Review By Matthew Wharmby

PREMISE: Starbuck is shot down by Cylon fighters and rescued by the rebellious inhabitants of a Cylon-occupied planet. A rip-roaring adventure from start to finish, and one of my favourites.

Boomer and Starbuck are on patrol, idly pondering events as they fly along. Starbuck seems preoccupied, and Boomer is the one to draw it out of him (and not without a little exasperation! We get the feeling this happens a lot). Starbuck seems to be gripped with an odd streak of fatalism, which sets him (and us) up well for his adventure today; to wit, he is reminded of his old flight instructor's words, which are as follows. 'Starbuck, a viper pilot only flies three vipers... the one he trains in, the one he escapes from... and the one he dies in.' He has no time to reflect further when a group of Cylon fighters ambush them and start pressing their attack. Snapping into combat mode, Boomer and Starbuck about-turn and take them on, destroying two outright. The third pitches up behind Starbuck and blasts him amidships, damaging the viper severely. Boomer is unable to destroy the Cylon fighter, which gets away, but he is more concerned about the state of Starbuck's ship. Shaking his head, Boomer notes 'It's all hanging out to dry... Everything back of your anti-burn baffles is gone.' We see a rare underside view of Starbuck's viper, suitably crippled. Unable to make a single control respond, Starbuck is depending on Boomer to find him somewhere to land, which he does - the nearest planet dead ahead. All Boomer can do is to promise him 'I'll be back with a clean uniform before you know it,' and angle away, leaving Starbuck to career headlong towards the green, marshy world.

We are then treated to a dawn view of a splendid mediaeval castle (where was this shot?) - swarming with Cylons. An I-L series in a red-and-silver striped robe resembling the Japanese battle flag is ordering a centurion to resite the petrodump inside the garrison walls. A second centurion approaches to deliver a report of the engagement of Colonial vipers. 'Well, well,' says Spectre, the instantly popular, utterly unscrupulous I-L series Cylon commander of the occupied planet Antila. We follow the garrison commander downstairs into the equally spectacular banqueting hall of the castle, which is filled with Cylons milling around, polishing equipment, and generally going about the business of occupation. A deep-voiced command centurion has been tracking the inbound viper, but expresses doubts about the ability of the patrol dispatched to bring in the pilot. 'Impossible,' Spectre leers, then has a good laugh to himself. (with the accompanying flashing of the lower half of his facial mouth lighting! Superb!)

This next scene is also beautifully shot, and is among my favourite in the whole series. We first take note of a slow-moving Cylon foot patrol making their way through chest-high reeds to a riverbank, and then pan across to Starbuck's viper. It has ploughed into the sand right on the water's edge, and is buried up to its cockpit, thoroughly written off. A battered and groaning Starbuck manages to heave himself out of the cockpit and into the sand, where we see that his right leg is lacerated and can barely hold him. Thinking on his feet (just about), Starbuck stumbles into the water, perhaps figuring that the centurions won't be able to follow him. Wrong - they file into the river one by one, holding their rifles high above their heads. Starbuck slips and falls underwater, but the Cylons are still following him. Finally, he pulls himself out of the river and staggers to a halt, falling under a tree, and has no choice but to give himself up to the Cylons.

Baltar's baseship is seen next, and a new set for the villainous traitor. No longer does he hold court on a high pedestal fifteen feet above Lucifer, but in a cut-down version perched to overlook some command consoles. We see this is reached via a hallway of computer banks, brightly lit and flickering (another terrific set). Lucifer is already there and waiting, reporting that the commander of Antila's garrison has a report to make. We note that Lucifer immediately plays down Spectre as 'an early model... rather limited in ability.' Spectre comes on the scanner and announces the capture of a colonial warrior. Baltar is pleased, but Spectre points out that he is still waiting for the patrol dispatched to bring him to the garrison. 'You have a wonderful opportunity here, Spectre,' promises Baltar, allowing him the six centares Spectre reckons it would take to torture the coordinates of the Battlestar Galactica out of the warrior. Spectre then takes the opportunity to heap sycophantic praise on Baltar, both delighting the human traitor and winding up Lucifer something rotten.

Out in the forest, the Cylon patrol is struggling back through the damp woodlands, one of them with Starbuck slung across his shoulders. The pilot is groggy, but can still take the piss out of the centurions, mocking their likelihood of rusting. 'Silence,' orders his bearer, before a horn blows suddenly and rifle shots from the trees drop every member of the patrol in a matter of seconds. Thrown roughly to the dirt, Starbuck is winded, and swears he sees a teenage horseman in a feathered helmet welcome him to Antila before he passes out.

Aboard the Galactica, Boomer has made his report to Commander Adama, who is lying in bed suffering from Sagitaran flu. He is joined by Apollo, and together they make plans to rescue Starbuck, using a shuttle. However, they will only have twenty-four centares to get in and out, or risk leaving him behind.

Down on Antila, Spectre is informed that the patrol has lost the colonial warrior. Moreover, raids against the Cylon garrison are erupting again. We see the horsemen gallop away triumphantly as explosions ring out, and then move to a cave in the countryside. An exhausted Starbuck is dragged to a bed of furs and his leg treated. The teenage horseman seen earlier introduces himself as Kyle, then presents the rest of his family - Nilz, Ariadne and Robus, none of them older than eighteen. Starbuck is surprised that they're 'only children', and Kyle takes umbrage. 'We are warriors,' he declares in a not-quite broken voice. Finally, the last of the rebellious family is assigned to look after Starbuck, and here's where we gape at a gorgeous, barely-dressed Audrey Landers, who plays Miri. Starbuck is instantly on the case, flirting right off the bat. This gets up Kyle's nose already, who notices how easily his older sister blushes at Starbuck's attentions. We get some background. Ever since Kyle's father Megan was 'killed' during the Cylon invasion which stole their castle, the kids have been hitting back at the 'tinheads' with captured grenades and laser rifles.

This is not entirely true - as we find out, when in the midst of a powerful thunderstorm we see Spectre ascending the castle walls to the dungeon, in which is imprisoned none other than Megan himself. Filthy and exhausted but his spirit unbowed, he reiterates his defiance to his Cylon captors, but Spectre reveals the ruthless side of his calculating nature. The I-L series commander is quite willing to slaughter Megan's family if they do not abandon their raids, but offers the patriarch freedom in exchange for the trade of the colonial warrior they are reputed to be hiding. Kyle has already made the approach, we discover. Realising he is boxed into a corner, Megan reluctantly agrees, and the trade is on.

A decidedly ill Commander Adama is still dozing in his quarters, but Boxey sneaks in, past Cassiopeia, who has also dropped off while she's supposed to be on guard. So many fans deride poor old Boxey, but some of his scenes are really sweet. Adama is delighted to see his little grandson, and smuggles him into bed to cuddle up for a story. However, Boxey insists HE should be the one to tell the bedtime story. I wish MY grandad had been alive long enough for me do that! And come on, somebody's got to be able to overrule the commander?). The story is as follows - 'Once upon a time there was a shining planet.' 'Called Earth,' Adama sighs, in what could almost, almost be construed as a dig at his own portentous epilogue to each episode, but Boxey counters. 'No... called Mushieland. And it was filled with daggits. Blue daggits, green daggits, daggits with horns, daggits with curly tails... and the king of them all was Sire Muffey.' There, I've made the hardcore sci-fi geeks vomit, and deservedly so. You'll be grandparents one day - maybe. (if you stop watching so much damn TV!!)

Aboard the base-star, Baltar's fascination with the obsequious Spectre is not conducive to Lucifer's good mood, and Baltar's aide attempts to smear his fellow I-L's reputation with accusations of excessive hoarding of weaponry when the planet's 'population has supposedly been terminated.' Baltar replies 'So he's stockpiling. What garrison commander doesn't?', and then immediately catches on that Lucifer is jealous, bursting out in gleeful laughter. As they proceed into the control center, Baltar takes a report from Spectre. In it, the I-L series brazenly lies that the 'captured' colonial warrior has not yet recovered consciousness, but that he should be sufficiently recovered to submit to torture. Baltar is satisfied, but Lucifer is reduced to muttering curses under his breath.

Starbuck is dismayed to find himself on the receiving end of a Cylon rifle aimed at his chest by Kyle, who insists that there is no alternative but to trade him for their father. Starbuck sees what they have been hiding, and replies that it won't work - the Cylons will trick them. Kyle won't budge, and orders Starbuck onto a raft constructed by the other members of the family. At the prearranged river exchange point, Starbuck will be placed on a raft and sent out to Spectre's forces, who will then send over Megan. Spectre and his troops duly arrive on the opposite riverbank, and announce their presence. However, as Megan is about to get onto the Cylon launch, a centurion grabs him from behind and pulls him away. A straw-filled dummy is placed onto the launch in his absence and set going. When it reaches the other side, Kyle is stunned that Starbuck was right. They reply by dressing the Cylon dummy in the colonial warrior's jacket and sending it straight back. Megan wrestles free of his Cylon guard's grip long enough to roar his approval before an enraged Spectre orders his centurions to blaze away at their opponents.

Under Cylon fire, the family escapes. A subdued Kyle apologises to Starbuck and willingly submits to his authority. Starbuck agrees, 'but on one condition - that you agree to continue, as my lieutenant'. This is a welcome subordination, as Kyle was getting to be a bit of a pain in the arse. He certainly has fewer (almost no) lines from here on. A little later (perhaps the following evening? We never see Antila by daylight, incidentally), Starbuck and Kyle take a look at the castle walls in preparation for a master plan to free Megan. Back at the cave, the two young'uns are detailed to blow the petrodump to bits with captured mines (metron bombs, to be more accurate). The little lads will harass any oncoming centurions with grenades fired from a catapult. While this aggro is going on, Starbuck and Miri will sneak into the castle (on a signal from Kyle, whom we already know likes to ride around blowing a horn) and free her father. All of this is laid out in natty rhymes to make it easier to remember, and I think it's done rather well.

Spectre makes another report to Baltar, but in the grand old tradition of 'Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive,' he is having to really bend the truth when it comes to discussing the fictitious colonial warrior. And just then, the attack on the castle erupts as the mines stuck between the fuel cylinders by the little lads start cooking off. Spectre has to hurriedly explain it away as one of his own punitive raids - a final one, mind, against the remaining human population. It's just as well he has someone as dim and vain as Baltar to tell it to, who is so flattered he swallows Spectre's story whole. Only Lucifer isn't buying it, and he all but loses his mechanical temper as he rounds on Baltar once the scanner is safely switched off. Down on Antila, Spectre is really starting to feel the heat as the petrodump goes up in flames. He dispatches squad after squad of centurions to the castle perimeter, but they are pinned down on the bridge and bombed heavily. Underneath the castle, Starbuck and Miri tiptoe towards the banqueting hall via a secret passage (explained away earlier as the same way they escaped from the castle when the Cylons took over in the first place). The inevitable love scene ensues when Miri plants a kiss on Starbuck 'for luck' as he gets ready to open the door of the chamber. Never one to turn down a pretty woman, Starbuck reciprocates. This is probably crude of me to say this, but seeing as Starbuck cracks the door and sees a full complement of centurions going about their business (still polishing their rifles, as it happens), surely he could have... well, unveiled his own secret weapon while waiting for the garrison to empty. In rhyming couplets, of course.

Outside, Spectre's garrison is taking so many casualties that he has to send out every remaining centurion he has, leaving the banqueting hall empty. Starbuck and Miri seize their chance and sneak through. 'What else can go wrong?' Spectre wails, as his garrison is besieged before his eyes, and right there and then it's Baltar's turn to bell HIM with an impatient request for a progress report. Realising that the game is up, at least where his human leader is concerned, Spectre twists a final lie. 'I regret to report that the captured warrior has... terminated.' Baltar isn't too chuffed, but can satisfy himself that Spectre is carrying out enough acts of indiscriminate massacre to placate his bloodthirsty little ego. Or so he believes, when the opposite is in fact taking place. Spectre then requests permission to abandon the garrison altogether, rationalising that the place is not only 100% pacified, but frankly detrimental to the health of his centurions. Baltar agrees, and with that, Spectre and his remaining command centurion get the hell out as fast as their little legs can carry them. As Starbuck and Miri advance to the dungeon (taking out a Cylon sentry along the way), the remaining Cylons fall back on the launch field and make themselves scarce.

Apollo and Boomer are approaching Antila in a shuttle, but are alarmed to see seismic reports lighting up their scanner like billy-o. They surmise that the Cylons must really be cleaning up down there, but once they get down, they are bemused to see an empty castle and loads of destroyed centurions. Just then, round the corner comes an exuberant Starbuck, minus jacket, plus Cylon rifle and with his leg patched up. His mates put away their lasers and greet Starbuck with amazement and happiness. 'What's happened?' is all Apollo can ask. 'Oh, nothing much...' Starbuck goes, as his friends appear with a triumphant Megan. 'Me and my warriors just liberated a Cylon garrison.'

Boomer has brought the clean uniform as promised (glad that little plot detail was tied up!), and Starbuck has at least put the jacket on, but he starts dismembering it to give awards to his soldiers in the form of the gold collar badges (I've got a pair of them myself, they're very smart!). Now comes the goodbyes, in which our Starbuck makes sure to spread his rep to another pristine corner of the galaxy. 'You're going to be giving your sister competition in a few yahrens,' he leers to Ariadne, kissing her on the cheek (and you can bet she'd never wash her face again after that. Women, eh?). Pinning a badge on Kyle, he restores him to command (I'd have had that feathered helmet myself. Imagine how many pigeons the Universal props department had to skin to get that made!). Starbuck offers Megan the chance of a berth in the fleet, but Megan gently declines, saying that they can take care of themselves if the Cylons do come back. (Would you trade a lush, albeit a little soggy at times, forest world for a shabby, airless corner of the freighter Gemini? Thought not.) Here's one of the problems already seen in 'The Gun On Ice Planet Zero' and 'The Lost Warrior' - the hero appears out of nowhere and single-handedly saves natives of planet from Cylon menace, but leaves them in the lurch afterwards. I think we're supposed to assume that Starbuck has effectively trained the Antila bunch to be able to handle any vengeful Cylons on their own, but it's a shaky supposition at best. Unlike Arcta, Megan hasn't the tricks of a Doctor Ravashol. Anyway - now we get to what we were waiting for all along. Starbuck cups Miri's face (her face, I said) tenderly in his hands and says softly 'You know, you could have broken every heart on the Galactica... including mine' before laying one on her. (A kiss, for Sagan's sake! What were you thinking?) Even then Apollo has to practically drag him into the shuttle, as we freeze-frame on Starbuck's lovelorn face taking rather too long a look back....

RATING: 5 stars (Excellent) So it's a bit frivolous, and lacks the highfalutin' scientifico-religious premise that sci-fi anoraks demand, but it's my review, and I liked it. For a start, everyone likes Spectre. There's sheaves of fanfic around exploring the sneaky I-L, even if he is basically Lucifer in a new frock. The sets and locations are superb (where IS that castle? I've been waiting twenty years to find out!), the story bowls along, there's enough aggro for a series of its own, and Miri's fit. What more could you want?

Matthew Wharmby's Galactica Episode Reviews

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