During the past two decades, fans of Babylon 5 and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine have noted many similarities between the popular science-fiction franchises. Such comparisons were inevitable, given the controversy involving the two series’ genesis. It has been suggested by J. Michael Straczynski that Paramount, after considering his proposal for B5, passed on the project but then rushed to get a Star Trek-based version of its plot to television first. Paramount, meanwhile, denies this was the case.
B5 and DS9: Where species can settle their differences peacefully. (Image: sweetpaul.com)
It really doesn’t matter which series was created first, however, or which production company may have swiped concepts from the other, as each was brilliant in its own right—plus, each borrowed elements of other tales predating both shows. Ultimately, both shows deserve their proper place in sci-fi history.
The following list illustrates how closely the two shows mirrored one another in terms of concept and characterization. Although Walter Koenig, Majel Barrett, and other actors appeared on both series, this list pertains only to story-related similarities, as it’s quite common for actors to work on a number of different TV series.
It could be a dangerous place… but it was our last, best hope for peace.
• Both shows were set on massive space stations with single-digit names (Deep Space 9 vs. Babylon 5) located near transit points of immense power that were not of Terran design (the Bajoran wormhole vs. the Centauri-made jumpgate).
• Both stations were used to foster peace between former enemies following a terrible war (the Bajoran-Cardassian conflict vs. the Earth-Minbari War), and were intended as a stopping-off point for diplomats, merchants, smugglers, and other travelers.
• Both stations were administered by an Earth-based government (the Federation vs. the Earth Alliance), but were located outside Earth’s solar system (Bajor vs. Epsilon III).
• Both stations contained a marketplace for commercial activity that included bars, restaurants, and casinos (the Promenade vs. the Zócalo), as well as holographic sex joints (holosuites vs. a holobrothel).
• Both stations received massive weapons upgrades approximately mid-series, and later formed alliances with several formerly competing species in order to win a galactic conflict (the Dominion War vs. the Shadow War).
• Both stations had a security force composed of fighters from two formerly non-aligned governments (Starfleet and Bajor vs. Earth and Narn).
• Both stations included sections deemed dangerous that were no longer used by their owners (the damaged levels of DS9 vs. Down Below).
This is where the adventure is. This is where heroes are made. Right here, in the wilderness.
• Both shows focused on an enslaved, deeply religious people fighting to assert itself against its oppressors (the Bajorans from the Cardassians vs. the Narns from the Centauri).
• Both oppressive species eventually saw their homeworlds devastated by the resultant war, due to an outside manipulative force (the Dominion vs. the Shadows).
• Both shows featured enigmatic god-like entities revered as deities by less advanced beings (the wormhole aliens vs. the Vorlons).
• Both enigmatic god-like species had “evil” counterparts they’d battled for eons, culminating in an ultimate face-off toward the end of the series (the Pah-wraiths vs. the Shadows).
• Both shows featured a grand story arc with aliens infiltrating Earth’s government to conquer it from within (the Dominion vs. the Shadows).
• Both shows involved a planetary civil war (on Bajor vs. on Earth).
• Both shows featured a shadow department within Earth’s government (Section 31 vs. Bureau 13—the same number in reverse—as well as Night Watch and Psi Corps).
• Both shows, during the first episode of the third season, added small, special-armored spaceships built using alien technology (the Defiant with Romulan tech vs. the White Stars with Minbari tech), and both ships were destroyed and later replaced.
• Both shows had pilot episodes featuring an alien shape-changer (Odo vs. the Minbari assassin).
They were there at the dawn of the Third Age of Mankind.
• Both stations’ commanders (Benjamin Sisko vs. Jeffrey Sinclair and John Sheridan) were traumatized by a recent war with a devastating enemy (the Borg at the Battle of Wolf 359 vs. the Minbari at the Battle of the Line).
• Both stations’ commanders recently lost a wife (Jennifer Sisko vs. Anna Sheridan), leaving them depressed and angry—and both eventually lost that same wife a second time (Jennifer in the Mirror Universe vs. Anna in her Shadow-altered state).
• Both stations’ commanders had independent ship captains for girlfriends (Kasidy Yates vs. Carolyn Sykes and Catherine Sakai).
• Both stations’ commanders remarried during the series (Kasidy vs. Delenn) and both, upon dying, left behind that second wife and a son (Jake Sisko vs. David Sheridan).
• Both stations’ commanders eventually became a spiritual leader, fulfilling a prophecy (Sisko for the Bajorans vs. Sinclair for the Minbari and Vorlons, with Sheridan being worshipped, centuries in the future, as part of a divine trinity).
• Both stations’ commanders vanished, their fate a mystery to the masses (Sisko becoming a Prophet vs. Sinclair becoming Valen and Sheridan joining the First One beyond the Rim).
Meet the deep space nine. (Nudge, nudge.)
• Both stations had a hotheaded female second-in-command who had lost loved ones during a war (Kira Nerys vs. Susan Ivanova), and both found it difficult to trust their new commander (Sisko vs. Sheridan).
• Both shows had an “everyman”-type character with a first name starting with “Mi” (Miles O’Brien vs. Michael Garibaldi), whose assistant betrayed him during the season-one finale (Neela vs. Jack).
• Both shows had a chief of security constantly under scrutiny by Earth (Odo vs. Garibaldi), and plagued by personal issues (Odo facing loneliness, homesickness, and unrequited love for Kyra vs. Garibaldi battling alcoholism, paranoia, and unrequited lust for Talia Winters). Both security chiefs were eventually manipulated by others, compromising their ability to perform their job (Odo by the Founders vs. Garibaldi by Alfred Bester).
• Both shows featured an idealistic doctor hiding a secret (Julian Bashir’s genetic engineering vs. Stephen Franklin’s drug use and telepath underground activities), and both doctors had strained relationships with their fathers.
• Both series featured a side character who, despite being from a selfish, egocentric species, displayed uncharacteristic morals and personality traits (Rom vs. Vir Cotto). Both were initially viewed by their world as a loser, but ended up revered by series’ end as their people’s new leader.
• Both shows had a major female character replaced by another during the final season after the actor playing the first character decided to leave (Jadzia Dax and Ezri Tigan vs. Ivanova and Elizabeth Lockley)—and in both cases, the in-universe explanation stemmed from the death of a jovial character with great wit, intelligence, and fighting skills (Jadzia vs. Marcus Cole).
• Both series had characters whose loyalties and attitudes changed over time, transforming them from villainous to heroic, or vice versa, and sometimes back again (Quark, Garak, and Dukat vs. Londo Mollari, G’Kar, and Lyta Alexander).
• Both series featured characters who carried on illegal activities at the stations, much to the security chief’s frustration (Quark vs. N’Grath, Deuce, and others).
• Both series featured recurring characters who ultimately turned traitor and were later killed (Michael Eddington vs. Lennier and Talia Winters).
• Both shows featured a member of the top brass staging an attempted coup d’état of Earth’s government (Admiral Leyton vs. General Hague—and both were portrayed by actor Robert Foxworth).
A casting coup in any universe
• This one is admittedly a stretch, but both shows had characters with names pronounced “Dukat” and “Lyta”… though with different spellings in each case.
Despite the above list, Deep Space Nine and Babylon 5 were not merely clones of each other. In fact, there were just as many differences as similarities, and the two shows became increasingly divergent as time passed. Nonetheless, the evidence is pretty conclusive: B5 and DS9 were remarkably similar—or maybe they were just similarly remarkable.
Another fact: Robert Foxworth was fully-contracted to do Babylon 5′s season 3 episodes (where the station is attacked by Earth ships). However he bailed on his contract because Paramount offered more money to do their show DS9.
He then became persona non-grata at B5 studios, because they had been forced to scramble to find a last-minute replacement. The creator JMS was quite angry about the breach-of-contract