Posts Tagged ‘Battlestar Galactica’

We live in a more connected world than was once the case. These days day-and-date releases for major movies are standard practice, and big TV premieres also happen close together in different parts of the world. It was not always thus, of course: I remember the sense of resignation with which I learned that that Star Trek TNG would not receive a UK transmission until 1990 (three years after its American debut). There was once a time when it was seriously speculated that the delay in the UK release of The Phantom Menace (two months after its US opening) might actually impact on tourism figures, as people went to the States solely or partly in order to see it.

Doesn’t happen these days, of course. Something else that doesn’t really happen any more is the phenomenon where US TV networks, having splashed out big money on a TV pilot or two-part episode, arranged to have their TV show released into theatres in Europe and other foreign territories, in an attempt to recoup their investment. I remember seeing in the very early 80s a movie entitled Spider-Man: The Dragon’s Challenge, which was an extended episode of the TV series starring Nicholas Hammond. Also earning big-screen outings in Europe were various episodes of the Bill Bixby Hulk series, and – most relevantly for our purposes today – Battlestar Galactica.


Strictly speaking there were three Galactica movies, if you lived outside the US at least: one which was a re-edited version of the pilot episode, plus Mission Galactica (cobbled together from elements of the episodes The Living Legend and Fire in Space), and Conquest of the Earth (a similar fix-up derived from the follow-up show Galactica 1980, which I came across being shown at a Butlin’s in about 1983). But let’s stick to the original, directed by Richard Colla.

Things get underway with portentousness dialled up to maximum and an opening voice-over from an uncredited Patrick Macnee, who presumably appeared as a favour to an old friend and for a hefty fee. ‘There are those who believe that life here began out there… some believe that there may yet be brothers of man, who even now fight to survive – somewhere beyond the heavens!’ Well, that’s as maybe, but as a glance at any newspaper will tell you, these days some people will believe anything.

Well, anyway, somewhere beyond the heavens we find the assembled fleet of the Twelve Colonies of Mankind (yes, I know: but they seem not have discovered gender-neutral nomenclature beyond the heavens), who are happily anticipating the conclusion of hostilities between their people and the Cylons, who seem to be oppressive alien robots. We really don’t learn much at all about the Cylons, except they apparently ‘hate freedom’ and want to eradicate civilisation as we know it, which is the kind of lazy propaganda you see on the right-wing news; it would be interesting to hear the Cylons’ point of view, but we never really do.

Alone in his scepticism about the coming armistice is basso profundo (and, it must be said, somewhat nepotistic) patrician Commander Adama (Lorne Greene), whose suspicions turn out to be well-founded: two of his sons, flying a patrol mission in their space fighters, discover a massive Cylon ambush. It turns out that peace broker Count Baltar (John Colicos) has sold them all out.

The Cylon attack devastates the unprepared fleet while the Cylon base ships wreak havoc on the home planets of the human colonies. Only Adama and his crew, aboard the ‘battlestar’ Galactica, manage to escape more or less unscathed. The commander seems to develop a kind of Moses complex and declares they will gather together the survivors and set out across the universe in search of a fabled lost colony where they may yet find haven – a mysterious planet known only as Earth…

There is, of course, a very good reason why Battlestar Galactica received its US premiere in 1978, only a few months after George Lucas’ initial stellar conflict opus began its demolition of box office records. On top of all the space battles, laser blasters, weird aliens and so on being displayed here, calling this story ‘Saga of a Star World’ was probably overdoing it – almost inevitably, accusations of plagiarism and a lawsuit ensued.

Battlestar Galactica is kind of respectable again now, mainly due to the success of Ronald D Moore’s Bush-era retelling of the tale (a programme I find it easier to admire than to genuinely like), but for a long time this was not the case: it had a reputation for being cheesy and po-faced and sometimes unintentionally camp. The creator of Babylon 5 instituted a ‘no cute kids or robots’ rule for his show, and you can’t help thinking that this was at least in part a reference to Galactica, which frequently has both in close proximity. However you view the relationship between the main show and Galactica 1980, this is still another US SF TV series that failed to last more than a couple of seasons. It’s got to be tosh, right?

Well – maybe. Glen A Larson, creator of Galactica, was a smart enough cookie to get as much of the budget up on the screen as possible, and the big draw for this show is that it had – for the late 70s – near-as-dammit movie-quality model work and special effects. The ships look great and the production designs are impressive. Even nowadays, you watch the first few minutes of Battlestar Galactica and go ‘wow, this looks pretty good.’

Then you spend the next few minutes going ‘Hang on, I’ve just seen this bit,’ for they start very obviously re-using special effects footage within the first half-hour and continue to do so throughout. Battlestar Economica might have been a better title for this project; it’s round about this point that most people start paying more attention to the plot and the acting.

There’s an odd sort of twin-track approach going on here – obviously, much of the plot is derived from an odd mish-mash of classical and religious influences. There are characters called Apollo, Athena, and Cassiopeia, and many elements of the story are based on Mormon theology; the tone of the programme occasionally resembles that of a Biblical epic with extra ray-guns. ‘And the word went forth to every outpost of human existence, and they came…’ declaims Greene at one point.

On the other hand, most of the rest of it is late-70s quotidian stuff, with disco dancing, interesting haircuts, and so on. The younger characters are designed to be archetypes, for maximum audience identification – there’s earnest young leader Apollo (Richard Hatch), loveable rogue Starbuck (Dirk Benedict), feisty single mum Serina (Jane Seymour), and so on. Chief human villain Baltar is a bit of a panto turn.

You wouldn’t expect the two styles to go together particularly well, but they somehow do: it is sometimes camp and cheesy, and sometimes (as mentioned) rather po-faced and portentous, but still strangely watchable. This is not the subtlest of programmes – ‘broad’ is perhaps the kindest way to describe the default performance style of everyone involved –  and while it is occasionally somewhat sentimental, it is seldom full-on mawkish.

It’s still the case that you can practically see the joins where this pilot movie will be chopped up to make at least three separate episodes when the show goes into syndication, for the plot is episodic at best – there’s the opener, concerning the apocalyptic Cylon attack on the colonies, then some rather humdrum stuff about food shortages in the fleet and a minefield that must be traversed, and finally the secret of the space casino of the planet Carillon and its insectoid owners. But it holds together, just about.

(For the purposes of this rambling I watched the cinema edit of the pilot, which is slightly different to the TV version – the main difference being that it has the scene where Baltar has his head chopped off by the Cylons. In the US version he survives and goes on to become the regular villain on the show. I like the comeuppance, but I also enjoy Colicos’ performance, so I find myself a bit torn by this.)

I don’t know, I find it very easy to indulge the original version of Battlestar Galactica, mainly because I am amused by the way in which its lofty storytelling ambitions collide with the minutiae of making a weekly mass-audience TV drama (here’s some more Mormon theology, along with a guest spot by Fred Astaire), but also because it does manage to give a better sense of an epic voyage across the galaxy in one season than Voyager managed in seven (yes, I genuinely think that). You couldn’t honestly describe the pilot as great, but much of it is good and most of the rest is not that bad either.

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Dear Jane,

Well here we are again, quite possibly sooner than you might have imagined: but then I felt it really was time to put New BSG to bed, partly because I’ve got a holiday coming up in a few weeks, but also because there’s another TV series starting fairly soon which I want to keep all my attention free for.

As you may recall, I was left very cold by the first half of season four, to the point where I actively disliked most of it and had real difficulty in telling the episodes apart only a few days later. Bearing this in mind, I actually started writing this piece by reviewing one episode at a time, fully expecting to have the same trouble.

I did not. I was, in fact, very pleasantly astonished, for it may be that I found this last set of episodes to be consistently the most interesting and enjoyable of the whole series. I know this is hardly a fair comparison, given they build so heavily on stuff previously established, but even so – if you compare the conclusions of other meta-plot SF series like Babylon 5 or Deep Space Nine, the conclusion of New BSG stands up pretty well.

I suppose you could argue that, when it comes to ending a series, New BSG had a bit of an advantage in having already established that weird and fantastical things could happen in this universe, but that’s not to say that all the episodes leant too heavily on that kind of easy out – possibly my absolute favourites of the run, The Oath and Blood on the Scales, were almost entirely solid character, action, and political drama, with scarcely any cosmo-nonsense to contend with. Even episodes like the one where the ghost of Starbuck’s dad turns out to be Bob Dylan-Cylon and teaches her the route to Earth through musical notation, or something, wasn’t too bad.

Naturally there is stuff going on here I still don’t really have a clue about. Unless the ‘mysterious force’ that the angels work for is actually Bob Dylan, and he had some bad experiences with toy robots while playing a gig in an opera house once. I have some sympathy with people like the guy what wrote Musical Chairs Game of Thrones, who savaged the conclusion of New BSG for indulging so heavily in expired old SF cliches and lazy storytelling shortcuts – God Did It, Adam and Eve, and so on.

Frankly, the characters who I liked – and it was pretty much all of them, by this point, I’d even warmed up a lot to IDS-Cylon and Sporty-Husband-Cylon – I liked enough not to worry too much about the underlying logic of it all. As I think I said many episodes ago, this is a series intended to work as an allegory or metaphor rather than a depiction of a coherent independent world, so I never found a lot of the details very convincing. Even the somewhat bizarre final fate of Starbuck didn’t concern me too much – she was always such an unbelievable character that it made as much sense as anything else for her to evaporate into thin air.

Now, fair’s fair, I didn’t find the final episode quite as emotionally granulating as the finale of Babylon 5 – the closest antecedent New BSG has, in many ways. Watching Sleeping in Light I always get rather choked up, especially during the final Sheridan-Delenn scenes. I wasn’t as nearly as troubled here, even when Laura snuffed it, but that may just be a question of taste and emotional investment (I spent four and half big years watching B5, as opposed to six quite small months watching New BSG). But even so I would admit than in terms of drama and plotting, once you accept all the weirdness with the angels and so on, New BSG scored at least as strongly.

I know you think New BSG is the best TV show ever – or at least you did three and a half years ago – but having watched I still can’t agree with you. It is, obviously, a hugely significant and accomplished TV show – not least for being pretty much the last space-set SF series to have any kind of success – but I can’t help but knock marks off for how openly it wears its allegorical nature on its sleeve, the iffy tendency towards cosmo-nonsense in later seasons, and, well, Starbuck (I know, I know: many people really love her. But not me). If I had to go and live on an asteroid somewhere and could only take two US-made SF series with me, they would still be original Star Trek and Babylon 5, I’m afraid. New BSG would certainly be in contention for third place, though, if that’s any consolation.

I did enjoy the experience of watching a TV series made this century, though, especially one about which I knew relatively little going in. It has made me realise just how embedded in the past I am in terms of a lot of my cultural intake, and it has made me think about what other recent series I may have missed out on. So thank you for that. And as I said, New BSG did have multiple moments of brilliance across its run, so I in no way feel as if I’ve been wasting my time. I appreciate your steering me towards it; if you ever feel in need for a recommendation of something new to watch, it’d be an honour and a privilege to return the favour.



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Dear Jane,

I have to say that I really do appear to have a blindspot where New BSG is concerned. People around me not much given to talking about SF go all fluttery when it is mentioned, ‘Oh, that’s awesome’ went my manager when I mentioned I was watching the series. The United Nations – the frickin’ United Nations – has hosted retrospectives on the series and learned discussions of its themes. And yet I am finding it really hard going. Rather than something I make a point of sitting down to watch every night, it’s just become the show that’s on in the background when I’m having my tea in my garret, which usually only happens two or three times a week. Not to say that I’m not giving it my full attention: you’ve got no chance of keeping up with this thing unless you stay on the ball.

Possibly this is because I am from a background where stories come in discrete chunks, for the most part. I don’t object to the odd bit of metaplot development going on between episodes, but I’m not terribly keen on series suddenly starting to turn into serials, which is what’s been happening with BSG over the course of the last season or so.

Also, and once again this is perhaps a personal thing, the general tone of the last few episodes is really just not to my taste, as it seems mainly to concern people undergoing moments of extreme personal angst and despair while no-one has a bloody clue what’s actually going on around them. Someone gets thrown out of an airlock. Someone else has their leg sawn off. The admiral appears to be having some sort of nervous breakdown.

I must confess to feeling particularly exercised on behalf of the minor characters, who I’ve always found rather more engaging, for the most part, than the programme’s leads, most of whom feel somewhat crushed by their own significance: apart from the two Adamas, both of whom are well-enough played to be sympathetic, the others don’t feel like real people, just mouthpieces for the writers. And yet its those minor characters, whose performers have had the latitude to bring a bit of humanity and depth to them, who are primarily being ravaged to generate that atmosphere of despair and struggle. Someone has to lose a leg? Ah, make it a minor character. A bunch of hidden Cylons required? Where’s that cast list? And, hey, let’s kill off a sympathetic character who’s been consistently presented as a bit of a loser, by having them murdered. Cally doesn’t qualify for an inexplicable resurrection, unfortunately, presumably because she’s not an insanely omni-competent Mary Sue with a Special Destiny.

I suppose I should probably point out my problem is with the Kara Thrace character and not with Katee Sackhoff as an individual. I know nothing of Katee Sackhoff as an individual, but she obviously has some sort of screen presence (not that it was especially noticeable during Riddick, but that’s by-the-by). I am sure that if I only saw Sackhoff in another part I would be able to give a much more objective assessment of her abilities.


Or possibly not.

Anyway, when it comes to not having a bloody clue what’s going on, I fear I should perhaps raise my own hand. Let’s try to sort out where we are at the midpoint of season four: Starbuck, who is apparently fated to destroy the human race, blew up but then got better and returned from the planet Earth with a mystic sense of how to get back there. Meanwhile four of the mysterious final five Cylons have been brought together by their shared feeling for Bob Dylan cover versions. They do not feel inclined to act any more like Cylons than they did before, they just know they are Cylons somehow (a peculiar epistemological point). Various minor characters are wheeled on to have visions and toss supposedly-profound theological points into the mix, while the carnival of despair goes on around them.

I really preferred it when it was just Ben Cartwright in a cape leading a parable about Mormonism, to be totally honest. Ho hum.

I actually sat down to do the usual episode-by-episode thing at this point, but they’re all blurring together in my head and I couldn’t find many genuinely positive things to say about any of them. I can still appreciate the skill and artistry that’s gone into the designs and special effects, and many of the actors are consistently doing very fine work. But as far as the actual story’s concerned, it’s really not my cup of tea. The last chunk of the show is going to have to do something spectacular to get me back on board, and striking as the last shot of Revelations is (it would even have been a good moment to close the entire series with) I get no real sense that this is on the cards.

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Dear Jane,

Yet another of these increasingly infrequent collections of snarky comments about New BSG: I seem to be getting through about a season every six weeks, appreciably slower than was the case with Star Trek and Babylon 5 (to draw the most obvious parallels). This is not to say that I am finding the series to be irksome, or watching it to be a chore, but I do find myself increasingly sympathetic to the season-3-went-off-the-deep-end opinion which  I have read so widely.

The good news, for me, was that the series was no longer so obviously just a load of Bush-regime political allegory. The bad news was that it didn’t seem to know what it wanted to be instead: the odd good episode crept through, but there was an awful lot of soap opera-ish filler and mysto-cobblers.

This time’s runners and riders, with commentary:

The Eye of Jupiter: what did I tell you? Mysto-cobblers (the stuff with the temple and so on) and soap opera (Apollo and Starbuck’s thing). Thank God the series still has Edward James Olmos, who has enough presence to give a sequence like the cliffhanger here actual tension. Intellectually we know that nothing and no-one is going to get nuked, but Olmos still manages to sell it somehow. Good work that man.

Rapture: Certainly a contender for ‘least accurately titled episode in history’, based on my response to it. Soapy nonsense with the underused Dee and Starbuck in the (apparently) only slightly wrecked Raptor, mysto-nonsense with Doc Baltar and Xena-Cylon. Presumably Lucy Lawless didn’t want to sign on for the duration which is why they write all the Xena-Cylons out after this episode. Shame.

Taking A Break From All Your Worries: This is the Doc Baltar-psychodrama episode, isn’t it? To be honest most of this bunch just sort of blur together in my head as the writers seem to be scrabbling to find stuff to fill space until the season finale. The Doc Baltar-psychodrama stuff is passable but I could’ve really done without yet more on the Starbuck-Apollo-Dee-Sam relationship. No-one ever listens to me, not even people in the past.

The Woman King: Hmmm, I was initially put in mind of the Babylon 5 episodes Believers and Confessions and Lamentations (doctor must come to terms with differing belief systems and there’s a plague! episodes respectively) but this didn’t turn out to be either of those. Reasonably engaging as a Helo episode, mainly because he seems like a decent guy who’s had a raw deal from the scriptwriters (a whole season stuck on Cylon-occupied Caprica, and so on. Hopefully I will never have to type the words C****-o******* C****** ever again).

A Day in the Life: I had to think hard to work out which one this is. It’s the one where Chiefy and Cally get stuck in the airlock, isn’t it? It’s not quite as bad as the someone-gets-stuck-in-the-lift episode of Deep Space Nine, but it’s getting there. Snoozy snoozy filler.

Dirty Hands: Finally an episode which genuinely interested me and which I really enjoyed, mainly because there’s no soapy character stuff and no mysto-cobblers either, just an attempt to look at the actual ramifications of these people’s situation and how it would impact on them both personally and as a society. Reminded me of the ‘dock workers go on strike’ episode of Babylon 5, in a good way, the only really bum note being Doc Baltar’s ludicrous Yorkshire accent during his scene with Chiefy.

Maelstrom: Now, regular readers aware of which character on this show I find particularly annoying may be expecting me to have done my happy dance at this point – but, truth be told, I already knew full well that when your writers are losing the plot, death is usually only a temporary inconvenience. I mean, this episode isn’t badly done considering it’s about a character who really winds me up, and at least there’s the funny anecdote about Edward James Olmos ad libbing smashing the ship at the end and not realising it was only rented from the prop suppliers. Oh, those actors!

Try as I might I can't find a picture of Starbuck actually exploding. So this will have to do.

Try as I might I can’t find a picture of Starbuck actually exploding. So this will have to do.

The Son Also Rises: Hey, classy pun. Of course, the prospect of a few Starbuck-free episodes is offset by the inevitability of an episode where everyone goes on and on about how wonderful she apparently was. This one is at least enlivened by the pieces for the end-of-season slowly starting to grind into place and the presence of Mark Sheppard. Now, I like Mark Sheppard, but here I was somewhat thrown by another dodgy accent: does his character hail from the obscure colony of Leprekon? Hum.

Crossroads: You can’t beat a good courtroom drama for some cheap and easy dramatic beats, even if you always knew deep down that Doc Baltar wasn’t going out the airlock. Oh, I don’t know: engaging enough, I suppose, even if the whole proceedings felt like they had a bodged-together quality – an artificial climax rather than a natural one. And then we come to the big revelations at the end. Am I supposed to conclude that Bob Dylan is a Cylon? If Bob Dylan is not the Imperious Leader after all, and what we are dealing with instead is a strange example of convergent songwriting (having seen all those Trek episodes about parallel Earths I’m prepared to go with this), why are the pantheistic colonists writing songs based on the monotheistic Book of Isaiah? There is a huge amount here which is suspect, perhaps even bordering on the preposterous in places, and that’s before we even get to you-know-who reappearing at the end. Plotwise, at this point the series looks like it’s at the point of just coming totally unravelled, and I’m fascinated to see if they can hold it together remotely credibly for another season.


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Dear Jane,

Halfway into the third series of New BSG, so I expect it must be time for me to inflict my opinion of it on you (assuming you actually read these things, which I’m beginning to doubt). My typically-spotty research into the series has revealed that this is around the point where people believe the show jumped the shark, which I was surprised to learn: I’m finding season 3 to be at least as interesting as the back end of season 2.

That said, I did find the abrupt switch from essentially being an extended piece of apologetics for Bush-era foreign policy, to putting the human characters into the roles of (essentially) insurgents in Iraq to be a little jarring, and made me wonder what the showrunners themselves actually believed, politically. Are the insurgent episodes just an attempt at balance, or are all the political overtones visible in the episodes just a pose? I don’t know. Anyway, if nothing else this storyline managed to to turn Iain Duncan Smith Colonel Tigh into an interesting character, which I wouldn’t have thought possible.

Back to the usual format (sort of):

Occupation/Precipice/Exodus: Well, with Adama having grown his Danny Trejo moustache, Tigh having lost an eye, Starbuck having put in hair extensions, Tyrol sprouting a beard and Apollo having invested in a fat suit (all in the name of indicating the Passage Of Time Offscreen), I was quite surprised when some of the characters hadn’t ostentatiously changed their appearance – Roslyn getting a wooden leg, perhaps, or Felix growing a mohawk. Hey ho.

I did wonder how long they were planning on keeping this particular situation going: I mean, they couldn’t keep all the characters separate forever, but on the other hand it’s not as if they could just evacuate everyone out from under the Cylon’s noses… oh hang on, they did. Hmmm.


(Nit-picky moment #1: how exactly does Colonial FTL work? Their ships don’t seem to have force shields so either entering a planet’s atmosphere at supralight velocity, or going to FTL inside the atmosphere, should properly result in the ship instantly vaporising. And yet in these episodes the Galactica does both. On the other hand I recall another occasion where a ship comes out of FTL actually inside a mountain, which suggests this isn’t high speed travel as much as some kind of genuine teleportation from point to point. Obviously the technology in New BSG operates on the ‘it’s advanced as the story demands’ principle, but even so the variations in technology in different areas is a bit jarring.

Nit-picky moment #2: we are told Cylon centurions are programmed to obey any humanoid Cylon automatically, without being able to query them or their identity (this is how Boomer-Cylon is able to infiltrate the Cylon base and retrieve the keys to all the ships). So the centurions aren’t sentient, then? If the humanoids (as it still implied) are a recent development in Cylon society, where was the genuine intelligence before that? Basically, I am still not getting much sense of the Cylons as a coherent culture.)

On the whole I liked these episodes, though I thought the politics was a little bit obvious and the rescue rather implausible. Wasn’t really sure what to make of the whole twisted psychodrama with Starbuck and her Cylon stalker (not to mention her fake daughter) but there was a lot of good stuff going on anyway. Relieved that Adama lost the ‘tache at the end of the arclet.

Collaborators: Rather liked this one, though once again the way it was going to play out was not especially difficult to guess. The fact that the members of the Star Chamber offed poor old Jammer, who wasn’t that bad a guy, seems to have been forgotten about, though.

Torn: I honestly thought they milked the ‘Tigh and Starbuck are grumpy and screwed-up following their treatment by the Cylon occupation’ angle a little bit, but what do I know? The stuff with Baltar-amongst-the-Cylons is, er, curious more than anything else, but at least it is setting up…

A Measure of Salvation: …which is about as Trekky as New BSG has so far got. I got a very strong whiff of the moral arguments from I, Borg off of this one, not that this is necessarily a bad thing. I am increasingly thinking I am actually a Horrible Person, but I still found myself siding with Helo on the whole genocide-is-bad thing even though I’m not even married to a Cylon (let’s not go there). Helo not being lynched for his actions constituted a bit of a cop-out, I thought. Is this the one where Baltar enjoys some virtual sexytime with Blonde-Cylon to take his mind off being tortured by Xena-Cylon? Hmmm…

Hero: Filler. Fairly implausible filler at that, I thought.

Unfinished Business: Weird filler. Any boxing-related episode of a space opera series seems to be weird filler (I direct you to TKO from the first season of Babylon 5). Still, it’s not actually dull, which is something in its favour.

The Passage: Looks like someone else didn’t fancy signing up for a long-term contract. Not quite sure what was eating Kat so much that she felt obliged to do the whole supreme sacrifice bit, but… We’ve had the running-out-of-water episode, and now the running-out-of-food episode. Presumably the running-out-of-toilet-paper episode is next season? More weird stuff with Baltar, who now appears to be enjoying three-way sexytime with Blonde-Cylon and Xena-Cylon. Hey kids, crime doesn’t pay. I have to say, on a more serious note, this is the best looking hour of SF TV I’ve ever seen, the special effects are really gorgeous.

I still don’t know quite where the series is going at this point: having been the Bush regime for two seasons, and then Iraqi insurgents for four episodes, the crew don’t seem to be entirely certain who they want to be right now. Hopefully they will figure it out by the end of the season.


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Dear Jane,

Well, it’s been a bit, but I have finally staggered to the end of New BSG‘s second season. If I had to generalise about these eight episodes it would be to say that they seem to me to show the producers of the series realising that they might in this for the long haul and rearranging the furniture a bit with this in mind. In retrospect I suppose the ‘long trek through space looking for Earth’ format is a little bit limiting so I can sort of see why they’ve done some of things they did…

But anyway, same as last time, episodes and thoughts:

Epiphanies: (Also the title of a Babylon 5 episode, by the way.) Long-term management decision #1: magic cure for the Prez’s terminal cancer! Which also gives her the sudden insight that Doc Baltar was up to something with the Cylons prior to the attack on the colonies! Hmmm. I must confess I found the peace group subplot a bit more engaging than the c’mon-we-know-she’s-not-going-to-die A-storyline. A bit blah.

Black Market: Hmmm, the Apollo-goes-a-bit-off-the-rails character episode. Not bad, a little contrived in places, plus you can see the end coming a mile off. At least it addresses the question of what everybody is actually eating and so on. Why haven’t they ploughed up all those lovely lawns on the ship with a park inside it and planted a load of potatoes or whatever? Heh ho.

Scar: Hmmm, the Starbuck-goes-a-bit-off-the-rails character episode. A well-directed episode with a strong premise and a clear theme. However, what I found most striking about it was that it was basically a story about a clash of male warrior egos taking place in drag. Starbuck and Kat could have been replaced with male actors and – the brief attempt at sexytime between Starbuck and Apollo excepted – the episode would have played out in exactly the same way.


I expect many people will acclaim this as a great step forward for equality and gender-blind storytelling, but are we really saying that gender equality boils down to women behaving exactly like a certain type of testosterone-fuelled man? One of the reasons I tend to prefer the company of women in many situations is precisely because they behave differently to men.

I think this goes back to something I have previously mentioned – if New BSG is casting women in these particular parts as an attempt at some kind of utopianism, it’s an odd move given the rest of the series is anything but utopian. It’s a bleak and cynical sort of series most of the time. Perhaps it’s just about getting cast members into Maxim, I don’t know.

Sacrifice: Long-term management decision #2: kill off any cast members not prepared to sign up for a five-year contract. This, at least as I understand it, was the motivation for offing Billy as happens in this episode. Can’t say it had much impact, I’m afraid, as he seemed to wander out of the centre of the story. Not a bad attempt at the standard low-budget hostage-crisis story shape, though; I kind of guessed the twist ending and found Starbuck putting a bullet in Apollo more funny than anything else. Sorry.

The Captain’s Hand: Presumably setting something up for season 3, but I don’t know what. Quite liked this one, mainly because loads of stuff blew up, though you could kind of see which way it was going. Putting Apollo in charge of the Pegasus at the end was a bit of a shock. Good job they promoted Danny Trejo, two Commander Adamas in the same fleet would just confuse everyone.

Downloaded: The format-busting episode – well, as close as the series gets. I still don’t really have much of a sense of how the Cylons operate as a culture, rather than a collection of plot devices. What’s the relationship like between the robotic Cylons and raiders and the biological types? Is there some sort of caste thing going on? Are they all of equal intelligence? Why are there only twelve different types of humanoid? (No doubt this stuff gets addressed later on.) As a result this was only really a so-so sort of episode, though it is interesting that the blonde one appearing in Doc Gaius’s head is apparently not the same one he was disporting himself with in the mini-series.

Lay Down Your Burdens: Hmmm. The shape of this thing is a bit odd, and I think it might have played better with all the One Year Later stuff held back for the start of the next season. But that’s just me. Liked Dean Stockwell. Enjoyed the rigging-the-election subplot more than the rescue-mission-to-Cylon-occupied-Caprica part (too much to hope that we never see Cylon-occupied Caprica again, I suppose). Somehow… I don’t know, the whole thing never quite gelled together, and the big time jump felt like the act of a writing team needing to give themselves a big shock to kickstart their creativity. Still curious to see how season three goes, though.


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Dear Jane,

Sorry, I know it’s been a while since I checked in with you about BSG. This is not because I haven’t been watching the series, but because I don’t feel I really have much to add to what I’ve already said about it. You know, the fact it’s basically an Iraq-era allegory first and a piece of genuine SF second, the fact I don’t actually like the Starbuck character (sorry), the occasionally awkward tone of the thing (the mixture of pulpy tropes and plot devices and very serious subject matter).

Well, anyway, I’ve watched the first half of season two now and I thought I would fill you in on what I thought of the individual episodes. I think this is a mixed bunch, for all sorts of reasons. (I am going to do the thing where I list the episode name and give a few pithy comments, I’m afraid.)

Scattered: Yeah, well, I have to say that new BSG is increasingly reminding me of Babylon 5, except with perhaps less of a sense that the writers know where the story is actually going. The first episode of every season of B5 after the first was mainly concerned with catching all the pieces that got kicked up in the air in the previous season finale, and this is much the same. I suppose there is an element of laying in new plotlines going on, too. Missed Adama.

Valley of Darkness: Filler. At least, that’s how it seems to me now. I know we are told on a regular basis that ‘the Cylons have a plan’ but the Cylons themselves show little sign of it. How does boarding Galactica and running amok help with this mythical plan? If the plan is simply ‘kill all the humans’ they usually go about it in a peculiarly convoluted way. Missed Adama.

Fragged: Liked this one. Possibly this is because of the absence of ace pilot/instructor/tactician/sportswoman/interrogator/Cylon wrangler Starbuck. I find it very easy to dislike Colonel Tigh mainly due to his strong physical resemblance to a particularly objectionable English government minister. I seem to recall the climax, where Doc Baltar does the thing to the other person, was genuinely surprising. Missed Adama.


Resistance: One of those episodes which hasn’t really registered much with me, despite the fact that some fairly memorable stuff happens in it (primarily Boomer-1 taking a bullet and Apollo and the Prez skedaddling off to hide out with Old Apollo). Adama came back! Woo.

The Farm: the sociological imperative to procreate in a post-apocalyptic context is a potentially interesting and powerful theme for a drama, but, you know, this is a Starbuck-heavy episode so I found it hard to warm up to it, I’m afraid. Again, there is rather more noise than signal when it comes to the Cylon ‘plan’. Was deeply disturbed by the sight of Adama crying.

Home: Inevitably I found myself comparing this one to the equivalent episode of Disco BSG, which I believe was called Lost Planet of the Gods or something similar. As an attempt to pull all the plotlines of the previous five episodes together and establish a new status quo, I suppose this is quite successful, and some of the incidental drama in this particular episode is quite engaging. Even so, some of the stuff from a while back (characters sticking guns in each others’ faces, betraying each other, sticking each other in cells, and so on) gets forgotten about a bit too quickly. But I am probably just nitpicking. You know, the series’ format needed a bit of a reset at this point, so scratch that last criticism.

Final Cut: Might not have recognised Lucy Lawless with blonde hair. I’m sorry to bang on, but this one did remind me of the Babylon 5 episodes And Now For A Word and The Illusion of Truth (I’ve never seen the BSG writers discuss B5 as an influence, but it surely was). Not quite as good as either of those, though. The conclusion, where stirring music (hang on, that’s the Disco BSG theme!) plays while someone declares how wonderful the military are, turned me off a bit. Kneejerk idolisation of people in uniforms makes me nervous. I suppose you could argue this is intended as satire of Bush-era, but I got no sense that this was the intention.

Flight of the Phoenix: One of those episodes which strained my credulity more than most, as the Chief and his friends build a new starfighter in their garage (effectively). I was reminded of that episode of Top Gear where they built their own hybrid car, the Hammerhead Eagle i-Thrust. Funnily enough the Blackbird even ends up looking a bit like the Top Gear car. The stuff with Boomer-2 rewriting a computer virus by sticking wires into her veins was less memorable for me. (If the Cylons can productively plug wires into various parts of their anatomy, and have vertebrae that light up like neon tubes during moments of whoa-ho-ho, exactly why does Doc Baltar need to muck about with blood tests and suchlike? Are there honestly no more obvious signs?)

Pegasus and Resurrection Ship (because these episodes are essentially one long story): Liked the Airplane! in-joke. I have to say that very little about this story genuinely surprised me as it was unfolding, given that this is (to some extent) covering basically the same ground as the Voyager episodes Equinox (there’s another ship, but this is not good news as the people on it have turned into bastards). Nevertheless I thought this was gripping stuff. A little uncomfortable with the ‘Need gravitas? Just add rape!’ formulation of the plotting, I have to say. And I thought the end was kind of a cop-out: not necessarily with the way Cain was killed off, but the big eulogy she got saying what a good leader she was for taking ‘tough choices’. ‘Tough choices’ in this case meaning condoning rape and tortute, and executing civilians. More apologetics for neo-Con extremism, if you ask me, and the blonde Cylon’s incredible vanishing trick is starting to get a bit wearisome as a plot device.

But, perhaps most importantly, prior to Pegasus I was beginning to get a bit indifferent to the series, and not making an effort to watch episodes as regularly as I did when I started off. I found myself watching these three episodes on the spin, which is almost unheard of for me. So this is still a series which is capable of getting things absolutely right.


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Dear Jane,

Well, I have reached the end of the first full series of New BSG and this feels like a sensible point to give you another update on how I’m enjoying the show. Before we go any further, I feel I have to tell you that I’m still not impressed with either new-Starbuck or new-Baltar as characters (to be honest, I can even see why Dirk Benedict was routinely so snide about the revived series in interviews), nor am I completely sold on the whole mystical angle to the series which is coming to the fore.

I suppose it adds another level to episodes like The Hand of God, which would otherwise be just an extremely competent action-oriented episode. As you might expect, I was not entirely convinced by the revelation that Starbuck’s talents extend beyond top-gun pilot, ace gambler, fearsome inquisitor, and preposterous bio-engineer and Cylon-spaceship wrangler to include strategic genius, but the final battle itself is nicely done, to the point, I thought, of rivalling some of the best action sequences in Babylon 5.

Still, I’m not really sure of the whole ‘this has happened before, it will happen again’ angle. On one level it’s a nice acknowledgement of the fact that this is, after all, a remake (doubly so, given that The Hand of God was also an episode of Disco BSG), but… I don’t know, I’m not a fan of this sort of general-purpose mysticism, especially when the grittier, political stuff is so good.

Which brings us to Colonial Day, which I liked a lot (despite the fact that it’s somewhat biased towards Baltar, the series’ other implausible polymath). I would never have expected, based on his performances in Disco BSG at least, that Richard Hatch was such a competent actor, and the suggestions about how the fleet actually functions were interesting. I understand that the series has drawn a little criticism for following the political-allegory route more than would be entirely realistic in the circumstances (a refugee fleet of only 50,000 people would surely have a less sophisticated media system), but I think one of the no-brainers when it comes to thinking about New BSG is that this series is much more an allegory about Bush-era America than it is a story in its own right.

Which brings us on to Kobol’s Last Gleaming, which I watched in one sitting and also very much enjoyed. Putting aside the naked Boomer parade, the somewhat baffling scuffle between Starbuck and the blonde Cylon, and Robinson Baltar’s life in ruins, the element which really grabbed me again goes back to the Bush-era analogy.


Let’s face it, Jane, it’s hardly surprising that Wikipedia lists New BSG as ‘military SF’. Most of the sympathetic characters are serving military officers, so the defining outlook of the show is a military one. So you could argue that the central question of this episode is ‘As a decent, sane military professional, what do you do when you find yourself under the command of someone who appears to be an unbalanced religious maniac?’ And if that wasn’t a pertinent question for Bush-era America I don’t know what would be.

There’s a sense in which the mystic element of the series actually works against the effectiveness of this theme – the fact we know that there’s probably some truth to Roslyn’s visions tends to weigh things in her favour more than would be the case – but Adama’s attempted coup d’etat is still gripping stuff, and goes back to the question of who is really in charge of this fleet. While the closing moments of the series – you know, the bit where someone unexpectedly does something to someone else – were a proper, proper shock, I can’t help but suspect that the resolution to this will act as a convenient reset button.

Overall though, a strong end to a season which I thought was pretty good. You know by now the things I’m not entirely convinced by – Starbuck and Baltar, mainly, plus the uneasy coexistence of the serious bits and the pulpy bits.

I can’t remember whether I’ve properly gone into detail about this before, but there is an odd tension between the present-day-allegorical bits and the more obviously SF elements of the setting. At the most basic level, this is a civilisation which has mastered almost-magical technologies like FTL and advanced AI-robotics, but still uses plutonium-based nuclear fission for its heavy ordnance and arms its military craft with projectile firearms. I’m prepared to accept this, mainly because it serves the story’s tone and intent, but initially I had a harder time dealing with the changes to the regular characters, compared to Disco BSG.

By this point I have got used to new-Starbuck and new-Boomer (all of them), so it isn’t just that they’re different characters. Simply, given the Bush-era parallels and general gritty tone, the presence of women as front-line combat pilots strikes me as… well, look, I don’t have a problem with competent women, obviously. I never had an issue with women in senior jobs on Trek, for instance, but the point is that Star Trek is fundamentally progressive, utopian SF. The very fact that the BSG universe still has fighter pilots is an indication, to me, that it isn’t utopian, so the presence of a utopian level of gender-equality jars.

Again, I think there’s a tension here, but this time I think the tension is between the truth of the story the creators want to tell and the realities of making a network TV series. The most ‘truthful’ version of this series, in terms of tone and so on, would probably have a cast much more heavily skewed towards men (rather like Disco BSG, if we’re honest), but I suspect that would be a tougher sell to a modern audience. Hence the rethink on Boomer and Starbuck, I expect – and if you’re going to start tinkering around like that, why not make Starbuck not just a woman but also a strategic genius, stone-cold interrogator, cordon-bleu chef, and so on?

So I suppose in the end the new version of Starbuck is emblematic of the new BSG in more ways than one. I’m enjoying watching the show continue, and am curious about what’s the come, but it still hasn’t completely won me over, I’m afraid.


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Dear Jane,

Well, here we are again, with the end of the first season of New BSG in sight. As you may recall, at the time of my last update (immediately after Act of Contrition) I thought I might be beginning to see what the fuss is about where this series is concerned – but I must confess to being slightly less impressed with the most recent batch of episodes (up to Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down).

Partly this is because many of these seem to me to be recycling some very venerable plot devices from the history of genre TV. You Can’t Go Home Again, for example, struck me as being very much a combination of Disco BSG‘s The Return of Starbuck (Starbuck crashes on a hostile planet and needs Cylon assistance to survive) and Star Trek‘s Galileo Seven (commander comes under pressure to abandon search for beloved comrade(s)), Litmus rather recalled TNG‘s The Drumhead (commander takes stand against a witchhunt), and so on.

On the other hand, Litmus was probably the episode of the recent bunch I liked the most, mainly because it was another of those episodes not afraid to pose tough questions and then decline to provide easy answers to them. Is Adama remotely justified in setting up an independent enquiry and then arbitrarily shutting it down simply because he doesn’t like its direction? Doesn’t this effectively mean this is a series about a military dictatorship, whether benign or not? I particularly enjoyed Adama’s deadpan self-assessment as ‘a soft touch’, too.


On the other hand, I didn’t like some of these episodes for their refusal to address what seemed to me to be some pretty obvious questions: first and foremost, why is anyone keeping Baltar around, when he is obviously behaving in a hugely erratic way, and even the President has admitted to believing him a traitor? Is no-one the slightest bit curious about how he keeps talking to himself (to say the least) in his lab? I’m not even sure how I’m supposed to respond to him as a viewer – is he supposed to be weak and laughable but somehow charming? He just comes across as annoying. I much prefer the John Colicos version.

Similarly, why is he the only person with access to the Cylon detector? Wouldn’t it make sense on all sorts of levels to get multiple people involved in this? And how exactly are they testing this thing? How do they know it won’t be generating false positives? It’s not like they have any live Cylons to test it on.

Oh, hang on, yes they did, but then they blew him out of airlock without bothering to test the detector on him. I have to confess to finding Flesh and Blood an ugly, nasty, ‘torture is justified’ sort of episode, another example of the neo-Con apologetics I complained about last time. I must confess to also wondering exactly why Adama nominates Starbuck as his top interrogator – either this woman is a fabulous polymath, or the producers of the show realised she was the most popular character and decided to give her another episode (this felt like it might have been written for Apollo, who doesn’t appear in it).

The thing is, Jane, none of the unanswered questions or silliness would honestly matter if this was just another knockabout space opera series, but the fact that it’s choosing to include such strong meat (the stuff about torture, all the sexytime – the stuff in Tigh Me Up, Tigh Me Down was particularly startling) means you have to take it seriously in every department. And at the moment it’s not quite coming together as a satisfying whole.

(And the words ‘Cylon-occupied Caprica’ are beginning to produce a Pavlovian despair response in me, but I remain fairly confident the Helo-and-Boomer-2 plotline must be going somewhere, even if the characters aren’t.)


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Dear Jane,

Well, here we are one disc into the weekly series of the new Battlestar Galactica and I actually beginning to see just why you rate this series so highly. Usually with this sort of undertaking I pick out selected landmark or highlight episodes and just mention everything else in passing, but the thing about New BSG, like quite a few modern shows I expect, is that they all sort of run together in terms of plot and so on.

Anyway. The first episode of this bunch, 33, is one that I’d actually seen fifteen minutes-ish of before when it first showed up on British TV in 2006. There was clearly no point in my committing to another big TV show despite a characteristically hearty recommendation from Rusty Davis, as I was flying off to Japan for a year very shortly, but in an case I found the thing completely discombobulating and rather inaccessible. (Bear in mind the mini wasn’t shown prior to the weekly series.) The low-key nature of the whole thing threw me, as did the plotting with the multiple Boomers, and I bailed out fairly rapidly.

Where exactly is this business with Agathon and the Boomer-copy on ‘Cylon-occupied Caprica’ going, anyway? (Not very heavily occupied from the look of things, by the way.) At the moment all it seems to be achieving is providing a timescale for the rest of the series (’12th day on Caprica’ and so on). Don’t answer that, by the way.

On the other hand the plotline with the other Boomer taking a very long time to admit to herself she’s probably a Cylon doesn’t seem to be doing much either. Presumably it is Boomer-1 who blew up the water tanks on the Galactica, although as usual the series is taking a very long time to answer any of the questions it poses.

I sort of like this, I may be baffled and lacking in any sense of closure, but at least I feel like an adult whose intelligence is respected who is baffled and lacking in any sense of closure. For example, all that business in 33 with the apparent link between the Cylons and the Rising Star – had the ship really been infiltrated? Were there actually nukes on board? Why were the Cylon attacks so closely linked with the ship’s presence?

I know, Jane, that you said the Iraq/post-9/11 stuff really gets going in later seasons, but it seems very obvious to me that this show is the product of a nation which believes itself to be threatened by war. Every time the characters are forced into a tough, morally questionable decision like blowing up a civilian ship which may have been infiltrated, the programme is surely being an apologist for every suspect choice and misstep made by the Bush administration in the name of homeland security.

Of course, the look of the show is really helped by the presence of Mary McDonnell as a thoroughly sympathetic president. She’s very good, and I can’t help but wonder if she was on some level a model for Doctor Who‘s unexpectedly-elevated Prime Minister in the 2005 and 2006 series. In the circumstances, McDonnell’s resemblance to Elisabeth Sladen is troubling, but that’s no-one’s fault.

I was going to do a long thing here about the whole way in which the characters from the original series have been reimagined and recast, probably at the same time as talking about the appearance of Richard Hatch in Bastille Day. But that is going to be a long thing and I am aware that this update has gone on a bit already. So I will save that for a more auspicious moment and instead comment more on Act of Contrition, which for me was the outstanding episode of this batch.


Perhaps this was because it is much more of a standalone than the others (for all that it turns out to end with a big TO BE CONTINUED caption), with less of a presence of some of the peripheral characters who I find slightly annoying. On the other hand, the complex structure of the thing (I counted four layers of flashbacks going off in close succession at one point) made it a little difficult to follow: it took me a while to figure out that the accident on the hangar deck was actually happening ‘now’ rather than being a flashback to Zak Adama’s death. In the end I was impressed with how it worked, simply as a piece of character drama.

I know you like Katee Sackhoff as Starbuck, and I agree that she has tremendous screen presence – but I can’t help but find the whole wisecracking-tough-but-vulnerable characterisation to be a bit obvious and maybe even cliched. But here I was surprised to find myself genuinely caring about the central characters (Adama, Apollo, and Starbuck) and their relationships, which never really happened with Disco Galactica. (For what it’s worth, at this point my favourite character is probably Apollo, mainly on the strength of his stand at the end of Bastille Day: he’s not afraid to be a bit of a tool in the service of a good cause, something I always find very admirable.) I’m not sure to what extent it honestly qualifies as true SF (I don’t really think that just being set on a spaceship is enough), but this episode had some riveting moments of human drama, and I hope I’ll always be happy to watch that. Especially if there’s a spaceship involved.


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