RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Battlestar Galactica (1978): “Saga of a Star World” (Episode 1) Chapter 1

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Welcome to Classic Battlestar Galactica Week here on Republibot, and our super-special edition of Retrospeculative TV, the column in which we take 30 year old piece-of-crap TV shows that no one cares about, and treat them as if they were brand-spanking-new piece of crap TV shows that no one cares about. It was only a matter of time until we got to the original Galactica, now wasn’t it? Last week, we set this up, and now we get into it:

Ok, folks, I hate to do this you to, I really do, but there is just sooooooo much information to cover here that I’m going to have to break this review up over several installments. The premier episode of Galactica was three hours long (!) which, by itself, gives me way too much to cover by itself without even getting into all the observations and additional info and whatnot. I’m simply not going to run a 25-page review as a one-shot in hopes people will find it. Added to which, I’m realizing I’m too close to it. I’m simply more invested in this show than I was with the others I’ve reviewed here. I apologize in advance for that, but it’s going to take me a while to get through this stuff. That said, it would be even *lamer* if I divided this up into sections, and ran a piece every other week, so I’m just going to ‘strip’ the whole thing for a week here. Again, I’m sorry for this, but if you like the show, you might learn something you didn’t know; if you don’t like it, you might find something to appreciate, and if you’ve never seen it, I’d like to think you’ll give it a chance after this. I’d hate to think my carpal tunnel comes with no real payoff.

Onward and downward…

As we discussed last time, there are a lot of people who lambaste the original Galactica without ever having seen it, or, in somewhat rarer cases, lambaste it based on thirty-two year old memories that probably need to be dragged out and dusted off a bit. Certainly there’s no way anyone - then or now - who watches this episode could consider it silly or ridiculous, or anything apart from unrelentingly grim and bleak. I know it’s pretty trendy to decry the series as camp, and certainly there’s no way the original show could compare with the more recent ones in terms of sex and violence and disturbing subject matter - standards and practices being what they were back in the day - but even with that in mind, there’s plenty of sex and disturbing subject matter to go around. Go in to this with an open mind, and you’ll be fairly taken aback and impressed, I promise you.

In this version of things, the Cylons were *not* created by man. They’re humanoid robots created by now-extinct aliens; walking suits of armor, who have waged a presumably genocidal war against humanity for a millennium. The war appears to have been a stalemate for most of that time. Humanity lives in “The Twelve Colonies of Man,” twelve earthlike planets in the same solar system, orbiting two stars that appear to be in the same class as our own. One of the stars orbits the other, and the colonies are referred to as “Inner Colonies” (orbiting the primary star) and “Outer Colonies” (Orbiting the secondary star which orbits the primary star). Just like in the RDM version of the show, these are named (mostly) after the signs of the Zodiac, though the names are somewhat different: Aries, Tauron, Geminon, Orion, Leonis, Virgon, Libron, Scorpia, Sagittaria, Caprica, Aquaria, and Piscon (pronounced “Pie-kon”). It’s never expressly stated, but “Sagittaria” appears to be the capitol. Definitely, the capitol wasn’t Caprica.

Interestingly, in the names of the colonies, “Cancer” is absent, and has been replaced rather conspicuously by “Orion,” presumably because of the negative connotations of the name. Based on some unfilmed lines in the script, Count Baltar is from Orion, which is probably also due to the negative connotations of “Cancer.”

We begin with a fleet of five battlestars. The flagship is hosting a last supper-like scene where President Adar (A strangely earnest Lew Ayres) is addressing the Council of the Twelve as “Not only the greatest leaders mankind has ever known, but my friends.” Among the council are Commander Adama, and Count Baltar of Orion. Baltar has been negotiating an end to the war with the Cylons for some time, and the entire fleet is en rout to sign a peace treaty.

Why are the Cylons so keen on ending the war? They never say, but the first draft of the script says that President Adar was the guy who personally united the Colonies into one government. Prior to his day, all the colonies had waged independent wars against the Cylons. It’s possible that this ‘united offensive’ Adar began was far more effective against the Cylons, and Humanity began to win, rather than just break even. This is never actually mentioned onscreen, and in fact, the entire concept may have no longer been canonical by the time they filmed this episode, but whatever the cause, it does appear that *something* has happened recently to change the status quo enough that the Cylons are willing to massively change their tactics.

As an aside, it’s a bit unclear how the Council works: Are these people the actual leaders of their respective worlds, or delegates (As Adar calls them), or what? I’m assuming a bit of mix-and-match. Baltar is clearly the dictator of Orion, and on the Council. Adama is clearly the only military member of the Council, and he appears to be pretty famous back home, but it’s also pretty clear that he’s *not* the leader of the planet. Perhaps the Council requires a military member? Perhaps it’s just because Adar and Adama had been friends since childhood? (Again, that’s from the original script, but never mentioned onscreen, so I don’t know if it counts or not.) In any event, Adama is pretty skeptical of the whole “Cylon Peace Treaty” thing, but after a thousand years of the stick, everyone is jumping pretty hard to get that carrot. Adar manages to quell Adama’s suspicions somewhat, but he still seems leery.

Meanwhile, back on the Galactica, Starbuck (who’s male, and that’s his real name, not his callsign) is playing sick so Zac - a junior pilot - can take his recon patrol, presumably the final one of the war. Zac (Rick Springfield. Really!) is a new pilot, he’s never flown a mission yet, and he’s Commander Adama’s son. Commander Adama’s other son - Captain Apollo (Richard Hatch. Not the gay one, the other one) - plays along, and lets Zac pull the patrol. “It’s a peace envoy! What possible trouble could there be?”

They launch their Vipers (Which look pretty much like the ones in the RDM Galactica), and Apollo is looking to get back to “Deep Star Exploration,” which the Colonies haven’t done any of since the war started. Presently they find two Cylon tankers and a cloud. (Never explained, but Zac and Apollo find it odd, too). Apollo dives into the cloud just in time to see a THOUSAND Cylon Raiders. They see him, too. He and Zac manage to get away initially, and take out four fighters (Though the targeting computer clearly shows five), though Zac’s fighter is damaged in the attack.

Apollo: “Those things can’t outfly us without a ten-to-one margin!”
Zac: “Apollo, look at your scanner”
Apollo: [Seeing hundreds of fighters approaching] “Oh, but a thousand to one, that’s not fair!”

They’re being jammed and can’t send a message, so they make a mad dash back to the fleet to warm them in person. It quickly becomes apparent they’re not going to make it with Zac limping along. Zac heroically plays down the danger, demands Apollo go ahead, and claims that he’ll still make it back to the fleet ahead of the Cylons, though it’ll be close. There’s a tense moment where Apollo realizes he’s probably leaving his brother to his death.

Apollo: “You can fly with me any time, little brother,” he says in a voice somewhere between pride and regret, and leaves.

On the Galactica, Colonel Tigh (Terry Carter, who I’m pretty sure is the first black man to figure prominently in an SF series since Don Marshall in Land of the Giants 1968-1970) has brought the ship to alert and told Adama that they’re receiving long range readings of a minor battle, but can’t make out details yet. Tigh reluctantly tells Adama that *both* of his sons are on patrol in that sector, and the commander is visibly worried about his younger son, who’s never flown combat.

Adama contacts president Adar on the Atlantia, asking to launch fighters, but Baltar is quite literally whispering in the president’s ear, giving oily-yet-plausible explanations (“It could be pirates”) and advising against launching fighters (“There exist a good number of hard feelings among our pilots, the likelihood of an unfortunate accident…”). Adar agrees. Adama doesn’t launch fighters, but calls battle stations just in case the situation turns bad.

As the fighters get closer, they can clearly recognize it as a massive group of enemy Raiders. “Perhaps a Cylon welcoming committee” Baltar suggests. “May I launch a welcoming committee of my our own?” The president declines. The Cylons open fire on Zac:

Adama: “Mister president, your welcoming committee is firing on my men!”
Adar: “Baltar? Baltar?”

But, of course, Baltar is nowhere to be found.

Zac almost makes it back to the fleet, but a Cylon picks him off. Everyone is drop jawed. Athena, Zac’s sister bursts into very sloppy, very real-seeming tears. The Cylons attack the fleet, and Adama orders is vipers to launch. They do. The other four Battlestars are caught flat-footed. Apollo lands and is taken up to the control room, somewhat frantic, and complaining that he needs to go back out and help Zac. Somewhat doddering with shock, Adama says “That won’t be possible,” and it hits Apollo. Tigh confirms that Zac is dead, and there’s an interesting look on Apollo’s face, somewhere between “No” and “of course.”

No time for grieving: Tigh pumps Apollo for information, “Captain, we must know how many base ships we’re dealing with.”
Apollo: “No base ships. Just fighters. Maybe a thousand.” Tigh doesn’t believe it.
Apollo: “We picked up an empty tanker. It’s my bet that they used that to refuel their fighters after flying there from their point of origin.”
Tigh: “But why operate so far from Cylon without Base Ships when it isn’t necessary?”
Adama: [Growing fear] “Unless it *is* necessary for the Base Ships to be somewhere else…” He calls the president, who’s so consumed with guilt as to be nonfunctional:

Adar: “How could I have been so totally wrong? I have led the entire human race to ruin.”

The Cylons concentrate their attack on the Atlantia, including several kamikaze runs, and the flagship explodes. In the Galactica control room, several people bolt from their consoles in shock. Someone yells “Get back to your stations! Get back to your stations now!” Adama orders the ship to come about and set a course for home at full speed. They leave the battle, abandoning their own fighters in the process.

They’re nowhere near the Colonies, and unable to contact them because of Cylon jamming, but then the jamming lifts as three Cylon base ships launch their attack. The control room crew watch this unfold in civilian broadcasts, unable to help, completely impotent. Serina (A very young, very hot Jane Seymour) is a newscaster, earnestly playing up the “Peace Celebrations” that are about to begin in the “Caprica Presidium,” which I guess is the planetary capital. Suddenly the Cylons start bombing (“Oh my God, this is terrible! They’re bombing the city! People are running everywhere! Are we getting this on the camera?”), and we get a genuinely appalling, moving sequence of the people on the Galactica watching all this unfold in varying states of horror, fear, and open sobbing. Every screen shows explosions, fires, destruction on a massive scale, and on top of all that, we hear desperate cries for help from people on the ground (“The second wave is coming in, we have no defenses!” “We’ve lost power, we can’t get the fire pumps running” “Somebody, please help us!” and so on.) Adama tries to comfort his daughter, but she’s bawling semi-coherently, “Zac, and all the others, they trusted us to protect them, and ….” She bolts from the control room. Tigh announces that the three base ships are now launching wave after wave of fighters for all the outer colonies, “No hope, Commander,” he says. “What about Saggitaria?” Adama asks. “The planet’s in flames.”

It goes on and on, not flinching away. In terms of raw emotional impact, I’ll put that scene up against *anything* Ronald D. Moore ever did, and keep in mind: this was 1978!

Adama decides to go down to Caprica, and Apollo insists on taking him in his fighter: “You’re the last surviving member of the council, at least if anything happens, you’ll stand a chance.” This they then do. (How, by the way, do they do this? The Viper is *clearly* a one-seater. This is a periscope from an earlier draft of the script, when the Vipers were conceived of differently. [The original concept for the Viper ended up becoming the “Thunderfighter” from Buck Rogers in the 25th Century a year later])

Meanwhile, Starbuck’s Viper has been shot up pretty bad, and he crashlands on the flight deck. Athena runs down to make sure he’s ok (I just have to mention, Athena is incapable of not looking yummy. She’s just a stunner. She was my first crush, back when I was eleven, and she’s still just amazing looking at now that I'm forty one. Or forty three, or how ever old I am. I lose count.) Starbuck’s normal Brett Maverick charm is pretty rattled, and he’s furious, screaming about her, about the Galactica, about Adama. She tries to explain to him that the colonies are gone, but he can’t even process the information, he just keeps fuming and storming off.

(The original script has an interesting scene here, which was apparently never filmed: Every fighter pilot who lands is furious, and none know what’s happened. An angry mob of them storm the control room, clearly intending to bust heads and mutiny. They barge in - Starbuck in the lead - demanding explanations. Tigh says nothing, and just hits a button. All the monitor screens come to life, replaying the civilian footage of the attack for them to see. One by one, they calm down, go into shock, drop their weapons, some start to cry, others just silently walk away. Obviously, the sequence would have been redundant, but it‘s still interesting.)

The Galactica is starting to recover fighters that survived the ambush.
Tigh: “How many fighters?”
Omega: “Sixty-eight total, twenty-five of our own.”
Tigh: “How many battlestars?”
Omega: “None.”
Tigh: “What?”
Omega: “None. We are the last surviving battlestar.”
Tigh: “Oh my God.”

Ok, let’s do some math here: In a later episode, we find out that a battlestar’s normal compliment of Vipers is 150. Five battlestars = 750 Vipers, versus 1000 Cylon Raiders. Outnumbered, but probably not disastrous, since the Vipers can land, refuel, reload, and re-launch, whereas the Raiders are lacking support craft, and can’t. Now, the Galactica got her fighters out the minute the attack started. I think it’s safe to assume the Atlantia didn’t get any out, so we’re down to 600 Vipers. Worse odds. The other battlestars clearly got some fighters out, but they were pretty flatfooted, and there’s no way of knowing if they were eventually able to launch everything, or if they only got out a few or whatever. Just to put this in human terms: out of 750 pilots, 68 survived! That’s 9.06%! That’s super-bad odds. Of the Galactica’s own pilots, 25 survived, that’s one out of five! (Including Starbuck, Jolly, Greenbean, and Boomer. Interestingly all the pilots Starbuck was playing cards with in the beginning are gone and never seen again) In other words, the Galactica lost 125 men and 5/6ths of their offensive capability. Furthermore, the Battlestars are essentially space going equivalents of American Nimitz-Class supercarriers. Let’s assume a crew of, say, 5000, which is average for a carrier. That means that out of about 25,000 people in the fleet, 5068 survived.

I just like to put these things in perspective.

This is a weird scene, and it’s powerful because of its probably-unintentional weirdness. Tigh has been pretty grim thus far in the show, but he’s much more functional than his RDM counterpart (He’s not a drunk, for instance). 48 billion people die on the colonies? Grim, but he says “Hopeless” like a man who’s lost a battle, not a war. 125 of his men dead? Yeah, definitely sad, but he keeps going. Down to less than half their offensive wing? Very bad, but he keeps on going. The only time we see him actually really look scared is when Omega tells him Galactica is the last battlestar. He says ‘Oh my God’ like a man who suddenly expects to be dead very shortly, and he *didn’t* have that attitude going into the scene.

What do we make of this? Probably it’s just bad writing or direction or whatever, but I always took it to mean that as devastating as the attack was, the situation was still salvageable if they had a few Battlestars - they could defend the colonies, rebuild, eventually get back to normal, though it’d take generations. Realizing his was the only ship, that became impossible, and it isn’t until that moment that he lost hope.

On Caprica at night, with two moons in the sky, Adama lumbers unsteadily through the burned out ruins of his house, clearly in shock and gathering up family photos (Interestingly, the picture of Adama‘s wife is quite obviously Sophia Loren). Apollo comes in to tell him there’s a crowd of survivors coming, sees the state his dad’s in, and tries to calm him. “Maybe mother wasn’t here.”
Adama: “No, she was here. She was here.” Apollo is visibly saddened by this, and leaves. Adama breaks down crying and says “I’m sorry, Ila, I was never here. I was never here when it mattered.”

The crowd - an angry mob - finds Apollo, and slam him up against his Viper, clearly about ready to lynch him. It’s stagier than most of the scenes thus far in the episode, but still very powerful:

Survivor: [Yelling] “Where were you? Where were you when they killed the rest of us? What were ya’ doin’, boy? What were ya’ doin?!”
Serina: “Wait! I want to know, too. We watched, we waited, prayed, but you never came. Where were you?”
Apollo: [Very somber] “Most of us are dead.”
Serina: “But the fleet…“
Apollo: “All but destroyed.”
Serina: “But you’re here!”
Apollo: “From the Battlestar Galactica.”
Serina: “It survived? But what of the Council, and the other colonies?”
Adama: [Glum but composed, walks into scene] “All destroyed.”
Serina: [Shocked] “Commander Adama!”
Adama: “Yes, Serina.” (Do they know each other? Did she interview him at some point, or does he just know her from watching the news? I’ve always wondered about that.)
Boxey: [Runs into the scene, all happy and oblivious] “Can I ride in your ship, sir?”
Apollo: “Fighter planes are no place for little boys.”
Serina: “They’re going to have to be if our people are going to survive. We must fight back!”
Apollo: [Gravely] “Yes, we will fight back, but not here, not now, not even in this star system.” [Somewhat more portentously] “Yes, we are going to fight back. But not here, not now, not in the Colonies. Not even in this star system. Let the word go forth to every man, woman and child who survived this holocaust. Tell them to set sail at once in every assorted vehicle that will carry them.” [Cut to a montage of a bunch of different ships leaving a bunch of different worlds, alone and in groups, joining together into a fleet, with voice over narration] “And the word went forth to every outpost of human existence, and they came: the Aries, the Gemons, the Virgos, the Scorpios, the Piscons and the Sagittarians. In all, 220 ships, representing every colony, colour and creed in the star system. The human race might have one more chance. But first it would have to survive the alliance, the elements and the unknown dark and sinister threats that would lie ahead.”

Again, I’ll put this up against anything RDM did.

Back on Caprica, Baltar is standing in the burned-out ruins of Adama’s house (Interesting! Coincidence, or personal vendetta?) when some Cylons inform him that some of the survivors have informed him a whole bunch of humans have survived. The information was offered in exchange for their lives. Baltar tells the Cylons to kill ‘em anyway.