Far from the Final Frontier A new generation take their post on 'Deep Space Nine'

January 04, 1993|By Steve McKerrow | Steve McKerrow,Staff Writer

Station log, Stardate 1993: "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" should knock your gravity boots off -- if you permit it.

The sumptuous new series spinoff from "Star Trek: The Next Generation" premiering this week seems a more-than-worthy addition to the intelligent fantasy world of "Star Trek," created a quarter-century ago by Gene Roddenberry.

To be sure, some weaknesses in the movie-length premiere require a liberal suspension of disbelief, and you may need to take notes to catch all the plot devices. But unlike many a spinoff, this is no cheap knockoff aimed merely at exploiting the success of the original.

"The Next Generation," now in its sixth season, is the most popular syndicated drama series ever, and for good reason: It's among the best shows on the air.

The new Paramount production boasts equally high production values, including sets, special effects, music and makeup. The principal space station setting teems with enough putty-faced aliens to support a cosmetics industry.

Most of the central characters offer personalities of interest, which viewers can look forward to exploring in future episodes. Capt. Jean Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) of "Next Generation" helps launch the spinoff, and Enterprise transporter chief O'Brien (Colm Meaney) takes up permanent duty as a key player on the new series.

Further, the premiere episode plumbs some pretty deep science fiction ideas (if not always clearly), while mixing in the obligatory shoot-'em-up space adventure elements, some romance and a sub-scenario aimed at younger viewers. Just as "Next Generation" had adolescent Ensign Wesley Crusher (Wil Wheaton), "Deep Space Nine" has a teen-age regular (Cirroc Lofton).

Sci-fi fans should also recognize some liberal lifting of elements from a panoply of genre sources, including "Star Wars," "Alien," "Terminator 2" and even the great Tolkien trilogy, "Lord of the Rings."

But Roddenberry's essentially optimistic vision of a human future in the stars remains at the core of "Deep Space Nine."

And while the original "Star Trek' was one of the first series with a regular black character (Nichelle Nichols as Lt. Uhura), "Deep Space" completes the step by casting Avery Brooks as the central figure.

Here is a quick setup of the spinoff scenario:

Deep Space Nine is a battle-ravaged space station orbiting the planet Bajor, after the withdrawal of the fierce Cardassians, who remain a nearby threat. Starfleet commander Benjamin Sisko (Brooks) is ordered to take charge. He's a single parent whose wife perished in an action linked to a "Next Generation" plot line -- and opens the premiere.

Sisko must co-exist with several alien regulars: security officer 00 Odo, a "shape shifter" whose natural form is a gelatinous liquid, DTC played by a barely recognizable Rene Auberjonois of "Benson"; a Bajor first officer (Nana Visitors); a Ferengi saloon-keeper (Armin Shimerman); and a Trill science officer (Terry Farrell), whose long-lived race is a symbiotic one. (Don't ask. Suffice to say she has more than a queasy feeling in the pit of her stomach.)

As a shaky provisional Bajor government seeks alliance with the Federation of Planets, the station crew discovers a wormhole in space, which seems to have been created by an unknown alien race unfamiliar with the concept of time.

The most promising element of the premiere? The uneasy alliance between Sisko and Maj. Kira Nerys of Bajor. Ms. Visitors' take on her one-time guerrilla fighter character, especially, has depth and nuance.

The worst? Ms. Farrell's Lt. Jadzia Dax seems an empty cover girl, and the station's young doctor (Siddig el Fadil) has a long way to go before approaching the appeal of Dr. "Bones" McCoy (DeForest Kelley) of the original series or Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden) of "Next Generation."

TREK ALERT

What: "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine."

1% When: 8 tonight, WDCA-Channel 20,

8 p.m. Wednesday, WNUV-Channel 54.

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