Battlestar Galactica (2004): Season One Review
Note: This review assumes some knowledge of the original Battlestar Galactica series and the recent Battlestar Galactica Mini Series. There may also be spoilers for Season One below.
Battlestar Galactica started life back in 1978. Following the huge success of Star Wars the previous year, and the potential return of Star Trek, Glen Larson put together his own space opera. It told the story of a band of humans who, following their escape the destruction of their 12 home worlds, set a course for a mythical world known as Earth. This 'rag-tag' fleet was different to anything seen in previous television science fiction and was a far cry from the cleanliness of Star Trek or the more political Star Wars, and while it never reached the same level of acceptance as either series, it still won over a lot of fans.
A couple of years later, Larson revisited the series with Galactica 80 a completely misjudged epilogue in which Galactica had found Earth with the Cylons in tow. It's been a long time since I last saw any episodes of Galactica 80 but I do remember it losing all of it's charm when set on Earth and although it featured a few interesting ideas these were never capitalised on.
Following this misstep, it seemed Battlestar Galactica had run it's course although over the years since there have been various attempts to bring the series back by both Glen Larson and series star Richard Hatch. With the big rise of television science fiction since Star Trek: The Next Generation appeared in 1987, these attempts continued but never got anywhere until ex-Star Trek scribe Ron Moore got the backing to start working on his own interpretation of the story - much to many fan's dismay. In particular, Hatch was less than pleased that his project was about to be ripped away by a newcomer and die-hard BSG fans continue to this day to boycott the new series.
With the backing US cable station Sci-Fi, Moore developed a two part mini series that told the story of the devastation of the 12 Colonies of Man at the hands of the Cylons and the subsequent exile of the last remnants of human life as they decide to set course for Earth - even though it's existence is in doubt. The mini-series drew in record breaking viewer figures for the station who, along with Sky One in the UK took the next step and commissioned this 13-episode first season of the show with Moore at the helm.
The new incarnation differs in many ways from it's forbearers. Gone is the tongue-in-cheek feel of the original, replaced by much darker solid science fiction. Other than the humans and Cylons, there are no other alien species and most insidious of all, instead of being the obvious robots of the original, the Cylons here can and do appear to be human with no simple method of detection until it's too late. There have been some character changes as well - all of the familiar names are there, but one of the original series main characters, Starbuck, is now a woman (Katee Sackoff), the same with Boomer (Grace Park). Apollo (Jamie Bamber) is still male, as are Adama (Edward James Olmos) and Commander Tigh (Michael Hogan), although Tigh is now white. One other big change is Gaius Baltar (James Callis) - in the original series, he was totally complicit in helping the Cylons take humanity by surprise, while here he's far more tortured given that he was tricked in to helping wipe out his own people and is now haunted by visions of 'Six' (Tricia Helfer).
Despite these differences, there are still plenty of aspects that remind you of the series origins. Along with the 'human' Cylons, we have more familiar robots, although these are only glimpsed occasionally on Caprica. The ship designs are also close to the original series including Galactica itself and the Viper aircraft. The Cylon ships are significantly different and are revealed to be organic which is a big departure from what we'd expect from a mechanical race. There's a much greater 'political' feeling this time around and while we still get the military muscle making most of the decisions, we now have a president (Mary McDonnell) who tries to keep civilian control of the fleet.
Much of the first season is focused on setting the pieces in place and there is a lot of character development - more than you might expect, but given Ron Moore's previous work on Deep Space Nine, it's not all that surprising. Yet, despite the small number of episodes making up the first series, one of the biggest problems is that the story doesn't progress quickly enough - especially given the fact that a second season was never guaranteed (but has since been commissioned). The impression Galactica gives is of a series with a guaranteed future rather than one that could end at short notice. That's not to say that things move too slowly and there are some big plot revelations and events towards the end of the season, it's just the early episodes seem a little too concerned with putting the building blocks in place rather than furthering the plot, and you occasionally find yourself wishing they'd just get on with it.
Battlestar Galactica is a return to intelligent science fiction. It's darker than most other recent series, and features a tightly woven story. The only concern is that in a couple of years down the line we end up with the series getting prematurely cancelled and no resolution to the plot strands that have been built - which would be a huge shame, but is a gamble worth taking given the potential pay-off if we get the whole story.
The DVD release is spread over four discs and features unobtrusive animated menus on each.
The picture quality is good for such a challenging source - BSG features huge variations in appearance from the dark gritty starship scenes to the over-exposed outdoor shots on Caprica so it's pleasing to see that this has not posed a problem in terms of the introduction of any sort of picture artefact. There is plenty of grain on show, but this is all intentional, and the dark scenes are well defined with little loss of detail or contrast.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is very active and this complements the instrumental score. There is plenty of good, but not gratuitous surround usage and the Firefly-like silent outer space shots seem to offer huge amounts of depth when contrasted with the other rich auditory aspects of the show.
As an aside, the title sequence here is the same as the UK broadcast - there was some speculation if the US title sequence would be used, but we can confirm this is not the case.
The extras for the Region 2 DVD release are disappointingly limited to just 50 minutes of deleted scenes. With such a varied and potted history, it would have been reasonable to expect more - we know Ron Moore is very interested in talking about the show through his on-line blog, so it's a huge missed opportunity to have not recorded any commentaries or interviews to include here.
Ron Moore's Battlestar Galactica is an extremely promising new series. It promises more depth than most other recent science-fiction and while it has it's flaws, the depth of characterisation alone sets the show apart.
The DVD release is good without being outstanding. The picture and sound quality is as expected given the fact that the show is so recent and the package as a whole is a must-buy for anyone who enjoys decent and daring sci-fi. Well worth a purchase and believe me, when you've seen the last episode, you'll have a very hard time waiting for the broadcast of season two.
Last updated: 26/06/2018 08:23:24