HOW TO RUN A TIGHT SHIP, THE 2002 MANUAL

By Matthew Wharmby

So, is it really going to happen? The great ship Galactica setting sail once again for the shining planet? I'll get straight to my own ideas as to what the new show should look like. In no particular order...

PLANNING, PLANNING, PLANNING

Get the bible down months, if not years, in advance. If Babylon 5 could have the whole five years' planned out from the start, they'd have less trouble. Babylon 5 was hard going, but it does have its following, and I was starting to enjoy one particular storyline that I thought was done rather well (the Emperor Cartagia soliciting the Shadows business - though I never saw Cliff Richard once!) In the worst case scenario, if the show was cancelled in mid-run (as Babylon 5 was!) then it could be picked up by another network without too much of a blip. Which brings me to...

NEVER MIND THE NIELSENS

I'm fed up of my favourite TV shows being cancelled by the machinations of moronic middle Americans with a box in the corner of their living rooms. Nor have I ever been impressed by having products shoved in my face every six minutes. This means syndication. It worked for Star Trek's later incarnations - the first year of Next Generation was so bad that any network would have pulled the plug by Thanksgiving, but on what is now UPN it stood a fighting chance. USA is thus a more promising choice than you'd think, despite the preponderance of T&A shows, Baywatch repeats and wrestling. I'd probably steer clear of Fox and the WB - not that kind of neighbourhood, I don't think...

TAKE UP WHERE THEY LEFT OFF

Let's treat it as a second season. Discount Galactica 1980 (you didn't need me to tell you that, come on). They've just blown that base-star to space trash, and Starbuck and Apollo have come back from the party weighed down with so much medalry that they won't be able to get their vipers off the ground. The fleet has left Alliance space behind, just about, but don't think for one moment that our tin friends the Cylons have forgotten about them. Let's have some new planets with non-humans as well as scattered clues to the direction taken by the Thirteenth Tribe, and a good smattering of hostile cultures to get through on the way. Star Trek: Voyager went about this the right way, soon realising that not only were the Kazon boring as hell, but likely to be geographically far behind by the end of the first season.

NEW CAST BUT BIG NAME GUEST STARS

It's been twenty-three years since Battlestar Galactica went off the air, and let's face it, those original cast members who haven't died are old. Even Dirk Benedict will be qualifying for his bus pass in five years. So let's have an all-new cast, physically similar to the originals but made up of the best and the brightest actors and actresses of today. They've got to be good-looking as well, I'm afraid - I really have no time for political correctness. Star Trek: The Next Generation can't have had more than half a dozen attractive female guest stars in all 179 episodes. Ugly people may be just as interesting and worthwhile (look at me!) but I don't want to look at them. I want the same philosophy that brought Lloyd Bridges in as a big name guest star continued. There are loads of luminaries about from the world of stage and screen that would do a treat on Battlestar Galactica.

DON'T BE AFRAID TO BE RUTHLESS

I've noticed a critical difference between US, British and Canadian sci-fi. The American shows treat their characters with kid gloves - they seem afraid to hurt them or to put them through the mill. Even Captain Picard only got one extra episode to traumatise over being assimilated. The Canadians and Brits, on the other hand, go to the opposite extreme. Who can remember watching gape-faced as the entire cast of Blake's 7 was massacred without pity in the final episode? Or the final episodes of Forever Knight and War of the Worlds? For a journey like the Galactica's, it's not going to be a luxury cruise. People are going to starve and die and get killed. There have to be disappointments to go with the elation. Pluck the viewers' heart strings. For instance, one of the bravest things that Galactica could have done, and quite possibly unique, was to kill off Serina. Those ten minutes at the end of Lost Planet of the Gods were so heartbreaking you could cry. The Yanks have the budget, we've got the plots and the Canadians have the ruthlessness. So let's mix and blend.

DON'T WORRY ABOUT 'SCIENCE FICTION'

I can't stand sci-fi geeks bitching and moaning about how Galactica doesn't measure up to accepted scientific fact. I'm going to shock a few folks when I say quite freely that space travel as we know it is boring. It's slow, monstrously expensive and largely pointless. If you want to go into space you need a daft great suit to breathe through, the ships take weeks or months to get anywhere, and Earth has the bad luck to be positioned in a neighbourhood where there's bugger-all else to see. Even the Mars landing got stale fast, especially when the lander fell over and down the hole. The Hubble telescope only works when it's facing the sun, and you can't completely discount those ugly rumours that the whole Moon landing was faked. No? Why then was the flag planted by Neil Armstrong fluttering when there's no wind?!. So we want aliens who look human and speak English, please; we want fires burning and explosions exploding in space, and there'll be no flying around, over or under threatening situations when they can be fought or outwitted. And if you don't like it, go and read some Isaac Asimov. (Incidentally, Asimov was lined up to be a consultant on the second series, if only Galactica hadn't been cancelled. I wonder how that would have panned out? Especially if the Cylons had got hold of a copy of 'I, Robot'!)

STRONG CHARACTERS, COMMITTED ACTORS

Now that we've got our Apollo, Starbuck and Adama and are willing to work them till they drop, we want the same kind of commitment from the actors who play them. There'll be none of this leaving in mid-run because it's not good for your 'career' or because you want to go into movies. And no going to jail (Maren Jensen, as the rumour persists). Perhaps it's a good caveat that sci-fi actors never work again. Half the cast of four Star Trek series lay testament to that! Future stars of Galactica, just remember Denise 'Tasha Yar' Crosby doing very questionable movies on Cinemax late at night, poor old George Takei ekeing out a living at conventions, and the incredibly boring one that played Kes on Voyager disappearing off the face of the earth, and sign your contract with a smile. You'll be glad you did when those residuals keep rolling in, long after your teeth and prostate have gone.

FU-- CEN***SHIP

A lot of the trouble with Galactica came from increasingly absurd regulations pushed by ABC's Board of Standards and Practices, and we all know how that transformed Galactica 1980 from a workable if low-budget premise to a foetid pile of kid-friendly cack, with irritating and most unwelcome educational subplots. The time slot given to both incarnations of Galactica was no help either. Still, you can say things in 2002 on the telly that you couldn't in 1978 (Shall I run through a few? 'Pissed off', 'damn', 'for God's sake(s)', 'ass', etc), and Mary Whitehouse has been thoughtful enough to go and die in the interim, so we may be in with a chance yet. This doesn't necessarily mean kindly, grandfatherly Commander Adama turning the air blue when Iblis challenges him, but who could blush at the odd cuss-word let slip by Starbuck in the heat of battle? And as for that old chestnut of violence, perceived or otherwise, there's a war on, after all. We need something to hate. Cylons'll do. So we can have all the militaria we want. Don't like it? Well, go and take your holidays at Guantanamo.

CAREFUL WITH THE COMIC RELIEF

Television networks have the irritating habit of being incredibly patronising towards sci-fi fans. I've already said that some sci-fi can be boring, but it's out of order to keep pushing corny stuff into it. Recall how seriously people take shows of this genre. And remember how Rob Schneider completely ruined Judge Dredd? Enough said. If you want funny ha ha, watch Married... with Children.

NO KIDS OR DOGS

Sorry Boxey and Muffey, but you're going to have to sit this one out. Or at least not have so many lines. On second thought, there's going to have to be a lot more kids and dogs, if the battered remnants of humanity have any interest in producing a next generation. And it goes without saying that these kids and dogs have to be normal, ordinary kids. Sci-fi fans loathe, absolutely despise, the old cliché of the genius child. Take a bow, Dr Zee, Wesley Crusher, Anakin Skywalker. In the real world, kids fight, argue and smell, not wisecrack and save the world. I've got to admit I liked the way the writers of Star Trek addressed Wesley Crusher. Perhaps as fed up as the fans with this perfect individual, this smug, snot-nosed little bastard that you wanted to slap every minute of the day, they did a Generation X on him, quite apposite for 1993 or 1994 when it was filmed. Forget the perfect, planned career path and acres of expectations weighing over that smooth, spit-curled head - he just decided to throw it all in and go bumming around the universe with some old hippy. Excellent! (Interestingly, much of the small amount of fanfic written about Galactica 1980 does much to knock poor old Dr Zee off his pedestal. It makes much better drama to find out that your idols have feet of clay.)

SOME SAMPLE PLOTS

A GRAND FINALE

Nothing lasts forever - even Dr Who got cancelled after 26 years. So, after ten or twelve years, let's have a spectacular finale. Again, the Canadians are good at this - but I don't think it'd go down too well to gun down the entire cast without much of a pretext! (Might work for G:80!). Years ago, when I was first getting onto the Web, I found an outstanding script called 'Battlestars' by a fellow called Mark Koeberl, and I would have this with very little adaptation. In it, the fleet, under the leadership of Commander Tigh, has found its way to the Earth quadrant after a voyage lasting seventeen yahrens. But scans have shown that Earth is not the advanced culture they've been looking for, and they're stumped as to what to do next. Galactica 1980's premise, you think - but read on. Trying to escape a fleetwide criminal racket based aboard the Gemini freighter, two young medtechs steal a shuttle and put down on Mars, but they discover what appear to be sarcophagi, filled with loads of humans! Meanwhile Lucifer's baseship fleet is closing in for an epic assault against the stopped Galactica. When the battle starts, both sides take heavy casualties and the Galactica is severely damaged - until Tigh is astonished to be contacted by human-flown fighting craft requesting to join battle against the Cylons! Even more astoundingly, they are of Colonial origin. It turns out that the Thirteenth Tribe did make it to Earth, but the hardship of the journey prompted the exhausted travellers to destroy their ships upon arrival. Those that protested were driven off-world, and ended up on Mars. Unfortunately, they were then struck down by an unknown disease. Their ranks decimated, and without a clue, they voted to go into suspended animation in chambers. It is these chambers that the two med-techs have discovered. Revived from their slumber, the Thirteenth Tribe are able to board their Scorpion fighters of comparable technology with that of the Seventh Millennium and take it to the Cylons! The listing, burning Galactica is then contacted by an unfamiliar structure calling itself the cradle. It is the eye-opening sight of a battlestar tender, that approaches the Galactica and enfolds it to make repairs. From the cradle, another battlestar emerges - then a second, and a third, and a fourth! With the Cylons defeated for now, the united Colonials and Kobolians can now think about leaving Earth behind altogether and going on the offensive - in the direction of home!

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