Produced by Glen A. Larson Productions and Universal Television
Created by Glen A. Larson
September 17, 1978 to April 29, 1979
The survivors of the 12 Colonies struggle to survive against the ever-present threat of the Cylons and reach the fabled lost 13th colony known as Earth.
“There are those who believe that life here began out there, far across the universe…with tribes of humans…who may have been the forefathers of the Egyptians…or the Toltecs…or the Mayans. Some believe there may yet be brothers of man…who even now fight to survive-somewhere beyond the heavens!” This is among the best opening narration, spoken by Patrick Macnee who would appear in an episode as the villainous Count Iblis as well voicing the Cylon’s Imperious Leader, of any show and sets the series in the mind of the viewer without you necessarily needing to have seen what came before.
For me this was the one of the great television shows of my youth. It was the best-looking science-fiction I had seen outside of a movie theater (not that I had seen much by the tender age of three) ever. Each episode felt like an event. It aimed for the fun vibe of Star Wars per episode and I think it achieved that more often than not.
Coming on the heels of Star Wars and the energy it put into filmed science fiction, production values for the show were high. The cost of the pilot episode alone was $8 million (a record for the time) and by the looks of it costs remained high throughout its all too brief one season of 24 episodes.
The costuming was just fantastic. They did not half-ass it here. The uniforms of the Colonial Warriors were some of the best science-fiction uniforms I had ever seen until the costumes that popped up in Wrath of Khan. They even gave the Imperial uniforms of the original Star Wars a run for their money which for me were pretty sharp.
The Colonial Vipers, the fighter craft of the humans, were just awesome. It is clear they tried to look like X-Wings without violating ant copyright laws (but still managing to piss off George Lucas and Fox). But the real spaceship star of the show was obviously the Galactica. In concept it was just a rocket but it looked so cool. It looked tough and old and cool.
The point in history that the show occurs in relation to Earth history is never clearly stated. The events of the series begin in “the seventh millennium of time” but what that means for us is uncertain. The final aired episode “The Hand of God” implies that the show takes place after the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969 when Galactica begins picking up the television broadcast. With those signals traveling at the speed of light and getting harder to detect the further they get from Earth it stands to reason that they were rather close to us but that is neither here nor there for the purposes of this writing.
The series had one central villain-the Cylons. These were a machine empire and were created by a reptilian race also called Cylons that died out centuries before the show takes place. It is said that the original Cylons were overcome by their technology but exactly what that means is never specified though in “War of the Gods” it is implied it had something to do with the aforementioned Count Iblis.
Humanity has been in a state of war with the Cylons ever since the humans aided the never seen Hasaris in their conflict with the Cylons. This causes the Cylons to view humanity as a threat and they began to plot mass extermination. Cylons have a genocidal mentality rather than a conquering mentality having wiped out the Hasaris and the Delphians yet as seen in the beginning of the series they allowed the insectoid Ovians to live under their rule. A little uneven there.
The Cylons are mostly militaristic with the only semi-civilian place seen being the outpost of Gamoray. The Cylon Alliance is led by the Imperious Leader with a body that resembles their reptilian creators. It is the most advanced Cylon model and uses civilian looking IL Series models to act as commanders for the Cylon forces referred to as Centurions.
We had a pretty strong cast from the beginning of the show.We have the fatherly Cmdr. Adama (Lorne Greene). Greene had cemented his paternal image during his years on Bonanza and casting him as the paternal savior of humanity was a stroke of genius. We have the dashing Capt. Apollo (Richard Hatch), Adama’s son, and his best bud the roguish yet lovable Lt. Starbuck played by Dirk Benedict and their friend Lt. Boomer (Herbert Jefferson Jr.). We also get Colonel Tigh (Terry Carter) who is Adama’s old friend and second in command.
Jane Seymour had a brief run on the show as Serina, mother to Boxey (Noah Hathaway of The Never Ending Story fame), until her rising star got her to leave for other opportunities and her son was left with her boyfriend Apollo. Maren Jensen played Apollo’s sister Athena. Anne Lockhart would be brought in as Sheba to basically replace Serina. Laurette Spang showed up as socialator (space sex worker) Cassiopeia before the network practices and standards ordered a profession change.
We had a pretty good group of guest stars for the time show up in this series. Rick Springfield guest starred in the pilot as Apollo’s brother Zac who was killed in the initial attack. Ray Milland as Sire Uri and Lloyd Bridges as Commander Cain who was reported to have been offered the part of Captain Kirk before it went to Shatner show up. Fred Astaire appeared as Starbucks con artist father Chameleon. Ray Bolger showed up as an android called Vector.
The best performance in the show though goes to John Colicos as the villainous Baltar. The Great Betrayer as the character would come to be called in the show. Colicos during his career was a professional screen ham. He gave great over the top performances in everything. You may remember him as one of the original Klingons (Commander Kor) from the original Star Trek. And Colicos was just so good at it.
In the pilot film it is very clear that the character of Baltar died. He was executed by the Cylons at the very end when they revealed to him that they had no plans on letting him live and rule over a small group of human survivors as had been agreed to and that their goal was complete extinction of the human race. In the series the same scenario plays out but just slightly different. Baltar is able to convince the Cylons to let him live and he is eventually given command of a BaseStar (the Cylon equivalent of a Battlestar) which he will use in the series to hunt down the Colonial Fleet and become the shows recurring villain.
The show started out on a serious downbeat but then again how could you not with attempted genocide by a race of machines. Though it was serious in the beginning that tone faded as the season progressed with the show becoming a little bit lighter in tone.
Colonial Warriors were all male. The women in the Colonial Service were in support capacities but apparently never in a combat capacity until after the pilot episode when they needed to fill out their ranks. That though got contradicted in the Cain two-parter when his daughter Sheba joined the Galactica crew and it was clear she had been a warrior most if not all of her time.
Battlestar Galactica was an adventure show and while the characters had problems to overcome each episode it was not necessarily about anything too deep. And maybe that was part of the problem and why it did not last for too long. They were simply on the run, but the stories were not about too much. Worse, in an attempt to bring in viewers, they tried to do stories like popular films such as The Guns of Navarone or The Dirty Dozen and or just do a general space western.
Whatever the episodes were trying to be like though they were fun and enjoyable, and most were even pretty cool. A personal favorite of mine was when Patrick Macnee of Avengers fame showed up as the villainess Count Iblis that was all but said to be the devil.
The original special effects were fantastic. At least for television quality of the day. I grew up on a steady diet of Star Trek and other short-lived television science fiction. None of it looked as good as this show did. But because of production constraints often shots were reused. It was not too bad but once you noticed it that reality was hard to ignore.
Battlestar Galactica had great and fun scripts here and our lead characters were friends and you felt comfortable that they would save the day. Too often in TV shows these days everybody is at each other’s throat and you have trouble believing they could do any good. Unfortunately behind the scenes there was some jealousy to go around and Benedict and Hatch would fight over who had more lines or the better lines or whatever and the writers would simply make some halfhearted changes and continue filming and there are times when you can tell.
Despite that the show is a great ride. It is exciting and well-acted, and I think visually mostly holds up. The issues I have cited are minor and do nothing to detract from enjoyment. It is positive and fun and hopeful and that is refreshing in the present day with so many depressing series to be found.
In the end the original Battlestar Galactica is a great show. It is a perfect example of the television of its time and I mean that in a good way. If you want a good adventure series this is your ticket. Watch it!