Remembering… Battlestar Galactica

Each month, I rummage through the annals of television history, reviewing shows past. This time, we head into space to join the crew of Battlestar Galactica

Science fiction – a cornerstone of television, and a mainstay on our screens since Star Trek first aired in the 60s. With its unique ability to push boundaries in scope and believability, it’s no wonder the genre’s developed such a healthy fan base over the years.

In 2004, Ronald D. Moore, best known for his work on Star Trek, re-imagined a series based on the 1978 television show, Battlestar Galactica. The original, which only lasted for a single 24-episode season, had such an interesting premise, and with the advancement of visual effects and bigger budgets, it was ripe for a reboot.

The show follows a fleet of spaceships carrying survivors from twelve colony planets that were destroyed by the Cylons. The Cylons themselves were created by humans to act as slaves, before they rebelled. One of the ships is the titular Battlestar Galactica, commandeered by William Adama (Edward James Olmos), which was about to be decommissioned before the attack. As the survivors fend off the Cylons, they search for a legendary planet, Earth, to call home.

Described as a military drama set in space, the show regularly focused on battles between the humans and Cylons. Some of these fights involved spacecraft – the human fleet was lead by Captain Lee ‘Apollo’ Adama (Jamie Bamber) – and others took place on land, down in the war-torn colonies. If you watch Battlestar Galactica now, the CGI looks a little crude, but it’s used sparingly, with the story and characters taking precedence.

Several changes were made from the original: the Cylons are man-made rather than a reptilian alien race; two of the main characters, Kara ‘Starbuck’ Thrace (Katee Sackhoff) and Sharon ‘Boomer’ Valerii (Grace Park), are now female; and the devious Count Baltar is altered to a reluctant Dr Baltar (James Callis).

The reboot also introduced an advanced Cylon race that look and act like humans, as they’re designed to be sleeper agents infiltrating mankind. This particular change was a strong element of the show, creating paranoia among the crews as to who was human and who wasn’t.

If I’m perfectly honest, I don’t like space operas. Shows like Star Trek, Blake’s 7 and Farscape never appealed to me. The closest I’ve ever come to watching a programme set among the stars was Red Dwarf, and that was purely for its spoofing of classic sci-fi tropes. However, after hearing that Battlestar Galactica earned critical acclaim for its writing, I felt compelled to give it a try. One of the biggest selling points for me was the complete lack of alien species, something Olmos insisted on before agreeing to join the cast. Instead, the show’s strength lies in the relationships between characters and the resulting internal struggles.

When certain characters are revealed to be Cylons, yet still ally with the humans, it creates a rift within the fleet that escalates into civil war. It’s a portrayal of human survival that brings to mind The Walking Dead and Frank Darabont’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Mist. When a group comes together to withstand a non-human threat, it soon becomes clear that it’s not those on the outside you should worry about, but the people around you. The drama and emotion extracted from this simple setup kept people watching, but it was a much bigger mystery that brought audiences back week after week.

As I’ve mentioned, several Cylons looked and acted like humans – twelve of them to be exact. We are introduced to seven of them pretty early on. Number Six (Tricia Helfer) becomes rather prominent, but there is constant mention of the “Final Five”. The audience is aware that these five live among the crew of Galactica, and this information keeps you hooked as you try to figure out who they could be. I won’t spoil it for anyone who’s yet to watch, but I guarantee you’ll be surprised.

Battlestar Galactica took science fiction writing to a higher level by exploring the human race rather than strange planets and weird species, and for this it’s deserving of praise.

Next month I’ll be reviewing The Office and how it reinvigorated British comedy.

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