It was the year of fire. The year of destruction. The year we took back what was ours. It was the year of rebirth. The year of great sadness. The year of pain. And a year of joy. It was a new age. It was the end of history. It was the year everything changed. The year is 2261. The place, Babylon 5.
– Opening Sequence of Season 4, Babylon 5
Babylon 5 was created in 1993 by J. Michael Straczynski (JMS) and is a totally
different style of television from what most people are used to, since it
consists of an ongoing storyline. So what, some people might say? Soaps do
that all the time, but the difference is that the entire storyline has been
planned from the start, whereas soaps just make their stories up as they go
along - this is the much-celebrated "arc" of B5. It also has a designated
beginning, middle and end - unlike some other shows, it knows when
to quit :-)
Or does it? Since the sequel series (Crusade ) went into production on 3rd August 1998, many fans have been asking why JMS doesn't just keep B5 going? From what I've been able to find out, Crusade is set in 2267, (five years after the end of Babylon 5, and three years after the Telepath War of 2263/2264) and features only one or two of the original cast.
For a while, it looked like B5 wouldn't even reach its fifth season, with Warner Bros. considering axing it after season 4, that's why the arc came to such a head in season 4, JMS had to finish it off such that if it did get cancelled, the storyline would be brought to a neat conclusion.
For more details, you could visit the
Lurker's Guide To Babylon 5.
Details of Crusade have now come through and they centre on the Drakh's attempted invasion of Earth which fails, but as they leave they drop a deadly virus and it's up to the Earth Alliance starship Excalibur to travel the Rim looking for a cure. Gary (American Gothic) Cole will play Captain Matthew Gideon of the (new prototype Interstellar Alliance) starship Excalibur. Also in the cast is Carrie Dobro as Dureena, an alien whose planet was destroyed by the Shadows and Peter Woodward as a technomage called Galen. For more details on Crusade, check out a dedicated site found on my links page.
The first TV movie, In The Beginning , has already been released on video in the UK and deals with Delenn's involvement with the Earth / Minbari war. There was going to be big-screen screening of this film in London, but there seems to be a "personality clash" between JMS and Wolf 359 who were organising it. There is a a full, independent report in the August 1998 issue of SFX magazine. Another is set within the 5 year arc and is called Thirdspace. The third movie has now been filmed and is called River of Souls . This has been given a bigger budget than the first two and features the Soul Hunters of season one. It also has two big names in the form of Martin Sheen and Ian McShane. Once filming on this has been finished, work will begin on the fourth TV movie which will apparently introduce the sequel series and is called A Call to Arms. Many thanks to SFX magazine from where I got my information about the third and fourth movies.
I've now had the opportunity to watch In the Beginning and ThirdSpace. Personally, I thought that they were both excellent films, although many people disagree. I was able to watch them at a screening at Io, the Glasgow University Science Fiction and Fantasy Society, of which I am a member. There, there was quite a lot of jeering and laughing at In the Beginning and I dread to think what might have been said about ThirdSpace but there wasn't enough time, so I persuaded the owner of the tape to lend it to me. In the Beginning concerns the first meeting between Humans and Mimbari and the disastrous consequences of it. There is really nothing here that the dedicated B5 fan won't have seen before in various forms, but it is still compelling viewing (for me, anyway:-)).
I found ThirdSpace
quite fascinating. It is set in 2261, after the Shadow War, but before
the Earth war and concerns the discovery in hyperspace of a giant artefact that
gets towed back to B5 for analysis and the consequences. There was also a
good insight into what might have happened between Lyta Alexander and Zack
Allen - a case of going up the wrong leg of the trousers of time for Zack.
Okay, so there were quite large plot holes, and the ending was not as climatic as it could have been, but it was still a darned good show and well worth any B5 fan seeing - just don't shell out £12.99 for it, rent it if you can or get it from a friend.
I've now also had a chance to watch River of Souls and A Call to Arms, both of which were (in my opinion) excellent, although I, personally, think that River of Souls had the edge. In fact, I would go as far as to say that River of Souls is the best of the four Babylon 5 films produced. The, perhaps thin, plot has a Soul Hunter 'orb' being stolen by a Human scientist searching for the key to immortality and turning up on B5. Then a Soul Hunter (Martin Sheen) arrives to reclaim the orb, which contains the souls of an entire world whose inhabitants were 'dying'. Cue lots of soul searching (no pun intended) on the part of Captain Lockley regarding the morality of the whole situation and lots of action as they try and stop the station from being blown up by the captured souls who have, for the most part, gone mad. An excellent film with lots to recommend it to any B5 fan.
A Call to Arms is more action packed and centres around the attempt of the Drakh to destroy Earth in vengence for the Shadow War. Although quite good, I found Bruce Boxleitner's Sheridan vaguely irritating. This was set about 5 or so years after the events in Babylon 5 and during that time, he seems to have aged about 10 – 15 years, and he seems much more bumbling than the John Sheridan that I remember, as well as more senile. You can't really see him being the hero that he once was, but aside from grouching, there are lots of things here to keep any B5 fan happy, not least the new ship – the Excalibur. It's only a pity that Crusade was cancelled so early into its run. It would have been interesting to see more of this ship and a greater insight into the Telepath 'crisis' that was mentioned briefly at the start of the film.
The final season of B5 has now been shown on Channel 4 for some time now on Sundays at 1300 or about that time, with an uncut version being repeated in the early hours of Monday morning. However, the final five episodes have been held back to avoid us in Britain getting to see them before the US viewers, as has happened in the past:-( This has given me time to decide that in this case, SFX magazine is wrong and B5 is as good as ever. SFX reviewed the new series some time ago and decided that it wasn't as good as the past and that B5 had started to go downhill midway through season 3 - or at least, that's the impression that I got. I, however, think that it's great, there have still been some great plot threads. Okay, so we haven't had three of four plot threads going on simultaneously, but this hasn't been a problem for me at all and some of the individual episodes have been inspired, for example The Corps is Mother, the Corps is Father showed another side to Bester that we haven't seen before. The Centauri plot has been fascinating and is only now starting to come to its climax, not to mention Garibaldi's return to the bottle. This show definitely comes recommended by this fan!
I have now seen Babylon from start to end. The last episode (Sleeping in Light) was shown by Channel 4 in the UK on New Year's Day 1999. Although I haven't seen every episode, I've seen most and now that I get a chance to review the show from start to finish, I can with all honesty claim that Babylon 5 is one of - if not the - best television SF shows in a long, long time. The last few episodes were possibly a bit anti-climatic but the final episode was fantastic, showing Sheridan's death and a fitting way to end the series. Already, seeds have been planted for the future, with the Shadow helpers still not giving up. One has to wonder how much of these seeds will germinate in Crusade.
Recent episodes of the show have got me thinking. The latest episodes have
revealed the truth behind the Centauri offensive revealed and the bombardment
of Centauri Prime. This episode, for me, highlighted the worst of Humanity.
Elsewhere on this site, I have tried to be positive about Mankind (see my
but JMS obviously doesn't see it that way - either that, or "doom and gloom"
gets more viewers:-).
Season 4 ended with a new hope for all the races of the galaxy - the
Interstellar Alliance, but this season has been spent systematically destroying
any chance of that hope and has culminated with a totally unnecessary war that
could have been prevented at so many points but has, through misadventure or
sheer selfishness, resulted in the deaths of millions of people.
Although I'm (quite) sure that JMS didn't mean any, I can see so many parallels in real life. The one closest to my heart is the conflict in Northern Ireland, but also that in so much of Africa, the Middle East and Yugoslavia, lets just hope that we don't go the way of the Interstellar Alliance.
Like Star Trek, there are loads of B5 sites on the web and you can visit some of my favourites on the Links page.