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Babylon 5.1
by Rick Norwood

Babylon 5: Thirdspace (**)
by J. Michael Straczynski
Other Babylon 5.1 Columns
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Ratings are based on a four star system.
One star means that the commercials are more entertaining than the program.
Two stars watch if you have nothing better to do.
Three stars is good solid entertainment.
Four stars means you never dreamed television could be this good.

Babylon 5 I eagerly awaited this third Babylon 5 telemovie for weeks, delighted that it got a feature box in TV Guide and a recommendation in Entertainment Weekly. I hoped that it would bring in new viewers for one of my all-time favourite television shows. What a disappointment!

My cat and I settled down on the sofa to watch, bouncy with anticipation. And we watched. And we watched. I scratched my cat under the chin, and tried to keep my hopes up. Something is bound to happen soon! The first hour went by. Nothing happened. A huge alien artifact had been discovered. There were premonitions of disaster. I waited. Maybe the ending will be worth the wait, I thought. I can count on Straczynski not to end this the same way they ended Event Horizon and the previous dozen Huge Alien Artifact movies, I thought. I was wrong.

The ads say that the movie takes place between seasons four and five of the series, but that's not true. Actually, it takes place during season four, after the Shadow war but before the war against President Clarke. It is nice to see Ivanova again. Londo and G'Kar and Garibaldi are missed. Vir, Delin, and Dr. Franklin have small roles. But essentially it is up to Sheridan, Ivanova, Zack, and Lita Alexander to carry the show, and it sags. It sags.

One problem is we start out knowing that nothing is going to happen. We've already seen the end of the fourth season, and it made no reference to "Thirdspace." By the end of the movie, everything has to come around full circle to Go. A bigger problem is the linear plot, from here to there with no complications, no twists, no character development, and no surprises.

So, what is good about "Thirdspace"? There are about ten minutes of excellent special effects, but if special effects alone were all that mattered, the movie Lost in Space would have been a classic. There are echoes (swipes?) of Dan Simmons' Hyperion (the tree of thorns) and of Jack Kirby's Fourth World (anti-life). There are a lot of scenes of people hitting one another, but since we know in advance that all the fighting will have zero impact on the plot, there is zero excitement.

What happened? Did Straczynski consciously say to himself, "Let's keep this one real simple, and maybe we can reach a mass audience"? I hope not. But the only other explanation I can think of for a writer as good as Straczynski to turn in a script with as little going for it as this one is that he's burned out from trying to write every episode himself. He needs a break.

One small point that kept bothering me. The Huge Alien Artifact can suck power out of any ship that comes too close. Why did no one think of throwing an asteroid at it?

But the main problem was, nothing happens.

I did like the scene between Zack and Lita in the lift.

Star Trek Voyager: Demons (*)
story by Andre Bormanis, teleplay by Kenneth Biller

Star Trek: Voyager Andre Bormanis is the scientific consultant for both Deep Space Nine and Voyager. As such it is his awesome responsibility to keep Star Trek scientifically plausible. One of the most important things that sets Star Trek apart from most filmed science fiction is a fundamental respect for scientific plausibility.

I suspect that half of the Ph.D.'s at Jet Propulsion Laboratory would give their eye teeth for a chance to be scientific advisor to Star Trek. The highest degree Bormanis holds is an M.S. in science, technology, and public policy. Of course, his degree wouldn't matter if the science in this episode were plausible, but it isn't.

"Demons" is based on the old idea of "the most dangerous planet in the galaxy," where, naturally, Voyager has no choice but to refuel. The trouble with the idea, which goes back at least to Harry Harrison's classic Deathworld, is that there are planets where the gravity is crushing, the atmosphere corrosive, the winds of hurricane force, the temperature above the boiling point of metals, and radiation levels lethal. Hal Clement has the knowledge to write stories set on planets like those, but not many other people do. Harrison's Deathworld, for example, might be described as the most dangerous planet in the galaxy where you can walk around in your shirt sleeves.

The Demon Planet in this episode is just not that dangerous. For one thing, like all the planets on Star Trek, it has Earth-normal gravity. Furthermore, it is as unscientific as all getout, with pools of very hot liquid metal side by side with much cooler areas, and no heat flow between them. Needless to say, if the laws of physics held true on the Demon Planet, Harry Kim and Tom Paris would be dead at the end of the episode. I won't give away the "surprise ending," but when you watch this episode, think about the fact that when objects of different temperatures are side by side, with no insulation between them, heat will always flow from the hotter to the colder.

To make matters worse, all of the characters, who in other episodes behave like trained, competent professionals, here act like squabbling small children.

If Bormanis were not scientific consultant to Star Trek, I probably would not have reviewed this episode at all. Voyager has enough troubles without me adding to its grief. But Star Trek already has a very capable science adviser in the person of Michael Okuda, and I hate to think of a series I love getting science advice from someone who, when he writes an episode, gets the science all wrong.

Copyright © 1998 by Rick Norwood

Rick Norwood is a mathematician and writer whose small press publishing house, Manuscript Press, has published books by Hal Clement, R.A. Lafferty, and Hal Foster. He is also the editor of Comics Revue Monthly, which publishes such classic comic strips as Flash Gordon, Sky Masters, Modesty Blaise, Tarzan, Odd Bodkins, Casey Ruggles, The Phantom, Gasoline Alley, Krazy Kat, Alley Oop, Little Orphan Annie, Barnaby, Buz Sawyer, and Steve Canyon.

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