...a blog by Richard Flowers

Monday, June 26, 2006

Day 1997: Battleham Galacticake


If there is one BIG rival to DOCTOR WHO in the 21st Century, it is no longer the tired, axed relic of STAR TREK, but it is the re-invented BATTLESTAR GALACTICA.

Many people speak of this series in awe and wonder saying how it has re-invented SCIENCE FICTION for a new generation.

So, obviously, my Daddies haven't watched any of it!

Well, no, that's not quite right – Daddy Richard did buy the DVD of the mini-series / pilot story.

It is one of those VERY ANNOYING DVD releases that sticks together several episodes and edits out the TITLES that come in between meaning that you have to watch it as one five hour programme. Or rather, you have to GUESS where the episodes MIGHT have ended and then stop before your eyes start to glaze over. So that counted against it from the start.

Also, guess what: the villainous Baltar has a BRITISH accent. Coo, that IS original. We never get tired of THAT old "British = Bad Guy" cliché.

But the real surprise was how DRAB and ORDINARY we found it to be. Lots of dull grey CGI spaceships flying in space with eye-straining faux-camera shake. Lot's of grey military corridors filled with grey uniforms on grey military American-Air-force-IN-SPACE! types. Lot's of "gee, haven't we seen this all before?"

What is it with American sci-fi series: Star Trek, Stargate, Babylon 5 and now this: there is never any sense that when we get into space we will have any culture other than the US military. At least Babylon 5 was COLOURFUL!

The original Battlestar Galactica series in the 1970s WAS pretty dreadful, with an almost never moving plot and more ham and cheese than is served at ABIGAIL'S PARTY! But it did have three things going for it: John Colicos as a PROPER villainous Count Baltar; the voice of Patrick Macnee as the Cylon Imperious Leader; and some terrific chunky chrome design for the Cylon Centurions.

For the remake, even very few the real metal Cylons that we DO see have gone all gun-metal dull, but worse, the rest of them have gone all HUMAN. Oh how amazingly innovative that really isn’t.

The subtle as a plank backstory then has the Cylons discovering "god" and returning to take horrible vengeance on the nice gods-fearing ordinary type people with an appalling terrorist atrocity perpetrated by infiltrators and you cannot tell who they are! Oh, and the English liberal atheist is a traitor to humanity.

Most people should be able to work this out faster than you can say "right-wing propaganda".

So, for all the above reasons we hadn't bothered to rush out and buy the DVD of the television series first season and (not having the desire to contribute any to Mr Murdoch) without Sky One it is only now that the series has reached Freeview based Sky Three that we are seeing it for the first time.

Is it any better than the pilot?

Well… no, but we'll probably keep watching to see if it picks up.

What IS worth seeing?

Well, in spite of accent related misgivings, the paranoid performance of Gaius Baltar is certainly worth tuning in for. The one interesting conceit here is that he may or may not have a Cylon implant in his head that is causing him to hallucinate a beautiful woman who he thinks/knows to be a human-form Cylon. There is an edgy uncertainty as to whether she is "real" in the sense that the Cylon's actually put an implant there, or whether she is a product of Baltar's own guilty twisted psyche. She certainly seem interested in helping him personally (NO, NOT RUDE!), even if this seems to conflict with the Cylon agenda sometimes.

Then there is a mildly diverting game of duality whereby the character of Boomer (actually a human-form Cylon) gets to appear both on the Battlestar AND back home on "occupied Caprica". This neatly plays with the old thing of the gap between the audience learning something and the characters leaning it. Here the gap is measured in light-years and there appears to be no easy way that Boomer 1 and Boomer 2 are going to be brought together.

And for reasons that pass beyond human understanding, Sarah Jane Smith has become president of the surviving humans.

PS: would someone please tell Edward James Olmos to STOP WHISPERING all the darned time!

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