WARNING: "One Little Ship" is all that stands between you and DS9 spoilers. (Well, not really, but it reads well...)
In brief: Some bad thinking, but entertaining work with a particularly goofy premise.
Star Trek, in its many forms, has often fallen prey to the Hollywood High-Concept syndrome: doing an episode which can be summed up in a single sentence, preferably containing words of few syllables. In the original series, one can easily picture writers saying, "Okay, get this: Planet Rome!" or similar statements. More modern Trek has done it occasionally: "robot wars" was apparently the entirety of the pitch for Voyager's Prototype, and TNG certainly had some, "devolving crew" being an obvious example.
Now it's DS9's turn. While DS9 hasn't been totally immune to this syndrome in the past (consider season 3's Meridian, basically summed up as "Planet Brigadoon"), they've generally stayed away from it. "One Little Ship", however, might as well be named "The Incredible Shrinking Runabout", as that's pretty much the whole premise right there.
However, the team of Weddle & Thompson has once again managed to take an iffy premise (such as The Assignment or Business as Usual last season) and turn it into an entertaining hour. There were definitely moments where the show floundered to a halt, but much of the time you'd pretty much be able to sit back, turn your brain off, and enjoy.
Just to start with, the visuals were terrific. One reason (of many) that most Incredible Shrinking Whatever stories have rarely worked on screen is that it's difficult to make a person surrounded by giant household items seem realistic: it always looks like an overgrown set or a bad bluescreen effect (usually because, well, it *is* an overgrown set or a bad bluescreen effect!). Since the only time we saw the small characters out of the runabout was inside a circuit housing, however, the only thing which had to seem miniature most of the time was the runabout itself. Since a small runabout *can* be made and filmed (or done with CGI, since I'm not sure which way was used here), things can seem more convincing. That led to some nice altered-perspective shots (such as shots from near the floor of the bridge, or of the runabout hiding near the ceiling of the engine room), and shots from places we never otherwise see (such as the runabout's whole trip into the bowels of the Defiant, which was both visually nice and quite suspenseful).
The other primary advantage the show had was that it didn't take the premise too seriously, at least sometimes. Having Kira crack up over the idea of shrinking O'Brien, Bashir, and Dax down to the size of a coffee cup (or "much smaller, actually") was a nice way to begin; it acknowledged that the idea was fairly goofy and said to the viewer "just accept it; we know it's dumb." That sort of tacit admission of a no-brain plot makes it a lot easier to suspend disbelief, and as such the journeys of the runabout were far more entertaining than they might have been otherwise. (Even the fact that they tried to explain a fantasy trope with technobabble was less annoying than usual, since they didn't harp on it.)
The characters' reactions to *being* shrunk were also well taken. Although I'm often annoyed when characters don't end up particularly upset by ill fortune, this time the premise was so ludicrous that a bit of good-natured rage on O'Brien's part was all I really needed to see. His annoyance ("are you telling me I'm gonna be this bloody tall for the rest of my life?") was vintage O'Brien, and I rather enjoyed Bashir's "*this* bloody tall, actually" response. Even the bad puns ("I'm sorry; it was very small of me") were entertaining this time around.
If you're expecting a "but", you're right. The flip side of the story is that in order for the story to work, lots of people had to be uncharacteristically stupid. I'm perfectly willing to suspend disbelief for a premise at times, but character behavior is a much harder argument to make. For instance:
-- The designers of the runabouts desperately need a pay cut. The discussion about letting O'Brien breathe outside the runabout was all well and good, but haven't these people ever heard of *spacesuits*?
-- Similarly, Dax wasn't thinking too clearly herself in that conversation. The idea of beaming in an air bubble to the circuit housing might be okay, but if it means O'Brien and Bashir only get limited time for their mission, what about beaming in, oh, two or three of them?
-- Picture this: you're an embittered and suspicious Jem'Hadar with lots of combat experience and a great distrust of Sisko. So, naturally, if you see him walking around and having low-voiced conversations with all of his senior staff, you're going to ... ignore it? Excuse me? It would not have been insubordinate to require that all Federation communications about repairs be conducted within earshot of a Jem'Hadar -- and if that had happened, the plot would have fallen apart.
-- Don't the Jem'Hadar have tractor beams? Would it have been so difficult to tow the Defiant elsewhere rather than waiting for restored warp capability? (If not, how about a coded message requesting reinforcements?)
-- This isn't idiocy ... but did it strike anyone else that the Jem'Hadar suddenly became *very* poor shots during the final firefight?
There are undoubtedly other stupid character tricks, but those are certainly enough to make a point. Weddle & Thompson decided not to take the premise very seriously, which was a boon -- but some of the ideas needed modification to make even basic sense.
The other main difficulty I had with "One Little Ship" is that it got bogged down in, of all things, Jem'Hadar politics. We've been seeing Jem'Hadar now for over three years; in all that time, I can count the interesting ones on the knuckles of one finger. Setting up two separate races of Jem'Hadar jockeying for Founder favor is not doing this viewer any favors; while those aspects of the show weren't wrong per se, they bogged the episode down all too often.
In the end, though, the show managed to conclude on a high note. The Worf/Dax "poem" scene did absolutely nothing for me (and Dax's laugh sounded horribly forced), but Odo and Quark conspiring to make O'Brien and Bashir think they hadn't returned to normal size was an absolute scream. I wasn't sure what to think when Odo started commenting on their lack of a few centimeters, but Quark's "and they say you don't have a sense of humor" had me absolutely rolling. A nice, pleasantly silly way to end what was mostly a pleasantly silly episode.
-- The Vorta working with these Jem'Hadar mentioned that they were heading for the dilithium mines on Coridan next. Since I believe that same Vorta showed up in the preview for next week's episode, we might actually see this oft-mentioned planet then.
-- Having O'Brien and Dax tell Bashir what Sisko and company were plotting was a mess of exposition, but at least a reasonably clever way of going about it.
-- The Jem'Hadar political situation was a waste this time around, but this might be laying groundwork for something interesting later. We'll have to see.
-- Dax's reaction to the sight of a Jem'Hadar's face was, to say the least, understated. "That's not good."
All in all, then, "One Little Ship" works well if you're in the right frame of mind for it. Don't think about the ideas or the characters too hard, and you'll be fine -- think of it as a summer movie, with all the attendant flaws and bonuses.
Writing: Cute execution of a silly concept; ten out of ten for style, but minus several million for good thinking in spots (to paraphrase Zaphod Beeblebrox). Directing: Nice work on the visuals, and Kroeker got a lot out of the regular cast as well. Acting: The Jem'Hadar were nothing special, but the regulars were their usual strong selves.
OVERALL: Call it a 7 for now.
O'Brien goes undercover.
Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) firstname.lastname@example.org <*> "This conduit's filthy, Chief; don't you ever clean up in here?" "All right, all right, let's not badger the Chief." "Thank you." "I'm sorry. It was very small of me." -- Bashir, Dax, and O'Brien Copyright 1998, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask... This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.