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Essay Comparing TOS and DS9

Written by Dan Carlson

Published November 26, 1997

This essay was written for a high school English project, to learn the principles of a “compare and contrast” argument. Because the format of this essay is strictly regulated, some of the differences between DS9 and TOS are overemphasized, and some mitigating factors in TOS’s favor are not addressed here. Nevertheless, I thought I’d include this article on my site as a point for discussion of the in-depth arcs that DS9 developed... which is probably what I loved most about that show.

“Star Trek,” currently a very popular science fiction series, first broadcasted in 1966, and continued until its cancellation in 1969. While the original Star Trek series was not a hit until much later, it gained a loyal group of fans, sometimes called “Trekkies” or “Trekkers.” In the 1980s Star Trek returned, eventually creating eight movies and three spin-off series, “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” among them. Trekkers continually debate over which series deserves the title of “The Greatest.” Some contend that the original Star Trek deserves the title because of the great, original, and groundbreaking escapades of Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. However, “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” is clearly superior to the original Star Trek because of its better character development, better plot lines, and better, more compelling conflicts.

“Deep Space Nine” develops the characters that appear on the show much more thoroughly than the original “Star Trek.” In “Deep Space Nine” the characters are more than simply faces; they possess histories and relationships outside the immediate cast. On the original “Star Trek,” Captain Kirk, merely a highly devoted captain who occasionally met a person who got under his skin for a short time, never developed a dynamic character. He became greatly concerned for that person, but he always reverted to the cold, unswayable Captain. Captain Sisko on DS9 is more than that; he is a father, an important religious leader to the people he protects, and a loyal friend to his crewmates. Sisko interacts with the characters around him, and he reacts to what happens; no event leaves Sisko unaffected. He changes with the events that occur and adapts to the new situation. Even the enemies on DS9 exhibit character. The Founders of the Dominion are more than simple conquerors of the galaxy. They maintain a complex society with a concern for everyone of their species, even renegades and “criminals.” They do not conquer merely out of a desire for power; they conquer because they fear the other races of the galaxy. The enemies of the original “Star Trek,” on the other hand, appear one-dimensional by comparison. They served merely as a foe that the crew needed to kill, drive back, or imprison. The Klingons of the original series were nothing but conquerors; they appeared on planets they wanted to conquer and the Federation drove them off again, attempted to foment civil war in primitive cultures which possessed needed resources, and were unveiled as spies working on crucial projects. The Klingons, nothing more than enemies who caused trouble for Kirk and his crew, never developed a truly fascinating character; they sought merely to attack and to win, with no real underlying motive. The characters of “Deep Space Nine” are much more detailed and compelling than those of the original “Star Trek.”

The general storylines of the original Star Trek from episode to episode were also much less developed than those of “Deep Space Nine.” The original series simply focused on an incident for one hour, but the next episode would focus on an entirely different planet. Characters rarely appeared more than once; only the species appeared several times over the course of a season. The most continuity shown would be the same race with the same motives as the last time it appeared. The “Mirror Universe,” which first featured on the original series, only appeared once in the series’ three seasons. The episode merely consisted of Kirk realizing that he was not in his own reality and his attempt to get back home. The “Mirror Universe” never appeared again until several “Deep Space Nine” episodes almost thirty years later. However, when it did, the storyline blossomed into a complex mix of rebellion against slavery and intrigue between allies of a powerful government. The four episodes of the DS9 “Mirror Universe” story have pitted alternate versions of the same character against each other, united a widower with the alternate version of his long-dead wife, and freed an enslaved race from brutal servitude to another. The four DS9 episodes contain much more complexity and developments than the original series. “Deep Space Nine” has also developed an extraordinary plot depicting a war with the conquering Dominion. What began as a single skirmish on a far-away planet expanded over three seasons into an all-out war between two determined superpowers. The plot gradually developed from an attempt to negotiate a peace to an infiltration of Federation territory to the annexation of the Cardassian Empire by the Dominion. Each encounter with the Dominion depended on the results of the last. Eventually tensions burst and the Federation declared war on the Dominion. That war featured in an astounding seven episode arch that focused entirely on the fight with the Dominion. The story excluded all else to focus on a fight against a superior enemy and the guilt of another society too weak to fight the Dominion and instead had to become their tacit allies. Conflict dominated Federation relationships in the original series as well, although the tension never became nearly as heated as DS9. Occasionally the Klingons would attempt to conquer a planet or derail Federation colonization efforts, but continuity from one episode to the next never manifested itself. The resolution of one conflict with the Klingons had no real bearing on the beginning of the next conflict. In one episode the Klingons attempted to gain an alliance with a tribe of primitives from Capella IV, a strategic planet. The noble and heroic crew of the Enterprise assisted the primitives in realizing the dangerous threat the Klingons posed, and succeeded in repulsing the enemy. Unfortunately, no later episode mentioned or even alluded to the incident on Capella again. Each episode of the original series stood by itself and never truly affected the others. The storylines of “Deep Space Nine” are much more involved and continuous than those of the original “Star Trek.”

“Deep Space Nine” has also created much more compelling conflicts among characters than “Star Trek.” The original series’ cast consisted entirely of a happy group of ambitious and courageous officers. Betrayal, an unthinkable occurrence, never fomented any truly engaging conflict because of a lack of justification. Outside influences caused all conflicts between crewmates. Captain Kirk earned complete loyalty from his first officer, Spock. Spock never betrayed his captain while in his right mind. The one time Spock disobeyed orders and hijacked the Enterprise, he committed those crimes for humanitarian reasons, to protect the life of a superior. However, DS9 is a very different situation. Kira, Captain Sisko’s first officer, resented her position under him, although she now respects and obeys Sisko’s orders. Kira, in the beginning of the series, embodied the complete antithesis of Spock; she ignored Sisko’s orders, pursued her own agenda, and went over his head. She held a complete lack of respect for him until she realized how loyal and devoted to her planet Sisko truly was. This disrespect for a superior officer provided the fuel for many compelling conflicts among the crew on DS9. The Maquis, a group of Federation terrorists comprised mostly of former Starfleet officers, caused another riveting conflict among the characters of DS9. The Maquis took up arms when a treaty with the Cardassians, a brutal enemy, ceded many of their colonies where they lived. The human colonists, faced with either abandoning their homes or suffering an occupation, chose instead to fight, rejecting the long-debated treaty in an attempt to drive the Cardassians off. One of the leaders of the terrorists, a close friend of Sisko’s, pleaded for Sisko to provide help. The debate of whether to support the colonists and the morality of their fight caused a great deal of conflict in DS9. However, very few morality questions created conflict in the original series. Once a group of terrorists composed of downtrodden workers began to strike at a beautiful high-class city because they claimed that the upper class residents denied them equal opportunity in the society. However, in this episode Kirk only needed to discover the problem and arrive at a solution; the morals, clear-cut and completely unlike the issues of the Maquis on DS9, never incited a truly engrossing conflict. The conflicts of “Deep Space Nine” are much more captivating than those of the original “Star Trek.”

“Deep Space Nine” clearly deserves the title of the greatest of the Star Trek series. Over 31 years, Star Trek has continually expanded to cover more topics, conceive bolder ideas; yet there is still no end in sight. With continued support from the legions of Trekkers and the superior writing of the series today, Star Trek will continue to “Live Long and Prosper” for years to come.

This page was last modified on Wednesday, January 26, 2011.