Warm up the computers!

I have now polished off the establishing miniseries and Season One of Battlestar Galactica, which is officially my latest box-set obsession. There’s something especially pleasing about starting a box set which has a finite ending, so you can go at your own pace (unlike The Wire, whose first three seasons I caught up with on DVD, binge-style, then had to trudge through the last two, one episode a week, on FX). BSG, as I’m now comfortable calling it, concluded at the end of Season Four earlier this year on Sky 1 (and on Sci Fi in the US). The definitive Region 2 box set contains 25 discs: that’s 75 episodes, plus the “back-door pilot” miniseries. (The Razor, also included in the box, is widely accepted to form the first two episodes in Season Four, even though it’s presented as a separate entity.)

BSG is already mah favourite sci-fi TV series. Hey, I grew up on Star Trek, especially the original series and the movies, but have fallen in and out of love with the subsequent spin-offs; The X-Files was good, too, although the final season went off the boil; meanwhile, Lost has pulled it back from the brink. Entire sci-fi universes have passed me by, such as Buffy and Firefly. (Yes, yes, one day I will watch Firefly, I do have a job as well, you know.) But BSG has a story arc that I know for a fact concludes at the end of Season Four, even though I have no idea how, and that is why I felt compelled to dive in.

+++++++++++++++++++SPOILER ALERT+++++++++++++++++++++
There’s no way I can review each season as I complete it without giving certain plot points away as I go. If you have yet to embark upon this epic quest from Caprica to the fabled planet called Earth, please stop reading. I have managed to avoid learning too much about later seasons by averting my eyes when I refer to episode guides on Wikipedia or other sites (I have also stopped using IMdb for cast information, as in brackets after each actor it says how many episodes in total they appeared in, potentially giving away the lifespan of the character).

So then, Season One

The miniseries, aired in 2003 in the States, was our first glimpse of Ronald D. Moore and David Eick’s “reimagining” of Glen A. Larson’s 1978-79 series of the same name (I remember excitedly seeing the movie – at the cinema – in 1978, in the hope that it would be like Star Wars, but it wasn’t really, beyond a few similarities in design). Building on essentially the same story, it reboots, as they say, and sets everything up again: a distant human civilisation, the Twelve Colonies, see their home planet comprehensively nuked by Cylons, cybernetic robots designed by humans, leaving only those currently off-planet, around 47,000, alive. What is always referred to as a “ragtag” fleet of survivors gathers around a worn-out old Battlestar, Galactica, captained by equally weathered old warhorse Adama (Edward James Olmos, whose problem skin as a teenager has, many years later, made him a formidable-looking middle-aged actor, who might have been hewn from rock).

The only reason Galactica has escaped Cylon intervention is that its computers aren’t even networked! I love this about BSG – it’s not exactly lo-fi, in that its spacecraft are able to “jump” to other co-ordinates in the nick of time, but its comms devices are attached by curly telephone cables, its attack ships come into land like ducks on a lake, and the cry of “Warm up the computers!” is actually heard in the heat of battle in the miniseries. (In Season Two, when Gaeta networks the computers up in an emergency and has to un-network them to avoid a virus getting through his firewalls, he literally pulls the cable out of the side of his computer!)

It’s certainly militarily-themed, with Viper space-pilots the gym-toned hunks and honeys of the series, and many a pivotal scene on the bridge, with Adama and Michael Hogan’s pisshead second-in-command Tigh hunched over the octagonal lightbox, but there’s so much more to it than Cylon attacks, exchanged gunfire with funky noises and fire in the hold. First of all, there’s the political layer: Laura Roslyn (Mary McDonell) is sworn in as ad hoc President after the attack, despite being a lowly education secretary (“the schoolteacher” they call her, disparagingly) and must instantly face sacrifice and thorny decisions. We see the withholding of key information from the public – via a familiar-looking press corps – and a blind eye turned to rendition in the name of winning what is very nearly a War on Terror, with the Cylons not only “walking among us” but having a go at suicide bombing too. Next, there’s the religious layer, which really gets going in Season Two, which I’m quite some way into now. But in Season One, we learn about the scriptures, and the schism between the atheists and the polytheists – led by Roslyn, who, dying from breast cancer, identifies herself as a kind of saint, put here to lead the humans to safety on the fabled planet Earth. We also meet Zarek (played with a bold flourish by Richard Hatch, who was Apollo in 1978), a terrorist leader/freedom fighter, with whom Roslyn is forced to deal.

But most importantly, there’s the personal layer – you get Oedipal father-son stuff, between Adama and Lee “Apollo” (our own Jamie Bamber, of course doing a spotless American accent – you may remember him from Hornblower); you get unrequited – thus far – love between the all-too-gym-toned Apollo and Kara “Starbuck” Thrace (played by Katee Sackhoff), a seeming tomboy pilot whose more emotional side is gradually drip-fed to us, to the point where she takes on a messianic hue and starts crying all the time, but in a hard, I-can-fly-anything kind of way; the growing romance between apple-cheeked political aide Billy (Paul Campbell) and “D” Dualla (Kandyse McClure – now there’s somebody who had to re-spell her name for the Actors’ Guild handbook) with the hypnotic blue-green eyes; there’s doomed inter-racial romance between a number of Sharons (all played by Grace Park) – ie. Cylons who are convinced they can feel love and get pregnant but might assassinate at any moment – and, respectively, Helo (Tahmoh Penikett – how quickly you become accustomed to these unfamiliar names as they go past on the credits, and how pathetically I always shout out “Hello!” when he come onscreen) and Tyrol, “the Chief” (Aaron Douglas), who doesn’t know whether he’s coming or going. On top of all that, Roslyn and Adama are like the platonic, surrogate mum and dad of the show – he says he “loves everybody on the ship”, and still grieves the loss of his other son Zack, whom Starbuck feels she sent to his death – and both Vice President Gaius (James Callis, another Brit, but playing a Brit) and Col Tigh (Michael Hogan) are being manipulated by their own Lady Macbeths, respectively Number Six, the forces’ sweetheart-shaped Cylon in permanent evening wear, and the apparently humanoid Mrs Tigh (Kate Vernon), who sits around in a slip all day and makes Tigh do things he doesn’t want to do, between drinks.

I’m not sure who I’m writing this for, except myself, but it’s good to get it down, having been entirely sucked into the parallel BSG universe, with its colonies and its Gods and its own swear word (“Frak!” “Frak you!” “Frak me!” “Warm up the frakkin’ computers!” “What the frak?!” “Motherfrakker!” – it’s the malleable, all-occasions equivalent of “naff” on Porridge). I love the way the population number changes for each episode, I love the gay vests, and I love Bear McCreary’s stunning score, which I’m told grows with the saga – certainly that haunting piano sonata is under my skin. If only they didn’t feel the need to do a rapid-cut montage of what’s “coming up” before each episode. Stop teasing me.

Now, on with Season Two, and no more Mr Nice Gaius.

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33 thoughts on “Warm up the computers!

  1. I'm not a fan of the "coming up" section either.My Sister (a fan through borrowing the box-sets off of me) and I call them the "badoom-booms" after the drums that play during it. Both of us always look away till their done. They're frakking annoying.

  2. Glad you're enjoying it. I could yap on forever about what makes the series so ace and skill. In the first season I love the opening scene with Baltar fretting over the blood samples he has to test, only to be "distracted" by Six. The interruption by Kara Thrace is outstanding.As for the montage at the end of the title sequences, I think on one of the episode commentaries (which is why I bought the Region One sets) Ron Moore mentions that it was a homage to the old Space: 1999 titles.

  3. Jealous of you there…you've a lot of great telly to watch over the next 3 seasons , some of the best drama ever , but no spoilers here just enjoy

  4. Oooh you've got some cracking viewing ahead of you there. Plus a couple of awful episodes (one word: boxing).Tip: if you press your next chapter button after the pre-title sequence, it skips the titles and the annoying 'coming up' bit.Don't bother with Firefly, it's very uneven, just enjoy Serenity instead. And do bother with Buffy.

  5. I always close my eyes during the baddoom booms at the beginning, it's part of the ritual of watching the show, i do love how the bit that precedes that tells the whole story of the cylon invasion and the formation of the fleet, in a very visual, economical way.Over all, it's an amazing show, i'm working through the final series buying it episode by episode from itunes.

  6. I've also just got into BSG. My one gripe: the presidential press conferences. There are only a few thousand survivors. Who are all these reporters with their dictaphones? Who are they broadcasting to?

  7. I will he genuinely surprised if you don't see the ending coming about a billion miles off – but then again, maybe if you didn't grow up reading SF, as opposed to watching the stuff that passed itself off as SF on telly, perhaps it will work for you.As with Ms Rowling and Harry Potter, BSG wasn't the first SF show to do what it does, and for me it's not the best* – but it's success is certainly deserved. Just don't be misled by the idea that just because it has an ending means that the story arc was intended to work exactly that way. Even the current high-watermark of Lost has had to cut its cloth according to the desires of ABC. That doesn't mean BSG doesn't come to a perfectly satisfactory end, but if they'd been given seven years, then they'd have filled seven years instead and it would still have ended the same way. But enjoy the ride. It's a great show, rarely disappointing and with some genuinely disturbing moments.– David*Space: Above and Beyond did the whole "military vs politics" thing brilliantly much earlier (alas it was cancelled before it really got going), and something like Babylon 5 did the "story arc" very much more subtly (albeit even more compromised in that instance.) And if you want to see how SF should be done, then look out for the flawed masterpiece that is Farscape which did things during its run that even BSG would have baulked at…

  8. Glad you are enjoying BSG.it really was a cracking series. I have to agree with a previous post about Farscape , it really was an excellent series and something you should make time to watch.Scoey

  9. Admittedly there are a few duff episodes – especially toward the end of the second season where the number of episodes was increased from 13 to 20, but more surprisingly, for a television series working under the typical budget and schedule constraints, there are surprisingly few duff ones. Even when they are a bit iffy, most are still a darn sight better than some of the average episodes of other series. And to counter them there are some utterly amazing episodes (one word: boxing …Sorry Louise).As for the press conferences, I think that might have been addressed, albeit obliquely in either one of the commentaries or documentaries or interviews. Thinking about it, if you were one of the ragged survivors, stuck inside a tin can, you’d want to hear about what the government was planning to do to make your miserable existence better. It was also mentioned that originally the stories were going to be spread about the various ships of the fleet but the early prison ship episode introducing Hatch’s character ate up so much of the available budget that they stuck to stories that used the existing sets. Then again, the show is called Battlestar Galactica rather than Follow the Fleet.

  10. Oh and David, I’m sorry but I have to take issue with a few of your comments.Regarding Lost, after a poor third year where the show appeared to be treading water, Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof went to the network and asked for an end date to the show. They wanted two more years to finish up, the executives at ABC got them to agree to two year’s worth of episodes spread over three years. (Obviously to give them time to find a decent replacement). Lost picked up considerably once they had a finish line in place.The difficulty with an American drama that wants to tell a story with a beginning, middle and end is that if it becomes a hit the network wants to keep it on air. There are any number of dramas that went on too long and petered out. Most are caught in the tug of war between less is more in story terms and more is more in advertising revenue and eventual profit. I’d even suggest that The Sopranos went a season too far. Space: Above and Beyond did the whole “military vs politics” brilliantly? Really? I just thought it was a rather lazy rip on Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War and Heinlein’s book Starship Troopers. But then there were quite a number of episodes I didn’t bother watching all the way through when it was shown on the BBC so maybe I missed something.Babylon 5 deserves it’s place in the TV SF firmament simply because it helped prove that, at the time, it was possible to break the increasingly tiresome Star Trek monopoly. But in the end it was basically The Lord of the Rings meets Foundation. Its only saving grace was the casting of a couple of great character actors like Peter Jurasik and Andreas Katsulas, especially when most of the regulars appeared on camera like they had been assembled from an IKEA flatpack. Still, what they did on the budget they had was pretty decent. Although it makes me smile how Joe Straczynski banged on about wanting Babylon 5 to be eventually shown in 16:9 (or “widescreen” as I suppose it was called back then) while all the while having the CGI effects company rendering their scenes in 4:3. Notice the problem? I’ve worked with some bozo producers in my time but that took the cake!And finally… “[I]f you want to see how SF should be done, then look out for the flawed masterpiece that is Farscape which did things during its run that even BSG would have baulked at…”Oh, come on. Is that going in a Christmas cracker? Obviously it depends on what you want from science fiction. There’s the science fiction which is a twisted reflection of contemporary life that allows for real human drama without getting hung up on all the shiny-shiny bells and whistles – which is the box Battlestar Galactica ably ticks – and then there’s all the fantasy whiz-bang filled with clearly defined heroes and villains going about their daring do-does under piles of latex.I tried watching Farscape but my reaction was, “Agh, Muppets in space!” When someone suggested I give it another go the story was so far along that it was simply impenetrable to the casual viewer, which I think was The Sci-Fi Channel’s reason for eventually cancelling it.

  11. Glad you're enjoying the series and I hope you manage to get to the end of the series without accidently stumbling across any spoilers. It's not easy, especially as soon as you tell people you're watching it. I'm relieved I'm not the only one who shuts their eyes during the coming up bits. It always reminds me of Thunderbirds when they come up.And I know you've been told already but give Firefly a go when you get the chance. It really is great. Cowboys in space doesn't look like it would work, but somehow it does.

  12. Another person glad you're enjoying it here! I don't know a single person who's seen it who hasn't enjoyed it, including quite a few people who usually hate sci-fi. Makes it all the more frustrating when others dismiss it without having given it a chance.I've had a BSG shaped hole in my life for a few months now since finishing season 4, but last night I saw the pilot to the upcoming Caprica series, set before "the fall". That was great and I can't wait for the series now!

  13. And so say we all, it seems.Tristan, I started watching the Caprica pilot, but then stopped as I feared it might give something away about BSG (not that it should really, as it's a prequel, but you never know).While idling around Wikipedia yesterday I found out something about a certain character from later in the saga that I didn't wish to know, and although it hasn't ruined Season 2 for me (how could anything ruin it?), I wish I didn't have the information. So I'm being extra vigilant from now on.

  14. Good Dog/David – did you read my piece about Lost in the last Word magazine? If not, maybe I should post it here? I spent the day with the Lost showrunners and they were very frank about Season Three etc. (Let me see a show of hands; Word don't do an online edition, so it only exists on the page.)

  15. Andrew, I don't think Caprica gives anything away. It explains something which I'd been wondering for a while, but it's something you already know about pretty much from the start anyway (to do with religion).I'd say it's safe to watch.(capcha/word verification word – "insesto" … creepy!)

  16. I have really enjoyed BSG and glad you are too. My wife is not a big scifi fan (I am) but even she is happy to watch 4 in a row and then sneak in one more before we fall asleep. Its very addictive. It does feel as if the viewer is being treated as an adult which is a nice change.I think one of the best things about finding a really enjoyable box set is letting someone else borrow it and finding out they cannot put it down either, my brother in this case.I have just started the final half of the final series and apart from the very occasional episode that feels like a filler it has not disappointed at all.PS I would be very interested to read the lost article if you could frakking post please!

  17. Tristan,Would be interested to know what you were wondering about the religious side that Caprica reveals (if it not a massive spoiler).Thanks.

  18. I take it from the Firefly comment that the Whedon fans have been hassling you. Sorry about that. I'm one myself. But they do tend to go overboard when pushing his tv shows onto people. Especially seeing as unfortunately they are something of a niche taste, as his ratings show.

  19. Glad you are enjoying it, I suspect that you will enjoy the journey but feel slightly let down by how it all ends.Babylon 5 I found even more gripping, well worth catching up with, Firefly and Serenity were excellent, Space AAB I recall being pretty good too – lots of good stuff to catch up on. I have the entire sets of West Wing and The Wire waiting to be watched.Nick

  20. Weaning myself off buying magazines, I'm afraid I missed your article in Word. Instead, regarding Lost, I'd tend to read Jeff Jensen's missives on the EW website.If you can post it, I'd like to have a read.Having made some naughty and disparaging comments about earlier science fiction shows – although I really liked Firefly – it was interesting reading bc's comment. One of the interesting things about Battlestar Galactica was that it was watched by folk who wouldn't describe themselves as "a big scifi fan". I think I'm right that Time magazine named it their television show of the year.Instead of farting robots rolling back and forth and aliens with pasties glued to their heads, it was a proper adult drama. When they did launch the Vipers and have a space battle because they were using ammunition rather than bright laser zaps, it engagements had some real power to them. The battle at the end of the miniseries, where they square off against the basestars was like two old ships of the line taking their positions and then hurling everything they had at each other.And of course Bamber practiced his American accent during the later episodes of Band of Brothers. It took a few goes to recognise him but he's quite prominent in the post-Bastone attack on Foy.

  21. @GoodDog – Surely you reinforce my point about Lost though? It was an unexpected break-out success and so ended up being made to run for longer than it could reasonably handle and the showrunners clearly knew that. (Andrew, I have to confess that I haven't read your piece in Word. Sorry. But I would like to.)S:A&B was indeed a riff on The Forever War/Starship Troopers. You say that like it's a bad thing…And arguing that you couldn't get back into Farscape because the story was too complex – hell's teeth, that's true of anything, especially BSG. But if you think that it's "fantasy whiz-bang filled with clearly defined heroes and villains going about their daring do-does under piles of latex" then you really didn't watch it, did you?!Then again, implying that somehow having "aliens with pasties glued to their heads" precludes a show from being "proper adult drama" suggests that we aren't likely to see eye-to-eye on this one! But I agree totally with your point about the US drama problem. For me two of the best shows in recent years were made specifically as one-shot mid-season replacements – those 13-episode shows that are put on when higher-profile premieres fail. Both Daybreak and Harper's Island took their limitations and made them a virtue instead of aiming to be a long-running hit. (Not to mention actually having a beginning, a middle and an end, and sustaining them far better than you expect.)– Davidp.s. ooops. This came out rather more defensive than I expected. And somewhat off the subject. Sorry.

  22. @David, there is a problem with narrative-driven US TV dramas because if the show becomes a hit the networks wants it to run and run. After all, if the golden goose suddenly lands in your lap you don’t want to wring its neck too soon. But that leads to a strange situation, very much like a novelist having the publisher standing over their shoulder telling them to keep writing until they say it’s time to finish.After seeing so many dramas go off the rails this way, I’ve always thought that such shows should be designed to run five years so they get the 100+ episodes that always used to be required for syndication and nowadays make a decent DVD box set. If it is a hit, around the third year the creators could go back to the network and show how they could extend the story. It may seem a bit strict but it would cut down on the many train wrecks audiences have had to endure in the past. Regarding Lost, I think the guys did a great job of steering it back on course and I’m looking forward to see how they wrap the story up.What I meant about S:A&B was that it missed a lot of the subtle nuances that makes it better than BSG. But then Morgan and Wong were doing what they wanted to do.I had to remember when Farscape was on the box. I suppose complex isn’t the right word to use. Overly complicated, maybe? I think I saw only a handful of episodes, which obviously wasn’t enough to make an informed opinion I suppose. One episode had the hero and some desiccated chap in black leather on a rollercoaster. It didn’t make much sense. Rather than go into this in detail, when it comes to this sort of show, I always ask myself, what is this about? What is at the heart of this story? I suspect it wouldn’t surprise you if I mentioned I don’t see the big deal about Doctor Who being back on TV.Never say Daybreak but it was meant to be an ongoing show, unlike Stephen Gallagher’s Crusoe, broadcast last year on NBC, which was a 13-part limited series and CBS’s Harper’s Island. Daybreak was cancelled with only six of the original thirteen ever broadcast in the US. If it seemed like there was a resolution it’s because most dramas factor one in just in case they don’t get the back nine.

  23. I would recommend Farscape as well and would like to point out that the only disenting voice is (as usual with genres fiction) from someone who hasn't actually seen it.Just because it looks different from what you're used to, doesn't mean there isn't reflections of contemporary life (in the case of Farscape fantastically twisted).Penrod

  24. When I see Edward James Olmos I always think of him appearing as "Eddie – Friend" on the back of Eric Claton's debut solo LP in 1970. A little off topic but some may find it interesting!

  25. I've seen at least some of Farscape and I don't think Andrew would enjoy it at all. And in case that sounds like some kind of reverse-psychology inducement to watch: it's not.I'm younger than Andrew and I was either a decade too old for Farscape, or not enough of a fan of sci-fi for sci-fi's sake to enjoy it. That said, nothing on Earth would induce me to watch BSG now either. In these troubled times I don't seem to be able to get anything out of watching drama of any kind. And even when I wasn't working… I mean… who has the time to commit to this stuff?

  26. Yikes! I didn’t want to put any noses out of joint, especially on someone else’s blog because that would just be plain rude.All I’m saying is that having watched a whole lot of science fiction movies and TV when I was a wee nipper, I gradually watched and less and less as I got older simply because it no longer did it for me. There was too much gloss and not enough human drama. (And, alas, no more Erin in her spandex suits).So for me Firefly and then BSG were a breathe of fresh air because they didn’t resort to the “techno-babble” that had driven the long-running Star Trek franchise into the ground or concentrating on splashing out on the bright colours and prosthetics that turned me off something like Farscape.As much as I love the big battle at the end of the BSG miniseries, I much prefer the scenes afterwards where Adama addresses the crew and Tigh having to kiss and make up with Starbuck. Seeing Michael Hogan’s jaw muscles working as he tries to make nice was worth all number of space battles.If you prefer the human drama and in that respect BSG “floats your boat,” there’s the distinct possibility that going back to the earlier TV SF shows will be something of a disappointment. Actually, I watched the first part of Stargate Universe to see if it would be influenced by BSG. Died on it’s arse!Oh, and Andrew, I was talking to Dick Fiddy yesterday at an informal get together to remember Troy. He thought Caprica was an astonishing piece of television.

  27. I really get confused when people keep saying the same thing in different ways in the hope that we ignorati will eventually be persuaded.Good Dog, are you a reader of Julie Burchill by any chance?Penrod.

  28. @Penrod, I know of Julie Burchill, but that’s as far as it goes. Although, thinking about it, I may had read the odd article when she was writing for… was it The Guardian – or more specifically the newspaper’s Saturday magazine supplement – back when it was still broadsheet size.You know what, I’m not persuading anyone about any damn thing. What you like of don’t like, frankly I don’t care. It was only my opinion and the clarification was simply because some folk appeared to be bent out of shape by a previous comment. If I had any sense, I should have left it all alone after mentioning the Space: 1999 homage way up top.There’s always something I find strange with (hardcore) science fiction fans. I’ve had conversations with friends and colleagues about… let’s say crime drama on television. I’ll mention I really like The Wire or the early Milch years of NYPD Blue or The Shield or Homicide: Life on the Street, but I’ve never had time for the growing Law & Order franchise or the CSI spin offs (although I don’t mind the original), or that I thought Life on Mars and it’s sequel was complete baloney and would prefer to watch an old episode of The Sweeney instead. And in response they would talk about their preferences and, if one was a show I’d never bothered with, what they saw in it that made it one of their favourites. So over a coffee or even a couple of pints you’d discuss what was good and what was bad, what worked and what didn’t work. Maybe one or the other of us would walk away figuring it was worth giving a particular show another chance, seeing it now from a different perspective. Either way, it would always be an interesting conversation but never a big deal.But mention to a dedicated science fiction fan that you don’t think much of their favourite shows because [insert informed opinion here] and, unable to have a rational dialogue, they’re ready to chase you down the street jabbing at you with their toy light sabres and plastic Spock ears. (Luckily the nerds wearing the long woollen scarves usually trip themselves up, so they’re never a real bother). That I just don’t get. Sorry.

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