Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Battlestar Galactica is 30

Thirty years ago today, Battlestar Galactica premiered on the ABC network at 8pm in the evening.

With a running of three hours (with adverts), it was the most expensive television show in the world at that time.

Initially watched by over 65 million Americans, the show was cancelled after one year on the air, primarily because the network thought they weren't making enough money on it.

Why does the memory of this one-season wonder still endure after all this time?

I think because in many ways it was unique.

Sure, it wasn't 'real' science fiction like Star Trek or the Twilight Zone, after all it was written and created by Glen A. Larson – a man with very little experience of writing science fiction, who up until that point had written cop shows and westerns.

But what Larson did was something that hadn't been done before in American SF television, he wrapped his series in the trappings of his religion, the Mormon faith and reversed the direction of every show that had come before it – that of people from Earth going out into the universe. Now, the people of Galactica would be searching for Earth – alien humans from a society with nods to the ancient civilisations of our planet.

Also, unlike many shows that came before and after it, Battlestar Galactica had a far from liberal bent. It's philosophy of strength through superior power to maintain a peaceful existence echoes the policies of the Reagan years in US politics.

The show's main premise is also notable, in that within the first half hour, the human race is defeated and almost wiped out from their corner of the universe.

Out of the fires of defeat, however, the crew of the mighty battlestar Galactica leads a rag-tag fugitive fleet of survivors away from the clutches of their mortal enemies, the robotic race of chrome-clad proto-Terminators, the Cylons, on a quest (for the lost 13th Tribe who are said to exist on a planet called Earth) that is sustained by the unswerving faith of their leader, Commander Adama.

So, is the series about defeat?

No, it’s about hope and human resilience and the fact that very often, humans are at their very best when things are at their worst.

Is the series perfect?

No, far from it. There are too many plots that are reminiscent of popular movies from yesteryear and the writers' unfamiliarity with the tropes of science fiction can be embarrassing, but very often the sheer visual spectacle carries you through these rough spots, aided by the show's good-looking and likeable cast, the majestic musical score of composer Stu Phillips and it’s Emmy Award-winning special visual effects.

It may have lasted only one TV season, but the series is still shown throughout the world today. It is acknowledged in shows like the Simpsons and Futurama and it’s influences have even crept into the mighty Star Trek.

So, I raise my glass to Battlestar Galactica, gone but far from forgotten.

Happy Birthday!