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.