Dec 20 2013 4:00pm
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Rewatch: “Distant Voices”

Star Trek DS9 Distant Voices “Distant Voices”
Written by Joe Menosky and Ira Steven Behr & Robert Hewitt Wolfe
Directed by Alexander Singer
Season 3, Episode 18
Production episode 40512-464
Original air date: April 10, 1995
Stardate: unknown

Station log. Over lunch, Garak gives Bashir an early birthday present: a holographic adaptation of a Cardassian enigma story. Bashir is less than enthused, partly because he’s not the biggest fan of enigma stories, partly because he’s turning thirty in a couple of days.

Quark then approaches Bashir, accompanied by a Lethean named Altovar. Altovar is looking to purchase some biomimetic gel, which Bashir says is restricted material that can’t just be sold. Quark gives Altovar an I-told-you-so, but Altovar is determined, saying he’ll pay any price. But Bashir won’t sell it at any price.

Bashir goes into the infirmary and is attacked by Altovar, who was waiting for him. He wakes up to a trashed infirmary—neither his combadge nor the computer are responding to him. He goes out to the Promenade to find it empty and dark. When he looks at himself in a mirror, he sees that his hair is going gray.

Star Trek DS9 Distant Voices

He follows noises to Quark’s, which is also trashed, with Quark cowering in a corner. After a few more minutes of noises of someone throwing furniture around the bar (including one chair that almost takes off Bashir’s head), Quark runs away. Bashir goes after him to find a replicator in the Replimat leaking Tarkalian tea.

He goes to Odo’s office, only to be find Garak, who says he was in his quarters working when the power went out. He hasn’t seen anyone on the station, and nothing’s working aside from life support, turbolifts, and doors. Bashir is stunned that he, Garak, and Quark are the only ones still on the station. Bashir is also getting grayer hair.

Then Bashir starts hearing whispering voices, but Garak doesn’t hear them. They arm themselves and split up, with Bashir checking the habitat ring and the central core. He’s attacked by Altovar, but manages to escape in a turbolift. On another level, he finds Kira, Dax, O’Brien, and Odo arguing in the wardroom. They’re all acting paranoid and bloodthirsty and out of character. By this time, Bashir is grayer and wrinkled. Again, he hears the voices, though nobody else does.

Star Trek DS9 Distant Voices

Bashir takes charge of the situation, asking if they can get the internal sensors back online. Since everyone’s paranoid, they all go together to the junction where O’Brien thinks he can fix stuff—but everything’s burned out. All he can do is get external communications working, and then only incoming. What they hear are Dax, Sisko, and Nurse Jabara talking about Bashir being in a telepathic coma. Bashir realizes that the “communication” was reality and that this entire thing is a delusion. His subconscious has created everyone he’s seen so far as different aspects of his personality. O’Brien is his doubt and disbelief, Kira his aggression, Odo his suspicion and fear, and Dax his confidence and sense of adventure. (Quark would probably be his cowardice.) Altovar himself represents the damage to Bashir’s mind.

Dax is kidnapped by Altovar. Bashir goes after him, but then finds himself playing tennis on the Promenade with Garak, who then suggests he go to Ops to fix the station. If he fixes the station, he fixes his mind. En route, he encounters Sisko and Jabara treating a bunch of patients in a corridor. Sisko apparently represents his professionalism and skill. But then Altovar takes Sisko, too.

Bashir runs down a corridor until he bumps into Altovar, who says Bashir isn’t going anywhere. The Lethean intends to destroy Bashir piece by piece (he’s already got his confidence and professionalism) until he kills the doctor. Bashir then turns and runs away, getting older by the second. He comes across Kira’s dead body and a melting Odo.

Star Trek DS9 Distant Voices

Odo suggests he use the conduits to get to Ops, and he encounters O’Brien on the way. Together they crawl their way back to the Promenade—but this time a monitor is actually working, showing Bashir’s vital signs. He’s dying.

There’s noise in Quark’s, where Quark is taking bets on when Bashir will actually die. Then O’Brien dies, and then Altovar kills Quark. Bashir runs away, only to bump into Garak and stumble to the deck, breaking his hip. He asks Garak for help getting him to Ops, which Garak provides only after snarking him off a lot by reminding him how old he’s getting.

By the time they get to Ops, Bashir is positively decrepit, but Ops is decorated for a surprise birthday party, where Garak and a dabo girl sing “Happy Birthday” to him. Bashir then has Garak help him to a computer panel, but when he opens it, he’s pelted by tennis balls. At that point, Garak refuses to help him any longer, as he’s just delaying the inevitable, but Bashir insists on crawling to another panel, only to be pelted by more tennis balls.

Star Trek DS9 Distant Voices

Bashir thinks that Garak doesn’t sound like Garak, at which point he says that he’s not Garak, but a part of Bashir—but he doesn’t sound like Bashir, either. Also Garak is the only one Altovar let live. Bashir thinks that Garak isn’t part of Bashir, but a representation of Altovar, which turns out to be spot on.

The Lethean says he should just give up—like he always does, citing his giving up on a tennis career to please his parents, giving up on his pursuit of Dax, and saying he purposefully threw the one question on the medical school final he got wrong so he wouldn’t be first in his class.

Bashir then leaves Ops and goes to the infirmary, because he’s realized that, while Ops is the nerve center of the real station, the nerve center of Bashir’s mind would be the infirmary. He is able to restore power from the infirmary and put Altovar in a quarantine field and then activates a sterilization protocol—it’s his mind, after all, he can do what he wants.

And then Bashir wakes up in the infirmary—the real one—to see Dax, Jabara, and Sisko standing over him, very happy to see him awake. Once he’s released, he and Garak have lunch again. Turns out the real Altovar was arrested only a minute or two after attacking Bashir. And after turning into a decrepit old man past the century mark, turning thirty no longer seems quite so bad....

Star Trek DS9 Distant Voices

The Sisko is of Bajor. Sisko gets to represent Bashir’s professionalism for about half a second before he’s taken away, but before that happens, it’s hilarious to see Avery Brooks spew medical technobabble.

Don’t ask my opinion next time. Of the quadrivium of Kira, Odo, O’Brien, and Dax who are the primary avatars for Bashir’s personality, Kira as Bashir’s aggression is the closest to sounding like the real Kira.

The slug in your belly. Dax as Bashir’s confidence is a lot more bloodthirsty than the real version, as she goes on at great length about killing Altovar and being all violent and stuff. Very un-Dax-like...

Preservation of mass and energy is for wimps. The Odo in Bashir’s head is also somewhat like Odo, albeit with the paranoia and suspicion turned up to 11. He’s “killed” by Altovar by melting, which is an entertaining special effect, if a bit dodgy-looking.

Star Trek DS9 Distant Voices

Rules of Acquisition. Quark, to his credit, wants no part in acquiring biomimetic gel for Altovar, and only goes through with the charade of asking Bashir because a) Altovar insists and b) Quark’s obviously scared to death of Altovar.

Plain, simple. Garak is apparently dieting, as the life of a tailor is a little too indolent and he’s gaining weight. Bashir promises to give him an exercise regimen.

For Cardassia! Cardassian enigma stories—much like their trials—always end the same way: with all the suspects being guilty of something. Cardassians also apparently don’t have midlife crises, as they view aging as a sign of power and authority.

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Bashir says that he still has feelings for Dax, but values her friendship more than any possible romantic involvement.

Star Trek DS9 Distant Voices

Keep your ears open. “To think, after all this time, all our lunches together, you still don’t trust me. There’s hope for you yet, Doctor.”

Garak’s gleeful explanation of Bashir’s mind casting Garak as the villain.

Welcome aboard. Former football player Victor Rivers plays Altovar and Nicole Forester plays the dabo girl who sings “Happy Birthday” to Bashir, while we get recurring regulars Andrew J. Robinson as Garak and Ann Gillespie in her final appearance as Jabara.

Star Trek DS9 Distant Voices

Trivial matters: In “Q-Less,” Bashir mentioned confusing a pre-ganglionic nerve with a post-ganglionic fiber on his final exam. The two are nothing alike and impossible to confuse. Altovar mentioning it here as evidence that Bashir threw his final in order to not finish top in his class was a gift from co-scripter Robert Hewitt Wolfe to his wife Celeste Wolfe, a medical professional, who’d been complaining about the line in “Q-Less” since it aired. It will later be revealed in “Dr. Bashir, I Presume?” that Bashir had good reason to throw the question...

The original story by Joe Menosky did not have cast members in Bashir’s fantasy, but different actors playing different aspects of Bashir’s personality. It was Ronald D. Moore who had the idea to set the fantasy on the station and use the regular characters as avatars.

Bashir’s love of tennis was established in “Melora,” but this is the only time on the series we see him playing the game. He also mentions the extension courses in engineering he took at the Academy, first referenced back in “Armageddon Game.”

While this is Jabara’s final appearance onscreen, the nurse does show up here and there in the tie-in fiction, including the novels Hollow Men by Una McCormack and A Stitch in Time by Andrew J. Robinson and the short story “Three Sides to Every Story” by Terri Osborne in the Prophecy and Change anthology.

Star Trek DS9 Distant Voices

Biomimetic gel was first mentioned in TNG’s “Force of Nature” and again in “Preemptive Strike.” It’ll be seen again in more depth in “In the Pale Moonlight,” as well as in Voyager’s “Fair Trade.”

We never see the real Kira, Odo, or O’Brien in this episode.

This is the first time we’ve seen the Lethean species. We’ll see another one in “The Sword of Kahless.” They also appear in the games Klingon Honor Guard and Star Trek Online.

Walk with the Prophets. “I’m not some figment of your imagination!” This is one of those episode that screams Joe Menosky, so seeing his name in the story credit isn’t much of a surprise. Menosky loves playing with symbology and odd methods of communicating and such-like—sadly, his stories have an irritating tendency to be better in concept than execution, and this is a classic case.

Though it’s not all Menosky’s fault. The real problem is that the script (which is by Ira Steven Behr and Robert Hewitt Wolfe) gives us the crew as avatars of Bashir’s personality, but then doesn’t do a damn thing with it except give Colm Meaney and Terry Farrell a chance to act out of character (and Nana Visitor and Rene Auberjonois an opportunity to act very mildly out of character...). Honestly, TNG did more with this trope in a single scene in “Frame of Mind” (when Riker undergoes treatment, with Picard, Troi, and Worf acting as avatars for different aspects of his emotional state) than this episode manages in 44 minutes. Instead of really doing something with the main cast as representations of aspects of Bashir’s personality, the script just introduces the concept, talks about it a lot, and that’s it. Instead, we get a cheap remake of Agatha Christie’s Ten Little Indians, with the aspects of Bashir’s personality being picked off one by one. Yet there are no consequences to this. While Bashir’s “body” is getting older and more decrepit, his mind is still quite sharp, as evidenced by the fact that he thinks his way quite elegantly out of the problem.

Star Trek DS9 Distant Voices

On top of that, there isn’t really enough story for an entire hour here, but nowhere to really stick a B-plot, since the entire episode save for the teaser and the last few minutes take place entirely in Bashir’s head. This results in several scenes that go on too long, like the Garak-Bashir tennis match that doesn’t end until long after its point has been made, or Bashir finding Tarkalian tea leaking out of a replicator for no compellingly good reason, or O’Brien, Kira, Odo, and Dax endlessly complaining about how they can’t possibly be avatars of Bashir’s mind, or watching elderly Bashir with his broken hip crawl all over Ops having tennis balls fall on his head (which is funny the first time, especially with Garak’s beautifully timed response, “This station is in worse shape than we thought,” not so much the second time). And Altovar is nowhere as an antagonist, just a mean guy who’s associated with Quark, completely undifferentiated from any other mean guy who’s associated with Quark. His motivations for attacking Bashir aren’t really all that clear, either. I mean, fine, he wouldn’t sell him the incredibly illegal biomimetic gel, which Quark warned him ahead of time would happen. For this, he tries to kill the guy? And badly, since a) it doesn’t work and b) he’s caught two seconds later.

The episode is still fun to watch, but that’s entirely on the back of Siddig el-Fadil and Andrew J. Robinson and their Magnificent Banter of Doom. The whole episode’s worth it for the conversation about Bashir turning thirty and being all Mr. Grumpypants about it in the Replimat at the episode’s opening.


Warp factor rating: 5


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Uncle Mikey
1. Uncle Mikey
A single good converation between Bashir and Garak can make up for a wide range of ills, at least in terms of enjoyability of a story. I agree that this one is a case in point. I'm not sure anyone in the series has a personal foil that works quite as solidly as Garak does for Bashir (and vice versa, really).
Uncle Mikey
2. BrandonH
This is not an episode I would use to sell someone on the show, that's for sure. I had it as #153 out of #176 after my last run through the show. The only reason it rates even that highly is because of Garak/Bashir. Otherwise, it would be in the bottom 10.
Uncle Mikey
3. Bobby Nash
I remember enjoying this episode. It's been awjile since I've seen it, but enjoyed the strangeness of it.

Uncle Mikey
4. David Sim
I always assumed the Tarkalean tea leaking out of the replicator was because it was Bashir's favourite drink, or so he told Enabran Tain in The Wire. Maybe that's why it appeared in his unconscious mind.
Christopher Bennett
5. ChristopherLBennett
When I scrolled back to remind myself who wrote this, I went, "Of course it's Menosky!" Nobody else did so many stories about people being endangered by abstract concepts.

I'm generally not a fan of "Mental landscape represented by the standing sets" episodes, since it just screams "money-saving bottle show" at the expense of credibility (you'd think someone's internal mindscape would be more diverse and more mutable than that). The "main cast as avatars for character's personality" angle just worsens it; no doubt Moore was thinking as a budget-conscious producer when he had that idea.

And if sickbay was the center of his world rather than ops, why wasn't he surrounded by his medical staff, who he probably spends more time with overall than he does with Sisko or Odo or Quark? Sometimes TV shows really suffer from having to focus on the same regulars all the time. (And I'm still surprised every time it's mentioned that there's a recurring nurse named Jabara. I have no memory of her whatsoever.)

Still, on the plus side, this is one of the few "rapid aging" episodes in all of SFTV that actually makes a modicum of sense, because the aging is imaginary. In reality, it takes decades of cumulative damage for the skin to develop wrinkles and spots, and even if the hair follicles stopped producing pigments instantly, it would take weeks for them to grow out gray. So even if the body aged rapidly, there'd be little outward change. (The one thing that ever got this right was a fourth-season Sliders episode.)

I'd say that if Confidence-Dax was an avatar of Bashir, then being all gung-ho about killing was out of character for Bashir too. He is supposed to be a doctor, after all.

As I've remarked before, I never saw the preganglionic nerve/postganglionic fiber thing as a problem until this episode came along. I always took it to mean that he was taking a written exam and misread one term as the other, rather than actually mistaking one of the actual items for the other. The latter might be impossible, but the former is entirely plausible. So that bit here always struck me as strange.

Of course, later developments with Bashir explain why he kept choosing to hold himself back. But in retrospect, it's hard to understand why that secret didn't come into play here. If Altovar is inside his mind, how does he not know the secret?

As for Quark, are we so sure that he wasn't interested in doing business with Altovar? It seemed more like he was putting up a front for Bashir's benefit, pretending to be an Honest Businessman who wanted nothing to do with any illegal requests but had been pressured into asking.
Rob Rater
6. Quasarmodo
The main thing I recall from this episode is meanie Altovar getting on Bashir about quitting tennis. Kind of killed any malice the character actually had up to that point.
David Levinson
7. DemetriosX
The show really seems to be in a stretch of mediocre to poor episodes for a good chunk of the late 3rd season. You have to wonder what was going on behind the scenes to cause that.

IIRC, biomimetic gel gets a lot of mention in the Voyager premier. Voyager is one of the first ships to be equipped with the stuff and that was supposed to be a more important ongoing plot point than it turned out to be (along with so much else on that show). Or have I confused that with something else?
Christopher Bennett
8. ChristopherLBennett
@7: No, what Voyager had were bio-neural gel packs. They were a new type of organic computer using synthesized neural tissue in a nutrient gel, giving the computer more power and sophistication than before (and perhaps being a contributing factor to the Doctor's sentience). Bio-mimetic gel means a gel that mimics the properties of biological material. Which is probably why it's useful in researching biological weapons, hence the ban.
Dante Hopkins
9. DanteHopkins
I was glad that Siddig El-Fadil's performance as a very old man didn't dissolve into exaggeration and cliche', but was totally believable (and often inadvertently comical). Still, this was yet another episode I watch to get to the next one. Not a terrible episode, just one that didn't have much going on. Watching ancient Bashir ordering the Lethean to be "sterilized" was a nice payoff, though.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
10. Lisamarie
Thank you for mentioning Frame of Mind, because it was bugging me the entire time - I knew that TNG had already done something similar (and better). This one was kind of meh to me - it gets a few points with me simply for it having the kind of creepy/mental thriller aspect, but it seems awfully convenient to me that all the members of the cast just happen to represent aspects of Bashir's personality (and I agree that some of them didn't even seem to fit - I never saw Bashir as particularly bloodthirsty, or suspicious, etc) - and since nothing really seemed to change as they were killed, it just seemed kind of pointless.

I just turned 31 and I was a lot more depressed about that than 30. Sigh. ;)
Uncle Mikey
11. Oldwizard
Hey, I turned 32 on the 21st of december and I feel just fine. :-) I am sorry to be in the minority that actually like this episode. (As well as "Visionary", the previous episode) :-) And though I do admit that there are flaws and such with both episodes, I can enjoy it simply because - even if ST use some real science - it is still science fiction. Also I don't mind the tecnobabble - it seems to make sense to them, despite Kira's breakin-the-fourth-wall comment in season one. ;-)
Christopher Bennett
12. ChristopherLBennett
@11: "even if ST use some real science - it is still science fiction."

I have to correct the misapprehension here. There's a popular myth I keep hearing that "science fiction" is called that because all the science is unreal, but that's absolutely untrue. It's called that because it's fiction about science, stories built upon scientific concepts and extrapolations thereon. A great deal of science fiction has always been grounded in the best scientific theories of the day, going all the way back to Jules Verne. That category of the genre is usually called "hard science fiction," in that its science is more rigorous and more central to the stories.

So in no way whatsoever does the inclusion of real science disqualify something from being science fiction. On the contrary, it makes it more science-fictional.

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