Wednesday, 19 December 2012


Out in space, Captain John Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner) sizes up a deadly new foe in the BABYLON 5 TV movie Thirdspace. All images: Warner Brothers.

The final season of supreme nineties space opera BABYLON 5 may have generated a lot of controversy amongst its die-hard, worldwide fans, as did creator J. Michael Straczynski's follow up in that epic universe: CRUSADE, but the nice thing was that the series then new makers TNT, saving the show and it's sci-fi legend from a premature end with its fourth season, were quick to ride the wave of its building popularity, and a dedicated genre audience base, by commissioning numerous feature-length event TV movies appearing in, out and during its purchase of the original four seasons of B5 in syndicated stripping, and as a warm up to its commissioned fifth year. Okay, so these ratings winning projects would be of varying quality, but there's no denying that the four films comprising the TNT collection are all interestingly diverse and take the universe making heroes of Captain John Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner), Mimbari Ambassdor Delenn (Mira Furlan), former Security Chief Michael Gairbaldi (Jerry Doyle), and others, into previously unexplored and fascinating new avenues of storytelling and character, backed up by the shows then state of the art and evolving CGI effects work.

Here's a look back at those four original movies, in the original production order they were made, now playing in and out of the UK FOX channel's Xmas schedules.

Disturbing visions for Commander Ivanova (Claudia Christian) in Thirdspace.

THIRDSPACE. Filmed in between Season Four and the approaching Five commission from TNT, this is Straczynski's bold attempt to do a pure Lovecraftian horror story in his sci-fi universe, set sometime shortly after the Shadow War, with the commercial/diplomatic Babylon 5 station's Earthforce crew now seceded and outcast fugitives from their home planet's government, due to their exposing the murderous actions of the insane and ambitious President Clarke. Suffering from lack of supplies, Captain John Sheridan and his team have been fighting off increased attacks from raiders taking their goods when a hyperspace journey sees an encounter with a drifting and immense, totally alien ship possibly over a million years old. As a shady Interplanetary Expeditions research team (headed by Shari Belafonte) arrives to help unearth the crafts secrets and possible scientific riches, commercial telepath Lyta Alexander (Patricia Tallman) starts going loopy with premonitions of danger and death to come via her prior genetic manipulation from the mysterious and now departed Vorlon race, whilst many others on the station start to exhibit equally strange behaviour and soon nightmarish visions of another world and universe, populated by a race of cannibalistic aliens. Quickly, the ultimate intentions of the craft are discovered, but can the doorway to the domain of Thirdspace be shut down before it's too late...

Exploring a dangerous relic: Bill Morishi (Clyde Kusatsu) and Elizabeth Trent (Shari Belafonte).

Making the most of existing sets for the show-the reason it was filmed before Straczynski's mostly all-new environments of the In the Beginning prequel, Thirdspace starts off well, solidly building up the mystery and tension with the aforementioned Lovecraftian elements and shades of the Nigel Neale Quatermass and the Pit. Jesus Salvador Trevino's accompanying direction is fine, and has some creepily effective moments, as does the shows art direction. In front of the camera, our cast equally has stuff to enjoy, especially feisty heroine Susan Ivanova (Claudia Christian), who finely displays her kick boxing, fist packing action skills at one point. Unfortunately, the plot stops in the final act and becomes an all-out space battle mess of a finale, when what it really needed was some added and sophisticated story weight to give it a more satisfactory closure. Still, it is a lot of fun and eminently watchable-the horror angle certainly having not been as ramped up before in the series history as it is here. KOOL TV RATING: 3 out of 5

A dark time of revelation for Minbari leader Delenn (Mira Furlan) in the B5 prequel In the Beginning.

IN THE BEGINNING. It seemed like everyone was doing prequels in the nineties, so why not BABYLON 5? Especially as there was so much story material that had been talked about but never really shown over four years, making it a creative gamble definitely worth taking by Straczynski, and especially as the project was going to help launch the fifth season on a new network. In the Beginning would help acclimatise viewers into knowing who was who, who did what to who, and where they came from in this special universe. In a nutshell, the story concerns Earth's continued exploration of the stars, and their first contact with the religious warriors, the Minbari, which, unfortunately for all concerned, ends in tragic disaster with the slaying of the alien leader Dukat (a towering performance Reiner Schone), whose species, now lead by his trusted acolyte, the young and impressionable Delenn (Mira Furlan), initiates a bloody and vengeance fuelled Holy War against Humanity across the entire galaxy, with the might of their unstoppable race and war machine technology at their side, against Earth's limited resources but counter attacking spirit. Humanity's fate in this terrible time is decided at the history marking Battle of the Line, where a lone pilot, Jeffrey Sinclair (the late, much missed Michael O'Hare) becomes the salvation and key to the ultimate saving of his people from universal extinction and the soon following and totally unexpected end of the war. In between all that, Straczynksi crafts a clever and effective new story charting another hero of the saga, John Sheridan and his steady rise to captain and war hero during the early days of the conflict, as well as those histories of the series other important main characters, including Narn ambassador G'Kar (Andreas Katsulas, before his iconic role became a good guy!), Doctor Stephen Franklin (Richard Biggs) and a yery young Susan Ivanova (Claudia Christian returning for a fun cameo). Then, around all that, Straczynski builds the main framing device through which the story and history is ultimately told and completed, set in a not too distant future on his devastated home world of Centauri Prime, where the sullen, bitter and lonely rule of Emperor Londo Mollari (a uniformly excellent Peter Jurasik) - a key player in the series from the start- is coming to an even darker end, his fate inexplicably linked to that of an older, and now captured and awaiting execution Sheridan and Delenn...

A young John Sheridan uses his instincts to defeat a Minbari war ship.

Ultimately best enjoyed by fans after seeing the entire series, In the Beginning is a major success for BABYLON 5 in the long run. Mike Vejar's confident and fast-paced storytelling works well against Straczynski's fill in the blanks script. The effects work is excellent for its time, and its great to see the youngified regular actors seeing their characters first moments of glory. Continuity and the use of previous classic moments from the series are well integrated, especially footage of O'Hare/Sinclair from the important first season episode And the Sky Full of Stars. KOOL TV RATING: 4.5 out of 5

Matters of life and death for the mysterious Soul Hunter leader (Martin Sheen) in The River of Souls.

RIVER OF SOULS. Set in the years between Season Five's penultimate and final episodes, archaeologist Robert Bryson (Ian McShane), under the employ of now pharmaceutical empire running businessman Michael Garibaldi, arrives on Babylon 5 with a stolen artifact from the sacred home world of the Soul Hunters, hoping to unlock is secrets and discover immortality. Instead, he incites the wrath of that race, who soon arrive en mass at the station to demand its return, whilst Doctor Stephen Franklin (Richard Biggs) personally gets caught up in the artifact's life and death abilities and revelations. At the same time, its mystical and surreal powers are causing havoc to the station and its inhabitants, as phantoms roam its metal corridors, of which Commander Elizabeth Lochley (Tracy Scoggins) unforgettably discovers why she's recently become such a popular hit with the male inhabitants of the diplomatic/trade outpost...and not in a good way!

Hello Boys! A different side to Captain Lochley (Tracy Scoggins) is revealed...
Full cast publicity shot for The River of Souls.

The weakest of the four TV movies, River of Souls starts off with good intentions, with what should have been an intriguing and meaningful look into the soul and life after death: the former having played such an important part of the series multi-aspect storytelling since its premiere year, as well as being a fine opportunity for the late Richard Biggs to get more substantial character material to work with as Franklin. Unfortunately, the quirky story just doesn't sustain the duration and could easily have been one of the shows fifty minute episodes. Boredom sets in quickly with primary guest stars Ian McShane and THE WEST WING's Martin Sheen looking lost in it all (in fact, Sheen apparently hated working on the show and pretty much disowns his performance as the strange talking, alien Soul Hunter leader. He originally thought he was going to be playing McShane's role). Overall, more than anything else, River will probably be best remembered for the titillating scenes of the hologram Elizabeth Lochley looking great in her space lingerie, of which promotional images were splattered all over the various film and sci-fi magazines of the period. KOOL TV RATING 2.5 out of 5.

Sheridan, Lochley and Garibaldi lead the fight against the Drakh in A Call to Arms.

A CALL TO ARMS. It's the eve of the fifth anniversary of Sheridan's great and good-intentioned galactic alliance, and a huge celebration is planned. At the same time, he and business entrepreneur Michael Garaibaladi are overseeing the shakedown tests of the first two, hot off the production line prototype starships that will see in the next generation of the protectorate Ranger army. Unfortunately, despite all the good work and noble intent going on, the evil Drakh, seeking revenge on their curtailed power with the loss of their once masters, the Shadows, plan a huge act of retaliation and revenge on both Sheridan and Earth by unleashing the last of a deadly fleet of planet killers against them. Soon, our noble, greyer hero, helped by the mysterious Technomage Galen (a charismatic Peter Woodward) and a motley Earth/alien crew, race against the clock, using their new experimental firepower to win Earth's government over in mobilising its forces against the mighty Drakh menace. As the two great battle fleets lock horns and blaster weapons over the green/blue home of Humanity, the conflict is won, but the war is lost. as the Drakh survivors successfully unleash a deadly bacterial plague into the planet's atmosphere, of which the Alliance will have only five years to discover a cure before all life on Earth is extinct. The clock is ticking...

The enigmatic Galen (Peter Woodward) joins the series.
A time of crisis for Sheridan and Dureena (Carrie Dobro) on the bridge of the Excalibur.

A deliberate and exhilarating action adventure, A Call To Arms is another directorial success for innovative with a budget series regular Mike Vejar. The final original TNT B5 film from Straczynski, primarily acting as a passing the torch primer for the new TNT spin-off series, CRUSADE, Call is a  much underrated and exciting film, full of fresh promise and ideas potential (the visually stunning and powerful starship Excalibur being the particular standout, what with its intriguing submarine like interior and mixing of Human, Vorlon and Minbari technologies, fast becoming a terrific visual creation), whilst the return of the Drakh as a believable nemesis for use across the two B5 series is decently handled. Overall, it's a lively and action-packed send off, done in a stirring incident packed way, though it's a shame that a few more original cast members couldn't have been fitted into the tale beyond Bruce Boxleitner, Jerry Doyle and Tracy Scoggins. Boxleitner is great as the older, but still gung- ho Sheridan, as, too, is Doyle. Newcomers and soon CRUSADE regulars Peter Woodward as the mysterious and often sarcastic Galen and Carrie Dobro as Thieves Guild alien Dureena Nafeel, whose extinct race had prior contact with one of the Shadow's doomsday weapons, are a superb new addition to the series, the latter particularly bringing a fresh new perspective to the series. Special mention to guest star Tony Todd as the brave and resourceful Captain Anderson of the starship Victory, who, with his gallant crew, sacrifice their lives in a last ditch effort to save the Earth. Only the distinctive but ultimately lacking incidental music by newcomer composer Evan Chen, replacing notable series regular Christopher Framke, slightly hampers the project. 
KOOL TV RATING: 4 out of 5.

Get hold of the original BABYLON 5 TV movies here: Babylon 5: The Movie Collection: Bruce Boxleitner, Jerry Doyle, Peter Jurasik, Bill Mumy, Richard Biggs, Mira Furlan: Movies & TV

First lady of BABYLON 5, Claudia Christian, who played sexy and sassy Commander Susan Ivanova in four seasons and two TV movies, has recently published her autobiography, which includes her time working on the series. It's received rave reviews.  Purchase it here: Babylon Confidential: A Memoir of Love, Sex, and Addiction: Claudia Christian, Morgan Grant Buchanan: 9781937856069: Books

Claudia's FACEBOOK page: Claudia Christian

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