One of the main acquisitions for Virgin 1, the new TV channel starting tonight, is Star Trek. Virgin’s press office says they’ve bought it all, every last drop, and other people are noting that the original Trek is still running merrily on Sci-Fi. But whether or not they’ve got everything, they’ve got most of it and Virgin 1 has decided to start the lot off with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
You’d think they’d do The Next Generation, because that was the most successful, or Voyager because nobody watched that and so it still feels new.
But they’ve gone for DS9 and while you can bet it’s a dollars-and-cents decision, somehow, it’d be nice to think that it’s an editorial one. Because Deep Space Nine is the finest of the Trek outings and I have not always thought so.
Flashback: 1993. DS9 is about to start on UK television and I write about the pilot episode for The Independent newspaper. I actually slag it off a bit, saying the acting is poor and some of the dialogue creaky. And I say it because I mean it, and because I mean it, I don’t continue with the show. Must’ve caught the odd episode, but nothing consistent.
Until about 1999 or 2000 when I pick up a cheap copy of both The Next Generation and DS9 Companion CD-ROMS: two discs full of who cares? But alongside that, almost like padding, each CD contained every script for its series. Every TNG, every DS9 script. I’m a script writer, there’s nothing like reading scripts to learn, and if you’re arguing that Trek isn’t The West Wing, well, yes, but the ability to see an entire show’s writing from pilot to finale was irresistible.
I tell you now, in case you ever decide to do this too, the scripts to The Next Generation are a chore to read. I don’t know why. But somehow they don’t feel like stories, they’re more like puzzles and the solutions are usually to do with realigning the EM transmitters or something. I read them all, 178 of them, and learnt nothing very much.
You’re ahead of me again, aren’t you? Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s scripts, all 176 of them, are vastly better. Some are dreadful, some are brilliant, but the whole seven years read like a novel, I was utterly absorbed in them, couldn’t put them down. I became a fan because of the scripts. And because I watch in the UK, even though the show was finished in the States and this complete colllection really did have all the scripts, by the time I happened to read them, BBC2 still had about ten episodes to go.
I held off reading those scripts and instead DS9 became my evening break at BBC Ceefax: Wednesday nights, around 6:00pm, often just me in the ents newsroom, it was great.
So great that I bought the DVDs. All of them.
And gingerly started playing that pilot episode, that film I’d called creaky and with bad acting.
And guess what?
It was rubbish. The acting was extremely poor, the situations and some of the dialogue banal and strangely up itself. If I watched it tomorrow on Virgin 1, I would not go buy the scripts or the DVDs. But I would be missing out.
Can’t tell you when it gets good; I have a great fondness for that pilot now because of all that happens to do with it over the seven years. And it’s hugely better than the Next Generation pilot.
So if you haven’t seen Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, I hope you love it. And if you want those scripts, you’ll have to search but it’s worth it. Look up “Star Trek Deep Space Nine companion” on Amazon or wherever; there is a book of that title which is exceptional, and the scripts are on the CD-ROM of that name. Amazon insists the CD-ROM is only for Windows but it worked fine on my Macs.
PS. The subject heading of this translates as “In time of war, the law goes silent”. It’s an episode title, and a theme, from DS9. Can’t see Captain Kirk dealing with political shades of grey, can you?