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Battlestar Galactica (2003 TV miniseries followed by 2004-2009 TV series)

“Galactica and Pegasus” by Balsavor, typical of much fine fan art spun off by the series (and worth seeing full size)


High resolution (2400x1600) Viper wallpaper, showing some of the series creators' loving attention to detail


OK, so I messed up on this one. This post was going to explain why the re-imagined BSG (based on Glen A. Larson's 1978 original) is the finest [insert category] television drama ever made, and why you shouldn't miss it if you haven't already seen it, even if you're not an SF fan. In the UK it's currently available free from Netflix, Amazon Prime, blinkbox and iTunes (and no doubt similarly in other countries).

The problem is that BSG is in a quite unique drama category, and so is bound to be the best of its type. Yes, it has awesome space hardware and effects, superior IMO to those in most blockbuster movies, but those exist just to give a very realistic background to a story about politics, ethics, religions, war, love, prejudices formed and overcome, loyalty and betrayal, what it means to be a person, and much else besides. Short version: my wife liked it as much as I did.

If you've seen it, hopefully this will bring back some memories. If you haven't, it helps to know that the Cylons are a cybernetic race originally created by humans, but now evolving themselves. Many Cylons are human in appearance (and in many other ways). These exist as many copies (or instances) of a small number of Cylon “models” - the exact number is one of several unfolding mysteries in the story. Some instances don't know that they are Cylons, believing that they are human until triggered.

Models are referred to by Cylons by number, e.g. Six, but not all models, nor instances of a particular model, think or behave the same way. The development of individuality and dissension amongst the Cylons is one of the rich elements of the story.

If a Cylon instance is killed then its personality is downloaded (if important circumstances are met) to a resurrection mechanism whose details emerge only gradually in the story, and is reborn in another identical body with memories intact. An instance that survives in this way is effectively immortal.

The Cylons have their own religion (the humans have several), and at least one non-corporeal “Angel”.

And, of course, the (supposedly) human characters in the story, both military and civilian, include an unknown number of Cylons. What happens as they gradually become aware of this is one of the many fascinations of the series.

Enough confusion... I'll hand over to some of the main characters.


Edward James Olmos as Commander (later Admiral) William Adama

Like his ship, Adama is ready for retirement when the story opens. The obsolete nature of his ship's equipment, and his justifiably paranoid refusal to network its computer systems, allow his ship to survive the Cylons' first sophisticated and devastating attack on the humans' Twelve Colonies, when more modern elements of the fleet are apparently all destroyed.

The attack - whose cause is not as obvious as first appears, as with so much of BSG - leaves only about 50,000 civilians alive in the human race, who eventually embark on an epic search for a new home, the fabled Earth, pursued at every turn by the Cylons.


Mary McDonnel as Laura Roslin, the surviving Secretary of State for Education who has to take over the role of President of the Colonies

Laura turns out to be a tough cookie, deceptive appearances to the contrary, and an able leader of the diverse remnants of the human population now inhabiting a motley assortment of civilian spacecraft. She and Adama will have many run-ins and conflicts of interest, eventually developing mutual respect and a very touching relationship.


A rare peaceful interlude. In a pivotal section of the story, the Colonists are persuaded to reject Laura as president by the despicable Gaius Baltar (below), abandoning their search for Earth to settle on a planet they call “New Caprica”, supposedly hidden from the Cylons by a nearby source of stellar radiation.

Many of the military elect to join the ground colony and start families, under the indolent presidency of Baltar. Galactica and Pegasus (the other surviving Battlestar encountered later) are essentially reduced to watchkeeping (and Adama grows that moustache). Then all hell breaks loose, as the Cylons find the colony, thanks indirectly to one of Baltar's many betrayals. There follows a period of occupation and guerilla-style insurgency, suicide bombing and reprisals. Some humans join the Cylon's secret police force, Baltar is coerced into signing death warrants for civilians, and a conflict escalates which echoes many around the world in recent times, as well as the Nazi occupations of WWII.

The four episodes that open Season 3, leading to the final liberation of the human colony, would make a blockbusting movie epic in their own right.


The beautiful Canadian model and actress Tricia Helfer, who plays many different instances of the Cylon “Number Six”

“Number Six” is undoubtedly the most complex of the Cylon models. As the instance known by the Cylons as “Caprica-Six”, she is responsible for seducing the brilliant scientist Gaius Baltar, giving the Cylons access to the Caprica defence mainframe and enabling the devastating nuclear attack on the planet.


Gaius Baltar (the English actor James Callis) with “Head/Inner/Messenger Six”, a non-corporeal instance of the Cylon model who constantly guides and motivates Gaius

One of the quirks of BSG are the frequent views of Gaius and “Head Six” when other people are present. Her interactions with him are quite physical, and when we see them from other people's point of view (when she is invisible) he is doing all kinds of strange things, including apparently talking to himself, which he has to desperately cover up. Surely someone would notice? And it gets even stranger before the end...


Gina Inviere, a very different instance of “Six”, with Gaius Baltar

Gina infiltrates Pegasus and is responsible for its invasion by Cylon soldiers. She is subsequently unmasked and traumatized by severe sexual and physical abuse at the hands of Pegasus' crew, instigated by and participated in by the brutal Admiral Cain (Michelle Forbes). Baltar assists her to escape, whereupon she kills the Admiral (something that most viewers will feel is long overdue). Baltar hides her in the fleet, forming a long-unrequited relationship with her that complicates his relationship with “Head Six”. This relationship will ultimately lead to the discovery of New Caprica by the Cylons.

A full description of the “Six” model instances will be found here (with spoilers).


Katee Sackhoff as Kara “Starbuck” Thrace, considered to be Galactica's best Viper pilot

Kara is one of BSG's most deeply-developed central characters. Tough but vulnerable, she has complex relationships with other main characters. Saul Tigh (see later below), Galactica's Exec, throws her in the brig for insubordination. Commander Adama sees her as a daughter figure, and his son Lee Adama sees her as lead pilot, sparring partner and sometime lover. Kara doesn't appear to value her own life, but saves the fleet many times by extraordinary feats of flying and courage.

She has a final destiny that I have no intention of describing here...

Kara with Lee “Apollo” Adama (the English actor Jamie Bamber), who for some time is the CAG (Commander, Air Group) for Galactica

Due to tragic family history (caused inadvertently by Kara, though this isn't discovered until later), Lee and his father have a difficult relationship, one of many such interesting story-lines that thread BSG.


Kara in deep trouble, later in the story, and an illustration of how Kara's character was developed through Katee's acting ability


The American-born Canadian actress Grace Park as Sharon “Boomer” Valerii, one of the instances of the “Number Eight” Cylon model

The first Sharon that we meet is “Boomer”, a pilot who doesn't realise that she is a Cylon. Boomer has an against-regs relationship with Chief Tyrol (see later below), who initially protects her when Sharon realises that she is unwittingly performing acts of sabotage. She asks Gaius Baltar to test her for being a Cylon; Gaius does so but falsifies the result out of cowardice.

Eventually she is triggered into shooting Commander Adama, nearly fatally, and is subjected to severe interrogations by Saul Tigh and Gaius Baltar. She is subsequently shot and killed by Cally, a female colleague of Chief Tyrol. A new instance of Boomer will return later...


We meet the second Sharon (given the callsign “Athena” much later) when Karl “Helo” Agathon (the Canadian actor Tahmoh Penikett) is stranded on Caprica. Helo thinks that this is the return of Boomer who was evacuating civilians; this Sharon is a knowing part of a Cylon plot to form a relationship with him and infiltrate the human fleet. But then Helo sees another “Eight” copy and realises what is going on, by which time this Sharon has genuinely fallen in love with him, and is pregnant with his child - a child who will be of immense importance in the future.

Returning to Galactica, a really interesting sequence of events develops, as various attempts to have her executed are postponed by Sharon's decisions to support the humans against the Cylons, saving the humans on several occasions. Winning trust (including Helo's) is a long and painful process, culminating in Adama's extraordinary appointment of her to lead the rescue mission on New Caprica, as only she can defeat their systems on the ground.

“How do you really know that you can trust me?” she asks Adama before the mission. “I don't,” replies Adama. “That's what trust is.”

On her return from the successful mission, it is the pilots themselves who give her the callsign “Athena”.

Helo later becomes the conscience of Galactica, first arguing against and then thwarting an opportunity to completely wipe out the Cylons in an act of genocide. Adama, secretly relieved, declines to punish him for what is in fact a serious act of treason, and the notion that Cylons are “just machines” begins to die.


Chief Galen Tyrol, “The Chief” (the Canadian actor Aaron Douglas)

Responsible for keeping Galactica's fighters operational, and even building one as a personal project during a desperate period, The Chief was originally intended to be a minor character in BSG. However he becomes a complex and important part of the story, representing the interests of the working man, becoming part of the resistance movement on New Caprica, and at one point making a key discovery in the search for Earth.


Samual T. Anders, callsign “Longshot” (the American actor Michael Trucco)

Sam Anders' role in the BSG story is much more complex than first appears. We meet him on Caprica after the Cylons' nuclear attack, leading a resistance group that escaped the initial devastation. In planting explosives he encounters Caprica-Six, the reincarnated Boomer and (for the first time) “Three” (see later below). Inexplicably at the time, the first two turn on “Three” and allow him to escape, one of the first indications of dissention developing among the Cylons.

Anders later meets Starbuck who is on a personal mission from President Roslin (an unapproved mission which leads Adama to imprison the President and declare Martial Law). Anders and Kara form a relationship, and Kara promises to return to rescue him and the rest of the team, although it will be a long time until she can fulfil that promise.


Sam marries Kara on New Caprica, and later rescues her from a particularly unpleasant captivity after the Cylon invasion. Kara's problems and her relationship with Lee Adama make the marriage very difficult, and eventually it breaks down. But Sam's part in the BSG story is far from over...


Saul Tigh, Galactica's Exec (played by the Canadian actor Michael Hogan), after losing an eye during mistreatment by the Cylons on New Caprica


Adama welcomes Saul back to Galactica after the rescue mission on New Caprica. Saul's experiences there have made him very bitter, and for a long time he is useless, and even destructive, as a functioning officer. He was responsible for hard-line insurgency on New Caprica, and was put in the position of killing his toxic wife Ellen after she (not quite fatally) betrayed the rescue operation.

Prior to the New Caprica incident, Saul had a disastrous experience deputizing for Adama after the Commander was shot by Boomer. His relationship with Adama goes back a long way, and we discover over a period of time why Adama tolerates less than ideal behaviour in his hard-drinking Exec.


Saul Tigh with an instance of the Cylon “Three” (the New Zealand actress Lucy Lawless), towards the end of the story

This encounter follows some extraordinary developments in the lives of both of these characters (and in many other lives as well). Explaining why would be a serious spoiler...

BSG does have some flaws or weaknesses, unsurprising in an epic of 77 episodes including the opening miniseries. Some people view the end itself as one such; I found myself coughing gently when I recognized the Citroen DS, and several other European cars, parked on Caprica (the makers must have hoped that US audiences wouldn't notice). However from my point of view these are totally minor, and I am enjoying BSG just as much, if not more, on my second time through.


If you like this...

WARNING: SPOILERS

[List of BSG episodes]
[Quotations from BSG]