Posts Tagged ‘Battlestar Galactica’

Dear Jane,

I’m going to be perfectly honest and say that the responsibility for this is largely yours. As you may recall, on February the 9th 2011 at about ten to five in the afternoon GMT, you said to me ‘Dude. You’re just going to have to sit down with the BSG miniseries and season 1… trust me,’ on the grounds that it was ‘the best TV show in history’. (I don’t need to tell you what BSG means, but just in case anyone else is reading our correspondence, it’s shorthand for Battlestar Galactica. I don’t really understand why it’s not just BG, as the show isn’t called Battle Star Galactica, but that’s just my OCD-pedant tendency coming to the fore again. But I digress. I suspect I’ll be doing that a lot.)

Anyway, for a long time I paid this little heed, but then I found myself coming to the end of a pilgrimage through the original Star Trek, which had itself come fairly close on the heels of similar trips through The Tomorrow People (original version) and Babylon 5. A strange conjunction of factors was in play: I was casting about for something new with which to occupy myself, found the lack of current space-opera style TV shows a little regrettable, and stumbled upon a box set of the entirety of New BSG (something with which I was still almost wholly unfamiliar) going at a fairly reasonable price on the same day I was sent an unreasonably large cheque in the post by my family (a Significant Birthday had occurred). And so I uttered that incantation which has presaged so many dubious enterprises: Ah, what the hell.

And I thought I would tell you my opinion of it. I am coming at this from the perspective of someone who has always had a bit of a soft spot for original BSG (or Disco BSG as I usually refer to it) and was somewhat wary of what, on the face of it, looks like a fairly radical rethink of the whole concept.

You will, of course, be familiar with the plot of the mini-series: at some distant point in space and time, the human civilisation of the Twelve Colonies has almost begun to forget about the lurking menace of the Cylons, a race of intelligent machines which turned on their creators decades earlier. Now, of course, the Cylons are back, able to pass as human – and they have used this ability to infiltrate Colonial society prior to launching a devastating assault…


One of the ships taken by surprise by the Cylon blitzkrieg is the venerable battlestar (a big sort of aircraft carrier sort of spaceship) Galactica, commanded by crusty old grumpface Adama (played by Danny Trejo Edward James Olmos). The Galactica is en route to be decommissioned, but the collapse of civilisation as everyone knows it leads to a rethink.

Adama is all for digging in and taking on the Cylons toe-to-toe (probably mixing my metaphors there, sorry), but the newly-installed President (Mary McDonnell) – only in the job because her 42 superiors have all been killed – wants to focus on rescuing survivors and abandoning the system entirely. Can they settle their differences before the Cylons catch up with them?

Well, Jane, you did warn me that the first hour of the miniseries was ‘kind of dull’ and I can see what you mean. Then again, this is a┬ástory with over a dozen significant characters and a new world to establish, so they have to do at least a bit of laying in of plot at the beginning. My problems with the mini are not to do with it being slow, because right from the start the thing is laced with striking and engaging moments – the scene with the dead baby was genuinely shocking – but more connected to the fact that at times it seemed in danger of turning into very generic Hollywood SF.

Most obviously, there is the presence of the slippery, untrustworthy Baltar (James Callis), who just happens to be the only character with an English accent. Also, the key character hook for the new versions of Adama and Apollo (Jamie Bamber) is that they have a strained father-son relationship: this is just as much a cliche.

However, apart from this, and certainly once the Cylon nukes start dropping, I found the mini to be very engaging and highly enjoyable stuff. I believe this was originally made for broadcast on a minority network in the US, which may explain the occasional signs of a low budget, but it may also explain the mini’s willingness to go beyond the unchallenging norms of most American TV SF – there is a running theme of characters being forced to take very tough decisions, and the mini does not shy away from showing the consequences of these (a sweet young girl gets vaporised at one point, for instance). It may also be the source of the (to my mind) surprising quantity of sexytime in the mini, certainly compared to Disco BSG: the pilots are having sexytime with the flight crews, the Galactica crew are having sexytime with the presidential staff, the humans are even having sexytime with the Cylons. Crikey. At least the President’s suggestion that the survivors ‘need to start having babies’ seems likely to be fulfilled, and sooner rather than later at this rate.

Watching the BSG mini now it’s easy to see it is, like all SF, a product of its time. It’s very easy to see that this is a piece of post-September 11th drama, contemporaneous with the invasion of Iraq: civilisation is under threat from fanatical ideologues who have managed to infiltrate it, hard, cruel, pragmatic decisions have got to be made, and so on. Perhaps this explains the sheer lack of disco and the down-to-Earth tone of the thing, certainly compared to the kind of Star Trek being made around that time (the Disco-style robotic Cylons are notably short on screen time). I wonder how much of this is a result of the subject matter and how much is down to market differentiation (that said, much of the zero-G Viper combat struck me as being very much post-Babylon 5 in its presentation).

Having said that, Jane, I do find there is a certain disconnect in the milieu of the new show – so much of the technology is recognisably close to our own (nuclear weapons, projectile sidearms, and so on) and yet this is also a civilisation capable of constructing massive FTL spacecraft and advanced AI and robotics: there is perhaps an element here of the makers of the show cherrypicking ideas to suit their story. I think this also connects, sort of, with the issue of the rethought versions of Starbuck and Boomer, but I think I will return to this particular topic at a future date.


(I am aware, by the way, that Katee Sackhoff, who plays the new Starbuck, has become the breakout star of this series – my understanding is that she is a bit of a cult rave in some quarters and many people are keen for her to play Warbird or Ms Marvel in a future MCU movie. Well, Sackhoff is certainly a very engaging and charismatic performer, but I couldn’t quite buy into her as a top gun fighter pilot. Again, I suspect I will come back to this.)

I would say that this is the best piece of 21st century TV SF I have seen in a very long time, but given that I have watched virtually no new TV SF since Enterprise got canned that doesn’t really mean very much. Let’s just say that it is good, and a promising start for the series. Thank you for the recommendation.

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