Prior to picking up Babylon 5 for it’s fifth and final season, TNT commissioned two Babylon 5 TV movies. The first of these to be filmed in 1997, but which aired second in 1998, was Thirdspace.
Thirdspace is set, as we learn in Captain John Sheridan’s opening monologue, in the middle of the Earth year 2261 – the year between wars. In terms of Babylon 5’s series chronology, this places it somewhere between Into the Fire (S4, Ep.6) and Atonement (S4, Ep.9)
Whilst returning to Babylon 5 after a skirmish with raiders, Ivanova’s starfury squadron picks up something on their scanners. Ever the curious ones, they go to investigate and find a massive artifact floating in hyperspace that they then tow back to the station.
Preliminary investigations reveal nothing since anything that goes near the thing gets sucked dry of its power, but back on the station itself, all is not well. Aboard B5, the telepath Lyta Alexander (Patricia Tallman), who has visited the Vorlon homeworld and been somehow altered by the ancient alien race, is clearly disturbed by the artifact’s presence. Could it have anything to do with the fact that the artifact itself is covered in Vorlon hieroglyphs?
It is not long before Interplanetary Expeditions (IPX) get wind of the discovery and before you can say “first contact situation,” Dr. Elizabeth Trent (Shari Belafonte) and Bill Morishi (Clyde Kusatsu) have arrived on B5 to request access to (read: take over the investigation of) the artifact. Having had experience of IPX (It was an IPX expedition to Z’Ha’Dhum which resulted in the loss of his wife), this irks Sheridan no end – thus setting up a tense situation between the B5 captain and the team of archeologists who feel a misplaced sense of entitlement to the artifact.
As time goes by, stranger and stranger things begin occurring on Babylon 5 with many people experiencing visions (including a shared dream between Vir and Ivanova), and the station itself going into crisis mode as the artifact stationed outside slowly drains B5 of its power. Thus Sheridan is thrown into a race against time, both to protect the station and its population and to find out what the artifact is before IPX unlock its secret. All the while Lyta Alexander gets progressively more distressed because, as she knows, the Vorlons have seen this awful thing before.
As a stand alone movie Thirdspace works, and by that I mean it completes its story arc and comes to a satisfactory conclusion. What hurts Thirdspace is where it falls chronologically in the overall Babylon 5 story arc. Because of when Thirdspace is set, many of the major characters we have come to know and love are out of the picture – Garibaldi is absent having resigned as chief of security, Londo and G’kar are both on Centauri prime. Even some of the major characters who do remain on the station barely feature (Delenn, Franklin, Marcus, Lennier), with a couple of them making only brief cameos. Admittedly this movie is not about them but the result of the scripting means that Boxleitner, Christian and Tallman have the lion’s share of the acting put firmly on their shoulders and it is on them that the movie ultimately gets carried. Boxleitner, as always, does an excellent job as Sheridan, and Tallman does a lot of acting weird and passing out when it all becomes too much for her brain to handle, but Besides Shari Belafonte’s commendable effort as Dr. Trenton, the movie feels as if it’s padded with construction worker/starfury pilot “redshirts.”
Like all B5 movies, Thirdspace suffers from infodumps – specifically when Dr. Trenton informs Sheridan of how much they know of Lyta’s visit to the Vorlon homeworld and when Lyta herself tells Sheridan what they (the Vorlon’s) know about the artifact. However, it is perhaps more excusable in Thirdspace given that the fifth season of B5 was almost written off before being picked up again and the TNT movies provided an opportunity to address some of the story arcs that had been present in the show. Also, if we’re going to watch Thirdspace as a stand-alone movie, we need to know about these characters and their histories – and there really is no quick or easy way to do it without having a character espouse all this information.
My one major criticism of Thirdspace is its ending which feels like an inevitable outcome from the moment the artifact arrives in B5 territory. The movie seems to barrel towards its conclusion without a second thought for other possible scenarios that might warrant some lengthier exploration – but maybe that’s the point. It’s a movie crammed into a finite period of time – it’s meant to have a definitive ending. The only problem is, when it comes it feels very much like a deux ex machina moment.
There’s a commentary on the DVD which has input form the director, Jesus Salvador Trevino, Bruce Boxleitner, Jeff Conaway, Patricia Tallman and Stephen Furst, but those of you looking for any particular insight will be disappointed. Trevino does his best to drop some nuggets in about the movie, concept design and the shoot and Boxleitner humors him throughout but for the most part the v/o consists mostly of Tallman, Furst and the late Jeff Conaway goofing around and reminiscing about their time on the show. If you’re interested in that kind of thing, then great, but it’s not exactly a commentary on the movie per se.
Overall, Thirdspace is an OK addition to the B5 canon but it’s certainly not a “must-see” in terms of its quality, storyline or content relating to the B5 timeline/universe.