Comedy Review #p

Retrospective Review of B5 Pilot Episode: The Gathering (no spoilers for people who haven't seen it yet)

A friend lent me a library card, so it was about time I made a trip to the local library.

I scanned the shelves, and there was a B5 video!! "A Universe on the Brink of Destruction", with a picture of G'Kar on the front. "Cool" I thought, "A B5 film I ain't seen on TV."

Since I had only started watching B5 3 episodes into the 3rd series (due to having bought an Amiga 1200 and B5 was done on Amigas, which, to me, almost justified my having bought the damn thing), I had missed out on serie 1 and 2. So, I'm still trying to catch up now. Plus, I missed the B5 TV feature-length film shown only a few weeks ago.

So, as this was only a quid, I bought it. When I got home, slammed it in the video player and hit Play, I realised it was the first episode ever.

I grimaced, contemplating how much I was going to hate it, would it be cheesy, I already knew what happens in the Great War etc.

But as the opening sequence rolled by casually, I realised that this was something more than "The Cage", this was the first Babylon 5!! Conceived in 1987 and not made until 1993, JMS would obviously have put a whole load of scripting, care, etc, into this episode.

As it went on, I began to see all the familiar faces. Londo, looking exactly the same as ever, his accent only *slightly* off. And sounding like he was on Helium. Garibaldi, with more hair, less of a double chin, and *his* squeaky voice also sounding like he was on Helium. Then, Commander Sinclair, who seems to be a character that grows on you (ie, he wasn't in this episode all that much, so I appreciated him more).

Lyta Alexander was *THE SAME*, only sporting lighter hair (brown; I think it's black now). I thought her performance was excellent, especially when 'she' went a bit nuts in Medilab.

The doctor was weird. "Ben" he was called, like the newer doctor only with a slightly snobbish accent. Still, he was pretty cool anyway.

The oriental woman on the flight deck was *NOT* as good as Ivanova. For all the criticism against Claudia Christian, I must confess I missed her in this episode. It wasn't so much a case of "The gang's all here" as "The gang's not quite all there".

One groovy thing I liked in this episode was the weird shuttle rides up to the gardens. Perhaps these were only there as B5 wasn't quite built yet.

One of the guest stars, playing some guy in a checkered jacket (or should that be chequered?) recently played a camp secretary in Murder One. Shame he only gets about 3 lines in this one.

The music was done by Stewart Copeland in this. Now, for all the criticism directed against him on this newsgroup, I think Stewart is a good musician with a distinctive sound (lots of synthesized kettle drums and the killer Equaliser soundtrack not to mention Weekend at Bernie's...), however, I agree that he shouldn't have been let loose on Babylon 5. Two of the longish pieces in the bar scenes are straight off his album, The
RhYthMaTisT (capital letters intentional), with absolutely no changes made.
Clearly, the other music in the episode (which I hadn't heard before) was also taken off various different albums. To be frank, it doesn't suit, but I think calling it 'Rock Music' is slightly unfair. It's a bit more experimental than that. Perhaps the episode should have had *no* music at all.

There were some nice touches, such as a "Universe Today" newspaper which told us the Vorlon ambassador was visiting. Also, there were a lot of shots of normal people in the station which added atmosphere; there aren't enough of these nowadays.

Here's a bizarre thing: There was a guy on the command deck with the oriental woman. The guy looked like our friend, Mr.Morden... He doesn't seem to be listed in the credits, so I could be wrong. Could anyone clarify this with a different point of view from me? (he pops up 3 times in the episode, I think).

One major thing in this episode was the number of scenes, lines (of dialogue) and comments that have been re-used in recent episode. They're good, so I'm not criticising JMS, but it's interesting, anyhow:

G'Kar wants to buy Lyta's body for her telepathic ability - except he wants to, er, reproduce with her. Hmm. The recent Bester scene seems just *slightly* similiar to this. No, what am I saying? It's *exactly* the same. :-) Kinda proves how popular Lyta is. Obviously not with Sheridan, though.

Sinclair tells G'Kar he's just drunk a microscopic tracking device which he can't remove; it's a bluff, of course. Afterwards, Garibaldi steps out of a lift, sees G'Kar, points at him and says "Beep beep". Londo (who is with Garibaldi and doesn't know about the device, unlike Gary B) says: "Beep beep? - It must be Earth humor - Who can figure a species like that?"

Garibaldi says in his squeaky voice: "Don't trust telepaths - never did, never will." But he hasn't even meet Lyta yet.

Those floating cameras we saw a few episodes ago (the ISN mis-reporting episode) make an appearance.

The question answered once and for all: The Vorlon's request Sinclair go on trial on their homeworld. Even though he doesn't, it proves that the Vorlons DO have a homeworld. Simps. They also have a rather cool fleet.

TV Cliche' - "Now will someone tell me what the hell is going on aroound here?"

Commander Sinclair's cheesy line: "Coffee , 2 sugars, cream... and an aspirin!!!" Ha ah bloody ha.

And that's it!!

This review must come to a standstill here. Well, apart from a few overall sentences:

  1. Good plot. I won't give any of it away here for the benefit of those who ain't seen it yet.
  2. More upbeat than recent episodes. All the characters are much more jokey.
    God knows why it's become so miserable lately. They've won two goddamned wars; the only thing left to worry about is Clarke and cronies. Why is it that a human World President is more threatening to the B5 Command Staff than loadsa wierd aliens? Simple: The CS are all Americans (well, they've all got American accents...) and Clarke is Richard Nixon, representing the betrayal of not only the Democratic system, but of the American Way. Or am I reading too much into this? Goddammit, that's what a course in Media Studies does to you... It ruins TV. (yaaaaay!!)
  3. I just hope this pilot is enough to convince the bods at CBS to run with it!! ;-)

Points for Inquisition (insert ;-) where approriate):

  1. What is G'Kar really like? Why is he so grumpy?
  2. What lengths will Londo go to to restore the glory of the Centauri Republic?
  3. Who are the Vorlons? Do they represent a threat to the humans? Or an ally?
  4. Who wanted the Vorlon ambassador dead and why?
  5. Why does it say this is the story of the only Commander of B5? What about Sheridan? Isn't this lame?
  6. Why aren't there more 90-minute episodes? 49 minutes just isn't enough, I'm afraid.

1998 Jeremy Smith.