Babylon 5 (1993-1998)
Type: Spin Off
Babylon 5 was perhaps the first serious threat to Star Trek's lock on the genre of futuristic science fiction on television. It was similar in general setting to Star Trek but different in some very important ways. On Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation all episodes were self contained stories that left the characters, generally speaking, the same at the end as when the episode started. You can't go and have Kirk have some huge change of character after all. Then the writer on the next episode has to be informed of the character changes, then the episodes have to air in a certain order or the changes in character will seem odd... too much trouble.
Babylon 5 creator Joe Strazynski (JMS) basically said screw that crap! While individual episodes stand alone fine as stories, they also add up to a 5 year saga - a sort of book for television. Characters changed and grew as the series went along. The character of G'Kar started out as the ambassador for a formerly enslaved race who was filled with rage at his former enslavers and who wanted nothing but revenge. By the series end he had become a man of peace willing to sacrifice his life and his people for the good of the universe and able to forgive, if not all his former enslavers, at least the ones he knew. All this was possible because of JMS's knowledge of where he wanted the show to go and his actual writing of so much of the series (he personally wrote almost all the scripts for years 3, 4 and 5).
Babylon 5 was the grand story of many conflicts and wars between several major space powers framed inside the larger story of a war between even BIGGER hidden powers, the Vorlons and the Shadows, using all of the smaller powers for their own ends. You can sum up Star Trek in the opening narration - seeking out new life and going where no man has gone before. You can't quite do that with Babylon5 and I won't even try.
Babylon 5 was a syndicated show and in spite of JMS's plan for a five year story line, the show was cancelled after its fourth season. JMS threw the story into high gear and wrapped the show up in that fourth year only to then find that the TNT cable network who owned the rights to repeat the first four seasons was willing to foot the bill for a fifth season to air on TNT. TNT had already paid for a series of Babylon 5 telefilms and was having success with them as well as the repeats of the series.
JMS, who was in constant contact with his fans through the internet, had often mentioned that he had an idea for a spin off series he could do following the end of Babylon 5 but, given the difficulty he had getting B5 made, he doubted it would happen. But happen it did... sort of... almost...
The final TNT Baylon 5 movie was called A Call To Arms. It took place five years after the end of Babylon 5 (setting aside B5's final episode which skipped ahead 20-some years). As it turned out even though the villainous Shadows had left for parts unknown, the alien races they used as their pawns, in particular the Drakh, had not. Still smarting over the defeat and departure of the shadows, the Drakh decided on the 5th anniversary of that defeat to destroy Earth, home to so many central in that defeat. Babylon 5's heroic Commander John Sheridan, now President of The Interstellar Alliance, guided by visions pulled together a rag tag team to help defeat this threat that was approaching Earth like a thief in the night. Among them was a techno-mage named Galen and a thief named Dureena (A technomage, by the way, is someone who uses technology in a way that mimics magic). Stealing two prototype ships he himself had commissioned, Sheridan and company defeated the Drakh, sacrificing one of the ships. While the Drakh were stopped from destroying the Earth, they did get in a final deadly shot. They dropped a virus constructed by the Shadows into the Earth's atmosphere that within five years would kill every living thing on the planet. The remaining prototype ship, the Excalibur, would be sent on a mission into deep space to search other worlds to try and find some way to cure the plague before it was too late... That's where the movie ended.
It's also where the spin off series, Crusade, picked up. Also airing on TNT, Crusade would tell the story of the Excalibur's mission. Captain Matthew Giddeon would lead the ship and its crew in their quest for a cure. Dureena and Galen from A Call To Arms stayed with the ship in its new mission.
In its final season, Babylon 5 had gotten a new commander in the person of Elizabeth Lochley. She was now featured also as a regular on Crusade. She was still running Babylon 5, but with B5 being a major port of call and a burgeoning romance beginning between her and Captain Giddeon, she had more than enough reason to keep popping up.
In addition, Babylon 5's chief medical officer Doctor Stephen Franklin also made a guest appearance. Now in charge of Earth's xenobiological research, Franklin showed up on The Excalibur in search of a cure.
Nothing could stop the Excalibur from saving Earth... except for network meddling. After only a handful of episodes were filmed, TNT demanded changes. They didn't like the costumes and sets and ponied up the dough for new ones. They also didn't like the first episode which started the series months after A Call To Arms with all the characters in place and the mission in progress. They demanded a new first episode be filmed that would introduce all the characters and the plot. This was made more difficult because of the new outfits and sets. Instead of just having to expalin why the look of the show had changed mid-season, JMS would have to have a first episode with the new look, then explain why it then changed to the original look and THEN explain why it changed back to the new look.
A memo was leaked to the internet which also revealed that TNT was demanding more sex and violence on the show. I heard that that they wanted one of the crew to be a sexual explorer whose job it was to go have sex with alien races. I also heard that the powers that be felt that since Earth was dying, humans elsewhere in the galaxy should just be having lots of sex to repopulate the species.
JMS is a smart writer who will use sex and violence but when its needed and not gratuitously. He didn't really care for the demands but he accommodated them. The new first episode had a huge fight scene and laid out the plot just like they wanted. And it was terrible, the worst of the series. He also accommodated them somewhat tongue in cheek. As far as the "more sex" directive, viewers were treated to an episode where a huge space squid tried to hump the ship. That's right. The ship itself got some action. Ooh baby.
Episode to episode the show got better and better. They attempted an X-File parody that, as it started, I felt was a mistake and would be terrible. To my surprise, even though the premise seemd doomed to stupidity, the show pulled it off. It was in fact some of the funniest material I've ever seen on this sort of show. Other episodes even took some nice shots at the TNT executives. The fact that TNT let them on the air and didn't notice them only furthers the impression, in my opinion, that the TNT big wigs were idiots. The biggest proof of this though was when, after only filming half a season of episodes, they pulled the plug on the show. They wouldn't back off their demands and JMS wouldn't be pushed into making harmful changes to the show and so it vanished perhaps never to be seen again after only a handful of episodes were completed, its mission not completed. Damn shame.Other Babylon 5 Crossover Links
Babylon 5 and Spaces Cases
Links To Babylon 5/Crusade Related Web Sites
Cynics Corner (Babylon 5 Episode Reviews)
The Lurker's Guide To Babylon 5
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