|Dr. Bashir, age 100+.|
It's just a couple of days before Dr. Bashir's thirtieth birthday, and he's feeling very grumpy. He sees this milestone as marking the end of his youth and the beginning of the long trudge toward middle age and, eventually, death. He expresses these sentiments to Garak before being interrupted by an associate of Quark's: a Lethean (Victor Rivers) hoping to purchase an illegal biological substance. Bashir flatly refuses... only to be assaulted by the Lethean in sickbay later that same day!
When Bashir wakes up, he discovers that none of the computers are working. He is unable to contact security or any of the Ops staff. When he ventures out, he finds the station all but deserted. A cowering Quark informs him that the Lethean is going to find them and kill them. As Bashir presses on, he discovers that he is now aging rapidly. By the time he meets up with the command staff, he looks closer to sixty than thirty.
That's when O'Brien receives an audio signal: The voices of Dax and Sisko, discussing Bashir's condition. The doctor is in a coma. None of the others are actually there - They simply represent different facets of Bashir's own personality. The doctor is stuck in his own mind. If he can't get himself out, he will be dead in a few short hours!
Commander Sisko: Within the delusion, he represents Bashir's professionalism and dedication to duty. Both confident and competent, the projection of Sisko seems the most likely to truly help Bashir succeed in his fantasy-like quest. No surprise, then, that the Lethean kills him mere seconds after Bashir reaches him..
Dr. Bashir: Has always been an overachiever, outstanding both as an athlete and as a doctor. The worst voices in his subconscious nag at him for quitting tennis to become a doctor, and there are hints that he deliberately botched a question in his exams to avoid being first in the class - which actually fits with his discomfort at being nominated for a prestigious medical award. Still, his dedication to medicine is very real, and he would not trade his current life for the life of a pro athlete. He also has a strength of will that generally remains hidden beneath his slightly arrogant demeanor and his sense of humor.
Dax: Represents Bashir's confidence, and as such is the first of his projections to be struck down by the Lethean attack. What better way to stop his efforts to save himself than by destroying his confidence? Bashir admits that even though he no longer pursues Dax sexually, he does still have feelings for her - He just values their friendship too much to trade it for a brief encounter.
Garak: Though Bashir likes Garak, he still doesn't entirely trust him. Hence, Garak is a shadowy figure in his dream world. The projection of Garak taunts Bashir and distracts him more often than he actually helps, deflecting his efforts with sudden birthday parties and games of tennis. When the real Garak hears the full story, he is anything but offended. Instead, he takes these signs of Bashir's mistrust to mean that "there's hope for you yet, Doctor."
More than just a good characer piece, Distant Voices is also a strong continuity piece. Remember that Bashir's character got off to a very poor start, with early episodes of the series making him boorish and obnoxious. He was effectively rebooted for Season Two, with his worst elements discarded in favor of a stronger focus on his desire for friendship with O'Brien and his dedication to his work. Gone were his pursuit of Dax and much of his overt arrogance. This was a good move for the series. In a subtle way, by shifting emphasis from character traits that didn't work to ones that did, the writers were able to transform an often insufferable man into someone genuinely likable.
The consequence was that many of Bashir's early characteristics all but disappeared. This episode folds those traits back into the whole. We are reminded of his pursuit of Dax, and told that he stopped chasing her because he came to care about his friendship with her. He didn't really care about being first in his class; he feels that Deep Space 9 is where he belongs. Judging from the girl singing a suggestive rendition of "Happy Birthday" to him in Ops, he certainly retains appreciation of a pretty face and figure. It's just that these elements are no longer the ones that define him. By touching on these near-forgotten elements of his "false start" in Season One, Bashir's continuity becomes more cohesive, and his character becomes that much richer.
The episode is stylishly directed by Alexander Singer, who transforms the standing sets of the station into a surreal, Alice in Wonderland-like world for the doctor to roam about in. As someone who enjoys dreamlike episodes, I certainly appreciated the offbeat nature of both the story and the visuals. There is something genuinely eerie about seeing the station so basically deserted. Finally, it should be noted that the Emmy winning aging makeup is quite effective, even almost twenty years after the fact.
For all of these virtues, the episode doesn't quite connect with me the way I would like it to. It works as a character piece; but as a piece of drama, it doesn't quite reach its potential. The narrative fails to provide much sense of momentum. Bashir wanders from one set piece to another, but it's only late in the episode that there's any feeling of urgency to his efforts. More of a sense of conflict, of Bashir really being beaten down by the Lethean, would make his triumph at the end feel more meaningful.
A worthwhile episode for the atmosphere, acting, and character work. But with one more rewrite, this could really have been something special.
Overall Rating: 6/10