TV REVIEW: Babylon 5

Starring: Mira Furlan, Richard Biggs, Stephen Furst, Andreas Katsulas, Peter Jurasik, Jerry Doyle, Bill Mumy, Bruce Boxleitner, Claudia Christian, Jeff Conaway,  Patricia Tallman, Andrea Thompson,  Jason Carter, Michael O’Hare, Julia Caitlin Brown, Tobert Rusler, Mary Kay Adams, Tracy Scoggins

Episodes: 111 (+6 spin off-films and a 13-part spin-off series Crusade)

Genre: Space Opera

Broadcaster: PTEN/TNT

First Aired: 1994-1998

Verdict: 4/5

Babylon 5 isn’t just humanity’s last, best hope for peace. It’s also the last, best series I’ve never seen an episode of. Until this year. Boxsets are a wonderful thing, and the Babylon 5 Ultimate Collection certainly kept me entertained for the best part of six months. Going by sheer episode count alone, this ranks as one of the most successful SF TV series. Of course, a show not only needs quantity, but also quality. Does Babylon 5 have that? Yes, yes it certainly does.

Like many, I first heard of Babylon 5 through it’s rivalry with Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which for the record is my favourite Star trek series. Though I can see the similarities, I’m not going to get bogged down in that rivalry here. Suffice it to say that Babylon 5 stands as a grimdark mirror to that other show.

Babylon 5 ostensibly tells the story of the titular space station, a sort of neutral ground in a Galaxy populated by dozens of alien species. As the series goes on, it takes more and more plotlines, all interwoven, and centred around a cosmic battle between light and shadow. Famously one of the first SF series to adopt a more serialised approach to storytelling, Babylon 5 nevertheless has plenty of standalone, and standout, episodes. Whether it be Londo Molari undergoing a crisis of morailty, or the ground-eye view of two mechanics stumbling their way through an attack on the station, there’s plenty to grab your attention.

Of course, any programme that has as many plotlines as this is going to be hard pressed to wrap them all up to everyone’s satisfaction, and the failure to do this is Babylon 5‘s only real failing. Particularly in the last season, a fair few plotlines are set up only to be abandoned. Rather oddly, the same happens in the spin-off films, some of them clearly aiming to spawn series of their own which sadly never materialised. A lot of this is of course the result of behind-the-scenes affairs. The show was cancelled and brought back, numerous actors quit during the series (no season has the same main cast as another) and there are doubtless more issues that are less well-publicised. For all that, it’s nothing short of a miracle that the show is as incredible as it is.

Unlike a lot of shows at the time, Babylon 5  embraced CGI over models. The effects haven’t aged well, but they give the show a unique appearance. Considering that, the alien prosthetics are absolutely amazing. The Narns and Minbari are never unconvincing, the background species are masterpieces of make-up, and even the wild-haired Centauri never look out of place. Couple that with sets that still look convincing today, and you almsot forget that the show is twenty-five years old.

Though the pilot features acting that’s a little wooden as people grow accustomed to the dialogue and characters they perform, after that there’s not a bad performance in the lot. Special mention must go the masterful partnership of Katsulas and Jurasik, who make every scene sparkle wih wit and energy. Among the main cast, I also want to draw attention to Jeff Conaway, whose Zack Allen is the perfect everyman, and a fine example of a character going from one-off appearance to recurring character, until he finally becomes the series regular he was born to be. The true-life tragedies that has befallen amny of the actors in the years since only makes their performances more poignant.

If you have a few months with nothing on, then Babylon 5 is the show for you. it’s not one you can dip into, because you’ll soon drown. But dive right in, and you’ll be in for the swim of a lifetime.

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