Babylon 5 brings to science fiction television what many fans have been clamoring for from Star Trek since early in the run of The Next Generation: continuity. B5 is described by its creator, J. Michael Straczynski, as a five-year story arc with a beginning, middle, and end. Although each episode stands nominally on its own, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The show will enter its third season in November 1995, and already it is clear that plot elements from past episodes are regularly picked up later and developed further.
The setting is simple: Babylon 5 is a huge space station in neutral territory between five major starfaring races, several of which have waged war against each other in the past. One of these races is humanity. B5 is a center of commerce and diplomacy whose purpose is tofacilitate understanding among the races. However, not all races agree with this goal, and there are outside influences as well.
One of the greatest strengths of B5 is its special effects. The spacescapes are generated entirely by computer (as opposed to the models traditionally used, including on Star Trek), and are more spectacular than anything I've ever seen on television. The ships and cinematography are as complex - or more so - than model-based systems. The only drawback is that they still haven't quite gotten explosions down yet.
On the other hand, one of the show's biggest disappointments is the music. While the orchestral scores of the series are not as bland as those of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the pilot movie of B5 featured a great soundtrack by former Police drummer Stewart Copeland, and was really outstanding. Losing him I think made the series a little less exciting than it would otherwise have been.
B5's overall story arc is suspenseful and intriguing, though of course there is a lot of variation. However, I frequently find that the stories are overly manipulative - as opposed to viscerally exciting - and the success of many episodes depends on whether or not the viewer cares that he is being manipulated. The best stories are the ones involving raw character conflict, rather than the question of how to "beat" a particular foe.
While B5 is a welcome development in the realm of science fiction television (and perhaps a logical progression from the earlier steps that Blake's 7 made in the direction of ongoing storylines), it falls short of the original Star Trek series in my mind. Nonetheless, I definitely expect to be around for the long haul, and hold my breath every summer waiting to hear whether it's been renewed for another year.
As with Star Trek, I grew up with this British TV show. Although hard-pressed to really qualify as "science fiction" (it's more a lighthearted fantasy), it does have the distinction of having run on the BBC for nearly 30 years, a solid 10 of which were of extremely high caliber (I'm thinking here from the late Pertwee stories to the early Davisons). Although one might indict the show on the grounds of, for instance, its poor special effects, it usually maintained a high level of acting and scripting, which to my mind are the two most important elements of any TV show.
Doctor Who began in the early 60s as a childrens' adventure show, featuring The Doctor, a grandfatherly sort who traveled through time and space in his TARDIS - a futuristic machine that looked like a blue police box. The original idea of the series was to use it as a fun way to illustrate history to kids, but the fantastic elements soon took over.
The show's primary gimmick was that the Doctor was an alien (a "Time Lord") with 13 lives. When one life was used (i.e., the actor playing the Doctor left the show), he would "regenerate" into a new person. Over time, seven actors played the Doctor: William Hartnell, Patrick Troughton, Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, and Sylvester McCoy. A variety of supporting characters ("companions") accompanied the Doctor on his adventures.
The show was finally cancelled by the BBC in the late 1980s, despite huge overseas popularity. In a way, it was a mercy killing as the show's quality had sunk dismally low over the previous five seasons. A few years later, however, an American company bought the rights to the show and produced a 2-hour TV-movie which aired in 1996 on the FOX television network, with an eye towards turning it into a new series. Sylvester McCoy returned for a regeneration sequence where he became the 8th Doctor, Paul McGann. While the movie was blatantly American in temperament, it did show more style and spirit than many of the Colin Baker and McCoy episodes and shows some promise. We'll see where things go from here.
hits since 6 August 1999.