Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - Season Seven Review
Many feel Star Trek in recent years has become a bit of a joke. The film franchise which looked so strong after First Contact looks as though it's come to an end with the poor Star Trek: Nemesis being the 'Next Generation' crew's swansong and the latest TV incarnation, Enterprise, is struggling in the ratings and may even be headed for cancellation - a fate not face by Trek since the Original Series.
However, the quality series of old still live on with the DVD releases of The Next Generation in 2002 and more recently Deep Space Nine in 2003, so it's with pleasure that I sat down to watch what I feel is a candidate for the best 26 hours of television ever recorded - the final series of Deep Space Nine. All of the plot arcs come to a head in this epic series concluding with a true battle between good and evil - and surprisingly, it's not happily ever after.
DS9 started out on shakey ground - it's first two seasons took many Trek fans by surprise with more focus on character development than previous series and a slightly sedate pace. Thankfully, it was all heading somewhere and the closure of the second series made way for what was the most consistently excellent five years of Star Trek with only a few episodes that didn't make the grade.
The seventh starts after four years of conflict between the Federation Alliance and the Dominion and things aren't looking good for any of the species in the Alpha Quadrant. The Federation has been forced to make fragile alliances with it's enemies in an attempt to push the Dominion back to their corner of the Galaxy, and following their treaty with the Dominion, the Cardassian Empire is now completely under occupation.
Under the command of Captain Sisko (Avery Brooks), Deep Space Nine has become the focal point of all of the conflict and is on the front lines of a full scale war. After the death of Sisko's close friend and crew member Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell), he no longer feels he can lead the charge and returns to Earth to work in his father's restaurant. The war continues apace with Kira Nerys (Nana Visitor) in charge of the station and co-ordinating the war effort - however, Sisko's destiny has already been laid out by the Prophets and after discovering the truth about his mother and his own origins he returns to the station with a new friend, Ezri Dax (Nicole de Boer) in tow.
Deep Space Nine has never been afraid to take Star Trek and shake it up - instead of the wholesome image of other incarnations, Deep Space Nine is much darker and grittier television but even then, some of the decisions Sisko makes during the last season show just how much is at stake and how much pressure he, himself, is under to protect the Alpha Quadrant. The story twists and turns in a number of different directions - just when things are looking good, something happens to change the course of the war including for the first time a direct attack on Starfleet Headquarters on Earth, and just when it looks like everything is lost, an old enemy switches sides. The writing is consistently excellent and the closing ten episode arc is by far and away the most ambitious thing ever attempted with Star Trek - and it's pulled off superbly without one wrong step.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine never had the same audience figures as The Next Generation or Voyager due to it's much more complicated and dark stories, but it deserves to be remembered as the best Trek had to offer. Looking back now, it's hard to see just where things went wrong, but it's apparent that Voyager was a return to the 'safe' storytelling of old and started the decline of the franchise to what can only be described as blandness.
It's impossible to identify any one outstanding episode from the series - it has to be considered as a whole and there are only a few episodes that could be considered as being individual stories. This does of course make the rewatch value limited for each episode when taken out of context. Obviously, the high point has to be the closing ten episode arc which forms into one huge story and is the most ambitious thing attempted on Star Trek to date and the final episode What You Leave Behind is both exciting and emotionally draining as we say goodbye to the series and the characters. Likewise, there's nothing here that stands out as being a missed opportunity - the writers are always on the ball, even for the less serious episodes that would usually be candidates for the season's failures, but there just aren't any!
The star of the show has to be Avery Brooks - severely underwritten in the first few years, Brooks was unable to fit into his character, Commander Sisko. However, over the course of the third season Sisko began to take centre stage and was moulded into a much harder character which helped no end and this translated to a much stronger presence for Brooks. By the time we reach the final season he's got his performance down to a tee - he can be thoughtful when required, but we never forget that he's a man who will do anything to protect his family, crew and the Federation regardless of the consequences. In addition, every other cast member brings something to the table - there aren't any hanger's on and everyone puts in a performance worthy of the series. Unlike other Trek incarnations, even the huge number of recurring characters are roundly developed and are an integral part of the series. There is a lot of heavyweight talent on show and it works well with what is still one of the strongest ensemble casts brought together for a TV show.
As with the previous seasons, this one is packaged in a durable plastic case which in turn holds the seven discs in smaller plastic trays. There have been a few issues with the trays damaging the inner spindle of the discs with earlier releases, but these have been resolved for this season.
The menus are reasonably easy to navigate, the only exception being the extras which again, oddly have the titles hidden so you have to guess which way to move to access all of the features.
The DVDs are presented in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, and as such anamorphic enhancement isn't required. In terms of the transfer there's little to complain about - the original source print was probably quite hard work but there aren't any noticeable digital artefacts introduced as part of the encoding process.
There is some grain evident throughout - although this was far more obvious when viewed on a PC monitor instead of a lower-resolution TV set. It's rarely noticeable on a normal home cinema setup. The picture is also a little soft, but again this is from the original print and it's preferable to artificial edge enhancement which would have introduced other issues.
All in all, it's a solid transfer and won't disappoint anyone who has seen the previous seasons.
The sound is presented in a remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 track - all in all it's good and particulary during the battle scenes we get good use of all six speakers. During the dialogue scenes it's less pronounced but there is still enough in the way of ambient sound effects to envelope the viewer.
All in all a reasonable effort and a step up from the original broadcast but there isn't anything in the way of a "wow" moment to make the soundtrack a selling point.
Again, we're given the usual selection of interview/clip segments that make up pretty much all of the extra features. Spliced together from interviews conducted over the last ten years with the cast and crew - some specifically for the DVD release, and others as more general series publicity, there's nothing here to hold anyone's interest for more than one viewing.
Ending an Era
This focusses on the the action and events of the last season of the series. It has it's fair share of spoilers so is only worth watching as a refresher once you've seen the last episode.
Crew Dossier: Benjamin Sisko
A thirteen minute look at Deep Space Nine's main character - Benjamin Sisko. It's an interesting watch as Sisko is by far and away the most developed character over the course of the series and it's interesting to see just how much he changes between Emmisary and What You Leave Behind
Crew Dossier: Jake Sisko
This is a look at the character of Jake Sisko over the entire series run. There isn't much to get excited about here, mainly as Jake has always been a peripheral character and therefore was rarely put in the spotlight.
Special Crew Dossier: Ezri Dax
Although, only present for one year, Ezri Dax had plenty of action and by the end of the season it's easy to forget that how long she's been part of the show. This featurette looks at the character over the year, but there's not a lot of interest.
The Last Goodbyes
Mostly interviews with the cast and crew focussing on the end of the series - one thing that is obvious is that everyone has a lot of respect for the rest of the cast and crew. There are also a few snippets regarding cameos in the final episode.
An interview with Mark Sheppard who plays the silent barfly, Morn. It also looks back at some of Morn's escapades on the series. It's interesting to see the face behind the makeup!
In addition to the above we have the DS9 Sketchbook with a selection of rough drawings for the props and ships/structures in the series along with clips of the finished items and a commentary/interview with illustrator, John Eaves. There's also the usual photo gallery and finally a selection of easter eggs in the form of Section 31 Hidden Files - basically cut down versions of the above dossiers focussing on some of the smaller characters.
An excellent season of Deep Space Nine without a doubt, this has to be in the running for the best Star Trek season overall. The deep plot arcs are satisfactorily resolved having been built up over the previous six years and we get to see some serious space-based combat that has yet to be toppled on the small screen. Deep Space Nine is the result of pushing the Trek format to it's limits and it's a resounding success.
The DVD release is good, although not quite outstanding - there's nothing to complain about, but no one aspect excels. All in all a big thumbs up.