Published Mar 16, 2021
Character Growth, I Presume?: On Bashir's DS9 Arc
Deep Space Nine's doctor went on a personal journey throughout the series
By Lauren Coates
It’s no secret that not all Star Trek characters are seen the same by our deeply opinionated fan family. While some were instantly iconic figures who struck a chord and remain popular to this day (Kirk, Spock, and Picard all come to mind as examples of long-beloved Trek figures), other heroes took a little longer for audiences to warm up to them — if at all. Characters like The Next Generation’s Wesley Crusher had their fair share of naysayers; and when Deep Space Nine first debuted in 1993, Doctor Julian Bashir certainly wasn’t an instant fan-favorite. The bright-eyed young Doctor fresh out of med school and eager for a taste of what he referred to as ‘frontier medicine’, Julian Bashir was some fans’ least favorite character in the early season of DS9. But as the show grew, so did Julian, and by the time season five episode sixteen “Doctor Bashir, I Presume?” rolled around, Bashir had undergone a character arc so beautiful it made it almost impossible to imagine how anyone would have hated the character when the series began.
In the first season or two of DS9, Doctor Bashir stood out as different from many others in the ensemble cast. Where most of the show’s characters were already battle-hardened or had a wisdom beyond their years, Bashir was a little too green — he got excitable at the wrong times, didn’t seem to know when to stop talking (much to the chagrin of Chief O’Brien), and had no clue how to take a hint when it came to Jadzia Dax. He was inexperienced with the world, annoyingly so, and it wasn’t just the audience who seemed to dislike him initially, the rest of DS9’s crew didn’t seem to be particularly fond of him in the beginning either!
But slowly and surely as the seasons ticked by, Bashir’s eager-to-please attitude and lack of a filter began to fade away. Audiences watch as he is stripped down by the harrowing experience of being on the frontlines of a long and bloody war, but also a byproduct of his growing relationships with the rest of the crew. It’s hard to pinpoint a single turning point in when Bashir went from annoying newbie to empathetic and chivalrous hero, but no episode encompasses that growth better than “Doctor Bashir, I Presume?”.
The episode sees Bashir selected to be the model on which a new emergency medical hologram will be based, and Doctor Lewis Zimmerman (played by Voyager’s very own Robert Picardo in a guest appearance) arrives at the station to collect information on Bashir for the EMH’s personality matrix. Unbeknownst to Zimmerman, though, Bashir has a hidden past which comes to light over the course of his inquisition: as a child, Bashir was genetically augmented.
The reveal of Doctor Bashir being genetically modified has long since been a controversial one. Actor Alexander Siddig has been open about his hesitation towards the sudden character reveal, and how he actively worked to subvert the change for fear that his character was being rewritten as a sort of Data stand-in. While he may have been initially reluctant, it’s safe to say that in hindsight, the reveal wasn’t so much a personality course-correct as it was a way to showcase just how much Bashir had grown over the series.
Much of Bashir’s arc over the course of “Doctor Bashir, I Presume” revolves around his touchy relationship with his parents, Richard and Amsha. Well-intentioned but ultimately unable to understand their own son, the duo had him genetically enhanced so he could keep up with the rest of his classmates academically, for fear that he was falling behind. To Richard and Amsha, having Bashir genetically enhanced was a gift — a way to ensure that their son would have a happy, successful life. But as we learn in the episode, being genetically enhanced was an emotional burden Julian has carried for years; a single culmination of all his feelings of ineptitude and insecurity, rolled into one secret that he had to keep from even the closest of his friends.
When the secret finally does come out, the way that the Chief and the rest of the crew respond to the revelation is extraordinarily telling of not just who they are as people, but how far Bashir has come as a person. It’s easy to envision the scenario playing out differently with season one Bashir: Zimmerman comes to the station, the secret is accidentally revealed, and Bashir is taken into custody before being officially dismissed from the service. It could have been as simple as that. There wouldn’t have been any fuss from the crew — none of whom had deep affection for him anyways — and if the reveal had happened in the first season, a character like O’Brien or Kira may have actually been happy to see him go.
That’s decidedly not how it happens in the episode, though, and that’s because by the time the series entered its fifth season, Julian had matured, and formed strong, deep-rooted bonds with the rest of the crew. By the time Zimmerman arrives on the station, Julian’s coworkers are willing to fight on his behalf so he could stay on the station, even after his genetic status was revealed. When the doctor explains the situation to O’Brien, his friend is quick to comfort him, telling Julian that his enhancements couldn’t have made him driven, compassionate, or any of the other things that make him fundamentally who he is.
It’s a rare moment to see O’Brien — who’s never been one with words — giving a pep talk to anyone, but when you recall that in season one he was annoyed to even be in the same room as Bashir, it’s an incredible transformation and one that had been earned. Bashir as a character is fundamentally changed from the man we met in the series premiere , His growth wasn’t sudden or all at once, it was a slow burn, where he time and again proved his mettle as both a Doctor and a Starfleet officer, proving himself to both the rest of DS9’s crew, and the audience watching at home.
Lauren Coates (she/her) is a Chicago-based student with a weakness for junk food, a passion for film & television, and a constant yearning to be at Disney World. You can find her on Twitter @laurenjcoates.