A brief introduction. Everybody has a TV series or a film that they’ve been meaning to watch but never have. Mine was Battlestar Galactica. To my eternal shame, despite the screaming of many people around me, I had never got round to watching the show, something I started putting right at the beginning of the summer. One big boxset bought, I sat down, and vowed to chart my expedition, episode by episode.
And this is the first.
Firstly, though, here’s what this isn’t. I’ve no ideas of grandeur here, and am fully aware that there’s little I can add to the debate and analysis of the programme. I wrote these as I went along, and they are very deliberately my instant reactions to the episodes as I saw them. Reading back now – and I’ve since completed the set and written the reviews, which will be coming your way on a daily basis for at least the first two seasons – there are things I’m tempted to change. There are things that even I can see make me sound dimmer than usual. But I decided to leave them be. The point of these pieces was as a reaction to individual episodes in a show where lots of people around me knew what was going to happen. Thus, I couldn’t discuss or debate them with anyone, for fear of spoilers.
And so we begin with, oddly, the one I’d been dreading – the mini-series that kicked off the revived BSG. Here’s what I wrote…
The one reason I’ve not got into the new Battlestar Galactica until now has been this miniseries.
I suspect many of us have TV series that we’d like to try, but the sheer abundance of episodes, and a lack of time, put us off trying them. For me, the fact that realistically I needed to sit through the three hour miniseries that sets the scene for it first was too big a hurdle. It didn’t help that most of those who recommended BSG to me were the first to concede that said miniseries was comparably quite weak. These were not the words I needed to hear, and were mainly responsible for it sitting unwatched for longer than was right.
But I’ve learned a lesson here. I should have jumped in earlier, because although the two parts of the miniseries have their problems, I thought it was, on the whole, really very good.
It’s a scene setter, of course, albeit with some juicy threads set up. As we meet the ageing Battlestar Galactica, the war with the Cylons – a creation of humanity – we learn was four decades earlier. A truce was called, and every year, the two sides are due to meet up at a mid-point (and how good were the scenes there?), although the Cylons never turn up. Until now.
Galactica is in the process of being decommissioned, and it’s clear that under the watch of Commander Adama, it’s a comparably low-tech ship. He won’t have it networked, and it’s a place where things seemingly need to be done the long way round. Pending a decommissioning ceremony, a nice narrative device is the tour guide who happily points out some of the features of the ship, but things soon take a turn for the worst.
For the Cylons have returned, and now have the ability to take human form. The first one we meet is the one who becomes known as Number Six (I did have to look that up), and she’s been having a relationship with Dr Gaius Baltar, a man who has been working on a navigation program for Colonial warships. It turns out that Number Six has made sure there are additions in said programming, that allow the Cylons, when they attack, to brush aside virtually all of the human race. Sloppy programmers, eh?
When the attack comes, it’s brutal, and it looks the business. The planet Caprica, where most of humanity now resides, is decimated by nuclear weapons and taken by the Cylons. Meanwhile, human military resistance folds when technology mysteriously fails at key moments. It’s a savage, and quick victory, and superbly realised on screen. No wonder everybody looks so bloody panicked.
Battlestar Galactica soon, we discover, is the last remaining battlestar, and its collection of older machinery serves it well, making it resistant to Cylon attacks. By the time the miniseries comes to an end, the human race is down to around 50,000 people, and Galactica is off in pursuit of the mythical planet Earth, something Commander Odama conceives on the spot to give his crew continued hope.
The beauty of this miniseries, aside from its main narrative thrust, is the number of things it puts in place. Baltar, for instance, is instantly slimy but understandable. The troubled relationship between Colonel Tigh and Starbuck is clearly and effectively mapped out. And the conflict between Commander Adama and his son, Apollo, offers the basis for a complex ongoing relationship between the pair. I felt I had to cut the mini-series a little bit of slack in places, but greatly enjoyed it putting its pieces in place.
There’s plenty more that could be picked out here, but the one other thing I wanted to focus on was the ending. This was scream-at-the-telly good, and what great cliffhangers are all about. I reached for episode one of the first season seconds after the credits rolled as a result.
That’s all because we’re introduced to the concept that there are twelve Cylons posing as humans, and we quickly pick up who three of them are. The show, however, saves the best of its first pack of twists for last, as Boomer – last seen heroically pulling survivors from the surface of Caprica – turns out to be a Cylon agent. It’s brilliant, and that one reveal alone had me signed up long term.
I regret, in retrospect, not getting past the hurdle of the miniseries sooner, but I really enjoyed it. The effects were surprisingly strong, and there were interesting choices for the characters to make. Plus, you can’t help but give it credit for how quickly and effectively it beds everything down for the series that’s to come. If anyone else finds themselves stuck at the same point as I was, I can only urge them to take the plunge.
Right now, though, I’ve got a boxset to tear through. We start on the first season tomorrow…