Published Nov 21, 2021
The Comforting Energy of Dr. Julian Bashir
A sufferer of medical anxiety finds unexpected comfort in the gentle bedside manner of Deep Space Nine’s resident doctor.
By Savannah Graves
A couple of years ago, my best friend sent me a video – a short clip, filmed off his TV screen, of a funny scene from an episode of Deep Space Nine. By now I’ve forgotten what was happening in the scene, but I remember that Dr. Bashir was involved, and I remember what I texted back – a plea for more information about the English-accented doctor. I started watching Deep Space Nine almost that same day. There are plenty of Star Trek fans in my family, but I had never really gotten into the franchise before this point; now, driven entirely by an immediate fascination with the character of Dr. Bashir, I watched seven seasons in the span of a couple of months. I was in the process of shifting jobs and had recently moved, and knowing I had a new episode of Star Trek to watch each night was a wonderful anchor.
Deep Space Nine is so overflowing with wonderful, complex characters that I could write in-depth analyses of each of them, but it continued to be Dr. Bashir I found myself most drawn to. I see parts of myself in him; he shares both my earnest enthusiasm and my struggles. Julian is often seen as arrogant, but he’s never seemed arrogant to me. Instead, he seems like a person eager to reassure everyone around him of his own intelligence because he feels it’s all he has to offer. It’s not surprising he would feel this way, having lived his whole life with the knowledge that his parents risked massive legal repercussions, and presumably Julian’s own life and health, purely in the interest of making him more intelligent as quickly as possible through genetic augmentation. I’ve struggled greatly in my own life with the feeling that everything hung on my academic performance, that I had to “prove” that I was smart enough to be valuable, and this particular anxiety is one I saw represented for the first time in Julian Bashir.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine — The Journey
Not only did I see myself reflected in Julian, but I quickly discovered I found the presentation of medicine on Deep Space Nine oddly comforting. Even the infirmary itself feels cozy. I’ve always been anxious around – even afraid of – doctors, and even fictional ones set off those discomfort bells a bit, so being pulled in by the medicine shown on Deep Space Nine was completely unexpected. Star Trek presents a very different kind of medicine from real life, one that is highly advanced, usually painless, and crucially, somewhat unrealistic. The high sci-fi nature of Star Trek medicine in general helps, but the thing truly making medicine on Deep Space Nine feel approachable and non-threatening is Dr. Bashir himself. Every doctor, real or fictional, needs some level of bedside manner, but Julian’s feels genuinely comforting, and I’m fascinated by why. Disregarding the barrier of fiction for a moment, why is it that every real doctor who’s ever tried to reassure me just made me more nervous, but this fictional one’s comforting vibes are so powerful they seem to reach through the screen?
First, the obvious – kindness and compassion are the soul of the character of Julian Bashir, and he’s an excellent example of a character who’s undeniably good. More importantly, he consistently prioritizes what’s best for his patients above various other practical and political concerns. There’s a moment in “Battle Lines”, an episode early in the show’s first season, where he moves to grab a case of medical instruments to treat Major Kira, and immediately gets a gun aimed at his throat. He doesn’t back down in the slightest, instead arguing with the person holding a weapon on him that Kira needs treatment. “Hippocratic Oath,” another episode from much later in the series, is primarily about Julian’s refusal to allow the Jem’Hadar to suffer, despite their being enemy soldiers. He always seems to be as concerned about his patients’ emotional comfort as well as physical, always reassuring people that he’ll be right outside if they need him. He’s actually quite good in combat, too, and these things together make him feel protective. When you watch him refuse to allow Odo to question an ailing Garak in “The Wire,” you feel that if you were laid up in the infirmary, you’d be safe from anything – be it an attack on the station or your boss wondering why you weren’t on time – as long as Dr. Julian Bashir stood between you and the outside world.
“The Wire” — in which Garak suffers what’s essentially a drug withdrawal — is one of Deep Space Nine’s best episodes, and I’m fascinated by the choices Julian makes in it. Garak really should be in the infirmary, but for most of the episode he isn’t, because he’s expressed discomfort with that idea. For as long as possible, Julian cares for Garak in the latter’s quarters, and stays by his bedside for hours simply because he knows Garak needs him there – without judgment of whether that need is medical or emotional. The choice to stay by Garak’s side even feels like a kind of empathy; by being present for every moment of Garak’s experience, Julian comes as close as he can to sharing in it.
Julian’s relationship with Garak is exceptional, but it also seems like he would do this for anyone. I’m especially fond of his many interactions with Miles O’Brien. Miles has a hard time admitting when he’s frightened or in pain, and the poor man suffers a disproportionate amount of trauma during his time on Deep Space Nine. Julian continuously treats him with a kind of tenderness that’s unusual to see represented in a male/male friendship, but it always seems to be exactly what Miles needs, even if he’s unable to express it.
Rounding it all off is, of course, Alexander Siddig himself. It’s his acting choices, like the way he softens his voice when Julian is trying to reassure someone, and the visible gentleness in his body language, that make Julian so exceptional. Judged on written lines and actions alone, Julian Bashir is a kind and heroic doctor character, but one whose actions impact only the fictional universe he inhabits. Carried by Alexander Siddig’s acting, he’s something more – a comforting presence that seems to reach through the screen, and who it’s very easy to imagine entrusting with your life, should you happen to wake up one day and find yourself in space.
I’ve never been drawn to doctors in fiction, as their association with the real thing tends to make me anxious. To my complete surprise, rather than my discomfort with doctors making it difficult for me to connect with the character of Dr. Bashir, I found Dr. Bashir shifting my feelings about real doctors. I spent many happy hours curled up in front of Deep Space Nine, and as Dr. Bashir began to represent, for me, ideas of comfort and safety, I saw my own word associations with medicine in general change, little by little, away from “scary” and “anxious” to simply “Oh, a doctor! Like Julian!” It’s a slow shift, and my anxiety about medicine will probably always be with me to a degree, but Julian Bashir has singlehandedly taken the edge off it. Not long ago I spent a couple of hours sitting with someone in an ER – not a particularly pleasant place to be, even if you aren’t the patient. But after the initial discomfort wore off, I caught myself thinking it really wasn’t too bad, and even kind of cozy. I can’t imagine myself thinking that even a couple of years ago. This is what Julian Bashir will forever mean to me: not only a character I care deeply about, but one who’s made a difference in my real life and made a dent in an anxiety I’ve always had.
Thanks to his Sid City Social Club, a Zoom-based fan outreach project, I’ve been able to have a couple of conversations with Alexander Siddig – or just “Sid,” as everyone who’s been involved with that is used to calling him now. He’s a lovely human being, exceedingly kind and generous with his time. He has a certain knack for making you feel safe while you’re talking to him, and he (and his co-host, Mel) have built a lovely community. So that’s another point for Dr. Bashir, I suppose – for introducing me to Sid, as participating in the assorted Zoom meetings and fan projects he’s been at the center of has been a lifeline for me (and the rest of our community) during the incredible stress, anxiety, and isolation of pandemic life. Dr. Bashir may be fictional, but Sid and the comfort he’s brought me and so many others by essentially riding out the pandemic with us is very real, and the warmth of knowing that I’ve been a part of this little community is going to be with me long after 2020 is a distant memory.
Savannah Graves (she/her), known to some as Sigyn, is a “boots on the ground” computer technician and generally colorful creature living in Orlando, Florida. When she’s not performing delicate surgery on old computers, she can be found learning various crafts, keeping up with her groupchats, and spending as much time as possible at Kennedy Space Center.