19
Oct 04

A Starbuck on every corner: Galactica revisited

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A Starbuck on every corner: Galactica revisited
It’s all gone horribly wrong.

Having spent the end of last week watching Battlestar Galactica: The Mini-series, I was ready to savage both the show and the continuation of Hollywood’s misguided obsession with reinventing the past.

After all, while the original series was never the world’s greatest space opera, it came at a time when American television was relatively uninterested in science fiction. And with years of teatime re-runs, this 70s tale of a rag-tag fugitive fleet on the run from a race of robots hell bent on wiping out the human race gradually worked its way into the hearts of a generation.

So, this reimagination could only ever end in disappointment. And the mini-series duly lived down to all my expectations.

The paper-thin characters devoid of (what else?) character, the clunky dialogue which criminally left the likes of Edward James Olmos (Commander Adama) very little to work with, the redesign of the Cylon warriors from clunky (but scary) chrome toasters to standard-issue CG, the token shifty Brit (God bless America), the cynical and gratuitous use of US TV sex (so synthetic it makes the CG look good, so lacking in titillation or narrative value that it’s neither use nor ornament), never mind the issue of Starbuck changing genders to become a woman: I was going to have fun, at least compared to the amount watching the mini-series had given me.

But I made the mistake of holding off the vitriol until after the first episode of Season 1, which got its world premiere on Sky One last night.

Now, we all know how Sky works: it steals the best of the shows from the US then fills out its schedules with a bunch of its own dodgy dramas and documentaries. So, for me, the phrases “big budget US scifi series” and “world premiere on Sky One” are not easy bedfellows. Quality is patently not a watchword for global first runs on Murdoch TV.

But if the rest of the series lives up to the strength of episode one, then I’ve got some apologising to do.

It opened with the revelation that since we last saw Adama and his colonists, the Cylon ships had been attacking for days, precisely every 33 minutes, forcing the human fleet to jump to another location and start the clock again. Everyone was running on empty. Species on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

And by some miracle, the director made it work. It was tense, it was harrowing, it was dark. Indeed the opening 10 minutes of the first episode proper had more human interest and drama than the whole, hackneyed four hours of the warm-up act. Gripping stuff. So much so that the surprise appearance of a Cylon warrior halfway through actually made me jump. Programming that moves you – that’s good TV.

And with a little reinvention of Galactica lore, they could have laid the groundwork for something exciting. In this version of the story, the Cylons were created by humans, and in their bid to wipe them out, the robots have developed the ability to build models that resemble humans – the most notable being a pneumatic blonde, who bedded our shifty Brit scientist in her quest to get at the humans’ defence systems, and now haunts his every waking moment.

But she’s not the only one – there’s a Cylon in Galactica’s crew. A mole, a sleeper – so what else is new? But in revealing this character’s dual identity so early in the proceedings, one can’t help feeling that they’ve a little more in store than the tired old witch-hunt storyline.

And there’s going to be mileage in the relationship that surely must develop between Starbuck (sassy gal, best fighter pilot in the Corps) and Adama’s son Apollo (All-American hero). There was always a love story there, even in 1978, when they were both young men – the two strapping young fighter pilots were always laced with a homoerotic undertone. It’s just a shame that the 21st century producers didn’t have the intestinal fortitude to carry that love through without tampering with Starbuck’s DNA.

So after a shaky start, things are beginning to look good. Let’s just hope they know where to take it.

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