Past Tense (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)

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"Past Tense"
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episodes
Episode nos.Season 3
Episodes 11 & 12
Directed by
Story by
Teleplay by
Featured music
Production code(s)457 & 458
Original air date(s)
  • January 2, 1995 (1995-01-02)
  • January 9, 1995 (1995-01-09)
Guest appearance(s)
Episode chronology
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"Life Support"
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (season 3)
List of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episodes

"Past Tense" is a two-part episode from the third season of science fiction television series Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the 57th and 58th episodes overall and the last episode to air before the premiere of Star Trek: Voyager. It is also the first episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine to not feature any scenes on the DS9 space station (save for the opening credits).

Some of the crew of Deep Space Nine take a trip in the Defiant to Earth, however, in the grand style of the franchise they encounter an anomaly that challenges their past, and their future. The episode garnered acclaim for analyzing U.S. social issues in a science fiction context, but also for addressing various societal issues such as homelessness, poverty, and technology.


This installment of the Star Trek science fiction television show Star Trek: Deep Space Nine aired in two approximately 45 minute episodes on syndicated television in the United States.[1][2] The first episode aired on January 2, 1995 and the conclusion (Part II) aired on January 9, 1995.[1]

The two-part episode features Sisko, Bashir, and Jadzia traveling back to the early 21st century of Earth aboard the USS Defiant, meanwhile O'Brien and Kira contend with an altered timeline.[2]


Part I[edit]

When Commander Sisko, Dr. Bashir, and Jadzia Dax attempt to beam down to Earth from the Defiant, an accident occurs and they materialize in San Francisco in the year 2024.

Dax is separated from her crewmates but is helped by a prominent businessman, Chris Brynner.

Meanwhile, Sisko and Bashir are awakened by a pair of police officers, who believe them to be vagrants and warn them to get off the streets. They are escorted to a "Sanctuary District", a fenced-off ghetto that is used to contain the poor, the sick, the mentally disabled, and anyone else who cannot support themselves. Sisko sees the date on the calendar and realizes they have arrived just days before the "Bell Riots", a violent confrontation in the San Francisco Sanctuary District, that Sisko recalls as a watershed moment in human history. Dozens will be killed, including a man named Gabriel Bell, the leader of the demonstration. Bell will become a hero because of his self-sacrifice while protecting hostages. As a result of Bell's heroism, attitudes toward the disadvantaged begin to change. Unable to find a building to sleep in, Sisko and Bashir live in the street.

Attending an affluent party with Brynner, Dax realizes that Sisko and Bashir have been taken into the Sanctuary District, and sets about finding them.

Disaster strikes when a fight breaks out because Sisko and Bashir resist attempts to steal the food cards they have been given. A man who comes to their aid is killed, and Sisko and Bashir discover after the fact that he was Gabriel Bell. Sisko quickly realizes that due to their presence, the course of history stands to be radically changed, since Bell is no longer around to play the prominent role of hostage protection in the historical narrative. Sisko, who bears some resemblance to Bell, assumes his identity to ensure that history is not altered.

Back in the 24th century, the crew left on the Defiant, Major Kira, Odo, and Chief O'Brien, lose contact with Earth as all traces of the Federation suddenly vanish; Bell's death has radically altered the timeline. O'Brien calculates several possible time periods in which Dax, Sisko, and Bashir might have arrived, and Kira and O'Brien begin transporting to one period at a time in order to search for them.

Part II[edit]

Sisko (posing as Gabriel Bell) and Bashir return to the employment center (note clock on the wall gives the date as 09-04-2024) just as it is stormed by a group of disgruntled Sanctuary Residents and its staff and police officers taken hostage. Sisko takes on leadership of the revolt, trying to ensure that no one gets hurt, and understanding that at the resolution of the revolt Gabriel Bell must die. He makes demands to the governor, insisting they be given airtime to express their grievances. He wants the Sanctuary Districts closed and he wants the people to be given opportunities to earn an honest living.

The riots are in full swing outside. Dax watches from Brynner's office, knowing Sisko and Bashir are caught in the Sanctuary District and are in danger, and heads down to find them. She sneaks through the lines via a sewer pipe and is caught and delivered to the employment center to explain herself. There Sisko and Bashir catch up with her in secret. She sneaks back out, certain that Brynner will be able to order a terminal activated at the employment center so that the leaders of the revolt can tell their stories and have them broadcast worldwide, which was the main force that turned the tide of opinion, leading to the end of the Sanctuary Districts.

With only enough energy for one more transport, Kira and O'Brien finally transport themselves to the correct time in history and contact Dax. They stand by to rescue Sisko and Bashir if they can. It is a close call as the SWAT teams move in on the employment center to end the riot once and for all. They open fire, killing the leaders of the revolt; Sisko takes a bullet in the shoulder to protect the hostages and survives. Once the riots are over, the two police officers who first confronted Sisko and Bashir agree to slip Sisko's identification (with Bell's name) onto one of the dead men, and also to tell the truth about what has happened here. The DS9 officers are beamed back to the Defiant in the 24th century and find everything back to normal, history having unfolded just as it should have. The only difference in time (as revealed at the end of the episode) is that Bell's entry in the historical records now shows Sisko's picture in place of his own.


The Attica Prison riot served as a source of inspiration for the Bell Riots from this episode.[3]

According to the DVD commentary, as this episode was finishing production an article appeared in the Los Angeles Times describing a proposal by the then mayor, Richard Riordan, to create fenced-in "havens" for the city's homeless, to make downtown Los Angeles more desirable for business.[4] The cast and crew were shocked that this was essentially the same scenario that Past Tense warned might happen in three decades, but was now being seriously proposed in the present.[5]


In 2015, recommended this episode as "essential watching" for their abbreviated Star Trek: Deep Space Nine binge-watching guide.[6]

SyFy ranked "Past Tense" as the seventh best time travel plot in Star Trek, in 2016.[7]

In 2016, The Hollywood Reporter rated "Past Tense" (Parts I & II) the 47th best television episode of all Star Trek franchise television prior to Star Trek: Discovery, including live-action and The Animated Series but not counting the movies.[8] Between 1966 and 2005, there were about 726 episodes of Star Trek television.[9]

In 2016, The Hollywood Reporter ranked this episode the 11th best of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.[10]

In 2016, Empire ranked this the 39th best out of the top 50 episodes of the 700 plus Star Trek television episodes.[11]

The Atlantic reviewed "Past Tense" of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine in 2017, suggesting it was the most political episode of all Star Trek.[2] They note that in the two-part episode Benjamin Sisko travels back in time to early 21st century Earth aboard the USS Defiant spacecraft.[2] They show this is used as a plot device to explore America's issues with racism, violence, and "apathy toward human suffering".[2]

In 2017, Business Insider listed "Past Tense, Part I" and "Past Tense, Part II" as some of the most underrated episodes of the Star Trek franchise at that time.[12]

In 2018, Vulture rated the pair of "Past Tense" episodes as the 15th best episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.[13] In 2018, CBR ranked the "Past Tense" pair as the 20th best episodic saga of Star Trek overall.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Handlen, Zack. "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: "Past Tense, Part I"/ "Past Tense, Part II"". TV Club. Retrieved March 28, 2019.
  2. ^ a b c d e II, Robert Greene (October 8, 2017). "Revisiting the Most Political 'Star Trek' Episode". The Atlantic. Retrieved March 28, 2019.
  3. ^ Time Travel Files: "Past Tense". DVD extra included with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – The Complete Third Season. CBS Home Entertainment (DVD). Hollywood: CBS Corporation. ASIN B00008KA5A.
  4. ^ II, Robert Greene (October 8, 2017). "Revisiting the Most Political 'Star Trek' Episode". The Atlantic.
  5. ^ Daunt, Tina; Nguyen, Tina (October 14, 1994). "Homeless Camp Weighed in L.A. Industrial Area". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles: Los Angeles Times Communications LLC (Nant Capital). Retrieved September 12, 2012.
  6. ^ "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine condensed: How to watch the most story-driven Trek". January 19, 2015. Retrieved July 13, 2019.
  7. ^ Granshaw, Lisa (November 15, 2016). "Ranking the 15 best Star Trek time travel episodes". SYFY WIRE. Retrieved June 3, 2019.
  8. ^ ""Endgame" - 'Star Trek': 100 Greatest Episodes". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved March 24, 2019.
  9. ^ "How to Binge Watch 726 Star Trek Episodes (and 12 Movies)". Tom's Guide. May 17, 2016. Retrieved March 28, 2019.
  10. ^ ""Little Green Men" - 'Star Trek: Deep Space Nine' — The 20 Greatest Episodes". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved January 26, 2020.
  11. ^ "The 50 best Star Trek episodes ever". Empire. July 27, 2016. Retrieved June 29, 2019.
  12. ^ Holodny, Elena. "The 31 most underrated 'Star Trek' episodes". Business Insider. Retrieved June 11, 2019.
  13. ^ "The Best Episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Ranked by Angelica Jade Bastién". Vulture. Retrieved March 9, 2019.
  14. ^ "Star Trek's Greatest Episodic Sagas, Ranked". CBR. November 23, 2018.

External links[edit]