Let’s go back to DS9 for a moment, shall we?
Sudanese-born, England-raised Siddig el Fadil portrayed the boyishly handsome, genetically enhanced, yet socially naive, British-accented Doctor Julian Bashir. By about the fourth season, the actor felt forced to change to a stage name, “Alexander Siddig”, because people were having trouble pronouncing the five syllables in “Siddig el Fadil.”
Keep in mind, the man’s full name is Siddig el Tahir el Fadil el Siddig Abderrahman Mohammed Ahmed Abdel Karim el Mahdi…and people were bitching about “Siddig el Fadil”?
1) Julian Bashir is an example of what I call “using an actor as the message, not the writing.” In other words, the writers didn’t cast Fadil and then put words in his mouth to send a message. His casual, series-regular presence is the message. You can cast an Asian man to simply play a character. His being Asian doesn’t have to be the point of the character (unlike with Sulu in the 1960s).
2) Siddig el Fadil was gorgeous; as a young girl, I primarily watched DS9 just to see him (the show so deep it went over my head at the time). So not only was the Asian actor just playing a regular guy (hear tell, ’tis an Asian actor’s fondest wish in the West), but he was hot, and obviously meant to be a delectable piece of eye candy. And the British accent totally helped.
3) Dr. Julian Bashir was just that, a doctor, and a damn brilliant one at that. But we also got to know his hobbies – springball, tennis, darts, battle reenactments in the holodeck, spy stories and debating the merits of literature.
4) DS9 introduced the organization Section 31, the baddest, shrewdest, rogue organization in the Alpha Quadrant, reportedly designed to protect the interests of the Federation by any means necessary. They put the Cardassian Obsidian Order and the Romulan Tal Shiar both to shame…and they recruited Julian Bashir for covert missions. This is important because while his coworkers viewed him as a youthful, naive, sometimes annoying young man, Section 31 recognized what the audience eventually recognized: Bashir had a keenly analytical, shrewdly suspicious mind with an impeccable attention to detail. In short, he was the perfect operative.
5) Bashir was most definitely sexual; we saw him numerous times with very beautiful women, ranging from fellow Starfleet officers to sexy Dabo girls. The show even ended with his being in a long-term, committed relationship (Sulu and Ensign Kim never got that). Made sense; a man that fine and in his prime wasn’t going to stay single for long.
6) One of the celebrated themes of DS9 was bromance, and we saw Bashir involved in at least two bromantic relationships, which Fadil and his castmates played to hilarious perfection.
1) Despite all its brilliance, DS9 often screwed up and primary example of that was revealing that Bashir was a genetically enhanced human being, and that he owed his phenomenal intelligence and exceptional hand-eye coordination to genetic tampering. It was also revealed that he was basically mentally impaired as a child, and when his parents simply refused to accept him as he was, they broke the law and basically had him rebuilt. They then re-enrolled him in a new school with falsified records.
Actor Fadil was surprised with this information years into the show; it literally just popped up in the script one day, not having been an original part of his characterization. It was a pointless subplot which, in a way, took something from Bashir. It made him extra annoying in a non-cute way, and portrayed his family in an unnecessary bad light (they claimed they did it for his own good, not theirs). At the subconscious level, it also seemed to tap into the notion that Asian students are basically drones whose academic dedication is unnatural.
At the same time, it was sort of amusing at to think Bashir had politely “dumbed” himself down for years, and passed amongst people as “normal.”
2) Bashir was often described as “annoying” by the other characters, and the older I get, the more I see why. But I feel there is writing in conflict on the matter; while he’s supposed to be young and naive and eager to please, there’s also this very grave, mature, classiness which Fadil exudes that I feel defines the real Julian Bashir. One who witnesses much pain and suffering, whose entire career is based on alleviated suffering, and whose compassion is utterly and consistently outstanding, cannot also be naive. That’s contradictory and self-defeating. If you’re witnessing births, deaths, and maintaining confidentiality for so many different people, you can’t be too clueless about the universe.
3) Bashir was irritatingly arrogant about his abilities sometimes, which I also feel is contradictory writing, because at times it seemed he was willing to put lives at risk or prolong suffering…simply to prove he could be the one to save them. No…no, no. The writers really needed to pick one. And if they need flaws to balance out his virtues, arrogance was a really poor choice.
DS9 was, IMHO, the best of the all Trek series, so I don’t have too many complaints about this character. One of the things Fadil said he really liked about his role was that people were so fascinated with his character – personality, how he was written, etc. – that they didn’t focus obsessively on his ethnicity. When people told him or when he read rave reviews about the show, no one ever said how much “they liked that Indian doctor” – they just said they liked the doctor and were in awe of how he was written and portrayed. This is, I think, a testament to the often excellent writing on that show, and the convincing work on Fadil’s part.