DS9 S05E16 Doctor Bashir, I Presume? (3.5 out of 5 stars) So, we have our new status quo for the back half of Season 5. Bashir has been returned to the station. Dukat is heading up the Cardassia government and has formed an alliance with the Dominion. General Martok is in charge of a bunch of friendly Klingons who are helping out with station security. Kira is done being brood mare for the O’Briens. Dax and Worf are a couple. Nog is strutting about the station in Starfleet togs. You could forgive the show for giving us a breather while we wait for the actual Dominion war fleet to turn up.

We open with Nog trying and failing to chat up Leeta. We smash into the titles with the appearance of Robert Picardo as Lewis Zimmerman in more of that inter-franchise corporate synergy, uniting the two active strands of the Star Trek Televisual Universe. Like a 1990s riff on ChatGPT, everyone is worried that holograms might replace real flesh-and-blood doctors, and Zimmerman is offering to use Bashir as the model for a new long-term EMH. There is no EMH on the station because the Cardassian infrastructure is not compatible with Starfleet technology. Thus, Zimmerman has come to the station to develop his new Starfleet technology. Why he has not asked Bashir to join him at a Starfleet facility is never made clear. Picardo is as good as ever, but Zimmerman and Rom’s adolescent leering over Leeta dates this episode rather uncomfortably.

This all builds to the revelation that Bashir is the product of Khan-style genetic engineering. It’s interesting as far as it goes, but it’s a line in his biog, not a character note which an actor can play (especially as it’s information that Bashir already knew). (I’m going to give the show the benefit of the doubt and assume that this plot line isn’t motivated by the stereotype of pushy Indian parents who want their kids to be top of the class.) But while this doesn’t deepen his character in any meaningful way, Alexander Siddig is so much more comfortable now than he was back in Season 1, he is now well able to make the young medic a believable character, if not a terribly rich and complex one. He’s best when paired with bigger performances like those of Picardo and best of all Brian George and Fadwa El Guindi as his mum and dad, and he pulls off the big scenes with aplomb. But this is pretty much all sitcom stuff (complete with comedy mistaken identity), with no ambitions to be anything more, except a demonstration of 1990s visual effects, all of which are pretty seamless.

VOY S03E19 Rise (3.5 out of 5 stars). Voyager is trying to repair its reputation as bringer of death and destruction, as put about by the Kazon, by acting as a sort of Gamma Quadrant Task Rabbit and doing whatever odd jobs it can find on its way home. But blowing up troublesome asteroids seems to be peculiarly problematic as they just split into big, equally dangerous, chunks instead of obediently vapourising.

The upshot of this do-goodery is a crashed shuttle with Tuvok in command and Neelix fussing about, making his life a misery. To get out of the “interference” which makes a beam-out impossible, they need to climb a kilometres-high space elevator. (Interference preventing a beam-out is the Star Trek equivalent of trapped people in contemporary thrillers who can’t get a mobile phone signal and just as frequent an occurrence). Rather sweetly, it’s Neelix who figures this out, recruits the team, and puts the plan into action.

However, the vertiginous ascend-to-freedom thriller plot which this sets up turns out to mainly be people on a spaceship set throwing themselves around as the operator waggles the camera in the time-honoured fashion (and when the action does move outside it’s generally less convincing, not more). The Neelix/Tuvok stuff is really rather good though, allowing these two under-served actors to bring new layers to both these rather thin characters. That helps a lot of the standard-issue technobabble of doom and Zagbars vs Zoobles plot to play more strongly. (Best not to think about Tuvix, while watching this. Obviously none of the production team did while making it.)

“In for a penny, in for a pound,” is a human expression according to Janeway, for whom human = English, apparently.

VOY S03E20 Favorite Son (1 out of 5 stars). Ensign Kim is worried that they’re going round in circles. I know how he feels. presumably to stave off the boredom, he begins firing phasers at the seemingly friendly ship, whose Captain just greeted them so warmly. The exchange of fire causes near-fatal injuries for B’Elanna (but don’t worry, she’s fine) and hallucinating Harry starts experiencing all kinds of generic guilt trips. Garrett Wang doesn’t do anything wrong but there’s no there there. He’s not playing a character. He’s reciting plot points. And the plan to give him an alien backstory seems to have been abandoned as the episode was being produced, because, well, it would be crazy to risk making him too interesting. Luckily by the end he’s fought off the inhabitants of Castle Anthrax and is restored to being “just an average kid” (as he puts it while complaining about his bland upbringing). One of the ridiculous killer Amazons is Babylon 5’s Patricia Tallman who transitioned from stunts to acting. Harry reeling off a list of all the Star Trek tropes which could be responsible is pretty funny – almost like something out of Lower Decks, but the rest of this Homeric nonsense is far too familiar to revel in is ridiculousness.

DS9 S05E17 A Simple Investigation (2.5 out of 5 stars). We’re back in the mode of someone-turns-up-on-the-station-and-they’ve-brought-a-plot-with-them. Odo is embroiled in the pulpy story of bionic femme fatale Arissa whose contact is vaporized before he can pass on the MacGuffin he brought her. Odo’s just grateful not to be playing Holosuite games with Dr Bashir, but he’s embroiled in a pastiche narrative with just as many cliches and tropes, it’s just Raymond Chandler instead of Ian Fleming, and the banter here is pretty dreadful. Rather than elevating the world of the series, as in Our Man Bashir, here the over-familiar elements end up as a chain around the characters’ necks, condemning them to spend the whole episode mouthing second-hand phrases and obeying the rules of the genre instead of being true to themselves. The sight of Odo, reduced to a blushing schoolboy in Arissa’s presence is quite ridiculous. And then he seeks out Dr Bashir for advice. Dr Bashir! The relationship ends badly of course, thanks to a Total Recall-style twist which serves only as a reset button. Having this story take place while Odo was a humanoid might have made more sense, but honestly, this one was doomed almost from the start. The Changeling’s very human-looking chest is rather distracting. Had Michael Westmore run out of latex?

DS9 S05E18 Business as Usual (2.5 out of 5 stars). Quark is broke and so has no choice but to go into business with his death-dealing cousin who wants him to charm customers as well as turn around his financial fortunes. The third partner in their tripod of evil is the always-entertaining Steven Berkoff whose theatrical style fits very well into this world of rubber faces and apocalyptic storylines. They team up to demo holographic weapons which means that technically they aren’t bringing any forbidden items onto the station and thus Odo can’t touch them.

Lo, he and his associates do start making money, but it belatedly dawns on Quark that being a weapons dealer means that he will be providing people with weapons and some of those people won’t be very nice. Gaila does the “cuckoo clock” speech from The Third Man but Josh Pais is no Orson Welles and David Bell smothers the scene with pounding music, which robs it off the lightness of touch which makes the original so chillingly effective. Thus what starts as a passably amusing Quark-as-Arthur-Daley story loses its way amid a mire of melodramatic cliches, including a dream sequence populated by corpses who ask “Why did you kill me?” following which Quark awakes and asks nobody “What have I done?”

In a B-plot, O’Brien must suffer… his whining baby, which he ends up palming off on to Worf, ho ho ho. Alexander Siddig directs because everybody gets a turn now, reverting to Siddig El-Fadil for this credit. Unlike many other Star Trek actors, he didn’t go onto much of a directing career. People still can’t decide with its “Quark” or “Quork”, and it seems very late in the day to be unsure of how to say a regular character’s name. Imagine if half the cast had been referring to “Captain Quirk” for three years.

VOY S03E21 Before and After (3.5 out of 5 stars). “Grandma Kes?” Premise and execution are two very different things. Voyager’s premise is all to do with two warring crews (kinda) lost on the other side of the galaxy, trying to get home. But the execution is all about high-concept big swings and sadly too often, the show’s reach exceeds its grasp (at least so far). And since all the emphasis has been on the high-concept narrative devices, the characters have withered on the vine with the result that there’s no such thing as a “good solid Voyager episode” at this stage. There are the big swings that come off (“Meld”), the big swings that don’t (“Threshold”) and then an awful lot of a-bunch-of-generic-people-troop-around-solving-a-problem stories.

I could appreciate the show far more if there was a feeling of “You thought that was bonkers, hold my blood wine” – you know how much I enjoyed TNG episodes like Future Imperfect or Remember Me – but the really eye-catching story ideas are fairly infrequent and the dedication to the reset button creates a perpetual feeling of “this probably doesn’t matter much”.

That having been said, as eye-catching story ideas going, a decrepit looking Kes who’s a grandma, married to Tom Paris, being treated by a hirsute “Doctor Van Gogh” who refers to Chakotay as “Captain” – well, that’s not bad at all. And Warlord demonstrated that the biggest problem with Kes as a character is the way that Jennifer Lien has been hamstrung by the writing – give her something to play and she’s brilliant. Here too, under layers of (not always ideal) prosthetic makeup, she’s faultlessly convincing as the geriatric Okampan, slowly moving backwards in time.

Of course – like Future Imperfect – this is a cover-of-a-comic-book story and so part of the fun is trying to figure out what’s really going on – time eddies, alien information extraction, space flu, Holodeck shenanigans, place your bets! It still all takes place in a world of ideas and jargon rather than characters and feelings, but at least the ideas and jargon have some fizz and crackle this week. And what’s this about a “year of hell”…?

Neelix looks good in uniform. Maybe Janeway’s been taking notes from Captain Jellico. Speaking of which, goodness I miss Janeway when she’s not around.

DS9 S05E19 Ties of Blood and Water (4.5 out of 5 stars). “Cardassian politics are very complex,” muses Worf, having had the bonkers events of Second Skin recapped for him. That was a very strong episode, however, and I’m excited to see what this series, above all, can do in revisiting it. It would be unusual indeed for it to bring back an old character just in order to tell the same story again. And Worf’s right – seeing Kira so pally with a Cardassian does seem wrong. And that’s fascinating.

Pretty soon, Gul Dukat (yes, still Gul) wants him back and I enjoyed Sisko telling the Cardassian government where they and their Dominion paymasters could shove it, almost as much as Sisko himself. But Ghemor is dying (inevitably) and there’s nothing Dr Bashir can do. Now he wants to download years of Cardassian secrets to Kira but she doesn’t know if she wants to participate in this act of planetary betrayal, not least because it feels like she’s denying her own (late) father by accepting this paternal surrogate in this way. It’s a fascinating dilemma and it’s great to see Kira in the spotlight for the first time in ages. And when Dukat swaggers onto the station to collect his bounty, he’s accompanied by none other than Jeffrey Combs as Weyoun – whom we saw die, but I remembered that his part in the story was far from over. This establishes him as part of the DS9 secondary cast and he’s a wonderful addition.

Shakaar is namechecked but does not appear.

Trekaday #079: Coda, For the Uniform, Blood Fever, In Purgatory's Shadow, Unity, By Inferno's Light, Darkling
Trekaday 081: Ferengi Love Songs, Real Life, Soldiers of the Empire, Distant Origin, Children of Time, Displaced, Blaze of Glory