Star Trek: Deep Space Nine fans can debate which of the show’s 173 hours was the best one ever, but there’s no doubt that “Far Beyond the Stars” – episode #13 of season six – will always wind up in the conversation and that it will almost always rank in the top 10. An extraordinary show, directed by Avery Brooks, it gave us a Prophets-inspired vision of 1950s science-fiction writer Benny Russell struggling to overcome racism and prejudice as he aspires to tell the adventures of Benjamin Sisko, who, centuries in the future, captains a certain space station.
The episode works on so many levels. It’s pure science-fiction. It’s fantastic Star Trek. It’s a showcase for Brooks as both a performer and director. All of the show’s regulars and recurring actors get in on the action, playing vastly different roles than usual. It’s full of in-jokes. And best of all, we get to see the likes of Armin Shimerman, Rene Auberjonois, Nana Visitor, Michael Dorn, Jeffrey Combs, Marc Alaimo and J.G. Hertzler, among others, out of makeup.
To celebrate the 16th anniversary of “Far Beyond the Stars” – it aired on February 11, 1998 -- StarTrek.com thought we’d revisit some of the terrific dialogue and share some “Did you know” bits. Also, StarTrek.com reached out to several of the episode’s key players – including Shimerman, Visitor, Hertzler and Combs -- for comments/memories. So, here goes:
“It's a damn fine piece of writing is what it is. And 'Deep Space Nine' is a very intriguing title.” – Herbert Rossoff (Shimerman)
“Oh! She's got a worm in her belly!... Oh, that's disgusting. That's interesting, but that's disgusting.” – Darlene Kursky (Terry Farrell)
"You are the dreamer, . . . and the dream." – Preacher (Brock Peters)
“Oh yes. If the world is not ready for a woman writer, imagine what would happen if it learned about a Negro with a typewriter. ‘Run for the hills! It's the end of civilization!’” – Herbert Rossoff
“Wishing never changed a damn thing.” – Benny Russell (Brooks)
“I am a Human being, dammit! You can deny me all you want but you cannot deny Ben Sisko. He exists. That future, that space station, all those people, they exist in here, in my mind.” – Benny Russell
“I have begun to wonder. What if it wasn't a dream? What if this life we're leading - all of this, you and me, everything - what if all of this... is the illusion?” – Captain Sisko (Brooks)
"For all we know, at this very moment, somewhere far beyond all those distant stars, Benny Russell is dreaming of us." – Captain Sisko
DID YOU KNOW?
"The Cold and Distant Stars” served as the episode’s working title.
“We’re writers, not Vikings,” as uttered by Julius Eaton (Alexander Siddig), is a sly spin on Dr. McCoy’s legendary “I’m a doctor, not a…” complaints about the limits of his abilities.
If you look closely, a memo above Rossoff’s desk – which is from Pabst – says "No one would believe that a cheerleader could kill vampires." That’s an inside joke for Buffy the Vampire Slayer fans; Armin Shimerman, of course, played the recurring role of Principal Snyder on Buffy. (See below)
Not surprisingly, Avery Brooks considered this his favorite DS9 episode. As he said on the DS9 Sixth Season DVD extras, “I'd have to say, it was the most important moment for me in the entire seven years."
The item on Herb Rossoff’s desk is a real-life Hugo Award? It belonged to Rick Sternbach.
The cover of the March 1953 issue of Incredible Tales depicts the surface of Delta Vega as seen in "Where No Man Has Gone Before," while the Galaxy magazine cover art features a matte painting of Starbase 11, glimpsed in the episode "Court Martial."
“Far Beyond the Stars” earned three Emmy Award nominations: Outstanding Hairstyling for a Series, Outstanding Art Direction for a Series and Outstanding Costume Design for a Series (Robert Blackman).
NANA VISITOR: “There are only two things that come to mind. One was that I fashioned my look on a self-portrait my mother had done of herself when she was my age at that time period -- and I looked eerily identical. In one of the shots I took the pose she was in -- hand to chin -- and it was a little secret homage to my mother. The other thing was how on-the-edge Avery's performance was. When his character collapses, I remember being alarmed and unsure that the actor was OK. I'd never gotten scared like that for another actor's welfare in all my experience. It was chilling to watch.”
ARMIN SHIMERMAN: “‘Far beyond the Stars’ is my favorite episode of DS9. It is not just good Star Trek, but the best of Science Fiction, powerfully combining fantasy with social commentary. Racism is bred in the bone of American culture.
Even in the 21st century, we all need to be reminded of the scars and tragedies that that plague left on our national conscience, so that we and future generations never forget its ugliness. It was brilliantly conceived by Marc Zicree, brilliantly written by Ira Behr and the staff, and most brilliantly directed by Avery Brooks. I especially remember Avery giving an Emmy-deserving performance as he broke down over the crushing of Ben's dreams. I had tears in my eyes as I watched off camera. I know many of the Niner fans did the same. Non-Star Trek fans often sneer at our franchise's frothy and light entertainment. ‘Oh yes,’ they say, ‘you pose some interesting questions; but to what end?’ I always suggest watching this episode to rebut the inanity of ‘To what end?’
“It is no secret that all the usual characters in our ensemble were asked to play other slightly tangential personas, which allowed some of us to come out from behind our prosthetic makeups. I distinctly remember Pat, our prop guy, saying to me, ‘Armin, it’s so disconcerting to look at you out of makeup at work.’ This after years of working week in and week out AND seeing me hundreds of times out of makeup. I remember think at the time, ‘Why?’ Sixteen years later, I still have no answer. It is a little known fact that, as first conceived, Zicree saw me as the less-than-collegial head editor that Rene played. For all sorts of reasons, I am very happy that Ira saw fit to nix that idea.
“One last memory,” Shimerman adds. “The scenic design staff would often leave small inconsequential messages on the sets of the Star Trek shows. As I lazed around my (Herb's) desk at the episode's writers' office while the lighting crew did their prep,
I found a post-it attached to a folder. It was seemingly from an imaginary higher-up in the publishing office and read, ‘Herb, your idea of a young girl being a Vampire Slayer will never fly.’ I laughed and laughed. I believe that is the only time the production or anyone (except the actors) ever acknowledged my other existence on Buffy. To this day, I regret not saving that yellow message.”
MICHAEL DORN: "I just remember how wonderful it was to NOT be in makeup. Also, after being in makeup and watching most of the cast in makeup for a number of years you tend to forget how wonderful they are as actors when there playing human beings and contemporary parts. So solid, and with an ease that you realize why they are where they are in their career.
It was a pleasure to watch on the set and to watch the finished product. But the 'wonderfullness' of the filming always had the caveat that it would be over soon and I'd be back in Worf-dom. So I enjoyed it to the fullest when it was happening..."
JEFFREY COMBS: “It was one of the most poignant, powerful and masterful episodes in all of Star Trek. And that's saying something. I have vivid memories of the shoot. We shot exteriors on the New York Street on the Paramount lot. The fact that it was an all-night shoot was unique. I wonder if any other Star Trek episode ever did that? The street was filled with vintage cars and slews of actors and extras in period dress. It was like traveling in a time machine back to the 50s. So magical. I hung out a lot with Ira Steven Behr in between shots. It's one of my favorite episodes in all of Star Trek.
I’m so proud to be a small part of something so great.”
J.G. HERTZLER: “I loved watching the acting chops of Rene and Armin, joyfully out from under the latex and chewing the scenery as they were classically trained to do. There were some great performances in that show, great writing in that show... and Avery directed with genius. As we sat around the table discussing the magazine stories to be included in the next issue, I drew sketches of all the actors there. I returned those drawings to the prop department at end of show... and wish I had them now! This is the one episode that could be transitioned into a series... think Mad Men, but in the 50's NYC: great images, great sci-fi, great changes in the Big Apple, and America. It would be brilliant. Anyone want to join me pursuing it?! Here's your chance.”
What was your favorite memory of "Far Beyond the Stars"?
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