Babylon 5
The Gathering

Starring: Michael O'Hare
Warner Home Video
RRP 19.99
Certificate: PG

The newly completed Babylon 5 station - a centre for commerce and diplomacy located in neutral space - is the last, best hope for galactic peace. But its chances of success are jeopardised almost immediately when an attempt is made on the life of an ambassador...

I remember not being terribly impressed with this, the pilot episode to Babylon 5, but I enjoyed it a whole lot more this time around.

It certainly helps that a few changes have been for this (slightly) extended special edition, the most important of which is the scoring of a new soundtrack by Christopher Franke. Franke provided the music for each of B5's 45-minute instalments, and was thus responsible for a significant part of the series' essential "feel". This TV movie was originally scored by Stuart Copeland, whose music sounded no different to me than his work on The Equalizer - I kept expecting Edward Woodward to come walking along one of the station's corridors!

One aspect that was impossible to fix is the fact that some of the alien make-up designs differ from how they would eventually appear in the 45-minute episodes, especially in the case of G'Kar (Andreas Katsulas) and Delenn (Mira Furlan). The big-chinned Delenn looks quite forbidding and far less attractive compared to her later appearances.

There are also a few cast members - Tamlyn Tomita as Lt Laurel Takashima, Johnny Sekka as Dr Benjamin Kyle and Patricia Tallman as telepath Lyta Alexander - who would fall by the wayside before the commencement of the first season proper. Tallman was cleverly written back in during the third season, but the performances of Tomita and Sekka are often rather stilted, so they were no great loss. We got to keep the frequently wooden Michael O'Hare (as Commander Sinclair) for another year, but you can't have everything! Watch out also for an early appearance by Ed Wasser as crewman Guerra - the actor would later portray the excellent recurring character, Morden.

Although the plot is reasonably self-contained, plenty of seeds are sown for future story arcs. On certain occasions it is perfectly obvious that a particular aspect of the plot - such as the gap in Sinclair's memory - is going to have consequences. With other scenes, however - such as the one in which G'Kar amusingly propositions Lyta - you'd never guess that the material was included for any reason other than to provide entertaining telly.

A recurring structural problem of the series was the number of "epilogues" that many episodes concluded upon. The pilot is no exception: the last ten minutes comprise no fewer than five separate closure scenes. However, this is more acceptable in a 90-minute movie than in a regular episode. As pilots go, this one's not bad at all.

As with the DVD release of In the Beginning, there is an almost total lack of special features. I have mentioned my preference for Christopher Franke's incidental music over that of Stuart Copeland, but this is DVD - we could have had a choice!

Despite the dearth of extras, this is still worth gathering into your shopping basket.

Richard McGinlay

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