It seems that even among silicon valley, nerd-capital-of-the-world, people still scratch their heads when I tell them that my favorite Star Trek tv show was Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9). In a recent HackerNews thread, the question was posed: what’s the best way to introduce someone to Star Trek? The answers were usually The Next Generation (TNG) – a show that premiered in 1988 and continued through 1995. It is the most commercially successful tv show in the franchise. HackerNews posters commented that although The Original Series (TOS) from 1968 is the original, 50 years is a long time, and special effects have come a long way, so for a young person watching contemporary Science Fiction like Prometheus and Avatar, the original star trek is simply not relatable.
But I’m no noob, I’m a Star Trek aficionado, and so for me, the texture and the spirit matter a lot. The vision of The Original Series, according to Gene Roddenberry the creator, was to create a “wagon train in the stars.” The Original Series was modeled on a western, and each episode was essentially like Lewis & Clark’s exploration of a new frontier. They would discover new planets, new cultures, new spatial anomalies, and overcome challenges.
The Next Generation, on the other hand, was much more civilized. While Captain Kirk was a cowboy, a rebel, going boldly where none had gone before, TNG’s Captain Picard was a also an explorer, but more seasoned. A diplomat and a scholar living in a time “after the west was won.”
One reason I love DS9, then, is because it takes us back to the frontier. Help is not near-at-hand. In fact, DS9 takes place on a commandeered space station outside the Federation, at the mouth to a wormhole to the other side of the galaxy, next-door to a war-ravaged planet, near the badlands – an area occupied by terrorists. Captain Sisko is much more like the captain in Casablanca or perhaps Hong Kong, manning an outpost far from home and building an economic and political bridge to a mysterious land beyond.
My favorite DS9 Episode is one called In the Pale Moonlight. It is, at its core, a war-espionage story of how Captain Sisko tries employs a spy to turn the tide in the war. The part that fascinates me is the slippery slope of actions he takes, compromising his integrity for the greater good. We’re not talking Tinker Tailor level espionage, more like inglourious basterds.
Another reason I love DS9, although much less insightful, is that I simply love big space battles. I want overwhelming odds, giant ships exploding, and military strategy. And the last 3 seasons of DS9 are chock-full-of battles.
Finally, although I’m not deeply religious, I am spiritual, and I like that DS9 tries to tackle this issue, not haphazardly like TNG and TOS, but everyday, as we explore the Bajoran faith, and confront science versus religion. I don’t know if I like some of the “jumping the shark” that happens using the Bajoran faith, but I do like that we see shades of gray.