Babylon 3 1/2

This article was originally published on Ferretbrain. I’ve backdated it to its original Ferretbrain publication date but it may have been edited and amended since its original appearance.

I’ve been rewatching Babylon 5 lately, after finally getting around to picking up the 5th season on DVD, and I was torn about whether I’d bother reviewing it. On the one hand, I reasoned that Babylon 5 is quite old and was, at the time, a pretty major show, and I thought most people interested in space opera TV shows would already be familiar with the show anyway.

Then I reconsidered. Firstly, because it’s been over 10 years since the finale aired, and in those 10 years SF TV has moved on – we’ve had Battlestar Galactica, we’ve had Star Trek driving itself into the ground, we’ve had Farscape and more Stargate spin-offs than I can keep track of. It’s worth looking back at this point and seeing whether Babylon 5 still stands up to scrutiny now that there’s more choice on the market, or whether we latched onto it simply because it was epic space opera on TV which wasn’t some flavour of Star Trek. Secondly, 110 normal length episodes and a feature-length pilot is one hell of a time investment; it’s taken me a while to decide to take the plunge with the Battlestar Galactica remake, and that has a three hour miniseries at the start to act as a taster before taking on the main series. (The pilot episode of Babylon 5 isn’t as good a sample of the series itself because so many major characters were replaced between it and episode 1 of series 1.) If I were pondering whether to give something this epic a go I’d appreciate as many opinions as I could get my hands on.

I won’t be covering the much-maligned Crusade in this review, because it’s a separate show. Nor will I be covering most of the feature-length episodes that were produced for the series, because A Call to Arms was the pilot episode for Crusade, Legend of the Rangers was the pilot episode for another sequel series that never even made it off the ground, and In the Beginning, Thirdspace and River of Souls were prequels and side stories that aren’t necessary to following the main arc. As a matter of fact, In the Beginning, the prequel, covers events which are already perfectly adequately covered and explained in the main series, and the events of Thirdspace and River of Souls aren’t even alluded to in the core episodes.

Likewise, I won’t bother with The Lost Tales, a straight-to-DVD release with a pair of episodes that represented show creator J. Michael Straczynski’s last gasp attempt to squeeze a little more story out of the dried-up husk of B5. Straczynski himself has pretty much directly admitted since the Lost Tales debacle that the five year plot arc should be regarded as the heart of the series, and he isn’t going to be producing any more material unless he’s convinced it will actually add to that rather than detract from it (and even then only if he’s given enough budget to do whatever new idea he has justice).

I will, however, be reviewing The Gathering, the first feature length episode, seeing how it was actually the pilot episode for the whole show and is therefore an integral part of the 5 year arc rather than a subsequent embellishment of it.

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