If there is one Star Trek show which deserves the documentarian treatment, it is surely the black sheep of Gene Roddenberry’s family: Deep Space Nine. Created in 1992 as the second sequel to the original, iconic 1960’s series, the Rick Berman/Michael Piller created series was a difficult fit from the very beginning; there was no Enterprise, no crew of galactic voyagers, rather a space station on the frontier of a world emerging from vicious occupation which right from the get go delivered an ensemble blend of politics, religion, science and gritty adventure. It was different and, even 25 years on as it celebrates its anniversary, not everybody gets it.
What We Left Behind is a celebration of that difference and, to some extent, an apology for it. A play on the title of DS9’s final episode What You Leave Behind, former DS9 show runner Ira Steven Behr spent five years reassembling the cast and crew of the station to discuss the show in depth, covering everything ranging from make-up effects to production realities to the deep themes and concepts which made Deep Space Nine so challenging and, in its own way, unique in the world of Star Trek. Whittling down hundreds of hours of recorded footage to just under two hours, Behr and co-director David Zappone deliver a trip down memory lane as fascinating as it is determinedly enigmatic.
This isn’t quite the tell-all story of Deep Space Nine, even while it comes close. We see the emotional frustration of star Terry Farrell after she was fired at the end of the show’s penultimate season, but there is no one quite there to take the blame or uncover a withering, shocking expose as to why. There is no sign of series star Avery Brooks, aka Captain Benjamin Sisko, in new footage given he appears to have said all he has to say on the series (we’re left largely with moments from his frankly bizarre appearance on William Shatner’s documentary The Captains). Behr is candid and honest, indeed the best moment sees him openly admitting they didn’t do more with LGBTQ issues when they could have, but the doc stops short of truly groundbreaking revelations.
What’s interesting is how meta What We Left Behind is. There is a playfulness about how the documentary is introduced by actor Andrew Robinson, who played spymaster Garak, and he tells us that the memories and recollections of those involved may be subjective, due to the passing of time. Behr is straight up being honest – some things they may have forgotten, or they may misremember, or may not be true at all. This is rare in a documentary purporting to set the record straight on a given topic but it speaks more to the fact What We Left Behind is the ultimate expression of a product made for fans. This is a trip back in time for DS9 die hards, not a stone cold record for distant historians. The enjoyment comes first.
And the fact is, if you’re a DS9 fan, there is so much to enjoy. Not just the talking heads of all the major players, telling some stories old and some stories new, but the fact for the first time ever we get to see the Dominion War space battle from ‘The Sacrifice of Angela’ in Ultra HD (and it looks even more incredible on a big screen), and this is likely the only way of doing so in a hurry, given to Behr’s frustration the powers that be seem to have no interested in rendering DS9 in HD or on BluRay (which has to be one of the biggest tragedies for television in the modern digital era, given how glorious the show often looked). Then there’s the biggest draw of all: Season 8.
Of course any DS9 fan will know that the show ended quite definitively at the end of the seventh season, but spread across the documentary is a fun experiment. For one day, Behr assembled his old writing team from the show: Ronald D. Moore, Robert Hewitt Wolfe, Hans Beimler & Rene Echevarria, in order to break a theoretical Season 8 premiere if DS9 was to return to TV today. We saw What We Left Behind during the world premiere at Birmingham’s Destination Star Trek with the cast and crew, and Behr himself asked us to not reveal spoilers about their theoretical 8×01, so we’ll say nothing except… their story is not the one you might imagine they would do.
What We Left Behind was funded largely by devoted Star Trek fan backers via Indiegogo, many of whom were at the Birmingham premiere, and you feel the power of the devoted Deep Space Nine fan adoration in every pore of Behr & Zappone’s film. So much is discussed while so much was left on the cutting room floor (they comically address this in the credits); there is more comedy than you may expect and more than a few emotional moments of pathos across the board, but you truly believe everyone involved in this special, format breaking series will always have a place in their heart for what they were part of. On that basis alone, What We Left Behind is utterly essential for any die-hard DS9 fan.
The truth ultimately remains that the more things change… the more they stay the same.
What We Left Behind can be pre-ordered here.