Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

"Distant Voices"

**1/2

Air date: 4/10/1995
Teleplay by Ira Steven Behr & Robert Hewitt Wolfe
Story by Joe Menosky
Directed by Alexander Singer

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"I've had enough of this. I am not some figment of your imagination!" — Kira to Bashir

"Distant Voices" is strange, atypical, offbeat and often quite interesting. What more could you expect from a Joe Menosky concept? He's the guy who brought us TNG's "Darmok," "Masks" and "Emergence," as well as DS9's "Dramatis Personae" and "Rivals." Sometimes Menosky concepts can be terrific stories, like the dramatic "Darmok." Sometimes they can be bizarre works which seem to beam in from other galaxies, like the laughably horrendous "Masks."

"Distant Voices" is a mixed bag. It has some good moments, and it keeps one intrigued. But there just isn't enough substance from scripters Behr and Wolfe to keep Menosky's concept moving along. Perhaps the concept alone can't sustain an entire hour.

The concept: A telepathic attack by a Lethean criminal (Victor Rivers) leaves Dr. Bashir dying in a coma. The story is told from inside Bashir's mind. Each facet of his personality is represented by one of his DS9 comrades. In order to survive, he must use the different parts of his personality to repair a dead Deep Space Nine. (The station, of course, represents Bashir's own mind.)

The episode begins in a cloud of mystery as Bashir apparently wakes up from the Lethean's attack to find the station dark and empty. As Bashir roams the station, he finds his fellow DS9 officers, though the crew and civilians are all missing. Quark sits cowering behind his bar while the Lethean tears up his establishment. Bashir runs into Garak while looking for Odo. Bashir finds Dax, Kira, Odo and O'Brien arguing in the wardroom on how to stop the Lethean. Through all this, Bashir goes through an accelerating aging process.

In this opening act, the cloud of mystery successfully begs attention. Aside from the senior officers, why is there no one on the station? What is the Lethean up to? Why are all the station's systems down? Why does Bashir suddenly have grey hair? But when Menosky's concept is revealed—that this is all a very wild hallucination Bashir is having—the episode begins looking for what next to do with the concept, with only limited success.

Like "Emergence," TNG's inept attempt at highbrow symbolism (also written by Menosky), "Distant Voices" begins throwing a number of symbols at us, hoping that we genuinely care. The Lethean represents Bashir's inner struggle with elements of his past. If he loses this struggle, he will die in the coma. So the plot takes Bashir on a mission to get to Ops and repair the station. Symbolically, if he can repair the station and destroy the Lethean, he will survive the coma.

The story's apparent intention is to combine all these symbols in order to (1) show each DS9 character turned into a single personality trait, (2) set each scene with a creative, surreal visual and (3) milk Bashir's inner struggle for character development.

This all works to a point. The cast's personality manipulations are interesting, but hardly astonishing given the premise. The fresh visuals grab attention, even if they are a bit gimmicky. And this is really the only episode so far this season that spotlights Bashir.

Unfortunately, this episode takes too long to get where it ends up, and where it ends up is relatively underwhelming. One problem is that the climax hangs on Bashir confronting himself (represented by the Lethean), which reveals character backstory we've already heard before. (That old pre-ganglionic fiber thing again, eh?)

Another, perhaps bigger problem with this story is that it presses the symbolism factor on us by trying to explain every symbol in some concrete manner. Explaining every piece of what the station stands for in Bashir's mind is an excessive step the writers take that doesn't give the audience enough credit. It's almost like they're condescending. Symbolism is a device that requires subtlety—and subtlety is definitely not present here. Consequently, the episode's symbol angle falls apart, just as it did in "Emergence." Maybe the problem is that Joe Menosky is so far out there on some of these ideas that no one is really ready for it, including the writing staff.

Hey, I like original ideas. And "Distant Voices" has an original concept with sporadically interesting moments. But there's just not enough meat here.

Previous episode: Visionary
Next episode: Through the Looking Glass

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31 comments on this review

AeC
Sun, May 11, 2008, 11:57pm (UTC -5)
One thing that caught my interest here on re-watching was the faux-Lethean's accusation to Bashir of subtly sabotaging his future, purposely "mistaking" the pre-ganglionic fiber for the post-ganglionic nerve and so forth. It's an interesting comment given the later revelation of Bashir's genetic engineering and his purposely dumbing himself down so as not to attract undue attention. Of course, you would think that the faux-Lethean would make specific mention of that genetic engineering, but obviously, it wasn't a plot point that the writers had yet come up with. Still, while it's been a while since I've seen "Dr. Bashir, I Presume," I wonder if this was an episode they referenced when writing that ep.
Dirk Hartmann
Sun, Jun 15, 2008, 7:20am (UTC -5)
I liked this one very much and would give it 3 stars (which is penalty enough for it could have been even better).
Alexey Bogatiryov
Thu, Mar 19, 2009, 3:08am (UTC -5)
I loved this episode simply for the sheer horros and suspense in the first half when the station is abandoned and falling apart. The LEthian legitimately scared me when I first saw it (commeon - I was 10). The foreshadowing for Bashir's generic engineering here was pretty well-thought out.
Durandal_1707
Sun, Sep 13, 2009, 3:06am (UTC -5)
This episode creeped me way the hell out when I was younger, so I was surprised at how boring it was when I watched it now. Oh well.
Jayson
Thu, Feb 11, 2010, 6:22pm (UTC -5)
Regarding Jammers comments about the TNG episode "Masks" that is really one of my more favorite and cerebral episodes of TNG. Not sure why but "Masks" is a really cool concept. Anyway "Distant Voices" is not as cool as "Masks" but it's just as entertaining. I think this episode more than any other to this point really got into Julian is as a person. For me that little bit of character insight is worth the price of admission. Oh and you can't go totally wrong with any episode with Garak, real or not.
Zack
Wed, Aug 25, 2010, 8:58am (UTC -5)
I am of the opinion that the entire vision Bashir experiences is actually the holosuite mystery Garak gave him at the beginning of the episode. The Lethean pretending to be Garak was, in fact, Garak pretending to be the Lethean. The "Happy Birthday" scene in Ops was the biggest contributor to this interpretation. Of course, this is probably just wishful thinking to make the episode more interesting than it actually was, a kind of Star Trek version of Total Recall.
Nic
Wed, Mar 23, 2011, 8:57am (UTC -5)
This episode doesn't improve upon second viewing. There are a few interesting bits of dialogue, but otherwise I couldn't really bring myself to care for Bashir's struggle because it was so contrived.
Marcel
Sat, Mar 26, 2011, 2:14pm (UTC -5)
One of my least favorite episodes, only scenes I did really like were the lunches in the beginning and at the end with Garak. Although I do not really care for the episode I do not skip it when re-watching.
John
Sat, Jul 14, 2012, 4:23am (UTC -5)
Joe Menosky rubbish.

Incredibly boring and ruitine. DS9 does bad TNG/Voyager.

I always hated big patches of Season 3.
eastwest101
Mon, Aug 26, 2013, 5:33pm (UTC -5)
One of the few DS9 episodes I personally had to use the FF button, unbearably pedestrian and boring.....
Kotas
Wed, Oct 23, 2013, 8:55am (UTC -5)

Not a bad episode if you can get beyond the absurdity of the premise.

5/10
Cheyne
Fri, Nov 22, 2013, 12:46pm (UTC -5)
I agree with Zack... best to view it as on purpose by Garak.
Elliott
Thu, Dec 26, 2013, 2:03pm (UTC -5)
Sisko represents Bashir's professionalism.

BWHAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAH

At least the writers were honest enough in their choice for agression (Kira).

Joe Menosky. Let's look at the good, the bad, the middling :

Bad :
Interface
Masks
Emergence
Dramatis Personæ
Time's Orphan
Cathexis
False Profits
Darkling
The Fight

The Middling :
Legacy
In Theory
Hero Worship
Conundrum
TIme's Arrow
Suspicions
Rivals
Distant Voices
The Gift
Concerning Flight
The Voyager Consipracy
Unimatrix Zero

The Good:
Clues
The Nth Degree
The Chase
Future's End
Alter Ego
The Killing Game
Hope & Fear
Night
11:59
Equinox
Blink of an Eye
Dragon's Teeth
Good Shepherd

The Great :
First Contact
Darmok
The Thaw
Scorpion
Year of Hell
Living Witness
Drone
Timeless
Latent Image
Dark Frontier
Tinker Tenor
Muse

The only character-oriented episodes he wrote that were either good or great dealt with the VOY cast, with the exception of the Nth degree, and Barclay was a guest character. Most of the time, his successful stories deal with larger archetype themes and mythology. This episode kind of makes use of that, but the archetypes suffer that pervasive DS9 syndrome which turns the intimate into the mundane. None of Menosky's DS9 eps were particularly good and most were just bad. This episode was doomed.
Shawn Davis
Sun, Apr 6, 2014, 5:30pm (UTC -5)
I agree with AeC about them not mentioning or at least making a subtle reference to Dr. Bashir's genetic engineering. I aslo agree with Zack about the reference of the faux-Lethean and Garak in Bashir's mind.

What I do not agree with is how the episode uses the other characters as virtues of Dr. Bashir. For example, Kira representing anger or O'Brian representing cowardice or something like that (sorry that it's been a while since I've seen this episode). There is nothing wrong with that idea by itself. However, it is how they did it that made it seems totally ridiculous. I also did like the 1st and especially the 2nd act where Bashir found himself in a run down DS9 space station (which actually represents his mind being destroyed by the attack from the real Lethean at the end of the first act). After the 3rd act where Bashir and gang discovered they all exists in his mind, it went downhill from there). I agree with the 2 1/2 stars rating. I only recommend this episode if you are fans of Siddig El Faddil's character "Dr. Julian Bashir" and/or if you like to see one of my favorite characters "Garak" in action.
Robert
Wed, May 7, 2014, 8:49am (UTC -5)
They basically DO make a direct reference to the genetic engineering even though that's not what it meant at the time.

"ALTOVAR: Why not? Isn't that what you've always done? Remember, Doctor, I'm inside your head. I know all about you. When you were younger, you wanted to be a tennis player, didn't you.

BASHIR: I wasn't good enough to play professionally.

ALTOVAR: Don't lie to me. Not in here. You were good enough. But you knew your parents wouldn't approve of it. So you gave up and you became a doctor instead. "

With future information you "realize" that his parents wouldn't approve because being a god-like tennis player would give him away.

"ALTOVAR: But pre-ganglionic fibres and post-ganglionic nerves aren't anything alike. Any first year medical student could tell them apart. You purposely answered the question wrong.

BASHIR: That's ridiculous.

ALTOVAR: You didn't want to be first in your class. You couldn't take the pressure. "

This exchange falls apart a drop, because it clearly wasn't the pressure he couldn't take, but that he wanted to seem less perfect. Although perhaps the whole point is that it's less pressure/easier to hide when you're snuck away on some backwater space station as the salutatorian.

It's interesting anyway, and whoever wrote "Dr. Bashir I Presume" clearly intended to retroactively explain this conversation as a product of the genetic engineering.
Quarkissnyder
Wed, Jul 9, 2014, 10:02pm (UTC -5)
I found this episode fairly engaging until the end. The big reveal is that Julian gave up a dream to be a professional tennis player and chose medicine instead? Was that written by a fifteen year old?
Yanks
Fri, Aug 1, 2014, 12:37pm (UTC -5)
This episode stinks because Alexander Siddig's acting is horrible and the aging make-up isn't much better.

Interesting concept that most likely would have been pulled off by someone like Garak.

Always a skipper for me.

1.0 stars.
Beast
Sat, Aug 23, 2014, 8:16pm (UTC -5)
How is it that no one finds the scene with the tennis balls pouring out of the station as patently bizzare as I do?

Seriously, I think that those ten seconds -- prying open a random panel only to have Alexander Siddig topple over under a small rain of neon green fuzz exclaiming weakly "My tennis balls..." -- have to be the lowest point in all of Trek, for me.

Which is made all the more interesting by the fact that Zombie-Keevan's shamble into the pylon in "The Magnificent Ferengi" is one of my favorites, as an example of absurdism done absolutely right. (And Quark's "Can't you please shut him off," delivered through barely contained laughter, cracks me up every time.)
MsV
Sat, Feb 28, 2015, 7:55pm (UTC -5)
This is truly the worst Star Trek episode ever. I have never watched this one in its entirety, it was horrible.
Del_Duio
Mon, Mar 2, 2015, 12:25pm (UTC -5)
@MsV: You must not have watched 'Let He Who is Without Sin' or 'Cost of Living' yet. This episode is WAAAAAY better than those are.
methane
Thu, Aug 13, 2015, 9:45pm (UTC -5)
I enjoyed the oddness of this the first time I saw it, but it becomes dull on re-watch. I like Zack's theory that it was all Garak's holo-program.

I have to say, though, I enjoy "Masks"!
William B
Wed, Sep 23, 2015, 4:22pm (UTC -5)
At Julian's 30th birthday, it's time for him to consider that his youth is "ending" and he is moving toward middle age. This is the time to take stock of who he is, what he has accomplished, and what his regrets are. The Lethian's telepathic whatsit puts him in a coma and Bashir has to -- like Riker in "Frame of Mind," for instance -- fight back, and find within himself the desire to live even when confronted with the knowledge of his inevitable aging and the sting of his past, um, failures, like how instead of becoming a tennis star he became a Carrington-nominated doctor.

Notably, it's only in the final act that the Lethian starts confronting Bashir with his failures, and so almost no time is spent on that, the rest spent in the slow, never-ending crawl from one dark room to another where Bashir meets crew members and then identifies which parts of his psyche they represent. This is the Joe Menosky archetype concept. The idea of Bashir subconsciously casting people in his life to take on different elements of himself is fine. Still, nothing really happens with it. His archetypes argue with each other annoyingly, then someone wanders away for a while, and Bashir goes through hallways; people point out how he looks older now, imagine that, and so on. In order to have meaning, these "parts of Bashir" have to have some impact on Bashir, which largely does not happen; I *think* that after Dax and Sisko disappear, Bashir is supposed to be less confident and less professional, hence why he stumbles around a lot at that stage in the episode. Maybe Bashir's aging is supposed to be connected to the way parts of him are captured by the Lethian -- aging as the process by which parts of oneself die? But I dunno. Bashir does not seem all that aggressive either when Kira is there or not, and if anything he gets much more suspicious after Odo leaves. Or maybe he is supposed to discover that he had it all within him all along. Or, uh....

One line I actually remember from the Tim Lynch review of this episode (!!!) which I have not seen in years and years, is regarding the Lethian's final assault on Bashir: there is nothing dramatically effective about a villain saying "YOU FEEL SAD ABOUT X, Y AND Z" and the hero responding "NO, I DO NOT FEEL THAT BAD ABOUT X, Y AND Z," which I think more or less sums up the problem of the big confrontation; we only really have the Lethian's word that Bashir is inclined to give up because of these "failures," and so it is hardly any kind of triumph for Bashir to get past the crushing despair that the Lethian claims he has. Anyway, while being just friends with the hot friend is something many can relate to, I do think it is wryly funny that Bashir is supposed to be crushed by the realization that he "settled" for being a doctor instead of being a tennis star, and that he only came in second in his class at Starfleet medical school. I do appreciate it, because it is basically true that no matter how high one achieves, the recognition that one could have achieved more (or has failed) can eat away, and indeed it is often the highest achievers who find themselves plagued by insecurity or sadness and inferiority all their lives. Still...the Lethian sure buries the lede (or the lead, depending); what about patients Bashir was unable to save, or that other "Dr. Bashir, I Presume" skeleton in his closet? And given that it does not even get *Bashir* down, it is hard to feel the impact of the Lethian taunting Bashir about becoming a doctor.

One of my pet peeves in bad episodes is for characters to comment constantly on how interesting their surroundings are, no matter how boring they are. This is an offender. At several points, characters indicate what an interesting situation is going on in Bashir's mind, etc., which just calls attention to how interesting it is not. I suppose it is also annoying for characters to comment constantly on how boring and trite their current situation is, ala "The Royale."

Garak is in this episode, but sadly most of the time it is Bashir's mind's version of Garak, who is not as fun. The opening and closing scenes of the episode were fine though.

I wonder how much they paid for the "Happy Birthday" rights (which they did not spring for for "Parallels"), particularly topical given the recent court ruling that "Happy birthday" is now officially public domain.

The episode's climax is emotionally limp, which is a positive relief after four and a half acts of nothing interesting happening at all. There are some good ideas in this episode but they are not developed satisfactorily. 1 star; I could maybe go up to 1.5.
Rush
Mon, Sep 28, 2015, 12:59pm (UTC -5)
I hate dream/vision sequences in any tv series, an entire episode of it is just torture.

One minute into the mystery most people probably figure it out: Bashir's grey hair, the whispering, the lighting. Too much.

The episode could have been MUCH better if DS9 was normal, at least initially. Bashir wakes up, calls Odo, they start hunting the alien. Bashir's condition is getting worse, he doesn't know why, suspects the alien. Stakes raised. The alien starts sabotaging the station. Odo is less capable then usual in apprehending him, Dax and O'Brien can't keep up technically, etc...

Make it an actual mystery.
David
Wed, Sep 30, 2015, 5:51am (UTC -5)
I feel the need to say I really enjoyed this episode. It was unique, interesting, and a good mystery Solid 4 stars for me.
Diamond Dave
Sun, Nov 29, 2015, 6:51am (UTC -5)
Intriguing premise - poor execution. We spend half the episode wandering through the station talking, get the big reveal, then spend the next half wandering through the station talking. However interesting the concept it just gets tedious.

Excellent make up and a decent performance though. 1.5 stars.
JC
Mon, Feb 15, 2016, 7:04pm (UTC -5)
Summary: Inept DS9 writer gives us 45 minutes inside Bashir's subconscious yet we somehow learn nothing about his character. I'm not even sure how that was possible.
Luke
Sat, Mar 19, 2016, 12:25am (UTC -5)
So, after having a high concept sci-fi story in "Visionary" that didn't work out very well, they decided to go with an even less effective high concept sci-fi story in "Distant Voices". Did I somehow stop watching "Deep Space Nine" over the course of the last two episodes without realizing it?

I've got to agree with JC on this one - how in the hell do we spend an entire episode inside a character's mind and yet learn almost nothing about him? Seriously, aside from learning that Bashir purposefully ruined his own chances of being valedictorian, what do we learn about him? Not much. Is that intentional screw-up supposed to show that he doesn't want to shine as brightly as he can? Because that sure doesn't seem to fit with the Bashir we've spent almost three seasons with by this point. He's a hot-headed, ambitious guy, not someone who deliberately cripples himself. I suppose that might work with Bashir's BIG SECRET that's revealed later in the series, but that's retroactive continuity - it's got nothing to do with this episode. Up until now we've been given absolutely no hint that Bashir is anything like he is in the episode. In fact, until the BIG SECRET is revealed, we're not even given any kind of justification for how he acts here. I suppose you could say we learn how Bashir views his crew-mates. Well, okay, how does he see them? He thinks Quark is a coward, Garak is a villain, Odo is a paranoid, Dax is a hot-headed lunatic, O'Brien is also a coward, Kira is a control freak and Sisko is boring. This doesn't really speak well for Bashir, does it?

But that doesn't even seem to the be the point of "Distant Voices". It seems like the episode is going for style over substance, with the visuals being the most important thing. Bashir's aging make-up, tennis on the Promenade, balls hitting Bashir in the face when Garak helps him open a door in Ops - the homo-eroticism is off the charts! :-P - Ops decorated for a birthday party, etc. If we're going to compare this episode to "Masks", which Jammer does, then I have to say it - "Masks" does a much better job. Yes, I'm going back to my defense of "Masks" again. :-D. There the visuals were at least interesting and unique. Here they all seem pedestrian and boring. Given that this is what the episode seems to be focusing on, it all just falls flat.

Even an appearance by Garak can't elevate this dull, boring, plodding snooze-fest of an episode. And to quote Dukat from "Defiant" - "and that's sad."

WTF HAIR - 23 (+1)

4/10
William B
Sat, Mar 19, 2016, 3:52pm (UTC -5)
@Luke, given your review (and also my personal experience watching this), I'm surprised you have it a full 4. I mean, not that I expected a 1 or anything, it's not offensive, but is it actually more watchable than Prophet Motive? Is it basically that Garak mostly by himself sets a floor on how bad an episode can be?
Luke
Sat, Mar 19, 2016, 6:26pm (UTC -5)
Both "Distant Voices" and "Prophet Motive" are pretty mediocre. Neither is offensively bad or deserving of something like a 1 or a 0. But, I do think that "Prophet Motive" is slightly worse because of its B-plot and it's complete misuse of the Prophets. Here the episode basically just spins its wheels without ever actually achieving anything. For that I usually give a score of 5. If I overstated my case I'm sorry, that wasn't my intention.

As for Garak, I think that might be why I decided to go with a 4. Usually Garak doesn't just hold an episode's score steady, he adds to it simply by his presence (since he's so awesome a character). But here not even he helps. Maybe that's because Andrew Robinson plays "fake" Garak differently from "real" Garak (who we only see at the beginning and end of the episode), but I don't know. He just feels off somehow.

I think 4 is a fair score. You said you might be willing to give it 1.5 stars which on my scale would be equivalent to 3.75 out of 10. Even if you stuck with only 1 star that's still 2.5 out 10. So we're not really that far from each other in how we view the episode.
William B
Sat, Mar 19, 2016, 6:34pm (UTC -5)
Ha, don't be sorry! I only mentioned it because you didn't really say anything positive about the episode in the review, whereas usually on the "slightly below average" eps there's at least some pluses. However, I can see the case that in this episode very little stands out negative either, so that it doesn't go that low in score.

One thing to note is that your scale is I think calibrated a bit differently than mine -- an "average" episode gets a 5, whereas on the Jammer scale (which I'm using here) an average episode tends to be around a 2.5. I think probably I scale "average" as 2.5, maybe a high 2. So I tend to think of a 4/10 from you (or SFDebris or another "5 is average" scorer) like a Jammer-scale 2* or so. But it's an imperfect mapping, no matter what.
William B
Sat, Mar 19, 2016, 6:35pm (UTC -5)
And yeah, I don't think 4/10 is an unreasonable score by any means -- I just was surprised given the review it was attached to, if you know what I mean. No criticism intended :)

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