RSS iconTwitter iconFacebook icon

TrekToday title image

Content filter

Want to find something specific?

Filter content by category

Filter content by date

Retro Review: Doctor Bashir, I Presume

Posted by Michelle - 06/12/13 at 08:12 pm


Share |

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Season: 05 Episode: 16 (s05e16)

Original US airdate: 02/24/1997

When Bashir is selected as the model for Starfleet’s newest medical hologram, his parents’ participation leads to the discovery of his deepest secret.

Plot Summary: While Rom frets about his inability to ask Leeta to date him, Bashir learns that he has been chosen as the model for the LMH – the long-term medical hologram designed to supersede the EMH. Dr. Lewis Zimmerman arrives to inform him of this honor and immediately demands extensive information about Bashir from his favorite foods to his favorite jokes. Bashir is uncomfortable enough having Zimmerman question his colleagues about his personality quirks, but he specifically asks that his parents not be interviewed, since he has not been close with them for many years. The bumptious Zimmerman, who is aggressively wooing Leeta, immediately summons Bashir’s parents, who promptly embarrass Bashir when his father begins to brag about his latest scheme to get famous doing landscape architecture. When Bashir demands that his parents keep their family secrets to themselves, he and his father have an argument. When, later, his parents arrive to promise that they will keep his greatest secret – the fact that they had him genetically enhanced as a child – they do not realize that they are speaking to the duplicate holographic Bashir, and that Zimmerman and O’Brien are listening. Because Zimmerman intends to report this discovery to Starfleet, Bashir prepares to resign, explaining to O’Brien that because he fell behind at age six, his parents decided that he needed to be “fixed” and turned to illegal genetic enhancement. Devastated that their own actions have destroyed their son’s career, Bashir’s parents go to Sisko before he can and negotiate a solution with Starfleet in which Bashir’s father will go to prison for the crime of using genetic enhancement while Bashir will be allowed to keep his Starfleet commission. Though still humiliated not only at being found out but because his parents felt that he was a failure as a young child, Bashir accepts this sacrifice and acknowledges that his parents have only wanted what was best for him, promising to visit his father in prison. They board the same ship as Leeta, who plans to leave with Zimmerman to take over a cafe at Jupiter Station, but Rom races to the airlock and confesses that he loves her, convincing her to stay on DS9.

Analysis: Although I have rewatched this episode many times since it first aired, it strikes me anew each time how extraordinary it is. If this had merely been a gimmick episode to have Voyager‘s Doctor appear on Deep Space Nine, it would have been enjoyable merely watching Robert Picardo and Alexander Siddig exchange barbs, and if it had only told the story of Bashir’s childhood secret with potentially explosive connections to Khan and the Eugenics Wars, it would still have been a great episode, answering a lot of questions such as why we’ve never heard much about his family and why he missed an obvious question on a medical school final which prevented him from graduating as his class valedictorian. But the combination of the two storylines is pure genius, making “Doctor Bashir, I Presume” top ten in a series that has so many brilliant episodes. You may remember that I wasn’t a Bashir fan when the series first started; I didn’t like the whole young, egotistical, womanizing characterization, I didn’t think we needed another character who’d get his sense of “frontier adventure” knocked down a peg. But so many wonderful storylines focused on him – “The Quickening” and “Hippocratic Oath” and “Nor the Battle to the Strong” – that he started to grow on me, and Siddig’s performances got more and more nuanced and unexpected at a point in other Star Trek franchises when some of the actors seemed to start phoning it in. His performance gets a jolt of energy here by getting to interact with the always-enjoyable Picardo and with the actors playing Bashir’s parents, who are also well-cast. Bashir’s ethnic background in canon remains frustratingly unexplored; he has a Mongolian middle name and an Arabic last name, his parents are played by Jewish and Muslim performers from different parts of the Middle East, his father sounds British and his mother sounds Egyptian but we are never told where on Earth Julian grew up, though here we learn that no element of his background is as significant as the fact that he was slow to learn and develop the fine motor skills that would have allowed him to excel at school.

So his parents made a choice that either backfired or succeeded beyond their wildest dreams for many years: they had their six-year-old genetically modified. Now he’s a certifiable genius, so admired as a doctor that Zimmerman wants to use him as a model for a programmable version, and we know from other episodes that he used to play tennis well enough to turn professional and led his class racquetball team. It’s never made any sense that this gifted man has always seemed insecure, a failure with women, drawn to self-professed outcasts like Garak and people who scoff at intellectual snobbery like O’Brien. I always assumed it was a combination of careless writing and the onscreen chemistry Siddig has with Andrew Robinson and Colm Meaney – he’s not nearly as interesting to watch with Terry Farrell’s Dax or Nana Visitor’s Kira despite the fact that when “Doctor Bashir, I Presume” aired, he had a child with the latter. Whether one of the writers kept the idea of a genetically altered Bashir as mental backstory in the months between the pitch and the episode or whether the writers used the story as an excuse to explain their own loose ends, it works wonderfully. Most of the father-son conflicts we’ve seen on Star Trek have either been minor (Jake struggling for independence, Wesley diverging from the path his mother hoped for him) or the sort of parental alienation over emotional ties and expectations that’s cliche in genre television and too often wrapped up at the end of an episode (Spock vs. his father, Riker vs. his father, Chakotay vs. his father). When Bashir asked Zimmerman to stay away from his parents, I was expecting the sort of embarrassing stories that Amanda told Spock’s colleagues on Kirk’s Enterprise. Instead we get this wrenching, series-changing bombshell with ramifications that clearly must last beyond this episode (and will, indeed, put Bashir at the center of stories about the risks of genetic experimentation on humans in a more sophisticated manner than “Space Seed” or Enterprise‘s Augments).

Picardo adds great levity both to the Rom-Leeta storyline, which is in danger of becoming stereotyped and silly until Zimmerman gives Leeta some serious options to consider, and playing both Zimmerman and the EMH. Initially, it appears that the episode is going to focus on the famous guest star, exploring Zimmerman’s frustration at being replaced by Bashir as a holographic model and rejected romantically in favor of a nerdy Ferengi, yet he pretty much disappears from the episode from the moment Bashir’s secret is revealed. It still makes my stomach drop to see that the Bashir to whom his parents confess their mistake is a holographic double, and more so when the appalled Zimmerman and stunned O’Brien reveal that they’ve heard everything. As moving as I find the interaction between Bashir and his parents – particularly his mother, who fears less that he hates her than that he doesn’t understand her wish to have been to spare him from pain, not herself from shame – it’s O’Brien who really breaks my heart, wanting not only to console Bashir but to protect himself from losing his best friend, in a scene that’s designed to provide exposition about exactly what was done to the young Jules to turn him into Julian but the actors turn into a powerful emotional moment. I wish we’d gotten to hear from Miles as a father, not just as a friend, since he’s the character best suited to talk about what he would do if he watched one of his children struggling painfully to catch up with peers. The storyline has contemporary relevance for parents trying to make decisions about growth hormones and ADHD medications for their kids, yet there’s never a moment when the script feels pedantic. It’s a story about characters whom we’ve come to know well, facing a crime we know from decades of Star Trek history to be extremely fraught for Starfleet, in which there are really no bad guys, just a father looking for the sort of easy shortcut he prefers for himself and a mother still trying to protect her son’s self-esteem.

The ending is oversimplified for both the Rom-Leeta declaration of love and the Julian-Richard reconciliation, but it’s clear that things aren’t going to be easy, particularly for the latter when the father is off to prison and the son is going to be on the same busy schedule we’ve watched him keep for five years. It’s not clear how having his secret known to so many people will change Bashir and his interactions with them, starting with Leeta who broke up with him so recently – evidently she never really gained his trust, though they dated for about a year. O’Brien takes the discovery that Bashir has been letting him win at darts with good humor, but this opens up all sorts of questions about whether Bashir will find himself a focus of resentment, accused of being a fraud in everything he does, not to mention whether people will be looking at him sideways to see whether he’s turning into Khan Noonien Singh. It’s always wonderful when the writers provide such continuity to the original series as well as the internal series continuity – as I said, probably not intended and not yet direct, but suddenly we have a twist that explains all sorts of oddities about Bashir from the fact that we’ve never before heard a word about his parents to his mysterious weaknesses and anxieties. I watch Star Trek for episodes like this, where we not only see moving and dramatic character development but get an exploration of fundamental human issues, without any didacticism and with lots of room for nuance and disagreement.

Tags:

  • hostile_17

    I like the core part of the Bashir story and his hatred for his parents. But overall I find this one just too hard to watch. His parents are just aggravating beyond words. As actors they don’t feel like belong in a Trek episode at all. And how many times can they say “Jules”? For me that grates to the point that the episode becomes hard work.

    And the whole Zimmerman thing is contrived… why on earth would they want to come and choose a doctor in a remote part who would barely be around Starfleet big wigs? Oh because it’s a voyager actor, that’s it. Just eugh.

  • ShaunKL

    Not wanting to pick a fight. According to Jake(Who wrote for the Federation News Service(DS9: “Call to Arms”)) Deep Space 9 is the most important space station in the entire Federation. Bashir was also submitting all sorts of thesis and studies back to Starfleet Medical all the time, I’m pretty sure he’d be on whoever was watching’s radar.

  • Ward3

    I will have to rewatch this. I wasn’t drawn into this at all at the time – it seemed contrived to me that Bashir was genetically engineered. Maybe I missed something, but the entire episode seemed annoying. I like Robert Picardo’s doctor, but it seemed odd to me that he went to DS9. I also didn’t find Julian’s insecurity a loose end, even though he was an outstanding physician. It is not out of the realm of possibility that he would use his insecurity as a motivator to succeed. I’ve done that myself: been a high flyer because I was totally unsure that I was worth anything. Maybe I will change my mind. I’ll get back to you on that.

  • Guest

    Too bad the Bashir actor was so pissy about the genetic enhancement backstory that he deliberately performed all related material as poorly as he could (by his own direct admission).

  • DS9 Forever

    Bashir nearly won the Carrington Award in “Prophet Motive” so he seems to be among the Federation’s best doctors.

  • SabreCliff28

    I can agree this was something that came way out of the blue after all we’ve seen and learned about Bashir from previous episodes. First, it seemed the writers forgot that Richard was supposed to be a Federation diplomat (mentioned in “Melora”). Julian also said he was capable of patching up his teddy bear when he was 5 years old (“The Quickening”), something he couldn’t do if he were mentally deficient and uncoordinated prior to his 7th birthday. The key episode to the continuity issue is “Distant Voices”, when Julian fell victim to an evil Lethean’s telepathic attack. Surely, the alien would have used this big secret against him if it part of the Bashir character all along. The fact is even from the series’ a earliest episodes, Julian was a braggart and always boastful about himself (the polar opposite of what an enhanced human should be doing to hide such a secret), before maturing as the show continued. At times, DS9 overdoes it with the soap opera formula of each character having some deep, dark secret that’s eventually discovered (Dax having a previous unknown host, O’Brien having “killed” a fellow inmate in a virtual prison, Kira killing a collaborator, and Odo being responsible for the deaths of innocent Bajorans during the Occupation). The main problem with Bashir’s is that this doesn’t really fit in with what we’ve seen and learned about the character. I guess this was the only way to get Section 31 involved in the series. But surely, they could have done something different without screwing up the overall character continuity. The reviewer puts this as a top 10 episode, but for me this was one of the overall worst!

  • Ward3

    Section 31 could get involved in other ways anyhow – even without this genetically enhanced storyline, Bashir was a hotshot young doctor. Up for the Carrington at his age? Spent time caring for everybody, everywhere no matter their race or potential hostility? He treated Garak. He treated Jem’Hadar. He was the most humanist (or humanoidist?) person in the whole series. If Section 31 had the pull and resources that Sloan implied, they would have a clue that Bashir was a person they could manipulate and/or recruit, even without enhancement. He had the intellect and qualities they would be seeking.

  • Theragen Derivative

    I have a hard time blaming him. The genetic-enhancement angle was a really bad idea that did a lot of damage to the character.

  • Enterprise1981

    I was rather indifferent about the Bashir character. This episode, though, combined with “Our Man Bashir” and “The Quickening” were what started to make him one of the more interesting characters on DS9. He went through life thinking he didn’t deserve so much fame and prestige, but then seemed to have a new swagger once his secret was out. He did come across thinking he was superior to other humans in later episodes such as thinking he could single-handedly take down Section 31 or thinking the Jack Pack was right and the rest of the universe was wrong on whether or not the UFP could win the Dominion War.

  • TB2

    I agree. When Bashir pops of with “Uberbrain” computer like comments, it made the character sound like Data, which was a fundamental mistake. Its nice to know Mr Siddig cared enough about the character he played to stop him becoming a cliche, or worse a copy of another Trek character and a very popular one too. Dr Bashir became one of my favorite Trek characters, and like most of those in DS9 he grew and changed as the series evolved.

    As to Mr and Mrs Bashir, I thought Ms Guindi (who is not an actress by profession) and Mr George did a great job, taking characters you want to be suspicious of and not trust, and making them sympathetic and ultimately likeable characters. Their reaction to their son, and Vice versa is credible. Its clear there has been bad blood between parents and son for a very long time, and the truth coming out – and Mr Bashir taking responsibility, helps to build new bridges between them. For me, its a credit to all three actors, in a story which otherwise could have been another “Holo-doc goes wrong” story from Voyager pushed onto its older sibling.