Listen, I have yet again lost the remote to my Apple TV and found it only when I gave up, sat down on the couch and Netflix started playing. I sat up and Netflix stopped. Sat down, started. This went on for longer than you’d imagine before I found the remote under the cushions.
But it’s what I’m watching on Netflix that I want to talk to you about. Also, I think I’ve been a right man: I have owed an apology and it has taken me 23 years, 9 months and 26 days to admit it.
That’s how long ago wolframalpha.com says April 15, 1993 was. And counting.
It was the date that I had a feature in The Independent newspaper about Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Specifically it was about the then-new show and how it was being pirated months before its UK debut. It was tape piracy: VHS tape copying piracy. We were so young.
Partly for the article, mostly for myself, I watched the pilot to Deep Space Nine at the house of a guy who was doing a lot of this tape copying piracy. He’s never spoken to me since. And I remember writing the piece avoiding his name but the Independent editor required one at the last moment so I made up something.
I can’t tell you what it was or what the guy’s real name is but if ever I have had a failure of imagination, it was 23 years, 9 months and maybe 30 days ago. The leap from the fake name to his real name was so small that if you blinked while reading it, you would’ve accidentally read the truth.
So I do definitely owe him an apology. I don’t know how you’ll ever come across this, but if you do, please know that I am sorry about it.
What’s prompted this today, though, is that I think I also owe an apology to the show. I think so. I’m not sure.
Remember that I was writing about the fans and the piracy more than I was reviewing the series, but I did write this:
It’s set on an abandoned space station, the Deep Space Nine of the title. No one boldly goes anywhere as they did in Captain Kirk’s command, and while some of the characters are recognisable from Paramount’s Star Trek: The Next Generation, DS9 has a new cast and crew. Stardates, uniforms, bad guys and bad lines, however, will be recognised by Trek fans young and old.
The reverential silence is rudely broken. Colm Meany (formerly the transporter chief of The Next Generation, here promoted to the show’s chief attraction) is required to move DS9 towards a wormhole. ‘We have six thrusters, it’s a two million kilometre journey, it’ll take six months at least,’ he announces. ‘We must be there tomorrow,’ comes the po-faced reply, to hoots of derision from the audience. However, it takes more than naff dialogue to lose a Trekkie… even through the obligatory mystical experience in the middle…
Desperadoes on the Starboard Side: Star Trek fans break the law to beam up Deep Space Nine by William Gallagher, The Independent (April 15, 1993)
I’ve corrected a typo and I am reasonably sure that I didn’t make the factual error about Colm Meany: I would’ve written that he was promoted to the new show’s “chief operations officer”.
But I definitely wrote that about “bad lines”.
I think I was wrong.
I watched the pilot that day and didn’t tune in to any further episodes for a long time. In fact it would’ve been somewhere after the show had finished in the States that I got all the scripts. This is Star Trek, not a pixel goes by that isn’t published and eventually the barrel is scraped far enough down that they release scripts. All of the Next Generation ones were put on CD-ROM, all of Deep Space Nine’s were too.
I’m minded of how I was at a very specific age when Star Wars came out. When I saw the first film, I was old enough to think Luke and Leia should get together. By the time the sequel was in cinemas, I knew Luke was wet and that Han Solo was more interesting.
Similarly, I enjoyed the Next Generation when it aired but when I then read the scripts I was profoundly bored. I did specifically want to see how scripts developed over a long series but, come on, there are something like 178 of them and I read the lot.
Tell me why I then read roughly the same number of Deep Space Nine scripts. If I’d had such a bad time with The Next Generation.
Except to me TNG scripts are more puzzles than stories and once you know the outcome, there just isn’t enough to keep me interested. Whereas DS9 scripts feel like they are each part of one long novel.
I deeply enjoyed those scripts and I tuned in to the UK broadcasts of the final season. In 1999, I would take a break from a shift at BBC News Online and watch them on a newsroom monitor on BBC2 at 18:00 on whichever night it was. I want to say Wednesdays.
The look and feel of that last season was subtly different to the pilot. It felt richer, it felt confident. And instead of just seeming like parts of a novel, the run ends with something approaching ten episodes that genuinely are one story. Star Trek doesn’t do that. Star Trek Deep Space Nine did.
About a year later, I was writing a DVD column for BBC Ceefax – do you even remember shiny discs now? – and I made Deep Space Nine the release of the year. It wasn’t half an expensive DVD release: I bought each separate season box set and I think it added up to around £300.
I watched the lot, I got my £300 out of it at least, but just now when I was sitting on the TV remote, it was that pilot episode that kept starting and stopping on Netflix. The whole series is there and last year I watched a couple of the more famous episodes. Today I remembered my Independent piece and I started watching the pilot.
This is the pilot that I said had bad lines and got hoots of derision.
It’s got bad lines and I don’t tend to hoot, I’m not the hooting type, but there are wincing moments. Actors making odd choices, placing odd emphasis on lines, and I still think the setup to that bit about moving the station is standard-issue Star Trek technobabble.
It also makes sense, though. The science is fantastical yet it makes sense.
I just also got a lot more into it this time. Maybe it’s because I know what a strong show it became that I can now see the start of all that.
Maybe I’m going to watch the lot again.
But if so, then it isn’t that I sat on my TV remote and it switched to Netflix, scrolled a list, chose DS9 and selected the pilot. I did all that and I did it because this morning there’s been an announcement of a Deep Space Nine documentary.
It’s raising funds on Indiegogo with the aim of producing a documentary about this show for release next year. It’s the first such thing I’ve backed since Veronica Mars in 2013 but I backed it.
So I’m apologising and I’m putting my own money into it. I am such a man.