One of the common criticisms leveled against Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in its early years is that its episodes had a tendency to be “too much like The Next Generation”, with the typical argument generally going that these episodes either had technobabble or plots that weren’t uniquely Deep Space Nine centric. I personally don’t think this is the case at all; in fact, of the episodes we’ve looked at so far, by my estimation that only one that could conceivably have also been done on Star Trek: The Next Generation was “Babel”-the one that was actually originally written for Star Trek: The Next Generation. And even “Babel” was worked over really well to fit the setting and character dynamics of the new show.
This makes it terribly interesting for me to see “Captive Pursuit” held up by pretty much the entire creative team as a great early example of a show that could never have been done on Star Trek: The Next Generation, because as far as I can tell the big problem with “Captive Pursuit” is that it’s a story that doesn’t belong to either Star Trek: The Next Generation *or* Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
The first obvious issue is that it’s a Prime Directive story, and Prime Directive stories are without exception always terrible all of the time. For my arguments as to why, go re-read literally anything I’ve ever written about the Prime Directive spread across four books. The Deep Space Nine creative team’s reasoning as to why it’s only here that we could get to see Starfleet officers breaking regulations to go up against an obvious moral travesty is very revealing, and actually pretty offensively disingenuous in my opinion: They claim that it’s because the Enterprise crew are “squeaky clean” and would never dream of going against their superiors, citing the scene in this episode where Chief O’Brien only gets the idea to go against the Federation after listening to Quark. But that’s provably untrue, and it’s not just my wish fulfillment projecting onto Star Trek: The Next Generation, that’s an actively ahistorical reading of the series easily refuted by citing concrete textual evidence.
No matter whether you think they’re actively renegade scientists and explorers as I do or think they’re bureaucratic officers trying to do the best they can within the constrains of the system they’re working in (which to me is actually a better reading of this show, actually) the fact of the matter is the Enterprise crew go against Starfleet regulations *all the time*. We had them taking down the admiralty as early as “Too Short a Season” way back in *1987* and as recently as “Chain of Command”. The Enterprise even has a pretty notorious history of violating the Prime Directive itself: In “The Drumhead”, Admiral Satie accuses Captain Picard of violating it *nine times* (which he had, and rightfully so) prior to the the events of that episode, which was way back in the fourth season. And that was *before* “Redemption” and the whole meddling in the Klingon Civil War business. Hell even in “Justice”. which was an otherwise godawful episode, Captain Picard said this:
“There can be no justice so long as laws are absolute. Even life itself is an exercise in exceptions.”
William Shatner himself even said on Twitter recently as of this writing that in spite of Captain Kirk’s reputation for being a maverick, Captain Picard broke more rules than he ever did!
So the attitude that the Enterprise crew could not have handled this plot is, academically speaking, complete horseshit. If anything, it would have been a *better* fit for a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode…albeit a very bored, boring and stock Star Trek: The Next Generation episode. This is our first “let’s see what’s come through the wormhole!” story in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and it’s already become a bullshit contrivance. The wormhole can’t act like an inverse TARDIS from Doctor Who and just throw up any old shit at the crew to deal with because the writing staff couldn’t come up with anything better and they needed to print an episode that week. It has to be used with a specific set of themes and symbolic narrative devices and is going to function best when portrayed as a new and alien, though recognisably lived-in space.
The only thing I can think of being on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine adds to this *very* tired old plot structure is that everyone’s a tiny bit more overt about how awesome breaking the Federation’s rules are because the Federation is clearly bullshit. Commander Sisko basically congratulates Chief O’Brien on a job well done at the end, even though he has to “officially” reprimand him. But it’s not like “the Prime Directive is ridiculous nonsense law that has no bearing in reality” or “blindly following orders without question is a stupid idea” is some brand new and revelatory concept: Anyone who’s been watching Star Trek for the past six years in a manner other than “passively sitting in front of the TV set slack-jawed not processing anything” is going to have come to the same conclusion.
This isn’t a consequence of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine being blatantly better than Star Trek: The Next Generation, it’s a consequence of Gene Roddenberry no longer being around to be a crazy despotic micromanager with a back-asswards conception of how utopianism works. Star Trek: The Next Generation can and does say the same thing too: Refresh my memory-What was it that Captain Picard told Data in “Redemption II”? And as much as I dislike it, “Suspicions” is coming up later in the season to give Beverly Crusher a similar story, at which point the Deep Space Nine team should *really* be looking foolish. Earlier on in the season over at Star Trek: The Next Generation Brannon Braga said the Prime Directive was a “Star Trek cliché” and shouldn’t be invoked anymore, and he was absolutely right.
Frankly, I think what’s most revealing about all these smug “You couldn’t do this on TNG!” protestations is that you actually shouldn’t do this on TNG. Or DS9, for that matter: This plot doesn’t belong to either show because it’s an Original Series story, and a very poor one at that. “Captive Pursuit” is the kind of high-handed military maverick fantasy that characterizes every Original Series fan’s memory of that that show was like, and even now the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine team is staffed by rabid Original Series fans. The real reason they don’t like Star Trek: The Next Generation is because Star Trek: The Next Generation isn’t Star Trek. That what’s it all comes back to. Always.