Less the heroes of our stories than the villains of some other bastard’s

Skip to content

Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later. Support Elizabeth on Patreon.


  1. Scott
    June 7, 2013 @ 12:11 am

    "It’s not exactly US accessible, not least because save for The Unquiet Dead and The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances it’s miles away from heritage theme park Britain."

    Which, given that one of the things RTD explicitly said he was trying to do when he was in charge was basically tapping into heritage theme park Britain (hence the sheer number of London landmarks that had some kind of secret sci-fi base or alien monster lurking underneath them over his tenure and the fact that Big Ben keeps popping up), is slightly ironic.


  2. elvwood
    June 7, 2013 @ 12:21 am

    I must say it seems more of a "terribly weird move" to open the David Tennant book with this essay!

    As someone from Britain who's never seen BG – and who has learned more about US TV structures from you than anyone – this was an interesting piece. It got me chuckling out loud a couple of times, usually a good sign. It also feels like you're firing an opening shot in something that will build over the next couple of months. I look forward to finding out what!


  3. Eric Gimlin
    June 7, 2013 @ 12:23 am

    "Edward James Olmos, a heavyweight of a serious actor who was not generally associated with sci-fi roles"

    Not sure I quite agree with this; Gaff in Blade Runner may not really be enough to counter your statement but it's certainly one of the roles I associated him with before Battlestar. Not the first role I think of when he's mentioned, but definitely something to tie him to sci-fi when the idea is broached.


  4. David Anderson
    June 7, 2013 @ 12:24 am

    Farscape originally showed in the UK on BBC2 early evenings – the same slot used for Buffy. I hadn't realised they had repeats on BBC3.

    Warehouse 13 was available on freeview here during its first season. It wouldn't have sprung to my mind as an example of the traditional sf cult show. (Like the X-files or Fringe, only having fun, is the way the Guardian described it.)


  5. David Anderson
    June 7, 2013 @ 12:30 am

    Battlestar Galactica in the UK made it as far into the mainstream as a program that wasn't available on the major channels, or even freeview, could. I think the later seasons were among the first programs for which the Guardian website had an episode by episode blog. I think it was the first series I can remember for which a significant proportion of the UK audience were waiting for the box set.


  6. SpaceSquid
    June 7, 2013 @ 12:54 am

    I share the belief that the fourth series of BSG is underrated – though of all the seasons it's the one that benefits the most by watching it on DVD, week by week the drag factor is noticeable – right up until the last four episodes, which are not only tremendously problematic in their own right, but actively damage the show as a whole. It's Retconarok, basically. Or Retconageddon. Something like that.


  7. Spacewarp
    June 7, 2013 @ 12:59 am

    One of the moments where some US fans failed to comprehend the Britishness of the 2005 series was the infamous "No domestics in the TARDIS" quote by the Doctor. UK viewers understood instinctively that "a domestic" is a row between a married couple, but Outpost Gallifrey postively steamed with fans asserting that Doctor Who had turned a racist corner because Mickey was being referred to as a "domestic" – i.e. a servant. And as usual with fan arguments, even when it was pointed out by UK posters what RTD was referring to, US posters stuck their fingers in their ears and "la-la-la'd".

    On the BSG front, I'm currently rewatching it and have just finished Season 4, with it's mystical and mystifying "All Along The Watchtower" ending. It seems to be holding up very well and hasn't dated yet. However BSG has always felt to me as the 'Naughties Babylon 5, and I'm sure like B5 it will also have become dated and slightly uncomfortable viewing by the time we get to the 2030s. I wonder what changes in TV and Society will have occurred to make this happen?


  8. Carey
    June 7, 2013 @ 1:00 am

    I'm surprised, given the mention of torrenting and delayed broadcasting, that you missed one of the biggest oddities about Battlestar Galactica: it's first series was co-funded by the British satellite/cable tv station Sky One, and was actually broadcast before the Sci-Fi Channel by several months!

    As you say, Doctor Who and Battlestar Galactica really do show the difference between UK and US drama: both are very of their time, and deal with the relevant issues of the day. But while Galactica deals with the 9/11 bombings and resulting war in it's pilot episode via genocidal religious terrorists and ever so serious acting, Dr Who gives us Aliens of London and baby faced eviscerators who laugh and fart as they slaughter for profit, not belief. And I have to admit, I prefer the later.

    For all that Galatica is well acted, scripted and directed, it is a typical "US under threat from outside forces" story that has been made myriad times since the 1950's. Essentially, Galactica is the latest in a long line of "Barbarians at the gates, End of Empire" fear that seems to be eating US fiction from the inside out. Thankfully, the UK learned to get over it's End of Empire anxiety a while back, and tries to embrace joy and diversity instead of misery (inless you're called Eastenders).

    That said, I pretty well gave up on Galactica after the one year later jump: a narrative decision that simply didn't work in my opinion, and felt like a production team desperately trying to move it's characters into the positions they needed to be in because they'd written themseves into too much of a corner.


  9. Spacewarp
    June 7, 2013 @ 1:01 am

    Sorry, of course I meant Season 3.


  10. Alan
    June 7, 2013 @ 1:34 am

    Also, while not sci-fi, his character on "Miami Vice" was a hard-bitten vice squad captain… who had ninja training! No, I am not making that up. My first exposure to Olmos was an episode of "Miami Vice" in which an ex-girlfriend had been kidnapped by drug lords or some damned thing, and Capt. Castillo goes lone wolf and invades the bad guys' lair armed only with a katana, which he uses to slit the throat of at least on hit man.

    Incidentally, I am proud to say I've met Edward James Olmos under wonderfully bizarre circumstances — three or four years ago, he crashed our room party at Dragon-Con with a beautiful young lady on each arm and hung out with us for a few hours. Presumably because it was a Sunday in Atlanta and we had free booze. (No Sunday sales in Atlanta because JESUS!)


  11. Alan
    June 7, 2013 @ 1:37 am

    Warehouse 13 had the germ of an idea — basically a cross between X-Files and the old Friday the 13th tv show. But Syfy, as usual, was bent on appealing to the absolute lowest common denominator and dumbed down and watered down the series to the point that it could have aired on the Disney Channel.


  12. Daibhid C
    June 7, 2013 @ 2:18 am

    Doctor Who could probably air on the Disney Channel. SJA certainly could. Not being terribly dark and serious and oh-god-everything-in-the-world-sucks every episode isn't actually a bad thing.


  13. Prole Hole
    June 7, 2013 @ 2:32 am

    This comment has been removed by the author.


  14. David Anderson
    June 7, 2013 @ 2:32 am

    What Warehouse 13 was doing when I watched in Season 1 it was something slightly different. Take Phil's paranoia vs hedonism spectrum that he applied to the Doctor Who books line in the wilderness years. Warehouse 13 takes the genre of the most archetypally paranoid series, the X-Files, and then does it over as hedonism.


  15. Ross
    June 7, 2013 @ 3:08 am

    Doctor Who could probably air on the Disney Channel. SJA certainly could.

    Twelve years ago, maybe. SJA isn't even close to halfway obnoxious enough to air on the Disney Channel today.

    (Seriously, Disney Channel original shows from the turn of the century were, in fact, fantastic. It was like someone took Disney's skill at magical whimsey and mixed it with competent tween drama. But in the post-Lizzy-Maguire world, it's all been "Bright Colors! Flashing Lights! Obnoxious shouting characters!" ALL THE TIME. (Even so, the current crop is not utterly valueless. My father theorizes that they put just enough effort into making the shows actually watchable under the colors and shouting that the grandparents of small children do not kill themselves when forced to sit through a 'ANT Farm' marathon)


  16. Steve Hogan
    June 7, 2013 @ 3:33 am

    Something that should be mentioned during this time period is that Canada's CBC was (At least at that point) a partner in producing Doctor Who. For me (Living an hour away from the Quebec border.) it meant that I could watch the new series with only a one week delay when it debuted. Historically of more importance was the row when someone from the CBC leaked footage of "Rose" before the premiere. The new show is shot on digital video, but the footage in question had not had it's frame rate adjusted to give it the "Film" look, so people were assuming the new show was going to have the same "Video" look as the old show. That, combined with the Sci Fi Channel claiming that the show wasn't up to their standards (No comment.) went a long way towards giving people the initial impression that the new series was going to be cheapjack.


  17. Prole Hole
    June 7, 2013 @ 4:09 am

    Strange to say, IMHO, that the one-year jump doesn't work because it gives rise to the New Caprica arc which to me remains some of the finest television I have ever seen. In a way, in fact, the New Caprica arc was almost the end for BSG covering the Bush-era politics because it's really said everything that can be said about it and any future iterations feel like they're retreading ground already successfully covered (with the possible exception of the Baltar trial paralleling Saddam's). For my money season three is easily the weakest of BSG's four (exceping New Caprica).


  18. Chadwick
    June 7, 2013 @ 4:38 am

    On the surface, New BSG should have appealed to me but it didn't. I tried, hard, to get into it but its problems far outweighed its appeal.

    While I will agree that the two senior leads were heavyweights and gave the show good dramatic moments, the others in the cast either left little impression or else pitched their performances off-key: Notably James Callis' eyeball rolling, Tricia Helfer's glacial stodginess and Katee Sackhoff veering from being cigar chomping action woman to giggly cheerleader.

    Moore said that there was no overall story arc to the show but that they made it up episode by episode and it shows. In a normal episodic show like Star Trek, that's fine. In a show that is attempting continuity and telling a saga, the patchwork nature of the scripts undermines that saga and a lot of criticism aimed at seasons 3 and 4 I think stem from the episode by episode approach. In that regard, BSG is akin to the increasing mess that was Lost.

    Finally, I didn't like most of the characters and found them difficult to identify with. The often leaden direction of a lot of episodes didn't help but one of the themes that crept up again and again in BSG was that did humanity have a right to exist at all and did the Cylons have a point after all? In the pilot film, No. 6 killed a baby; from that moment, I couldn't go along with that philosophical point. The Cylons are undoubtedly the bad guys and all the discussions I had with BSG fans on that subject didn't change my mind because of that scene.

    I like the idea of a serious BSG, but Moore's vision wasn't it for me.


  19. SK
    June 7, 2013 @ 5:04 am

    In the pilot film, No. 6 killed a baby; from that moment, I couldn't go along with that philosophical point

    The baby, of course, was going to die anyway in the nuclear holocaust that the Cylons were about to unleash on the planet at that point (the scene is show to suggest the Cylon is, in its own way, being merciful to the baby). It's somewhat surprising that it's the baby, and not the holocaust, that puts them beyond the pale in your eyes.

    I never got into it because it was so dreadfully, dreadfully boring. The initial six episodes were like watching paint dry (lightened by the one hilarious moment of the little girl with the teddy bear getting blown up), and the first series proper was like watching paint peel.

    After that I watched no more.


  20. SK
    June 7, 2013 @ 5:07 am

    Oh, but of course the baby scene is chronologically before the holocaust, so probably what you meant was that from the moment of the baby-killing you were against the Cylons and the holocaust simply confirmed that you were right to be so.


  21. Scurra
    June 7, 2013 @ 5:41 am

    Seriously, is there even a single show that works that way anymore? I’m pretty sure they’ve all adopted some version of the high emotional content/soap opera plotting approach now.

    Well that explains why there hasn't been a single new show that has interested me for years, except for Sherlock. Which tells you everything you need to know, I guess.
    Having said that, I did like the resolution of BSG, even though – as has been noted far too often – it was bleedin' obvious to anyone who had ever read any actual SF books. And I admired Caprica for daring to have an entire cast of unlikeable characters.


  22. BerserkRL
    June 7, 2013 @ 5:53 am

    a shockingly low rent channel known for deliberate pieces of cheese like Sharktopus

    And don't forget Mansquito! They may have turned down the BSG spinoff Blood & Chrome, and both of Straczynski's Babylon 5 spinoffs, but hey, at least we got Mansquito!

    the programming block was called Sci-Fi Fridays, setting up a fairly obvious question about what the other six days on the Sci-Fi Channel might be

    And now on BBC America it's part of Supernatural Saturdays. Which, as you might say.

    the Eccleston season is very specifically aimed at British television, and would port oddly at best to the US

    Well, there are references that most US audiences wouldn't get. But anyone who likes good science fiction is presumably used to figuring out alien cultures from bits and pieces presented without needing lots of explicit exposition, so I don't think it should be that big a problem.

    The thing about the reimagined Battlestar Galactica is that it never seems to take the original series all that seriously. … The series honored its past in places, but increasingly cut those places down as it went on.

    Can't agree about that. To anyone as obsessively familiar with the original as I am, the new show's references to the original show were many and remained pretty consistent, from the beginning of the series (where "Bastille Day"’s prisoners-recruited-for-a-mission-on-an-ice-planet was a remake of "The Gun on Ice Planet Zero"), to the end (where the apotheosis or angelification of Starbuck quite consciously referenced "Wheel of Fire," the unfilmed season finale of Galactica 1980). The cyclical "all this has happened before" plot that dominates the later series was an adaptation of the original show's (Mormon-inspired) serial-uplift plot. Starbuck's being marooned on a desert planet and learning to fly a Cylon ship is a nod to Galactica 1980's last broadcast episode. And the very idea of humanoid Cylons comes from Galactica 1980. To say nothing of the fact that they cast Richard Hatch, and were seriously considering casting Dirk Benedict later on if he hadn't talked them out of it by being a complete asshole.

    Not, to be clear, just its special effects, although it sets a new standard for spaceship porn, but its entire visual grammar, from lighting to camera angles to editing

    Is it worth mentioning the enormous influence of Firefly in this regard? In terms of visual inspiration (including camera movement, no-sound-in-space, etc.), Firefly is to the new BSG what Star Wars was to the old. (Does no-sound-in-space count as visual? Well, whatever.)

    it was very much a political show that tackled Bush-era political concerns like the rights of prisoners, torture, terrorism

    In that connection, do you plan to discuss Star Trek: Enterprise (against which I rant here)?


  23. BerserkRL
    June 7, 2013 @ 5:54 am

    No Sunday sales in Atlanta because JESUS!

    I'm happy to say that that law is no more. A similar law in my own town (Auburn, Alabama) is also gone. The mills of civilisation grind slowly down here ….


  24. BerserkRL
    June 7, 2013 @ 5:55 am

    Essentially, Galactica is the latest in a long line of "Barbarians at the gates, End of Empire" fear that seems to be eating US fiction from the inside out.

    Except that the show keeps switching who the barbarians are — as when, after the one-year jump, the BSG crew become suicide bombers. I think it's being more subtle than you give it credit for.


  25. BerserkRL
    June 7, 2013 @ 5:56 am

    So if a human were ever to kill a baby, you'd be against humans forever?


  26. BerserkRL
    June 7, 2013 @ 6:09 am

    Oh, another reference I should mention, since it's likewise from late in the series: the scene in "Someone to Watch Over Me" where Starbuck is sitting next to her father without knowing it's her father parallels the original series' "Man With Nine Lives," where Starbuck sits next to his father without knowing it's his father ….


  27. BerserkRL
    June 7, 2013 @ 6:28 am

    That's weird, my follow-up comment appeared and then vanished. Well, what I said was: I thought of another reference I should mention, since it's likewise from late in the series. The scene in "Someone to Watch Over Me," where Sackhoff-Starbuck sits next to her father without knowing it's her father, parallels the scene in "Man With Nine Lives," in which Benedict-Starbuck sits next to his father without knowing it's his father.


  28. Anton B
    June 7, 2013 @ 6:34 am

    Am I alone in rating the Sci-F channel's adaptation of 'Dune' pretty highly? It's certainly better than the Lynch movie. 'Battlestar Galactica' was my second box-set binge, after The Sopranos. I've recommended it to many friends, it's a hard sell but once you get through season one most remain hooked. I'm struggling through 'Caprica' at the moment the fact that it has no obvious viewer identification figure, a very dodgy racial stereotyping of the Taurans as generic Latino trope and the slightly creepy and repetetive scenes of male gaze fetishization toward the daughter/Cylon character is not helping.


  29. BerserkRL
    June 7, 2013 @ 6:43 am

    Okay, this is weird and frustrating. I've twice added a comment to my long post above, and in both cases it's appeared properly, only to vanish again. So I'm adding it again down here in case that will avoid the glitch:

    I’ve thought of another reference I should mention, since it’s likewise from late in the series. The scene in "Someone to Watch Over Me" where Sackhoff-Starbuck is sitting next to her father without knowing it’s her father parallels the scene in "Man With Nine Lives" where Benedict-Starbuck sits next to his father without knowing it’s his father.


  30. BerserkRL
    June 7, 2013 @ 6:46 am

    Agree about Dune. I find BSG a fairly easy sell if they get through the pilot-miniseries as far as "33."


  31. Theonlyspiral
    June 7, 2013 @ 6:51 am

    I also rate it pretty highly. It makes Dune a lot more accessible for people. The writing can be dry and dense and that turns people off.


  32. Pen Name Pending
    June 7, 2013 @ 6:56 am

    The only times I have watched the SyFy channel is when they air that Twilight Zone marathon on New Year's Eve, and I DVR'd the latest season of Merlin (which didn start airing until it had finished in the UK, of course). I know some people who watch the US Being Human. Farscape and Battlestar Galactica seem to be the only original things in its past that I have heard of.


  33. James V
    June 7, 2013 @ 6:58 am

    I still refuse to believe that 'Dog With A Blog' is an actual series and not a bad Tobuscus sketch parodying the Disney Channel


  34. BerserkRL
    June 7, 2013 @ 6:58 am

    They also ran the pilot for the 2nd B5 spinoff, Legend of the Rangers.


  35. Theonlyspiral
    June 7, 2013 @ 7:02 am

    You…REALLY dislike Enterprise. Which is close to my favorite Trek. Doesn't quite edge out Next Gen but it comes close some days. Is it just season three where you have a problem or it the whole show?


  36. BerserkRL
    June 7, 2013 @ 7:14 am

    Hmm, trying to reply to Theonlyspiral above but it won't let me do it anywhere but down here.

    Is it just season three where you have a problem or it the whole show?

    Seasons 1-3 mainly. There's some improvement in season 4, though it falters toward the end.

    There are some things I like throughout. The Andorian commander. The look of the Xindi technology.


  37. Ununnilium
    June 7, 2013 @ 7:38 am

    I dunno. I think you're ascribing the problems of the Sci-Fi Channel to a basic problem with "cult-ness", whereas I'd say it's more of a problem with not-so-competent management. I mean, regardless of whether the model itself is workable (or, indeed, applicable), there were a lot of really bad decisions made that are bad whether or not the Males Eighteen To Thirty-Five demographic is factored in.


  38. BerserkRL
    June 7, 2013 @ 7:51 am

    And now my disappeared comments are returning. Mysterious. (It wasn't a cache issue.)


  39. Doctor Memory
    June 7, 2013 @ 8:00 am

    "and both of Straczynski's Babylon 5 spinoffs, but hey, at least we got Mansquito!"

    Given a choice between Mansquito and Legends of the Rangers, I think I'd probably opt for pulling my own eyes out, Oedipus-style.

    Even for SyFy, passing on the B5 spinoffs was an entirely correct decision.


  40. David Anderson
    June 7, 2013 @ 8:14 am

    My impression at the time was that the cylon had killed the baby by accident.


  41. jane
    June 7, 2013 @ 8:29 am

    "That's weird, my follow-up comment appeared and then vanished."

    All of this has happened before, and will happen again.


  42. Ross
    June 7, 2013 @ 8:36 am

    Not just a lack of basic competence, I think SyFy is a house divided against itself. I get the very real feeling that up in the eschelons of management, there are folks a lot like That Guy from Futurama, who takes over Planet Express, only to discover what industry they're in afterward and react in horror. There are a lot of them who really do not want to be in the business of being a Science Fiction Television Channel, and that's been fueled by the Great and Terrible Cable Channel Convergence, whereby everyone suddenly realized that they could make more money by not being a specialty channel but by being Yet Another Generic Vaguely-Lifestyle-Channel targeting one of the predefined marketing groups.

    (Me, I miss the days when the Sci Fi Channel's main thing was replaying Science Fiction shows that hadn't made a enough episodes for a syndication package and therefore would never be rebroadcast otherwise)


  43. Matthew Blanchette
    June 7, 2013 @ 8:48 am

    They are returning through the dark… :-O


  44. encyclops
    June 7, 2013 @ 9:06 am

    The initial six episodes were like watching paint dry (lightened by the one hilarious moment of the little girl with the teddy bear getting blown up), and the first series proper was like watching paint peel.

    You and I must have such radically different ideas of what's boring that one of us must be a Cylon. But which one?

    I wasn't sold until about halfway through the 2-hour pilot, but by the end of it I was hooked and after the first episode (a nail-biter, to me) I knew I'd be eating up the whole show, even to the (underrated, sure, but far from perfect) fourth season.


  45. David Ainsworth
    June 7, 2013 @ 9:13 am

    I find BSG fascinating because of how my opinion of the show shifts based upon other reference points.

    Put it in context with a show like Lost or Voyager and BSG's brilliance shines forth.

    Compare it with B5, and the shortcomings of both series pop out at you.

    BSG's "plan as you go" approach doesn't mesh well with the show's actual narratives and themes. And while I watched every season, I grew less and less happy with the equation of the serious and dramatic with humorlessness. Say what you will about the humor on a show like Babylon 5, it at least offered ample example of dark humor in contexts one would look for it.

    Personally, I suspect BSG will, like B5, hold up in certain ways and among certain audiences. I think it far superior visually (as one would hope). Textually, it's more of a poem than a novel, so it relies more heavily on its audience's expectations.


  46. David Ainsworth
    June 7, 2013 @ 9:16 am

    Hey, seasons 3 & 4 of Legends of the Rangers would have been awesome!

    I'm willing to forgive Sci-Fi a few sins in exchange for the extra years of MST3K. Just a few, mind you.

    I do miss the old, low-budget news-ish shows they ran in the early days. Complete with "Harlan Ellison yells at the camera for a few minutes."


  47. Ross
    June 7, 2013 @ 9:21 am

    B5 is at a disadvantage here because B5 is on the far side of the paradigm shift in the visual language of television. There certainly are elements of the modern language of TV-making in B5 (Indeed, it's one of the earliest examples of the shift toward a more cinematic visual language in TV), but ultimately, it looks mostly like a television show of its era, and absolutely everything from that side of the shift looks dated in light of the different baseline for how we think TV is "supposed to look" now. I wouldn't expect BSG to look dated the way that B5 does until there's another major paradigm shift in the visual style of TV


  48. encyclops
    June 7, 2013 @ 9:44 am

    I love the Lynch movie, but I freely acknowledge that it has very little to do with anything objective or rational.

    The Sci-Fi Channel adaptation: I've only sat through it once and I almost didn't make it. I thought the cast was almost 100% charisma-free, particularly Paul and Leto (which alone killed it for me), the production design was drab and uninspiring compared to the Lynch movie (though to be fair that might have been the latter's biggest strength), and a lot of the choices baffling (the strange behavior of the Bene Gesserit space cowgirl nuns, for example).

    On the other hand, I thought their version of Dune Messiah / Children of Dune was a step in the right direction (thanks in part to a shirtless James McAvoy) and I'd probably give the first one another chance if I could split it into several parts.

    I tried Caprica, but I just couldn't bring myself to care.


  49. BerserkRL
    June 7, 2013 @ 9:48 am

    Crusade was pretty good (and the unfilmed scripts are terrific). Rangers was weaker, but had promise.


  50. Chadwick
    June 7, 2013 @ 10:43 am

    SK has hit the nail on the head…the baby killing is a prelude and No. 6 clearly enjoys it but it sets up the Cylons as definitely the villains for me so the attempt to inject some moral ambiguity about them later on doesn't ring wholly true. I never said that I was OK with the holocaust aspect and please don't start an argument by implying that I am somehow OK with humans killing babies so please don't stir the pot.

    The pilot is very slow paced and boring and so is the supposed mini-climax episode where Kobol is discovered.

    But other problems arise from the get-go. The way the build up goes with ejecting the journalist for being a Cylon sets up an interesting premise: Are the humans right? What if he's a patsy, a real human and he's been judged and sentenced on one person's evidence and testimony (which could be false)? What does this say about survivor mentality and parnoia? But then it turns out afterwards that he really is a Cylon…so it's alright. The characters never have to account for their actions there. A chance to make a serious dramatic point wasted.

    Other criticisms: Helo is a trained Colonial Warrior but he can't spot 3 Cylons (including No 6 in a red coat and white trousers) who stand on tall, exposed buildings without attempting to conceal themselves.

    Much has been made (mainly by male sci-fi fans) of female Starbuck and Boomer as being feminist characters. I disagree. I think they're predominantly male characters played by women actors. The post-Ripley women in boilersuits thing has good intentions, but ends up with sending out the message that in order to be a positive female character, you have to adopt the look and attitude of men. A real positive feminist character is President Roslin who, significantly, is a wholly original character and not a gender-swapped one so she's written from the ground up, so to speak, and is a far more interesting and rounded. One of my favourite relationships in the show was between Roslin and Billy Kakaiya and in turn the dynamic between Roslin, Adama and also Zarek was a highlight. Roslin's strengths didn't rely on butchness or machismo appropriated from men.


  51. Froborr
    June 7, 2013 @ 11:07 am

    (Me, I miss the days when the Sci Fi Channel's main thing was replaying Science Fiction shows that hadn't made a enough episodes for a syndication package and therefore would never be rebroadcast otherwise)

    That's not so much a Sci Fi Channel thing as a new network thing. You have hours of programming to fill and not a lot of money to fill them with, so you grab up rebroadcast rights to something cheap. For example, Hub was supposed to be family programming based on Hasbro properties, but in their first few months they showed an episode each of Doogie Howser, The Wonder Years, and Batman (the Adam West one) every day. Alas, they have now largely been replaced by terrible game shows based on board games.


  52. Chris
    June 7, 2013 @ 11:11 am

    Crusade strikes me as compelling because of what it hinted at being, more than what actually got produced (the Apocalypse Box, the Shadows/Earth conspiracy, etc.). A lot of promising material, but it didn't have time like B5 to ripen. Legends of the Rangers I wanted to like, but just couldn't.

    Incidentally, I would desperately like to read those lost Crusade scripts. I wish Straczynski would get his act together and make them available again…


  53. David Anderson
    June 7, 2013 @ 11:32 am

    I think it's pretty clear that the cylons are unambiguously the villains to start with. It gets interesting later on when the cylons stop being a monolithic group of drones.
    What's good about the series from a feminist point of view isn't just Starbuck, or just Roslin: it's the whole female ensemble. That includes women like Cally and Tory, who are not 'strong female characters' in any sense. Because they exist in the context of Roslin, they can just get on with being characters without worrying about whether they're letting their gender down by not being strong.
    I don't know if Kara is a strong female character even. She's a compelling female character.


  54. Spacewarp
    June 7, 2013 @ 11:43 am

    @Chris. Spacewarp delivers. http://spacewarp.co.uk/cru.zip


  55. Spacewarp
    June 7, 2013 @ 12:02 pm

    I struggled my way through Caprica. It definitely had its moments, and its doldrums, in roughly equal measure. A point about Anton's comment on the Taurons being somewhat stereotyped. It's a fine line you walk when creating a rounded non-Earth society and I think they did a good job with the Taurons. They're basically gangsters with traditions, superstitions, a weird honour system, and religion that comes over like ancient Greek. Now we've got people on this planet each with a bit of the Tauron trait. There's similiarities to Italians, Greeks, and Romany in there. But as soon as you throw all these traits together, it sparks people's recognition system and they think "Latino". I think they were consciously created to be a unique race of people, but they just look like stereotypes through no fault of the producers. It's a bit like Foreign Accent Syndrome, when brain damage causes a vowel shift that isn't German but sounds to people like German. And of course old Jar Jar Binks, where they made an effort to invent alien speech patterns, but people just heard "Offensive Jive Ass Black".

    Of course the alternative would have been to make everyone in Caprica WASPs, then there would be no accusations of racial stereotyping, but I suspect there would be complaints of a different kind…


  56. Josh Marsfelder
    June 7, 2013 @ 12:09 pm

    Very good overview: I think you've nailed the underlying aspects that made BSG such a hit. I of course feel there's a whole lot more to it than what you've touched on, but this is another show I'm going to have to keep my thoughts rather close to my chest for the time being. 🙂

    One thing: I'm not sure I would call Ron Moore a purely genre TV writer, though he certainly likes working within it.

    Also: Messenger Six? No-one had anything to say about her? Shame…


  57. BerserkRL
    June 7, 2013 @ 1:52 pm

    I wish Straczynski would get his act together and make them available again…

    They were all published in the Cafepress series. Most of those are out of print now though. But it's not hard to find pirated copies of "To the Ends of the Earth," "Value Judgments," and "End of the Line" online.


  58. BerserkRL
    June 7, 2013 @ 1:57 pm

    Messenger Six is yet another way the new show made nods to the old; she represents an updating of the "ship of lights" angel-beings.


  59. BerserkRL
    June 7, 2013 @ 2:38 pm


    please don't start an argument by implying that I am somehow OK with humans killing babies

    My point was that if one human killing a baby isn't a reason to hate all humans, then one cylon killing a baby shouldn't be a reason to hate all cylons.


  60. Anton B
    June 7, 2013 @ 2:55 pm

    I've always had problems with adaptations of 'Dune'. It's hands down one of my favourite SF novels, David Lynch is similarly one of my most respected directors. The combination of the two should have produced my all time fave SF movie. The fact that it is an excruciating failure is down to a number of reasons which have been well documented elsewhere so I won't bore anyone. The Sci-Fi channel's adaptation while suffering from budget constraints (which, in a way, parallels Doctor Who) and yes, some wooden acting, nevertheless manages to remain true to the spirit of the original narrative. Any changes, omissions or additions are for the sake of clarity not (as in the Lynch movie) because of production meddling or some half baked attempt at 'weird alien' mysticism. The quasi-religious meta text of the Dune novels are extrapolated from extant Judeo/Islamic/ Christian tropes and are not some made-up dubious Roddenberry moralising or Campbell 'Heroes Journey' nonsense. Which brings me to my main source of upset. David Lynch's Dune, while having some really good effects and set pieces not to mention some (Sting notwithstanding)thoughtful characterisation must ever suffer in comparison to Star Wars which was released some five years earlier. Lucas extracted so much from Frank Herbert – The desert planet, the corrupt empire, the secret cadre of mystical warriors etc. etc. that anyone unfamiliar with the novels would have just viewed Dune the movie as an unsuccessful rip-off of Star Wars. Very much like the original Battlestar Galactica.

    as to the Tauron thing in Caprica. Yes Spacewarp I take your points but the basic trope is still, as you say, 'gangsters with traditions, superstitions, a weird honour system, and religion'. The problem is the placement of them as an ethnic minority on Caprica. Of course people are going to make the Latino connection. I can't imagine what else the writers were thinking of. The attempt to address racist tropes as is often the danger just ends up coming over as inherently racist. Compare this, for example, to the way ethnicity and multi-culturalism is handled in Firefly or even Blade Runner.


  61. BerserkRL
    June 7, 2013 @ 4:09 pm

    On a different topic: I'm struck that the last few years have seen what seems to me a higher than average number of movies – varying wildly in style and quality – that feature timey-wimeyness: Primer, Looper, The Lake House, The Time Traveler’s Wife, The Butterfly Effect, Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel, Hot Tub Time Machine, etc., etc. I wonder whether our host plans to blog about any of those?


  62. Iain Coleman
    June 7, 2013 @ 5:08 pm

    Yeah, if there's one thing Jesus hated, it was wine. Hang on…


  63. Ross
    June 7, 2013 @ 5:25 pm

    I found the SciFi 'Dune' to be a lot less fun to watch than the Lynch version, but a lot more comprehensible. Like Lynch took a 40 hour story and shoved it into three hours with a weed whacker, while the SciFi channel funneled it into… Forty hours. Watching the Sci Fi channel version felt like going to work.


  64. Iain Coleman
    June 7, 2013 @ 5:29 pm

    I took a long time to warm to BSG.

    The problem was that I happened to catch one episode at random. It was the one where Baltar gets elected. I spent the whole thing going "NOOOO. POLITICS DOES NOT WORK LIKE THAT!!!!!!!" After that I kind of avoided the show.

    But eventually, because it turned up in my On Demand service and my wife wanted to check it out, I did start watching it from the start. I found myself really enjoying it. Even the Baltar-gets-elected episode wasn't so bad once it was a bump in the road rather than the whole journey.

    It is very much the heir to Babylon 5, in that it solves the central storytelling problem in the same way. American space opera is always about military people in uniforms. This quickly gets boring: if a character's motivation for doing something is "because the character respects the chain of command and follows the orders of their superior officer", well, that's just about the dullest thing there is. B5 got past that by having a military crew in a political context, and giving as much weight to the civilian politicians as to the uniformed military. BSG does the same thing.

    It's a reasonably effective solution, but it's not my favourite. I prefer the Doctor Who model of friends having adventures, or the Blake's 7 model of a bunch of people who hate each other's guts being forced to work together because the authorities want to kill them all. But the B5/BSG model is at least workable, and isn't utterly dull like most of Star Trek.

    Oh, and in case anyone is wondering, the TV shows that get politics right are as follows:

    1. The Thick of It
    2. Yes, Minister / Yes, Prime Minister
    3. The Wire
    4. er…
    5. that's it.


  65. Chris
    June 7, 2013 @ 7:02 pm

    @Spacewarp: You, sir, are a saint among men. Thank you.


  66. BerserkRL
    June 7, 2013 @ 8:07 pm

    Some Christians try to get a prohibition out of this: "I will not drink of the fruit of the vine, until the kingdom of God shall come." (Matt. 26:29, Mark 14:25, Luke 22:18)

    I merely report.


  67. Tim
    June 7, 2013 @ 9:13 pm

    Well the Time Traveller's Wife, or at least the book version, is certainly worth a mention as it was clearly a strong influence on the conception of the whole River Song storyline.


  68. Spacewarp
    June 7, 2013 @ 11:01 pm

    Which is what I'm expecting. It's just that we don't know when the paradigm shift will be. In fact we never really notice it until a few years after it happened, and we look back and go "Hey, TV was different then!".

    I suspect we have already had a minor one, which is why Doctor Who Series 1 looks kinda dated now.


  69. Spacewarp
    June 7, 2013 @ 11:06 pm

    My pleasure. After you reminded me I re-read them last night. Their existance multiplies my sadness at the loss of Crusade and what might have been.

    Apocalypse Box, Shadow-Tech, and Psi-Cops, Oh My!


  70. Anton B
    June 7, 2013 @ 11:46 pm

    Maybe, but for me it was work I really enjoyed. The acknowledgement and use of length in a text, allowing the narrative to unfold at a leisurely pace, is surely the prime advantage of serial and episodic TV. This is, I fear, where Moffat often missteps in Doctor Who. He sets up a premise with the potential to run over a long period and then either gets impatient or loses interest and wraps it up in a facile manner leaving dangling threads and plot holes which will never be resolved.


  71. Anton B
    June 7, 2013 @ 11:51 pm

    It is interesting that time travel, with its inherent plot twist potential, does seem to have usurped space exploration as the the SF genre trope of choice for Hollywood.


  72. Daibhid C
    June 8, 2013 @ 7:19 am

    @David Anderson – Good point about the paranoia-hedonism thing; that's exactly how I saw it.

    @Ross – Yeah, fair point. I was considering the light'n'fluffy vs dark'n'edgy spectrum (or, as David says, hedonism vs paranoia) not the "degree to which you want to hit all the characters with a baseball bat to make them SHUT UP" spectrum.


  73. Ross
    June 8, 2013 @ 7:32 am

    Yeah, I nearly made the mistake of implying that there would never be another paradigm shift again because clearly we were at the end of history before I realized where I was going (That said, it appears that the visual language of TV and the visual language of film have converged, which means that future paradigm shifts are going to be tied to what film does in a way that they weren't before. I suspect what we'll see is a big shift in film to try to "get away" from TV). But I'm not sure that we've had one since Series 1; I suspect that's just down to the production team finding their footing.


  74. Ununnilium
    June 8, 2013 @ 12:08 pm

    I'm willing to forgive Sci-Fi a few sins in exchange for the extra years of MST3K. Just a few, mind you.

    This, definitely. Actually, from what I read at the time, there was a management shift right after it got picked up, which lead to a lot of the changes that eventually lead to our current state.


  75. jane
    June 8, 2013 @ 7:02 pm

    Hot Tub Time Machine was obviously inspired by LOST. The splices, Jacob, the Cross-over, but with a rebuke of the ending.


  76. jane
    June 8, 2013 @ 7:14 pm

    Kara Thrace is a fantastic character. I love her to pieces.

    And neither she nor Boomer are "male characters" played by women. They are female characters through and through, women trying to integrate themselves into the patriarchal culture of the military, which they pull off phenomenally. And in that respect, they are feminist icons, because they serve to deconstruct the "male identity" as it relates to military service.

    The one area where the show fails from a feminist perspective is that we don't see any of the men crossing over to a predominantly female culture. Once again, it's all fine and dandy for women to take on the aspects of patriarchy, but not for men to become "feminized" to any significant degree.

    I'd really hoped the show would go farther in highlighting just how problematic war culture is. It tries too much to make militarism something ennobling, as if soldiers should somehow be upheld with any kind of honor or respect. Sorry, not buying that.


  77. Ross
    June 8, 2013 @ 7:23 pm

    I do miss the old, low-budget news-ish shows they ran in the early days. Complete with "Harlan Ellison yells at the camera for a few minutes."

    Oh yes. Being a big fan of metastories, I always loved those.

    Also, the clunky old primitive bulletin board they used to run on their webpage was one of the first Collections of People Who Are Awesome to Chat With on the internet.

    Actually, from what I read at the time, there was a management shift right after it got picked up, which lead to a lot of the changes that eventually lead to our current state.

    This would explain why the channel seemed to react like they were suddenly shocked and horrified to discover what the show was about. "Wait, what do you mean they're making fun of the movies? Quick, hide it in a 1 AM slot before Joe Estevez finds out, or we might have to start actually paying him to be in our original movies! Also, how does he eat and breathe? And what about scarecrow's brain?"


  78. jane
    June 8, 2013 @ 7:38 pm

    I love the ending of the show. What goes around comes around. It's the myth of eternal return. They "go back" to that time before time, before their own history, and insert themselves into the past — this is done by "spooling up" the FTL drives (they go at "godspeed") from within the event horizon of a Black Hole.

    And the whole human race becomes hybridized. The union of opposites (the "astrological" and the "technological") through a child named after the goddess of marriage.

    In "Myth and Reality" Mircea Eliade writes of the Shawnee ritual of the Sun Dance, and how the rebuilding of the "Cabin of New Life" has cosmogonic meaning. The Cabin represented the World, and to repair the cabin was to "fix" the world. This was often done on a yearly basis, and so not only was the world fixed, but time itself was regenerated; in some languages, the word for "world" and the word for "time" were one and the same. All of this contributes to the mythological resonance of Adama's final promise to Laura.


  79. Ross
    June 8, 2013 @ 8:04 pm

    Yeah. But some months later, Nicky dies because they decided to go back to nature, which is just the slightest bit incompatible with living with a chronic disorder that requires regular blood transfusions.

    Not to mention all those colonial women who are going to die in childbirth without modern medicine.

    And half of them starving in the first year because holy crap is living off the land hard.

    (Galactica did the back-to-nature luddite ending as well as any show ever has. But seriously, fuck luddite endings.)


  80. David Anderson
    June 8, 2013 @ 9:37 pm

    What do they get right about politics that others get wrong? Or, what are the most common mistakes?


  81. jane
    June 9, 2013 @ 4:20 am

    Well, except it's not entirely a Luddite ending. Yes, the people of Galactica end up going there; it makes sense from their point of view — at this point, nature red in tooth and claw is much preferred to what they see as an inevitable life of perpetual war.

    But in the denouement we discover a new technological society rising from their ashes – ours. If the show wanted to a stake properly Luddite ground, we'd end somewhere else. Hera is the key to understanding this. She's a fusion of Myth and Technology. Or Religion and Atheism. Maybe both. We're the product of gods. We're born of deoxyribonucleic acid. These are not mutually exclusive positions. And neither is living with nature and living with technology.

    BSG is a Myth, of course. And the most important thing about myth is to read it for metaphor; it's never as strong when taken as allegory, which just a step away from literalism.


  82. peeeeeeet
    June 9, 2013 @ 4:37 am

    Lots of good points hereabouts. I find New BSG virtually flawless up until The Farm, and about 50 / 50 from there until the end, with the New Caprica arc being the biggest highlight. I don't totally hate the godbothering ending, though I do think after lots of juicy playing around with polytheism, the show stacks the deck way too much in the Abrahamic direction. I agree that the show honours the original version a lot more than it is given credit for, which is why it's one of the few Bush-era themed shows / movies not to bore me, because it resists being read as nothing but an extended metaphor. I accept the general point that Starbuck is a little too close to the perennial cult TV problem of "strong female character = one who can kickbox", but I think her position as career military coupled with the variety of other female roles around saves it. Also, Sackhoff is a star. I wouldn't agree that the show is too humourless – there's quite a bit of dark humour here and there – the grumpy doctor, Mark Shepherd's crazy lawyer, and of course "No More Mister Nice Gaius!" Baltar himself. That bit during his trial – "…and you missed! BUTTERFINGERS!" is one of my favourite moments in all television.

    It doesn't do gays well enough. Felix was a good choice for canon-gay but his obsession with and complete blindness to the faults of Baltar prevents him from being sympathetic enough, though the actors get a lot of good material out of it. Cain shacking up with a Six had similar promise but quickly turned into melodramatic cliche.

    At the time it was on I was heavily into the blog of the score writer, Bear McCreary. It's an incredible body of work, possibly the most accomplished score ever in a television show, though it's been influential enough (especially in the video game world) that Duduks and Taiko drums no longer sound fresh and interesting. It also has the best composite shots I've ever seen on television, almost all of them worthy of the big screen, the best of them all being the "Adama Maneuvre" – still my favourite ever use of CGI on television.

    Caprica was mostly laughable garbage, which is a great shame since the pilot movie was pretty solid and looked like it might develop into a type of SF we'd not seen on television before – SF as a Dallas / Dynasty style sage of rival families. Gotta love how batshit crazy the "on the next season of Caprica" clips were at the end though. Someone had been watching their Arrested Development DVDs.


  83. Ununnilium
    June 9, 2013 @ 2:45 pm

    Pretty much – IIRC, the head of the Sci-Fi channel who approved buying the show moved out right before it started production.


  84. Prole Hole
    June 10, 2013 @ 12:36 am

    I'm a bit late here but no love for Veep?


  85. Andrew McLean
    June 19, 2013 @ 11:43 pm

    Late to the party again, so some brief comments on the shows you mention in relation to emotional content/soap opera plotting.

    Warehouse 13 is notable for its high female audience share when compared to SyFy's other programming – I remember reading it had roughly a 50/50 split in its demographic rather than being weighted towards male viewers. Bizarrely, it made its Australian debut with the launch of the digital channel 73 Mate, which was targeted specifically at a male audience (mainly reruns of old 80s shows like The A-Team) – it lasted 3 or 4 episodes before they realised what they'd done and took it off the air.

    Arrow is most notable for readers of this blog due to featuring John Barrowman as the first season's main antagonist (with a couple of appearances by Alex Kingston as well). It does in fact feature a large soap opera component to balance out the vigilante action, but it's extremely heavy-handed and unsophisticated, prone to forcing tidy emotional resolutions on each episode's mini-crisis which owe more to sanctimonious rationalisations than to believable characterisation. Those aspects of the show which succeed tend to be down to performances which are (to me) actively fighting against the material they've been given in order to make their characters work.


  86. othemts
    July 12, 2013 @ 6:34 am

    Apparently all SyFy needed to make the big time was SharkNado.


  87. GarrettCRW
    April 21, 2014 @ 6:59 am

    Sci-Fi's decline is not an issue of the "cult" model of TV being a failure so much as the network being the product of the original USA, which literally threw tons of really different shit (wrestling, actual sports, reruns, imported programs, oddball original shows, and the USA Cartoon Express, which was where all old cartoons seemed to go to die/live forever until Ted Turner bought Hanna-Barbera and started Cartoon Network and L'Oreal pulled all support for He-Man and She-Ra after murdering Filmation). The idea seemed to grow not only out of the sci-fi boom of the early '90s, but of the insane success of Quantum Leap reruns on USA.

    The thing is, by the time Sci-Fi hit cable, USA and its corporate structure was becoming a lot blander (most of the real sports was long gone, as well as the early quirky shows like Silk Stalkings, with the Cartoon Express managing to hold on until fall of 1996), and pretty much instantly after saving Mystery Science Theater 3000, Sci-Fi's management made the first big turn towards stupid, as the original movies were born and MST3K ended up getting chased off the air, and the process of good show being greenlit, only to have a new mangement team that hated the genre even more than the last continued with every "cult" Sci-Fi series until the Syfy rename and all that came with it.


  88. Terry
    December 23, 2014 @ 1:23 pm

    When I first saw it, and heard the mention of "no domestics" or "I don't do domestics" I always thought that it meant that the Doctor didn't do normal, or ordinary life.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.