|Promotional poster art for the sadly short-lived BABYLON 5 spin-off series CRUSADE. Images: TNT|
“Who are you? Where are you going? Who do you serve and who do you trust?”
Galen- from the opening titles of CRUSADE
That year 1998 may have been the end of the line story-arc and character-wise for the popular and critically acclaimed sci-fi series BABYLON 5 and its five year spanning wondrous and imaginative universe, but its creator, J. Michael Straczynski, had always intimated to his world-wide fan base that the chance was there to do a spin-off series from it sometime, somewhere, down the road, once his magnum opus series-like a book for television (imagine THE LORD OF THE RINGS in space)- had ultimately been competed. And such dreams and destinies were indeed to become reality, when the US channel TNT, having secured the original B5 series future for one ratings successful final season (it’s fifth) the year prior (alongside several key, specially made for the channel prequel/sequel TV films), asked Straczynski if he had any more ideas for stories or series ideas within the B5 universe. The response was an enthusiastic “yes” from the writer, as he pitched to them what would ultimately become the sadly short-lived but ambitious new Arthurian legend-in-space translation of B5, titled CRUSADE.
|The exciting lead-in to CRUSADE, the BABYLON 5 TV movie A Call To Arms.|
Officially announced to the world by TNT on 7th April 1998, this new story/series arc, quickly a go project from the channel, who originally liked the idea of having a new sci-fi project aimed at what was a reasonably strong demographic on its channel, was planned as a tougher, darker continuation of what had been seen in the B5 universe, taking place after the events of what would be a prior set, specially made TNT TV movie intended as a back door pilot of sorts for the new series. Set in Earth calendar year 2267, filmed from May to June 1998, A Call To Arms would see BABYLON 5 hero, now Galactic Alliance President, John Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner), reunited with his ex-security chief, Michael Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle), alongside a band of diverse new heroes, to stop an alien race called the Drakh, cruel and calculating ex-servants to another alien species The Shadows -the once series nemesis sent packing by Sheridan in B5’s fourth season- from launching a doomsday weapon against Earth on the eve of anniversary celebrations for the planet and its membership within the Alliance. Unfortunately, though our inimitable heroes briefly celebrate their hard won battle, they ultimately lose the war, as the departing Drakh “poison the well,” infecting the Earth with an horrific disease weapon that will kill all life on the planet after five years. Presuming this biological creation to be based on the millennia old Shadows and their technology, our heroes theorize that there must be a cure to the disease somewhere out in the ancient reaches of the galaxy, and that an exploratory ship-new and advanced, loaded with technology and the ultimate in firepower- headed by a brand new, hand picked crew, will be sent out to find it, before the sands of time run out…
Showing great promise for the future, A Call to Arms was a fast paced and exciting adventure, which garnered a good reaction from fans and critics in the way it mixed old characters from B5 with the new series characters and format to come, though it was obviously sad that this was also now the final trumpet-call for our prime original Straczynski created heroes from 1993, especially Bruce Boxleitner as Sheridan (who would recall enjoying sitting on the command deck of the new ship, the Excalibur). Straczynski, too, was very pleased with the way things had worked out here, having always wanted to explore some of that universe’s storytelling in other forms with new characters, especially with the continuing potential of his mythology created past, present and future-the overall aftermath-linked to the highly popular Shadow War story-arc from B5: parts of which he hadn’t previously been able to tell with his original “baby.”
The use of long term story arcs was something that had rarely been used on American TV series at that time, for fear of alienating audiences and losing profits in syndication sales, and it’s use by Straczynski in BABYLON 5 and later CRUSADE was to prove inspired and game-changing, alongside a passionate love for the sci-fi genre in all its forms that had been ever-lasting for the writer/author, not just US based but in his continued enthusiasm of British sci-fi, too, with all of his related shows soon showing unmistakable parallels/tributes of some kind to hit, classic shows like THE PRISONER and BLAKE’S 7.
With the dawn of this new CRUSADE, the hunt was on for the next stars of tomorrow today to portray the diverse and intriguing new characters, and once again Straczynski and his equally talented friends/producing duo John Copeland and Douglas Netter, alongside him from the beginning of B5’s making, worked hard with Casting Directors Fern Champion and Mark Paladini to find the right chemistry/mix for the next five-year arc show.
|Gary Cole as the darker edged Captain Matthew Gideon.|
Happily playing edgy characters with often ambivalent, grey shaded attitudes and humanity, Gary Cole - a solid series name with popular experience on shows like AMERICAN GOTHIC and MIDNIGHT CALLER- would be well cast in the series and looks comfortable in the captains chair as principal lead, Matthew Gideon. Gideon proves to be the truest kind of EarthForce commander needed for such a dangerous all-consuming mission, experienced at negotiating First Contact situations and with a ballsy, cut through the crap attitude, even if means operating out of procedures and jurisdictions- going over the heads of tricky alien negotiators who don’t want Humanity crossing their borders, no matter what their desperate plight. The captain makes the required tough calls that could save lives and also ultimately end them.
Highly disciplined, Gideon expects the same kind of consistency of excellence and decency from the crew as he does from himself, and he’s totally determined to find a cure for the Drakh plague that has inflicted Earth, soon horrified to see the planet he loves in such ecological disaster. Sharing occasional character traits and history with the legendary John Sheridan, Gideon is also an experienced soldier, having started off as a ground pounder, before rising up the command chain and becoming one EarthForce’s best exploration commanders. He’s a bit of a maverick, too, and not quite as diplomatic as Sheridan. He can be blunt at times and has a great poker face that’s hard to beat in a crisis, and when facing off against his enemies.
|Second-in-Command John Matheson (Daniel Dae Kim).|
Alongside Gideon in this mission is his loyal and trustily efficient Second-in-Command, and ex-Psi-cop, John Matheson- bright, spirited and a fine counterbalance to the commander, as well as a welcome and experienced friend to him in times of dire need. Played by future LOST and HAWAII FIVE-O star Daniel Dae Kim, in between his duties to Earth and his commander, it was planned that we would have seen a lot more of John Matheson’s history in the final days of the old and menacing form of Psi-Cops, before its ultimate destruction.
Though looking to the future, Gideon, like Matheson, is also a man not able to forget the past, as references to events taking place during BABYLON 5’s second season reveal that, as a junior officer, he almost died in space, left to wander its dark depths alone after an unusual disaster aboard the ship he served on, the Cerberus, ten years earlier. Ultimately saved from oxygen starvation by a mysterious alien pilot, later revealed as one of the secretive Technomage race, and known as Galen-part of his kinds departing fleet, which he broke away from to rescue the human- Gideon is equally resolved to find out what happened to his lost ship and crew on that once fateful day…
|Peter Woodward as the enigmatic Galen.|
Galen’s humanitarian actions relating to Gideon, and then later in assisting Sheridan fight the Drakh, lead to his eventually becoming a pariah from his people, though this proves a benefit for the captain as the experienced and technologically advanced alien adds his destiny to that of the Excalibur crew as they search for an antidote to the plague across the universe. Intriguingly, however, he mostly hooks up with the humans only when it’s in his own best interests to do so, possessing an unceasing thirst for knowledge and wisdom from the universe, alongside the purest of scientific curiosities. A being of many contradictions at times, there are also further undercurrents of some kind of dark personal history that have affected him, which occasionally simmer to the surface, resulting in his and Gideon occasionally clashing heads. Sometimes his mystical and enigmatic presence can leave his team-mates bewildered at best, angry at worst, but ultimately the quirky traveller can be trusted and often proves himself as the right man at the right time in a dangerous situation, though often coming to the rescue just in the nick of time!
Reprising his role from the previous A Call to Arms TV movie, British actor Peter Woodward, well-cast as Galen, would quickly prove to be one of CRUSADE’s greatest assets, bringing mischief, subtlety, accomplished wit and fire to the part, truly making it his own. He also later gets to have fun with his famous father, Edward (CALLAN and THE EQUALIZER) in the lightweight but watchable episode The Long Road, where Pa plays a fellow Technomage using his power of science and subterfuge, often perceived by races of limited ability as magic, to resist EarthForce miners on a frontier world.
With Galen providing the knowledge and experiences he needs in traversing certain areas of the galaxy, Gideon also requires other guiding intuitive skills to take him through the wilds and dangers that are the seedy underbelly of the galaxy, where the Excaliburcrew often have to make pacts with, or experience, the criminal elements of the galaxy in their quest for a cure. In this arena, he has the welcomely clever and equally resourceful figure of Dureena Nafeel, an ex-slave and a lineage member of the quietly powerful Thieves Guild. She’s a spirited, occasionally volatile, lithe figure (perfectly formed for getting in and out of difficult practical situations), an expert in weapons, defence systems technology and hand-to-hand combat. She has a major grudge against the Shadows and their Drakh servants: the combined races having previously wiped out her people on the planet Zander Prime with an ecological weapon capable of laying waste to entire worlds. It’s a fate she is determined to not let Earth suffer the way she has. Played with charm and likability by Carrie Dobro, Dureena Nafeel has an instinctiveness that makes her a talented thief and a very spunky and sexy heroine.
Gideon and Dureena share a common friend in the mysterious and often egotistical Galen, who becomes a sort of teacher or mentor figure to Dureena on life, the universe and everything, as she wants to better herself and find her ultimate place, a relationship between them started and continuing on from what was previously established in A Call to Arms. Galen likes his new apprentice but warns her of the dangers and the high price that learning such knowledge and skills might eventually bring.
|David Allen Brooks as crafty but skilled archeologist Max Eilerson.|
Not totally on the side of the angels, and definitely treading the delicate line between profit and ambition, Max Eilerson, one of the golden boys of the Interplanetary Expeditions organization, whose power and influence stretch across the galaxy as they initiate searches for rare technology that can be used and adapted for profit and gain, is often as unscrupulous and crafty as the company he works for. A child prodigy with a rare gift for deciphering hundreds of rare alien languages, and a veteran of many planetary expeditions and archeology revelations, Max possesses a sharp tongue and the distinctively odd vice here and there (as well as an ex-wife whom he owes money to, and a dog he misses greatly). Despite his me, me, me attitude and a superior ego which needs to be held constantly held in-check by his long-suffering teammates (especially with Gideon, and in his particular kind of uneasy partnership with Dureena, whom he even gets to show off his dancing skills to in one episode!), Eilerson quickly becomes another of the crew’s greatest assets and, though a huge pain in the ass, a key player in the searching of alien worlds for a cure to the Drakh plague. David Allen Brooks as Eilerson brings a notable sense of sleazy ego and worthy self-ambition similarly seen in the legendary character of Kerr Avon, played by Paul Darrow in the hit BBC 1 sci-fi series of the seventies: the aforementioned BLAKES 7 (of which many of CRUSADE’s best format and storytelling ingredients seem like tributes to this great past series, much admired by Straczynski).
|Marjean Holden as the dedicated Dr. Sarah Chambers.|
To counter-balance Eilerson with the more positive side of technology and medical science is actress Marjean Holden’s character of Doctor Sarah Chambers, who, having turned down a the chance of a previous career building job on a science vessel, has a particular necessity for being on the Excalibur- her sister and her family are trapped on Earth, infected by the Drakh plague, so she has just as big a responsibility as Gideon to find a cure before it’s too late. Having previously played one of the bridge command crew in A Call to Arms, Holden would prove a promising actress: tall, with attractive model looks and a likeable presence, who was soon cast in a brand new role for the series.
|Tracy Scoggins returns as Captain Elizabeth Lochley.|
Finally, in a nice and deliberate nod to BABYLON 5, and having made a big impression with Straczynski (who thought that more could be mined from her promising and ballsy character), TNT and B5 fans in the shows final season, sexy actress/model Tracy Scoggins would become a part of the CRUSADE cast for several episodes of the series run, reprising her role as Babylon 5 commander Captain Elizabeth Lochley, mixing with Captain Gideon in certain areas where their duties meet with regards to the Drakh, the plague, and a search for a cure. At first, the dynamic pair have a friendly if abrasive clash of command styles, especially when she is rescued from a deep space incident, but later on the series writers and the actors get to have fun as a romantic liaison develops and they respect each others abilities and willpower.
|Though Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle) returned for A Call To Arms (pictured with Tracy Scoggins as Lochley), plans for his appearance in CRUSADE ultimately never happened.|
Apart from Lochley and the mention of certain events crucial to the previous series timeline affecting CRUSADE for the future, lots of die-hard B5 fans hopeful for CRUSADE were vocally unhappy that many more of the characters from the original B5 series weren’t in the new show, though they were ultimately unaware of how Straczynski had long-term planned to fuse and synchronize the two universes together later down the line had CRUSADE continued. Criticisms from such die-hards on other aspects of the new show would uneasily continue into shooting, though Straczynski, having politely listened to their concerns online, ultimately ploughed on with his work and his creation, making what he thought were the best creative choices for its realization. By the shows fifth filmed episode, Each Night I Dream of Home, the chance to incorporate B5’s Dr. Stephen Franklin into the story (played by the late, much missed Richard Biggs) was an expected and enjoyable move by Straczynski, in one of the series best episodes, with Franklin working well with Chambers to find out how the Drakh virus mutated and worked in the Human body. Further efforts by Straczynski to bring back rogue telepath Lyta Alexander (Patricia Tallman) and Michael Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle) were planned but sadly fell through due to budget problems, as was an anticipated episode that would see in the return of ex-Psi-Cop Bester (played by STAR TREK’s iconic Walter Koenig) that ultimately never materialized when the show was abruptly cancelled by TNT.
As CRUSADE evolved, the relationships between the main characters proved intriguing and likeable: often brave and broody, but also quirky and never dull. The show subtly conveys its historical inspired roots within in its storytelling and there’s the aforementioned master and pupil element to many of the characters that surely harkens back to classic Japanese movies made by Kurosawa: look no further than the aforementioned Gideon and Mathison, and, more intriguingly, the pairing of Galen and Nafeel.
Beyond any human form of help, but no less vital to Gideon in his quest, is an intriguing device which also, sadly, never got to see its full potential explored in the series: the intriguing TWILIGHT ZONE-esque plot element called The Apocalypse Box: an Oracle-like life form which Gideon wins in a card game on an alien world, and which subtly takes on the voice of its current owner. Its origins unknown, of which Gideon only knows that it has passed hands numerous times over the years (mostly by freaked out people who can’t wait to dis-own it), and that it has its its own personal and unique behavior patterns (as well as an ultimate agenda not yet achieved), the box acts as both a help and hindrance to Gideon as it provides him information and clues, sometimes deliberately misleading, in the search for a cure. The unique character (whatever it was!) is sadly only seen in a few episodes, but it’s a fascinating addition to the show nonetheless.
|The superb Earth/Mimbari vessel Excalibur.|
Another unique character for CRUSADE would be our heroes powerful and sleek prototype starship, theExcalibur: a wonderfully designed vessel and deserving of its place in the sci-fi pantheons of classic spacecraft (and not too dissimilar to BLAKES 7’s alien Liberator craft, either: another obviously deliberate inspiration/tribute). A perfect exploratory ship for its crew of scientists and soldiers, which previously and admirably proved itself in battle against the Drakh and a leftover Shadow planet killer device (in the feature length TV movie A Call to Arms), the Excalibur is a mile and a half long (so huge they could have set at least one major episode fully exploring it) with numerous heavy armament emplacements, a powerful and consuming tri-wing heavy weapon that takes a minute to re-power after unleashing its mighty destructive beam, and berthing sleek, cool-looking and lethal Starfury fighter ships. All in all, the Excalibur was a damn hot ship, beautifully rendered by Conceptual Designer Luc Mayrand, and it’s a shame no one ever released a die-cast metal model of it.
Despite the shows low budgets and production restrictions, Production Designer John Iacovelli brought visual wonders to the screen with his set designs, especially with the impressive submarine-like bridge interior set of the Excalibur, followed by further out of this world civilizations, craft and species that made their own unique mark on science fiction television, away from what had been seen in previous series like the modern STAR TREKs.
Attempts were also pushed to go beyond what had previously been seen and established in B5, too, with regards to aliens and environments rendered by CGI and practically, of which, for the most part they would be successful, with the production team having learned greatly from their film-making experiences on the five-year run of B5. The JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory) facility at NASA would lend their expertise, continuing to advise the series producers and writers on the types of aliens and planets that might be out there in deep space, so as to keep the series as realistic as possible within the science fiction action and adventure. Racing against a five-year life cycle for Earth’s inhabitants, who are caught in a major panic for their survival and cut–off by a planetary quarantine, the Excalibur and its crew also become involved in missions within the established B5 universe, allowing the writers the opportunity to have our heroes stop off at numerous recognizable worlds and environments along the way, like Mars and the legendary EarthForce/ Alliance station Babylon 5, where episodes would not only please existing fans of the original series but also help save money by using in-storage sets already at the studios. Additionally, other races seen helping or hindering our CRUSADE B5 heroes would include the Narn, Mimbari, and members of the often-bickering League of Non-Aligned Worlds, whilst the valiant Human/Mimbari group, The Rangers, would make brief and occasional appearances in certain episodes, searching the galaxy for clues to the Excalibur to follow up.
|One of the Drakh warriors seen in War Zone.|
Along the way, our crew would indeed have numerous unpleasant adversaries blocking their journey, but none so determined and clever than their long-term opponents, the Drakh. Effectively introduced to B5 in its final two seasons, the creepy and elusive ex-servants of the Shadows are as nasty as ever, though in this short series run they are mostly used for action purposes in several episodes, as a collective body of alien ships and ground soldiers- sketchily developed at best- though no doubt Straczynski had a game plan for the creatures that was ultimately never to be realized, and probably one that would have seen them returning to their previous state as cunning and dangerous manipulators, as they had been in B5’s last season finale episodes.
Despite the many what could have been factors, one of the nicest aspects of CRUSADE that did make it to the screen was the feeling of adventure- of going out into unknown space-that had been missing from so much sci-fi TV of the period- that these characters were out on the frontier exploring brave new worlds, a lot of the time on their own and having to face the unknown and the dangerous situations with their ingenuity and gut instincts. A return to the kind of ideas and storytelling- a shoot from the hip attitude- in the best tradition of the much loved original and classic STAR TREK series of the sixties that was to be admired and commended.
Sharing similar goals, the creative triad of Straczynksi, alongside his friends and partnership of Netter and Copeland, showed great pride and enthusiasm for the upcoming venture as it started filming on 3rdAugust 1998. And as the shows format and opening episodes were being conceived, it certainly didn’t look like there was any sign of writing burnout from Straczynski or his team (including series contributor Fiona Avery, JMS’s Reference Editor production associate, who’d make a noteworthy contribution to CRUSADE with several episodes). Far from it: spirits were high and enthusiasm was keenly felt across the studios where the show was being made. It was indeed early days yet, but the potential was clearly there: the five year planned storyline as the Excalibur searched the cosmos: a sci-fi version of the quest for the Holy Grail by King Arthur’s legendary Knights of Camelot.
Helping bring the new scripts to life, Straczynski would pick the best, most experienced, and the brightest directors to have worked on the previous B5, the finest of which had to be Mike Vejar, capable of transcending the shows low budget, making his episodes exciting and evocative on a fast production turnaround, and often using noteworthy experimental techniques to heighten the storytelling. No wonder he was soon hired to add depth to rival sci-fi series like STAR TREK’s VOYAGER and DEEP SPACE NINE. Other confident and strong expertise returnee directors would include long-time B5 episode helmer Janet Greek, Tony Dow, Jesus Salvador Trevino, and actor Stephen Furst.
|Dr. Chambers investigates in Patterns of the Soul.|
The series overall cinematography style would come from Fred V. Murphy, who always brought a grainy, gritty and atmospheric look to B5 whenever he was in charge of these duties instead of series veteran John C. Flinn. Murphy would soon prove a natural for the darker climes of CRUSADE.
An important part of the B5 universe from the beginning would be the shows aforementioned impressive and revolutionary CGI effects, first bought to life on a weekly TV basis in a time before the STAR WARS Prequels hit the cinemas. Over ten years on, the revolutionary work by NETTER DIGITAL looks pretty basic these days, and in some parts quite dated, but in the late nineties they were intriguing and very ambitious. Amongst some fine space battles, it was fun to see new special environments and alien peoples/technologies that looked different and intriguing.
The only main weak point for the series for me, personally, had to be the shows weekly incidental music. Despite a charming main title theme, Evan Chen's music would prove too experimental and subtle. A bold experiment by Straczynski and the show’s producers to do something different that sadly didn’t work, of which previous B5 composer Chrstopher Franke strident but emotionally powerful work is much missed here.
Title sequence: Title Sequence from the Crusade TV Show - YouTube
Intended to get the series viewers into full speed ahead mode, Racing the Night was planned and written by Straczynski as the original first episode of the series (though actually filmed third, with the following The Needs of Earth being the first story filmed in studio- a character based tale that the producers thought would help the new cast settle into their roles), and which was intended to go against the traditional first episode storytelling techniques that other TV series normally do: basically introducing the characters and set-up gradually. Instead, CRUSADE would boldly start with our Excalibur crew already underway in their search for a plague cure, and straight into the action on an unknown planet as they encounter a dangerous nighttime enemy. Unfortunately, despite their willingness to break with established TV traditions, Straczynski and co.’s backers at TNT were both unnerved and unaccustomed to not playing it safe, allegedly feeling that they weren’t ultimately getting the show they hoped and wanted from the team (perhaps something they felt could be more audience friendly and similar to the rival modern TREK series).
|Dureena, Eilerson and Chambers look for Drakh survivors in War Zone.|
Unhappy with the way the series had started-perhaps too sophisticated for their liking and possibly worried that the show would not appeal to their long-term type of viewing demographics –TNT, its two distinct production bases in Atlanta and Los Angeles clashing over the ultimate shape of the new series and what audience it would be trying to capture, would ask a professionally disappointed Straczynski to come up with a new launch episode for the series that was more traditional and set-up the characters and series format from the start, in a manner that they felt wouldn’t confuse or alienate viewers, against the threat of the Drakh invaders and their poisoning of Earth after the events of A Call to Arms. Though a seasoned and experienced Hollywood veteran used to studio and network interference, Straczynski was allegedly not happy about such a major change to the show so early in its start, but with his relationship with certain players at TNT on the earlier final season of BABYLON 5 having been reasonably successful, he allegedly sucked in his animosity and annoyance for the most part and acquiesced to their requests, creating a new launch episode, titled War Zone, filmed eighth in the production schedule from 6th November 1998. As communications progressed, however, there came a further butting of creative heads that resulted in a two week advance hiatus coming into play, as monetary investment by TNT brought in a further series of cosmetic set and regular cast costume change decisions, and leading, by the time of the sixth episode being filmed, to the series being considered in trouble by online and printed critics in the Hollywood community/industry. Additionally, there were some slight changes made to certain characters on-screen personalities, whilst, for the female viewers, the revamped show saw in a young heart-throb pilot with the new opening episode: the ex-Interplanetary Expeditions pilot Trace-a more smarmy Han Solo type-played in two episodes by Alex Mendoza.
With the newly filmed episodes six to twelve now being filmed, slotted and aired before those earliest five episodes filmed, Straczynski, despite his building anger and frustrations, also saw an opportunity to add another of his writer friends to the series roster, novelist Peter David, whom Straczynski liked and admired for the way he was able to mix comedy and drama in his storytelling, and whom he’d previously used to popular effect in B5. David’s contribution to CRUSADE would be the eleventh episode filmed, Ruling from the Tomb, which, with the mid-season changes made by TNT, gave viewers a new introduction between Lochley and Gideon, leading to what would become a rosy one-upmanship relationship in and out of the sheets.
With all the problems of the mid-series shut-down/hiatus news having come out prior to the series debut, and despite Straczynski’s addressing the press that it was a behind the scenes factor initiated so as to improve the show for the long term, die-hard B5 fans were ultimately worried about what was happening to the new show, especially having so far not seen any footage or preview material for what they had hoped would be a promising long-term series. As the shows thirteenth episode wrapped on 22nd January 1999, further production was suspended, with four episodes to follow (two from Straczynski, two from Fiona Avery) ultimately scrapped and the show soon officially closed. By the time it started airing on June 9th 1999 (delayed from it’s original January 1999 premiere date due to extra effects requirements with the new launch episode), news had already come down the wire that TNT were not committing to any more episodes (despite prior indications from actor Gary Cole that the company had originally commissioned a full episode run of 22 adventures). As cast and crew sadly parted company, it looked as if CRUSADE’s bold story and televisual ambitions had been seemingly, and frustratingly, thwarted. With Straczynski announcing TNT’s disinterest in making any more episodes, the companies lack of foresight and creative guts pretty much assured that the show was a dead horse before it launched the starting gate of its premiere air date.
In hindsight, the second half of the season, quickly aired in front of the original five episodes, contain several weak episodes that I think failed to capture the viewers imaginations. The earlier filmed adventures, not interfered with by TNT, showed much more promise, but by the time they aired the ratings had already slid. With his penchance for quirky humour showing through the short-term series- sometimes good, sometimes bad- Straczynski didn’t always impress his critics, but at least his writing style on the series remained unique and mostly impressive. Parts of CRUSADE bravely put the B5 tradition within a slightly darker universe, containing stories with pure science fiction allegory ambitions: hit and miss attempts in creating an almost TWILIGHT ZONE-esque flavor, as seen in episodes like Visitors From Down the Street and The Path of Sorrows.
Intriguingly, the most enjoyable episodes of the new show would be those closest to B5 in terms of storytelling, and this flavor would have continued had the show stayed on the air. Beyond what was eventually screened, Stracyznski’s ultimate plans for the first two seasons sounded impressive, with plans of a cure for the Drakh plague being found by the beginning to middle phase of season two, with a bigger and more dramatic storyline taking place for the crew of the Excalibur over the next few years (what those ideas were to have been remain firmly locked away for the most part in their creators head), as well as a later trilogy in which the Excalibur crew would search for a kidnapped Dureena Nafeel, in a plot linked to Galen and the Technomages. Season One would also have moved to a bold confrontation by Gideon and co. against a new Earth–based conspiracy involving advanced Shadow vessel technology (their dark influence on the past, present and future of the galaxy still keenly felt), which all sounded pretty cool. Unmade episode titles included show fourteen: To the Ends of the Earth (Gideon chases the ship that destroyed the Cerberus), Value Judgments (the return of Alfred Bester), Tried and True (a Dureena coming of age story, linked to the Thieves Guild), the intriguingly named sixteenth story, Darkness of the Soul, The Walls of Hell (from Larry DiTillio, in which the Apocalypse Box gets nasty!) and the season finale (planned as the sixteenth shot episode): The End of the Line, which was to have ended on a cliff-hanger with Gideon possibly dead.
Unforgivably promoted as a “limited series” by the TNT network, the relationship between the TV company and Straczynski had regrettably become strained, with the latter, years later, eventually venting his indomitable creative wit against the young network’s unfair interference in and cancellation of CRUSADE, alongside some of their then executive “suits” woeful inability to understand what good science fiction for television actually was or meant.
With fine guest star support from the likes of Alison Lohman, Gary Graham, Sophie Ward and Brian Thompson, and noticeable other favourite guest stars from past B5 episodes (like Marshall Teague (playing a human character and finally getting out of alien make-up as a former Narn swordman) and the late Tim Choate (playing another alien: this time a religious zealot!), CRUSADE, on its eventual debut, would get an unfair pasting from critics both generally and those from the sci-fi press of the time. Many of the B5 series die-hards in the UK and US, already unhappy with B5’s fifth and final underrated season, were upset that Stracazynski had ultimately kept his word after all and ended the original series after the five year arc, whilst some of them deliberately not watched the show or wanted to support it, unfairly spurred on by additional detrimental British fans who either showed disinterest or thought that Straczynski’s scripts for the series had become tired- that he may have been suffering from burnt out from so much lone series writing of the previous three seasons of B5. All of this controversy and bad mouthing was a great shame, as the series, in my book, just needed five or six more episodes to finally stand tall and start to gain its own identity.
Never picked up by any other US network, CRUSADE would live a unique, if short, life in reruns, repeating on the SCI-FI Channel back in the early 2000’s. With no budget to fund a further series, SCI-FI were ultimately not interested in making any future CRUSADE episodes, though they did instead later commission Straczynksi for a separate, all-new, feature length tale set within the BABYLON 5 universe: THE LEGEND OF THE RANGERS, a pilot for a possible series, which aired to a very mixed response and poor ratings in the US in January 2002. The UK’s digital channel SKY ONE were ultimately keen to add CRUSADE to their already impressive roster of sci-fi fantasy ranks and would air it in a reasonably successful early Sunday evening slot in July 1999, a part of their schedule which had previously included hit series like EARTH: FINAL CONFLICT, THE X-FILES and MILLENNIUM within its viewing strands, and showed an uninterrupted run of its one and only season.
After SKY, CRUSADE would also air on CHANNEL 4-once the once home of BABYLON 5 screenings in the UK, of which the network had prior made the most of that shows popularity and kudos with fans and critics. With CRUSADE already cancelled, and SKY having had exclusive first viewing dibs on satellite television, 4 couldn’t be bothered to promote the series or give it a decent mid-afternoon or evening time slot for terrestrial viewers, instead relegating it to the late shift at about 12.30am every Sunday night, and over thirteen mucked about with weeks. A very frustrating decision by the channel.
|Galen makes a return to the BABYLON 5 universe in THE LOST TALES.|
|Peter Woodward, Bruce Boxleitner and Tracy Scoggins poses with B5 creator J.Michael Straczynski during the making of THE LOST TALES.|
Though none of the ensemble cast of CRUSADE would return for any future series or spin-offs, the popular character of Galen would make one more comeback (so far), once again played by Peter Woodward, in the BABYLON 5: THE LOST TALES one-off movie made for WARNER BROTHERS DVD, written by Straczynski, which sees the Technomage warning John Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner) of the long-term danger that will be wrought by the alien Centauri Prime planet’s Prince Dius Vintari (Keegan MacIntosh), unless he’s killed in the here and now. Also starring Tracy Scoggins as ColonelElizabeth Lochley, THE LOST TALES, another anthology-esque story, was a reasonable success but was ultimately deemed not popular enough to justify the return of any future BABYLON 5/CRUSADE related projects. (At least not for the present. The show refuses to pass into the night, though, and rightly so…)
Whilst it’s mission was not to continue anew onscreen (though in the B5 timeline/history a cure for Earth was eventually found), CRUSADE’s one and only run would live on in the world of commercial sales of science fiction, arriving as an uncut double episode VHS tape series from WARNER BROTHERS and as an eventual full series DVD box set release, which deservedly still finds new audiences right up to today. Its brief legacy still has legs…
FILMING ORDER FOR THE SERIES:
The Needs of Earth
The Memory of War
Racing the Night (planned as the series original launch episode)
Visitors from Down the Street
Each Night I Dream of Home
The Well of Forever
The Long Road
War Zone (shown as the series launch episode)
The Path of Sorrows
Patterns of the Soul
Ruling from the Tomb
The Rules of the Game
Appearances and Other Deceits (shown as a mid-season episode)
KOOL TV’s guide to CRUSADE’s best episodes:
|Dureena helps to discover a lost civilisation in Racing the Night.|
Racing the Night. Exploring a long dead planet whose deserted 1,000 cities and technology are incredulously intact, Gideon finds his exploratory team being killed off one by one in the most gruesome ways. As darkness falls and the danger increases, the Excalibur crew, in the earliest stages of their galaxy-spanning quest, undergoes a major baptism of fire as they take on their mysterious and ancient foe, with its links to the Drakh plague.
Racing is certainly a fast-paced and effective continuance from A Call to Arms, and really should have been the planned opener right from the start.
The Needs of Earth. The first filmed episode. On the non-alliance world of Praxis Nine, Gideon and Dureena must break the rules to rescue an alien Marak fugitive containing possible information that may be helpful against the Drakh plague. But the alien exiles captors are soon in pursuit and want him back, in a tense situation where nothing is what it seems, as the true value of the prisoner and his “information” is revealed. One of the shows best episodes, with a strong moral message from Straczynski that’s worthy of Rod Serling.
|"The Truth is Out There" in Visitors From Down the Street.|
Visitors From Down the Street. The fourth original episode filmed is a fun, if hardly classic, homage to the sci-fi and B movie genres, as well as a reverse take on THE X-FILES, as two alien versions of Mulder and Scully (Instead of the latter’s longish ginger hair, think reddish tentacles!) unravel a planetary conspiracy involving the human “aliens” on Excalibur!
Done with a noir-ish feel, Visitors does runs out of plot after 25 minutes, but it's enjoyable nonetheless, and proves a fine example of the diverse storytelling that the show could have displayed and enjoyed in future seasons alongside the main format plot.
|Dr. Stephen Franklin (Richard Biggs) returns...|
Each Night I Dream of Home. An exciting, fast paced story directed by B5 actor/director Stephen Furst, this sees the continuation of the merged B5 and CRUSADE universes with the welcome return of the former’s medical hero, Dr. Stephen Franklin (Having been previously mentioned in the prior CRUSADE episode Ruling from the Tomb, and played once again by Richard Franklin), who arrives under top secret conditions on the Excalibur to discover critical new information on the Drakh plague, working alongside Dr. Chambers with a unique accompanying “cargo”. Unfortunately, the Drakh discover their plans and soon intercept them in a major battle which utilizes the combat experience and warrior spirit of Captain Lochley (the first filmed appearance of Tracy Scoggins for CRUSADE), previously picked up by the Excalibur after her injured person and Starfury were found damaged and drifting in space.
Note: Because this fifth made episode was shown last in the series, and would clash with previous continuity established in Ruling from the Tomb (which now saw the first appearance of Lochley), a new voice-over line from Gary Cole would be added to a scene in med-lab where Gideon checks out the injured captain, saying how nice it is to see her again (when, in actual fact, it was their original first meeting!).
|Dureena encounters a lost tribe of her people in Patterns of the Soul.|
Patterns of the Soul. On a distant world, Excalibur comes into conflict with EarthForce over a group of genetically engineered soldiers threatened with execution: the group having got off Earth just as the Drakh plague was being released, and who might have been deliberately infected. Meanwhile, Dureena discovers an off-shoot tribe from her long dead race.
|Best of British: Sophie Ward guests with Peter Woodward in The Well of Forever.|
The Well of Forever. Tensions rise between Gideon and Galen when they pool their ships resources in the search for a mysterious and dangerous region of hyperspace called The Well of Forever, which, legend suggest, may hold answers in the search for a cure to the Drakh plague. Soon enough, Galen, having made a promise to his old friend to find it, becomes obsessive and dangerously aggressive in his quest, and looks ready to sacrifice his friends so as to reach his own personal goal. Meanwhile, Matheson finds his loyalty to his ship and humanity tested by a member of the newly re-formed Psi-Corp...
It may be a little slow moving at times but Well is interesting and has some fine character drama moments/revelations about Galen. It also asks questions about future tantalizing plot lines, motives and mysteries for the characters that were sadly never to be explored…
War Zone. Okay, so Racing the Night would have been a much better opening episode, but this replacement series launcher, involving the Excalibur crews first battle against the Drakh, has some good atmospheric moments here and there-like Galen and Matheson's first shocked look at the ravaged Earth, as well as eerie moments where our heroes investigate the crashed Drakh ship. The rest of the main cast introductions following on from A Call To Arms are also pleasingly handled.
The Path of Sorrows. Another intriguing character based story from Straczynski, again with a touch of TWILIGHT ZONE fantasy, as a mysterious alien creature residing within a giant sphere is discovered in an abandoned ancient city. Brought up to Excalibur, it soon discovers the crew’s deepest and darkest secrets and memories, especially those linked to Galen, Gideon and Mathison, all of whom converse frequently with it. An interesting and subtle episode.
|A strange alien is discovered in The Path of Sorrows.|
The Path of Sorrows. Another intriguing character based story from Straczynski, again with a touch of TWILIGHT ZONE fantasy, as a mysterious alien creature residing within a giant sphere is discovered in an abandoned ancient city. Brought up to Excalibur, it soon discovers the crew’s deepest and darkest secrets and memories, especially those linked to Galen, Gideon and Mathison, all of whom converse frequently with it. An interesting and subtle episode.
|A deadly contagion is set loose in Appearances and Other Deceits.|
Appearances and Other Deceits. The final episode filmed for CRUSADE is a lightweight but enjoyable spin on Invasion of the Body Snatchers, with some noteworthy creepy scenes, as the Excalibur finds itself under attack from an alien presence that infiltrates by touch, alongside a new take on the Red Shirt curse of security guards previously seen in shows like STAR TREK.
As the sands of time ran out for the show, episode 12, now positioned as the middle episode of the limited season, also has to find a way of explaining why the Excalibur crew go on to wear different costumes (the original ones) in the redistributed second half. Straczynski just about gets away with solving the problem by having two camp EarthForce designers already aboard ship and making changes to the crew wardrobes when the alien threat occurs. Had the series continued with Episode Fourteen, the show would then have re-reverted back to the previous costumes.
With thanks to the MUTANT REVIEWERS FROM HELL website for selected CRUSADE image grabs.
The entire CRUSADE series is available on DVD from WARNER BROTHERS.
Get hold of great behind the scenes books on the making of BABYLON 5 and CRUSADE here:http://www.cafepress.com/b5books