The original Battlestar Galactica was like a comet in television terms, hitting the public consciousness with a conspicuous amount of ballyhoo but dying out quickly due to second-guessing from its network. It was cancelled after its first season when the network determined the ratings didn’t live up to the show’s budget but a fervent letter-writing campaign from fans got the network interested once more. Unfortunately, the cheaper-budgeted reboot Galactica 1980 was a misconceived, campy dud with an aggressively kiddie-oriented tone dictated by the network. It died out even faster, leaving behind a bad reputation that further tarnished the original Battlestar Galactica‘s legacy.
That said, the show’s first season left behind several worthwhile episodes that have earned it a cult following with genre buffs over the years. The following covers the second half of the show’s first season as well as cherry-picking the best episode from Galactica 1980. The following episodes might not please the “serious sci-fi” types but they offer a mixture of wild ideas, old-fashioned episodic t.v. touches and a distinctive mixture of the crowd-pleasing and the unexpectedly eccentric that defined Battlestar Galactica at its best.
War Of The Gods: previous episodes of the show flirted with esoteric ’70s concepts along the lines of Chariots Of The Gods but this two-parter dove in head-first. An investigation of a crashed starship leads to the discovery of Count Iblis (Patrick Macnee), a mysterious figure who tries to take over command of the survivors through a mixture of persuasive charm and strange powers. Adama (Lorne Greene) and Apollo (Richard Hatch) are determined to uncover the mystery he presents, which leads to discoveries that are cosmic in more than one way. Macnee is fun to watch as a master manipulator here but what really impresses is the way the finale of the second episode mixes sci-fi and religion plus visuals that suggest a ’70s network interpretation of the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey. It hits that mix of conventional entertainment and unfettered weirdness that made Battlestar Galactica so fascinating.
Murder On The Rising Star: when a sporting rival ends up dead after a heated game, Starbuck (Dirk Benedict) is accused of murder and likely to be convicted. Thus, it’s up to Apollo to become an interstellar Perry Mason with the help of trusted pal Boomer (Herbert Jefferson Jr.) to save his old friend. The mix of sci-fi and courtroom drama works thanks to an inspired, smartly-plotted script that combines both genres effectively: it even works in a killer-revealing twist that incorporates surprise assistance from show villain Baltar (John Colicos). Both Hatch and Benedict give compelling performances, with the latter enjoying get to play a more intense and dramatic scenario, and there’s nice assistance from guest star Brock Peters as the cool-tempered prosecutor.
Baltar’s Escape: John Colicos’ work on Battlestar Galactica was hammy in the best sense of the word, with the veteran actor throwing out all the stops to create a character halfway between Snidely Whiplash and a Shakespeare villain. His character Baltar was largely sidelined in the second half of the season but got a fun showcase here. He plots an escape from the prison ship he’s on while Adama struggles with the Council Of Twelve for control of the Galactica’s procedures. The two plot threads come together in a fun manner, leading to a tense standoff of a finale that incorporates Apollo and Starbuck to handle the heroics while Colicos and Greene handle the thespian thrills. Also of note: Ina Balin guest-starring as Adama’s new overseer from the Council, creating tension along with a few romantic sparks.
Experiment In Terra: one of the main writers on Battlestar Galactica was a young Donald P. Bellisario, who would go on to a career as a top t.v. producer via shows like Magnum P.I. and NCIS. He also created the sci-fi fave Quantum Leap and there is a case to be made this episode, although it was penned by series creator Larson, was a major influence on Quantum Leap. The premise involves Apollo being commandeered by an otherworldly being (Edward Mulhare) and sent to the planet Terra to pose as a Terran named Charlie so he can defuse a political situation that threatens to cause a war. All the key Quantum Leap plot hooks are there – a mission of the week, a hero who must inhabit the bodies of other people to fulfill the mission, a helpful otherwordly boss/partner. Hatch does well in this ambitious scenario, with nice assistance from Mulhare and a fun supporting cast including familiar faces like Logan Ramsey and Nehemiah Persoff. Any Quantum Leap fan should check it out.
The Hand Of God: the season one closer was directed and co-written by Bellisario and it’s one of the most well-rounded of the single episode plotlines. The crew stumbles across a signal that seems to come from Earth but following it leads to the discovery of surveillance by a Cylon baseship. This episode finds a nice blend of excitement, developing the show’s long-term plot via the signal from Earth and character development, particularly the stirrings of a potential romance between Apollo and fellow pilot Sheba (Anne Lockhart). Bellisario balances all the elements with confidence and gets strong performances, particularly from Lockhart. It’s a shame the original vision of the show ended here because this episode suggests it still had plenty of gas in the tank.
The Return Of Starbuck: even sci-fi fans who enjoy mocking the weird, campy Galactica 1980 often display a soft spot for its final episode. For starters, it revived one of the best parts of Battlestar Galactica via a plotline that shows what happened to its title character. Benedict gives an ace performance that mixes his natural comic skill with some subtle, effective drama in a plotline that has him experiencing the sci-fi version of a “desert island” scenario where he is stranded on an undeveloped planet with the remnants of a Cylon, who he rebuilds for companionship. Later on, they discover another human survivor (Judith Chapman) who will affect the fates of both characters. The result is an engaging and unpredictable episode that harkens back to the first season with its mixture of drama, humor, sci-fi and esoteric religious/otherworldly themes. Benedict’s star turn as well as a compellingly mysterious performance from Chapman seal the appeal of this one. If you watch only one Galactica 1980 episode, make this it.