Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Distant Voices   Rewatch 
November 29, 2015 12:52 PM - Season 3, Episode 18 - Subscribe

It's Bashir's birthday, and he's feeling especially old, but why is Garak acting so suspiciously? I mean, more so than usual.

From Memory Alpha:

- The reason it was pointed out in this episode that a pre-ganglionic fiber and a post-ganglionic nerve are nothing alike was pressure from Celeste Wolfe, Robert Hewitt Wolfe's wife. According to Wolfe, ever since Bashir first told that story his wife had been bugging him to do something about it. In reality a pre-ganglionic fiber and a post-ganglionic nerve really are completely different, and as Celeste (a pre-vet) pointed out, no one would ever mix them up. As such, Wolfe explains, having Altovar point this out "was my way of saying, 'Well okay' to Celeste."

- "Distant Voices" won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Makeup for a Series. Michael Westmore commented: "I think that the old age makeup was the selling card to winning, Although Altovar, the Lethean, was really interesting because his makeup was different from anything we had ever done before". A few other episodes featured a similar makeup process by which a character ages, such as TNG: "All Good Things...", DS9: "The Visitor" and VOY: "Before and After" [and also TOS' "The Deadly Years"], but "Distant Voices" was the only of these be nominated for the Emmy.

- Alexander Siddig commented that "Distant Voices" was "a massive challenge for me as an actor". [Incidentally, here's Siddig as he actually looked twenty years later, in Game of Thrones.]

"To think, after all this time, all our lunches together... you still don't trust me. There's hope for you yet, doctor."

- Garak
posted by Halloween Jack (16 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Not an awful episode, but not particularly interesting either. I enjoyed the brief real-world bookend scenes more than the entirety of the coma-dream scenes, which is a lot of 'meh' to sit through for a few good Garak/Bashir moments.
posted by oh yeah! at 8:21 AM on November 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

Even though this had two very common tropes, "monster of the week" and "overcoming adversity through willpower," I actually enjoyed this episode. I even noticed myself being surprised by liking the episode toward the end. There was an interesting parallel to the previous episode, "Visionary," in that some of the characters that appeared were not diegetically "real." In "Visionary" the chronally-displaced Miles is "unreal" to some degree, while Bashir's character attribute crewmates were "unreal" to a greater degree in this episode.

One thing that is occurring to me about Bashir as I write this is that he's basically DS9's version of Wesley Crusher. He's the high achiever, super-nerd who is a bit socially awkward. Where that was poison for Wesley (to the fans), the writers of DS9 seem to have found a palatable way of presenting Bashir. Perhaps his prickliness serves as a better shield for his social awkwardness than Wesley's vague lack of confidence..? In any case, I was pulling for Bashir by the end. I still don't care for his relationship with O'Brien. I wonder if there was some subtle English-Irish thing that the writers thought they were exploiting to make that relationship interesting..? Further, I wonder if DS9 was shown in either England or Ireland and whether viewers there noticed the friction between Bashir's posh British presentation and O'Brien's vaguely rougher "Oirish."
posted by Slothrop at 9:49 AM on November 30, 2015 [3 favorites]

I thought this one was quite fun, but it's good in a way that's kind of unusual for DS9. We've got a brief run of episodes here that are kind of more like TNG plots, where the characters find themselves caught in a scientific mystery/Twilight Zone story and they have to figure their way out of it. They're kind of standalone episodes and they're more about plot than character, although with rich characters like O'Brien and Bashir you're going to get some interesting character stuff anyway. This kind of stuff was TNG's bread and butter, but DS9 was more about character conflict and serial storytelling and they'd only toss in some stuff where our heroes finds themselves in a bizarre alternate reality for kicks.

I think Michael Westmore is amazingly talented and the sheer variety of aliens he brought to Trek (and DS9 in particular) is impressive as hell, but I've never been that impressed with his old age makeups. When I think of this or The Inner Light or the Next Generation episode where Data met Dr. Soong, those episodes kind of succeed despite the old age makeups and not because of them. I've never understood the thinking of giving old Soong a giant forehead like that, since he's supposed to be human and when we see flashbacks to him as a younger man he has a normal head. Did he decide to build some additions to his skull, so his brain would have a little breathing room? Was he just so smart that his brain never stopped growing? (Soong's head doesn't look that big in the photos I found online, but in the actual episode it's really something.)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:14 PM on November 30, 2015

Horrors! Julian is turning 30! JULIAN IS TURNING 30!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 3:35 PM on November 30, 2015 [4 favorites]

Horrors! Julian is turning 30! JULIAN IS TURNING 30!

Having turned 40 this year, I did find that pretty funny. My mother was 30 when I was born, so she found my notice that I was turning 40 pretty funny, since she just turned 70...
posted by Slothrop at 4:23 PM on November 30, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yeah, the terror of turning 30 does seem a little more silly than it used to. Although in Bashir's defense he doesn't really whine about it and if anything seems like he'd really rather ignore the whole thing. He's grumpy, but it doesn't seem like a huge life crisis.

But 30 has changed too. People are just younger at 30 than they used to be. You look back at news stuff from the 1960s and you see these prim, uptight, 40-year-olds who are really 30, talking about these ghastly longhair kids today. I don't know how much 30 has changed since 1990-something, but I bet it has, some.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:43 PM on November 30, 2015

You guys I bought the DS9 DVDs and I'm going to rewatch every episode from this point on so I can participate in greater detail!

I love the shit out of this episode and it's what originally turned the corner for me in finding Bashir totally sympathetic. Slothrop is so right about the Wesley Crusher thing; the cornerstone of the character for me is a sense of imposter syndrome. He is the boy wonder who feels he doesn't deserve it all and like he could be found out at any time, and doesn't enjoy winning a game of darts the way that O'Brien does (or would, if O'Brien ever actually won). We'll get into the cause of that imposter syndrome in a few seasons (shut up, I don't care that they retconned it, it works for me and makes this an even better episode).

The upcoming Garak episodes (yaaass) give us a bit more insight into Bashir's friendship with O'Brien. It's not like his friendship with Garak, which is the pro and con of it, I think. I love Siddig's acting here. (Never saw the resemblance between him and Malcolm McDowell until he put on the old-man voice and now I can't unsee it.)

I didn't see the show when it was originally on and happened to first watch this episode right around my 30th birthday, and it is right on the nose, let me tell you.
posted by thetortoise at 1:35 AM on December 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

(Never saw the resemblance between him and Malcolm McDowell until he put on the old-man voice and now I can't unsee it.)

You know they're related in real life, right?

I don't know if I'd say Bashir has impostor syndrome. I think his confidence is genuine, as is his arrogance in the early days. He knows he's gifted. But there's a sheltered, naive quality to him, like a rich kid who is only now learning how rough others have got it. (He didn't grow up rich at all, but his abilities probably made a lot of things easy for him.) He comes from a life of being the best at everything, of tennis and glamorous ballerina girlfriends. He's heading out for "adventure" in the frontier, having no idea what kind of dark, heavy stuff he's signing on for.

His emotions are always easy to read, and he wants to see the best in people. He really geeks out over new discoveries and weird aliens. (Think of his delight meeting Data in that TNG crossover. He was respectful and didn't treat Data like a freak, but he couldn't hide how fascinated he was by all the ways that Data had been made to simulate human biology.) He is passionate to the point of self-righteousness about doing the right thing and fixing problems, and less comfortable with moral compromise than the rest of the DS9 gang. He's arguably the most "Starfleet" of the bunch, and it's significant that he's the one who gets tangled up with Section 31, the agency that does the Federation's dirty work. Unlike the rest of the crew, he has idealism to lose.

I can see the Wesley thing in the sense that Bashir is kind of the bright, sometimes awkward, over-eager kid of the gang. He has hard lessons to learn about war and medicine and romance and himself, and he sure learns them over the course of the series. He's also got a bit of Clark Kent to him. He's got the arrogance that comes with being a superman, but at heart he's kind of a big boy scout who is always ready to jump in and save the day.

It's surprising they never did an episode where his enhancements were stripped away. It would have been interesting (if pitiful) to see who he was without that artificial brilliance. I suspect he started life as a very good kid, if not a smart one.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:39 AM on December 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

Spoilers ahead:

One of the fun things about this show for me is watching how they carefully they handled character continuity.
The Starfleet Medical final exam mistake was first mentioned in the pilot. But as of this episode, the writers had not yet conceived the Bashir-related plot twist that he had been given genetic modifications/enhancements as a child. That isn't revealed until Season 5, in "Doctor Bashir, I Presume." (Siddig was apparently pretty pissed off about it, too.)

Here, the Garak portrayal of his Julian's psyche implies that Bashir deliberately got the post-ganglionic nerve question wrong. Later, this will be mentioned as an attempt to cover-up his genetic status -- and the groundwork is laid here, in season 3.
posted by zarq at 6:51 AM on December 1, 2015

[SPOILERS for several plot developments in the future]

I don't want to get too much into discussing "Doctor Bashir, I Presume", as that will eventually come up here, but one of the things that really stuck out in this episode is that, even if the showrunners hadn't decided yet what Bashir's Big Secret is, they seemed to be warming up to the idea that he had one, and there is some really heavy coding for his being in the closet. Start with it being a prominent Garak episode, with Andrew Robinson's previous revelations about his headcanon for Garak's sexuality and his approaching Bashir as being like a seduction, and the concerns over turning thirty come off as less those of someone who's just been declared one of the best doctors in the quadrant at a relatively young age and more those of an aging twink. The coma-Garak comes off as less the disguise of coma-Altovar and more the part of Julian's personality that doesn't want to deal with certain aspects of his life; coma-Altovar, on the other hand, comes off as that part of Bashir that wants him to come out to himself. Why would someone give up a promising tennis career, deliberately blow one of the easiest questions on a test, come out to the ass-end of the galaxy to work, and be weirdly unenthusiastic about winning the equivalent of the Nobel Prize in Medicine? Yes, eventually we get a different answer to the question, and I'm not sure that it counts as impostor syndrome if he really is an impostor of sorts. (Even before that, we get a plot that reveals Bashir, or "Bashir", as a different sort of impostor entirely.)

At this point, though, it seems as if they're dancing around a different sort of allegory (although not that different, since much of the plot of "Doctor Bashir, I Presume" is about his parents being ashamed of who he is and wanting to "cure" him--see, I ended up discussing it anyway), and there's also some coding in Bashir coming down with a condition that rapidly enfeebles him, something that seems incurable. Also, and this doesn't really play into this episode but it's a thread in most Bashir-centric ones, there's his love life, which mostly involves people who don't really fit in (Melora and someone else in future seasons), and his pining after Dax, who is transgendered, in a way. (His romance with Leeta mostly takes place off screen, and her eventual romance with Rom seems more real and interesting in almost every way.)

Also, UH, although I don't think it's explicitly said, the mirror-Bashir is probably unenhanced; unfortunately, he comes off as a bit of a jerk, but then again that's the mirror universe.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:04 AM on December 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

Also, UH, although I don't think it's explicitly said, the mirror-Bashir is probably unenhanced

I haven't seen Doctor Bashir, I Presume recently enough to recall for sure, but I was under the impression that before Bashir was enhanced he was, er, whatever we're supposed to call people who have very low IQs and functional difficulties. (That's my attempt to be PC without being bothered to go look up whatever the proper word is these days. It's been a long day.) I was picturing it as a Flowers for Algernon kind of deal. In the glimpse we got of Mirror-Bashir he was a jerk, but he didn't seem obviously less intelligent than the Bashir we know. (If Bashir in our universe was naturally low IQ, perhaps he was naturally an evil genius over there.)

I've always thought it was odd they didn't do more with mirror universe Odo (who had the potential to be an absolutely terrifying character but ended up just being kind of a walk-on bad guy who got phasered), and now that I think of it it's surprising they didn't do more with Mirror-Bashir too. Assuming he was augmented in that universe too, an evil Bashir would have the potential to be another Khan.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 8:35 PM on December 1, 2015

We get an explanation for Cardassian enigma tales.
Robinson is slightly flat during "Happy Birthday."
posted by the man of twists and turns at 11:01 PM on December 8, 2015

I know the running gag is that Cardassian art is dreadfully bad, but the enigma plays actually sound kind of interesting? Kind of like certain crime procedurals where you know whodunnit but the drama is about whether the police solve the crime before the killer kills again or whatever. Criminal Minds would be pretty popular on Cardassia, I think.
posted by tobascodagama at 6:25 AM on March 1, 2020 [3 favorites]

Indeed! Like, don't all Columbo mysteries start with the audience seeing whodunnit? I know the enigma plays are indicative of the hideous Cardassian "justice" system, but there's still some fun to be had within that framework.

Also, Nana Visitor is so good at playing false versions of Kira a little inexpertly, and this is a great example of that, but my favorite bit in the episode has to go to Armin Shimerman playing Quark as Bashir would play Quark. It's dead on and hilarious.
posted by Navelgazer at 4:40 PM on May 15, 2020 [4 favorites]

Given Bashir's secret, I think to make this episode work we need to infer that he's trained himself to be able to hide that secret from psychics. Which could actually be a fun thing to explore.
posted by vibratory manner of working at 4:50 PM on February 15, 2023

Oof, I didn't like this episode. It was too much like hearing someone tell you their dream. And it's not like me to give a thumbs down to an episode with plenty of Garak!

I cracked up at Julian's big failure of not being a tennis pro and instead settling for a career as a doctor.
posted by The corpse in the library at 6:16 PM on December 17, 2023

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