So. Deep Space Nine. It’s essentially the black sheep of the Star Trek family; hell I once described it as being Star Trek for people who don’t like Star Trek.
But despite a fairly rocky start – all but a handful of the episodes in the first two seasons were terrible – the show became something unique in the Trek canon. We got huge, overarching storylines; fantastic battle sequences that rivalled the assault on the second Death Star in Return of the Jedi for their sheer scope and impact; a fantastic cast of supporting characters that just seemed to grow and grow. Only with the last two seasons of Enterprise did the franchise ever come close to having something on a par with this.
The start was fairly rocky, though. Although it was blessed by Gene Rodenberry shortly before his death, the project was always subject to allegations that it ripped off rival space opera franchise Babylon 5. In 1990 screenwriter J. Michael Straczynski had been punting his ten-year novel-for-TV Babylon concept around Hollywood, including to Paramount, the home of Star Trek. While there’s no evidence of the Trek producers directly ripping off Straczynski, the timing is suspect. There’s plenty of ground to imagine that Paramount saw someone trying to do a space station-based science fiction show and decided that Trek could do it better.
Anyhoo, regardless we got Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in 1992. A spin-off of The Next Generation, it opened with the Cardassians, a gang of reptilian space bastards who conquered planets to strip-mine them of resources, abandoning their occupation of the planet Bajor. The Bajorans had run a decades-long resistance movement against the Cardassians, to the point where the remaining resources simply weren’t worth the aggro of holding onto the planet. The departing Cardassians smashed everything they could on their way out (yes, they were almost as evil as their modern-day namesakes), leaving the newly-independent Bajorans to ask the Federation for help. In return, they offered Starfleet the use of a flying refinery station the Cardassians had left in orbit. The station was christened Deep Space 9, and when a stable wormhole is discovered on the edge of the system the station is moved there to stake Bajor’s claim.
Unfortunately, at the end of season 2 we discover that not only does the wormhole allow you to cover almost 70,000 light years in a matter of minutes, it opens into the territory of the Dominion, a similar political conglomerate to the Federation excepting that it is held together through brutal violence. The shapeshifting Founders genetically engineered the Vorta diplomats and Jem’Hadar soldiers to enforce their will through extreme prejudice. And after tolerating almost two years of incursions into their territory they decide to enforce their will on this part of the galaxy, too. Season 3 sees the threat from the Dominion increase as they lure the Cardassian and Romulan intelligence services into a trap and wipe them out, and a Founder attempts to start a war between the Federation and one of its neighbours by stealing the USS Defiant, DS9’s new guardship.
Unfortunately, the powers-that-be at Paramount didn’t like the direction the show was headed in. Ratings weren’t as good as those for The Next Generation, prompting them to demand showrunner Ira Steven Behr do something to shake things up with the addition of more traditionally Trek aliens. Behr and his team did some thinking, and decided that they could do a lot worse than bringing the Klingons in. A call was made to Michael Dorn’s agent and it was soon decided to write TNG’s chief security officer Worf into the show too.
Which brings us to the feature-length season 4 opener, The Way of the Warrior. After infiltration of major Alpha Quadrant powers by shapeshifting Founders was uncovered in season 3, the Klingons have apparently become incredibly paranoid. The fall of the Cardassian intelligence service-cum-secret police, the Obsidian Order, after their best and brightest were wiped out in a Dominion ambush has led to the overthrow of military rule in the Cardassian Union and the establishment of a proper civilian government. The Klingons are convinced that this means the Founders have engineered the coup and plan to invade, using DS9 as a staging post. Station commander Captain Sisko brings in the former Enterprise security chief Worf to find out what the hell a Klingon armada is doing at his station; only for the peace treaty between the Klingon Empire and the Federation to fragment when he does find out. The Klingons invade and muller the Cardassians, leaving Sisko to form a temporary alliance with his old nemesis Gul Dukat in order to get the Cardassian government to safety.
The episode ends in a series of titanic set-piece battles that sees the Defiant fight off three Klingon ships, and then a Klingon fleet take on the station itself. These are only the second such big set-pieces in DS9’s run, and in fact in Trek history. The show set the bar kinda high when we got a brief except from the Battle of Wolf 359 in the pilot episode, but the first real example of what the show was capable of came in season 3’s The Die is Cast when twenty Cardassian and Romulan ships are ambushed by 150 Jem’Hadar attack ships. The battle with the Klingons is, however, even more impressive. It’s fast, packed with spectacular action sequences that see ship after ship taken out by heavy defences installed on DS9 to fight the Dominion. By the time the Klingons manage to board the station, we get a particularly well-choreographed fight sequence. Even when it descends into hand to hand fighting (and Dax manages to drop a six-foot Klingon with a fairly weak kick to the midriff), the action doesn’t stop. The main characters don’t come out unscathed for once, with Chief O’Brien taking a glancing blow to the head from a sword and Kira a knife in the back. Okay, a few redshirts get wasted too, but this is still Star Trek. It’s what they’re there for!
The battle finally comes to an end when Starfleet reinforcements arrive and, convinced that by starting a war on two fronts the Dominion will win by default, Klingon Chancellor Gowron orders his forces to halt their advance. The Klingons will keep the Cardassian territory they’ve conquered, however. Worf, pondering his future after the Enterprise was blown up in Star Trek: Generations and now that he’s been excommunicated by the rest of Klingon society, takes a position on DS9. And there we leave it, the treaty between the Federation and the Klingons in ashes, the galaxy poised on the edge of numerous new wars and another 24 episodes to come in the season.
So, does it still stand up? Surprisingly well. While not the best episode of DS9 by a long shot, The Way of The Warrior is still an excellent blend of action, drama and storytelling. The performances are good, the direction spot on and the effects are surprisingly good after twenty years. We get to see the beginnings of Sisko’s relationship with freighter captain Cassidy Yates, that will go on to break his heart later in the season. The disintegrating relations with the Klingons will continue to have major repercussions for another year and a half. And we see the start of Dax’s clear interest in Worf that will ultimately lead to marriage, death and pain. Although this isn’t the exact point where DS9 broke (shattered?) the mould of traditional Star Trek, it marks a watershed in bringing in ongoing plots that were far more engaging than anything that’s been in Trek before or since.