I always enjoy when latter-day Star Trek reaches back to revisit an idea from the older series. I did not, however, expect to see Deep Space Nine looking to The Animated Series for inspiration, and I absolutely did not expect DS9 to specifically go back to that one episode where the Enterprise crew shrank down to microscopic size. And yet here we are.
“One Little Ship” should honestly be too ridiculous to take seriously, but it somehow manages to lean into its absolutely ludicrous premise — a runabout full of DS9 crew gets shrunken down to the size of a small toy — and spin it into a tense and exciting episode. A lot of really smart creative choices keep things lively and faithful to the spirit of DS9.
For starters, the situation fits neatly into the overarching plot line, raising the stakes for the Dominion invasion of the Alpha Quadrant in a clever way. The loss of their fleet in the wormhole has led the Dominion to begin breeding a new, smarter variant of Jem’Hadar in the Alpha Quadrants. For their first test before they supplant the “Gamma” elders, the “Alphas” have been tasked with commandeering the Defiant… which they catch with its defenses down and sensors blind as the DS9 crew conducts an experiment with a spatial anomaly (in the hopes of developing transwarp tech that would give them an edge on the Dominion). The Dominion may be playing catch-up after the fleet’s destruction, but the new Jem’Hadar have an edge on ambition and cleverness.
On the other hand, the Alphas lack experience. The newly obsolete Gamma, who has been demoted to second rank in the unit, constantly warns his replacements that Sisko and the crew are too dangerous and cunning to be allowed to live. The Alphas refuse to listen, so interested in belittling the Gamma and proving their own superiority that they constantly ignore Sisko and undermine the elder’s attempts to counter Sisko’s sabotage.
Sisko, for his part, always seems at his best when dealing with Jem’Hadar. His ship has been captured, and his crew is likely doomed, but he holds his head high and quietly goads his opponents. He’s neither overconfident nor cowed, merely determined to find a winning solution. He quickly recognizes the conflict between the Jem’Hadar races and plays that friction to his advantage.
The real gold here is in the selection of crew members who end up getting reduced to 1mm in height: Dax, O’Brien, and Bashir. They each respond quite differently to the situation: Dax keeps calm and collected, cooly piloting the Rubicon through the corridors of the Defiant; O’Brien, ever put-up, is awfully unhappy about the whole thing; and Bashir seems to think it’s a great lark (at least, until he nearly fries himself on a low-voltage power conduit inside a Defiant control panel). This makes for an entertaining dynamic, as Bashir cracks jokes about their predicament and tosses out alarming science facts (like pointing out that breathing air outside of the runabout’s sealed environment would be deadly since standard oxygen molecules would be far too large for their tiny bodies to metabolize) to put a damper on the day.
The entire thing results in a wild shootout in the engine room as the tiny Defiant launches tiny photon torpedoes into the chests of Jem’Hadar warriors who can’t draw a decent bead on such a minuscule target. Of course, the crew saves the day and everyone ends up the correct height in the end, but it all hangs together a lot better than it honestly has any right to. And it even ends well, with a reversal of the old Star Trek “the humans make a final joke at the expense of their alien comrade” cliché: Odo and Quark troll O’Brien and Bashir for a laugh.
I can’t really believe this episode happened, but I’m even more amazed that it worked.