Final Frontier Friday: 'Distant Voices'

Hello everyone, and welcome to the latest in a long line of ‘Final Frontier Fridays’! This week we’ll be revisiting ‘Deep Space Nine’ for a look at the third season episode ‘Distant Voices’.

Regular readers will know that I sometimes like to go on for a bit about why I chose a given episode. This is usually purely in service of the format to which I’ve arbitrarily committed myself and in no way an excuse to lather up my ego. So, let’s cut to the chase. Why did I pick ‘Distant Voices’? It’s simple, really. The episode centers on Bashir’s thirtieth birthday and this column is scheduled to run on my birthday. And I like ‘Deep Space Nine’. Sure, it’s a bit self-indulgent, but so what? It’s my column, I can do what I want!

Besides, in the whole of ‘Star Trek’ I can think of maybe two movies and a pair of episodes (including this one) that actually deal with birthdays, and even then it’s not something that’s typically front and center. And as is so often the case, ‘Deep Space Nine’ did it best. But what was it that put ‘DS9’ over the top? Well, despite all my self-indulgent blather, the birthday stuff is ancillary; more a means to an end than an end in and of itself. Rather, it’s all in service of character study, and the show’s knack for deft character work and willingness to take the sort of chances that ‘TNG’ and ‘Voyager’ tended to avoid were often the x-factors that made the show work (and hold up) as well as it did.

In the case of ‘Distant Voices,’ the mechanism for that character study involves setting the events of the episode in Bashir’s head. And while the “it was all a dream” twist isn’t exactly uncommon in television, it’s certainly unusual for ‘Star Trek’. On top of that, the character being studied was Dr. Bashir, who was the opposite of a fan favorite at the series’ outset. Let it never be said that ‘Deep Space Nine’ was a show that played it safe. Of course, the real question is not necessarily the chances you take but whether or not they pay off…

During one of their regular lunches on the Promenade, Garak notices that Bashir is a bit out of sorts. With some cajoling, the doctor admits that it’s because he’s staring down the barrel of his thirtieth birthday, which he describes to Garak as marking the end of youth and the beginning of “the slow descent into middle age”. They are interrupted by Quark, accompanied by a Lethean who makes known his interest in buying a quantity of bio-mimetic gel. Bashir firmly refuses, reminded all concerned that even attempting to obtain the substance is a felony under Federation law. Frustrated, the Lethean storms off. Later, Bashir arrives in the infirmary to find him tearing the facility apart. Caught red-handed, the Lethean grabs Bashir by the head, releases an energy discharge from his hands, and flees the scene.