Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was the fourth television series in the Star Trek franchise. It ran for seven seasons and a hundred and seventy-six episodes in syndication. The finale, "What You Leave Behind", aired on June 2nd, 1999. DS9 was markedly different from Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation. The show setting was a recovered enemy space station near the planet Bajor. A grieving Starfleet commander, Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks), assigned to help the Bajorans recover from a devastating occupation; discovers a wormhole to a distant region of the galaxy, the Gamma Quadrant. What followed was a thrilling, slow-burn escalation to the epic, Dominion War; a conflict against powerful Gamma Quadrant adversaries that threatened the United Federation of Planets.
What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Deep Space Nine is a wonderful retrospective and coda to the beloved series. The documentary is produced and directed by Ira Steven Behr, DS9's showrunner/executive producer, and filmmaker/Star Trek enthusiast David Zappone; who produced The Captains and For the Love of Spock. Originally crowdfunded to celebrate DS9's twenty-fifth anniversary, Behr was astonished by the legions of fans that contributed money. It changed the scale of the documentary, and provided an opportunity to pursue fandom's dream scenario; a look at the story for a possible season eight of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
What We Left Behind reunites the original cast, writers, filmmakers, and studio executives for interviews. DS9, though it ran for seven seasons, was pilloried by critics at the time. The show was too dark, political, and not adventurous enough. The sci-fi mainstream decried a Star Trek series that was serialized, not episodic. They wanted each week to be a new adventure on a different planet, mimicking the format of the incredibly popular Star Trek: The Next Generation. DS9 had elaborate storylines that stretched over multiple seasons and embraced controversy. From racial and ethnic issues, religious strife, to television's first lesbian kiss, it was a Star Trek series that obliterated boundaries. Ira Steven Behr has frank discussions with the Paramount studio executive who didn't understand his vision for the show. Luckily, his persistence and a cult following allowed DS9 to continue its risque path; albeit with some major changes forced by the suits.
Without delving too deep into the details of the interviews, two pivotal events are explored. The first was the addition of Star Trek: The Next Generation's bad-ass Klingon, Lt. Commander Worf (Michael Dorn), in season four. The cast, Behr, Rick Berman (overall Star Trek TV producer), and several Paramount execs discuss bringing the popular character to the struggling show. What was already a tight-knit crew had doubts, but welcomed Dorn into the fold. The decision turned out to be exactly as hoped; a shot in the arm that revitalized DS9. The same cannot be said for the killing of Worf's wife and series regular from the start, Lt. Commander Jadzia Dax (Terry Farrell). What We Left Behind takes a frank look at the turmoil caused by firing her. Terry Farrell's treatment and decision to leave was a blow to all. Behr also shows the professionalism and resilience of the core players. Nicole de Boer's Lt. Ezri Dax, who replaced Terry Farrell, was a key character during the final season. Seeing the players and producers discuss this tumultuous time is riveting. They developed lifelong bonds from their time on DS9. The show profoundly impacted them on a personal level. Defining the acting careers for many of the cast members.
In true DS9 fashion, What We Left Behind gets political. The doc explores the casting of Avery Brooks as Star Trek's first black captain and series lead. We see how Brooks, who unfortunately is only interviewed through archival footage, steered the path of DS9. Captain Sisko was a father foremost. DS9 had an incredible story arc with his son, Jake Sisko (Cirroc Lofton), growing up on the space station. Brooks wanted the show to portray a positive black male role model as a parent and leader. DS9 was filmed during the LA riots of 1992. Anyone who watched DS9 knows how thoughtfully the series tackled such heady issues. Fandom will also be quite surprised what Behr has to say about the relationship between Garak (Andrew J. Robinson) and Dr. Bashir (Alexander Siddig).
What We Left Behind does not forget the talented production designers, effects teams, and make-up artists that made DS9 so realistic. Some of the funnier scenes have Armin Shimerman, who played Quark the Ferengi bartender, and René Auberjonois, who played the shape-shifting security chief Odo, cursing the other cast members, particularly Colm Meaney (Chief O'Brien). They had to sit for hours in make-up, and then work in the uncomfortable prosthetics; while the "human" actors had mere touch-ups. It's all in good humor, but illustrates the physical toll of playing DS9's alien characters.
The most thrilling aspect of What We Left Behind is the plotting for a potential season eight. Behr gathered the original writers, including Robert Hewitt Wolfe, for a storyboard session. The breakdown is accompanied by CGI animation and pre-vis sketches. Prepare to be blown off your couches. Set twenty years after Captain Sisko defeated the Dominion and vanished into the wormhole, the season eight storyline is jaw-dropping. It's loaded with surprises that will melt the minds of every DS9 fan. Behr and the writers acknowledge this is pure fantasy, but does it have to be? CBS and Paramount allows fan made Star Trek, as long as it's not for profit. I would shell out in a heartbeat to have a crowdfunded, CGI adaptation of DS9 season eight. Voiced by the original cast of course. Behr raised the money for What We Left Behind in a weekend. I'm pretty sure fandom can make that happen...
What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Deep Space Nine is a must see for fans, and anyone who appreciates great science fiction. DS9 is the perfect series for the binge-watching, streaming audiences of today. It's remarkable that a show which ended two decades ago, and was misunderstood by the masses, has found a new generation of ardent supporters. I think Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is not only the best Star Trek series, but arguably, the best sci-fi series. Seasons five through seven were masterful, exhilarating and engrossing television. We need to see season eight. What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is available now on DVD/Blu-Ray from Shout! Factory.