By Owen Quinn author of the Time Warriors and Zombie Blues
On the 17th September 1978 we were treated to a single run of science fiction episodes from a series called Battlestar Galactica. Created by Glen A. Larson as something called Adam’s Ark, it wasn’t until the advent of Star Wars the previous year that made studios sit up and realize there may be money in this space lark yet. Larson intended to do them as television movies but the network Universal Studios decided to go weekly with 24 episodes in total. Who would have thought that such a little show would spawn a legacy that right until this very day. It spellbound fans everywhere and to the horror of me and everyone else it was cancelled and replaced by some cub scout show with Adama.
Week upon week we were caught by that magnificent theme music as we sweep across the Battlestar Galactica and went on adventures with our heroes Starbuck, Apollo and Sheba. Some were good, some were bad but there is no denying that they shoved more mythology and elements in this solitary season that would last in the minds of fans for decades.
The Pegasus, the Ship of Lights, Kobol, Baltar and the Cylons. Despite the fluffiness of certain episodes, people forget the more horrific elements of the show. The mass murder and attempted genocide of humanity and that horrible fate when humans were put into the insectoid Ovion feeding chambers. What was missed in this was the fact you melted alive as your flesh broke down to feed the Ovion young. The sight of that woman clawing uselessly at the chamber to escape as her flesh sticks to the base is horror at its best. It also shows how nasty the Cylons were in the way they managed to get other alien races to take down humanity by any means necessary. It was not enough to simply shoot them; if the human body served another alien’s needs then so be it.
Now Patrick Macnee provided the voice of the Cylon Imperious Leader, a reptilian like creature that sat atop a huge dais issuing orders. He also provided the opening narration for every episode of the original run so it was a nice audience tease when he appeared in the flesh in the two part War of the Gods as the mysterious Count Iblis.
What was very clever about this piece of casting was that it left the audience wondering was this the Imperious Leader assuming human guise to lure the Galacticans into a trap that would see the Cylon goal of genocide come to pass or was it another alien from the super fast orbs of lights that kidnapped several of Galactica’s pilots at the beginning of this episode. Or maybe neither. These two were episodes – 15 and 16 in running order – were broadcast over two weeks on 14th and 21st January 1979.
Sent by Adama, played by the legendary Lorne Greene, to find the missing pilots Starbuck, Sheba and Apollo (played by Dirk Benedict, later of A-Team fame, Anne Lockhart, daughter of the original Mrs Robinson in Lost in Space, June, and Richard Hatch, who would return to the remake Galactica as rebel Tom Zarek respectively). Instead they find Count Iblis, a human man in a wrecked spaceship on the planet below. He appears friendly at first so they take him back to the Galactica where he begins to exert a strange influence over everyone including the council. Whatever Iblis wants they give him freely, including command of the fleet. The benevolent Count uses the short falls of Adama’s command to turn the people to his side. They are starving, he gives it to them when the plants in the agri-domes begin sprouting, they live in corridors, they will have homes and Iblis does this like some sort of Jesus figure. He is the saviour the humans need and Adama and crew are powerless to stop him, especially since he’s actually right in what he says. He tells Adama he is an advanced being and that Adama must devise three tests to validate Iblis’s claims.
Meanwhile the mysterious light ships continue to plague both the Galactica and Baltar’s Base ship. The tests devised are to plot an exact course to Earth and deliver their greatest enemy to them which he does when Baltar, played by Star Trek’s John Colicos, is brought aboard the Galactica. The third test was yet to be decided. This only serves to cement Iblis as a holy saviour. Baltar recognizes Iblis’ voice as that of the Imperious Leader but it would mean Iblis was thousands of years old. As Iblis plunges the fleet into a state of absolute pleasure, a helpless Adama sends Starbuck and Apollo to investigate the wreckage for something to use against the Count. Iblis suddenly appears before them impervious to their weapons and he tries to kill Sheba with Apollo stepping in front of the blast. Suddenly the sky fills with light ships and Iblis reverts to his true form, a devil like creature before vanishing. On their way back, they are taken aboard the Ship of Lights where they are told they are what earlier humans called angels, the implication being that Iblis was the Devil. They raise Apollo from the dead since he was not meant to die and has a great purpose. Upon being returned to the fleet they have no recollection of what happened but are able to give the coordinates that will lead them to Earth. A gift from the angels.
These two episodes pack quite a lot in and add to the Galactica mythology arc. Written by Glen A. Larson himself it holds ideas that would undoubtedly have continued on in future seasons had they happened. Indeed the whole concept of the Ship of Lights and angels would be used once more in the Ronald D. Moore remake. The implication that Apollo had a bigger destiny was returned to in the episode Experiment in Terra where the Ship returns and sends him on a mission to what we believe to be Earth to prevent nuclear destruction. Indeed the fact that Baltar recognizes Iblis’s voice adds credence to the theory that the humans belief in angels and demons may have be real and on a grander scale, does this mean the humans are caught in a war between heaven and hell? It would explain how easily Iblis was able to take Baltar from his base ship and bring him right to the Galacticans. Is the Imperious Leader the Devil himself and the Cylons his demons? One fan theory was that the robotic Cylons were actually reptilian creatures in suits of armour which again gives strength to the religious themes in the show. Was the Ship of Lights a Chariot of the Gods? Alas we will never know but the lovely touch of the Galactican’s uniforms changing to pure white while aboard the Ship is also a religious touch. And as a wolf in sheep’s clothing it is also adopted by Iblis in his fashion sense. Add to that the fact the light ships knew he was aboard the Galactica yet didn’t take him off it could be interpreted by a test from God for the Galacticans.
There were some nice character touches that reminded viewers of past adventures. Sheba was the daughter of Commander Cain of the Pegasus and was left behind on the Galactica when the Pegasus disappeared again into space. Her loneliness and isolation makes her a perfect victim for Iblis’s mental influence and she falls for his charms hook, line and sinker. Equally, Boomer’s resentment of super cool Apollo and Starbuck, though under the surface, makes him another target that falls to Iblis. The Council of 12 are ready to give it all to Iblis which follows nicely from the fact they are figureheads only and bowed to Adama’s experience and command. Their power, such as it was, is no more so better to follow a God than be a hollow man. It also sets up some events for the future as Baltar has no intention of staying Adama’s prisoner and the prisoners he is put in with will play a part in their escape in a couple of episodes time in Baltar’s escape. This also sees the last appearance of Lucifer, Baltar’s Cylon servant, voiced by Lost in Space’s Doctor Smith himself, Johnathan Harris, and the introduction of the game Triad. It still amazes me how much detail and story was created in just 24 episodes. It is a real tragedy that we never got to go to any future seasons with this crew and I am completely ignoring the appalling Galactica 1980 series (aside from a couple of good episodes, the Starbuck one and when the Cylons find Earth too) which thankfully didn’t last long.
And this just shows how layered a show Battlestar Galactica was when it wanted to be, something followed through with in the remake but for me and many others, nothing will quite stand against the rise of excitement when we hear that rousing orchestral theme music written by Glen A. Larson and Stu Philips. It didn’t just deal in aliens and spaceships but real themes that have made fans think and speculate for years since its original broadcast.