TELEVISION / Inner space

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The Independent Culture
YOU needed a dish to decode Deep Space Nine (Sky One, Sunday), but it was instantly recognisable once it beamed down. This is the new Star Trek spin-off, which appears to have spun only as far as the make-up room. So, where in the old days it was just Spock who troubled the prosthetics department for facial embellishments, in Deep Space Nine, practically nobody gets to walk on set without some sort of rubber cauliflower glued to their head.

Otherwise, it's life, Jim, and exactly as we know it. Early on in episode one, the Starship Enterprise, still under the captaincy of the shaven-headed Jean-Luc Picard (he baldly goes where no man has gone before), shoved off somewhere else, leaving us aboard the space station Deep Space Nine. Close your eyes, though, and you were back on familiar ground - or rather, in familiar space. Language was set to Warp Factor 9, euphemism readings were high, the verbal-spewer was on full thrust. 'Couldn't you modify the sub-spacefield output of the deflector generators?' asked Dax. 'Did you reduce impulse? We're losing velocity.' Clearly you can still rely on the Star Trek people to call a spade a matter-deportation module.

It was Stardate 46379.1 but, again in the traditional Star Trek fashion, the narrative themes had a contemporary ring. The big issue was male single parenting. The bereaved Commander Sisco was attempting to raise a son on the station, positioned in the politically volatile Bajar sector and, as he quite reasonably pointed out, shortly after a storm of enemy lasers had set a large portion of his craft on fire, 'this is not the best environment'. What Sisco got to soothe his troubles was some Nineties-friendly whole-person therapy. 'I cannot give you what you will not give yourself,' the prophetess Kai told him when he consulted her in her candle-lit cave. 'Look for solutions within.'

Sadly, for the purposes of more literal journies, the space station is more cumbersome than the Enterprise. It was going to take days to reach the desired co-ordinates. Dax approached a panicked engineer. 'It has to be there tomorrow,' she said, in a fabulous parody of those commercials for overnight delivery companies. That was pure Star Trek - out of this world, but topical. Still no word, though, on the identity of the mysterious Captain Slog.

The South Bank Show (ITV, Sunday) re-materialised too, following Paul Simon on a controversial tour of South Africa in 1992, six years after the chart-topping, boycott-busting Graceland album. Musicians attested to Simon's palpable songwriting genius, painted him (rather implausibly) as a political innocent and generally tipped the whole business decisively in the singer's favour. You didn't need to be an Azapo activist to wish the programme had invited a dissenter on board to state the case for the cultural boycott.

Meanwhile, Match of the Day (Saturday, BBC 1) took the pitch for the new League season without Desmond Lynam, who was in Stuttgart presenting the athletics. Ray Stubbs had the miserable task of failing to be as good. The football authorities currently allow television to dictate pretty well everything about their schedules, so surely it wouldn't be asking too much to insist that, in future before launching a season, they check with Des's diary first.

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