Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Babylon 5 plus 20

I hadn’t really thought about it, but it’s now 20 years to the day since Babylon 5 began to break the mould of the conventional television series in general, and science fiction in particular.

February 22, 2013, marks the 20th anniversary of the premiere of Babylon 5: The Gathering, the pilot film for what would eventually become the Babylon 5 television series.

Creator J Michael Straczynski’s vision of a 5-year story arc following the lines of a proper novel was almost unheard of, and probably everything else we were watching at the time (and since) tended to appear, last for a few seasons (or years), then disappear into nothingness, having had no real beginning, very little middle, and no end, as most series just evaporate when the sponsors pull the money plug.

And that last hurdle was one of the biggest that B5 needed to overcome, as far as I recall.

The Internet connection

One of the novel (new) things that helped make B5 unique was the arrival of the Internet (30 years ago), which was followed by easy web browsing (for ‘normal’ people). That long ago, such things were only becoming commonplace, unlike today, where folk don’t gripe about the ability to get online (or generally have to survive on 56 K dial-up), but prefer to moan about how slow their broadband connection is.

Thanks to the Internet, we were able to follow not only the development of the series, as fans prepared detailed breakdowns of each episode shortly after it aired – and you needed this, as JMS planted many seeds that only came to bloom in later episodes – but also JMS’ ongoing woes with the studios, as the series stumbled from year to year as sponsors fell by the wayside, and were driven by the ratings rather than the fans. It seems that the first dip in numbers is enough for the sponsors to go running to the well for something ‘new’ to crowbar their ads into, rather than to nurture an existing stream. I don’t know how close the reality of cancellation was during the arc, but reading about it as it was discussed only added to the drama.

Such was the novel use of the Internet to develop B5, it has even been detailed on its own Wikipedia page:

Babylon 5’s use of the Internet

Found, not chased

I seem to recall the initial publicity for B5 was pretty poor here in the UK, and I didn’t rush home to turn on the TV and watch when it started.

In fact, the first series was probably well underway when I happened to find my first episode purely by chance. Spotted while channel hopping, it caught my eye, and was almost immediately hooked. I say ‘almost’ as a compliment, as you had to pay attention, and learn the various themes and cultures presented in each episode in order to fully follow and understand the 5-year arc. Star Trek etc, this was not:

“For the fans: no cute robots, no kids.” (JMSNews 12/4/1991)

You can read JMS’ words from the past in his archive:

JMSNews

I could probably waffle on for ages about B5, and have already wasted an inordinate and disproportionate amount of time looking at related material instead of writing, so I should quickly point at the following article, where a pretty good summary has been given:

The Strange, Secret Evolution of Babylon 5

And this is one of those rare occasions where I recommend carrying on and reading into the comments, where (apart from the inevitable rubbish which some seem determined to post), one can find later information on the series and event surrounding it.

I can’t find the reference again (so it may be wrong), but it seems we won’t even see a high quality release of the series, since the original material was destroyed.

Some suggest this doesn’t matter, since the CGI was so poor, but I disagree. The CGI was fine, and we have too many series – especially science fiction – where the creators have clearly lost the plot, and write stuff that shows of how ‘clever’ they are at CGI. Unfortunately… all it really shows is how poor they are at story writing.

I have to say I find it hard to go along with the suggestions that B5 and DS9 (Deep Space 9) were similar at the time, in the sense of being in conflict. The similarity of the story lines just isn’t there (for me – maybe corporate lawyers see it differently, and were rubbing their hand at the thought of long drawn out court cases), although the idea of a space station next to a worm hole or similar and an enemy on the other side is similar, it’s also very broad and general. And the Star Trek ‘manual’ suggests DS9 wouldn’t develop the same way B5 did – the chances of a Trek series with a beginning, middle, and end… just not likely.

If you are new to Babylon 5, then you should head over to The Lurker’s Guide to Babylon 5, still online since it was created by fans to accompany the series, and still the standard reference.

I’ll leave the last word to Vorlon ambassador Kosh – I liked the Vorlons, and they travelled in living ships, paired for life to their pilots.

It may not be the most significant quote from the series (or maybe it was, given its underlying meaning), but its simplicity made it the most memorable for me:

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February 22, 2013 - Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , ,

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