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My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5 – Thirdspace

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.

artefact

Always wondered where I’d left that hammer!

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?

sheridan_lyta

“Lyta, if you wanted to get to know me better, all you had to do was ask!”

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.

ipx

Shari Belafonte representing IPX – “We’ll take it from here, Captain.”

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.

vir_ivanova

“Are you seeing what I’m seeing?”

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.

Related Posts:

My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5 – Season Four

My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5 – Season Three

My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5 – Season Two

My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5 – Season One

My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5 – The Gathering

My Guilty Pleaure – Babylon 5

Stuart Clark is the author of the Project U.L.F. series of Sci Fi adventure novels

 

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My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5 – Season Four

Really Babylon 5? Really? After the past two seasons the best you could come up with is a curtain wipe with a dodgy dissolve. Meh. If the opening titles were anything to go by you could be forgiven for thinking that Babylon 5 was past its best. Fortunately that was far from the case. 

Warning: Spoilers ahead. 

Season Four begins as season three ended – with a monologue from G’kar. In The Hour of the Wolf, Captain Sheridan has not returned from Z’Ha’Dhum and is presumed dead. Mister Garibaldi and his Starfury are still missing and Ivanova is walking around in a funk because half the people she cares about are gone. Londo has returned to Centauri prime to find himself the victim of his own political skullduggery and in the service of an emperor, Cartagia (Wortham Krimmer), who is completely insane and Delenn is fasting because of the loss of Sheridan. 

Throughout episode one, we’re pretty much left hanging as to what has happened to Sheridan. We learn that the alliance of the league of non-aligned worlds that Sheridan worked so hard to forge is crumbling without his leadership and that the Vorlon, Kosh (2), refuses to attend meetings or assist in any way. Despite having sanctuary on Babylon 5, G’kar is willing to risk everything to go in search of his friend, Mister Garibaldi, and in a similar vain Ivanova, refusing to believe that Sheridan is lost forever, musters Delenn and Lyta Alexander to go on an equally dangerous recon/rescue mission to Z’Ha’Dhum. As a season opener, The Hour of the Wolf may not be as profound as other seasons’ first episodes. It is not so much setting things up for the season to come as it is a continuation of what has gone before. Certainly G’kar’s decision to go after Garibaldi will have profound consequences for him and Londo’s discovery that he is in the service of a mad man will force him into an unthinkable position – but these subplots intertwine and run their course in half a dozen episodes. As B5 fans, we already know we are rushing headlong toward the Shadow war. Really, there is nothing to set up. The burning questions left from season three are, as G’kar puts it – Where is Mister Garibaldi and what happened to Captain Sheridan at Z’Ha’Dhum? We’ll get no hints at the answer to the first question in this episode, but right at the end of The Hour of the Wolf, we get a glimpse of Sheridan alive – or is he? 

As we learn in Whatever happened to Mister Garibaldi? (Ep.2), Sheridan now exists in some kind of limbo, where he is accompanied by a strange being who calls himself Lorien. This was about as far as I had got watching the series when it first aired on British television, and I remember Lorien being a somewhat creepy character. If you can see past all the prosthetics and make up, those of you with a keen eye and a good memory will recognize Lorien as Wayne Alexander, the same actor who appeared as Kosh’s “envoy” in Comes the Inquisitor (S2, Ep 21). In both of these roles, Alexander manages to breathe life into a character that is somewhat unsettling.

Wayne Alexander as Lorien, Sebastian and a Drazi captive

Wayne Alexander as Lorien, Sebastian and a Drazi captive

Babylon 5 made a habit of reusing actors for different roles. In these reviews I’ve already mentioned how Ed Wasser went from C&C command staff in the pilot show to the sinister Mister Morden in the following four seasons. Similarly, John Vickery who was excellent in the role of the warrior caste Minbari, Neroon, also had a bit part as a member of the Night Watch in Point of No Return (S3, Ep. 4).
John Vickery - as Neroon and a member of the Night Watch

John Vickery – as Neroon and a member of the Night Watch

Alexander also shows his face again (or not as the case may be) as a drazi ambassador in Intersections in Real Time (ep.18 of this season). 

I liked the way the show handled Sheridan’s “situation” here, which Lorien describes as “between moments” because, whilst I’m willing to suspend my disbelief for a lot of things, resurrection from the dead I really can’t do. It’s one of the reasons why I really hated The Matrix. Wait! What? You’re a sci-fi fan and you hated The Matrix.   Yes. And here’s why. You cannot get me invested in a universe defined by certain rules, said rules espoused/infodumped by one of your characters (“If you die inside the matrix you are dead”), tag me along for a couple of hours thinking that I know the rules and then break all those rules at the end because you need your hero to survive. (“But Neo, you’re the one and I love you ). That’s nonsense. But The Matrix was a visually stunning movie you say. Yes. Yes it was. As a piece of film making it was goundbreaking, which is why it kept me entertained for a couple of hours, but as far as storytelling goes, you can’t set up your world and then break all the rules ‘cos you feel like it. Doesn’t work. You just cheated your audience. But I digress… 

So with Sheridan we’re treated to a couple of episodes of dancing around the “is he or isn’t he” (dead) question. Certainly the crew of B5 all believe he’s dead, and from a viewer’s point of view, it’s impossible to believe that he could have survived the leap of faith he took at the end of season three. BUT – Even though Lorien himself tries to convince Sheridan he has perished, through their conversations we learn that Lorien is not all that he appears. Indeed, his appearance may only be a palatable physical manifestation of a power or entity of truly God like proportions that has deigned to spare Sheridan’s life for a destiny that lies ahead. In his own words, Lorien admits “I cannot create life, but I may breathe on the remaining embers,” and so we’re left with the question – Did Sheridan truly die at Z’Ha’Dhum? 

This hanging around in limbo gets pretty tiresome after a while - C'mon people, I've got a show to get back to!

This hanging around in limbo gets pretty tiresome after a while – C’mon people, I’ve got a show to get back to!

Thus Sheridan returns to Babylon 5 in Summonings (Ep.3) as does security chief Michael Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle). Both men have been irrevocably altered by their experiences – Sheridan in ways he knows and understands, Garibaldi in ways that he does not remember and will not learn about until much later on. Yes, after playing with many of the principal characters in season three, season four was definitely where Straczynski got to mess with Garibaldi. 

Meanwhile, on Centauri Prime, Londo finds himself in an unthinkable position. Firstly, that he is plotting against the most important person on his homeworld. Secondly, that he will need to enlist the help of his arch-enemy, G’kar, if he has any hope of succeeding. The two of them strike a pact that will have far-reaching repercussions for both them and their peoples.

Are you thinking what I'm thinking?

Are you thinking what I’m thinking?

And so the Shadow war is upon us. (Into the Fire, Ep.6) For almost three seasons, Babylon 5 has been building towards this moment. There are a number of battle scenes but as we are to learn, the Shadow war is less about brute force and more about ideologies and thus Into the Fire has the potential to be a huge anti-climax. However, once again, thanks to some quality writing from Straczynski and the acting skills of Boxleitner (Sheridan) and Mira Furlan (Delenn) this episode provides satisfying closure to much of what has come before. 

After such a powerful episode and the Shadow war over so early in season four it would be easy to think that Babylon 5 would go into a slump. Indeed, it is safe to say that the tension and pace of the episodes that follow are ratcheted down significantly, but really these provide a moment for us, the viewers, to catch our breath, while Straczynski begins to put in place the elements that will lead us to the second climax of season four – the war against Earth. 

It’s about this time that Straczynski starts messing around with the character of Garibaldi. As in the previous season, where certain characters had their own tangential story arcs (Franklin, Delenn), in season four it is the turn of Garibaldi. Unable to reconcile his own off-station experience with that of Sheridan’s, the two men grow apart to such an extent that Garibaldi feels he has no choice but to resign as security chief. This is a welcome change. Doyle put in such a solid performance as Garibaldi, week-in, week-out, that it was easy to see the character as just a part of the station furniture. And so, perhaps one of the most surprising things about Garibaldi is that, for a main character and one that has been a major part of setting the story up to this point, when it comes to the climactic Shadow war, he was notably absent. Doyle was as true and honest to the Garibaldi character as the security chief was to the station. Thus, when Garibaldi’s world starts unraveling, it is an interesting departure for both the character and the actor. 

Using his contacts and skills, Garibaldi starts his own one-man private investigation firm. However, when he’s hired to provide personal protection, Garibaldi’s past catches up with him. His charge, he finds out, is his ex-fiancee Lise Hampton (Denise Gentile) who we first met in A voice in the Wilderness Pt.2  season one. Lise is now married to William Edgars, one of the richest men alive and now Garibaldi’s employer, and whilst Garibaldi has no idea what he’s getting himself in to, he’s happy to do it just to spite Sheridan. 

I'm beginning to think alien antiques was a bad career move

I’m beginning to think alien antiques was a bad career move

What Garibaldi will later learn is that he is being used as a pawn in a plot far messier than a toddler eating spaghetti. It will not be until The Face of the Enemy (Ep. 17) that we will get the answer to G’kar’s second question – Whatever happened to Mister Garibaldi?

Anyone order a shrink-wrapped Garibaldi?

Anyone order a shrink-wrapped Garibaldi?

Amongst all this, Delenn also has another tangential story arc. She returns to Minbar to find that her dissolution of the Gray Council has thrown her people in to chaos and pushed them to the brink of civil war. Through her trials and tribulations we get to learn what really happened at that first-contact meeting that resulted in the Earth-Minbari war and understand the resentments that have long bubbled under the surface between the warrior and religious castes. John Vickery makes a welcome return to reprise his role as Neroon.

And so, once our ensemble cast is all reunited, we are thrown headlong in to the war with Earth.

Now if you’ve read any of my other B5 season reviews, oh, I don’t know, say here, and here and here, you will have heard me talk about Straczynski’s writing with reverence before but nowhere is his brilliance more evident than here. The reward for sticking with Babylon 5 through those early, somewhat hammy episodes of season one is here, at the end of season four. If you’ve watched Babylon 5 religiously from the first episode, then you’ll recognize elements that were dropped into seasons one, two and three comng together here. Straczynski brings numerous different plot points together as he concisely wraps up season four. 

That said, the end of season four feels a little rushed and there’s a very good reason for that. As Straczynski mentions in his commentary on The Deconstruction of Falling Stars, because of the impending demise of PTEN, the network that had carried the series so far, he was told to wrap Babylon 5 at the end of this season. As a result, his five-season story arc was being truncated to four. It was only after Sleeping in Light had been shot as both the final episode of the show and as a precaution against cancellation that Straczynski was told that TNT would be picking up Babylon 5 and he would indeed be getting a fifth season. This meant that Sleeping in Light would still remain as the final episode but was pushed out to the end of season five. The Deconstruction of Falling Stars was hastily shot as the season ending episode of season four. 

Another unfortunate consequence of the uncertainty of whether or not B5 would get picked up for its fifth and final season was that the options that held the cast members to an obligation to be available for shooting that fifth season could only be extended by thirty days according to their contracts. WB and TNT informed the B5 production office that they would have their decision about the fifth season “by late June or early July of 1997.” Since the options on the cast expired in mid-June, this was cause for some concern. That put the “drop-dead date,” for concluding all agreements relating to a fifth season, at July 14, 1997. The major ramification, should all contracts not be concluded by that date, would be that the production office would have to re-negotiate contracts with the actors. This would certainly involve haggling over raises, and since production had already cut everything down to the barest penny in order to get WB and TNT to agree to go ahead on a fifth season, this would effectively kill the fifth season and end the show. 

The details of what happened next are still in dispute with Straczynski and Claudia Christian claiming different things, but the bottom line is Christian did not sign her contract before the deadline passed and as a result she did not reprise her role as Ivanova in season five.

What do you mean I'm not going to be in season five?

What do you mean I’m not going to be in season five?

Given the popularity of the character and the fact that Ivanova was slated to take over as B5 commander in the final season, this was a massive disappointment for fans who took their ire out on Straczynski and Christian on internet newsgroups. This in turn, drastically affected how Straczynski interacted with fans. Up until this point, Straczynski had been very interactive with fans on newsgroups and messageboards – indeed he could be considered one of the first people to really embrace the Internet for making himself accessible to fans. However, following the backlash Straczynski spent much less time responding to posts and emails and has publicly stated this will be his policy in future. 

All that said, for me, The Deconstruction of Falling Stars just does not work. For starters, it’s a massive anti-climax to what is arguably Babylon 5’s finest season. Secondly, it is so alien (pardon the pun) to all that has come before that it just feels out of place. This isn’t Straczynski’s fault. The fact that he came up with anything at all to end the season is a testament to his creativity. I think the reason I dislike this episode so much is because it’s purely a stand alone episode to fill a void and as such it feels like the show is regressing back to those early hit or miss episodes of season one. It certainly doesn’t feel worthy of being the season finale after all that has come before. Not only that, but there’s nothing in it to get us excited about a season five. You could very well be forgiven for thinking that Babylon 5 truly does end here. 

However, the real shame in all of this is that there was ever a question of whether Babylon 5 would get picked up for its final season. As fans we can only wonder what might have been had the show been allowed to complete its full five-season arc unmolested – but alas, that is something we will never know.

Ep1. – The Hour of the Wolf
Londo finds himself in the service of an insane Emperor and enlists Vir’s help. G’kar vows to find Mr. Garibaldi. Ivanova, Lyta and Delenn take a White Star to search of Sheridan. Sheridan discovers he is not alone on Z’Ha’Dum

Ep2 – Whatever Happened to Mr. Garibaldi
Sheridan meets Lorien. G’kar is captured by the Centauri. Londo begins to plot to overthrow the emperor.

Ep 3 – The Summoning
Ivanova and Marcus go in search of the First Ones. Garibaldi is found. Sheridan returns. G’kar suffers at the hands of Emperor Cartagia.

Ep.4 – Falling towards Apotheosis
Garibaldi is suspicious of Sheridan and Lorien. Emperor Cartagia makes plans for his Godhood. Sheridan decides he must deal with Kosh and reveals the price he must pay for going to Z’Ha”Dum

Ep.5 – The Long Night
Londo plots against Cartagia. Ivanova is sent to search for more of the First Ones. Sheridan sets a trap for the Shadow fleet.

Ep6. – Into the Fire
The Climax of the Shadow War.

Ep7 – Epiphanies
Garibaldi resigns as chief of security. Bester returns to tell the command staff that President Clark is plotting against them.

Ep 8 – The Illusion of Truth
An ISN news crew reports its version of the truth about Babylon 5.

Ep. 9 – Atonement
Delenn returns to Minbar for a dreaming ceremony. Sheridan sends Franklin and Marcus to Mars Colony to reach out to the resistance.

Ep.10 – Racing Mars
Franklin and Marcus make contact with the resistance. Garibaldi and Sheridan are no longer seeing eye-to-eye.

Ep.11 – Lines of Communication
Franklin and Marcus relay Sheridan’s offers to the resistance. Delenn is forced into an unpleasant encounter.

Ep. 12 – Conflicts of Interest
Garibaldi gets a surprise client for his PI business. Babylon 5 starts broadcasting as the voice of the resistance.

Ep. 13 – Rumors, Bargains and Lies
Delenn seeks to form an alliance with the warrior caste to prevent civil war on Minbar. Sheridan fools the members of the league of non-aligned worlds.

Ep. 14 – Moments of Transition
Delenn returns to Minbar in an attempt to stop the civil war that has erupted between the warrior and religious castes. Lyta strikes a deal with Bester.

Ep. 15 – No Surrender, No Retreat
Sheridan recruits allies from the league of non-aligned worlds and takes the war to President Clark. Londo and G’kar form an unlikely alliance.

Ep. 16 – Exercise of Vital Powers
Garibaldi returns to Mars to confront his new employer. Franklin continues to work with the Telepaths rescued from the Shadows.

Ep. 17 – The Face of the Enemy
Garibaldi commits the ultimate betrayal before learning what really happened to him when he disappeared. Franklin and Lyta take a strange cargo to Mars.

Ep. 18 – Interssections in Real Time
Sheridan is interrogated.

Ep. 19 – Between the Darkness and the Light
Garibaldi pleads his innocence and mounts a rescue attempt for Sheridan. Ivanova foils an ambush by Earth forces.

Ep. 20 – Endgame
The battles for Mars Colony and Earth

Ep.21 – Rising Star
Sheridan returns to Earth and is faced with an ultimatum. Delenn has a proposal.

Ep. 22 – The Deconstruction of Falling Stars
The legacy of the characters of Babylon 5 as seen from different points in time.

Related Posts:
My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5 – Season Three

My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5 – Season Two

My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5 – Season One

My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5 – The Gathering

My Guilty Pleaure – Babylon 5

Stuart Clark is the author of the Project U.L.F. series of Sci Fi adventure novels

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My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5 – Season Three

As I had said in my review of season two, visually season two’s opening credits were my favorite.  That said, visually, season three’s titles were a pretty good successor, however,  musically, I think Franke hit this one out of the park.  The rising notes are a reflection of the season’s rising tension and the industrial sounding “hammer strike” as I like to call it gives season three an ominous feel.  We are definitely being set up for something dark and dangerous.

Season three is a bit of an oxymoron in as much as so much happens but nothing really happens.  Sounds kinda weird huh?  Bear with me, I’ll try and explain that statement.

Episode one begins with the introduction of yet another new character.  In the opening scenes of Matters of Honor we meet Marcus Cole (played by Jason Carter).  Marcus is a Ranger fleeing a drazi colony that, so far, has given the rangers safe haven but has now come under scrutiny from the expanding Centauri empire.  He comes to Babylon 5 to ask Sheridan to free the rangers from the hostile Centauri blockade.

I’ll be honest, when I first watched season three – what, sixteen years ago – I didn’t like the character of Marcus.  Looking back, I find it hard to remember why.  Maybe it was because I was happy with the character set B5 already had and I was unhappy that Straczynski had thrown someone else in to the mix.  Maybe it was because I was British and Marcus felt like every British stereotype I’d ever seen on TV before.  The plummy accent grated on my every nerve.  Honestly, I expected Marcus to break out into “Tally ho chaps!  Into the fray we go!” at any moment.  A leather flying cap and goggles felt more appropriate than a ranger’s robe and Minbari fighting staff.  Marcus should have been flying spitfires, not spaceships and the character just felt out of place to me on a sci-fi show.

What do you mean it’s not 1942?

In hindsight, I was a lot younger when B5 first aired and perhaps my dissatisfaction with Marcus’s character back then says more about me and my own prejudices than it does about Carter’s acting because, much like my initial over-critical assessment of Claudia Christian in the role of Ivanova, on a second viewing, Marcus is actually a pretty good character and a worthy addition to the cast.

So, back to Matters of Honor.  Since Delenn is the leader of the Rangers Sheridan has no real recourse other than to oblige Marcus’s request (a) because it’s the right thing to do and (b) because Sheridan also needs to do the right thing by Delenn who, by now it is clearly obvious, is his romantic interest.  As a result, Sheridan discovers he has a new ship at his disposal – the White Star – Minbari built with Vorlon technology, this thing tops out all the specs and has its own jumpgate capability.  Everything is set up for a first face-off with the Shadows.  Oh yeah – this is gonna be a good season.

As with every other season, the opening episode is a no-brainer.  You have to see this episode.  It sets up so much of what’s to come.  Similarly, with the previous two seasons I had said that the episodes not to be missed were those written by Straczynski.  In season three every episode is written by Straczynski – and that should tell you something.  This is not to say every episode is a “must see” in fact Convictions (Ep. 2) could be easily passed by were it not for Londo and G’kar.

In Convictions, a terrorist is setting bombs aboard the station.  Patrick Kilpatrick stars as the terrorist in an appearance uncannily reminiscent of John Malkovich in In the Line of Fire – but it’s not this plotline that makes this episode memorable.  What makes Convictions good is the interplay between G’kar and Londo, who, as a result of an explosion, are trapped in an elevator together. Together, they steal the show.  If you believe everything you read on the internet, apparently the following scene was supposed to be played seriously, but Andreas Katsulas (G’kar) decided to ad lib it and Straczynski let the two actors run with it.  Whether you believe that or not, it remains a truly memorable scene and many people cite it as a favorite.

The point is, there were episodes in season three that maybe weren’t quite as strong as others, but it was scenes like this that made each one worth tuning in for because you never quite knew what you were going to get.  Similarly, characters made choices or decisions in episodes which would go on to be significant subplots. Franklin’s stims addiction for example was subtly introduced in A day in the Strife (Ep. 3) and in the same episode Londo arranges for Vir to become an envoy to Minbar, effectively sending him away.  This is not because Londo dislikes Vir, on the contrary, he has actually become quite fond of his attaché.  No, Londo needs to get rid of Vir because Vir is fast becoming like a conscience to him, reminding him of all the missteps and poor decisions he has made and continues to make.  It is this that has become distasteful to Londo and the fact that he feels the need to send one of his few remaining friends away because of it further outlines the tragic nature of Londo’s character.  Yet both of these subplots are secondary to the main thread of the episode.

Now let’s get back to that opening statement of mine – So much happens but nothing really happens.  What do I mean by that?  Well, when I say nothing really happens I mean none of the major story arcs are concluded.  In season three everything is building toward the Shadow war and yet we don’t get to see the climax of the Shadow war (not yet).  In season three, the command staff of Babylon 5 find their position as a remote arm of Earth Gov as untenable but yet there is no war against Earth (not yet).

Here Straczynski is sticking to the basic tenets of writing – building tension towards a climax somewhere near the end of act two, where the story is a story of three acts.  Act 1 – Introduction.  Act 2 – Exposition.  Act 3 – Denouement. Now, depending on what school of thought you are from, you might have your three acts all an equal part of the whole, or, if you’re like me, I like my introduction to be about 25% or the first quarter of a story and then the exposition to be approximately the next 50% with the last quarter of the story allowing for a quick wrap up.  Either way, having your climax at the end of act two places it about 66-75% of the way through the story which, in Babylon 5’s case puts that climax firmly in the first half of season four (which is exactly what happens).  For my thoughts on that you’ll have to come back and read the next season review.

So, with all that said, season three was a perfect opportunity to explore some interesting subplots whilst the main story threads thundered onwards towards said aforementioned climax.  Babylon 5 was able to do this because it had established itself, it knew exactly what it was about and where it was headed and its fan base was on board and not going anywhere soon.

Thus, in season three we see Richard Bigg’s character, Dr Franklin, struggle with a stims addiction and that scenario play itself out.  More importantly Franklin’s character was written in such a way that we could all empathize with him because the truth is, we’ve all known people like Franklin.  People who can’t delegate, who believe that the only way to get a job done properly is to do it themselves and who, ultimately, pile so much pressure on themselves that they crack.

Franklin knows his days as doctor are numbered

Similarly, G’kar, who we have seen go from bitter, hate-fuelled warrior to freedom fighter, undergoes another transition in season three when he is incarcerated for attacking Londo in Dust to Dust (Ep. 5) . After weeks of being locked in the brig, G’kar emerges a changed Narn. The solitary confinement allows him time to reflect on his situation and the fate of his race.  This coupled with his vision in Dust to Dust results in G’kar becoming the Narns’ spiritual leader – a change that Katsulas handled with aplomb and which made the character of G’kar all the more likeable.

Delenn is also still also trying to find her own place in the universe.  Banished from the Gray council and outcast from her own people; neither human or minbari, Delenn is truly alone.

What becomes clear in season three (if it wasn’t before) is that ambassador Kosh – the Vorlon – is messing with people’s heads.  We know from the All alone in the Night (S2. Ep11), and The Fall of Night (S2, Ep.22), that Sheridan can hear Kosh in his head and that outside of his encounter suit, Kosh appears as different things to different people, but up until this season, Kosh has kept a low profile, seemingly on screen only when necessary to throw in a cryptic line or two.  Now that the Shadow forces are moving, Kosh is turning up more and more often – and the reason for that is half the battle in the upcoming Shadow war.

In the meantime, Earth is going to hell in a handbasket, with President Clark declaring martial law and the Night Watch on B5 becoming more aggressive in their tactics. Sheridan still has friends in Earthforce though.  A few generals on Earth who know when to keep their heads down and their mouths shut and a few renegade Captains who can bring some muscle to a fight in the shape of Earthforce destroyers.  The mid-point of the season  (Episodes 9 through 11) sees Sheridan deal with these challenges from within Earth Gov. Severed Dreams (Ep.10) was a Hugo award winning episode and provided one of the first major space battles of the show.  Extremely effects heavy, Severed Dreams had over a hundred CG shots and was literally being worked on until the last possible hour at which time it was rushed over to an uplink facility for broadcast.  Severed Dreams was also the episode in which B5 officially “goes rogue” and breaks from Earth.

Ceremonies of Light and Dark (Ep. 11), whilst not one of the stronger episodes of the season is worth watching just for the interplay between Londo and Lord Refa and for the last five minutes of the episode. In a rebirth ceremony organized by Delenn, each of our primary characters must reveal a secret that no-one else knows. For most of them their revelations are no great shock to the B5 fan, but Ivanova’s confession had me wishing I had a DVR fifteen years ago.  Wait?  What did she just say? Talk about a conflicted character!   WTF#4.

A Late Delivery from Avalon (Ep. 13), despite the guest star power of Michael York, is perhaps the weakest episode of the season, but from here on out, season three steamrolls on to its end.

Episode 14 – Ship of Tears – is another episode that makes me want to sidetrack and talk about the writing on the show.  I had said before how much I was impressed by Straczynski’s ability to drop references in to earlier shows, only to have them be much more significant later.  Ship of Tears is a case in point.

In Ship of Tears, Walter Koenig returns to Babylon 5 as the Psi Cop Bester.  Bester has information that shadow ships are transporting weapons and, with the help of Sheridan and crew, they can prevent the Shadows delivering their deadly cargo.  Sheridan takes Bester with him on the White Star to engage the Shadows and they capture the cargo vessel, only to find that its cargo of “weapons” is actually cryogenically frozen telepaths with cranial implants.  Bester is as astonished as Sheridan by this discovery.

Ship of Tears is an important and clever episode in as much as it draws many story threads together but also sets up things that will not come to fruition until late in season four.  Highly recommended.

Speaking of story threads coming together. Remember that hot mess of paradoxes that was Babylon Squared in season one? Well finally the B5 faithful will get all of their answers as to what that was all about in the form of War without End – parts 1 and 2 (Episodes 16 & 17).  It only took two seasons (two years in broadcast time!!!) but now the plethora of questions that were raised by Babylon Squared will have their resolution.  Tim Choate reprises his role as Zathrus and this time around, because we finally understand why Zathrus is behaving as he is and saying what he says, he actually comes across as quite charming instead of intensely irritating.  Babylon 4’s disappearance is explained and everything finally makes sense.  Kind of.  I think.

Of course, as well as plenty of flash-backs to tie all three episodes together and references from as far back as the Soul Hunter (S1. Ep.2), there’s also some flash-forwards to act as teasers and pique our interest in what’s to come much later on.

In War without End, again Straczynski employs one of the basic tools of a writer, that of making you, the viewer, omniscient.  Because we’ve seen half of the events already in Babylon Squared, we know a lot of what is going to come in War without End.  In letting the viewers be more aware of what is going on than the poor characters who are about to walk in to this mess gives us a vested interest seeing how the characters are going to resolve their predicament.  It’s a great ploy for sucking people in to a story.

It’s around this point in the season that Doctor Franklin goes all spiritual/aboriginal on us, decides to resign as the doctor of B5 and go ‘walkabout’ to find himself in an attempt to rid himself of his stims addiction.   I have to say I thought Richard Biggs handled Franklin’s addiction marvelously; from the initial stages of denial, through acceptance and then owning the problem.

Because Franklin is an integral part of the command staff his resignation and absence leaves a huge void.  On occasion other members of the command staff need information that only Franklin knows and so they go searching for him around the station.  Garibaldi does it once in Walkabout (Ep. 16) and then Ivanova does it again in Grey 17 is missing.  At this point Franklin gets quite upset and it’s understandable why.  Here’s a man trying to confront his demons on his own terms and nobody will leave him alone.  He effectively tells Ivanova that he’ll give her the information she wants on the condition that they never come looking for him again. Self-imposed exile won’t work for Franklin if people won’t leave him in peace.

Can’t you people just leave me alone!

I liked the stims subplot.  It was believable and well done and complemented the other story arcs.  Interestingly enough, because Straczynski was writing these episodes week-by-week, Biggs didn’t even know if his character of Franklin was going to make it.  In his commentary on Interludes and Examinations (Ep. 15), Biggs says he went to Straczynski and asked “I am coming back, right?”

Also in Grey 17 is missing, John Vickery makes a welcome return as the warrior caste Minbari, Neroon.  Neroon was another one of those bit parts that I always enjoyed seeing on screen.  He is to become much more significant in season four.

Neroon

And then we come to And the Rock cried out No Hiding Place (Ep. 20).  Rock is a brilliant episode because everything you are led to believe gets thrown on its head come the conclusion.  In terms of storytelling it’s almost diametrically opposed to War without End.  As I said, War without End gave us, the viewers, a great power over the characters because we knew much of what was to come.  In Rock, Straczynski sets us up to believe one thing and then throws us for a loop – something he admits to enjoying doing in his commentaries.  Rock is an extremely clever episode and was written very carefully.  I would suggest you watch Rock twice, the second time immediately after the first.  On the second viewing listen very carefully to what Londo says (and equally to what he doesn’t say).  All the clues are there if you listen for them.  Given all the political sparring that Londo and Refa have done before, Rock plays on the viewers assumptions to envisage an ending that never comes.  That said, when the ending does come it’s as shocking as it is brilliant and I challenge any of you who are fans of the show at this point not to be punching your fists in the air and shouting “Yeah!”

Shadow Dancing (ep.21) gives us the first major confrontation of the shadow war.  Up until now, every battle with a shadow ship(s) has pretty much been a hit-and-run affair with the use of one White Star.  Now, Delenn and Sheridan have convinced the other races in the league of non-aligned worlds to lend their ships to the fight and what we get is a CG treat in the form of two massive armadas going at one another.

In fact, Shadow Dancing is an episode of confrontations – Franklin’s stims addiction subplot finally runs its course as he meets and confronts his personal demon (and I mean that in more ways than one) and Sheridan is forced to face his wife, Anna, a woman he has believed to be dead for five years (WTF#5).

Yes, not only does Straczynski like throwing his viewers for a loop, he also does it to his characters too.  Despite everything Sheridan has been led to believe, his “dead” wife has returned.  As we learn in Z’Ha’Dum, the season finale, Anna has been living on the shadow’s homeworld for the past five years, unable to get a message out to her husband.  Sheridan can’t believe it.  He wants to believe it, but he can’t and then, in the end, he simply refuses to – because Anna’ reason for visiting is to take him back to Z’Ha’Dum and, as Sheridan has been told time and again by Kosh in Season three – “If you go to Z’Ha’Dum, you will die.”  Regardless, knowing that it is almost certainly a trap and undeterred by the advice of an ancient Vorlon, Sheridan agrees to go.

The observant among you will notice that the actress playing Anna Sheridan has changed since Revelations (S2. Ep2).  Apparently, the actress first used as Anna Sheridan was unavailable when it came time to shoot Z’Ha’Dum so, Straczynski, learning that Boxleitner was married to an actress (Melissa Gilbert of Little House on the Prairie fame) asked her to stand in.  Melissa agreed to do it for much less than her usual rate, but it did also mean that Anna Sheridan’s last message to her husband had to be re-shot.

“I’ve changed since you last saw me John – but I’m still your wife!”

Z’Ha’Dum is a powerful season ending episode.  For fans who have watched the character of Sheridan grow over the past two seasons; who have become invested in that character and grown to like him, it is difficult to watch him go to what is almost certain death.  Yet at the same time it is this that makes it riveting television.  All season we’ve been told that if Sheridan goes to Z’Ha’Dum he will die and perhaps we prepared ourselves for that eventuality (the foreshadowing has to be there for a reason right?). Perhaps we thought if Sheridan went it would be in some final confrontation with the shadows –  some gigantic space battle that would leave him mortally wounded – but now, here he is, walking in to the lion’s den of his own free will!  The first time I saw it, Z’Ha’Dum’s ending left me stunned.  Noooooooo! How could they leave us hanging (literally) like that?

So all in all a good season.  Perhaps the best season of all. By season three Babylon 5 had certainly hit its stride.  The characters were all well developed and the story threads were all woven together like a braid.  At this point, you missed an episode at your peril because watching Babylon 5 was no longer about tuning in each week for an episode, it was about seeing where the story went next and hoping you didn’t miss anything – whether that be a great scene between characters you had grown to love, or subtle references that were going to be significant later on (although you probably wouldn’t know it a the time!)

Season three was all about building tension – the title music inferred as much – and in that it succeeded. But season three was also about great change, so while the storylines sung like arrows flying toward their predetermined targets, Straczynski took some time out to play with his characters.

G’kar goes from freedom fighter to spiritual leader.  Franklin goes from doctor to addict – from healer to one needing to be healed. Delenn struggles to belong in the world and the command staff must come to terms with breaking away from Earth and becoming an independent outpost.

Looks like the costume department finally got a new budget

Even Londo tries to change in season three, realizing that his association with Mister Morden comes at too high a price, but events transpire to set him back on his dark destiny.

In previous posts I had broken down the season into what I thought were must see episodes and other not so important episodes.  I won’t do that here.  For season three I would suggest watching them all.  There’s a couple of weaker episodes but really each episode contributes to the greater whole.

Ep.1 – Matters of Honor – Introduction to Marcus.  Marcus’s backstory.  Londo tries to distance himself from Morden. Sheridan agrees to rescue Rangers from a training camp. Sheridan given the White Star.  First battle with a Shadow ship. Sheridan sets up war council.

Ep.2 – Convictions – A terrorist bomber threatens Babylon 5.  G’kar and Londo stuck in elevator together.

Ep.3 – A day in the Strife – A centauri appointed replacement arrives for G’kar .  Sheridan must deal with a first contact situation.  Franklin’s stims addiction story thread set up.

Ep.4 – Passing through Gethsemane – Lyta Alexander returns (again).  A man discovers he has been “mind-wiped” and was a serial killer in his former life.  Londo sends Vir to Minbar.

Ep.5 – Voices of Authority – A meddlesome envoy from the ministry of peace informs Sheridan she is his new political officer.  Ivanova & Marcus go on a quest for the first ones. G’kar begins to suspect there are private meetings going on behind his back.

Ep.6 – Dust to Dust – Bester returns to the station under the ruse that he is looking for a major dust trafficker. G’kar uses the psychedelic drug to invade Londo’s mind and learn his secrets.

Ep.7 – Exogenesis – An alien race symbiotically infects people with the aim of making their lives better.

Ep.8 – Messages from Earth – Sheridan learns that a Shadow ship has been discovered on Jupiter’s moon Gannymede.

Ep.9 – Point of No Return – Earth decrees martial law.  Londo seeks an audience with the late Emperor’s wife.  The Night Watch takes over security of B5.

Ep.10* – Severed Dreams – Rogue Earth Cruisers seek the sanctuary of Babylon 5 forcing the station into a full-on confrontation with Earth forces. Delenn confronts the Gray council.

Ep.11 – Ceremonies of Light and Dark – Delenn is kidnapped by Earth loyalists.

Ep.12 – Sic Transit Vir – Vir’s surprise arranged marriage exposes a secret and his bride is not what he would hope for.

Ep.13 – A Late Delivery from Avalon – A sword wielding man who arrives on Babylon 5 claims to be King Arthur.

Ep.14 – Ship of Tears – Bester returns again and enlists the help of the command staff to attack a shadow convoy.  The shadow ‘weapons’ cargo is a surprise to everyone.

Ep.15* – Interludes and  Examinations – Morden returns.  Sheridan confronts Kosh and enlists the help of the Vorlons. Franklin resigns as doctor of B5.

Ep.16 – War without End (Pt1) – The truth about what really happened to Babylon 4 is revealed.

Ep.17 – War without End (Pt2) – The truth about what really happened to Babylon 4 is revealed.

Ep.18 – Walkabout – Franklin goes walkabout and finds himself falling for a singer from the Zokolo.  Sheridan tests his hypothesis on Shadow weakness and engages a shadow ship.

Ep.19 – Gray 17 is missing – Garibaldi discovers a hidden level on the station.  A warrior caste Minbari challenges Delenn’s leadership.

Ep.20 – And the rock cried out, No hiding place – Londo plots to win himself favor at the Centari royal court.

Ep.21 – Shadow Dancing – Franklin must confront his personal demon(s).  Sheridan leads the races of B5 in a full on assault of the shadows. Anna Sheridan returns.

Ep.22* – Z’Ha’Dum – Sheridan agrees to go to Z’Ha’Dum and meet with the shadows.

* – Commentary available on DVD

Watch:

Them all if you can.

Meh:

Exogenesis (Ep. 7)

A Late Delivery from Avalon (Ep. 13)

Related Posts:
My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5 – Season Two

My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5 – Season One

My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5 – The Gathering

My Guilty Pleaure – Babylon 5

Stuart Clark is the author of the Project U.L.F. series of Sci Fi adventure novels

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My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5 – Season One

And so, it begins.

I watched season one of Babylon 5 when it was first broadcast, and back then it seemed very episodic in nature.  It is only when you go back and watch episodes and seasons in quick succession you can have a better appreciation of the “greater whole” of Babylon 5 than you ever could by getting it piece meal, week-by-week.

In reviewing season one, I don’t intend to give a blow-by-blow account of each and every episode, but more of a broad overview and my impressions of the season as a whole.  There are some that would argue that you can’t or should not miss any episodes from season one.  I would disagree and say that it really depends what you want to get out of it.

Apart from the week-to-week character development, there were three main threads to the Babylon 5 story, first, the shadow war, second, the break from and subsequent war against Earth and finally the telepath “war”.  What I’ll hope to do with this review is provide indicators of which episodes are relevant to the major story arcs, should you just want to sink your teeth in to that and not have to watch every single episode.  What becomes clear though on a second watching, is that even episodes that didn’t necessarily contribute to the greater story arc(s) had relevance in terms of just being great character studies – in helping the viewer understand these characters, their ideologies and motivations better.

Season One Cast

Babylon 5’s five season arc covers five years in the story of the station.  Season one corresponds to the Earth year 2258.

One of the first things that strikes you when beginning season one is the change in Babylon 5’s command staff compared to the pilot movie The Gathering.  Lieutenant Commander Laurel Takashima is replaced by Lieutenant Commander Susan Ivanova played by Claudia Christian, Doctor Benjamin Kyle is replaced by Doctor Stephen Franklin (Introduced in Episode 2) played by Richard Biggs, and resident Telepath Lyta Alexander is replaced by Talia Winters played by Andrea Thompson.  Considering the pilot aired a full year before season one began, I’m not sure anyone watching the original airing of Midnight on the Firsing Line would have even noticed or cared to remember these changes, but in my personal opinion they were all for the better.

Claudia Christian as Susan Ivanova & Richard Biggs as Dr Stephen Franklin

In the first two instances because I thought Christian and Biggs were better actors than their former counterparts and in the latter case, because Andrea Thompson had the sexiest, huskiest voice this side of Mars Colony and I had a complete nerdcrush on her!  She alone would have kept me tuning in! (Not that I had anything against Patricia Tallman who played Lyta, and who would return in later seasons)

Oh Andrea, if you could only know what I’m thinking…Oh No! You can!

Another change in the show was the addition of attache’s to each of the primary alien ambassadors and so we are introduced to the bumbling and downtrodden Vir Cotto of the Centauri (Stephen Furst), and the proud Na’Toth of the Narn regime (Caitlin Brown).

Stephen Furst as Vir and Caitlin Brown as Na’Toth

Sci-Fi fans would also recognize Bill Mumy, known for his role as Will Robinson in “Lost in Space,” as Delenn’s humble and loyal assistant, Lennier.

Danger Will Robinson! – A bony plate is about to grow out of the back of your head!

I grew to love all of these characters but in season one I particularly liked Caitlin Brown’s portrayal of Na’Toth,  It was a small (and underutilized part, IMO), but Na’Toth was a super strong female character that Brown played with conviction.  It was easy to believe that were you to ever cross Na’Toth she would rip off your head and spit down your neck.  The character of Na’Toth would later be played by Mary Kay Adams but Caitlin Brown would guest star, as a human, in There all the Honor Lies in Season three.

Season one opens with the episode Midnight on the Firing Line.  To be honest, it’s probably a better kicking off point than The Gathering.  Firstly, because in this episode you will be introduced to the command staff that will populate most of the series’ first four seasons and secondly because, well, it’s just better.

In Midnight on the Firing Line, we learn that Ragesh 3, a peaceful Centauri agricultural colony has come under vicious attack by the Narns.  This immediately sets up Londo (Peter Jurasik), the Centauri ambassador, as a sympathetic character but later we learn that the Centauri have enslaved the Narn homeworld and the attack is really a retaliatory strike.  The ongoing feud between the Narn and the Centauri becomes a significant Babylon 5 subplot and is the primary motivation for many of Londo and G’kar’s actions throughout the series.  In this first episode, G’kar (Andreas Katsulas) is portrayed more as a villain than a victim.  As Babylon 5 progresses, we will come to learn that Londo and G’kar are more alike than they are different.  One can sympathize with both of these character’s positions – Londo, more for when he gets himself mixed up with the Shadows and begins to question what he has done, G’kar because he is backed in to a corner and trying to fight back while his hands are tied by political correctness, bureaucracy and apathy.  They are also both tragic characters, Londo because he clings to the ideals of a Centauri republic long since vanished and in doing so embarks on a path that he will later regret. G’kar because he is driven by a pathological hatred of the Centauri and a need for revenge.  They are also both proud patriots, and over the course of five seasons, both of them will grow wiser and see the error of their ways.

Thrown into the midst of this are the command crew of Babylon 5 who need to find a diplomatic solution to the latest flare up of the ongoing feud.  In my previous review of The Gathering, I had said how much I liked Michael O’Hare in the role of Commander Jeffrey Sinclair.  I seem to be in a minority with that sentiment, but for me he brought just the right amount of authority, level-headedness and philosophical reserve that were required of the commander in season one.

Don’t make me mad – I just might have to raise my voice

Ivanova, on the other hand, was a different story.  I remember thinking back when the show first aired, that I wasn’t completely convinced by Claudia Christian’s portrayal of Ivanova in season one.  She seemed a little bit stiff and a little bit unsure of herself in the role.  However, on watching season one again, whilst I do think it took Christian a few episodes to settle in to character, that judgment was perhaps a little bit harsh and she is actually a lot better than I remembered.  In hindsight, I think the thing that irked me most about the Ivanova character was that she was often treated as the comic relief – she always got the snarky, sarcastic lines – and the humor just didn’t work for me.  Ivanova was at her best when she was being a hard-nosed, kick-ass Lieutenant Commander/Commander – they just should have left it at that. Midnight on the Firing Line reveals important information about the Ivanova character as, through her dealings with Talia Winters, we learn of Ivanova’s deep distrust of telepaths.  Again, a recurring theme that will span the life of the show.

Like many of the episodes in season one, Midnight on the Firing Line worked on two levels: (1) It was its own, self-contained story, but (2) it put in place elements that would contribute to Babylon 5’s greater story arc(s).  Episode two – The Soul Hunter – would continue in the same vein.  On the surface it seemed like a very well contained individual episode, but there’s exposition here relating to Sinclair’s missing twenty-four hours that I personally think makes this episode unmissable.  As an aside, episode two is also the episode in which we get introduced to Dr. Franklin  and for that reason alone I’d recommend it.

After that, Babylon 5 meanders onward to episode six, Mind War – an important episode because it introduces the character of Bester (played by Star Trek veteran Walter Koenig).

If I just open my eyes…Aw c’mon Scotty, you beamed me to the wrong ship again!

Bester is the embodiment of the Psi Corps, the shadowy organization that watches over (read: controls) telepaths.  Bester himself proves to be a somewhat underhanded character, working in surreptitious ways and revealing only enough information to get what he wants.  As a result, he is not trusted and never gladly received on the B5 station.  Bester is an important but background character and Koening guest stars in the role in all five seasons.  Mind War is worth seeing for another reason though, as our assumptions of G’kar are challenged in this episode.   Straczynski says numerous times in his various commentaries that he liked to set things up and then surprise the viewer and up until this point, G’kar has pretty much been painted as a villain.  In a subplot in Mind War, Sinclair’s love interest, Catherine Sakai goes on a deep space exploration to a region that G’kar has expressly warned her away from.  When she gets in to trouble G’kar makes arrangements for her rescue with no obvious gain to himself.  It is the first chink in G’kar’s armor that we see and a sign of things to come.  In fact, even he says to Sakai in the episode, “No one here is exactly what they seem.”  G’kar’s monologue at the end of Mind War is still one of my favorite bits of the entire five seasons.

Episode eight – And the Sky full of Stars – is your next unmissable episode, as two covert knights come to Babylon 5 with the intention of interrogating Sinclair to find out what happened at the Battle of the Line.  Pieces of Sinclair’s missing twenty-four hours start falling in to place.

….And then there’s Signs and Portents (Ep. 13)

If you were in any doubt as to whether there was something bigger than just the weekly storylines going on in Babylon 5, this was the episode to quash that doubt.  Signs and Portents heralded the introduction of the sinister Mister Morden, emissary for the Shadows.

Ed Wasser as the delightfully despicable Morden

Morden was played absolutely perfectly by Ed Wasser and, like Bester, was a small yet significant character that flitted in and out of the show. To this day, I still think some of my favorite episodes were those with Morden in them.  Morden has come to Babylon 5 at the behest of his “associates” to ask each of the alien ambassador’s a simple question – “What do you want?”  The answers will have catastrophic results.  Signs and Portents is really our first introduction to the Shadows and the start of the Shadow war thread that will run through to the beginning of season four.

At this point I really must stop to talk about the writing on this show.  I’m not talking about the dialogue but the attention to detail in the overall story arc(s).  There are moments in this show when I find it truly mind-boggling that Straczynski managed to plot out five seasons in the manner he did.  In fact I would go so far as to argue that you shouldn’t just watch this series again for pleasure, you should watch it again after that, just to pick up on all the references you missed first (and second) time around.  For example, when Morden avoids Kosh in Signs & Portents, you really have no idea why he’s doing it.  Sure, you could pass it off as Kosh being a little bit weird but only when the shadow war is over (3 seasons later) are you really going to understand why.  Another example is Delenn’s first words to Lennier in The Parliament of Dreams (Ep. 5).  Only much, much later in B5’s run are you going to understand the significance of it, or of Neroon’s (a warrior caste Minbari) line in Legacies (Ep.17) when he says to Sinclair – “You talk like a Minbari, commander.”  These are just a few examples of easily missed but crucial references that pepper the entire five seasons of Babylon 5.

Fans of the show get it.  They understand that B5 was epic in its reach and scope; that it was attempting to do something that had never before been done in science fiction on television – and that is why they are so passionate about it. The writing is the reason you should go out and buy the box sets of this show, and the reason you should watch episodes and seasons in quick succession so that you can really appreciate Babylon 5.

Again, after Signs and Portents, season one takes a hiatus from the major story arcs and then runs a series of self-contained, easily missable episodes.  For me, most seasons of B5 had at least one episode that I really disliked and season one is no exception.  I would suggest missing TKO (Ep.14) of season one.  TKO revolves around a kind of extra-terrestrial Fight Club that Garibaldi’s friend, Walker Smith is excluded from because he is human.  I’m sure the episode is meant to be an allegory for racism and honor or something like that but personally I don’t think it adds anything to any of B5’s story arcs and really is a one-off episode.  I’d even go as far as to say season one would be better without it.

The season then ends with a flurry of must-see episodes.  First comes A Voice in the Wilderness parts one and two (Eps 18 & 19), and I recommend these because there is foreshadowing here that bears fruit in season four.  Then comes Babylon Squared  (Ep. 20)

Babylon Squared was Babylon 5’s first WTF moment (and trust me, there were a few of them).  As Babylon 5’s moniker would suggest, B5 is the fifth in a series of space stations and, as we learn in the pilot movie and in other season one episodes, the first three stations were sabotaged before they could be completed.  Babylon 4, on the other hand, vanished twenty-four hours after going “on-line.”

Now you see it…Babylon 4

In Babylon Squared, B5 receives a distress call from the supposedly lost B4 station.  Only thing is, the time stamp on the message is four years old, corresponding exactly to when B4 vanished. Sinclair and Garibaldi go to investigate (because of course you’d send your commanding officer and chief of security into a dangerous situation instead of a couple of starfury pilots who are just sitting around twiddling their thumbs waiting to be scrambled), and, as it turns out, Babylon Four has been caught in some kind of temporal time rift and is now “unstuck” in time.  Thus ensues much rushing around, flashbacks, flashforwards and lots of talk about there “being no time” or “all the time in the world/galaxy/known universe.”  Throw in to this mix a new (incredibly irritating) character called Zathras (Tim Choate) and you’ve got one hot mess of paradoxes that will leave you thinking to yourself “What the hell just happened?”

Looking back on it now, I keep thinking that Babylon Squared was a risky episode in as much as it really could have been a make-or-break moment for much of Babylon 5’s viewership.  I mean there we all were, watching this seemingly episodic show, the first appearance of the shadows was now a distant memory, having aired seven weeks earlier – and now we were confronted with this.  Now I don’t care what you say, but there was no way to put this in to context with anything that had come before, or with anything that would come soon after, and if you weren’t heavily invested in the show, you could have easily said, “That’s it, I’m done,” after watching Babylon Squared.  B5 fans simply had to assimilate all of Babylon Squared and move forward with the blind faith that this episode actually meant something (and of course it did).

I also think it was risky for the show itself.  After all, B5 was in its infancy but nearing the end of its season run.  If it was looking to get picked up for a second season, throwing everyone for a loop this late in the game was a brave move indeed.

With all that said, watch this episode.  It’s a must-see.  You won’t understand a thing that is going on first time around but trust me, this might be the single most important episode in the whole five season run of the show.

After Babylon Squared there was a single episode before the season finale.  On the surface The Quality of Mercy, (Ep. 21) was another self-contained episode, but like many others, it contained elements that would be significant much later on.

Episode 22, Chrysalis, like all good season finales was a cliffhanger.  Sinclair announces his engagement to Catherine Sakai, Garibaldi uncovers a plot that will have repercussions for the next three seasons and Delenn begins a startling transformation.  And with that season one is/was over.

I have mixed feelings about season one.  As a fan, I love it, because it is the introduction to a show that I followed for years, but as that same fan, I’m almost disappointed because at 22 episodes long, I still don’t know if it’s that strong of a season, and by that, I mean I don’t know if season one alone could convince a non B5 fan to continue watching it. Yes, there are glimpses of the greatness to come but they are scattered among (some not so good) stand-alone episodes.  It saddens me that when I recommend Babylon 5 to people I feel like I have to add the caveat “Just get through season one, it gets much better after that.”  Agreed, this does not sound like a ringing endorsement of the show, but unless you’ve been on the B5 merry-go-round before, you can easily overlook all the references and foreshadowing that are so important in season one and DO make it a good season.

One of my complaints of The Gathering was that there was a lot of information that needed to be conveyed in a relatively short period of time.  Conversely, one of the problems with season one of B5 is that so much groundwork needs to be laid to set up subsequent seasons that it is literally drip fed to you, episode by episode.  I feel that at many points during season one, especially during streaks of stand alone episodes, viewers could literally not realize that they are being drawn into an intricate web of plotting and storylines – and that’s a shame, because they could easily decide that B5 is not worth their time.  Again, for this reason I would recommend you getting your hands on a box set and plowing through them.  If you can make it past Babylon Squared, I think you’re on for the ride.

At the start of this post, I said I would give suggestions as to which episodes in season one I think are crucial to following the greater story arcs in Babylon 5.  If you have the accompanying booklet that comes with the box set, I’d say as a general rule of thumb, watch anything written by Straczynski and/or directed by Janet Greek.  Similarly, avoid anything that has special guest stars of the known actor variety.

So, without further ado, here is a breakdown of season one.

Must See:

Ep 1. – Midnight on the Firing Line – Sets up ongoing feud between Narns and Centauri.  G’kar painted as villain. Introduction to Talia Winters, Susan Ivanova.  Vir.  Ivanova’s dislike of telepaths revealed.

Ep. 2 – Soul Hunter – Introduction to Stephen Franklin. Delenn revealed to be Satai (member of the Grey Council)

Ep. 6 – Mind War – Introduction to Bester.  Talia Winters backstory. First signs of G’kar’s change.

Ep. 8 – And the Sky full of Stars – What happened to Sinclair at the Battle of the Line?

Ep. 13 – Signs and Portents – Introduction to Mr. Morden and the shadows.*

Ep. 18/19  – A Voice in the Wilderness Parts 1 & 2 – Garibaldi’s backstory. Introduction to Epsilon 3, the planet that lies close to Babylon 5

Ep. 20 – Babylon Squared – Fate of Babylon 4 revealed. Introduction to Zathras.

Ep. 22 – Chrysalis – Garibaldi uncovers a devastating plot.  Delenn begins a startling transformation.*

*Commentaries by Straczynski available on DVD

Recommended:

Ep. 3 – Born to the Purple – Good character study of Londo.

Ep. 5 – The parliament of dreams – Introduction of Lennier, Na’Toth, Catherine Sakai. Sinclair and Sakai’s back story. Good character study of G’kar

Ep. 10 Believers – Good character study of Dr. Franklin.

Ep. 11 Survivors – Good Character Study of Garibaldi

Ep. 12 – By Any Means Necessary – Good for ongoing feud between Londo and G’kar.

Ep. 17 Legacies – Good character study of Delenn. Introduction to Neroon

Ep. 21 The Quality of Mercy – Franklin discovers an alien healing device.

Meh – Watch if you have time:

Ep. 4 – Infection

Ep. 7 – The War Prayer

Ep. 9 – Deathwalker

Ep. 16 – Eyes

Avoid:

Ep. 14 TKO

Ep. 15 Grail

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My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5 – The Gathering

My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5

Stuart Clark is the author of the Project U.L.F. series of sci-fi adventure novels

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My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5 – The Gathering

It’s been ten years since the Earth-Minbari war, a war in which the Minbari unconditionally surrendered despite dominating and being on the verge of complete victory. Babylon 5, mankind’s “last, best hope for peace,” is about to go operational or “on-line” and the last remaining factor to fall in to place is the arrival of Ambassador Kosh, the Vorlon. When Kosh arrives early, the command staff of Babylon 5 are thrown for a loop and as they rush to meet him, an attempt is made on the Vorlon ambassador’s life. What follows is a desperate race to identify the assassin and save Kosh’s life because otherwise, everything Babylon 5 is supposed to stand for – peace and neutrality – is thrown into jeopardy.

All right, to be fair, as pilot movies go, “The Gathering” was not the most auspicious of starts. Before I get into the meat and potatoes of this post, let me begin by saying that there are two versions of “The Gathering.” The first, is the original version (1993) that was aired on television and had music by Stewart Copeland of The Police fame. The second is a Director’s cut/Special Edition (1998) that Straczynski had the opportunity to go back and re-edit and which has music by Christopher Franke, the man who would go on to do the music for the entire series. This post is related to the 1998 version but much of it will apply to both.

In The Gathering we are introduced to, among others, the following characters:

Michael O’Hare as Commander Jeffery Sinclair
Tamlyn Tomita as Lieutenant Commander Laurel Takashima
Jerry Doyle as Security Chief Michael Garibaldi
Mira Furlan as Ambassador Delenn of the Minbari
Peter Jurasik as Ambassador Londo Mollari of the Centauri Republic
Andreas Katsulas as Ambassador G’Kar of the Narn Regime
Johnny Sekka as Doctor Benjamin Kyle
Patricia Tallman as Lyta Alexander
Ardwight Chamberlain (voice) as Ambassador Kosh Naranek

As expected, many of these characters would go on to populate the series. Some, however, would not.

The Babylon 5 Command Crew
- As never seen again

The Gathering succeeds in as much as it completes its story arc and comes to a satisfactory conclusion. Where it fails is that it has an awful lot of information to dispense to set up the five seasons that will follow and occasionally you get characters lecturing other characters with infodumps just so we know what’s going on at that moment in time and as reference for what is to come.

For the most part, The Gathering was well cast. Straczynski said that he wanted Babylon 5 to be multi-racial as well multi-species – “Almost like a United Nations in Space.” As a result you have Tamlyn Tomita as the Asian Lieutenant Commander and Johnny Sekka as the African American doctor. Unfortunately they are also two of the weakest characters in the movie. I think the reason I bought into Babylon 5 so heavily was because I had no prior knowledge of any of the actors who played the major characters. It wasn’t like Battlestar Galactica (Oh, that’s that dude from Miami Vice) and so it was easy for me to lose myself in these characters. However, when it came to Lieutenant Commander Laurel Takashima and Doctor Benjamin Kyle in the pilot, I’m sorry, I just wasn’t buying it. This is a shame because both actors have had long and successful careers (Sekka is now sadly deceased). Tomita gives a particularly stiff performance as the station’s second in command and, to be honest, I just don’t get the feeling that her heart is in it. Sekka, on the other hand, might just have had poor material to work with. His delivery of the old sci-fi/horror favorite “Will somebody please tell me what the hell is going on here!” is so bad it’s almost laughable. In his commentary, Straczynski says that he wanted Sekka to play the doctor throughout the series but health issues prevented Sekka from doing so. To be honest, I think this worked in Babylon 5’s favor as Richard Biggs was then cast as Doctor Stephen Franklin and he excelled in that role.

Michael O'Hare as
Commander Jeffrey Sinclair

I always liked Michael O’Hare as Commander Sinclair. He would go on to star in season one of the show and gave Sinclair a level-headedness and confidence that you’d expect to see from a commander burdened with the responsibility of a gigantic space station and a few million lives.
Jerry Doyle also brought some Bruce Willis/John McClaine-esque hard nosed grittiness to the role of Garibaldi.

Jerry Doyle and Bruce Willis
Separated at Birth?

I’m sure his similarity to Willis was not pure accident given the massive success of the Die Hard franchise.

Now I have a PPG
Ho! Ho! Ho!

But Babylon 5 was not just a show about a station and its Earth Alliance crew and it was the other principal actors who played the alien ambassadors who were perhaps one of its greatest strengths. Mira Furlan, Peter Jurasik and Andreas Katsulas brought Delenn, Londo and G’Kar to life, creating complex, mulit-faceted characters who were feisty, compassionate, devious, funny, tragic and inspirational all at the same time.

Fans of the show who revisit the pilot will notice that Delenn’s make up is very different in the movie. She has more facial prosthetics and patterning on her head which is somewhat similar to G’Kar’s. (Not the blue mandelbrot set – yeah, what was that all about??? – that would go on to adorn her shiny palate in season one). Her head bone prosthetic also looks like it could do with a bit more glue!

Wait! You're not supposed to change until the end of
season one!

The difference is because Delenn was originally intended to be a male character who would undergo a much more radical transformation at the end of season one, changing from male to female. There was work done to enhance/alter Furlan’s voice but in the end it just didn’t work and so that plot detail was discarded and Delenn’s “change” was something a bit less fantastic.

G’Kar’s make up (arguably one of the best in sci-fi) was also slightly different in the pilot.

Andreas Katsulas as G'Kar

The Centauri hair piece was never intended to be quite so large, but apparently after it was fixed to Jurasik’s head and before it was trimmed, Jurasik walked in on Straczynski and as a joke said something along the lines of “I like it like this,” and Straczynski said, “OK, we’ll keep it.” So the joke ultimately backfired on Jurasik and for five years he, Londo and every other male Cantauri character was stuck with big hair. The other nuance that Jurasik brought to Londo was that accent. (No, Peter Jurasik does not talk like that in real life). On set, to get into character, Jurasik would repeat the oft used line that B5 fans got to know and love – “Ah, Mister Garibaldi!”

You should be glad I am not sitting in front
of you at the movie theater - yes?

On a personal note, G’Kar and Londo would go on to become my favorite characters because of their ongoing feud. Katsulas and Jurasik played off each other extremely well and made each of the character’s growth over the course of the show a smooth and believable progression.

Patricia Tallman is our first introduction to telepaths and the shadowy organization that controls them – the Psi Corps. In The Gathering, her character is mentioned as being Babylon 5’s resident telepath although, despite returning in later seasons, her character is replaced in seasons one and two by Talia Winters played by Andrea Thompson. That said, her inclusion in the pilot is essential due to her direct contact with Kosh (no human has ever laid eyes on a Vorlon outside of their encounter suit) and what is to come much later in season three.

Patricia Tallman as Lyta Alexander

Again, fans of the show might recognize another notable face on the command staff of B5 in this pilot. Ed Wasser, who would go on to be excellent in the role of the sinister Mr. Morden plays one of the operators in the observation dome or “C&C” as it also became to be known. It’s only a bit part and he is sadly cursed with the job of computer operators in all sci-fi shows – namely repeating anything the computer tells him in frantic tones (“Hull breach in brown five!”) or stating the completely obvious, (“There’s something coming through the jump gate.”) Nevertheless, it is both a shock and a pleasant surprise to find him here.

Hull breach in brown five! ...my associates and I could not care less

Wasser was originally employed by Straczynski as a reader – to read the script opposite other auditioning actors. Straczynski gave him his bit part in the pilot but when it came time to cast someone in the role of Mr. Morden, Wasser immediately sprang to mind. He was suave, debonair, dashingly good-looking and his deep voice was perfect for the role. He played Morden to a tee, being perfectly charming and yet casually indifferent.

John Iacovelli, B5’s production designer joins Straczynski on the DVD commentary and it’s interesting to hear him talk at length about the sets. Babylon 5 was shot on an extremely low budget that required the crew to improvise and be innovative in their set design. The modular nature of the station itself helped in this respect, allowing walls from one set to be used in many others. In fact, many of the sets doubled as two or three locations on the station. One of the things Iacovelli says he wanted to incorporate into Babylon 5 was a lot of texture and color and again, this helped him bring Babylon 5 to life. Many of the areas of Babylon 5 were color-coded and so to give the impression that characters were in different parts of the station all that was required was to change the strip lighting on the sets. Winding corridors were also shot one way and then the other to give the illusion that Babylon 5 was indeed a vast space station.
Many of the sets that were constructed for the pilot were used throughout Babylon 5’s five season run.

The other thing about The Gathering that is worth mentioning is that it is in this pilot that we are first treated to the CG that would become the signature effects for the series. Babylon 5 was unique in that it was the first sci-fi series to rely totally on CG and not models for its external station/ship shots. Despite looking a bit dated now, given the time that Babylon 5 was produced, the CG effects are actually pretty good. For a good chuckle at the technology used and a deeper appreciation of what they managed to achieve with the CG, check out this article.

And so, as I come to the end of my thoughts on The Gathering it is worth mentioning that at the end of the movie, when the mystery is solved, one of the characters informs Sinclair that “there is a hole in your mind.” It is this cliffhanger/revelation that is central to the whole Babylon 5 story and the hook that is supposed to make you continue watching the show.
As Sinclair admits earlier in the movie (remember those infodumps I mentioned?), he fought at the battle of the line, the final battle of the war and mankind’s last-ditch effort to repel the Minbari before they inexplicably surrendered. During that battle Sinclair, giving up all hope, set his Starfury fighter on a kamikaze style collision course with a Minbari war cruiser. Just before impact though, Sinclair believes he blacked out and for a twenty four hour period he can remember nothing. When he comes to, he discovers the war is over.

Did I like The Gathering? As a fan, yes. I think it does a good job of telling its own self-contained story whilst foreshadowing a lot of what was to come in the seasons that followed. It’s only from going back and watching the pilot again that you can actually pick up on all the references and events that will have so much meaning later on, so in that respect, it’s interesting for fans but I’m not so sure how interesting it is for non B5-o-philes.
The acting from some quarters leaves a lot to be desired and the writing could have been better in places – but again, with so much information to get across and ninety minutes to do it in, you can understand and maybe even forgive The Gathering for its infodumps. All that said, I’m not sure The Gathering succeeds as a pilot and by that I mean I’m not sure if it’s strong enough to convert B5 newbie’s to instant fans (clearly it succeeded in getting the show green lighted). I think there are stronger episodes in season one that I would recommend to people before I’d have them watch The Gathering.

I have written this post with the aim of giving my overall impressions of the Babylon 5 pilot and without going in to too much plot detail. For an alternate view and a complete summary of the plot (with spoilers) check out this post.

If you enjoyed this post, jump back soon for my thoughts on season one.

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My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5

Stuart Clark is the author of the Project U.L.F. series of sci-fi adventure books

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My Guilty Pleasure – Babylon 5

When I was a toddler, my father terrorized me by watching Doctor Who (I was petrified of Davros and the Daleks).  Then, when I was a bigger kid, he took me to see the Star Wars trilogy.  As I grew older we shared a love of science fiction and then, when I was in my late teens/early twenties, a new show came to the UK that we would sit, watch and enjoy together.  That show was J. Michael Straczynski’s Emmy award winning Babylon 5.

Babylon 5 seems to be unique among sci-fi series in as much as people either seemed to love it or pathologically despised it.  You could talk about Star Trek or one of its spin-offs and people might say “Meh, Voyager is all right,” but mention Babylon 5 and you’d either see a face light up in recognition of a fellow fan or receive a scowl and a roll of the eyes.  Babylon 5 definitely divided sci-ficionados and you were either a fan, or you weren’t.  There was no middle ground.

Perhaps the reason for this was Babylon 5’s greater story arc that encompassed all 5 seasons. Unlike other sci-fi shows which you could catch an episode of here and there and not really feel like you’d missed much, if you weren’t strapped in for the ride with Babylon 5 part way through season 2, you were lost. Which is not to say other sci-fi shows did not have an underlying theme – Star Trek spent it’s time “seeking out new life and new civilizations,” Voyager was constantly looking for a way home and the folks on the Battlestar Galactica were searching for the thirteenth colony (Earth) – but these were always far reaching objectives and weekly adventures could easily be separated from them. 

For me, being a B5 fan and meeting a non-B5 fan was always disappointing.  I would think, “How could you not like this? The writing in this show is BRILLIANT!” Now I’m not saying B5 didn’t have it’s cheesy, hammy or downright poorly written scenes – but seeing multiple, interwoven storylines progress through five seasons and contribute to a greater story arc was something I had never seen in Sci-Fi before.  The only thing that was even remotely close to Babylon 5 was the Star Trek spinoff Deep Space 9, itself concerned with the characters that inhabit, and the machinations of, a space station – and if you trawl the internet you’ll find plenty of evidence to suggest that DS9 was lifted from the B5 idea. (Even Straczynski has been quite vocal about it).   Certainly, Straczynski met with Paramount executives to pitch the idea of B5 to them, a pitch they declined to bite on.  Soon after, however, DS9 went in to production and whilst DS9 aired first, the similarities between the two shows are startling.

When Babylon 5 first aired in the UK, I managed to follow it all the way through to the first few episodes of season 4.  I can’t remember exactly what happened at that point.  I think there were rumors that it was going to be cancelled and the air time got moved around to the point where I just couldn’t fathom what day or time it was on.  (I’m sure I also had lots of important socializing to do).  Regardless, at that time I never did get to see the show in its entirety but I did remember it fondly.  In the following years I managed to acquire Babylon 5 on VHS, rounding out my collection just as the format was dying.  I never did get to watch them all before I relocated to the US and so, changing from a PAL to an NTSC television system meant that if I was serious about completing the Babylon 5 experience I would have to start collecting the series over again on DVD.  Well, the day finally arrived that I owned a complete set of DVDs.

Having recently completed my novel series and armed with a netbook and a hellishly long commute to the day job, I decided to take a hiatus from writing and embark on a trip down memory lane, reacquainting myself with some old friends along the way.

I’ve been revisiting Babylon 5 and watching both the series and the movies according to this suggested viewing order.  Currently I’m at the end of season three.  In the next few days I’ll be posting my thoughts on the Babylon 5 pilot movie The Gathering. I hope you’ll “jump” back for that review. 

Stuart Clark is the author of the Project U.L.F. series of sci-fi adventure novels.

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An Interview with Sci-Fi Author Gareth L. Powell

Having recently read and enjoyed Gareth L. Powell’s The Recollection, (See review in previous post). I was thrilled when Gareth agreed to an interview. So without further ado, I give you, in his own words, Mister Gareth L. Powell

Hi Gareth, thanks for agreeing to the interview and congratulations on The Recollection. It’s an excellent read. On reading it, I felt like I could definitely see where some of your inspiration for the story came from. Could you tell me what first piqued your interest in Science Fiction?

“I was always fascinated by space and spaceships. I wanted to be an astronaut. I thought we’d all be living on the Moon by 1980. I remember watching the Apollo-Soyuz link-up on TV at home, and Star Trek on my grandparents’ old black and white TV set. Then we had Star Wars and the original Battlestar Galactica. I was also fortunate to have a local library with a well-stocked sci-fi section, and parents keen to encourage me to read whatever took my fancy. I discovered Heinlein, Clarke and Niven at an early age, then quickly progressed to Cyberpunk and the New Space Opera.”

In both Silversands and The Recollection I’ve been impressed with just how much you’ve managed to cram into both novels considering both are quite short reads. Are your first drafts as streamlined as the novels appear to be or does a lot end up on the “cutting room floor” so to speak?

“I edit as I go along. Each time I sit down to write, I start at the beginning and read through to where I finished at the end of the last section, making changes as I go. This means that by the time the first draft is completed, it’s actually been edited many times. That said, I did cut 20,000 words from Silversands.”

Following on from that, can you talk us through your self-editing process?

“A piece of writing – whether it’s a sentence, a paragraph or a whole page – has to have some sort of rhythm and flow to it. This is doubly true for lines of dialogue. I go back through and try to find that rhythm. I cut out unnecessary words and exposition; ditch adverbs; and replace everyday words with phrases that are more direct and striking.”

At the heart of The Recollection is a complex plot involving time travel. Was it difficult to keep all the threads of the story organized?

“It was hellishly complicated to work out how to get all the characters to arrive at the same point in history at the same time. I had to draw four dimensional charts to make sure all the distances and travel times added up. As one of the characters says in the book: ‘Ain’t relativity a bitch?'”

How did you go about planning the novel. What tools, if any, did you use?

“The only tools I used were a notebook and pen. I spent a year or so jotting down ideas, then when I felt a plot start to emerge, I began working out who the characters were, and eventually came up with a rough outline. Then I started writing, and the rest fell into place as I went. The story bubbled up out of me like a suppressed memory – it’s the book I’ve always wanted to write, and I poured all those early influences into it. ”

In both your novels you’ve produced strong female protagonists. Was that a conscious decision and if so, why?

“In both books, the sex of the characters emerged organically. I wanted a good mix of male and female, so if character X was going to be a boy, character Y had to be a girl, and vice versa. In early outlines of The Recollection, the character that eventually became Kat Abdulov started out as male: an classic space pilot in the tradition of Han Solo, Mal Reynolds, John Truck, Beowulf Shaeffer, Lorq van Ray… I guess I made her female in order to comment on that archetype; and also because I already had the character of Ed in mind, and I didn’t want both my protagonists to be male.”

Do you feel there’s anything you need to take into consideration when writing from a female point of view?

“Despite what I said in my previous answer, I don’t dwell on a character’s sex while I’m writing them. I think of them as individuals, and write from that point of view. They are who they are; the rest is just plumbing. Without wishing to sound like Barney Stinson, I’ve always been surrounded by women; I’ve worked in offices where I’ve been the only man. I have two sisters and two daughters. I’m used to the company of women and find it as easy to place myself in the mind of a female character as a male one. If it’s true that a writer creates characters as reflections of their inner self, then Kat is as much an aspect of my personality as Ed. I’m very fond of her, and so I find it extremely gratifying when female readers respond positively to her. It makes me feel I’m doing something right.”

I’ve loved the cover art for both Silversands and The Recollection. Did you have any say in the production of the artwork?

“In both cases, I sent the artist some text from the book, to help them choose and visualize an image for the cover. I was shown rough sketches before the final artwork was produced, but the deciding vote always belonged to the publisher.”

Can you tell us about any future projects you’re working on?

“At the end of last year, I signed a contract with Solaris Books, the publishers of The Recollection, for a novel called ‘Ack-Ack Macaque’, which I’m currently in the process of writing. It’s the story of a cynical, one-eyed, cigar-chomping monkey whose starting to doubt everything, including his own existence, and it’s due to be published in January 2013. In the meantime, my first two books, Silversands and The Last Reef, are going to be released in digital format by Anarchy Books in April this year.”

What Sci-Fi shows, movies and books do you enjoy and what is it about them that you like?

“I enjoyed the recent Battlestar Galactica remake and the brief glimpse we got of Firefly, and Doctor Who holds a special place in my heart; but I’m wary of new sci-fi shows. I’ve been burned too often. Heroes, The Event, Outcasts – they all started out promisingly, but soon fell apart.”

“I have some movies I go back to time and again, such as the Back To The Future trilogy, The Chronicles of Riddick, and Independence Day. These are comfort movies. Escapism has its place. Some days you just want to see a fleet of spaceships blow the living hell out of famous American landmarks. When I’m in a more serious mood, I’ll go for something classic such as 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner, or the original Day The Earth Stood Still.”

Quickfire round:

Tea or Coffee?

“Either, so long as it’s decaff. I quit caffiene in 1997 or 1998, and I’ve no plans to go back.”

Outline or not?

“Partial outline – more a rough sketch than an Ordanance Survey map.”

Star Wars or Star Trek?

“Star Wars (the original trilogy, not the later additions).”

Mac or PC?

“PC so far, but if I catch another virus, I may jump the fence and get a Mac.”

Alien or Predator?

“Alien. Even better: Aliens.”

OK, thanks Gareth. Once again, congratulations on The Recollection. I wish you lots of success with it. If people want to find out more about you and your work, where can they go?

“My website is at www.garethlpowell.com. Or you can find me on Twitter and Facebook.”

Stuart Clark is the author of the Project U.L.F. series of sci-fi adventure novels

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