brilliant as Sisko is, he’s also just one cog in the massive, ever-moving machine that is Deep Space Nine—the crew surrounding him is one of the most diverse and engaging ensemble casts to grace TV, full stop. From Nana Visitor’s tough-as-nails freedom fighter Major Kira to Terry Farrell’s coy, centuries-old science officer Jadzia Dax, or René Auberjonois’ shapeshifting security officer Odo, the Deep Space Nine ensemble is chock full of standout characters. 

Even characters like Alexander Siddig’s Doctor Bashir, who began the series as wet behind the ears, often annoying young officer eager to practice “frontier medicine,” seemingly unaware of the gravity of the situations DS9 frequently navigated, ended up a fan-favorite in his own right. Bashir goes from irritating pipsqueak to empathic, war-torn medic, giving Siddig a deliciously juicy role to dig his teeth into, with an added will-they-won’t-they romance with Andy Robinson’s scene-stealing Garak along the way.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that literally every member of Deep Space Nine’s cast has enough depth, growth, and personality to them to warrant their own spinoff or prequel series; a testament to the kind of ensemble that showrunner Ira Steven Behr is able to create thanks to the slower, serialized storytelling that made DS9 so different from the rest of Star Trek.

At the risk of giving those angry, letter-writing Trek fans some credit, it’s easy to understand why (at least at surface level) Trekkies in the ‘90s may have initially gawked at the setting and premise of Deep Space Nine. A Star Trek without a ship? The opening monologue of The Original Series spells it all out: the entire point of Star Trek is watching the crew hop from planet to planet each week, solving problems as they go but never spending too long in one place. 

Deep Space Nine bucking tradition by taking place in a stationary setting seemed like a fundamental misunderstanding of why fans loved those original shows, but in reality, DS9’s willingness to take risks was what made it such a shining example of what the franchise could be. Though The Original Series and The Next Generation’s planet-hopping adventures provided ample opportunity for strong one-off stories, Deep Space Nine steered the franchise into new territory with the introduction of serialized storytelling.

As the cast and creatives of DS9 remarked in the 2018 making-of documentary What We Left Behind, Deep Space Nine was a series that thrived most when taking risks and breaking convention: daring to go where no Trek had gone before. Whether it was taking The Next Generation ensemble members like O’Brien and Worf and giving them meatier, more fully-realized character arcs to explore, or crafting ambitious one-off episodes like “Trials and Tribble-ations” and “Far Beyond the Stars,” DS9 delivered one-of-a-kind storytelling vastly ahead of its time. 

Watch on Paramount+

Lauren Coates is a freelance entertainment writer with a passion for sci-fi, an unhealthy obsession with bad reality television, and a constant yearning to be at Disney World. She has contributed to Paste since 2020. You can follow her on Twitter @laurenjcoates, where she’s probably talking about Star Trek.

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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