Battlestar Galactica Season 2.0 Review
You could be forgiven had you said, back in 1980, that Battlestar: Galactica would once again soar to the giddy heights of primetime in network television schedules but few would have been that generous. After all, the state of Battlestar: Galactica in 1980 would have left you assuming there was more chance of Captain Zep: Space Detective, a live-action Space Sentinels or Jigsaw making a successful return to the airwaves, the latter featuring Robbie Coltrane as Biggum, Luke and Owen Wilson as the Double-O Men, Sophie Ellis-Bextor playing her mother and David Tennant as Sylvester McCoy.
Of course, mention of both Tennant and McCoy brings Doctor Who to mind and if you need proof that you should never, ever write off a television comeback, Doctor Who is it. Even only a couple of years ago, Doctor Who was still an easy gag for light entertainers, mention of its wobbly sets being a nod and a wink to the kind of audiences who gave Brian Conley a career. But with an enthusiastic insider, Doctor Who was brought back to the bosom of mainstream television - the Saturday evening schedule - where its return has been greeted warmly.
With Battlestar: Galactica, it's arguable that Executive Producer Ronald D Moore and the Sci-Fi Channel took even more of risk than Russell T Davies and the BBC. Though little more than a popular joke, there were good memories surrounding Doctor Who, with there being many casual fans of the show who could point to a Planet of the Spiders, a Stones of Blood or a Genesis of the Daleks as being an important television memory. But no one, at least no one declaring themselves of sound mind, could have similar memories of Galactica 1980, the follow-up to the original show that saw the Galacticans finally reach Earth, followed shortly after by the Cylons who were then seen tramping down various Los Angelean alleyways. It's even hard to think of there being that many fond memories of the original Battlestar: Galactica, Glen A Larson's cheaply produced answer to Star Wars.
Famously sued by 20th Century Fox over similarities to Star Wars, who were then counter-sued over similarities to Silent Running, Battlestar: Galactica was television's answer to the theatrical success of science-fiction. Although it began well - the first three episodes were edited together and released in cinemas in Europe - Battlestar: Galactica soon became better known for its reliance on a small set of effects footage in its space battles, which left it looking awfully cheap. With performances from Lorne Greene, Richard Hatch and Dirk Benedict that were more impressive than the various visual effects, the original Battlestar: Galactica was an entertaining space romp but given the involvement of Glen A Larson, not a great deal better than Knight Rider, Automan and Buck Rogers. Cancelled after seventeen episodes, Battlestar: Galactica made a brief return a year later in Galactica 1980 but was cancelled once again, this time after only ten episodes. Hardly then the makings of a show thought suitable for a return to the television schedules.
Richard Hatch and Glen Larson, though, never lost faith. Working apart from one another, they both broached a remake of Battlestar: Galactica with various US networks, even to producing a video a decade ago as a test preview. In 2003, Ronald D Moore, a veteran of various Star Trek shows, was asked by the Sci-Fi channel to remake the original Battlestar: Galactica right down to the destruction of the human colonies by the robot army of the Cylons. With Edward James Olmos in the role of Commander Adama, the Battlestar: Galactica miniseries was shown on the Sci-Fi channel in late-2003 before a full season was greenlit with backing from Sci-Fi in the US and Sky in the UK, finally showing in late-2004 in the UK and early the next year in the US.
This remake - being a popular turn of phrase, this Battlestar: Galactica has also been described as a re-imagining - sticks to the themes of the original whilst reflecting the changing social mores of the past quarter-century. In essence, it remains a story about twelve colonies of humans who live in an uneasy peace with the Cylons. With the assistance of a human traitor, Gaius Baltar, the Cylons launch a sudden and successful attack against the human colonies, almost wiping them out. As the surviving humans take to space in a ragbag fleet of ships, the one remaining Battlestar, the Galactica, leads the thousands of humans left alive away from the Cylon attack in search of Earth, a distant, thirteenth colony long thought to be nothing but a fable.
So far, so much like the original - Glen A Larson remains as an Executive Producer while Richard Hatch guest stars in a number of episodes - but Ronald D Moore's Battlestar: Galacticadiffers from the original in many respects. Where the original was far-sighted enough to have black members of the crew in prominent positions, this version also promotes women, with both Starbuck (Katee Sackhoff) and Boomer (Grace Park) being played by women. The father/son relationship between Commander Adama and Apollo remains but it is one that is strained by the ambitions of the latter, reaching a mutinous conclusion early in this second season. Other changes include Baltar remaining on board the Galactica having kept his treachery a secret - he left the Galactica in favour of a life with the Cylons in the original series - but his feelings of guilt remain, even to imagining conversations with the Cylon Number Six (Tricia Helfer) during this season.
The way in which Baltar has been rewritten reflects the change in this Battlestar: Galactica, less the black-and-white heroics of the original series and more guilt, regret and a willingness to let the truth pass by. Where Lorne Green's Adama led humankind to Earth with a faith based on scripture, Olmos' Adama doesn't actually believe in its existence and only uses the legend to give the survivors a purpose. Chosen to serve alongside Adama by the commander, despite not having the respect of the fleet, Colonel Tigh struggles with alcoholism and an ambitious wife, cast as something of a Lady Macbeth. The biggest change, though, is in the Cylons, who are now less stomping silver boxes and effeminate commanders than a race of robots who use computer viruses, wireless communications and remote hacking to disable the Galactica. No longer is there the sight of three Centurions sitting cosy within a Cylon Raider but, instead, the Cylon fighter craft now pilot themselves with the more familiar robots now used for ground attack. The most dramatic difference, though, is in the 'human' Cylons, such as Boomer and Number Six, who are almost identical to humans and are used to infiltrate the Galactica. As in the case of Boomer, these Cylons may not actually be aware that they are not human until their mission is activated.
In spite of those changes, the spirit of the original characters remains. Despite the change in sex, Starbuck remains a cigar-smoking, hard-drinking gambler who's the fleet's best pilot whilst Apollo is more level-headed, more of a leader of the Viper squadron than a great pilot. Adama remains a steady leader within the fleet whilst President Roslin (Mary McDonnell) takes on the less grounded aspects of the character. It is she who believes in the existence of Earth, not Adama and one of the major story arcs in this season is her search for proof of it. That said, though, your first hearing of the peculiar Galatican swearing is a nice homage to the original show, with, "Frak you!" and 'motherfrakker' being as good a way to get 'fuck' past the censor as any.
But this is a show influenced by Deep Space Nine and Babylon 5, preferring gritty and realistic rather than the day-glo disco-tech of the '79 series. With the interior of the Galactica designed around the military look that one associates with an aircraft carrier or a destroyer, this is a well-designed piece of sci-fi with storylines to match. Now less to do with a simple defeat of the Cylons - impossible given the size and nature of the human fleet - but more an escape from them, life aboard the Galactica is often bleak, leaving the characters written as short-tempered, pessimistic and, given the Cylon's ability in disguise, suspicious even of each other. Developing themes of the remnants of humanity in the Cylons, of faith, of the power of the military and of terrorism/resistance by humans within Cylon-occupied territories, this series is one with ambition, already being a classic of the genre.
Indeed, Battlestar: Galactica is often a wonderful television show and although there is the occasional post-9/11 moment of support for the Viper pilots - there's a particularly clunking one near the end of Final Cut that features a reprise of the rousing 1979 theme - this is a truly modern sci-fi show that's less interested in the utopia of space travel than the ever-present threat of extinction. Even in this season's best moment, the arrival of the Battlestar Pegasus commanded by Admiral Helena Cain (Michelle Forbes), any joy at there being two Battlestars is short-lived. Instead, it becomes a post-Guantanamo treatise on torture and the illness of a society commanded by the military, being a conclusion to Tigh's martial rule from earlier in the season.
And yet, superb though this show is, the problem with this DVD release is that it's not the full second season. Despite the Sci-Fi channel commissioning a twenty-episode season, Battlestar: Galactica was split into two seasons separated by three months. Rather than waiting for the final ten episodes to be shown, the Sci-Fi channel have released the first half of the season as this set under the title of 2.0. With the first episode of Season 2.5 - episode 11 of the full season - having been shown in January of this year (2006), it should follow this boxset onto DVD in the next few months but there isn't, as yet, any confirmation of the release of a full boxset containing all twenty episodes. All that and not even a mention of the Season 2.5 boxset containing the full, hour-long version of Pegasus where this set only contains a forty-five-minute edit.
But there's the sense in that of trying to find fault with this set without any evidence for there actually being a problem. And, of course, given how Battlestar: Galactica has already made a comeback against all expectations and offered a series of innovative commentaries via the Internet, one shouldn't discount anything to do with this show just yet. Not even, a la Galactica 1980, to their eventually finding Earth, perhaps without the Cylons in tow this time.
Scattered (43m58s): Following on from the events at the conclusion of the first season, Battlestar: Galactica 2.0 opens with Boomer opening fire in the CIC and hitting Adama several times in the chest. With Adama unconscious on Galactica and fearing Cylon infiltration and, therefore, knowledge of their location, Colonel Tigh orders the fleet to make an emergency jump but by not plotting their course correctly, Galactica ends up alone. Having developed a plan to place the rest of the fleet in space, it puts the Galactica in danger from the Cylon fleet but Tigh has no option.
Valley of Darkness (43m50s): During the battle against the Cylons, an enemy virus has made it aboard the Galactica and during the power loss that follows its activation, Centurions invade the ship with the aim of taking command. Knowing that the aim of the Cylon attack is to turn the guns of the Galactica against the rest of the fleet, Tigh releases Lee from the brig. Meanwhile, on Kobol, the Chief, Crashdown and the rest of the shuttle crew consolidate their position but find that further casualties are unavoidable whilst on Caprica, which is Cylon-controlled, Starbuck and Helo visit her old apartment.
Fragged (44m01s): On Kobol, the survivors of the shuttle crash find an anti-aircraft installation operated by Cylons, which they must destroy if they are ever to be rescued. Crashdown leads the raid but Baltar hears from Number Six that someone one the mission will betray him, making him more wary than usual. Meanwhile, on Galactica, as Adama remains unconscious, the Quorum of Twelve arrive on Galactica and demand a meeting with President Roslin, which Tigh agrees to. Unfortunately, this does not end as he had planned, which leads to him declaring martial law.
Resistance (44m04s): As panic spreads throughout the fleet following Tigh's imposing of martial law, several of the ships refuse to refuel Galactica, leading to his sending troops over to secure their co-operation. As they open fire on civilians, Tigh feels under unbearable pressure and visits the comatose Adama in search of guidance. Meanwhile, Adama has another visitor, his son, who bids his father farewell as he leads President Roslin off Galactica.
The Farm (43m59s): On Caprica, Starbuck and Helo meet and fight alongside the rebels against the Cylons but makes a shocking discovery. Meanwhile, as Adama awakes and returns to the CIC, he maintains Tigh's martial rule and retakes command of the ship. His first act is to begin a search of the fleet for Apollo and Laura Roslin, who, as he announces to all who'll listen, is no longer President. As Roslin and Apollo hide, they plot their escape from the fleet, finally leaving on the Astral Queen with a third of the fleet jumping with her.
Home, Part 1 (2x Parts of 44m02s): As Roslin and Apollo leave for Kobol, Adama declares that they and those who followed them are now lost to the fleet but there are some close to him who disagree. As Starbuck, Boomer and Helo rendezvous with Roslin and Apollo, they journey to the Tomb of Athena together but neither the Cylons nor Adama are finished with them yet.
Final Cut (44m05s): Following their earlier shooting of the civilians on board the refueling ship, Roslin decides that a more positive message should be shown coming out of Galactica and so agrees to a request from reporter D'Anna Briers. But what Roslin and Adama could not have expected was Tigh receiving death threats as a result of the incident on the Gideon.
Flight of the Phoenix (44m03s): As the Chief decides to build a new ship out of the scrap parts of Sharon's old Viper, the Galactica suffers a series of critical electrical faults. As Sharon tells Adama that these are a symptom of a Cylon virus, which will inevitably lead to a full attack, Adama must decide whether or not she is to be trusted.
Pegasus (45m45s): In the season finale, the Galactica comes upon another Battlestar, the Pegasus, a ship that was long thought destroyed. At first, the fleet are overjoyed to see the arrival of the Pegasus, which is led by the legendary Admiral Helena Cain (Michelle Forbes). As Adama and Cain come into conflict, she begins to assert her authority over the fleet, sending her own interrogator to the Galactica to work on Sharon. But when Helo and Tyrol take action against him in defence of Sharon, Cain prepares for an assault on the Galactica whilst Adama prepares for war.
Assuming this was shot on High Definition video - everything that I've researched on this show points to the miniseries being shot on film but the actual show is on HD video - Battlestar: Galactica looks good but it's obviously crying for a release on HD, which, given the success of this show and the release of HD discs, ought not to be far away. By no means bad, Battlestar: Galactica just looks a touch soft and detail does tend to get lost in the background murkiness of the Galactica but otherwise it's very good. Similarly, the Dolby Digital 5.1 could be better when comparing this to a major action film but for a television show, it's consistently good, particularly in its use of the rear channels for ambience in the scenes of space battle. Finally, there are English and Spanish subtitles on all ten episodes.
Podcast Commentaries: Amongst the most Internet-aware of producers, Ronald Moore records a commentary on a week-by-week basis for Battlestar: Galactica, which are freely available for download from the Sci-Fi channel's website. In fact, all of the commentaries for the show to date are still there - click on http://www.scifi.com/battlestar/downloads/podcast to download - and they do tend towards being some of the best for a television show. Given the nature of their recording, these commentaries are more up-to-the-minute than had Universal waited for the release of this set with Moore proving to be an engaging listen throughout, mixing an obvious awareness of the production of each episode with a fan's eye for what makes it so good. Granted, he does tend to rush through his commentary and probably has more of an interest in the background and in the writing of each episode than the trivia around them. In all, commentaries are available for seven of the episodes here with Fragged, Flight of the Phoenix and Pegasus although the last two have commentaries that are downloadable from the website.
Deleted Scenes: Again, these are available from the scifi.com website in the Episode Archive section and are a mix of extended scenes and those cut from each episode. Ranging from just over a minute to nearly twelve minutes, these Deleted Scenes have been included for every episode in the set with one exception, Pegasus. In all cases, there's very little that's been cut that changes the episodes a great deal and although they look unfinished compared to the rest of the set, they are certainly worth watching if only for adding, in some cases, more detail to the story.
If you're able to overlook the splitting of the season into two boxsets - anyone who's ever bought a CSI set on Region 2 shouldn't have a problem with that - then this is a very good release of an excellent series, certainly a better show that anyone could have expected it to be. With a decent set of extras and ten episodes presented well, this is a good release, although, as you might expect, the full second season would have been better.