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Why ‘Deep Space Nine’ is the Best ‘Star Trek’ Series

A box set of Deep Space Nine DVDs on a wooden table.
Danny Chadwick / Review Geek

Since the premiere of Star Trek: The Next Generation, fans have debated which series is best. But it seems that most Trekkies can’t distinguish “my favorite” from “the best.” In honor of the 30th anniversary of Deep Space Nine, here are all the reasons why DS9 is the best of the franchise.

Warning: Opinions incoming, Captain! In explaining why I believe Deep Space Nine is the best series, I necessarily mention that I don’t enjoy some other series–probably some you like. Please remember that I’m not attacking you personally, nor am I disparaging the actors, writers, and producers of lesser Trek series. Live long and prosper.

Solid Star Trek From Beginning to End

"Consistency is the key!" typed words on a vintage typewriter.
Mohd KhairilX/Shutterstock.com

The best argument that Deep Space Nine is the best Star Trek series is its consistent quality. And I don’t mean to say it maintains the same quality from seasons one to seven. I mean that it is consistently good television. There are no stinker seasons of Deep Space Nine. Moreover, each season is better than the last. And by the time you reach season seven, nearly every episode is top-tier Trek.

DS9 is the only series in the franchise to pull off this feat. Season three of the original series is generally considered to be of lesser quality than the first two. The inaugural season of Star Trek: The Next Generation is unwatchable, even for die-hard Trekkies like myself. Season two gets better, but TNG doesn’t get good until the third season. The final season of Next Gen is hit-and-miss as far as quality stories go. Star Trek: Voyager starts strong but falters after the third season and remains a rocky affair until the end of the series. And Enterprise only really found its footing during its fourth season right before it was abruptly canceled.

I think that this consistent quality was the result of the producers of Star Trek hitting peak performance in the mid-1990s. The original films had just wrapped up, all the bugs of making a new series were worked out in The Next Generation, and the writers and producers knew what worked in Star Trek and what didn’t. This was the sweet spot in the history of the franchise. They had all the talent, drive, and experience going for them before the Next Generation era began to run out of gas with Enterprise and films like Star Trek: Insurrection and Star Trek: Nemesis.

Keep in mind that the seasons I’m talking about are all at least 20 episodes long. That could be two or even three seasons of a contemporary television series. So to write off entire seasons of a show like this is saying quite a bit. But, if there’s one thing Star Trek fans know is that there is a lot of bad Trek. So, having a complete series (176 episodes) with no seasons that you can just skip because they’re so bad is a rare thing, indeed.

And don’t even get me started on Star Trek Universe (Trek produced from 2017 onward). To my mind, there are only one and a half seasons of watchable television in the streaming era. I enjoyed about half of the episodes of the first season of Star Trek: Discovery, but the rest is unbelievably bad. Picard is an unadulterated violation of the Star Trek franchise (maybe season three will be better, but I’m keeping my guard up). Star Trek: Lower Decks is not funny, and I gave up after the first season. I haven’t watched Prodigy, so I can’t speak to that series. However, the first season of Strange New Worlds was a refreshing return to form, and I hope it continues to build on what’s working in that series.

[Editor-in-Chief’s note] I, too, want to write Danny a nasty email for writing such atrocities as “Lower Decks is not funny” and not giving Prodigy a chance. I refer you back to the warning at the beginning of this article and say, “to each their own.” Hold off on the emails, and let’s agree that Star Trek is fine television, even if we don’t love every episode or every series.[/note]

It Moves Beyond the Confines of Starfleet

The main thing that distinguishes Deep Space Nine from the rest of the Star Trek series is its settings. Every other incarnation of the franchise takes the place of a Federation starship. DS9 switches it up by placing the series on a space station, but it’s not a Federation starbase. Rather it’s a repurposed Cardassian station that served as the headquarters for the occupation and subjugation of the planet Bajor. A departure that great from the series that preceded it opened up Deep Space Nine to an entire universe of stories that were simply unavailable to the starships Enterprise.

The original Star Trek and The Next Generation’s premise revolved around Starfleet and its officers. Their casts were almost all humans, with an alien (or half-alien) character or two thrown in for flavor. In Deep Space Nine, more than half of the main characters were non-human–and just as many were not Starfleet officers (six of ten in both cases). This expansion both retained the familiar and loved ethic of Starfleet and injected more nuanced and diverse ways of doing things, allowing for more intense storytelling, character development, and a more detailed look at the fictional universe Star Trek operates in.

But that doesn’t mean that Deep Space Nine abandoned the mission to explore strange new worlds and seek out new life and new civilizations. In due course, Deep Space Nine got its own Federation starship, the U.S.S. Defiant. And while it was built as a battleship, there’s plenty of exciting exploration and new civilizations in the series. One of the central premises of the show is the Bajoran wormhole that transports starships to the distant Gamma Quadrant, with lots of new territories to explore. It’s basically a fresh start to a galaxy that, up until this point, has been dominated by Klingons, Romulans, Ferrengi, and other familiar faces.

It Challenges Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek Ethic

The word "UTOPIA" on a corkboard with human's hand removing the "A"

Since at least the beginning of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the franchise operated under Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a future free of war, poverty, greed, interpersonal conflict, and all the rest of the flaws humanity now suffers from. By the 24th century, humankind had perfected itself in its journey to the stars.

It’s debatable whether or not this ethic was present in the original series. For example, the idea that the Federation had done away with money didn’t appear until Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, 20 years after the franchise premiere. But this notion of a perfected human race was at the heart of The Next Generation from the very beginning. And in a line from the film Star Trek: First Contact, Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) explains the future succinctly to a resident of the 21st century:

“The acquisition of wealth is no longer the driving force in our lives. We work to better ourselves and the rest of humanity.”

And it drove the writers bonkers. There were many constraints on how characters could interact with each other, chief among them being no interpersonal conflict. This is a big reason why everyone gets along so famously in TNG. The Hollywood writers who were so accustomed to personal tension being at the very heart of storytelling had to develop new ways of telling stories.

However, this concept did serve an essential storytelling purpose beyond Roddenberry’s vision of utopia. It allowed the humans exploring the galaxy to encounter alien races that were experiencing similar problems that humans now face and examine them from an outside perspective. It’s this form of allegorical storytelling that gives Star Trek its most potent and long-lasting impact.

On the other hand, if humans are perfect, there’s really no way for them to grow and change as characters. And it eliminates many different types of stories that the writers could tell if they could just let Commander Riker have a short temper or allow Geordi La Forge to have a drinking problem.

Plus, it doesn’t actually make much sense. Could humans really live without conflict, war, racism, poverty, and the rest? Many of the writers didn’t think so. And with so many non-human characters in Deep Space Nine (and Gene Roddenberry dead), they felt comfortable pushing the boundaries of the Federation utopia. Characters that were once always affable suddenly became more sullen. Instead of a smiling Starfleet first officer happily commanding his lieutenants, you get an angry war-weary Bajoran former terrorist running the show. And rather than literally penniless Federation citizens going about their comfortable lives, you get arch-capitalist Ferrengi always looking to make more latinum.

Perhaps the most significant push against Roddenberry’s vision is the seasons-long Dominion War arc. Would a perfected human race do what needed to be done to defeat an enemy that’s bent on their destruction without violating the core ethics that got them to the stars in the first place? Deep Space Nine answers that question. Moreover, Captain Sisko (Avery Brooks) delivers a direct rebuke to Captain Picard’s sunny disposition on humanity’s condition.

“Do you know what the trouble is? The trouble is Earth. On Earth, there is no poverty, no crime, no war. You look out the window of Starfleet Headquarters, and you see paradise. It’s easy to be a saint in paradise.”

And while the challenge to Roddenberry’s vision is a central theme in Deep Space Nine, I think Star Trek meets it head-on. Not everything survives, but the Federation and its principles emerge from the series mostly intact.

Stellar Main Cast

Three boxes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine DVDs
Danny Chadwick / Review Geek

While there are no bad casts in all of Star Trek, the main character roster of Deep Space Nine stands out for its uniqueness. There are no one-dimensional or stock characters in the DS9 lineup. Each character and their actors bring something genuinely unique to the show. In other series, most characters share much of the same background–being in Starfleet. And while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, the breath of character types in Deep Space Nine still hasn’t been matched by any other series in the franchise.

Avery Brooks as Benjamin Sisko: Of all the captain characters in Star Trek, Benjamin Sisko was the first not start off the series with that rank. Rather, he held the rank of commander for the show’s first three seasons. This is part of his character arc, which is arguably the most complete of any Trek captain. Furthermore, he began the series without even knowing if he wanted to remain in Starfleet. Throughout the course of the show, Sisko grows from a grieving, angry widower into a strong commander who finds new love and becomes a critical figure in the history of the Federation and Bajor. And Brooks’ handling of the character in “In the Pale Moonlight” is nothing short of a tour de force.

René Auberjonois as Odo: Odo is the first non-humanoid character to be featured as a main character in Star Trek. He’s a liquid-based shapeshifter who takes on the form of a solid humanoid being to fit in with the rest of the DS9 crew. At the beginning of the series, his origins are unknown but are slowly revealed as the seasons progress. Odo’s arc focuses mainly on his conflict regarding how different he is from the rest of the station crew and that he must choose between his comrades and his people when war breaks out.

Alexander Siddig as Julian Bashir: DS9’s chief medical officer chose his post because he felt it would be the most challenging. He starts the series as arrogant and disrespectful, but he mellows over the seasons and discovers lasting friendships with Miles O’Brien and Garak (more on them in a minute). He also carries a deep secret revealed in later seasons and grapples with the horrors of war and his search for love.

Terry Farrell as Jadzia Dax: While Odo is truly the first non-humanoid main character in Starfleet, Jadzia Dax could also qualify for that distinction–at least half. Her character is a Trill, meaning she’s actually two life forms in one. In her belly, she carries what Star Trek refers to as a “symbiont,” a slug-like creature that’s millennia old and has lived in other host Trills. When Jadzia received the Dax symbiont, she gained the knowledge and memories of all the previous hosts. One of the earlier hosts was very good friends with Benjamin Sisko. Jadzia’s arc centers on what it means to live an extremely long time and ultimately face death.

Cirroc Lofton as Jake Sisko: Ben Sisko’s young son is a welcome addition to the Deep Space Nine cast. You could consider him DS9’s answer to Wesley Crusher from The Next Generation. Fans of Next Gen didn’t universally accept Wesley because they saw him as a Mary Sue (a character with no flaws that constantly saves the day). Jake is not that in the least. And his presence on Deep Space Nine contributes to the show’s themes of family (with his father) and friendship (with Nog) and provides a years-long coming-of-age tale that ultimately sees him take on the universe on his own.

Colm Meany as Miles O’Brien: One of the things that Deep Space Nine does best is to take fan-favorite characters from The Next Generation and build on their stories. We first met O’Brien in the first episode of The Next Generation, and he served on the Enterprise as the transporter chief. In Deep Space Nine, he is the equivalent of a starship chief engineer. He also has a family and two young children. The O’Briens are unique among Star Trek clans as they are the only intact nuclear family to be portrayed long-term throughout a series. (Wesley Crusher and Jake Sisko both had one dead parent during the shows they were in).

Armin Shimerman as Quark: If there’s any character in the main cast of Deep Space Nine that challenges Gene Roddenberry’s vision for the future most, it’s Quark. When the Ferrengi were introduced in The Next Generation, Data described them as “Yankee Traders” whose only goal in life was to seek profit and acquisition. And while Quark is portrayed throughout the series as an amoral trader that’s out for his own interests, he often brings a sense of balance and charm to that role. By the end of the series, you will better understand the Ferrengi and maybe sympathize with their point of view–if not agree with it.

Nana Vistor as Kira Nerys: The Bajoran people are at the heart of Deep Space Nine, as it’s their planet the station orbits in the first episode. Major Kira serves as the embodiment of the race throughout the series. As a former freedom fighter and terrorist, she has to come to grips with what it means to finally be free. Moreover, she exudes the deep spirituality of her religious beliefs, something not often depicted in Star Trek.

Michael Dorn as Worf: The addition of Worf to the cast in the show’s fourth season was an amazing gift to fans who had watched The Next Generation. In that series, Worf served as chief of security on the Enterprise. And while he was a fan favorite, his role was often reduced to making brutish, violent suggestions that got shot down. In Deep Space Nine, Worf came into his own and grew as a character. And during the Dominion War arc, his nature as a warrior came to true fruition as it could be explored in far more detail than in The Next Generation.

Nicole de Boer as Ezri Dax: (SPOILER ALERT) Jadzia isn’t the only Dax on the show. After the sixth season, Terry Farrell left the series, and her part needed to be recast. Luckily for the show’s writers, the Dax symbiont can transfer hosts. When Ezri receives Jadzia’s memories and experiences, she has to struggle with having to take her place. And though she’s only around for a single season, Ezri is an integral part of the series and serves as an epilogue to Jadzia’s character arc.

Compelling Recurring Characters

It’s not just the main cast that makes Deep Space Nine stand out among Trek series. The show has a deep bench of recurring characters that play a pivotal role in the overall narrative. In other Trek shows, side characters only show up occasionally, usually just once, then they’re gone.

Critical side characters include Gul Dukat (Marc Alaimo), the former commander of Deep Space Nine when it was in Cardassian hands. He is the perfect foil for Sisko and remains one of the most nuanced and compelling villains in all of Star Trek. Another Cardassian of note is the former spy-turned-tailor Garak played by Andrew J. Robinson (who may as well have been a main character, given how often he appears). He adds an air of mystery and deceit to the show whenever he’s on-screen and plays a crucial part in some of the series’ most poignant stories.

Additionally, when the Dominion War begins, the show introduces many war-themed characters, including the genocidal female changeling from Odo’s home planet. Weyoun (Jeffrey Combs) is a character who is actually a series of clones who can replace each other when one gets killed. General Martok (J. G. Hertzler) leads the Klingon offensive in the fight against dominion. And Damar, who is Dukat’s right-hand man throughout the war but ends up becoming one of the most heroic figures of Star Trek.

The Perfect Combination of Episodic and Serialized Storytelling

Handwritten note "Next Episode Please" in hand drawn web browser on keyboard.

Until this point in the franchise, Star Trek had an almost purely episodic affair. Sure, there were a few two-parters in The Next Generation, and sometimes popular side characters returned. But, generally speaking, you can pop in any episode of the original series and Next Generation and enjoy them without knowing what happened in the previous episodes.

Compare that to now, when most stories in Star Trek are season-long serials. You can’t just sit down and watch an episode of season three of Star Trek: Discovery and understand what’s happening without acquainting yourself with all the show’s events prior to that episode.

Both storytelling methods have their strengths and weaknesses, but Deep Space Nine combines both in a way that hasn’t been replicated in the rest of Trek. However, it is somewhat present in the first season of Strange New Worlds (and maybe Lower Decks, but Deep Space Nine does it best).

Again, it all comes down to the Dominion War arc. In starting that war between the Federation and the Dominion, the writers introduced a sense of severe consequence to the events of any particular episode, as they would likely impact the rest of the show. And it all culminated in a 10-part finale that saw Sisko and crew finally bring resolution to the conflict.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy individual episodes, even those in the mega-long finale. Every episode remains self-contained. All you have to know is that a war is happening. Deep Space Nine walks the line between episodic and serialized storytelling masterfully.

Final Thoughts

If I haven’t convinced you yet that Deep Space Nine is the best Star Trek series, that’s okay. But I hope I’ve at least made you consider why this oft-neglected show is so critical to the franchise’s history. If it’s been a while since you rewatched Captain Sisko and company, I invite you to revisit Deep Space Nine on Parmount+ in honor of the 30th anniversary. And if you’ve never seen it before, I’m jealous. You’re in for a fantastic Star Trek journey.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: The Complete Series

Enjoy the best Star Trek series ever produced: Deep Space Nine!

Danny Chadwick Danny Chadwick
Danny has been a technology journalist since 2008. He served as senior writer, as well as multimedia and home improvement editor at Top Ten Reviews until 2019. Since then, he has been a freelance contributor to Lifewire and ghostwriter for Fit Small Business. His work has also appeared on Laptop Mag, Tom’s Guide, and business.com. Read Full Bio »