Home > Reviews > GALACTICA 1980 thoughts — Eps. 1-3

GALACTICA 1980 thoughts — Eps. 1-3

Well, as I promised, I’m moving on to review Galactica 1980.  This is a show that nobody involved really wanted to do.  Apparently the ABC network “strong-armed” Universal and Glen Larson into doing it.  Battlestar Galactica was so expensive to make that even after it was cancelled, ABC wanted to amortize their investment in its sets, props, costumes, and stock footage by repurposing them in another, cheaper show, one which would be set largely on Earth with cheaper actors.  However, despite their intentions, Galactica 1980 went heavily over budget in almost every episode, and thus only lasted ten weeks.

Of course, after BSG’s cancellation, most of the cast and crew had moved on to other work, so new actors and production staff had to be assembled.  The result is a show that’s rather different in look, feel, and content from its predecessor.

The network also scheduled G80 in the 7 PM timeslot and insisted that it be kid-friendly, with diminished violence, “educational” content, and a lot of child characters.  Which worked for me when it first aired, since I was 11 at the time.  So how does it hold up now?  Let’s find out!

“Galactica Discovers Earth”: This 3-parter opens with a title sequence featuring randomly chosen BSG clips over a slightly modified arrangement of Stu Phillips’s main title theme.  The series title is rendered in an MICR-type “computer” font, but the rest of the titles are in the same typeface used in BSG.  The story doesn’t waste time; we open with Adama’s log announcing that Earth has already been discovered.  It’s 30 years since BSG, and most of the familiar cast is dead (Jolly! Nooooo!!!).  Adama doesn’t look any older aside from sporting a (fake) white beard to make him look more patriarchal.  Not too implausible, since BSG established that Colonial humans have a 200-yahren lifespan.  The only other returning cast member is Herbert Jefferson, Jr. as “Colonel Boomer,” filling Tigh’s role with some Tigh-like grey in his hair.

We cut to a cheap, almost empty set in which Adama is consulting with Doctor Zee, a 10-year-old “cerebral mutation” supergenius who’s the fleet’s resident oracle, handing out wisdom which Adama considers infallible.  (In the pilot, he’s played by Robbie Rist, The Brady Bunch‘s infamous Cousin Oliver, who has since gone on to become a successful voice artist whose roles include Michaelangelo in the live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies.  Ironically, Rist’s voice here is dubbed over by an uncredited adult’s voice electronically processed to sound higher.)  Being a 10-year-old with nigh-absolute power, Zee has naturally surrounded himself with televisions, with which he’s determined that Earth’s technology is too primitive to help fight off the Cylons.  (By an astonishing coincidence, all his TVs are tuned to programming owned by Universal, including Rod Serling’s Night Gallery and a Woody Woodpecker cartoon.  The video-wall montage goes on interminably, helping to pad this story out to three hours.)  What’s more, Zee has also somehow determined that the Cylons, who haven’t been encountered in “a billion space miles,” have been following the fleet all along, hoping it would lead them to Earth so they could destroy the last remaining population of humans in the universe (aside from all those Convenient Human Colonies of the Week from BSG).  How Zee knows this is never explained, since the Cylons don’t make any actual appearances here.  He’s just such a syooper-geeenius that he pulls this information out of the aether and nobody questions its accuracy.  Neither is it explained why Adama never considered the possibility that Earth might be too primitive to help them.

Just from these initial minutes, a number of continuity holes are evident.  The Terra episodes clearly implied that BSG was in the future, with Terra most likely being a colony of Earth.  Moving it to 1980 is an understandable if awkward retcon, since it’s cheaper to produce a show set in the present day.  But suddenly the Colonials use years and miles instead of the “alien” units they used before.  And there are other discontinuities to come.

Zee shows a computer simulation of Cylon Raiders blowing up LA, which is largely made by superimposing Raiders onto stock footage from Earthquake and setting off some “strafing” squibs on the Universal backlot with extras running around.  Adama and Zee decide that the fleet must subtly infiltrate Earth, contacting its scientists and helping them advance Earth’s technology to a level where it can defend against the Cylons, while the fleet leads them away from Earth.  An objection is raised by Xaviar (Richard Lynch), apparently another commander within the fleet, though what ship he commands is not established.  But Xaviar is overruled.

The main characters of the show are Captain Troy (Kent McCord, later to play John Crichton’s father in Farscape) and Lt. Dillon (Barry Van Dyke, son of Dick Van Dyke).  They’re a bargain-basement Apollo and Starbuck, except that they have no personality and are essentially interchangeable.  There’s a bit of clunky exposition to establish that Troy is actually a grown-up Boxey, Apollo’s adopted son, but this is the extent of the character development Troy gets.  Anyway, they’re one of several teams sent down to Earth clandestinely.  They can’t risk revealing themselves (for nebulously explained reasons), but luckily Dr. Zee’s genius is a magic cornucopia, and he’s invented invisibility “forcefields” they can use to cloak their Vipers and themselves, along with “turbines,” i.e. fancy motorcycles that can fly.  Troy and Dillon go down to LA, and no sooner does Troy advise Dillon that they’d better avoid doing anything conspicuous that they get harassed by a gang of bikers (including Mickey Jones, who was required by law to appear in any ’80s TV episode involving bikers) and immediately fly away, causing the entire bike gang to wipe out in reaction to this highly inconspicuous event.  (The turbine bikes have their own musical leitmotif which is basically a funky disco-ish remix of the Galactica theme.  I was expecting the show to rely mainly on stock BSG music, but mostly Stu Phillips’s score is original and has much more of a contemporary sound.)

Anyway, Trillon (I’m just going to call them that now because they’re so interchangeable they might as well be just one guy) get into the usual “stranger in a strange land” schtick you get in any story about aliens trying to deal with present-day Earth — not knowing how a phone works, speaking in overly stilted terminology, etc.  The Warrior characters in BSG were never this stiff and formal.  And after a whole lengthy scene of Trillon being totally stymied by the operation of a pay phone, I laughed out loud when two hours later we saw Adama talking to them from his office using a handset that was very much like a telephone’s.

But the pay phone  scene is when the episode gains its most watchable character, Jamie Hamilton, played by the lively and delightfully curvaceous Robyn Douglass.  She’s an aspiring reporter hoping for a TV gig, and somehow Trillon convince her to give them a lift to meet a noted scientist, Mortinson — played by Robert Reed, Mike Brady himself, making him Dr. Zee’s uncle.  He’s a nuclear physicist, and there’s a huge anti-nuke rally outside when Trillon arrive.  Mortinson gives his assistant a long, awkwardly expositional speech about how nuclear power shouldn’t be abandoned just because its problems aren’t solved yet, something she presumably already knows unless she just got hired or something.  Anyway, he’s out of the office when Trillon arrive, so they take a page from The Day the Earth Stood Still and rewrite Barnhardt Mortinson’s formula to solve his problems for him.  The assistant thinks they’re vandals, so she calls the cops and gets them arrested, but Mortinson returns, sees the formula, and somehow concludes that since he’s not aware of anyone else on Earth who could have these answers, the intruders must’ve been aliens.  (What, there couldn’t be a reclusive genius out there or something?)

Fortunately, Trillon left Jamie’s name as their point of contact, so Jamie’s prospective boss is thrilled when the secretive Mortinson calls her, and insists she set up an ambush interview with the guy.  Meanwhile, the cops discover that Trillon have no fingerprints (that’s new), and then they escape from jail with their invisibility gizmos, to the shock of the obligatory drunk in lockup.  Trillon intercept Jamie and Mortinson and try to go off to talk to the doctor alone, but Jamie declares she’s going wherever Trillon go and forces herself into the car with them.  I have to admire Jamie’s Lois Lane-esque doggedness in pursuit of a story, if only because it makes her the only one of the three lead characters to have any actual character traits.  Anyway, the cops show up and a long, gratuitous car chase ensues, culminating in a crash into a shop window with an obvious bewigged stunt driver in the car and a dummy in the back seat.  Trillon and Jamie escape by being invisible, and Trillon are called back to the Galactica, with Jamie inviting herself along.

It was at this point that I realized the Viper cockpits have been refitted as 2-seaters, with the canopies modified to match.  Which creates a mismatch with the stock effects footage.

At this point, the story veers into left field.  Off-camera, Commander Xaviar (who must be evil since his name vaguely resembles “Baltar”) has stolen — get this — Dr. Zee’s experimental time-travel technology (stop him before he invents again!) and gone back to 1944 to accelerate the Nazis’ rocket technology.  Why the Nazis? Because he’s evil, of course, and because there’s plenty of WWII stock footage and costumes available.  We get an “educational” moment as Jamie fills in the Colonials about WWII, and she convinces them that they need her along as a source of information on Earth history.  So our three leads (with one personality among them) fly off in Vipers and use a time-travel mechanism that seems largely similar to Superman’s: fly around the world faster than light until you’ve completed enough reverse orbits to get back to your target date.  The time warp is a nifty psychedelic slit-scan effect like a disco-era version of 2001‘s Stargate, and it somehow causes their uniforms to change into the white versions that Apollo, Starbuck, and Sheba wore aboard the Ship of Lights in “War of the Gods.”  And Robyn Douglass looks fabulous in those tight white trousers.

(By the way, in my “Take the Celestra” review, I commented on how it bugged me that the uniform jackets had these big shiny buckles that were never fastened.  Well, on this show, thanks to a different costuming staff, they’re almost constantly fastened, so I finally get to see what they look like that way.  I can kind of see why the original staff didn’t fasten them.)

So there’s a strange hourlong interlude spanning parts 2 & 3 where they try to find Xaviar in 1944 Peenemunde and prevent him from changing history while simultaneously taking care not to change history themselves — which naturally goes out the window as soon as there’s an American agent and a bunch of Jewish prisoners to help out.  But the agent wants to blow up the V2 super-rocket Xaviar’s helped make, so Trillon and Jamie help him do it and catch Xaviar, and then they free the prisoners, but there’s no worry about history being changed since it’s conveniently the night before D-Day and they would’ve been okay anyway, so what the frakking felgercarb was the point?!  (Apparently in the G80 universe, the Nazis never tested the V2 until June 5, 1944, rather than October 3, 1942 as in reality.  So much for Xaviar trying to speed up their tech development.)  And Trillon rather foolishly fail to relieve Xaviar of his invisibility wristwatch, so he scarpers and leaves them no choice but to return to 1980 where their clothes are the right color.

But conveniently, Xaviar has decided to follow Trillon’s example and talk to Mortinson (remember him?), claiming that Trillon are the history-meddling villains and getting his advice on where “they” might strike next.  Jamie calls and warns him, but Xaviar catches on and takes him captive.

Okay, now I need to go back and mention an irritating subplot that’s run through all this.  Dr. Zee’s invisibility fields are power hogs and run out quickly, so Trillon’s Vipers were discovered by a child actor so abominably bad that he makes Noah Hathaway seem like an Oscar contender.  He told his daddy that he’d found spaceships — though why he’d think that is unclear, since Vipers pretty much look like fancy fighter jets.  Anyway, word eventually reached the military and they confiscated the Vipers, so Trillon went to talk to the annoying kid at school and find out where they’d taken them.  Fortunately, the kid is the worst secret-keeper on the planet, unhesitatingly blabbing to his classmates about seeing spaceships even after swearing to the US military that he wouldn’t (oh, what an adorable traitor to his country!), so all Trillon have to do is let him use an invisibility watch to humiliate a bully (oh, how educational) and he spills national secrets to them.  Including the fact that the military impounded three ships, including Xaviar’s.  So they can find him at the military base.

Jamie helps distract a guard so Trillon can sneak in, and Xaviar apparently sets Mortinson free off-camera (most of what Xaviar does is off-camera) and begins powering up his Viper by draining the base’s generators.  He flies off and Trillon chase after him, but not before Jamie secretes herself in the back seat of one of their Vipers (they didn’t take her invisi-watch away either).  They chase after Xaviar, but he goes invisible and they can’t tell if they hit him.  So they go back to Galactica and Adama says that Zee has tracked Xaviar to colonial America (because Zee knows everything, that’s how) and asks for Jamie’s help in pursuing Xaviar through history.  And that’s the end of the pilot.

It seems they were setting up for a series that used time travel both as an educational device (like early Doctor Who or Voyagers) and as a means of recycling stock footage (like The Time Tunnel).  But the whole time-travel angle would never be used again, the dangling thread of Xaviar’s trip to the 1700s ignored.  Welcome to Galactica 1980.

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  1. January 29, 2011 at 6:23 am

    Slightly off topic but I found a copy of the nuBSG writer’s bible online and I’ve posted it on my blog.

    http://hismajestythemagnificentmisanthrope.wordpress.com/2011/01/29/ronald-d-moore-the-prophet-spake/

  2. Mike S.
    February 4, 2011 at 10:55 am

    “Just from these initial minutes, a number of continuity holes are evident. The Terra episodes clearly implied that BSG was in the future, with Terra most likely being a colony of Earth.”

    Even if we assumed that Terra having familiar names and politics was one of those astonishing parallel evolution things that show up a lot in TV SF, there are timeline problems. “The Hand of God” has the Galactica receiving a transmission of the first Apollo (no relation) moon landing. That makes eleven years the maximum amount of time that could have passed between the original series and 1980, even if they happened to be unknowingly skimming the Solar System that week. (And since they make it clear that the signal came from another star system, and the nearest one in the right direction is the one that contains the base star they fight that episode, add an unknown number of years to that– implied by the dialog in THoG to be quite a lot, as I recall.)

    Not that the show ever cared much about consistency or realism when it came to questions of how much time or space something covered. And if someone really wanted to handwave it, they do have time travel: “Remember when we escaped that Cylon fleet by jumping twenty years into the past? Too bad going back and saving the colonies would cause a paradox and kill us all!”

    • February 4, 2011 at 12:03 pm

      Not to mention that the star system in “The Hand of God” was said to be on the edge of a galaxy. The nearest face of our galactic disk is something like 5-600 light-years away. Not that BSG paid any attention to realistic astronomy, since its “galaxies” were apparently quite tiny and the fleet was able to cover intergalactic distances while travelling slower than light.

  1. November 4, 2014 at 1:38 pm

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