Thursday, 23 February 2023
Wednesday, 22 February 2023
Seminal space opera television series Babylon 5 has celebrated its 30th anniversary. The show's pilot movie, The Gathering, aired for the first time on 22 February 1993.
Babylon 5 ran for five seasons, notching up 110 episodes, seven TV movies and 13 episodes of a spin-off series, Crusade, between 1993 and 2007. It also generated a huge number of tie-in books, comics and roleplaying games, as well a video game that was - still bafflingly - cancelled when it was 95% complete.
The show was mainly set between the years 2257 and 2262 and depicted the misadventures of the crew and diplomats on board Babylon 5, a massive space station designed to serve as a sort-of United Nations in space, between the borders of five major powers and numerous smaller ones. Babylon 5 was purposefully designed by its creator, J. Michael Straczynski, as a "novel for television," with one pre-planned story unfolding over five years. This level of serialisation was unusual at the time, although not completely unprecedented. It was more unusual that the story arc was planned out in some detail ahead of time, though.
After a rough opening season, Babylon 5 hit its stride in its second and third seasons, with both years winning Hugo Awards for Best Dramatic Presentation. A near-cancellation in Season 4 saw Straczynski wrap up the main story arc last few episodes, but a late renewal allowed him to end the story as planned, albeit with a somewhat more spun-out fifth season than originally envisaged.
Babylon 5 broke the mould not just for serialisation, but also for its pioneering use of CGI to depict all of its visual effects. Most contemporary space shows still used very expensive models. As the show continued, its use of CG became more innovative, extending to the creation of virtual sets and all-CG aliens interacting with human actors; commonplace today but remarkable in the mid-1990s. B5 also used the Internet in a pioneering way, with Straczynski taking advantage of the Internet to discuss behind-the-scenes trivia and worldbuilding information with eager fans.
Despite its innovative structure, excellent pacing and outstanding cast, the show teetered on the edge of cancellation throughout its run, and has never had more than a dedicated, cult audience. The show also suffered appalling attrition among its main castmembers, making a continuation unfeasible. A Babylon 5 reboot project has instead been gestating at the CW for well over a year, although recent sweeping changes at the network and a retreat from drama commissions makes that project now unlikely to proceed (although the possibility remains of it finding a home elsewhere).