Glen A Larson’s series Battlestar Galactica only lasted one season – poor ratings and even poorer writing being the main cause of its cancellation – but somehow a letter writing campaign resurrected the show, and this was long before the internet’s instant fan feedback existed, so studios weren’t use to this kind of thing. The original Star Trek got one more season due to a write-in campaign, before being cancelled the very next year, but the big difference here is that Star Trek was a very good show, while the original Battlestar Galactica was mediocre at the best of times. Yet despite the poor writing it did have an excellent cast, some nice sci-fi adventures, cool villains, and a plethora of fun characters going for it, but with the Spin-off Galactica 1980 there was a lot less of that in all categories.
The series begins with a three-parter titled “Galactica Discovers Earth” and opens with the dulcet tones of Commander Adama (Lorne Greene) informing us that the thirty year exodus has finally come to a close, “The great ship Galactica, our home for these many years. We’ve endured the wilderness of space, and now we near the end of our journey. We have at last found Earth.” Unfortunately it’s not a time for jubilation just yet, as there is a small wrinkle in their plans, turns out Earth is not technologically advanced enough to help them against the Cylons.
We are introduced to Dr. Zee (Robbie Rist), resident boy genius aboard the Galactica, who Adama explains is a “cerebral mutation” and has been given the job of scientific adviser to the Council, and it’s Dr. Zee who drops the bomb that Earth isn’t advanced enough to help defeat the Cylons. Adama is shown stock footage of our movies and television shows as proof of this, and worse yet it appears that the Cylons have been sneakily following the fleet these last few years, in the hopes that the Galactica would lead them to the last bastion of humanity.
Adama and Dr. Zee call an emergency meeting to discuss the current crisis. Amongst the attendees are Commander Xaviar (Richard Lynch) a Colonial Warrior and member of the Council of Twelve, Captain Troy (Kent McCord) the now grown up grandson of Commander Adama, and Lieutenant Dillon (Barry Van Dyke). In the briefing Dr. Zee shows the assembled footage of the Cylons attacking downtown Los Angeles, this needless to say shocks the group, but they are quickly placated when Dr. Zee explains this is just a simulation of what would happen if the Galactica was to stop and make contact with Earth.
Note: When the spin-off show was first proposed the script included most of the original cast, and was to take place only five years after the original show ended not thirty, but when the likes of Richard Hatch and Dirk Benedict were either not interested or too busy on other projects the show was revamped to take places decades later, with only Lorne Greene and Herbert Jefferson Jr. reprising their roles. So instead we get Captain Troy as Apollo’s son, and Lieutenant Dillon as the Starbuck equivalent.
Dr. Zee’s big plan is to have the fleet veer off away from Earth before the Cylons figure out that this planet was their original target – as Cylons are so stupid this is actually possible – while several groups of Colonial Warriors would fly down to Earth, equipped with cloaking devices and flying motorbikes, to visit several different countries, and while there they would secretly make contact with scientific communities. Over time they would help humanity so that someday they would be ready and able to fight off the Cylons. Commander Xaviar is dubious of this plan, as slowly increasing the Earth’s technology will not keep the Cylon’s off their back, and I have to agree with him. Just how does veering away from the Earth keep everyone safe? Does the Galactica plan to circle the sun indefinitely or hide behind Venus? Throughout the series we’re shown quite clearly that the Galactica is never more than mere minutes away from Earth at all times, so how exactly was that going to keep the Cylons from noticing the human population inhabiting the third planet from the sun?
Troy and Dillon are assigned North America – surprise surprise – and they almost immediately fail on the whole “Keep a low profile” thing by being picked up by a military radar installation. That the Galactica did not know that the Earth’s technology, as backward as they believe it to be, would still have the ability to detect aircraft is all kinds of bullshit. What the scene does give us is Troy and Dillon having to hit turbo boost to evade getting shot out of the sky by a couple of jet fighters, and not only is this scene not exciting but it just highlights how “not good at their jobs” these guys are. When they land, and turn on the cloaking device that will hide their Vipers, they proceed on their mission via Turbine Cycles (turbocyles/flying mortorbike), but when they are confronted by a biker gang they instantly resort to engaging the turbines flying ability to escape.
Realizing that flying jet-bikes may be a tad conspicuous they park and cloak them, and then proceed on foot. Now the invisibility generator only has enough power to last about 24 hours, yet these yahoos constantly park their crafts in relative close proximity to where people live, which of course leads to some dumb kid stumbling on it, and then calling in the military. We are then treated to some “comedy” as Troy and Dillon try and figure out how a phone works, and this is just sad when later we see Adama using a phone in his office aboard the Galactica. So it’s not like phones are some ancient technology to them. It’s while trying to “hack” the payphone that they encounter Jamie Hamilton (Robyn Douglass), who’s on her way to L.A. for a job interview with the UBC television network. They smooth talk their way into getting ride to Pacific Institute of Technology to find Dr. Mortinson (Robert Reed), who has developed a new form of nuclear technology, and he could be key to advancing Earth’s technological ability to defend itself against a Cylon invasion. Our two heroes stun a guard and barge into Mortinson’s lab only to find the doctor absent, they then ignore the protests of his lab assistant and start screwing around with a complicated formula on one of the computers.
After ripping off a scene from a sci-fi classic Troy and Dillon are arrested for suspected terrorism, but when Dr. Mortinson returns and discovers what has been done to his formula he instantly comes to the conclusion that those two men must be from outer space. Sure, if he couldn’t solve a mathematical problem, and then someone else does, they must be aliens from an advance civilization, and not just a couple of guys smarter than he is. Troy and Dillon escape a jail cell by using their personal cloaking device, which were not removed when they were booked because police officers are known for locking people up without checking their pockets for weapons and such.
Meanwhile back on the Galactica Commander Xaviar is not happy with the current plan – if you can call any of this a plan – and he tries to convince Adama that he himself should lead a team back in time to accelerate Earth’s technological advancement, that way when the Cylons do arrive they would arrive to find Earth ready for them. Though time travel is possible – like everything else on this show it was invented by super whiz kid Dr. Zee – it has never been tested, and the dangers of meddling with the past is too much for Adama. He refuses to support the plan so Xaviar of course just goes ahead and steals a ship equipped with the time warp synthesizer. Apparently just because a device is untested and dangerous doesn’t mean you shouldn’t equip all your ships with them.
Eventually Troy and Dillon hook up again with Jamie Hamilton and Dr. Mortinson, but before they can get into any “How we can help Earth science” they get all call from Adama and are ordered back to the Galactica, but before they have a chance to do that they must evade the police because they are escaped fugitives, and now suspected kidnappers. We get some idiotic comedy when Dillon insist they let him drive, because he’s watched Mortinson drive for a whole ten minutes, and of course this results in a zany car chase that ends with them crashing through a storefront. Jamie browbeats her way into a trip up to the Galactica, by threatening to spill the beans to the world about the spacemen, and when she gets their sje claims her knowledge of Earth history will be crucial in their plans to stop Xaviar.
Troy, Dillon and Jamie quickly jump into a couple of Vipers and engage the time warp synthesizer, and are able to track Xaviar’s energy readings to Germany June 4th 1944, but strangely we later lean that Xaviar has been aiding the Nazis on their V2 rocket program for quite some time, so why did they miss Xaviar by months? Is the science of time travel a bit sporadic?
Both Troy and Dillon make it quite clear to Jamie that they are only here to stop Xaviar, and that they cannot interfere with Earth’s history without their being dire consequences. First she wants them to kill a bunch of Germans firing at an Allied plane, but is told they can’t because those Germans could have descendants in the present that would soon cease to exist. She ignores them and runs to aid of Major Stockwell (Christopher Stone), an American spy who parachuted into Germany to take out the rocket research compound. Later they encounter a boxcar of Jewish prisoners being loaded for a trip to a concentration camp, and once again they refuse Jamie’s suggestion of rescuing the doomed people. Of course at the end of the episode that’s exactly what they end up doing, but we never learn what the consequences of a hundred people not dying at the end of WWII has on the present.
Xaviar is eventually tracked down and Dillon shoots the modified V2 rocket with his blaster, and for his failure the Germans order Xaviar to be shot. Troy and Hamilton, who are still disguised as German soldiers, haul Xaviar away, but at the last minute Xaviar slips away with the aid of his personal cloaking device. We never do hear how all the other Colonial agents – those that visited scientists in other parts of the world – did on their mission, but I must wonder, “Could they possible have screwed up as much as these two guys?”
The remainder of this three episode story arc is even more embarrassing. They return to 1980 and drop Jamie off, but while they were off doing that a kid discovered their de-cloaked Vipers sitting in a field, who then ran to tell his dad about his discovery. This results in the military showing up and confiscating the ships. Our “heroes” track down the kid in the hopes that he can tell them where their Vipers were taken, and after helping him defeat a bully – good use of your time guys – they discover that the military actually have three Vipers. So for some reason Xaviar not only returned to the present, when he had the ability to go anywhere in time, but managed lose his ship as well. I’m starting to think the standards for being a Colonial Warrior has really slipped over the years.
Even stranger is that it seems Xaviar has returned here to enlist Dr. Mortinson in his quest for altering the world’s timeline, and I’m not quite sure why he thinks a nuclear physicist is an ideal partner for time travelling adventures, but sure why not. Like most plans adopted in this show it fails immediately. Troy and Dillon call and inform the good Doctor that the Xaviar is evil, and thus our villain must flee…again. Our heroes then head to the Airbase to retrieve their ships, but Xaviar is already there. There is a gun battle but Xaviar manages to power up his ship, and he escapes…again. Troy and Dillon have to stun all the approaching military personal, before they too can make their escape, but not without Jamie stowing away in Dillon’s Viper.
They chase after Xaviar, firing at him just as he engages the time synthesizer, but he gets away…again. Our trio return to the Galactica where they learn from Adama that Xaviar has escaped to the 18th century, where he will interfere in the history of pre-Revolutionary America. “Return with us each and every week as our stalwart hero tracks the villainous Xaviar through the pages of history…or not.” Turns out the Network wasn’t too keen on the time travel aspect of the show, and so the producers were asked to jettison the whole idea. So the threat of Xavier altering time was abandoned, and left completely unresolved.
Note: Donald Bellisario would later re-tool the original time travel concept, while also takings ideas he explored in the Battlestar Galactica episode Experiment in Terra, and would go on to use them in Quantum Leap.
The reason for Galactica arriving at Earth during the present time is glaringly obvious to anyone, the original series was one of the most expensive shows on television, so if a spin-off was going to happen it would have to be cheaper. Even the time travel aspect of it was planned to go on the cheap as they’d have had a library of stock footage to use, but after that was jettisoned it was all downhill from there.