Kresal. Matthew Kresal... looks back at the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode, Our Man Bashir.
In its nearly fifty year history Star Trek has proven adept at managing to make various genres fit into its futuristic framework. It's incorporated time travel and comedy into countless episodes, and has even found time to pastiche and parody everything from gangsters movies to westerns, with the latter being thanks to the holodeck. A good example of the holodeck being used to pastiche another genre comes from 1995 with Deep Space Nine's fourth season episode Our Man Bashir which took the James Bond films and other 1960s spy series and brought them into the twenty-third century.
The basic Trek premise behind the episode of a holodeck malfunction was old hat even in 1995 when this episode first went out and, indeed, the powers that be behind the series had deliberately avoided such an episode as a result. Bob Gillan (who receives a “story by” credit here) came up with a unique twist on the cliche that impressed the show's production team. Ronald Moore, then a producer on the series, is credited with coming up with the 1960s setting and would write the eventual script.
What Moore created is a wonderful pastiche of not only Bond but the entire 1960s spy craze. The episode's title echoes the 1966 film Our Man Flint while eye-patch wearing hit-man the Falcon calls to mind not just Bond film characters like Red Grant but also Marvel own comic book spy Nick Fury. Numerous other elements echo Bond films throughout its then thirty year history from a card game at a French club to the villains lair and plot echoing elements of the Roger Moore era Bond films The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker. Indeed the episode was broadcast just days after the US theatrical release of the 007 outing Goldeneye. Our Man Bashir proved not only to be timely but has been well remembered by fans of Deep Space Nine as well. Looking at the episode, it isn't hard to understand why.
For one thing, there's the performances and the chance to see familiar characters in a different setting. Julian Bashir is the most unlikely James Bond style secret agent that you're likely to meet but one of the joys of the holodeck is that things like that get to happen. One of the fun things about the episode is watching Bashir have to keep the holodeck program going while trying to balance both the fun of playing out the 1960s spy fantasy and keeping his crew mates from getting killed. It isn't just Bashir as a character having fun, as actor Alexander Siddig clearly is relishing the chance to play the role that one imagines every British actor thinks about playing at some point.
He clearly isn't the only one relishing the chance to essentially play a role in a mini-Bond film. Five of his cast mates get the chance to do just that in this episode and all seem to enjoy themselves, especially Avery Brooks playing the villainous Doctor Hippocrates Noah, which gives Brooks the chance to play a role very much removed from Benjamin Sisko. It's also highly amusing to watch Worf walking around in a white tuxedo, smoking cigars and playing cards against Bashir, or seeing O'Brien wearing an eye-patch and waving a gun about. Of course, what would this scenario be without the Bond Girls which gives Nana Visitor and Terry Farrell the chance to play those very roles, with Visitor playing a KGB agent and Farrell a scientist (something that has made the episode one of Nana Visitor's favorites according to DVD extras). Joining in is Deep Space Nine reoccurring character Garak played by Andrew J. Robinson who, as a “real” spy is a great source of comedy as he comments on just how unlikely the events taking place are. While Farrell in particular is underused, everyone does get their moment and everyone is clearly enjoying the chance being given to them.
The cast aren't the only ones it seems either. There's some impressive work being done both in front of and behind the camera as well. The sets and costumes do a wonderful job of creating the 1964 setting that the holosuite is supposed to be portraying, with period costumes and technology on display throughout. Production Designer
Herman Zimmerman's work on Doctor Noah's lair in particular is an impressive piece of work that pastiche the iconic Ken Adams designed sets from the 1960s Bond films on a fraction of the budget. The icing on the cake though might be the Emmy nominated score by composer Jay Chattaway which rides the fine line between pastiche and copyright infringement rather nicely by creating a score that echoes the John Barry style of Bond music (and arguably is a better Bond score that Eric Serra's for Goldeneye). All of which goes to show how inventive the show's makers could be when they were given the chance.
Perhaps as a result of all that, Our Man Bashir is and remains a joy to watch. For a series best remembered for darker themes and a larger emphasis on ongoing plot-lines, the episode stands out from the rest due to its tone and its pastiche nature. For fans of both the Bond films and Star Trek it's an essential piece of viewing for a chance to see two of the biggest icons of popular culture of the last fifty years getting the briefest of chances to interact.
Matthew Kresal lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't
have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the
Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.