Volume 26, Number 1, Fall 2007

Babylon 5 The Lost Tales: Voices in the Dark

Created, written, and directed by J. Michael Straczynski

Warner Brothers, 2007 Starring Bruce Boxleitner, Tracy Scoggins, Peter Woodward
Reviewed by David Wayland
Fall 2007

Babylon 5, a TV series that ran from 1994 through 1998, was unique in many ways, yet in the end suffered the same fate as several other good science fiction TV shows (studio pressures, season-to-season uncertainties, and the like). Unlike a show like Firefly, however, B5 managed to fulfill the plan of creator J. Michael Straczynski, which was to present a visual novel spanning five years with a series of story arcs, strong character development, and a vivid future world showing the perpetual battle between good and evil, order and chaos, love and indifference. Set in the years 2258 through 2262, with 110 regular season episodes and several stand-alones of tie-in made-for-TV movies, the B5 universe holds many attractions for libertarian sf fans; whether by accident or design, small statements like this appear from time to time.

No dictator, no invader, can hold an imprisoned population by the force of arms forever. There is no greater power in the universe than the need for freedom. Against that power governments and tyrants, and armies cannot stand. —G’Kar

Although Babylon 5 went off the air nine years ago, plans to bring back characters from the universe have been attempted several times, and largely failed. However, in July 2007 Straczynski released a direct to DVD episode, the first in a planned anthology series, under the rubric, Babylon 5 The Lost Tales. Volume one is entitled Voices in the Dark, and re-united several characters from the show, including Bruce Boxleitner, the main character in seasons 2-4. With a running time of slightly over an hour, Voices in the Dark is the first of a proposed set of anthology stories, each disc containing two tales.

The first of these tales is set onboard the Babylon 5 station, nine years after the show ended (in reality as well as fiction), in the year 2271. The station commander is still Elizabeth Lochley, promoted from Captain to Colonel, and looking somewhat older and more fatigued. It is a rather slow-moving and sparse episode, dealing with a station employee who appears to have been possessed by some malevolent entity after returning from a trip to Earth. Lochley requests the services of a priest (Roman Catholic, apparently) to perform an exorcism. Straczynski has never been shy about including religious elements in the B5 universe, and this episode is a meditation on faith and doubt. The priest who questions the possessing spirit is caught in a dilemma, as leaving the demon inside the man will send billions back to the pews, at the cost of the man’s soul.

As a starting point for the return to Babylon 5, the first episode is curious at best. There are few hints of it taking place on the station, which seems quite unpopulated. The sets are minimal, and maybe five to seven different characters appear, not all of whom have speaking parts. In a pivotal scene in which Lochley and the priest walk in a chilled and noisome area near the possessed man, a Minbari walks casually by; this seems odd given the strongly religious attitudes of the Minbari people.

Whereas the first half fails utterly to create any interest, the second part is far stronger, perhaps due to the familiarity in character and tone. President Sheridan is returning to B5, on the 10th anniversary of the Interstellar Alliance, but must pick up a young Centari prince, third in line to the throne. Complications arise when the technomage Galen appears to Sheridan and foretells that this prince will one day ascend to the throne and start a destructive war that kills billions on Earth. Galen tells Sheridan that he must kill the prince to prevent this future, a task Sheridan finds himself reluctant to accept, but agrees it must be done. The final decision and aftermath takes a typical Sheridan turn, where he takes control of the situation. His decision leaves open many possibilities, and I’d like to see that story explored further. Although the number of characters also was relatively small in this episode, the sets were more impressive, the story tighter, and the outcome far more interesting than the debate over why a fallen angel waited a considerable number of years before hitchhiking off Earth, and why the Babylon 5 station was the only place it could leap back into the heavens.

There are tributes on the disc to Andreas Katsulas and Richard Biggs, who played G’Kar and Dr. Franklin, respectively. Both died a few years ago, and in the episodes they are mentioned as having gone exploring “beyond the rim.” Future episodes, if filmed and released, are rumored to feature some of the other characters, such as Lando Molari and Michael Garibaldi. The B5 universe is vast, and hopefully these episodes will continue. Direct-to-DVD does bypass certain network programming rules, but also lacks the budget that allows a richer cast of characters. There’s ample room for at least a dozen of these stories, if only to give us a better sense of closure.

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