1993's Star Trek: Deep Space Nine differed from past takes on creator Gene Roddenberry's iconic franchise: it was the first Star Trek spinoff not to have Roddenberry's direct involvement, and it opted for more modern longform storytelling over standalone episodes.
DS9 progressed from The Original Series' episodic nature towards a serialized spin with complex and darker social themes, a move birthed out of the show's initial failure to replicate classic Star Trek.
“We tried all these different types of things and none of them really seemed to work,” showrunner Ira Steven Behr told Variety in celebration of DS9's 25th anniversary.
“The standalone episodes just kind of bored the hell out of us for the most part. We were struggling," Behr explained.
"Then the episode that seemed to work at the end of season one had the double whammy of ‘Duet’ and ‘In the Hands of the Prophets.’ So by the end of season one, I felt that I had a handle on what the strength of this show was, which was building on this complicated backstory [creators] Michael [Piller] and Rick [Berman] had given the show.”
Behr, who worked on Star Trek: The Next Generation for just a year, said he got into Roddenberry's crosshairs for trying to enter its characters into interpersonal conflict.
Roddenberry's death in 1991 allowed Berh and the writers to explore more complex subject matter in DS9, which delved into themes of cultural identity, faith, and war.
Series star Alexander Siddig, who played Dr. Julian Bashir, said it wasn't a "coincidence" the storytelling style evolved with "Ira Behr's ascendancy."
“I think the great [original showrunner] Michael Piller had an idea of where he wanted to go with the narrative, but it took the combination of Michel and Ira to really gel that," Siddig said.
"And [DS9 co-creator and producer] Rick Berman was a great yes man. Any idea he thought was good, he would say, ‘Yes, try that,’" Siddig explained. "Rick broke the mold. He was the ultimate boss because he let Michael and Ira really try something pretty controversial at the time."
René Auberjonois, who played Odo, said the show was influenced by real-life events like the Los Angeles riots and the burning of South Central.
"Everything was falling apart," Auberjonois said. "There was a real darkness, and I think that deeply influenced the style of the show."
Auberjonois credits DS9's availability on Netflix and streaming service CBS All Access for the show's continued endurance, as "people are watching it and seeing the whole story."
"My sense of there is a growing base of an audience that really is getting it," Auberjonois said. "Where people weren’t quite sure about it while it was happening episode by episode, now that they get to evaluate it as a whole piece, it’s being recognized in a way it wasn’t before.”
Documentary What We Left Behind: Looking Back at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, directed by Behr and David Zappone, explores the seven-season series more than two decades after its debut. The doc, now in post-production at Paramount, releases this summer.