Babylon 5 – tape 1769

Babylon 5 is a series of wild variation. It had huge ambition, and in many ways it established a template for TV that’s still being used today. But like most TV shows, it had its ups and downs. Season One, from where these episodes hail, was a lot of filler and mediocre stories, peppered occasionally with something great. It was mostly scene-setting, and, crucially, had a central actor who didn’t really have the charisma to support the show. He was replaced for subsequent seasons, and it’s clear from later interviews with series creator J Michael Straczynski that he had severe personal issueswhile on the show that made it impossible to continue.

But there’s some good episodes on this tape, what we used to call ‘arc-heavy’ episodes.

First, there’s The Parliament of Dreams. The station is playing host to representatives of all the planets’ major religions. G’Kar gets a call from an ‘old associate’, saying “by the time you get this, I’d already be dead. But then, shortly, so will you.”

Someone has been sent to kill him. At the same time, and new attache has arrived, Na’Toth.

Also arrived on the station is Catherine Sakai (Julia Nickson), an old friend of Commander Sinclair.

Julia Nickson

And since it’s the episode for the introduction of new characters, Delenn meets her new aide, Lennier, played by Bill Mumy, who was young Will Robinson on Lost In Space.

Bill Mumy

Not much really happens, with the exception of introducing Sakai, who will reappear. G’Kar outwits his assassin with the aid of Na’Toth, and Sinclair puts on a demonstration of ‘Earth’s dominant religion’ by lining up about 200 people representing pretty much every faith and sect imaginable (starting with an atheist).

The next episode starts off with a stolen ship, pursued by starfuries, being told to stop, but then something wibbly happens with the special effects, then it’s on its own again, travelling away. I’m unclear what’s supposed to have happened here.

Catherine Sakai is back from her trip, and she and Sinclair seem to be settling down into a domestic routine.

And the ship we saw at the start is arriving at B5, its pilot looking forward to boarding.

William Allen Young

Talia Winters (Andrea Thompson), the ship’s licensed telepath, is talking to a client, and explaining (mostly for the viewers’ benefit, I feel) how telepathy works. Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle) is lurking behind her, obviously thinking inappropriate thoughts, and she elbows him in the stomach. Just like a man not to behave himself in an elevator. By the way, Jerry Doyle and Andrea Thompson were married for a couple of years while the show was in production.

Sakai is negotiating for a job surveying a planet, Sigma 957, for rare minerals, which is why Talia is there.

Also on board is Walter Koenig as Bester, a Psicop, looking for a rogue telepath. Things always perk up when Bester arrives, and this is his first appearance on the show.

Walter Koenig

I wonder if he’s looking for the man who arrived earlier? He’s settling in, but seems to be suffering from migraines that shake his whole quarters.

He’s Jason Ironheart, the kind of name that only exists in fiction. He was Talia’s instructor at the Psi Corps academy, and was working with Earthforce military on a covert project. Bester thinks he intends to sell secrets to an enemy.

They scan Talia to find out if she’s telling the truth – a rather more unpleasant version of Spock’s Mind Meld. Bester’s associate, Miss Kelsey (Felicity Waterman) is making the most of her evil Psi Corp persona.

Felicity Waterman and Andrea Thompson

G’Kar warns Sakai off visiting Sigma 957 as he says it’s a dangerous place.

Ironheart contacts Talia, and tells her he’s been taking part of experiments to boost telepathic ability, which have made him a stable telekinetic, something that is vanishingly rare normally.

Here’s a thing. Remember when Apple sued Samsung over (among other things) using swipe to unlock a phone. Here’s G’Kar doing it on his computer from a TV show in 1994. Prior art?

Ironheart’s powers are not under control, and he has another attack, causing a mindquake and sealing him behind a protective telekinetic wall. But Talia can get through and talk to him. He’s losing control of the new powers he’s got.

He needs time to finish becoming whatever it is he’s becoming, someone with total control over even subatomic particles. When he’s confronted by Bester and Kelsey, he starts losing control again, and when Kelsey draws her gun, he has to zap her.

Zapped Kelsey

Meanwhile at Sigma 957, Catherine Sakai comes across a massive, strange ship, whose passing zaps her own and leaves her floating helpless, heading to the surface of the planet.

Weird spaceship

But G’Kar has sent some ships to the planet to assist her. After all, as he said earlier when trying to warn her off, “Nobody here is who they seem.”

She asks him what was it she saw. “There are things in our universe billions of years older than either of our races. Vast. Timeless. And if they are aware of us at all, it is as little more than ants.”

Ironheart does ‘become’ in the end, turning into a generic 3D human model. 3D scanning of actual people was presumably beyond the budget of the show.

Jason Became

Next it’s The War Prayer. Delenn has an old friend round for tea. She’s a famous Minbari poet. Leaving Delenn’s quarters she’s injured in a racist attack by someone telling her to “stay away from Earth”. This is just one more in a series of similar racist attacks by the ‘homeguard’ – Earth-centric racists who want to “Take Back Control” and “Make Earth Great Again”. (I might be making that bit up, but they’re basically the same people.)

Two young centauri arrive, looking for ‘Ambassador Vir’. The girl is Danica McKellar, Winnie Cooper off of The Wonder Years. They’re rebelling against their respective arranged marriages, and want to marry each other, for love. “What does love have to do with marriage?” asks Londo.

Rodney Easton and Danica McKellar

An old boyfriend of Ivanova turns up, Malcolm Biggs.I wonder if he’ll tie into the racist attacks?

Sinclair goes to meet Ambassador Kosh to check he’s OK. Then he has an infodump conversation with Ivanova, basically reiterating the plot of the pilot episode. JMS is a bit obvious when he’s setting up long-term story elements.

Soon, aliens start attacking humans, and order is close to breaking down. The two Centauri kids are also attacked.

And to nobody’s surprise, Ivanova’s old flame Biggs turns out to be recruiting for the homeguard, so Sinclair pretends to be racist to inveigle himself into the organisation. The scene where he and Ivanova talk to Biggs to persuade him that they’re of like mind is a little stilted. At one point, after Sinclair has said a few things, and Biggs has done the usual racist spiel about protecting our own, putting Earth first, I was half expecting Ivanova to stiffly blurt out “Yes, I too am a racist.”

Biggs wants Sinclair to demonstrate he’s truly one of them with a loyalty test, asking him to kill an alien dignitary. But they’re distracted by Garibaldi approaching with a combat team, there’s a shootout, and Mr Biggs is arrested.

The next episode, as so many others do, starts with an arrival. Christopher Neame arrives on the station. Possibly famous for being the villain in the lost Doctor Who story Shada.

Christopher Neame

He meets Judson Scott, whom you’ll recognise as one of Khan’s people from Star Trek II. “I have identified the target” says Scott, showing Neame a picture of Commander Sinclair.

Judson Scott

This episode is And The Sky Full of Stars. One of the security guards has a gambling problem, and Neame and Judson co-opt him to get something they need to get Sinclair.

Sinclair is having dreams about the Battle of the Line, where he vanished for some time, and has no memory of what happened to him. He wakes up, to discover the whole station is deserted. The only other person left on board is Neame. “You’re mine” he says.

Meanwhile, back on the actual station, Garibaldi is reading a newspaper. How odd that, in this future, the newspaper is still available in that format. And doubly odd that there only appears to be one font allowed in the future – the same font they use for the titles.

Newspaper

There’s a subtle hint at future stories, with the headline about the Psi Corps endorsing the vice president.

Delenn tells Garibaldi Sinclair didn’t turn up for an appointment so he starts looking for him.

Neame tells Sinclair that he’s locked in a cybernetic virtual reality, their two minds together. I don’t think Oculus Rift would sell many of these contraptions.

State of the art VR

Neame is after his memories of what happened on the Line. He sounds like another racist Earth First person, assuming Sinclair is working for the Minbari. While he’s under, he remembers being in front of the grey council, but then he manages to get out of the VR equipment, but his mind is still back ten years.

He’s still having flashbacks, and Scott is coming after him, but Delenn talks Sinclair down, and Scott is dispatched.

The Minbari are rather worried in case Sinclair remembers, and tell Delenn he must die if he does. Which is unfortunate for future episodes, since he reveals at the end, to his private log, that he does remember.

After the last episode, recording stops, but underneath there’s a bit of Blockbusters. Roz has a pet rat called Ratatouille whom she takes for walks.

Roz

After Blockbusters, the start of an episode of E Street. This recording also stops, and underneath there’s a strange but of recording, from a german channel, it’s one of those infomercials for something called ‘Sudden Youth’, all in German but the tape sounds like it’s changing speed, with the background music sounding very strange. It’s very strange to see the Amazing Discoveries guy doing his think in German. And that’s the end of the tape.

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3 comments

  1. I know Christopher Neame most for “Martial Law” when he took over from Tim Curry as the Big Bad.

    And now Danica McKellar is a maths genius, but wisely avoided becoming the American Carol Vorderman.

  2. That ending of B5 with the representatives of Earth’s religions is from one of the very few early episodes memorable enough to have stayed with me, and more or less the only episode of that first season I was impressed by (though rewatching it now, it feels unbelievably clumsy). That first season was very poor – cardboard characters and boring plots. It improved somewhat.

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