FIRE IN SPACE

Review By Matthew Wharmby

PREMISE: When Cylon fighters packed with explosives make suicide runs against the Galactica bridge and landing bay, Adama is critically injured. The Galactica's understrength firefighters must fight a hopeless battle against an inferno threatening to engulf the cut-off Rejuvenation Center.

After who knows how long on battle alert, at least Lieutenant Boomer has some time to himself. He strolls into the Galactica's Rejuvenation Center, crowing that 'now all I have to do for the next twenty-four centars is relax.' Boxey and Athena are present, taking some R&R of their own. Boxey greets Boomer with the revelation that he's trained Muffey to sniff out mushies, then offers the lieutenant a game of Compartment Billiards, which looks like a cross between table tennis and that table-top arcade game in which you used to smash a hockey puck-like thing from end to end (it has a name, if anyone knows it!)

Up on the bridge, things aren't going so smoothly. Lit for red alert, the bridge tracks an inbound attack wedge of Cylon fighters. 'Looks like a Cylon combat probe,' Tigh surmises. 'Probably from that basestar we eluded ten centars ago'. Eyes grow wide as more and more appear on scan, indicating a full-strength attack. Blue Squadron is already airborne, and Apollo confirms Adama's fears. Typically, Starbuck isn't worried, even when Sheba counts more than a hundred enemy craft. 'Gives us more to shoot at,' he enthuses, and this is certainly the case when the vipers open up and tear into the front formation.

On the Galactica, Boomer forgets his furlough in a hurry when the klaxon sounds and he sprints for the door. However, he is beaten to it when the doors slide shut as a precaution. Frustrated, all Boomer can do is instruct everyone in the Rejuvenation Center to sight tight and ride out the impending battle. 'Don't worry,' Boxey reassures all present. 'My dad'll take care of those ol' Cylons.'

On the front lines, Apollo's vipers continue to blow away raider after raider, but are puzzled when none of them offer any resistance, simply wading into the fire. 'Follow the programmed mission,' intones one Cylon pilot before being destroyed himself. 'Ignore the colonial vipers.' It soon becomes clear what the Cylons are up to when two raiders manage to slip free of the viper bombardment and careen towards the Galactica. Apollo tracks the first one as it banks sharply and positions itself on a headlong run right for the Galactica's bridge. Shocked, he charges after it with lasers blazing, but the explosion as he destroys it just in time sends a massive shock wave right through the front of the battlestar. Omega leaps for his life as portions of the bridge roof disintegrate and come crashing down, but Commander Adama is right underneath them and is felled. We cut away from a shot of Adama, face down. Starbuck is after the second Cylon fighter, noting with alarm that it intends to ram Alpha Bay. 'I can't get him in time!' he cries, as the raider reaches the bridge and then pulls up, causing a thunderous explosion to rip through the bay. The shock wave travels deep into the Galactica, throwing everybody in the Rejuvenation Center off their feet and in some cases, clear across the room. Everything flammable between Alpha Bay and the centre of the Galactica begins to blaze uncontrollably.

The bridge has been devastated. Tigh, nursing an injured hand, attempts to take charge following Adama's incapacitation. Sparks from small explosions continue to crack through the ruined bridge as Omega stumbles across the wreckage. Tigh feels Adama's pulse, but dare not move the commander, ordering Dr Salik summoned immediately. Adama is barely conscious and groaning, bravely attempting to assess the situation. 'It's bad,' Tigh can only state blankly when asked about the extent of the damage. Salik and a pair of med-techs make it to the bridge and immediately set to work on the shattered Adama. It doesn't look good at all. 'Multiple fractures... the man's taken a lot of fragments,' Salik reports as he runs analysers over Adama's prone form. Almost as distressing is that deep scan has been completely destroyed, more or less blinding the Galactica. 'Vipers will be our eyes,' are Adama's last words before he is stretchered away to the Life Station.

A shocked Apollo manages to re-establish contact with the Galactica after the remaining Cylons withdraw in satisfaction. Tigh gives orders to the effect that two squadrons will remain airborne, while Blue Squadron can return to Beta Bay. Alpha Bay is burning out of control, as is only too clear from the vipers' cockpit view as they approach their flagship.

In the Rejuvenation Center, Boomer and Athena pick themselves up. 'I thought we were too far inside to take a major hit,' notes Athena as she inspects everyone for bruises (many) and broken bones (the luckless individual who got catapulted across the room and rebounded off the pinball machine).'We are,' protests Boomer. 'That was something else!' In any case, communications are out, as Boomer finds out when he picks the telecom off the wall and discovers it out of order. More ominous forebodings are afoot when they see the smoke beginning to curl its way under the door. The fire is a fair bit closer than they think.

The Galactica's fire captain makes his report to Colonel Tigh as rudimentary power is restored. Apollo has also made it back to the bridge, where he observes Tigh's injured hand and Omega's face covered in bruises. Having cut from a scene where the Galactica's firefighters are already being forced back by the fire, the fire leader reports with dismay that the boraton mist control center has been destroyed, crippling their ability to use this fire-fighting material to its full potential. Pointing to a schematic of the Galactica on a viewscreen, he marks the progress of the fire, which is advancing in a straight line from port to starboard. Evacuation procedures were successful in all the threatened areas - except one. 'The Rejuvenation Center - it's been cut off.' Apollo gapes with horror as he is told Athena and Boxey are trapped there. And if the solium storage tanks located near that precise corridor should happen to catch fire, well, you don't need to be told.

Apollo goes from that grim scene to an even gloomier one in the Life Center, where Adama is strapped to a gurney. Dr Salik tells Apollo bluntly that he has no intention of operating on Adama (there being a fragment lodged in the wall of his heart) while the energiser is under threat. If the fire were to hit it while Adama was on the operating table, all the power would go out. Apollo has to agree with the doctor before gaining his permission to talk to his father briefly. All he can do is reassure him - in fact, they reassure each other - before Adama asks after Athena and Boxey. This is where Cassiopeia has to step in to tell him no more visitors.

As smoke continues to seep into the Rejuvenation Center and the people within start to wilt, Boomer has a desperate brainwave. He takes out his screwdriver and begins to dismantle the door mechanism. 'When I was a kid growing up on Caprica,' he explains ironically, 'I hotlinked more hovermobiles than there are doors on this battlestar'. As if trying to prove crime does actually pay, Boomer orders everyone to hustle through the door as soon as he touches the appropriate wires together to short it open. In theory, he should be able to get every door open in succession until they reach safety. Tensions mount as his first attempt damn near electrocutes him, while smoke is now pouring through the far door, but his second try is successful. Boomer leaps through just in time for the far door to blow open from the heat. They now find themselves in the next door room. An air shaft is some consolation, but the lack of provisions to be found here isn't. Athena notes ominously that there are only five life masks, to which Boomer recommends sharing them. Boomer moves to work on the next door along, only to burn his hand on the red-hot surface - they're trapped. Boomer has to spill this very quietly to Athena, but they're not stupid - both she and Boxey know quite well what's going on.

Tigh takes another report from the beleaguered fire captain, whose team is clearly overwhelmed. Without the mega-pressure pumps to hose the fire down with boraton, they can't stop it from spreading to the energisers that power them. Apollo, pleading for people to be detached to try and rescue his family from the Rejuvenation Center, has to be told firmly by Tigh that the whole battlestar's safety has to come first. Suddenly Apollo has an idea. Since the current pumps haven't enough power to smother the fire in both the centre of the Galactica and the landing bay, he suggests fitting the pumps to vipers, which could make runs against the landing bay with the appropriate speed and power. Tigh agrees, and Apollo, Starbuck and Sheba launch.

A tiring Boomer, seeing the wounded slumped against the wall and ailing, also sees the air shaft in the room they are trapped in. Somehow they come up with the idea to send Muffey in there. The gamble is enormous, given that the ventilation shafts could lead anywhere on the ship as well as to the bridge, but in goes the daggit. Up on the bridge, Apollo and Tigh had mulled over the concept, but rejected it out of hand that Boomer would never send Boxey (the only other person or animal small enough to get into the shafts) in there. So you get the feeling they're not really expecting Muffey to succeed. Apollo, Starbuck and Sheba get their vipers ready for the strafing run against Alpha Landing Bay. The weight of the boraton they're carrying will make the attack runs rather unwieldy, Apollo warns, with the g-forces going into the attack liable to be steeper and thus more dangerous. Starbuck brushes off any foreboding with the usual backchat. In they go, with Apollo shooting his load first (did that sound rude?) and pulling out (enough already!). Sheba is next, firing a second round of boraton into the blazing bay, and finally Starbuck steams in. His angle is too steep and his speed too fast, but he pulls up just in time after shooting. 'I knew exactly what I was doing!' he justifies, with only a little strain to his voice. The fire flickers out under the boraton onslaught, and all three pilots can count themselves satisfied. However, aboard the Galactica, the pumps blow. Another fireflash thus cannot be tackled now, and the bay reignites. The three vipers see it on their way into Beta Bay, with predictable dismay. 'We didn't get it,' Starbuck groans.

With the pumps fading, power drops begin to occur. Salik and Cassiopeia look about them in unease as the lights in the Life Center fade and go on again. It is here that Salik has to make a decision to operate on Adama right there and then, as the power drops are making his life signs deteriorate anyway. Tigh comes to see Adama just prior to the operation, but cannot tell him any good news. It turns out he knows of Athena and Boxey's plight, having overheard talk of the fire's severity. But there is one way, Adama manages to groan, 'one drastic way... place explosive charges on the hull', to blow a hole in it to smother the fire. Knowing that such a move will probably doom anyone still surviving in that section, he is resigned. 'Put your best people on the job,' he pleads with Tigh before he is wheeled away for surgery.

The temperature in the main energiser's section starts to inch up to critical levels, and we see flames begin to lick closer to the solium tanks. As Apollo and Tigh plan the strategy of placing charges on the hull, by which Apollo and Starbuck will go weightless in spacesuits to be monitored by Sheba in a viper, it comes to the captain to speed the possibility of Muffey's finding the bridge by baiting him with mushies. Both Tigh and Omega feel decidedly daft placing a tray of the fluorescent green delicacies in the air shaft, but it's their only hope.

Apollo and Starbuck inch out of the Galactica's topmost portal, and make their weightless way across the hull. Their boots and gloves are magnetised, and so are the charges they're carrying with them. Care is the watchword though, as one slip or missed handhold will send them careering off into space. Apollo has decided not to take tethers with them, as they'd just slow them down (and you can guess the outcome of that, can't you? Honestly, this review is writing itself!) Meanwhile, Sheba launches to keep an eye on them.

As Tigh and Omega watch the readings reach ever more dangerous levels, a clatter diverts their attention. Muffey has made it! They find a note rolled up inside the daggit's leg and obey the instructions on it, tying a plastic bag full of lifemasks to his tail and sending him back. Tigh also encloses a note of his own, advising Boomer that he intends to blow the hull, and to cover their asses accordingly. Tigh takes regular reports from Apollo out on the hull, warning them of the severe time constraints. They have to get the charges laid and out of there so they can blow them in the correct pattern. As they work their way across, Starbuck grabs a rusty handhold which breaks off in his hand, forcing Apollo to have to grab him by the ankle. It's not an easy task!

Unnervingly, as the Life Center is in the midst of operating on Adama, power drains continue to affect the lighting and equipment. Trying not to appear unruffled behind his surgical mask, Salik orders the laser scalpel brought up to carry out the delicate work of cutting through the commander's heart wall.

Although diverted several times by flames billowing up through the air vents, Muffey makes it back through the shafts to Boomer and co, who are now very much out of it, gasping on what sooty air they have left. They eagerly snatch the masks and gulp down some oxygen, but as their backs are turned, Muffey leaps back into the vent and away. A shocked Boxey attempts to follow his escaping pet, but is yanked back by Boomer. Having read Tigh's message, all the party get down and cover themselves.

'We're setting the last ones now,' Apollo goes as Tigh informs him their time has run out, looking with alarm at the needle on the scanner, now bedded in right at the end of the red zone. Accordingly, the already melting door to the energiser compartment finally blows apart, exposing the solium tanks. Tracking his way across the hull with the final two magnetic charges, Apollo tells Starbuck to get back inside to avoid the impending blast; he will get in through an adjacent hatch once the last two mines are planted. But after they're set, Apollo fumbles a handhold and sails off into thin air, arms and legs windmilling uselessly. 'Starbuck, get inside!' he shouts, but his best mate sees Apollo's distress, and without a thought for hs own safety, leaps skyward after him.

At that moment, the charges blow. Ferocious timed explosions tear the top off the battlestar, sucking the fire out into the vacuum of space. The exhausted occupants of the storage compartment next door to the Rejuvenation Center hang onto their hats as the pressure escapes in a roar, but in microns, the fire is out. For good. Tigh and Omega are exhilarated and relieved, but their joy turns to fear when they can't raise Apollo or Starbuck. 'Good Lord - the explosion must have gotten them,' says Tigh, optimistic to the last. A distressed Sheba peels off from her position covering the hull, determined to find them. And she does - some way out from the Galactica, clinging onto each other's hands, drifting in space.

Tying up the loose ends, we cut to the Life Center, where Adama is sitting up, feeling and looking better. Apollo thanks Boomer with tears in his eyes. 'You pulled them all through.' Boomer is modest, and notes that there was one casualty. Little Boxey is heartbroken. 'Muffey's never coming back, is he?' A beaming Starbuck isn't so sure. With a flourish, he wheels in Muffey himself, charred almost down to the bare metal, but still able to wheeze out a bark. Turns out that the daggit went back into the shaft to drag out a downed fireman he saw there. All smiles as they light upon the exhausted but happy daggit at the end of a draining day.

RATING: 3 1/2 out of 5 (Good).


THOUGHTS:

* There's not an awful lot to say about this episode, come to think of it. The premise is stripped down to the bone, as simple as you can get.

* Plenty of footage half-inched from The Guns of Navarone, specifically large portions of industrial plant bursting into flame by night.

* The things dogs will do for food! My old dog would have done exactly the same as the much-maligned Muffey. And saved the fireman.

* Boomer used to be a bit of a tearaway in his youth, doing the Caprican equivalent of nicking cars. Although an undeniable stereotype, it's good for the plot (despite his failure in the long term). It's amazing what we realise Boomer can set his mind to when the chips are down - it'll only be a few more episodes before they go 'Oh, by the way, Boomer's an electronics expert as well'!

* Tigh is such an incurable pessimist. If anything can go wrong in this episode, you can be sure Tigh will milk it for all the dramatic value it's worth! The suitably doom-laden music adds to the effect, producing some feelings of real desperation.

* All the music is good in this episode, particularly the eerie themes accompanying Apollo and Starbuck's weightless crawl across the bleak hull.

* Slight plot hole. Apollo and Tigh discuss the possibility of sending Boxey down the ventilation shaft first, reducing the dramatic impact of Boomer coming up with the suggestion to send Muffey. Thus the surprise of Muffey finally reaching the bridge isn't as exciting as it could be.

* Muffey-haters will probably be glad to see the creature working for its keep for once, and taking a roasting into the bargain. I wonder how the poor old chimp locked inside fared with fire blazing up all around it!

* Definitely Omega's breakout episode. He gets more airtime in this episode than any of the others combined. Dr Salik gets a better workout than usual as well.

* Another one for sci-fi purists to snipe at, but they do have a point. Why not blow the hull in the first place?


Matthew Wharmby's Galactica Episode Reviews

Enter Sheba's Galaxy