Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Dippy Idea Gets A Cool Interpretation With "One Little Ship!"

The Good: Uses the concept well, Decent character development, Good acting
The Bad: Initially ridiculous premise, Proportion issues, Forced humor.
The Basics: “One Little Ship” is a concept episode in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine that actually holds up better than its absurd premise might have suggested!

Every now and then, a television show takes a ridiculous premise and makes it work. This does not happen too often, but sometimes a show has the right combination of explanation and characterization to make an otherwise absurd idea into a decent hour of television. With Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, there were very few “concept episodes,” as the show focused more tightly on an overall story and actually developing the characters in the series. One of the few Star Trek: Deep Space Nine concept episodes that could have been an utter failure had it not been executed so well, was “One Little Ship.”

“One Little Ship” is like the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Rascals” (reviewed here!), wherein members of the crew are de-aged right before the ship is attacked by the Ferengi. In a similar fashion, a runabout with Dax, O’Brien and Bashir is investigating a seemingly unique spatial phenomenon that shrinks them down to only a few centimeters high when the Defiant is attacked by a Jem’Hadar ship. The premise sounds entirely silly, but to the credit of writers David Weddle and Bradley Thompson, the characters are given quite a bit more to do than simply play off the novelty of being small. “One Little Ship” actually makes it into the essential Star Trek: Deep Space Nine by providing more vital information about the Jem’Hadar, including the presentation of a brand new breed of the drug-addicted soldiers!

Dax, O’Brien and Bashir are in a runabout inside a spatial phenomenon that has shrunk them. Dax assures the team and the Defiant crew that they will be able to regain their full size simply by leaving the anomaly the opposite way they entered. They are not given a chance, however, as a Jem’Hadar ship attacks the Defiant and the Runabout is cut off from the command crew. The Runabout crew quickly finds a way inside the Defiant, but what they discover there is disheartening.

The senior staff of the Defiant has been captured by the Jem’Hadar. Ordered to get the Defiant’s warp drive online, the senior officers of the Defiant are held at gunpoint and forced to work. While the Jem’Hadar Second and his new Alpha Quadrant-bred First debate tactics for maintaining control, Sisko’s staff prepares to destroy the ship when the warp drive goes online. While the Defiant crew struggles to stay alive, the runabout crew works to aid their friends and stop the Jem’Hadar!

“One Little Ship” is an admittedly cheesy concept, but the writers and director Allan Kroeker make it work . . . for the most part. What works – because the lame jokes about size frequently does not – is the protracted conflict between the two ranks of Jem’Hadar soldiers. With the Alpha Quadrant now the de facto home to a significant portion of the Dominion’s military, the Dominion has begun to adapt their war effort. To that end, they have started breeding Alpha Quadrant Jem’Hadar soldiers. The Alphas, personified by the First, are arrogant and entirely self-assured, as well as stronger and spinier than the traditional Jem’Hadar soldiers bred in the Gamma Quadrant. That the first and second continually butt heads makes the pretty standard and blasé jailbreak type story that occupies the bulk of the a-plot makes it mostly possible to overlook the absurdity of the miniaturized ship story.

Aboard the Runabout, Dax, O’Brien and Bashir work well as a team. Dax has serious concerns about Worf, naturally, and O’Brien is not amused by the idea of dying while only a few inches tall. One of the most distinctive moments of “One Little Ship” comes from the character elements, not the plot points. Having beamed into a secure panel that they need to rewire, O’Brien and Bashir goad one another into staying conscious long enough to be able to achieve their rewiring goal. O’Brien is able to prove that he truly does know the Defiant like the back of his hands!

While Nog, Sisko, and Worf work to subtly prepare the Defiant for destruction, Kira is compelled to actually train the Jem’Hadar soldiers who will pilot the ship. This provides the most organic comic relief of the episode, though throughout the ordeal there is a real sense of menace that the Jem’Hadar who is with her might snap and kill her. This tension plays well with the tension between the two factions of Jem’Hadar soldiers aboard the Defiant.

What does not work as well are the special effects. The size of the Runabout changes drastically in proportion to the objects and people around it. In easy to analogize terms, sometimes the Runabout is the size of the Hallmark ornament (reviewed here!) and others it is the size of the Playmates toy vehicle (reviewed here!). Because there are so many references to the size and we can see the relative sizes of objects, it is unnerving when the perspectives change as much as they do.

That said, what is pretty much infallible is the acting. The actors all get eye lines, inflections and reactions perfectly for objects that they are not truly interacting with. Colm Meany, Siddig El Fadil and Michael Dorn, especially, interact well with virtual objects and once again illustrate that they have incredible acting abilities.

Ultimately, “One Little Ship” is a fun, diverting episode that quickly becomes menacing and places the Defiant crew in a truly dangerous position. Fortunately, the producers were smart enough not to try to make the episode too light. That sense of danger to the captured crew and the Runabout team makes the episode much more memorable than it otherwise would have been.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - The Complete Sixth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the penultimate season by clicking here!


For other television reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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