20 Things We Love About Babylon 5
Jayne Nelson recalls how ’90s space opera Babylon 5 gripped her and millions of other SF fans.
It was the space opera to beat all space operas. Often compared to (or pitted against) Deep Space Nine – unfairly, as they were both entirely different beasts – Babylon 5 was a breath of fresh air, something brand new, deeply original and, most of all, unafraid to be out-and-out sci-fi. The show unravelled a story so thrilling that it’s difficult to explain to the uninitiated just how astonishing it was, but we’ll try our best. Jayne Nelson pays a visit to Babylon 5: our last, best hope for peace…
1 It wasn’t scared to be full-on sci-fi
In the early ’90s there was one science fiction show to rule them all – Star Trek: The Next Generation. We’re not complaining about this, mind you; it was bloody good and spawned the excellent Deep Space Nine. However, some science fiction fans may have found themselves yearning for something a little more adventurous; something nutty and colourful, with no allowances made for non-SF-literate viewers, and the guts to build a universe that wasn’t merely a bunch of blokes on a starship meeting aliens with funny foreheads. And thus, when Babylon 5 came along, it was like eating Lucky Charms after a lifetime of cornflakes.
Just because a show is science fiction it doesn’t mean it has to stick to hard sci-fi concepts, or throw spirituality and “magic” out of the window. Indeed, Babylon 5 made good use of everything from psychic powers to prophecy. Londo, for example, knew throughout the entire run of the show that G’Kar would be the man who killed him, and this knowledge understandably shaped his hatred of the unfortunate Narn Ambassador (and, by extension, his homeworld). Watching each prophecy unfold week by week was bloody good fun, although some of us strained our brains trying to figure out the plot twists in advance, to no avail.
3 The station’s size
To paraphrase the dear old Hitchhiker’s Guide, Babylon 5 is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mindbogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to Babylon 5. This was a space station so big that one character could go for a “walkabout” and get lost in it. An entire level was concealed for years without anybody noticing. And the fact that a handful of sets and some CGI could successfully get across just how big Babylon 5 was is to the show’s everlasting credit.
4 Centauri hair
This wasn’t just a hairstyle. This was J Michael Straczynski and everybody involved in the show poking a finger in the eye of critics everywhere. “Yes, we’re science fiction!” they were saying. “We’re sci-fi and we’re proud of it! Just look at this hairdo – look at it! Can you handle it?!
With crowd-pleasing geek credentials stretching back to The Twilight Zone, Bill Mumy was already onto a winner when he signed up to play Lennier, the gentle aide to Ambassador Delenn. Naturally likeable, he ensured that the innocent Lennier was a sweet, dependable member of Babylon 5’s crew – although he made a few morally dubious decisions, breaking our hearts in the process. The fact he was secretly in love with Delenn made him rather tragic, too.