Gul Dukat Down Under
By David McDonnell - August 13, 2014
I spent two weeks on a perilous Away Mission in Australia with Gul Dukat, and all I got was a lousy T-shirt. And my life.
In my view, Dukat—the Cardassian warrior portrayed by Marc Alaimo on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine—is the most fascinating of all Trek antagonists. Yes, even more than my (and your) other favorites (Q, Khan, Harry Mudd, Moriarty, Weyoun). That’s because Dukat was a frequent recurring menace on DS9 (almost racking up more guest stints than those other five combined), allowing Alaimo (a wonderful, multi-talented actor) to display the many facets the series’ writers gave this truly complex Cardassian.
Dukat is the alien you love to hate and hate to love. As Starlog correspondent Bill Florence has detailed, Dukat was, at various times, the ousted occupier of Bajor, prime adversary for the Maquis and Klingons, triumphant Dominion ally, grieving father, rogue Cardassian avenger. Not to mention noble patriot and cold-blooded killer as well as ultimate "frenemy" to no less than three DS9 notables (Benjamin Sisko, Major Kira, the tailor Garak).
But, he isn’t a bad guy. "Dukat is not evil," Alaimo emphasized to Florence in our Starlog #255 interview, "and he is not a villain." The actor simply refuses to view Dukat that way.
"The thing I love about Dukat is that you never know what he’s going to do next," Alaimo told Florence some time prior to the airing of "Tears of the Prophets" (and its deadly events). "He never does anything that’s truly unredeemable or completely black. Dukat doesn’t eat children, you know what I mean?"
Furthermore, "Cardassians have a pretty dominating presence. They’re great, and incidentally, they’re the best-looking aliens."
Well, that was also true of the human Alaimo. At the SF convention where I initially met him (which may have been his first con, held in Florida), Alaimo was impeccably dressed in suit and tie. Tall and imposing. I’ve seldom seen a Trek celeb so nattily attired for a con appearance. I certainly never looked that good—even at weddings and funerals. (And, yes, Alaimo dressed down in Cardassian casual for later cons.)
Now, I’m just as guilty as the next fan of occasionally mixing up characters with the actors who portray them. Then, in person, somehow you kinda expect, say, Jimmy Doohan to sport a particular accent or Rutger Hauer to be as enigmatic and intimidating as Blade Runner’s Roy Batty (OK, Hauer sort of was, but I think he was just playing with us). And my expectations for Alaimo? Well, wouldn’t he be a teensy bit like Gul Dukat? If, say, shown a revealing men’s magazine pictorial of an SF actress (whom I don’t think Alaimo had met), what would Dukat do? Carefully savor the pix and drink some wine. And Alaimo? Confronted with that magazine spread at the con autograph table in public, he was offended, dismayed by the exploitation of a fellow actor and waved it away. Good for him! (And, yes, I think the clueless fanboy involved may have actually expected gratitude and Alaimo’s autograph on the publication!)
Those kind of expectations are all about image. "As an actor, of course, I’ve played a lot of killers and gangsters who did terrible things," Alaimo admitted to Florence in 1998, "but at this point in my life, I don’t enjoy doing something that mean and despicable. I’ll do it as an actor, but the thought of anybody thinking of me that way is bothersome. I used to play a lot of heavies on TV in the ’70s and ’80s, and I had a certain image. People would see me on the street and think I was a mean person. That’s not me."
Soon, we were off November 5, 1996 on our two-week sojourn to Australia. Starland’s kathE & Steve Walker were leading a dirty dozen of fan volunteers from Denver, Colorado to do one-day cons over two weekends in four different cities (Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane). George Takei and Alaimo were the big Trek guests on hand for on-stage Q&As and autographs. I was the minor guest, doing previews of upcoming movies & TV shows (footage and trailers on VHS), judging the costume contest and chit-chatting with attendees about anything.
The Starland contingent had done three Australian Treks the previous years (I was on the ’93 debut and ’95 tours). Naturally, there was a great sense of camaraderie among we American "carpetbaggers," traveling together in another country far away from home, all to put on a show (or, rather, four of ’em). Weekends were for the cons, weeks between for travel and tourism. Our band this time also included other trip veterans (kathE’s son Mike Donnelly, Bob & Dee Lynch, Gayle Watson, Dennis Phillips and Mike Nesseth) as well as two newcomers (kathE’s sister Karolyn Jobin and her son David Jobin). It was lotsa fun—and we all got to know Alaimo well. The congoers particularly loved him. Alaimo was generous with his time and kind to all. In other words, not Dukat.
Except, well, he did josh with me about my autograph markers. I’d discovered a brand whose hi-tech ink dried particularly well on magazine covers, but was otherwise unappealing. Why couldn’t I be happy with black Sharpies—like the rest of humanity? Now, that sounds more like Gul Dukat—maybe if he was Assistant Manager of the Greater Bajor Office Depot, Pen & Ink Department.
We were in Sydney a few days. Alaimo and the Starland crew dined together after dark one night high atop the Sydney Tower skyscraper in its sumptuous 360 Bar & Dining space, a revolving restaurant. I’ve been to four or five of them over the years here and there; they’re like carousel rides with food & beverage service. I couldn’t tell you word one about what we ate (OK, just one word, delicious), but the atmosphere was electric. Literally. From that lofty perch, we watched severe thunderstorms rain down on Sydney City Center and lightning dance about the clouds. That made for an uneasy, maybe dangerous, really wet floor show outside the windows.
On another evening, I arranged the entertainment, booking the dozen of us (Takei was traveling elsewhere) for a dinner cruise in Sydney Harbor (via Captain Cook Cruises). I just love eating (preferably seafood) while bobbing about on boats, either sailing away or sitting anchored (and I’ve done it in Brisbane, New Orleans, St. Louis, New Jersey and Maine). After a day of tourist delights, we dozen straggled down to Circular Quay, boarded the non-"nuclear wessel" and sat down at our table. There were three bottles of fine Australian wine already open and chilled for us—which is when I realized that ten of us didn’t drink. Oops! So, as not to waste it, we gave one bottle to another table of rowdy Americans. And Alaimo and I then devoted ourselves to the task of finishing the other two all alone. I haven’t had so much wine since I downed the traditional whole bottle of Cold Duck on Bethany College Fraternity Bid Day in February 1975. Never again, by the way.
We also had extra weekday downtime in Brisbane, just as my heart desired. The rest of the Starland party took a multi-day, diving trip to the Great Barrier Reef while the four non-divers (Jobin & son, Alaimo, me) remained in Brisbane. The other three did touristy things while I visited with Aussie area pals befriended on the February 1993 trip: Cherry Ganzer, Fiona Ritchings, Michelle Hindmarsh Clarke, Anne-Marie Rayward and Peter Budd. Before she left on the dive voyage, Starland team co-leader kathE Walker designated me as Brisbane organizer (due to my past adventures Down Under or maybe just to give me something to do). It would be my job (not kathE’s sister Karolyn’s) to get the four of us to the Brisbane Airport by taxi on a timely basis on the right day. Traveling over from Cairns (I believe), the eight scuba scoobies would rendezvous with us there, and we would all fly on to our next ports of call. Sounds simple, eh?
Well, concerned only with Aussie friends, I didn’t see Alaimo or the Jobins on Monday or Tuesday at all. Cherry made dinner (OK, just one word, delicious) that Tuesday evening and then we watched Aussie actor-musician Jon English (whose retelling of Helen of Troy as a concept album/rock musical entitled Paris, I had previously enjoyed) swashbuckling around as the Pirate King in a videotaped Australian stage performance of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Pirates of Penzance. I didn’t return to my hotel till long after midnight so I didn’t have an earlier chance to remind my charges of Wednesday’s impending flight plans. We were to depart circa 11 a.m. for a 1 p.m. flight so at 9 a.m. I rang Alaimo’s hotel room.
He was startled. "What happened!?!" he barked. Alaimo explained that he feared such an early call could only mean bad news (a rule I actually, superstitiously also believe but thoughtlessly ignored here). Had someone been hurt or—even worse—drowned on that scuba boat trip? Oops! I reported that all was well, sorry to alarm you, but we should leave for the airport in two hours. "Is that today?" he asked before ringing off to start packing.
Then, I called Karolyn Jobin to alert her to our taxi journey departure time. "We’ll start out for the airport in about two hours," I declared. "Why?" she asked. "We don’t fly until tomorrow." "Are you sure?" Yep, she checked the tickets. Thursday, not Wednesday. Somehow, in arriving in Australia and losing one whole day (due to crossing the International Dateline) two weeks ago, I had foolishly mixed up our exit date. Was it the wine, the women or the koalas? Who knows? So, not only had I needlessly unsettled Alaimo with my too-early phone call, I had given him premature, incorrect info. Oops! Cue chagrin. I called him again, clarified matters and profusely apologized as he stopped packing. Yes, I certainly SNAFUed that one. This, kathE Walker, is why you shouldn’t leave me in charge of trips or airport taxi service. Please, just don’t.
Alaimo remained mostly undisturbed by Gul Dukat’s many happy returns. "I used to be surprised that Dukat kept coming back," he told Starlog’s Bill Florence. "I’m not surprised anymore, because I realize he has become a wonderful contribution to the whole world of DS9...The writers have learned to trust me. I think I’ve done well by them, and they’ve done well by me, by giving me a lot of meat to chew on. They know I can handle whatever they give me—be it a love scene, a soft scene or a hard scene. There have been many different things for me to do, and that’s what I love about DS9."
THE END. You can stop reading here if you wish. But we do have an extremely ironic, four-paragraph deleted scene, one that doesn’t co-star Marc Alaimo. Just the Starland crew and me. Read on at your own peril. And mine.
Now, maybe you thought I was kidding at this memory play’s beginning about the dangerous nature of our Away Mission and my luck in coming back alive. Not exactly. Our homeward bound odyssey from Brisbane November 21 took most of us on a multi-day stopover in another country, Fiji—though not Alaimo, due back in Los Angeles for work—and one of Fiji’s small islands (maybe five miles in circumference). Some of us snorkeled. Others (i.e. me) took a mini-vacation, reading paperbacks while lounging oceanside at our small motel.
But I did join Steve Walker, Bob Lynch and several other pals on Saturday for a foray inland to the isle’s natural waterfall (where local kids daringly slid down its rocky incline or freestyle-dived from its heights). Well, I had no intention of doing either. Spying an accommodating rock on the creek’s other side (where I could sit and read peacefully while the others dived and cavorted). I began fording upstream across slime-covered rocks on the hill high above the waterfall and—oops!—unexpectedly slipped, lost my footing, went into the water, knocked my glasses off, hit my head on one rock, smashed my left leg on another, went under without taking a breath, slid, pushed down by the rapid current, hurtling toward the waterfall’s edge. Although I can swim (more or less), I wasn’t prepared for an accidental immersion. I was swallowing water, half-blind and at least two-thirds senseless (one-third more than usual). There was no time for my life to flash before my eyes. After all, I wasn’t wearing my glasses and couldn’t have seen any of it. It justhappenedthisquickly!
Luckily for me, Bob Lynch jumped in and caught me before, breathless, I splashed over the waterfall sideways (or upside down). Thanks again, Bob, for saving my life. My glasses were recovered intact. Steve Walker made me an ad hoc crutch from a dead tree branch and got me, limping on my often-injured bad leg, with my head-spinning, back to the motel. Typically, I was most annoyed not at my wet brush with Fiji death but that my paperback book—appropriately, a WWII British Naval submarine adventure by Douglas Reeman—had gotten totally drenched, too. It had to dry out for days before I could read the rest of the novel. But at least I was around to do so.
And here’s the final ironic note. Had I not survived my accidental, splashy trek into the waterfall, that early morning phone call bringing imagined bad news would have become all-too-real, albeit still made just a few days premature and to another party.
David McDonnell, "the maitre’d of the science fiction universe," has dished up coverage of pop culture for more than three decades. Beginning his professional career in 1975 with the weekly "Media Report" news column in The Comic Buyers’ Guide, he joined Jim Steranko’s Mediascene Prevue in 1980. After 31 months as Starlog’s Managing Editor (beginning in October 1982), he became that pioneering SF magazine’s longtime Editor (1985-2009). He also served as Editor of its sister publications Comics Scene, Fangoria and Fantasy Worlds. At the same time, he edited numerous licensed movie one-shots (Star Trek and James Bond films, Aliens, Willow, etc.) and three ongoing official magazine series devoted to Trek TV sagas (The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Voyager). He apparently still holds this galaxy’s record for editing more magazine pieces about Star Trek in total than any other individual, human or alien.
Copyright 2014 David McDonnell
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