In the Star Trek universe, Deep Space Nine is not necessarily one of its brightest stars. Not because the show wasn’t as good, interesting or long-lived as the others (it ran seven seasons from 1993-1999), but because it was unlike any Star Trek property that’s come before or since.
Darker, moodier and, perhaps, more static than the rest, DS9 placed its crew in a space station that never moved. It has enjoyed less acclaim and nostalgia than the original series or Star Trek: Next Generation and sits somewhere above the short-lived Enterprise series and just below Voyager on the Star Trek interest scale.
So why make a documentary about a somewhat forgotten, nearly 25-year-old series about a space station, its crew (starring, among others, Avery Brooks as Captain Benjamin Sisko, Terry Farrell as Dax and Rene Auberjonois as Odo) and their years-long effort to bring a group of aliens — the Bajorans — into the Federation.
“A big part of it is Netflix,” said former DS9 show runner Ira Steven Behr, who is now producing the new documentary on the series tentatively titled, What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Star Trek Deep Space Nine (a nod to the shows’ final episode, “What You Leave Behind”). And, in a special twist DS9 fans will love, Behr reassembled the show’s writers to create a story for what, in another universe, might have been the first episode in a never-produced season eight.
Behr and his production team are launching a $145,000 Indiegogo campaign on Thursday to fund the project and, he hopes, help them complete it for a winter 2017 release. Adam Nimoy, who produced a loving documentary tribute to his father, the late Leonard Nimoy (“Spock” from the original series), is on board to direct.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine is the rare 1990s show that worked more like a novel than your standard episodic TV, another aspect that made it stand apart like a moody stepchild from previous and even future Star Trek franchises. It demands the kind of commitment that can be tough to get from audiences trained on shows that wrap up each week, but far easier for today’s Netflix-addicted generation.
“Thank God for binging. This is a show that’s helped by binging. The more you watch, the easier to catch the wave of the show,” said Behr.
Behr, who came to DS9 as a showrunner after spending a few years producing Star Trek: The Next Generation, acknowledges how different DS9 was from other shows in the franchise. It was something they actively fought for.
“We had to fight for everything,” he said, including Avery Brooks’ decision to shave his head and grow a goatee. The producers were worried at the time about having two captains, Sisko and TNG’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard, with shaved heads.
They also fought to keep the Deep Space Nine crew stationary, as opposed to flying each week into the stable wormhole that the station defended. The Studio was always looking to juice up the series, which is why characters like Q and Worf from TNG ended up as guest or series regulars. All the while, Behr and his writers were focused on the interior lives of the characters and, more unusually, religion and spirituality (Sisko was, after all, considered an Emissary for The Prophets by the Bajorans).
Paramount, which maintained sole control of the syndicated show in the ’90s, has been cooperative, Behr said, embracing the documentary production.
Behr explained that freelance writers would regularly pitch both Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001) and DS9. Voyager wanted a big sci-fi concept or anomaly as the centerpiece of its relatively episodic show, whereas on DS9 Behr would tell writers, “I don’t care what you pitch, it better affect the characters.”
Fans of the show, though, contend that the darker tone did lighten up over seven seasons, that it got better and better, while remaining true to its core. Most believe it ended in 1999 on a high note, perhaps even with a possibility of more DS9 stories on the horizon.
That horizon never came, but Behr and his documentary team will dabble in a bit of wish fulfillment. Behr collected the original writers and had them come up with a “mythical Season 8, Episode 1,” something that will feature in some form in the film — and could potentially be a big draw for the show’s original fans as well as the growing number of viewers now discovering it on Netflix.
The documentary, which they’ve been working on for almost two years, will also feature cast, crew and fan interviews — exploring the views of those who loved the show and Star Trek “purists” who never quite got it.
There may not, though, be a lot of fresh Avery Brooks footage. His involvement will come largely through existing interviews and film clips. Behr has true affection for the star, but adds, “Of all the people I ever worked with Avery was the most interesting person.”
Behr believes Brooks would rather let the work he did speak for itself. Even so, Behr said that part of the reason he decided to do the documentary, Behr’s first, was for Brooks.
For many of the actors, the work on Deep Space Nine, with its hours of makeup, wasn’t easy. “Everyone is so much nicer now, especially now that’s there’s no makeup.”
The documentary may also help answer the lingering question of why series regular Terry Farrell, who played Dax, left suddenly at the end of season six. She was replaced by a new Dax character (played by Nicole de Boer).
“We talk about it. It was a very emotional interview. It’s very complicated. Much more complicated than I was aware of,” said Behr, who can’t promise that all that footage will make it into the final documentary.
Since Deep Space Nine, Behr has kept busy on various TV shows, including a Twilight Zone reboot and, more recently, the popular British show Outlander. He’s also finishing producing duties on his first film, Lucky, starring 91-year-old Harry Dean Stanton. The film premieres next month at SXSW.
The work on the Deep Space 9 documentary, though, is a labor of love and he remains appreciative of what the Star Trek universe (yes, it was a universe before franchises had universes) has given him.
“Star Trek is the gift that keeps on giving if that’s what you want to do,” said Behr, who noted that, though he rarely goes to Star Trek conventions, he loves to sit with the fans when he does. He says they’re always shocked that Behr isn’t, as perhaps some Star Trek stars are, afraid of them.
“Fans are so positive. In this world we live in which is just so full of sorrow and the world seems to be crumbling somewhere all the time — if this gives them a little bit of joy I see nothing wrong with it.”
Now, maybe, those Deep Space Nine fans will get a little bit more joy, in the form of a fondly remembered documentary.
Were you a fan of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and would you welcome this unofficial sequel episode? Did you like how the series ended? Would you rather this series be completely forgotten? What would you like to see in the documentary?
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