Babylon 5
The Complete Third Series: Point of No Return

Starring: Bruce Boxleitner
Warner Home Video
RRP 54.99
Z1 27461
Certificate: 12
Available now

The Babylon Project was the last best hope for peace. It failed. In the year 2260, it becomes something greater - the last best hope for victory against the Shadows and their many allies. But Captain John Sheridan finds he has to take a stand against the very government he has sworn to serve...

By an unfortunate coincidence, the first series of Babylon 5 premiered at around the same time as the opening season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Thus the followers of one show accused the other of ripping off the idea of a space-station based series with its jump gate/wormhole transit point(s).

A similar thing happened when both shows began their third seasons. Deep Space Nine responded to viewers' demands for more starship action by introducing the USS Defiant. Unfortunately, B5 creator J. Michael Straczynski had already planned to introduce a battleship to his own series: the Minbari/Vorlon-built White Star. Its introduction in Matters of Honor certainly helps to up the ante, and impressive CGI battles against the Shadows' forces become more and more frequent in action-packed episodes such as Messages From Earth, Severed Dreams, War Without End, Walkabout, Shadow Dancing and the season finale Z'Ha'Dum.

It's difficult to think of this series (curiously identified as the "Third Season" on the outer carton and booklet but as the "Third Series" on the inner container) in terms of episodes. It works so well as a single, developing narrative. This is largely due to the fact that Straczynski wrote every single instalment of this series (and also the next one) himself.

However, his weaknesses do show through on occasion. Exogenesis is not so good, featuring an alien creature that owes far too much to the baddies in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Conspiracy, the Goa'uld in Stargate SG-1, and any other sentient sci-fi parasite you might care to mention. Grey 17 is Missing is also rather dull - it is very telling that the trailer to this episode focuses on its Minbari elements rather than the Grey 17 angle.

Sic Transit Vir is often mentioned in the same breath as Grey 17 is Missing when fans discuss the weaker points of Series Three, but in fact I think this instalment's lighter moments, such as Ivanova's (Claudia Christian) naked nightmare and Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner) and Delenn's (Mira Furlan) dinner date, come as welcome moments of relief after a spate of grim episodes.

On other occasions, strong instalments are marred by instances of clumsy storytelling. In both Messages From Earth and Point of No Return, G'Kar (Andreas Katsulas) explains the reason for his incarceration to Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle), a character who, as security chief, already knows this perfectly well. There are subtler ways to keep an audience up to speed!

Another of the season's plot arcs concerns Dr Franklin's (Richard Biggs) addiction to stimulants. However, except in those episodes that deal directly with his problem - A Day in the Strife, Ceremonies of Light and Dark and Interludes and Examinations - the subject is entirely overlooked, and Franklin appears perfectly sound of mind and body. It's amazing how Straczynski's writing can be so subtle in some respects but so crude in others.

However, such nit-picking should not detract from the enjoyment of classic episodes such as the moving Passing Through Gethsemane (guest starring Brad Dourif); the rousing Point of No Return, Severed Dreams (in which Sheridan stands up to Earth) and Interludes and Examinations (in which Sheridan stands up to Kosh); and the finely crafted two-parter War Without End. The latter guest stars Michael O'Hare as the station's original commander (in the first season) Jeffrey Sinclair, who actually comes across as quite cool this time around.

The special features on disc 6 contain three documentaries: two seven-minute featurettes on make-up effects and one ten-minute documentary about set and costume design. There are also ten 30-second "data files" on various elements from the show and a three-minute "dossier" on the Shadows. Three episodes - Severed Dreams, Interludes and Examinations and Z'Ha'Dum - are accompanied by audio commentaries and there is a trailer for each of the 22 instalments.

One major criticism of this box set - indeed of several recent Warner DVD packs - is that it doesn't hold the discs within very securely. Several of the review DVDs came loose in transit (sick transit discs, anyone?) and were very badly scratched by the tough plastic spindles that are supposed to hold them in place. Beware of this when purchasing such products by mail order. If buying a box set from a regular store, give it a good shake to see if it rattles! Come on, Warner, there are better ways of packaging your product - get some tips from Paramount or Touchstone.

Packaging aside, television science fiction doesn't get much better than this. Oh, wait, yes it does - in Babylon 5 Series Four!

Richard McGinlay

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