Friday, October 27, 2017

The Thing-a-Thon: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "The Adversary" (June 19, 1995)

Stardate 48959.1

Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks), commanding officer of Deep Space Nine in the Bajoran Sector, is promoted to the rank of Captain. His first mission is given him by a visiting Starfleet admiral: Krajensky (Lawrence Pressman).

Specficially, Captain Sisko is to take the U.S.S. Defiant through the wormhole to the Gamma Quadrant, and show the flag of the Federation there since the Tzankethi have recently experienced a coup.

En route to Tzankethi space, however, the Defiant is sabotaged. Chief O’Brien (Colm Meaney) discovers strange tendrils growing through the ship’s systems, sabotaging the vessel. Worse, the tendrils are protected by force fields and can’t be removed.

Soon it becomes apparent that a Changeling is aboard the ship, sabotaging systems and appearing to be one of the crew. 

Dax (Terry Farrell) suggests scanning all those aboard for Tetrion particles, since the Changeling would have been near the warp core of the ship, during some sabotage.

Later, a blood test is instituted to help smoke out the changeling before the Defiant’s presence causes a war in Tzankethi space, and weakens the Federation.  

Odo (Rene Auberjonois), meanwhile, worries that he may have to kill one of his own people.

But no changeling has never murdered another.

How do I know that The Thing (1982) was on the minds of those producing Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993 – 1999) through the Dominion War arc of the program’s last three season? 

Well, it was during this multi-season story-line that a secret branch of Starfleet called Section 31 was introduced to the franchise.

And “31,” of course, is the number of the Outpost in John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982). 

The recurrence of that number is no coincidence. Section 31 in Starfleet is brought in as a response to shape-shifting aliens, Changelings, just as Outpost 31 is Earth’s first line of defense in the 1982 horror classic.

“The Adversary,” though clearly a Star Trek story in nature, adopts several key elements from Campbell’s story, and later film adaptations.  

First, we still have an isolated location as the central setting, in this case a small starship in deep space, rather than the Antarctic. 

Secondly, we have the (powerful) element of paranoia.  No one aboard the Defiant can trust anybody else once it is known a Changeling is aboard. For example, O’Brien believes he sees Bashir (Alexander Siddig) at a key control panel in the Jeffries Tubes, but doesn’t want to condemn his friend as a saboteur, or worse, a monster.

Sadly, the identity of the changeling is pretty obvious throughout the story: the episode’s biggest guest-star, and only non-regular character featured so prominently: Pressman’s Admiral Krajensky.

Much more significantly, “The Adversary” proposes a “Thing Detector” that is familiar to all fans of the film: a blood test.  

A Changeling’s blood is not like human blood, and so Bashir can detect the difference between the life-forms by administering one. In a clever twist on this plot element straight from “Who Goes There,” Bashir -- the man doing the testing -- is actually the alien, and manipulating the results.

The "Thing Detector" blood test recurs on Deep Space Nine in later episodes. General Martok demands that Sisko and Kira (Nana Visitor) submit to such a test in “The Way of the Warrior,” and brings a very sharp Klingon knife along as the tool to get it done.

Despite the recurrence of this test, The Changelings, or shape-shifters of Star Trek, are, however, somewhat different from the monster of The Thing. Though they can perfectly duplicate any life-form, the Changelings don’t want to be “solids” if they have a choice. They outright deride solids, actually.  Unlike The Thing, they aren’t content to scurry and hide. They want to rule their Empire, and subjugate solids.

This episode also boasts merit for poor Odo's plot-line. The tortured character understands his duty: to prevent the changeling from starting a war. But to stop one of his own kind means killing him.  That is something Odo does not want to do.

All in all, it is incredible to consider that The Thing (1982) was savaged by critics in the 1980’s, and yet within ten or eleven years of the film's release, two pop-culture power-houses, Star Trek, and The X-Files, were paying homage to the film in a very significant way.

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