Last night, May 13th, was the one-night only showing (at TCL’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood or AMC’s Fathom Events) of the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine documentary “What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” (2018), co-directed by former DS9 writer/producer/show-runner Ira Steven Beher and David Zappone.
I’ve seen a lot of Star Trek documentaries in my years; many are simply bonus features on DVDs or blu rays, others are standalone productions like the Shatner-produced docs (“Chaos On The Bridge” “Get A Life” etc). Some I’ve even seen theatrically (Denise Crosby’s “Trekkies” waaayy back in 1999). This latest doc is a little different. Unlike previous documentaries, “What We Left Behind” was crowdfunded by DS9 fans, who have literally willed this production into being.
Behr interviews his former cast one-on-one as well as in group chats, and even gets together his former writing team to break a completely theoretical 8th season opener, set 20 years after the end of the show. We also see 22 minutes of clips from the show painstakingly remastered into gorgeous high definition resolution from the original film elements.
And, of course, there are some terrific and insightful interviews…
Interviewer Behr goes deep with his subjects. They not only discuss the show’s manifold strengths, but even a few of its failings. Sensitive matters are broached; such as why Terry Farrell (“Jadzia Dax”) felt compelled to leave the cast and show she loved so much, or how Behr himself felt the show didn’t serve the LGBTQ community as fully as it could’ve (in fairness, the 1990s television wasn’t exactly overflowing with LGBTQ representation).
Behr also acknowledges that that the Cardassian tailor/spy Garak (Andy Robinson) was a gay character (according to both Behr and Robinson). This was something I’d long assumed, but was irked to never see it openly acknowledged as such within the series.
Behr himself is admittedly ‘pissed off’ when he sees a CNN series’ clip looking back on the 1990s. The CNN retrospective speaking glowingly of the TV show “Homicide: Life in the Streets” as groundbreaking for black representation… completely ignoring the fact that DS9 was doing entire scenes solely with non-white actors as well. DS9 featured a black single father, Commander (later Captain) Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks) raising a son, Jake (Cirroc Lofton) and saving the universe while still managing (sometimes struggling) to be a positive role model.
It also featured a Bajoran first officer Major Kira Nerys (Nana Visitor), a former terrorist insurgent turned reluctant liaison. There was also a London-born, Sudanese medical officer Dr. Julian Bashir (Alexander Siddig), and a ‘Trill’ female science officer named Jadzia Dax (Terry Ferrell), an “action Barbie” (a nickname Ferrell loved) who could kick ass and take names with the best of them. Representation was DS9’s middle name. It was easily the most diverse Star Trek series until Discovery hit streaming in fall of 2017, and arguably still is, in fact.
But while “Homicide” was fawned over by CNN for its representation, DS9 was casually dismissed as just another ’Star Trek show’ running in syndication. Hey “Homicide”? Hold DS9’s beer….
Speaking of Sisko, the cast all speak admiringly of the somewhat eccentric, talented star Avery Brooks, whom all the interviewees unwaveringly compared to “a jazz musician.” Cirroc Lofton spoke lovingly of the man who took him to his first Lakers game with his family, while an assistant director spoke of a dedicated professional who wasn’t initially easy to know, but whose professionalism became evident very quickly. The entire cast spoke of his passionate directing and acting in the standout episode “Far Beyond The Stars”, which saw the cast playing different characters within the imagination of black 1950s sci-fi writer Benny Russell (Brooks). Russell suffers a nervous breakdown after yet another opportunity to be published is denied to him due to the color of his skin. Brooks played the breakdown completely raw and real, leaving his cast mates speechless at the depth of his commitment. Brooks truly lived that moment.
Sidenote: I had the opportunity to interview the writer of this episode, Marc Scott Zicree. Both parts of the interview are in the August 2018 archives of this site.
There are many bits of humor sprinkled throughout the interviews as well, such as when Aron Eisenberg, who played the former Ferengi-thief-turned-Starfleet-officer Nog, learns that the writers want to kill his character off in their hypothetical 8th season opener. Eisenberg does a mock ‘walk off’ from the interview, dropping a couple of nice f-bombs on the way out (“F–k you, Ira!”). It’s hysterical. Having interviewed Eisenberg last year for this site (also in the Aug. 2018 archives), I can personally vouch for his sense of humor!
Two of the “Ferengi” actors, Armin Shimerman (bar owner Quark) and his ‘brother’ Max Grodenchik (“Rom”) do a Rat Pack-style musical act with talented chameleonic guest star Jeffrey Combs (he plays “Weyoun” “Brunt” and others) and Casey Briggs (“Damar”). The documentary features a couple of the talented quartet’s songs as opening and closing numbers. That early 1960s Rat Pack vibe was a running gag on the series as well, with holographic lounge singer “Vic Fontaine” (real-life ‘60s icon James Darren) often acting as dispenser of simple, sage advice to the crew of the station. I’ve seen these actor/crooners do their act live in Las Vegas, and it’s an affectionate tribute both to a lost era of entertainment as well as to the show itself.
Seeing the secondary cast members (well over 20 of them, at least) and the primary cast sharing such close bonds 20 years later is heartwarming; there is no division. There are also no apparent resentments, save for a few who were initially leery of Michael Dorn’s “Worf” joining their cast seemingly to shore up ratings. Soon after joining their ranks, Dorn settled into the DS9 family and took the character of Worf to new places on the show, easily besting his work on Next Generation.
The DS9 cast & crew are a group whose previous underdog status on the Star Trek pyramid actually seems to have brought them even closer together. Now, thanks to streaming services like Netflix, the show is enjoying a long-overdue renaissance in popularity, for which stars like Nana Visitor are very grateful. DS9’s strong African-American and female representation is inspiring all-new generations of fans, including many little kids who see themselves in heroes like Sisko, Kira and Dax, which is a solid enough legacy for any actor, I’d imagine.
One of the most enjoyable parts of the documentary for me was the reunion of the writers, with Behr managing to get together his old writing team of Ron Moore (“Battlestar Galactica”), Robert Hewitt Wolfe (“The 4400”), Rene Echevarria (“Teen Wolf”) and Hans Beimler (“The District”) in a theoretical “storybreak” session of what an 8th season opener to the series, set 20 years after the conclusion of the series, would look like. Luckily, directors Behr and Zappone hired artists to do animated storyboards of their hypothetical sequel…
The ‘8th season opener’ sees Captain Nog in command of the USS Defiant, barely escaping enemy fire. He manages to barely make it through the wormhole and into the waiting docking ports of the Deep Space Nine station, which is now largely a religious shrine…preserving the memory of the lost “Emissary” Benjamin Sisko.
Old friends are all mysteriously summoned to the station, including Klingon politician Worf, Captain Ezri Dax (Nicole De Boer)and her medical officer husband Dr. Bashir aboard the starship USS Emmett Till (great name!). Kira Nerys is now a Veddik (a Bajoran priest) and is involved in some shady business that Capt. Nog had come to learn of, and of which he’s set to tell the assembled crew…until his ship blows up (!).
Learning of the depths of this alarming new conspiracy involving ‘converted’ Jem Hadar soldiers, tensions skyrocket as phasers are drawn…and the Emissary reappears! The End.
Putting that much energy and talent into one writing room again made me downright hungry to see the result they cooked up. Even without actual dialogue, I was just as engaged with the images and narration as I would’ve been watching the finished episode. How I wish their vision could be brought to life someday…even as a CBS-AA miniseries.
Of course, there were also 22 minutes of Deep Space Nine clips remastered in high-definition from the original camera negatives (stored in a salt mine on the East Coast), just as TOS and TNG were for their respective blu-ray releases. The results are simply stunning. I watched this documentary on a fairly large-sized movie screen, and the remastered images held up beautifully.
From furious pitched space battles to glorious closeups of aliens in Oscar-Emmy award winner Michael Westmore’s stunning makeups, it’s clear that Deep Space Nine would be glorious in HD. It’s such as shame that, as a post-doc roundtable discussion argued, the demand has to justify the expense of redoing the whole series. All I can say is that, despite owning all 7 seasons on DVD, I would gladly re-buy them again if they looked as good as what I saw in the cinema last night. Such a shame.
“What We Left Behind” truly earned its theatrical presentation. Not just for the stunningly remastered 22 minutes of high-definition Deep Space Nine clips, or the intriguing animated preview of what a hypothetical sequel series to the show might look like, but because after a couple decades of being the under-appreciated middle child of Star Trek, Deep Space Nine damn well deserves a theatrical showing. It was not only cathartic to those involved with making the show (a passionate, creative group) but also to us longtime DS9 fans, who’ve long felt this show never got its due during its run.
For those who were unable to see it theatrically, or who didn’t contribute to the crowdsource funding for a preview, “What We Left Behind” will be released by Shout Factory home video on DVD and Blu Ray on August 6th. For the gorgeous remastered DS9 footage alone, I cannot imagine any DS9 fan not buying this one on Blu Ray.