Commander Jeffrey Sinclair - Michael O'Hare
Lt Commander Susan Ivanova - Claudia Christian
Chief Michael Garibaldi - Jerry Doyle
Dr Stephen Franklin - Richard Biggs
Ambassador Delenn - Mira Furlan
Ambassador Londo Mollari - Peter Jurasik
Ambassador G'Kar - Andreas Katsulas
Talia Winters - Andrea Thompson
Vir Cotto - Stephen Furst
Lennier - Bill Mumy
Na'Toth - Caitlin Brown
OTHER SPACE SHOWS
The new Battlestar Galactica
The Next Generation
Deep Space Nine
It is the third age of mankind (whatever that means) and a space station has been built out in the depths of space to act as a point of diplomacy for the 4 main empires of the galaxy. The last, and most mysterious, of the ambassadors arrives and is promptly poisoned. The station commander is identified by a telepath as being responsible. The truth must be discovered before the alien fleet arrives to destroy the space station and perhaps declare war.
There is barely enough plot in this pilot episode of BABYLON 5 to warrant feature length, but it doesn't matter because of the depth of detail in what is going on. The characters are a little thin and some of the acting is a bit dodgy to say the least, but then again some of the dialogue demands that the acting be dodgy to match it. The good stuff is the background stuff. First up, the alien characters are all set up with fully rounded histories and quirks. There's not one of them that isn't believable, although special notice goes to Andreas Katsulas for G'Kar and Peter Jurasik for Londo Mollari.
The station itself is also impressively rendered. Admittedly, the CGI graphics that provide the exterior shots are a bit ropy (except at the end where the Vorlon fleet arrive in full, impressive strength), but the interior is a loving blend of futuristic reality and decay. This isn't how we might hope it will be in the future (as in, say STAR TREK's universe), but how it probably will be. Against a backdrop as real as this anything could, and probably will, happen.Top
Midnight on the Firing Line
A Centauri agricultural station is attacked by forces of their mortal enemies the Narn Regime. The fragile peace that Babylon 5 is trying to protect seems destined to be shattered by an old war renewed, war that is about to get personal between the opposing ambassadors.
This is the way to start a new series, dive straight in without introductions and let the audience work out who is whom and what is going on for themselves. A pretty complicated plot it is too, full of politics we are not familiar with, history we know nothing about and personal concerns that are only hinted at. The plethora of characters are nicely drawn with depths that it might be fun to delve into.
The CGI special effects are much improved from the pilot with some very impressive shots of spaceships and the station itself. They work much less well when a space battle calls for fast and furious action, but the establishing shots are wonderful. Some of the creature makeups are rough and ready, but the main races, the Narn, Centauri, Vorlons and Minbari are all extremely well rendered, not least because of the strength of the characters.
This is a very auspicious start, with great promise.Top
A badly damaged ship brings a new alien to the Babylon 5 station. Ambassador Delenn of the Minbari race identifies the alien as a Soul Hunter, a being who steals the souls of the great and good at the point of death. His view is that he is preserving these souls. When a second Soul Hunter arrives, it seems that the first has given up waiting for the moments of death and is hastening it along himself.
A much more straightforward plot that plays around with some concepts of religion and the soul, but not to any great depth. What is interesting here are the hints about something deeper going on. Delenn is revealed to be a member of the ruling Minbari Grey Council and it is alleged that the Minbari are using Commander Sinclair for their own ends. Wheels within wheels, as it were.Top
Born to the Purple
Londo Mollari, the hedonistic ambassador from the Centauri Republic is threatened with the loss of his career and the possible destabilisation of his home world when secret files are stolen by the dancer he is currently involved with. He turns to Commander Sinclair for help.
It is something of a strength of this series that the characters have been so finely drawn in such a short time. Londo seems like something of a caricature at first glance, but his sense of failure and loss is palpable. It's the interest in his character that prevents this from being disappointing. The side story of a hijacked communications channel is disappointing and the insect creature that has popped up in the last two episodes is definitely a mistake.Top
An old teacher of Dr Franklin's comes aboard with some artefacts found on a dead world. One of the artefacts takes over the teacher's assistant and turns him into an armoured alien capable of wiping out all the inhabitants of the space station.
David McCallum pops up as the teacher willing to risk lives to cut corners on his way to millions of credits in a pretty straightforward episode. It's dressed up a little with thoughts about racial purity, but it's a monster of the week story and none the worse for that.Top
The Parliament of Dreams
Against the backdrop of a festival of religious beliefs, Ambassador G'Kar finds life takes a terrifying turn as he is informed that an assassin has been sent to kill him within 48 hours. By coincidence, his new aide Na'Toth has just arrived.
G'Kar's predicament is great fun in this episode, which is frivolous all around. There are some nice insights into the psyche of the hedonistic Centauri and the deeply religious Minbari. Ambassador Delenn's new aide, Lennier, arrives to add to an already sizeable cast.Top
A telepath whose powers are growing exponentially arrives at the station and psi-corps hunters aren't far behind. Talia discovers that the rogue's power is a result of psi-corps experiments. Commander Sinclair's girlfriend heads out to sector Sigma 957 despite warnings from G'Kar that strange things happen there.
Links to the giant that is STAR TREK abound here. Firstly there is Walter Koenig (Chekov on the original Enterprise) appearing as Alfred Bester, Psi cop, and then there is a plot that is very similar to Transfigurations in STAR TREK THE NEXT GENERATION. It's entertaining enough, but there is a serious hint of deja vu.
Characters continue to develop and this week we see a little bit more of G'Kar than just the angry warrior thirsting for revenge.Top
The War Prayer
Aliens are being attacked on the station by humans who want to preserve the purity of the species. One of them would appear to be an old flame of Susan Ivanova. Commander Sinclair pretends sympathies with their cause in order to gain their trust and derail their plans.
Just when you're getting to like a show it throws an episode like this at you just to test your patience. The plot is hackneyed and not even well told. The Captain's play to get the bad guys to trust him is just so pathetic it wouldn't fool a three year old and when the shooting starts nobody thinks to reactivate the suits that make them invisible.
Londo's rejection of a young couple in love asking for his help throws little fresh light on his character, but it does allow Vir Kotto to step up and be counted.
Easily the worst episode to date.Top
And The Sky Full of Stars
Commander Sinclair is taken prisoner by two operatives from Earth who pump him full of drugs an stick him in the centre of a virtual reality net in order to replay his memories. During the Battle of the Line, the desperate last stand against the Minbari, Sinclair was out of contact for 24 hours, 24 hours in which the unstoppable Minbari decided to surrender. What lies in those missing 24 hours?
Secrets and lies! There is so much going on beneath the surface of this show that is just now starting to surface. Everybody has an agenda, nobody is telling the truth and absolutely nobody is quite who they appear to be. It's fascinating and so much better than a series of unconnected weekly stories. The depth and detailing of the universe of BABYLON 5 is one of its attractive strengths and the way that it's not too keen on letting you know what all those depths are too quickly is another.
Ambassador Delenn is clearly a character far more important than her showing to date.Top
A war criminal responsible for the deaths of whole races in the name of medical research shows up at Babylon 5 offering an immortality serum in exchange for her continued existence. Those who suffered at her hands demand justice, everyone else wants her secret.
Another excellent episode that explores how far people will go for something they want, what it would take for people to abandon their morality. Depressingly enough, the answer seems to be 'not a lot'.
The episode is enlivened by a fine performance from genre favourite Sarah Douglas, barely recognisable under the makeup, but the very essence of evil itself.Top
The life of an alien child lies in the balance. A simple operation will cure his ailment, but the religious beliefs of his race forbid the procedure. When Dr Franklin goes to Commander Sinclair demanding permission to carry out the operation, the parents search for an advocate amongst the ambassadors and the Commander must make a difficult decision.
Science Fiction is a genre that can tackle many a current subject with a future twist. The trouble with that is that it can also be preachy at times as well. This is one of those times. The whole episode is about whether the (quite obviously ridiculous in this case) beliefs of the parents should be put above the life of the child. The outcome is always predictable (with a slight twist at the end).
The side story of Ivanova leading a fighter squadron out to tackle raiders is, quite frankly, nothing more than padding. The show can, and must, do much better than this.Top
The President of the Earth Alliance is visiting Babylon 5, so it is embarrassing when sabotage wrecks a fighter bay. It is even more embrarrassing when Garibaldi is implicated in the plot. The head of the presidential security team makes it her personal duty to catch and convict him despite all of the help that the rest of the crew can give the security chief in his fight to clear his name.
This is a disappointing episode. The story is fine for the most part, but the whole backstory between Garibaldi and the president's bodyguard is just unbelievable and so destroys the impact of Garibaldi's plight. What does work is his fall from the wagon. A recovering alcoholic, his desperation driving him back to the bottle is quite convincing. Less convincing is the way that he gets his job back even now that his drinking problem is known.
Definitely one of the lesser episodes.Top
By Any Means Necessary
Problems in the docking bays have led the workers there to demand extra staff and better working conditions. They are, however, on government contracts and the powers that be don't want to pay any more than they already are. They are willing to invoke the Rush Act, something that allows the Commander of the station to resolve the matter by any means necessary. The last few times that the Rush Act was invoked, many people died in the resulting violence.
Industrial relations are not usually the focus of science fiction series and there's a reason for that. The reason is that they're dull and this episode goes absolutely nowhere in making them less so. It's brave that the series wants to explore all aspects of the station and its operations, but wage negotiations aren't going to raise the ratings any.
The petty bickering between G'Kar and Londo over a plant doesn't add anything either.Top
Signs and Portents
A Centauri seer comes to Babylon 5 to collect an ancient artefact of importance to the Empire. Sinclair, meanwhile, is looking for ways to stop the increasing raider activity in the area. On top of all this, a strange Mr Morden is wandering around asking what everyone wants.
The thing about BABYLON 5 are the undertones. Since the very beginning there have been hints and glimpses of powers and plots going on under the surface. G'Kar said that nobody there was quite what they appeared and nothing, we are sure, is to be trusted. This episode brings out more of the undertones and ripples than any other to date and is all the more curious and fascinating for it.
Questions raised include who is Mr Morden and what does he want? Who are the shadows who seem to have some very serious looking hardware? What does Delenn know that makes her fear them so? What does Ambassador Kosh know that made him note that 'they are not for you'? After some very lacklustre episodes recently, Signs and Portents has raised the stakes and brought back the interest in a major way. Long may that continue.Top
An old friend of Mr Garibaldi's arrives on the station wishing to take part in a brutal no-holds barred fighting competition in order to win back his self-respect. The alien races are not keen on a human trying to take over one of their sacred rituals. Meanwhile, a rabbi friend of Ivanova's family comes to the station to help her sit Shiva for her dead father, something that she does not wish to do as she has yet to find it in her heart to forgive him.
One episode after the excellent Signs and Portents we get this. It's an episode of two parts and neither of them are very good. Firstly, there is the story of Walker Smith, the man who wants to fight for Earth. It couldn't be more KARATE KID if the mentor who shows up asked him to 'wax on, wax off'. Hackneyed doesn't even come into it and the threat from the alien races pops up and is dealt with so quickly that it needn't have been there in the first place.
As for Ivanova's rabbi, well he is so caricatured that he might as well be a comedy rabbi, except that he isn't funny, of course. It's strange for a show that places such an emphasis on spirituality to treat a religious figure with such disdain.
BABYLON 5 is struggling a bit and needs to pick up in a big way, and soon.Top
A traveller comes to the station to be met with reverence by Delenn and the Minbari. He is what they term as a 'true seeker' and the thing that he is seeking is the holy grail. Whilst on the station, he befriends a construction worker who feels that if he ever leaves then the whole place will blow up. Why? Because it already did, four times. Add to that a Nakaleen Feeder, the most dangerous creature in Centauri space and some villainous characters and the stage is set for one seeker to lay down the quest and another one to take his place.
What a load of codswallop this episode is. People searching for the holy grail being treated with respect rather than being locked up? Criminals so obvious that they would have been locked away ages ago? There are times when this show makes you despair of sense ever returning.
The Nakaleen Feeder is nicely realised and it was a clever move to hide it in a Vorlon suit for a while, but otherwise this episode is a bust.
Except that it guest stars David Warner as the grail questor. Even he, however, struggles with the nonsense, but still manages to bring his part far more dignity and depth than it deserves.Top
Military Intelligence is checking up on the loyalty of all high-ranking Earthforce personnel. The procedure involves the use of mind scan by a telepath, something that Ivanova flatly refuses to submit to under any circumstances. When it becomes clear that the officer in charge is on a witchunt to wrest control of the station for himself, Sinclair turns the regulations on him instead.
One of the consistent undercurrents of this show is that all is not right on Earth. This is the clearest form that has taken so far. The idea of loyalty tests harkens back to the reigns of terror of fascist regimes and certainly provides an uneasy tone. Unfortunately, the man carrying out the test is so obviously a bad guy that you have to wonder how he got into intelligence work in the first place and then proves so unhinged that he is easily unbalanced and unmasked that you can suspend disbelief no longer.
Ivanova's continuing combat with psy corps also just makes you want to shake her and tell her to get over it.Top
The last great warrior leader of the Minbari has died and the warrior caste is travelling the galaxy, showing his body to their people. Inevitably, he is brought to Babylon 5 and, almost equally inevitably, the body goes missing. The warrior caste are on the edge of restarting the war that nearly destroyed humanity over the insult, but a young, untrained telepath may have a surprising answer to the problem.
The undercurrents of BABYLON 5 come rippling to the surface again. The seemingly perfect Minbari are less unified than they appear and Delenn displays a steel in her backbone that is impressive in the extreme when dealing with a rash, but powerful member of the warrior caste.
The argument between Talia Winters and Susan Ivanova over the fate of the untrained telepath is, however, beyond tedious.Top
A Voice in the Wilderness-Part 1
The planet around which the station orbits starts to exhibit strange seismic activity. A ship sent to investigate is attacked. A strange alien appears to Commander Sinclair and Londo Mollari on the station. How all the pieces fit together is revealed when Sinclair and Ivanova penetrate the planet's defences and locate the entrance to a machine, a machine on a scale undreamed of, a machine that has an alien at the heart, directing it. Now he's dying and the machine is getting ready to blow up the planet and the station with it.
Anyone who has seen the classic FORBIDDEN PLANET (and isn't that all of us?) will get the plaigirism (sorry that should have read 'homage') to that great film in the form of the great machine and the exact shots that are ripped off from the movie. Unfortunately, there's no Robby the Robot. It's all fairly impressive, but also fairly obvious. The machine needs a replacement at its heart and Delenn's best friend has come for a visit. Anyone care to guess the rest?
Meanwhile, Mars is in civil uprising and Garibaldi has an ex-fiancee/girlfriend there that he can't contact.Top
A Voice in the Wilderness-Part 2
An Earth Alliance cruiser has arrived to protect the planet and its great potential from all the other races. When the planet's real owners show up demanding access, things get a little tense. Delenn, Londo and friend steal a shuttle and penetrate the machine in order to sort everything out before there are tears at bedtime. Garibaldi finds out that his ex is now married.
No surprises were expected and no surprises arrive. Delenn's friend takes up residence in the machine as predicted and the bad aliens are disposed of through their own foolishness.
Garibaldi's love story comes to an end that is at least surprising in not being a happy one.Top
A strange tachyon pulse turns out to be Babylon 4, miraculously reappeared four years after its abrupt vanishing act. The old station has become unstuck in time and its successor mounts an evacuation attempt. A strange alien claims that Babylon 4 is needed for a great battle in another time and that he needs to help the One take it there. The One is revealed to be an older Sinclair in the company of Delenn.
OK, what's going on here? This is a time paradox story that sets up a whole load of interesting future echoes, but makes no attempt to explain any of them. Presumably that's a tale for another season.
Delenn, on the other hand, is offered the leadership of the Grey Council and, through that, the whole Minbari race. The price, that she never again leaves the command battlecruiser. She declines and risks being made an outcast in order to follow what she believes to be a higher purpose aboard BABYLON 5.Top
The Quality of Mercy
A disgraced healer comes aboard Babylon 5 with an alien device that allows energy to be passed from one person to another, effectively healing them. This makes her a target when a killer is injured whilst escaping from custody. Meanwhile Londo decides to show Lennier parts of the station outside his experience and both end up learning a thing or two.
This is a throwaway episode that would like to have something to say on the morality of healing and corporal punishment, but really doesn't. It passes the time all right, but is essentially fluff.
Londo and Lennier's adventures are fun enough, but little more.Top
It's New Year's Eve 2258 and the most eventful day that the Babylon 5 spacestation has ever known. Following up on the death of an informant, Garibaldi discovers a plot to kill the Earth President. He is shot in the back by one of his own men and left for dead. Commander Sinclair finally proposes to his girlfriend. Ambassador Mollari is visited again by Mr Mordern (from Signs and Portents) who agrees to solve a little problem for the Centauri and ends up killing 10,000 Narns. And Delenn, well Delenn has entered a Chrysalis and is going through some changes.
How many cliffhangers can you get into one series? The final episode of this season leaves so many loose ends that there has to be a second one just to tie up some of these. This is also one of the best episodes of the show so far, all those undercurrents coming to the surface at last. Strange spider-like spaceships of incredible power controlled by shadowy insect-like creatures taking the side of the Centauri against the Narns and manipulating Londo. Dark forces within the Earth Alliance killing their own president and placing his deputy in power. A security chief at death's door and an amabassador turning into something else? Any one of these would probably have been enough for another show, but we get them all in one tight and fast-moving episode.
Looking back on the season, there have been high points such as this episode and Deathwalker and some real lows such as Survivors and By Any Means Necessary, but most have been solid and, quite frankly, a little dull. That could also be the description of the human crew. Compared to the showy, excellent performances by Andreas Katsulas, Peter Jurasik and Mira Furlan as the ambassadors, the human complement have been flat and without subtlety.
The power of the show has been in the detailing of the alien races and their cultures and the workings of the station itself. The weaknesses have been some of its inhabitants and some of the plotting. This is the first season, however, and now that the ground has been prepared, we can expect better things from the next.Top