After an alien assault leaves Bashir unconscious, he is trapped inside his mind.
Doctor Bashir and Elim Garak are having their usual lunch together in the Replimat as Garak produces a gift for Bashir: a Cardassian enigma tale holonovel. Although Bashir usually enjoys mystery novels, he confesses his dislike for Cardassian ones, as the suspects are always guilty. Garak points out that the challenge is figuring out who is guilty of what. Bashir reveals that he feels glum because it is his 30th birthday, a sign in Human culture that one has lost one's youth, which contrasts the Cardassian view that growing old is a sign of power and dignity. The conversation is interrupted when Quark approaches with a Lethean companion named Altovar, who is interested in purchasing bio-mimetic gel. Everyone present knows purchasing the gel is illegal, but the Lethean "convinced" Quark to bring him to Bashir. He offers to buy the gel at any price, storming off angrily when Bashir firmly refuses.
Later, Bashir returns to the infirmary, where he finds Altovar has broken in. The Lethean grabs his head, releasing an electric discharge of some kind and goes running off with the gel.
When he awakens, Bashir finds the computer is off-line and will not respond, the lights are flickering, and he is alone. He wanders out to the Promenade, which is deserted, but he notices his reflection in a mirror and observes that his hair seems somewhat gray. In Quark's, he finds the Ferengi cowering behind the bar, hiding from someone in the shadows. Quark claims whoever it is going to kill everyone; before he can answer any more questions, he runs off. Whoever is in the shadows hurls chairs in every direction, so Bashir follows suit and leaves.
Garak surprises Bashir when he reaches the security office, both of them mistaking the other for an intruder. It seems all the station's systems except life support and basic functions are off-line, which Garak suggests might be the result of a virus, anomaly, or a Dominion attack. However, Bashir is interrupted by faint, indistinguishable voices. Garak hears no voices but observes how grey (now more so than previously) Bashir's hair is becoming. The two of them split up, Garak searching the docking ring while Bashir searches the habitat ring and central core.
Wandering through a corridor, Bashir hears something behind him. One by one the lights in the corridor begin to shut down, a trail of darkness chasing him as he moves. He soon runs into a force field and narrowly escapes into a turbolift, barely getting away from Altovar, the Lethean from before. There is only a momentary peace as the turbolift descends before the Lethean can be heard pounding on the roof, attempting to break through. Bashir leaves and makes it to the wardroom, where he finds Chief O'Brien, Commander Dax, Major Kira, and Constable Odo.
Bashir is glad to see familiar faces, but each person seems somehow out of character. O'Brien is pessimistic and afraid, while Dax seems all too eager to face the Lethean with a phaser, Odo does not trust anyone, and Kira is frustrated with the entire group. However, Bashir is unable to scan the room for anomalies since the computer is down, so they head for a cargo bay where O'Brien believes he can access the proper components to get the station up and running.
In the cargo bay the officers continue to bicker while O'Brien attempts to make his repairs. Bashir is still convinced something has affected the others, although from the voices he is hearing and the fact that he appears 60 rather than 30, Kira believes he is the one with a problem. Strangely, O'Brien picks up an audio-only signal from an unknown source, in which Dax appears to be discussing Bashir's condition; he is in a coma and will die within hours. A tricorder scan reveals only delta waves from Bashir and no life signs from the others. He deduces that they are different parts of his brain and thus he is talking to himself. O'Brien is his sense of doubt. Kira is his sense of aggression. Odo is is his sense of suspicion. Dax is his sense of confidence and adventure. However, as he figures this out Altovar emerges through the side of a nearby container and disappears with Dax.
Moving toward Dax, Bashir suddenly finds himself playing tennis with Garak on the Promenade. It seems the station is Bashir's mind and Altovar is the force which is killing him. Garak, a natural choice for Bashir's sense of intrigue, seems pessimistic but agrees to continue searching while Bashir heads for Ops.
The situation worsens as Bashir progresses. Wounded people line a corridor and he finds Sisko there with a nurse, trying to heal them just as Bashir might. Naturally, Sisko is his sense of professionalism. The commander agrees to help Bashir (who has aged yet again) get to Ops, but moments later Altovar pulls Sisko into a nearby wall, disappearing once again. Shortly thereafter, Bashir finds a dead Kira and melting Odo, both of whom have fallen victim to the Lethean. As Odo dies, he advises Bashir to use the conduits to get to Ops quicker.
Although unsure whether he is going the wrong way, Bashir is determined to find Ops. His hopes rise when he finds O'Brien, but this version of the chief, Bashir's sense of fear and doubt, does not want to face the Lethean. He advises Bashir of which way to go, and reluctantly agrees to go along despite Bashir's rapidly accelerated aging.
At the juncture where Bashir should emerge in Ops, he finds himself on the Promenade again, this time outside Quark's, where something important seems to be going on. People are gathered around a table on which Bashir finds his unconscious body; Quark explains that he is taking bets on everything from how long Bashir will live to which organ will fail first. Their conversation is interrupted by dismayed cries from the crowd as O'Brien's lifeless body appears in place of Bashir's. The Lethean appears once Quark calls off the bets, killing the Ferengi and informing Bashir that he is next. The now-decrepit doctor runs as best he can to the Promenade.
Bashir falls and breaks his hip due to his advanced age, but Garak does not see how Bashir will fix the station if he is hardly able to walk. Nonetheless he agrees to help Bashir get to Ops, observing how stubborn his friend is.
The pair eventually make it to Ops, where there is a surreal feeling. A banner hangs in the otherwise deserted room, proclaiming, "HAPPY BIRTHDAY, JULIAN," and a beautiful Bajoran woman in a skin-tight outfit approaches, singing "Happy Birthday to You". Joining in, Garak congratulates Bashir on having a fascinating mind once the song is over. The doctor is still determined to fix the station despite Garak's continued pessimism, but when he opens a panel, he finds not computer circuitry but tennis balls, which fall on him. As Garak reiterates the hopelessness of the situation, Bashir confronts him, claiming he does not belong and demanding to know who he really is.
Garak transforms into Altovar. Before Bashir can make it to a turbolift, Altovar confronts him about his past failures – the way he quit tennis to become a doctor because his parents would not approve, the way he intentionally missed a question on a preganglionic fiber for a postganglionic nerve so he would be second rather than first in his class because of the pressure, the way he has never acted on his feelings for Dax – which seems to wound Bashir as he knows Altovar is right. However, he activates the turbolift and leaves.
Making his way to the infirmary, Bashir appears to know what he is doing. Altovar joins him, confused. Although Ops is the center of the real world, Bashir explains that the infirmary is the center of his. Since Altovar has not killed him, he continues to persist as it appears he must give in for the Lethean to win. Finally, he opens a panel and fixes the computer. Suddenly, the lights come online and the computer begins working, and Bashir activates a quarantine field around Altovar. He then tells the computer to begin sterilization, which causes Altovar to disappear.
Bashir now wakes up in a hospital gown in the infirmary, having cured himself. Sisko, Dax, Jabara, and the others are amazed to see him alive.
The next day, Bashir and Garak resume their lunches together as usual and the topic of discussion is Bashir's experience with Altovar (who, in the real world, tripped a security alarm and was quickly apprehended by Odo). As Bashir muses that he was lucky to survive his ordeal, Garak tells his friend that Cardassians do not believe in luck, and it was Bashir's strength that saw him through the nightmare. Bashir then says that after being a 100-year-old in his mind, he decides that being 30 is not so bad after all. Garak responds by toasting to his birthday. Garak then brings up on how Bashir's mind subconsciously portrayed him, surprised that after all this time his Human friend still does not seem to trust him. As Bashir fumbles for an explanation, Garak grins and says, "There's hope for you yet."
"I wasn't aware that Humans saw growing old as a negative experience. On Cardassia, advanced age is seen as a sign of power and dignity."
"Well I am aware that aging is part of a natural process of life, but I don't want to be reminded of it, that's all. Now look, Garak, in two days I turn thirty. If I choose to be grumpy about it, that's my prerogative!"
- - Garak and Bashir
"Don't take it personally – he's turning thirty."
- - Garak, to Quark
"I haven't picked any of you – I'm in a coma!"
- - Bashir
"You can't escape, doctor! You can run if you want to but you can't outrun death!"
- - Altovar, to Bashir
"My... tennis balls?"
"This station is in worse condition than we thought."
- - Bashir and Garak
"You can't do this!"
"I can do anything I want. It is my mind. Computer, begin sterilization."
- - Altovar and Bashir
"To think, after all this time, all our lunches together... you still don't trust me. There's hope for you yet, doctor."
- - Garak
Story and script
- The working title of this episode was "Too Many Rooms". Joe Menosky's original idea didn't feature regular cast members in Bashir's fantasy, instead, different actors played different aspects of Bashir's life, such as 'Youth', 'Age', 'Joy' etc. Ronald D. Moore came upon the idea to set the fantasy on the station and use the regular cast. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion)
- Although it later became an element in Bashir's attempts to conceal his genetic enhancements, the writers hadn't developed that concept yet, so the reason it was pointed out in this episode that a pre-ganglionic fiber and a post-ganglionic nerve are nothing alike was pressure from Celeste Wolfe, Robert Hewitt Wolfe's wife. According to Wolfe, ever since Bashir first told that story his wife had been bugging him to do something about it. In reality a pre-ganglionic fiber and a post-ganglionic nerve really are completely different, and as Celeste (a pre-vet) pointed out, no one would ever mix them up. As such, Wolfe explains, having Altovar point this out "was my way of saying, 'Well okay' to Celeste." (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion)
- The inclusion of the tennis balls falling and the inclusion of the beautiful dabo girl were designed to add humor to the final scenes in Bashir's mind. Ira Steven Behr commented: "At the end of the story break we started thinking about Marilyn Monroe singing 'Happy Birthday' to JFK. We said, 'What's in the mind of Julian Bashir?'. Well, the mind's a chaotic thing, and we've always played as a bit of a rake, so we felt we needed a pretty woman. At such a serious moment, a life-and-death moment, it was nice juxtaposition". (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion)
- In the scene where Bashir encounters the representation of Sisko, Sisko triages another injured individual by prescribing drugs known as hydrocortiline and tripdecederine. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion - A Series Guide and Script Library)
- Much as director Corey Allen did in a scene in the episode "The Circle", director Alexander Singer shot the scene in the wardroom in one continuous uninterrupted take. When the episode was edited together, the scene was intercut with various close-ups and reverse angles, but the master shot of the scene was filmed as one long take. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion)
- Michael Westmore commented on Bashir's old age makeup that "We did a plaster cast of of Sid's face and from that sculpted old age pieces for him, keeping in mind that, hopefully, this is what he will look like when he gets to be an elderly gentleman. It was probably a four-hour process because we also had to age the backs of Sid's hands and make an aged neck for him in case they did any filming behind his back. You have to think of everything". ("Keeping Up Appearances", TV Zone special #34)
- Dennis McCarthy based the musical score for the episode on the music of Krzysztof Penderecki and György Ligeti. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion)
- The optical effect of Odo melting was created by VisionArt Design & Animation. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion)
- "Distant Voices" won the Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Makeup for a Series. Michael Westmore commented: "I think that the old age makeup was the selling card to winning, Although Altovar, the Lethean, was really interesting because his makeup was different from anything we had ever done before". A few other episodes featured a similar makeup process by which a character ages, such as TNG: "All Good Things...", DS9: "The Visitor" and VOY: "Before and After", but "Distant Voices" was the only of these be nominated for the Emmy. (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Companion)
- Ira Steven Behr commented "I thought it worked very well. It hit on a lot of levels that we wanted the show to hit on. It was a station show, but it was an interesting station show. It used all of our characters in interesting ways and was a wonderful episode for Bashir and Siddig. It has Bashir dealing with a difficult situation and dealing with it in a heroic, interesting manner. I thought he did some wonderful acting as he aged. The villain was interesting; Garak was a lot of fun. We had some alien chick dabo girl singing in a saloon... Overall, a fun show". (Captains' Logs Supplemental - The Unauthorized Guide to the New Trek Voyages)
- Alexander Siddig commented that "Distant Voices" was "a massive challenge for me as an actor". ("Our Man Bashir", Star Trek Monthly, issue 18)
Continuity and trivia
- This episode serves to link up the first season episode "Q-Less" and the fifth season episode "Doctor Bashir, I Presume". In "Q-Less", Bashir relates for the first time the story about mixing up a pre-ganglionic fiber and a post-ganglionic nerve in his final exams, a mistake which cost him his position as valedictorian in his medical class. In this episode however, Altovar points out that a pre-ganglionic fiber and a post-ganglionic nerve are nothing alike, and he speculates that perhaps Bashir mixed them up on purpose precisely so he wouldn't finish top of his class. This is confirmed in the episode "Doctor Bashir, I Presume", where we discover that Bashir is genetically enhanced, but has been at pains to conceal this fact his entire life. His deliberate mistake in the exam was an example of this concealment.
- This is the first of two consecutive episodes to feature no scenes with the real Kira or O'Brien but only alternate versions (Bashir's mind and then the mirror universe).
- Despite the fact that Bashir was an avid tennis player in his youth, this is the only episode of DS9 in which we see Bashir actually playing tennis. Inferring from Garak's "your service" line that Garak was serving, Bashir won the abbreviated match love-fifteen.
- Cirroc Lofton (Jake Sisko) does not appear in this episode.
- A script from this episode was sold off on the It's A Wrap! sale and auction on eBay. 
- This episode won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement in Makeup for a Series. It beat VOY: "Faces" which was nominated in the same category.
Video and DVD releases
- UK VHS release (two-episode tapes, CIC Video): Volume 3.9, 10 July 1995
- As part of the DS9 Season 3 DVD collection
Links and references
- Rene Auberjonois as Constable Odo
- Siddig El Fadil as Doctor Julian Bashir
- Terry Farrell as Lieutenant Jadzia Dax
- Cirroc Lofton as Jake Sisko
- Colm Meaney as Chief Miles O'Brien
- Armin Shimerman as Quark
- Nana Visitor as Major Kira Nerys
Bajor; Bajorans; Bashir, Amsha; Bashir, Richard; betting pool; bio-mimetic gel; Cardassia; Cardassians; coagulation activator; coma; constable; cordrazine; cranial trauma; dabo; dabo girl; delta wave; Dominion; engineering extension class; enigma tale; Federation; Federation law; gift; "Happy Birthday to You"; holosuite; inpedrezine; internal sensors; Lethean; meter; mystery novel; osteogenic stimulator; palm beacon; paranoia; Promenade; Quark's; replicator; Replimat; sabotage; Shoggoth; Starfleet Medical Academy; starship operations; Tarkalean tea; tennis; tennis ball; tricorder; Yigrish cream pie
- "Distant Voices" at Memory Beta, the wiki for licensed Star Trek works
- "Distant Voices" at Wikipedia
- Distant Voices at StarTrek.com, the official Star Trek website
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