Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Collector's Edition, Seasons 1–3

Avery Brooks, Rene Auberjonois, Terry Farrell, Cirroc Lofton, Colm Meaney, Armin Shimerman, Alexander Siddig, Nana Visitor. Aspect ratio: 4:3. Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Surround 2.0 (English). 54 hours 31 minutes. 1992–1995. Paramount Home Video 056454, 05893, 05894. NR. $139.99 per season.

Picture ***

Sound ***

Film ***1/2

Deep Space Nine has always been the dark horse of the Star Trek universe; many fans consider it their least favorite series. But watching it on DVD, I've come to think it among the best of the series, with long story arcs and complex characters who grow and change over time.

DS9 is certainly the darkest of all the Star Trek series in mood, lighting, and color; it's also the most spiritual and political. In addition, there is much more interpersonal conflict than is seen in other Trek series. Then there are some interesting gender issues embodied by Science Officer Jadzia Dax, a being who has been both male and female throughout several lifetimes.

This is the only Trek series not set primarily in a Star Fleet environment; it's also the only series set in a permanent installation rather than a starship. The discovery of a stable, artificial wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant in the pilot episode causes the location to become critical, making the station a crossroads, a port of call at the edge of the Federation. This allows more long-term story arcs; characters must deal with the consequences of their actions rather than flying off to another adventure.

There are four hours of programming per disc. Season 1 includes five discs of episodes and a sixth of bonus material; Seasons 2 and 3 each have six discs of episodes, and a seventh with two episodes and bonus material. When you're finished watching one episode, the navigation system takes you back to that episode's menu, not the main menu; to select another episode, you must manually return to the main menu. This is bogus—at the end of an episode, you should be taken directly back to the main menu.

Overall, the picture quality is excellent, very clean, and colorful. The computer-generated effects inside the wormhole are quite beautiful to my eye, with bright, sharp, vibrant electric blues and yellows. I did see some obvious jaggies in the CG shots on SGHT editor Tom Norton's system (Integra progressive DVD player, Sharp XV-Z10000 DLP projector, 80-inch-wide Stewart FireHawk screen), but not on mine (Panasonic interlaced DVD player, Panasonic 32-inch analog set). In addition, the image was a bit soft on TJN's large screen, especially when compared with the DVDs of Farscape, which are sharp as a tack. This indicates that Paramount didn't use edge enhancement [neither does Farscape, suggesting it was better photographed to begin with—TJN] which is certainly worth a bit of softness. Again, the softness was not evident on my admittedly smaller, less ambitious system.

The sound is also quite good, with excellent dialog intelligibility. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack spreads the music to the rear channels, and speeding starships whoosh through the surround soundfield convincingly.

Of course, there are plenty of bonus materials, including many interviews with the cast and crew. The interviews include the date they were conducted, which is great, and they're in widescreen letterbox, which is odd (the episodes are 4:3). The bonus materials follow some basic threads, such as creating aliens and props, artist sketchbooks, station crew dossiers, "Making of" featurettes, and photo galleries, all of which will keep die-hard Trekkers entertained for hours. Interestingly, I found a few errors; for example, in "Michael Westmore's Aliens" for Season 2, several original-series clips are misidentified.

The bonus-material menu system is very clever: Against a backdrop of the station floating in space, moving the cursor around reveals the various items, which are otherwise hidden. Some items are labeled, while others are indicated only by a highlighted portion of the station; you must select these to see what they are. Mostly, they're more interviews with various actors. This menu system is actually too clever for its own good; ultimately, it's too cumbersome to work well.

Despite that, the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine DVD collection is a must-have for any Trek fan. If you thought the series wasn't worth your time, think again. Watching it on DVD, without commercials and long waits between seasons, reveals just how good it actually is.—SW