Commanding the diplomatic space station Babylon 5, Jeffrey
Sinclair must contend with the continual bickering of the
Centauri and Narn delegates, whose races have a deep-seated
hatred of each other, resulting from centuries of conflict.
Sinclair also has to deal with the repercussions of his role
in the abrupt conclusion of the Earth-Minbari war ten years
The five-year story arc of Babylon 5 is a slow-boiler,
which takes a fair while to hot up. Therefore the opening
episodes of the first season give us little indication of
the greatness that is to come. What the series initially appears
to be, in instalments such as Midnight on the Firing Line,
Soul Hunter, Infection and The Parliament of Dreams
is your average episodic sci-fi show dealing with harassed
humans and strange-looking aliens (most of which look very
good, apart from the silly Centauri hairdos). The CGI space
shots and occasional virtual sets are very detailed for the
time in which they were made, but they are not always entirely
convincing - at least, not at first.
then you begin to get the impression that there is something
more to this series than meets the eye. Often the hints of
a wider purpose are more intriguing than the primary plot
of the episode, such as Ambassador Kosh's (Ardwight Chamberlain)
investigation of the telepath Talia Winters (Andrea Thompson)
in Deathwalker or the unfortunate fates of the previous
four "cursed" Babylon stations, as discussed in Grail.
Soon the magic of Babylon 5 takes hold of you, in episodes
such as the sixth one, Mind War, which introduces the
sinister Psi-cop Bester (Walter Koenig). Episode 8, And
the Sky Full of Stars, looks into the reasons behind the
gap in Sinclair's (Michael O'Hare) memory, and gives us the
first real hint of the show's far-reaching scope. The 13th
episode, Signs and Portents, is the one that truly
got me hooked back in the 1990s, with the dramatically staged
debut of the deadly Shadow vessels.
favourites of mine include Believers, which is an intensely
moving medical drama, if a little Star Trekky. Survivors
is a good Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle) episode, which also includes
some amusing Ivanova (Claudia Christian) scenes. By Any
Other Means is especially satisfying, demonstrating a
particular speciality of this series, as Commander Sinclair
well and truly gives the finger to bureaucracy. Babylon
Squared appeals to me in the same way that Star Trek:
The Next Generation's Yesterday's Enterprise does,
as Babylon 4 spectacularly and mysteriously appears out of
the past, and also sets up plenty of mystery for the future.
Chrysalis rounds off the season with calamitous events
that affect all the residents of the station, and assures
we, the audience, that the terrifying Shadows are here to
stay. Throughout the season, any scene that focuses on the
eccentric ambassadors Londo Mollari (Peter Jurasik) or G'Kar
(Andreas Katsulas) is a joy to watch.
a series that mostly shows great subtlety in its storytelling,
Babylon 5 can sometimes end up being anything but subtle.
Sinclair's moral speech about purity in Infection is
very over-the-top, while the character's performance as a
pretend racist in The War Prayer is equally heavy-handed:
"The only good alien is a dead alien!" The scarred and gravel-voiced
Colonel Ben Zayn (Gregory Martin) in Eyes is very much
a pantomime villain. And it is patently obvious long before
the end of the two-part A Voice in the Wilderness who
will end up becoming the new "caretaker" of Epsilon 3.
Commander Sinclair, Michael O'Hare is not as charismatic as
the main character should be. Nevertheless, he does bring
sufficient gravitas to his displays of anger or aggression,
as demonstrated in Midnight on the Firing Line, Survivors
Throughout the season, composer Christopher Franke brings
a distinctive and unique quality to the show through his incidental
music. He accentuates the drama particularly during the season's
two great turning points, Signs and Portents and Chrysalis.
Creator J. Michael Straczynski does not exaggerate when he
speaks of Franke's vital contribution to the show.
features in this box set include two documentaries - one old,
one new - the 19-minute The Making of Babylon 5 and
the 13-minute Back to Babylon 5, as well as interactive
"data files": short video clips explaining the background
details of the series' setting and characters. Straczynski
has recorded commentaries to accompany the episodes Signs
and Portents and Chrysalis, containing such revelations
as the fact that Londo's huge hairpiece came about more or
less by accident. However, I wouldn't advise listening to
these commentaries unless you have seen the entire five-year
series already, otherwise they could spoil some of the surprises
tends to expect perfect picture quality on DVD, but, as with
the recent Stargate SG-1 box set from MGM, this is
not the case. Certain scenes in Soul Hunter show scratches
on the original film, while several episodes, The Parliament
of Dreams especially, do not appear to have been cleaned
up at all before being digitally transferred. There are also
problems with the widescreen format of And the Sky Full
of Stars, which results in numerous scenes appearing "stretched",
as if from a 4:3 image.
In addition, the presentation pack contains a couple of picture
errors. The booklet shows the Soul Hunter played by Martin
Sheen in the TV movie River of Souls, which is not
part of this collection, while the outer pack shows Delenn
(Mira Furlan) as she looked in the pilot episode The Gathering.
Still, at such a cheap price I feel I shouldn't grumble too
first season of Babylon 5 gives us clear and tantalising
hints as to the series' potential. But the best is yet to
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