First came Allan Asherman's The Star Trek Compendium, which contained short summaries, photos, and a few production notes on each episode of the original series. Then came Larry Nemecek's Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion, which contained longer summaries, more photos, and more detailed production notes on each episode, plus some good essays on each season. Now Terry J. Erdmann's Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion has arrived, over 700 pages long, the size of the previous two books put together.
This big, expensive ($27.95 US), heavy paperback is worth every cent and then some. Its only drawback is how nostalgic it can make a reader for the series. This is an account of a show created by people who cared passionately about it -- the actors, the writers, the producers are all quoted at length on what they liked and hated, what worked and what didn't. Sometimes what a show does wrong can be as important as what it does right. In this volume, we hear about the script arguments and post-production disasters, the actors' annoyances at some of the writers' choices, the writers' frustrations with different drafts of scripts. We see how they changed things, and fixed things, and finally adopted the motto "Make it a virtue!" for problems they couldn't solve.
By the final arc of Deep Space Nine, the production team found a way to make almost everything a virtue, even seemingly irreconcilable plot holes. This is partly because the staff members worked themselves ragged, but it's also because they seem genuinely to have liked one another and to have loved the show. The arguments to which the reader is made privy just emphasizes the extent to which the writers and actors had internalized these characters: they believed in them. Now it's clear why the series seemed so real and immediate even in the midst of an overblown war story that was far removed from the optimistic, expansive spirit of the original Star Trek.
Erdmann doesn't just summarize the episodes, which isn't as necessary because the Deep Space Nine Companion CD-ROM contains both summaries and full scripts. Instead Erdmann picks up on small acting and directing decisions, drawing connections between events in the early seasons and incidents late in the show's run. In many cases the links were serendipitous, as the writers point out, laughing at how much they were able to rationalize with hindsight. Still, one gets the impression that great care went into the planning of the show as a whole. Despite imperfect plotting of Bajoran and Cardassian history, despite character quirks thrown in just to jazz up slow stories, the writers never lost sight of who the people were and why they mattered.
Superficially, the book looks great. Unlike the previous companions, it contains design sketches and storyboards, and while many of the photos are small, there are more for each episode. Though unfortunately there's no index of characters, there's an appendix of episodes by production number, air date and page in the volume, which is extremely helpful when looking up favorites. Though the notes don't pay all that much attention to the science behind the science fiction, they're chock full of trivia about the Paramount lot, the complex special effects, the inside jokes, the lives of the production team, and the connections among all the people who worked together on the series -- actors, directors, writers, producers, advisors, technicians, stunt coordinators, musicians, you name it.
It's nice to know that the producers realized which episodes were classics as they were making them -- in the wake of first season's "Duet," for instance, they fretted that they couldn't achieve the same level of dialogue. There's surprising frankness about which guest stars didn't quite work, which parts needed to be recast, and which scripts received complete overhauls by members of the staff. There's also surprising frankness about which ideas just didn't work. Of big-name guest Richard Kiley, executive producer Ira Behr says, "I felt that we only got one side of the character. We got his bigness but we didn't get his soul, this bitterness and boldness we tried to give him." Of the episode "Meridian," which Erdmann says makes the entire crew cringe when its name is mentioned, Ron Moore says, "I don't think anyone likes the show."
We also learn when Nana Visitor's stand-in's lovely legs doubled for the actress' own, of Visitor's frustration with how easily Kira let Kai Winn off at the end of "The Reckoning, of Marc Alaimo's ongoing campaign to redeem Dukat, to make him a hero, to give him a romantic connection with Kira. We discover that Rene Auberjonois thought he had better chemistry with Dey Young's Arissa in "A Simple Investigation" than with anyone else, even though that pairing was unpopular with many fans. There is an account of the letter campaign by the Friends of Vedek Bareil after the popular character was killed off, a decision which the writers admit was impulsive. There's a fabulous chapter on the making of the very difficult original series cross-over episode "Trials and Tribble-ations."
Visitor comes across as the most involved of the performers, but maybe that's because she had more conflicts than anyone else. She struggled with the fact that Kira did not kill her mother after learning that the woman had been a collaborator; she became almost violent over Dukat's wooing of Kira; she fought for her costumes, she fought for more connection between Kira and Keiko during the pregnancy storyline, she resisted the idea of Kira and Odo as lovers and then insisted that if the writers were going to do it, they needed to do it right, so that some of the emotional scenes in the final arc were her ideas. "I've always felt that I have to open my mouth and pick my fights," she says, and reading this book, one can't help but love her for it.
In fact it's hard not to admire everyone on the team, even while they're arguing for things any given reader may really dislike. Some fans found the inclusion of Worf intrusive to the series, but for the writers, it provided a chance to reinvigorate other characters, even if it didn't provide the hoped-for ratings boost. Moore and Behr both show awareness of fan reactions and fan desires, and though they thwarted them on occasion, it was usually because they wanted to approach things from new angles or shake things up for later, not (as one often senses on Voyager) merely because they wanted to foil viewer hopes and expectations.
Take, for instance, the episode "Rejoined," in which Dax fell in love with an ex-spouse -- not only a Trill taboo, but a big deal for many viewers because in their current incarnations, the two protagonists were both female. The writers claim they didn't set out to write a gay episode, and in fact the story break concerned a male ex-spouse; executive producer Michael Piller had suggested the taboo against rejoining early in the series as a means of preventing a joined Trill elite. Ron Moore suggested making the ex another woman to complicate what was meant to be merely a tragic love story, and the execs approved the story after some concerns abuot how far the writers meant to go. In relating some of the homophobic phone calls they received afterwards, the writers admit that some came from their own family members.
Comparing the production team depicted in The Deep Space Nine Companion to the harried, overworked group in Stephen Poe's A Vision of the Future: Star Trek Voyager, one can't help but wish the passion of Behr, Moore, Echevarria, Beimler, Wolfe, and the rest had remained with the franchise. Ironically, while that earlier book promised to gloss over conflicts and personality clashes, it is those very problems that make The Deep Space Nine Companion so interesting and so delightful. No matter the issue, the team seems always to have made it work for the show they all loved.
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