Nutshell: An okay main plot saddled with a horrendous subplot. Not too impressive.
Though reasonable at times, "Doctor Bashir, I Presume" is probably the weakest episode of DS9 so far this season (please note that I'm not counting "Let He Who Is Without Sin " as an episode). The show takes the standard A/B-story structure, common to most current Trek shows. While the A-story is okay in places, it doesn't have the payoff it deserves. The B-story, meanwhile, is pretty much a waste of air time.
Doctor Lewis Zimmerman (Robert Picardo), the creator of the emergency medical holographic program, comes to DS9 to inform Doctor Bashir that he has been selected by Starfleet to become the model for a new holographic doctor. The new system (designed as a long-term medical hologram, or LMH) would be based completely on Julian's likeness, right down to the most subtle detail of his personality. In order to understand as much as possible about Bashir, Zimmerman interviews his closest acquaintances, from his fellow officers to his closest friends and even his parents, Richard and Amsha Bashir (Brian George and Fadwa El Guindi).
The problem is that Julian doesn't want his parents on DS9 or anywhere near him. Zimmerman invites them to the station anyway—against Julian's wishes and outside his knowledge—and it's a surprise for Bashir that can be called just about anything but "pleasant."
The best scenes in "Doctor Bashir, I Presume" are the uncomfortable ones of repressed scorn where Julian sits in malcontent with his parents. We know there's a history and a problem here, and Siddig does a decent job of conveying the sense of unhappiness without going overboard. The signs leading up to the big character explosion and the revelation of Julian and his parents' "secret" are also sensibly performed.
The secret revealed is that Julian is a product of genetic enhancement. When he was a young child he was slow and fell behind in school, and his parents, in an act of desperation, took it upon themselves to have Julian's DNA "resequenced." This turned Julian into a model character of physical and mental proficiency. The procedure was illegal, however, and if anyone were to find out about it now, Julian could lose his career and his parents could go to prison.
There are some relevant points here—given the recent successful sheep-cloning experiment and the moral implications of doing such genetic experiments with humans, "Doctor Bashir, I Presume" airs in an ironically timely fashion. The morality of "creating" or "enhancing" people genetically is a very interesting moral dilemma—and one that the Star Trek universe has deemed wrong. That's fine in itself, but there's not enough drama here. The show doesn't keep the power on long enough to make the story have the emotional impact it really needs. I liked Bashir's problem of coming to terms with his parents over what they did to him at a time when he was too young to have a say in the matter. However, there's simply not enough done with it. Julian's mother, in particular, doesn't have key lines where she should have, making much of the episode seem like a "Julian versus his father" story. And when the secret does come out into the open, it's done in a conveniently "plot"-induced way: when Julian's parents reveal key information to the holographic image of Julian while O'Brien and Zimmerman are standing within earshot in the next room.
The biggest drawback with this premise that makes it simply "okay" when it should've been "good" is the way the ending sidesteps practically all the consequences. Julian decides he's going to resign with dignity since his career is doomed anyway, but then Julian's father makes a negotiation in the eleventh hour with an Admiral Bennett (J. Patrick McCormack) that, as far as I can tell, goes against everything Julian has said about Starfleet's rules. Why exactly is it that Bennett allows Julian to keep his career in exchange for his father's agreement to spend two years in prison? Sure, it's the "noble act of redemption for his son" that seemed necessary under the show's initial painting of Richard Bashir as a man who normally doesn't take responsibility where he should, but the ease of Julian's escape from what seemed an impossible situation hurts dramatically quite a bit, and the whole story thus comes off looking somewhat transparent and lightweight.
Another big problem with the main story is that it's constantly interrupted by a nearly worthless B-story. The whole subplot involving Rom and Leeta's "unrealized romance" is worthy of being tossed out the nearest window, so far as I'm concerned. Once again Max Grodenchinchik and the writers portray Rom as a caricature completely devoid of the slightest remnant of subtlety, as well lacking all signs of a real personality. All the entire B-story does is convince me more than ever that Rom is a cardboard, exaggerated, epitome of idiocy with no hint of any social grace. It wouldn't be so bad if Rom were simply a little bashful or clumsy with women, but Rom's complete state of paralysis whenever Leeta talks to him is so hopelessly overstated and unfunny that it had me cringing more often than not. I don't think we really need to be hit over the head with a sledgehammer to realize Rom possesses such characteristics, but that's precisely what the writers have done with so many recent Rom plots, and I'm sick of it. As a result, Rom is by far my least favorite character of the ensemble.
Meanwhile, Leeta comes off looking fairly awful herself. Chase Masterson, while physically attractive, has lost all sense of charisma that her character seemed to have is seasons past. She's been virtually reduced to a superficial bimbo in a nice body. (Coming from the always-sexist Quark, the rather mean line of sarcasm to Leeta, "Sure you have brains, that's why I hired you," seemed scathingly amusing at the time, but it almost seems like a disturbing self-fulfilling prophecy in retrospect.) Leeta comes across in this episode about as shallow and empty-headed as I hope a regular character can get on this series, and that bothers me quite a bit, because I know the writing and actors are capable of much more. Tasteless attempts at comedy like the scene where Zimmerman visits Leeta in her quarters only to happen upon her just after she has stepped out of the shower (and then she conveniently drops her towel for a totally forced uncomfortable situation) are not funny. They're idiotic and lowbrow—not reasons I watch Trek.
On the other hand, we have an effective performance by Robert Picardo, who creates the real Lewis Zimmerman as someone who is similar to Doc on Voyager, but yet different enough to create a different character with more human qualities. Picardo works very well in almost every situation he appears in, whether playing opposite Brooks, Meaney, or Siddig. The acerbic sarcasm that Doc on Voyager has is present in Zimmerman, but at the same time there's a subtle downplay in the attitude that works wonders, and I think that's worthy of quite a bit of praise on Picardo's part.
Some of the early scenes concerning Zimmerman and Bashir that focus on the LMH plot are not of utmost importance to the real story here, but they do entertain as self-contained set-pieces—especially a fun scene featuring two Zimmermans and two Bashirs in the same camera frame.
Other than that I don't think there's a whole lot else to say about "Doctor Bashir, I Presume." I would not call this a bad show per se, but after balancing the passable main plot and the repulsive subplot, it comes out somewhere in the "mediocre" range.
As an aside, let me wrap up with a quick notion. Two weeks earlier when "In Purgatory's Shadow" aired and after which I peeked at the air schedule, I noticed "Doctor Bashir, I Presume" in the lineup. Based on the title I thought maybe this show would be a character analysis of Bashir after his experience in the Dominion prison and his thoughts (as well as everyone else's) on his being replaced by a Changeling imposter. It could've been a compelling follow-up to a major event, much the way TNG's "Family" followed up "The Best of Both Worlds." Too bad—I think I would've enjoyed that much more than this. Just a thought.