GALACTICA DISCOVERS EARTH

By Matthew Wharmby

Premise: After thirty yahrens' slow trekking across the universe, a remnant of the Galactican fleet finally discovers Earth - only to discover that it's not the paradise they were expecting. Nor can it begin to defend itself (or them) against an approaching Cylon fleet. Commander Adama orders pairs of warriors to contact influential scientists on Earth to help them speed up the planet's technological capabilities, but embittered warrior Xaviar absconds with his own plans.

Galactica 1980Great hope turns to utter despair as Commander Adama (with heavy beard) first records in his log the uplifting news that the fleet's long haul is finally over, and then is shown the appalling discovery that Earth is not the paradise of advanced, free beings they had been depending on for all these yahrens. Dr Zee reveals all this to Adama in a dispassionate scene played out in his advanced and quite sumptuous conference chamber. On the viewfinder comes scenes from Earth media, which include footage of what looks like the movie Bullitt, Woody Woodpecker getting his head pummelled soundly, and a contemporary newscaster. The ABC logo is slotted in cheekily to remind the viwers just what channel they're on. With all this, which would depress your average Earthling, Dr Zee sighs 'We cannot land.' As if that's not bad enough, the Cylons have crept up behind them and are now in scanner range, waiting patiently for their chance.

Cut to Our Heroes, or more specifically the Next Generation, as the unavailability, or unwillingness, of Richard Hatch and Dirk Benedict to reprise their roles as Apollo and Starbuck, has led to a hurried rewrite which places this series thirty yahrens after the original Battlestar Galactica. Perhaps to the relief of all those who hated Boxey, he's now in his mid-thirties with a new name, Captain Troy (we find this out through a strained scene aboard the freighter Gemini, in which he is asked 'why did they ever call you Boxey?'). The asker, his sidekick Lieutenant Dillon, is 29-odd, played by Barry van Dyke with a lot more flippancy than Kent McCord's deadly serious Troy, and together they're not very convincing clones of Apollo and Starbuck.

An interesting point to ponder; Is Barry van Dyke really left-handed? Since the original stars were one right-hander (Starbuck) and one southpaw (Apollo), was this a convenient excuse to reuse the old laser holsters? Which, incidentally, omit the original series' decorative trio of rifle cartridges.

Troy and Dillon? Looks like Starbuck and Apollo to me!Once aboard the Galactica, Troy and Dillon join the assembled complement of warriors in Dr Zee's conference chamber, there to endure a lecture about Earth. One of the more controversial features of Galactica 1980 was the network's insistence that educational dialogue be plumbed into the characters' lines, to fit with the child-friendly new airtime of Sundays at 7pm. We are thus treated to visuals of Los Angeles and its environs, which give rise to one rare priceless line in the form of Dillon's amused aside 'Looks like a nice neat formation; it must take a lot of skill and practice' when referring to a shot of the Ventura Freeway hopelessly gridlocked. Another cheap shot at Earth comes when Troy misinterprets LA's haze of smog as an electronic defence shield. Then the fun starts, as Dr Zee's calculations indicate that if the Galactica does land as intended, the Cylons will wade into Earth unopposed. Accordingly, a lengthy sequence ensues which combines stock footage with that from the movie 'Earthquake', and depicts a large force of Cylon raiders tearing into Hollywood. There is actually some new footage to be seen here, but you've got to blink or you'll miss it.

A rare spanish card of Dr. Zee's chamberSuitably chastened, those assembled are warned that any attempts to settle the population immediately would frighten the primitive Earthlings into paranoia which would result in not only their own destruction, but that of the Galactican fleet itself. Unimpressed, an officer stands up. 'Then what do we do?', he scoffs. 'Simply go back?' This is Xaviar, Galactica 1980's low-rent answer to Baltar, but played well by Richard Lynch, whose appalling skin and psychopathic demeanour have made him such an in-demand character villain. (He played much the same role in 'The Gun on Ice Planet Zero', and twenty years on, was even roped in to play Count Iblis in Richard Hatch's much-lauded trailer (which I've yet to see!). Dr Zee's solution is to detach teams of warriors to curry favour with selected scientists and notables on Earth, in order to subtly advance the planet's technological and defensive capabilities with the minimum of suspicion. After all, with the Cylons not having figured in 'a billon star miles', it's not as if the warrior complement have a lot to do.

The next two scenes do explore some of the more frustrating and exasperating aspects of trying to get by on Earth, with Troy's bemused question to his grandfather as to why Earth has no central government with whom to negotiate; and Dillon's disappointed attitude to the new invisibility screen the warrior teams are to be equipped with. 'Hiding from the people we've come to help'. That will cover the invisibility gimmick, which I've always thought is a cop-out in sci-fi. For the purposes of this show, perhaps it was easier on the budget to dub in actors' voices while showing scenes with nobody apparently in them! Still, something of a portentous atmosphere is present in both this scene and the following one where Troy and Dillon launch. Even now, it's only just beginning to sink in that they've reached their elusive goal after a flight across half the universe.

Vipers enter Earth's atmosphere for the first timePrior to launching, Adama and Troy discussed which countries they were going to approach, Adama conceding that only the ones with 'large pockets of freedom' would be considered. However, while in flight, Dillon idly wonders (amid lascivious thoughts of a planetful of women to tap off of) what the place their fellow pilot Kip got is like - the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. No sooner do Troy and Dillon's vipers hit Earth's atmosphere than they're picked up by ground-based radar, who immediately jump to the conclusion that they're Soviet aircraft. Nice little touches of Cold War, to continue the 'might is right' philosophy that the original Battlestar Galactica liked to espouse. Sure enough, a pair of US fighters (F-16s, I think...) are launched after them, and rather hastily fire on them. The vipers simply charge away from their pursuers using turbos and invisibility screen, before deciding to get on the ground as quickly as possible. One hair-raising point - where did those missiles fired by the F-16s end up? You can't go around firing heatseeking missiles over populated areas and not expect them to come down sooner or later! But that's not Our Heroes' problem as they open the holds of their two-man vipers and wheel out some very cool-looking turbocycles painted to match their ships. We soon see that these things fly, and they have to use that function to escape a bunch of scummy-looking bikers who ride up on them on Interstate 5. That scene's fairly pointless, and worth skipping, other than some cheap thrills at Harley-Davidsons and their riders being catapulted off freeway escarpments.

After this poor welcome to Southern California, Troy and Dillon surmise that they should get out of their Colonial uniforms and into something more approximating what the locals are wearing. When in Rome... Said garments are a pair of PVC puffa jackets, one black (Troy) and one brown (Dillon). Their flight trousers are simply pulled out of their boots, and hey presto - the height of fashion, 1980 style. They roll up at a rural service station and get down to the task of getting in touch with the scientist they've been assigned, a Dr Donald Mortinson. Unfortunately, they soon feel like mugs when they can't get the payphone to work and have to resort to using their wrist computrons to make it spew quarters (probably nickels in those days). A female passer-by spots them and threatens to 'turn them into the attendant'. One of the best lines from the novelisation should have been included here. 'Metamorphosis? Transubstantiation? Maybe these people are more advanced than I thought!' The pair admit defeat and fall back on an explanation of being strangers, while trying to get a close look at how the woman uses the phone. She is Jamie Hamilton, who's on her way to LA for a job interview with the UBC network (not ABC! Honest!). When it drops that the pair are on their way to see Dr Mortinson, Jamie offers to give them a lift. Now we see how anachronistic this show is - these days any young, attractive woman (and Robyn Douglass is, it must be said) offering to give two strange blokes a lift would either be the protagonist of a slasher film or a porno! Without care for her own safety, Jamie fits Troy and Dillon into the back of her yellow '65 Mustang and wheels to LA, where she drops them off at the Pacific Institute of Technology. However, at that moment it's being picketed by assorted placard carriers upset at Mortinson's apparently cavalier use of nuclear power. 'Is this what all the fuss is about?' scoffs Dillon, in what isn't the first of his entertaining put-downs of Earth's primitive status.

Troy and Dillon meet Jamie HamiltonUpstairs, the man himself, Dr Mortinson (played by the dad from the Brady Bunch, on whom we're now unable to look without thinking of his later reputation!) is frustrated by the protesters, who don't seem to be able to grasp that what he's trying to do with nuclear power is make it safe. To make that quite clear, one flings a rock at the window he's staring out of and knocks a rut into his head. While he's in the bathroom picking broken glass out of his eyeball, Troy and Dillon steal in (having popped the guard with a little stun charge from their diminutive pistols). They can't resist taking a dig at the inaccurate half-life degeneration thesis the professor has left up on his computer. 'I had trouble with that one myself,' quips Dillon. Having to think fast now that the secretary has called security on them, Troy alters the offending line and the two leave. Outside, they're quickly apprehended by additional security, whom they magnanimously decide not to waste. Oblivious to the fuss and bother that's taken place inside his office, Mortinson returns from his bathroom break and lights upon the corrected program. Speechless with astonishment, he begs his secretary to reveal if the people who altered it had left any means of contact (so much for sympathy!), as they 'could be as important to mankind as the coming of the Messiah'.

Troy and Dillon are hustled off to jail, but in a lazy plot device, they're not relieved of their weapons, computers or shoelaces. The dozy station cops are mildly surprised to discover that neither of them have fingerprints to speak of. (They could always have poked out their eyes like in 'Demolition Man', but this was 1980, and the child-friendly Sunday death zone airtime at that, so be fair. The lads are sharing their cell with a bum, who provides listless comic relief when his terror at watching his cellmates disappear before his eyes shocks him into a new life of undoubted churchgoing sobriety. Don't drink, kids! When one of the cops comes to investigate the old boy's rantings, Troy and Dillon rush him and snatch the keys to let themselves out and the cop in.

The cast of Galactica 1980Now their wrist energisers still work, but the trouble is just starting as out in the fields, their two vipers shimmer back into view. A kid and his dog happen upon the ships, and their gape-faced awe (the kid, not the dog) ends Part One. Next week we pick up with Willy, as this kid styles himself, rushing home to tell his dad he's found a pair of spaceships in the garden. His dad quite plausibly tells him to pull the other one, it's got bells on, but is eventually persuaded to have a look for himself.

Jamie has reached UBC, where her interview is going none too smoothly until she's interrupted by a surprise phone call. It's Dillon, enthusing that 'it works!' As she speaks to him, she sees news footage (this, being, after all, a TV station) of the two being hustled into a police car outside the Pacific Institute of Technology). Disgusted that the two lads she 'innocently' picked up are hippie commie terrorists, who are apparently using their one phone call from jail to exploit her trust, Jamie hangs up on him.

I liked the ruse that Jamie assumed she'd get the job, so casually mentioned the name of the station as a point of reference for Troy and Dillon to contact her. This is used again as Dr Mortinson rings, having pried out of Miss Carlyle that Jamie is somehow hooked up with the lads. Mr Brooks, the station manager, now comes out of his office to see why some random job applicant is making personal calls on a phone belonging to a station she's not even employed at, when the magic words 'Dr Mortinson - Nobel Prizewinner' make his face light up. 'Why's he calling us? He hates the press.' Thinking fast, Brooks offers Jamie the job if she can wangle an interview with Mortinson, discounting the two guys entirely. Jamie accepts, as you would, and offers to meet Dr Mortinson.

Shadowed by UBC's best camera crew concealed in an Econoline van, Jamie meets Mortinson as planned, but he's more interested in the two blokes (well, it was Robert Reed...!). Recognising that this is a feeble attempt to get him on film, he suggests they decamp, and drive off in Mortinson's car. Jamie can't resist tagging along, thus setting herself up for regular scrapes with these daft intergalactic castoffs. As the UBC van sets off after them, Dillon gets quickly frustrated with the Earthman's inability to shake their pursuers, and grabs the wheel himself. We get the point that he's never driven a car before, but the first time I tried it I didn't ski my Corolla onto two wheels! Several minutes of freewheeling round the Universal backlot get old fast, especially when a cop car joins in, but at least Dillon wrecks a shopfront to cover their escape (via the lame invisibility stunt, which naturally fools the cops and press).

One of the Galactica 1980 turbocyclesHaving established a relationship (enough!!) with Dr Mortinson, it's time for Troy and Dillon to get the Hades out of here as Adama beeps them and instructs them to return to the Galactica ASAP. As they make it back to their vipers, they discover that Jamie has stuck to them like a limpet. The easy option is to disregard non-fraternisation rules and take her with them, figuring that the shock of their origins will soon shut her up. It works, and they're away, streaking across the night sky just in time to convince Willy Griffin's old man that his boy hasn't been sniffing glue again.

Troy and Dillon report to Adama's office, but he's not amused when Jamie whips out a dictaphone (hmmm, I usually use a finger myself!) and attempts to get 'film at six'. Ever prepared for dealing with pesky reporters (after all, his grandson's mother was a newswoman!) he barks at her 'would you please put that recording device away!' and the three of them can get down to why Adama called the missions back so soon. It transpires that Xaviar has disagreed with Adama over the merits of introducing technological advancements to Earth at the present unobtrusive rate, and has decided to take matters into his own hands. It is then revealed that time travel is now within the capability of the Galactican fleet (invented by Dr Zee of course), but has been stolen by Xaviar for a journey to an as-yet unspecified time period. They repair to Dr Zee's chambers, where he tries to get around the fact that he knows nothing about the time Xaviar has gone to (how refreshing that there's something this much-vilified kid DOESN'T know!). Jamie fills in with some educational dialogue about the inter-war period and Hitler's rise to power. As this was precisely my O-level syllabus, I can concur. Chillingly, it is the one-balled little Austrian dictator himself that Xaviar has chosen to aid, no doubt figuring that a military regime would be most amenable to introducing technological advancements, not to mention being capable of getting them into service quickly.

Troy, Dillon and Jamie launch for Earth (now we know why we need the two-seat vipers), where a 'Dr Who titles' effect marks their passage through time. I've got to say how little I like time travel as a TV sci-fi plot device. There are only a few fields where it's really worked (Star Trek being one of them), but, interestingly, the novelisation of Galactica Discovers Earth makes a much better job of it. To make it blunt, time travel in Battlestar Galactica just doesn't work. Unless, of course, you get a chance to reuse some of the costumes, which in this case are the mercilessly bleached flight jackets and trousers which normally indicate that you're under the spell of the Ship of Lights. They certainly stick out like sore thumbs in 1944 Nazi Germany, where the prevailing fashion is Wehrmacht green-grey, but that doesn't stop them from taking out several interloping German soldiers with stun shots. They'd already run into a Luftwaffe patrol (unfortunately, the 'Battle of Britain' footage used also included Spitfires among the Me109s - bad, bad error!) but Jamie's jingoistic exhortation to Troy to 'knock the rotten Nazis out of the sky!' goes unheeded, as any pilot they bring down could be Helmut Kohl's old man (oh no, what a shame!). Dillon gets his two pfennigs in once again, with the 'what's that stuff coming out of their ships?' line, but Jamie bests him. 'They're called bullets, you dummy!'

A rare press photo of Robyn Douglass as Jamie HamiltonThe three time travellers look up and see a B-17 sail into view, under heavy flak (yet more footage pinched from a war movie, but I wouldn't mind knowing which one). The USAAF plane is downed by the anti-aircraft fire, but a lone parachutist makes it down. Imagine his surprise when he's greeted by three apparent Americans casually wandering the hills and dales of Mecklenburg (as we are soon informed it's Peenemunde they're after). For Major Stockwell, whose excessively long hair and moustache wouldn't have quite suited US Army regulations, the problem isn't their dazzling non-camouflage, but the fact that they appear to be horning in on his mission!

The mission is, I think (although I wasn't concentrating too highly, I've got to admit), to at least observe the V-2 launch. We soon see that Xaviar is thick with the Wehrmacht brass supervising the event, and has presumably equipped the prototype with a little more than what didn't do much more than demolish a few shopfronts in South East London. It becomes clear that his reputation is already on the line, to conform to the 'nasty' stereotype of Germans that persists to this day.

A poster for the Galactica 1980 telemovieThe nastiest, and perhaps most surprising, use of Nazi demonology in this otherwise kids' show is demonstrated when the lads happen upon a transport of Jews about to be shipped to Auschwitz. Interestingly, the word 'Jews' is never used in this episode. The lads do manage to disguise themselves as German soldiers (although their hairstyles are an anachronism - not to mention Jamie's!), but for now can only shoot at the boxcar guards. Make note of the fact that Dillon accidentally left his laser on kill mode when he was firing here, as it'll become useful a little later. Not wishing to disparage the lax security at the Peenemunde air base, Troy and Jamie sneak into the base complex and position themselves around Xaviar, who crows at them sotto voce, knowing they won't be able to do anything with all these squareheads around. 'Watch your future's end,' he leers, as the supervising General (played by Curt Lowens, more or less reprising his Battlestar Galactica role as Eastern Alliance Enforcer Krebs, and in much the same uniform) observes the V-2 launch.

Dillon and Stockwell have arranged themselves on high ground along the base's perimeter, but Dillon is almost offended at what a mad goose chase Adama seems to have sent them on. Taking one look at the V-2, he scoffs 'It's just a crude pulse jet!' Which, presumably, makes it easier for us to accept when he zeroes in on its launch with his laser (after a heart-stopping moment when his first shot is still set on stun) and blows it to pieces. 'This man is a spy,' declares General Jodl in Xaviar's general direction. 'Take him out and have him shot.' Troy and Jamie oblige, but Xaviar wriggles out of their grasp as they're getting him back to their vipers. Activating his invisibility screen, he gets away. With that somewhat Pyrrhic victory, the Galacticans and their reluctant Earth pal can set about making sure the deportation convoy never gets rolling. They accomplish this by charging through the air on their bikes, firing on the guards, while Stockwell springs the Jews from the boxcars. The historical device is then thrown in that the local Nazis can't pursue them, since their unit has just been ordered to Normandy. The D-Day landings are commencing!

Troy and Dillon take aimHate to spoil this neat historical revision, but if it's early June, why are the German soldiers still wearing greatcoats throughout the episode? Here Stockwell takes his leave of Jamie, who seems to have grown soft on him (wonder what the lads make of that, considering that in separate interpretations of the series, she goes out with them both!). Only in the novelisation does the American gain some inkling of his comrades' origins (the 'telephone number' Watergate 1972); on TV we are just saved from any revelations with a suitably strained, poignant parting.

Returning to 1980, it's now time to drop off Jamie, which the lads accomplish at a rural bus station. As the Greyhound slinks off (I do hope she was planning to move closer to LA if she wanted not to have to commute two hundred miles a day to and from the UBC gig!), a sheriff recognises Troy and Dillon from wanted posters in his local paper, from their connection with the Pacific Institute of Technology business. The inevitable pursuit takes place, which the Galacticans make short work of by taking to the air. But the joke's on them when they return to the field in which they parked their vipers and find them being swarmed over by local military and police. The damned kid Willy grassed them up to the Feds! Troy and Dillon find this out, and move on him at school. Note to impressionable kids; don't take anything from two weird men hanging around outside the school gates! A little cautionary tale ensues, which is very, very forced, as is anything with kids. It seems Willy has been getting the crap beaten out of him at school for his tall tales about spaceships, and a nasty bully called Tucker is the one dishing it out. Soon enough, the other kids simply ignore the ugly, freckle-faced Willy, who is hanging around on his own when he espies Troy and Dillon loitering with intent. They bargain - if Willy will reveal the location of the lads' vipers, they'll lend him one of their wrist computrons so he can get his own back on Tucker. A real waste of ten minutes of expensive celluloid sees an invisible Willy torment Tucker by squirting him with the water fountain while he's trying to drink, and eventually making him lose his eight-year-old mind. That happened to me once, and I chipped my tooth! I think I would have done something more to the order of beating him to within an inch of his life in front of the whole school.

This was the only magazine to do a cover story on Galactica 1980No doubt wishing they were back fighting Cylons, Troy and Dillon now know where their vipers have been taken - but Willy casually drops that there was a third viper. Xaviar's. Which begs the question, why park on the same piece of land twice when there's so damn MUCH of it to hand on Earth? Anyway, this lapse of concentration sets up another confrontation with Xaviar. After having returned to present-day LA, the series baddie shows us some almost endearing dim-wittedness when he encounters a newsboy. Mortinson has come through on his promise of an interview with Mr Brooks, and Xaviar lights upon the newscast on his way past the Los Angeles equivalent of Rediffusion. But he can't ask for directions to the UBC studios without the newsboy copping an attitude and Xaviar has to grab him by the lapels for a psychopathic stare. 'Answer me!' he hisses. 'You gotta take a cab,' the spotty urchin explains. 'What are they? How do I get one?' Xaviar demands, feeling well and truly stupid by now. 'Well, you just walk to the side of the road and stick out your thumb,' says the one complete dolt to the other. 'They're yellow, black and white; some are chequered!'. With these useful instructions, paid for by a surreptitious gunshot to the newsboy's chest, Xaviar flags down the first likely-looking vehicle to approach the kerb, and steps right into a police car! The cops oblige him by driving him to the UBC studios, but get suspicious (don't they always?) when he gets out, looking for Dr Mortinson. Before they can beat him down (or use a chokehold, which the LAPD still could back then) he vanishes and identifies himself to Dr Mortinson. A little later, we see him in Mortinson's beachside home (bought on a handsome grant from Cal Tech, perhaps), where we pay less attention to Xaviar's haranguing of the scientist about what would happen if he returned to various time periods to change history, than to the horrible matching tweed suits they are wearing, (Xaviar's in blue, Mortinson's in fashionable brown), complete with waistcoats and fob watches.

In the novelisation, Xaviar gets the info he needs and then lays out Mortinson before escaping to the airbase where the Galacticans' vipers are being taken to bits. Troy and Dillon manage to straighten things out (Xaviar having been unsuccessful in persuading Mortinson that the lads, not him, are the criminal outcasts) and follow him there by nightfall. As it happens, Jamie is outside, doing her 'intrepid girl reporter' thing, a stereotype which was already decades out of date, and meets the lads. Using some shockingly sexist 'feminine wiles', she manages to lure away one of the Marine sentries while Troy and Dillon sneak in. As they do, Xaviar materialises in his own viper, wearing a stolen Marine uniform, and is using the base's generator to suck up enough power to launch. The villain spots our heroes and gets off a shot at them, blowing up a parked Jeep, before putting Troy down with a stunner (But I thought he was 'evil'! Or was he as negligent with the settings on his shooter as his enemies were outside the V-2 launchpad?). Before Troy can stagger back to his feet, Xaviar is airborne. A dozen sentries are now bearing down on them, but Troy and Dillon dispatch them effortlessly with a fusillade of blue laser streaks.

Dillon is amazed to find Jamie already in the back seat of his viper, and no exhortations to her to 'get out of here!' will shift her. 'Those men out there have guns!' she rationalises. In the cobbled-together movie Conquest of the Earth, which combines part of this three-parter with The Night The Cylons Landed, she adds 'Besides, I love you', as a love interest has been sloppily redubbed between her and Dillon. She's still pesky enough as a backseat driver when the pair launch and get Xaviar in their sights. And a violent little madam she is as well! Frustrated that her alien mates were unwilling to kill a single Nazi pilot, she now urges them on to do the same to Xaviar - which they finally attempt, but opening fire too late as he streaks off into timewarp, to places (and future planned episodes) unknown. Too much jaw, jaw, not enough war, war, I reckon. But we do get a brief glimpse of Xaviar's rationale. 'You're a dreamer, Captain Troy, I'm a warrior.'

The final scene is of Troy, Dillon and Jamie (looking pretty good in a flight uniform) in Adama's quarters, speculating upon where Xaviar might have gone next. As a straight-A student of history (as she revealed earlier in the programme), the revelation that it's 'the eighteenth century' brightens her up, as she reflects lasciviously that 'Thomas Jefferson had a way with the ladies'. Freeze-frame, as is standard in all but one episode of Galactica 1980, on everyone's face all-smiles.

RATING: 2 1/2; about halfway between Fair and Good. A lot of interesting concepts, none of which were continued when the show was picked up.


To read John's in-depth review and interesting facts about this episode, click here.


Matthew Wharmby's Hilarious Galactica 1980 Episode Reviews

Enter Sheba's Galaxy