How Bad Technobabble Hurt A Good Episode: “Our Man Bashir”

For the past few months, I’ve been doing a re-watch of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. I missed a lot of episodes (maybe 40 percent) while it was in first-run, and I’ve never seen it in syndication, so I figured… why not? It’s on Netflix; might as well make good use of my $7.99 monthly fee.

Last night, I watched “Our Man Bashir”, and I was reminded just how flimsy the “malfunctioning transporter/holodeck” plot can be.

"Our Man Bashir" by deathtoll1912 on DeviantArt
For those of you who haven’t seen (or don’t recall), “Our Man Bashir” starts out with Bashir in the holosuite, play-acting as a spy. He foils the bad guy, only to find Garak watching him. Garak wants to know all about why Bashir feels he should be a spy, even a fictional one, so they continue the game. Meanwhile, the rest of our heroes (Sisko, Kira, Dax, Worf, and O’Brien) are on their way back from a conference when their shuttle undergoes difficulties. Odo and Eddington* beam them back, but they get stuck in the pattern buffer and Eddington, in a Scotty-like moment of genius, shifts them from the buffer (which will degrade and kill them) into the station’s computers. The computer stores their physical bodies in the holosuite, and apparently only Bashir’s program was running, so guess who shows up in the ‘suite?

Yeah. Them.

Anyway, you probably know what happens after this: hijinks ensue, Bashir saves the day, and everyone survives. In fact, this episode’s real strength, other than Avery Brooks getting to take the reins off his craziness** and Andrew J. Robinson in another excellent turn as Garak, was Max Grodénchik as Rom, continuing the story arc which will eventually culminate in him becoming an engineer.

Andrew J. Robinson, Nana Visitor, and Alexander Siddig
Leaving aside the rather-silly 1960s-era spy plot, the Bond-derived names (Mona Luvsitt, Honey Bare, Hippocrates Noah), and Nana Visitor’s Russian accent (delivered mostly in a pink negligee), the episode was pretty decent for a “holodeck malfunction” adventure.

Except for the fact that the pseudoscience and technobabble were just too difficult for even a hardened Trek fan like me to accept.

Let’s count the improbabilities, shall we?

Bashir is the only one using the holosuites. Although Quark indicates his holosuite business is a loss leader, I can’t imagine that Bashir is the only one using one. And what about the holographic research labs on the station? Or maybe there aren’t any? Just saying; it seems improbable.

A rather specific act of sabotage. The True Way’s sabotage of the runabout was oddly specific. It only affected the warp drive, the ejection system, and the impulse engines. If they’re that good at sabotage, why not just blow up the ship while in flight, or set it up so that it only goes off when they’re on a Cardassian station (as DS9 used to be).

Trapped in the pattern buffer. Eddington, you are no Montgomery Scott. But one would think there’d be transporter engineers somewhere on the station that they could at least consult with. I mean, he didn’t even run across Ops when they were all trapped in the buffer.

Sheer amount of memory storage. According to many articles on the internet, including Wikipedia, it would take a fantastical amount of memory to upload an entire person’s brain into a computer, let alone all their physical processes. I’m sure someone smarter than me has explained how Trek does it with transporters — especially when multitudes of people are beamed simultaneously — but one would think that the pattern buffer is big enough to hold someone. Countless transporter episodes probably*** bear this up (especially “Relics”). So why would the pattern buffers be degrading anyway? Oh yeah; because…

The transporter apparently beamed in some explode-y bits. Because Star Trek totally doesn’t make a big deal about biofilters, right? Hot metal is way easier to pick up than biological organisms. Or, at least, it should be.

How quickly can you wipe the station’s hard drives? I recently bought a 1TB external drive for the Time Machine on my Mac. Even completely blank, it still took a few minutes to be reformatted for use with TM. Now imagine having to clear out all the data on the station’s hard drive and format it for use with the pattern buffer? That takes time.

And then nothing would work anyway. Everything is computer-based. If you wipe the computer’s memory, where will it store the instructions to run all the consoles? Without an operating system, all my phone has on it is a bootloader. Bootloaders basically exist just to run installers, such as ClockworkMod. I’m sure all the transporter controls could do after Eddington wiped everything was run CardassianMod. I’m not sure how that would’ve helped things.

The holosuite only holds their bodies. Imagine the sheer complexity of a room that (a) is pretty much infinite in all directions via the use of perceptual trickery and forcefields (b) contains several fully-functional discrete “individuals” (Sisko’s baseball games, for starters) and (c) draws a tremendous amount of power. One would think the holosuite’s computer system is powerful enough on its own to store a person’s pattern. I believe Quark has four of them — that should be enough for five people.

Beaming their bodies and minds together. As Wil Wheaton recently said…

Can’t leave the holosuite or you’ll disrupt the program. This seems like an awfully convenient bit of writing. Why not just have the computer malfunction when they call for the doors? That at least would’ve made a little sense.

No safeties. De rigeur by this point. Why even have the damn things?

And yet, for all of these foibles… I still actually enjoyed the episode. It was a nice bit of escapism bolstered by some really atrocious pseudoscience and technobabble (and convenient writing). You can’t have a Star Trek series without holodeck and/or transporter malfunction episodes, and at least this one let the actors get out of their spacesuits for a little while.

Just… if we ever do get another Star Trek series, let’s stop recycling all these old plots, okay? Nothing can stand up to the Moriarty episodes of TNG anyway.


* Remember him? That Starfleet security guy who shows up every now and then but is ultimately forgettable until an upcoming two-parter? Yeah, me neither. This episode was an attempt to make him more credible as “Guy Who Runs The Joint When Sisko’s Away”.

** If you haven’t seen Shatner’s documentary The Captains, you really need to, if only to see just how insane Avery Brooks really is.

*** I didn’t check. You can, if you want. “Unnatural Selection”, “Realm of Fear”, even “The Enemy Within” come to mind.