With the 70s being rife with disaster movies it is no surprise that Glen A. Larson decided to tackle the genre in Battlestar Galactica, and so in the tradition of Irwin Allen the crew of Galactica must fight a raging fire, one that threatens the life of all on board. So let’s see what a TV budget and a bundle of stock footage can provide.
This episode begins with the introduction of the Rejuvenation Center, a room aboard the Galactica that differs from the Officers Club as it is open to all personal; crew, civilians, women and children are all allowed to kick back and relax here, while playing futuristic versions of checkers and shuffleboard. Boomer (Herbert Jefferson Jr.) joins Athena (Maren Jensen) and Boxey (Noah Hathaway), as he is on furlon – that’s space talk for furlough – for the next 24 centars – and that’s Colonial measurement for one hour. Now the insistence on making up space jargon for a science fiction show like this always bothers me, one can assume that the characters on board the Galactica are not speaking English as we know it, and that we are getting a translated English version from whatever language the Colonials would be speaking, so why not just use minutes and hours instead of silly words like centon and centar?
Just as we are learning such fascinating things as Muffit being able to sniff out mushies, a treat that Boxey is partial to, a group of Cylon raiders are spotted and Blue Squadron is launched to intercept. Apollo (Richard Hatch), Starbuck (Dirk Benedict) and Sheba (Anne Lockhart) find themselves not facing they usual combat probe – if such a thing can be considered usual – but a full assault of over a hundred ships. Commander Adama (Lorne Greene) orders all squadrons launched, but all are soon shocked when the Cylon raiders fail to engage the Colonial Vipers, but instead head straight for the Galactica. With the Cylons not defending themselves from fighter attack Starbuck and company have no problem blowing the flying toasters away, but alas sheer numbers allow some to get through, and thus two Cylon Raiders go on a kamikaze run at the Galactica’s bridge and port landing bay.
Turns out the Cylon raiders were loaded down with solonite (high-yield non-nuclear explosive used by the Cylons) with their sole goal to take out the Galactica at any cost. Sadly this is the last we will see of the Cylons until the final episode of the season, and one can only assume that they vanished because writing plots, where they were a credible threat, had become to difficult to come up with. As a menace the Cylons fall somewhere between the Stormtroopers from Star Wars the Foot Clan from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, so it’s no surprise they got ditched in favor of newer enemies.
Aboard the Galactica things are not going well; Adama was badly injured in the explosions, the fire is raging out of control on several decks, and about twenty people, including Athena, Boomer and Boxey, are trapped in the Rejuvenation Center. This is where the writers fail to understand the problems of writing a story about “Fire in Space” as fire doesn’t do all that well in a vacuum. Now fire onboard a spacecraft is incredibly dangerous – as oxygen aboard a spacecraft tends to be very flammable – but fire is only a threat for as long as there is oxygen for it feed on, and in this episode we see the port landing bay constantly engulfed in flames, even though it is open to bloody space! Where is that fire getting its oxygen? If it’s drawing air from the ships interior everyone on board the Galactica should be dead from asphyxiation in minutes. Worse is we hear Adama ordering all bulkhead doors sealed just prior to the attack, yet they are apparently as effective as screen doors on an outhouse. The people trapped inside the Rejuvenation Center are in danger of dying from smoke inhalation because whoever designed this spacecraft didn’t think bulkhead doors being airtight was important.
The episode follows three “dramatic” threads; Adama has a shard of metal near his heart, and Dr. Salik (George Murdock) doesn’t want to operate because if they lose power during the procedure Adama could die, Boomer must find a way to save the people trapped with him inside the Rejuvenation Center, and finally Apollo, Starbuck and Sheba attempt to put out the raging flames that are racing towards the ships energizer and solium compartments. If they fail the ship will explode.
The tension on whether Adama will survive long enough to be operated on is non-existent, because it’s Lorne Greene and we know he’s not going to die – If Salik was good as Tony Stark he would have implanted an electromagnet in Adama’s chest and then we could have had Iron Adama. Boomer is able to hotwire the door to the Rejuvenation Center’s storage room so that everyone can escape the immediate danger of the smoke pouring in, and what is really terrible about this scene is in how Boomer explains where he got the knowledge to hack the lock, by giving us some very unfortunate backstory, “When I was a kid on Caprica I hotlinked more hovermobiles than there are doors on this ship.” So the writers thought that giving one of the only two black characters on this show a history of stealing cars was a good idea.
“My mother said I could either join the Colonial military or move in with my aunt and uncle in Bel Air”
When Boomer and company finally get into the storage compartment they find themselves trapped, and with only a few oxygen masks to go around things do not look good. So with the fire encroaching it’s up to robo-dog Muffit to crawl the Galactica’s ductwork to get help. Muffit is apparently the only option because the ducts are too small for a person to crawl though, but when we actually see the ducts they are clearly big enough for even an adult like Boomer to fit insde. Worse is the day is saved because Apollo remembers Muffit’s ability to track mushies, and so Colonel Tigh places some of them in the opening of the duct to the bridge. My question, “Why would those on the bridge assume Muffit is traveling through the ducts?” They deduce that Boomer would never send Boxey, but that Muffit could make it through, yet that’s assuming that the group has access to the ducts, and then our intrepid group actually think of using them. That kind of assumption usually leads to death.
When the fire chief informs Colonel Tigh (Terry Carter) that without mega-pressure pumps, which they need to hose the fire down with the fire retardant boraton, they can’t stop it from spreading. Apollo comes up with a brilliant plan of fitting the pumps to their Vipers and having him, Starbuck and Sheba commence strafing runs on the port landing bay. So I’m sure you’re asking, “How in the hell do you convert a fighter’s laser system to shoot a chemical foam?” It’s actually quite simple, you just cut from Apollo having the idea to them shooting foam all over the landing bay.
The plan seems to work until the fire crews lose even more pressure, which allows the fire to roar back in full force, and the landing bay is once again engulfed in flames. Adama wakes up in time to point out that they can use the vacuum of space to put out the fire. Did the writers who came up with this plan forget that, by this reasoning, there should be no fire in the bloody landing bay in the first place, as it is open to the vacuum of space. Having a character point out glaring plot holes is not a good idea. Adama, who is about to about to into surgery, tells them to set strategically placed explosives on the exterior hull of the Galactica, and to blow some holes that will smother the fire. Apparently this ship doesn’t have airlocks that can just be opened, so you have to rip holes in the hull to open the interior to space.
So what we have here is a spaceship that has bulkhead doors that are not airtight, but also have no way to vent air into space in the case of a fire. Whoever designed this ship should be fired into the sun. Adama asks for Tigh to “Put your best people on the job” which is short hand for Starbuck and Apollo. And just when you think things can’t get any dumber – and we are at extreme levels of dumb at this point – Apollo states that because they have to do this fast they cannot use a tether during their spacewalk to plant the charges. This is not only insanely dangerous but makes no sense, because having to constantly be aware of always having one hand on the Galactica, at all times during the work, would really slow your down.
So Muffit makes it to the bridge, and he is able to bring back extra oxygen masks for everybody, Adama pulls through the surgery fine, while Starbuck and Apollo are able to detonate the charges in the nick of time. I’ll give this episode credit for being jammed packed full of stuff happening, it’s just unfortunate that most of that stuff makes no logical sense whatsoever. A decent story about a disaster onboard a spacecraft should not be that hard to come up with, yet the creators of this show can only dribble out clichéd action beats amongst some of the worst science imaginable. I’m only left with one final question. “What the hell was the rest of the fleet doing during this crisis?” Surely they could have used shuttlecraft from the other ships to ferry people off the burning Galactica, not mention maybe a little extra manpower to fight the fire.
Overall this wasn’t a terrible episode – bad science aside – and it actually gave Colonel Tigh more to do than he’s ever done before, which is nice, and that idiot robot dog got to do something good for a change. The writers just needed to actually crack a book or two about how things work in space. Sure this isn’t 2001: A Space Odyssey but they still should have put a little effort into making the script at least a tiny bit sensible.
For the index of reviews click here: Battlestar Galactica: The Complete Series
Fire in Space
The science in this episode is bad even by 70s television standards, and any episode that makes me spend time with Boxey loses points, but at least this wasn’t another “lost on cowboy planet” episode.