Babylon 5

Babylon 5 castOpening - Season One: It was the dawn of the third age of mankind, ten years after the Earth-Minbari War. The Babylon Project was a dream given form. Its goal: to prevent another war by creating a place where humans and aliens could work out their differences peacefully. It's a port of call, home away from home for diplomats, hustlers, entrepreneurs, and wanderers. Humans and aliens wrapped in two million, five hundred thousand tons of spinning metal, all alone in the night. It can be a dangerous place, but it's our last, best hope for peace. This is the story of the last of the Babylon stations. The year is 2258. The name of the place is Babylon 5.

 

Babylon 5, created by J. Michael Straczynski, came to our Televisions in the early 1990’s, about the same time as Star Trek’s Deep Space Nine.  The two are often compared.  Fans of each have called one a “rip-off” of the other.  The truth is they were both developed and planned independently of each other.  Babylon 5 did something that was amazing at the time; it got Trekkers and Trekkies alike talking about a new show.  Some of them even thought this new series was better than Star Trek. 

I was one of them.  Perhaps in the interest of saving my life from irate Star Trek fans, or at least being asked by them to turn in my membership as one of Star Trek’s earliest fans I should restate this.  Babylon 5 was not exactly better, it was different.  I believe it was more human and real than Star Trek.  There was a humor among the beings that populated the Babylon 5 station that had more in common with M*A*S*H than Star Trek; a humor in the face of horror, sorrow and intense pressure.  In addition, the special effects were some of the best on television for that time.  Ships spun and pitched in the absence of gravity unlike other shows where the ships seem to be tied to the same physics as a standard airplane.    Babylon 5 also had something that set it apart from almost every other evening show of the time. While there was usually a major event that resolved itself in each show, it also had a continuing story arc that stretched through all five seasons. Since that time many shows have followed the same pattern, but at the time I was amazed when something I thought was just a throw-a-way line in season one turned out to have important implications in the final season. 

Beyond that I don’t know how to describe Babylon 5 except to say I personally believe it is a must see for almost any science fiction fan.  Season one does start off a little rough, but the show finds its footing quickly.  By the second season it was off and running.  The cast is made up mainly of first rate character actors; Mia Furlan, Jerry Doyle, Claudia Christian, Andreas Katsulas, and Peter Jurasik to name a few.  The station was commanded by Commander Sinclair (Michael O’Hare) for the first season.  He was replaced for rest of the series run by  Captain John Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner). The show also managed to bring is some actors from a couple of other well-known SF shows.  You might recognize their names.  Walter Koenig as Bester, a role he was almost born to play and Marjel Barrett-Rodenberry from Star Trek TOS and from Lost in Space, Bill Mumy.  Trekker’s will also recognize the name of D.C. Fontana in some of the production and writing credits for a few episodes. If you have time and would like to watch a good science fiction series that doesn’t take itself too seriously, while taking itself very seriously indeed, give Babylon 5 a try.  However, I also suggest you take note of the warning in the next paragraph.

WARNING:  As I mentioned the special effects were some of the best made for television at the time.  Babylon 5 managed this by being the first to heavily use computers.  They linked together a number of Commodor Amiga Computers to produce them.  Other SF shows at the time did their special effects using standard film techniques.  Unfortunately these computer effects were produced for non-HD television and they do not hold up well on today’s large screen HD televisions. Sadly, since they were produced this way it is unlikely that they will ever be able to produce HD copies of the show.  The only way to do so successfully would be to redo all of the effects for the show with modern, more powerful computers.  I doubt that the studio would find this cost effective.   I find I have to watch the program on my smaller screened, non-HD television, or on my laptop to still enjoy the special effects and not find them distracting.  I suggest that you do the same.