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Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Babylon 5 1-18: A Voice in the Wilderness, Part 1

Episode:18|Writer:J. Michael Straczynski|Air Date:27-Jul-1994

Today on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm rewatching the first half of A Voice in the Wilderness, Babylon 5's first two-parter! This is a rare event, as there's only two of these in the entire five year run. I guess after War Without End the series had gotten so serialised that labelling multi-part stories seemed redundant. That's another thing B5 has in common with DS9 if you're keeping count: no numbered two parters after season 3.

I remember this one being a highlight of the first season, but it's been ages since I've seen the series, so I could always be wrong. I was way off with Eyes the other day for instance, which was much better than I expected. Maybe I'm due for a let down.

You might be wondering why I skipped over episode 17, Legacies. I will get around to it, but I'm following the Lurker's Guide Master List instead of the order they aired in, so I plan to watch it right before the season finale.
18 - A Voice in the Wilderness, Part 1
19 - A Voice in the Wilderness, Part 2
20 - Babylon Squared
21 - The Quality of Mercy
14 - TKO
17 - Legacies
I'm going to be recapping the whole of AVitW,P1 with screencaps and SPOILERS so don't be surprised if I mention things that happened in earlier episodes. Everything that comes after will remain unspoiled though, including the second half of this two-parter.



The episode begins with a Minbari coming on board the station and asking a security officer where he can find Ambassador Delenn.

"Of course, this way," replies the security officer, and then walks behind the man he's supposed to be guiding and follows him out of the room. Then the scene just ends! Now I'll never know if he was bringing him over to a map, using this an excuse to abandon his post and go for walk, or leading him into a dark alley to knife him in the back and steal his bling.

Over in C&C, Commander Sinclair and Lt. Commander Ivanova are investigating some seismic disturbances on the planet Epsilon III. It's taken a while but the series is finally acknowledging that planet that's in the background every time we see the station!

They don't think it's anything interesting (the planet or the seismic activity), but seeing as they're permanently in orbit it seems like a good idea to send a geological survey team over in a shuttle to check it out.

Sinclair leaves her to it and goes to play diplomat for a few hours, running into telepath Talia Winters in front of a transport tube. She's a bit on edge because every time she calls a lift Garibaldi's waiting for her inside, and she thinks it's going to happen again.

I was curious about this, so I did the research and he's been caught on screen pulling this twice so far, in Midnight on the Firing Line (left) and Mind War (right). Garibaldi was too focused on tracking down who was using the forbidden Gold Channel in Born to the Purple and Talia was busy getting weird visions in Deathwalker. Wow, she really hasn't made that many appearances this season for someone with her name in the opening titles.

So the doors open and...

...of course Garibaldi's waiting inside, grinning at them. He doesn't say a word or react to their expressions of shock, he just smiles. It's played for laughs, with comedy music and everything, but that's actually pretty damn creepy. It may be pure coincidence, as you'd expect two people to keep running into each other if they each have a routine, but if anyone on B5 knows how to get where you're going to be before you get there, it's Garibaldi.

They both decide to take the stairs instead.

But the teaser's not over yet, and here we finally get to see an Earth Alliance shuttle! The type with wings that can visit planets I mean, not the boxy kind that takes people off the giant space liners.

The survey team are now 40 miles above the Epsilon III and they're ready to begin their scan, but the second they do they're hit by a beam coming from the surface. They lose power but gain a cockpit full of sparks, though with no steering the anonymous scientists are helpless to prevent the shuttle spinning to the ground! End teaser!


ACT ONE.


Oh it's okay, they managed to achieve a low orbit so now they're just waiting for a Starfury to come drag them back home.

Unfortunately the actor on the right (playing Dr. Tasaki) is the only one who's been paid to talk in this scene so the best the other two can do is occasionally turn their heads and react. Kind of sucks for him as the rescue will take hours and they can't tell him where they left the deck of cards.

After a scene of Starfuries launching and another of them riding on a docking platform after coming back, Dr. Tasaki and his crew make it safely back on board and immediately plan to leave for the planet again. Well Tasaki plans to leave, the most he gets out of the other two is a '"Yes sir!" from the guy.

Meanwhile Sinclair is in a meeting with Ambassadors Delenn and Mollari, discussing... trade routes or something. But because it's Delenn there's zero drama involved and they come to an agreement quickly. Though because it's Londo he eventually starts talking about Ambassador G'Kar and the Narn.

He's convinced they'll never stop hating the Centauri and that his people have to respond in kind. "Physics tells us that for every action there must be an equal and opposite reaction. They hate us, we hate them, they hate us back. So here were are, victims of mathematics," he explains, on the way out. Delenn's sure he'll eventually come around though, because the alternative is too terrible to consider.

Oh, I should mention that they heard him talking with Ivanova about the survey team over his link, so now both ambassadors know that something's up with the planet.

Later in C&C, Ivanova reveals that the beam from the planet that shorted out their shuttle is actually a beacon, sending a series of regular signals repeated at specific intervals. But they can't decipher them.

In other news, they've gotten absolutely no news from the Mars Colony today. So either there's a problem with their communication system... or there's a problem with the colony.

Down in Green Sector, Delenn was going back to her quarters when that man from the teaser came around the corner, demanding to know the third principle of sentient life.

"Draal!" she exclaims, recognising her old friend. Which turns out to be the wrong answer ('the capacity for self-sacrifice' is what he was after).

Oh no, Draal's her old teacher isn't he? This is not a good sign at all. When Dr. Franklin's old teacher dropped by in Infection he brought with him a superweapon that nearly destroyed the station. When Talia Winters' old teacher came to visit in Mind War he was a superweapon that nearly destroyed the station!

After a strange 10 second interlude of a space tanker refuelling a transport outside, the episode cuts to Sinclair in his quarters enjoying a rare bit of peace without having to study legal loopholes, solve moral dilemmas or run around Downbelow with a pistol. But he's got the news on so he's still miserable.

Today's headline is the problems on Mars. It's not just a communication glitch, it sounds like they've got their own war of independence kicking off over there. We're not shown anything so I'm imagining it's exactly like Total Recall over there.

You'd think that people living in glass domes wouldn't throw stones, but already the death toll is in the hundreds. There was a subplot in Eyes about terrorists on Mars possibly using B5 to buy weapons, but it seemed to go nowhere. I guess it went here.

Sinclair was born on Mars so this must be hitting him pretty hard.

Hard enough for him to have a hallucination of this guy begging him for help perhaps.


I was kind of hoping that the hologram would continue with "Help me Commander Sinclair, you're my only hope," but he's being vague for now.


ACT TWO.


Now we're watching two people in space suits bring a converter around to tower three, for some reason.

I've noticed there's a lot of radio chatter over the station shots this week, even when they have nothing to do with anything, and that's not something the series usually does. I don't need to be distracted by the irrelevant adventures of Maintenance Team 2 when their planet's shooting lasers beams and Mars is falling apart!

It's day two of Draal's visit to the station and he's still chatting with a cheerful Ambassador Delenn. He's mostly running through a checklist of everything he came to talk about and making sure he hasn't missed anything. She's sure he's told her everything... except why he's here.

Her good mood is soured when she learns what he's up to. He's 'going to the sea', as is tradition for space elves, and he'll never see her again. Because he doesn't know her video phone number I guess? It's not a euphemism for taking his own life, he's just sick of how angry and selfish Minbari society is becoming back home, and wants to spend his remaining years doing something useful somewhere else in the sea of stars. Probably not on Earth or Mars though I expect, the way things are going.

Garibaldi's a bit unhappy himself, as he can't get a message through to the Mars Colony. Communications are out except for authorised personnel and it turns out that the Security Chief of Babylon 5 isn't authorised. He never thinks to ask whether the Commander of Babylon 5 is though, which is weird.

Also weird is the angle they've gone for with this shot. It feels like half the episodes I've seen in season 1 have been shot like a sitcom, but they've gone for something more interesting here, to the point where I don't even recognise the room we're in right now. His quarters I guess?

After another pointless CGI shot (this time of someone doing some welding in one of the Cobra bays), Dr. Tasaki and his team head back to the planet for more readings, bringing with them a fighter escort to come to their rescue if they get shot by any more strange beams. The thing is, the Starfuries are space fighters, they don't do atmosphere, so the shuttle has to stay above a certain altitude if they're going to be any help.

Meanwhile Londo has a chat with Sinclair about what they expect to find down there, and Sinclair expects it'll just be some ancient automated homing beacon. "Yes but if it isn't, will you tell me?" asks Londo, which seems to confuse Sinclair for a moment, before he gives him a firm "No."

Wow, mean.

Garibaldi's getting desperate now, so he goes to Talia for help despite the fact that she barely knows him and kind of hates him for his creepy elevator-stalking ways.

Turns out that the reason Garibaldi needs to get a message through to Mars is that he worked there a few years back and met a woman called Lise Hampton. Things got serious between them, they even talked about marriage a few times, but then he got the job offer on Babylon 5 and she didn't come with him. He just needs to know if she's okay, and he happens to know that there's a secret Psi Corps facility on Mars that Talia can contact for him.

Meanwhile Dr. Tasaki has the bright idea of taking the shuttle into the atmosphere against Ivanova's instructions and gets a barrage of missiles sent his way as a response. I don't mean that she fired them (though she was certainly thinking about), they actually came from that dead abandoned planet with absolutely nothing on it. Clearly the survey team who came here a few years back to make sure it was safe to build a space station in orbit missed something quite significant.

One of the missiles takes out their aft stabiliser and now three more are on their way!


ACT 3.


Fortunately for Dr. Tasaki, Ivanova once again has a cunning plan to save their skin after the break, and this time it really does involve firing at the idiots who ignored her. She orders the Starfuries to fire shots into the atmosphere to draw the heat-seeking missiles away and give them time to hit their afterburners and run away again.

Though she gives them this lecture to think about as they're getting towed back:
"On your trip back I'd like you to take the time to learn the Babylon 5 mantra: Ivanova is always right. I will listen to Ivanova. I will not ignore Ivanova's recommendations. Ivanova is God. And if this ever happens again Ivanova will personally rip your lungs out. Babylon Control out."
I'd totally forgotten that Babylon 5 mantra was from this episode. I'll probably forget again in a few days, but for now it's nice to have that knowledge.

She turns around, sending the audience that had gathered behind her scurrying away trying to look busy, then quietly apologises to God.

Once he's back on the station, Tasaki explains his theory on what's happened here: an earthquake has opened up an existing artificial fissure, revealing an old automatic defence system five miles deep. It wasn't discovered until now because their scans were only two miles deep.

The weaponry down there is a potential threat to the station and whoever put it there may still be around, so this could be a first contact situation. Which means that someone of command rank needs to make a personal visit, and Ivanova gets a huge grin when she realises that she gets to leave the station for once.

It might seem stupid for the two highest ranking officers to go down into an immensely dangerous situation, especially when Star Trek: The Next Generation made a point of keeping Captain Picard on the ship, but Earthforce in the Babylon 5 universe has different rules to Starfleet regarding first contact situations. They became a bit cautious after the near annihilation of humanity and decided that it's better to risk a command officer who knows what they're doing, than send someone who doesn't and risk a war.

Down in the Zocalo, Londo notices his good and dear friend Garibaldi looking miserable and joins him at his table. After making fun of the water he's drinking, the ambassador tells a story of a dancer he once met and fell in love with. Not the one from Born to the Purple, this is another dancer, one he soon married.
"The next day I woke up, I saw her in the light of day sleeping against my arm and I decided I would rather chew off my arm than wake her up."
"Aww that's sweet," replies Garibaldi with a grin.
"No no, she had a voice that could curdle fresh milk. 'Londoooooooooooooooooo!'"
Seeing that Garibaldi has cheered up, he goes off with his drink to spread happiness throughout the station. It's only then that Garibaldi realises that he's been left with the bill.

But now it's Londo's turn to see the 'help me' hologram and I am so so relieved the director didn't have him looking at his drink afterwards.

Then there's shuttle flight #3, with Sinclair and Ivanova giving it a try this time. Starfuries open fire to distract the missiles and Sinclair takes the shuttle into a dive straight for the fissure. It'll be a suicidal dive if Tasaki was wrong about the fissure's depth as Sinclair points out it'll take two miles to slow down.


ACT FOUR.


It was five miles deep!

After a short boring journey through a pitch black fissure they eventually came across an opening with a landing pad inside. There's no life signs and the air isn't breathable, but they're going to stick some masks on and take a trip outside to see what they can find down here.

This is a pretty historic moment for Babylon 5, as I believe that it's the very first time anyone sets foot on a planet on screen. We've seen people on monitor screens having a video chat from planets like Earth, Mars and the Narn homeworld, but this is first time we get to see a character leave the station and land on a planet themselves. Only took them 18 episodes and a movie; most sci-fi series manage it in episode 1 and I'm not counting the planet the characters start on!

Back on the station it's Talia's turn to have no luck getting a message through on Mars. Oh she can get a message to the Psi Corps base just fine, but amazingly the top secret facility doesn't want to help her friend out, even when she asks nicely. But she will check to see if Lise's name has been listed among the wounded.

There's fighting going on less than a quarter of a mile away from the secret Psi Corps base and they're a little concerned right now. The Free Mars movement has been going on for a decade, but no one there suspected that they were this organised or this well armed. Which I guess paints the Psi Corps in a slightly more positive light as it means they haven't been ripping that information out of people's heads. What also paints them in a good light is that every telepath we've seen wearing that badge so far has been a decent person, aside from Bester and his Psi Cop partner.

Down on Epsilon III, Sinclair and Ivanova have got their Mulder and Scully flashlights out and are exploring some strange slanted corridors. Hey I recognise those wall beams from her dream in Eyes! Makes sense seeing as that episode was shot after this and they'd still have pieces of the set lying around.

Ivanova spots an alien corpse lying against a wall and decides go over and investigate, but Sinclair stops her and sends a rock over to investigate in her place.

The rock didn't make it.

See, this is why you should always bring at least one redshirt down with you on every away mission. Also that effect looked cool and very nasty. Best visual effect on the series since the holographic knights in Survivors, though I think it's mostly the sparks that sell it.

Sinclair throws a few more rocks over to test the recharge speed, and discovers they can make it through if they throw a rock first and then run for it. So they run for it.

And then they end up in the gigantic 3D rendered chasm room. That's them at the bottom, you can make them out by their flashlight beams.

There's something very familiar to me about this image of a people on a walkway taking them through an elaborate structure on an otherwise dead world. I've heard people compare this to a scene in the 50s sci-fi classic Forbidden Planet, but I haven't seen the movie so I'm going to compare it to 90s sci-fi classic Total Recall instead. That hasn't made me any more optimistic about the people who built this place though; only villains put bottomless pits in their bases and then skimp on the handrails.

Back on B5, Delenn's 'old friend' C plot has gone walkabout and shown up at Londo's door, who doesn't know what plot he's part of any more, having already seen both Garibaldi and the 'Help me' hologram.

Actually right now Londo is in the middle of studying Earth culture, for whatever reason. He's been trying to make some sense of the Earth folks and having no luck, with the current focus of his confusion being the 'hokey cokey' (or 'hokey pokey' to him as his lines were written by an American).

He then sings the song for them, to their utter bewilderment, and then continues with a rant about how it doesn't mean anything.
"I have been studying it for SEVEN DAYS. I had the computer analyse it. I swear to you IT DOES NOT MEAN A THING!"
I've learned four things here: B5's computer can analyse songs for their meaning, the 23rd century equivalent of Wikipedia is rubbish, Londo needs a hobby and Delenn's friend Draal is going a bit senile in his old age (he liked Londo's rendition of the song).

Garibaldi is in command of the station while Sinclair and Ivanova are both out and he's waiting for them to check in, when Talia drops in and takes him out to the tiny corridor outside C&C for a chat about Lise. Though the only news she has is that there's no news: Lise hasn't shown up in any of the lists the Psi Corps base has access to.

Suddenly Sinclair is back in contact again, just in time to be warned of an earthquake. The two officers narrowly escape being caught in a cave in, but it blocks the way back to the shuttle.

Though on the plus side they've found hologram guy in the flesh, plugged into a big glowing wall, and he's able to give them the full 'Help me' message:
"Help me or your people, all your people, will die."

ACT FIVE.


So they get him out of the machine and carry him back to their shuttle. Considering how padded this episode's been I'm surprised they're in their seats and taking off by the next cut.

Also Ivanova channels the spirit of Ensign Chekov by listing all the reasons that this is a dumb idea and then saying "It's a Russian thing. When we're about to do something stupid we like to catalogue the full extent of our stupidity for future reference."

Hey I've just noticed that they've got spare air canisters for their breathers on their belt, that's a nice touch. Another nice touch is that they remember he can't breathe their air and give him his own mask when he's on their shuttle.

Suddenly there's a ship coming through the jumpgate, a big one. Garibaldi sees what it is and reacts with shock. And that's how part 1 ends.

Honestly, I think they could've done better for their first ever cliffhanger. We know that what's coming out of the gate isn't going to be a huge problem for them, otherwise that's what they would've ended on! 'How are they going to get out of that?' is a much more compelling mystery than 'are our heroes going to struggle to get out of something?'

And now, the conclusion. Well, my conclusion anyway.


CONCLUSION

A Voice in the Wilderness, Part I has all kinds of stuff going on. Epsilon III is sending out signals and harassing a shuttle, there's fighting on the streets of Mars, they've discovered a huge sci-fi complex inside the planet, Londo's doing the hokey cokey... and yet it feels a bit slow to me somehow. Not just slow, but padded out with things like unnecessary recycled CGI shots. It's got plenty of necessary CGI shots too, those poor Amigas must have been cooked alive rendering all the different shuttle trips, but it really felt like they didn't have enough minutes here for an entire two-parter.

The A plot is the mystery of Epsilon III, which I keep accidentally typing as Episode III. After 18 episodes they've finally gotten around to making one about that planet that's in the background of almost every shot of the station! And it turns out that Earth just happened to build their station around the one planet in the galaxy with a giant mysterious machine inside it, what are the chances? Even more unbelievable, there's new sets down there!

I wasn't entirely enthralled by the adventures of guest scientist Dr. Tasaki at first, and three separate shuttle trips to the same planet in one episode feels like too much, but once the regular cast took over it started to grab more of my interest. Not that I disliked Tasaki, but it's hard to get invested in a brand new character who'll be gone by next week and can't even have a conversation with the people in his shuttle.

The B plot follows on from the Mars rebellion non-plot in Eyes and features Garibaldi's desperate attempt to find out if his ex is okay. It seems like Sinclair should be the one worrying about Mars, seeing as he grew up there, but he's busy (plus all his exs seem to vanish from reality entirely after their first couple of appearances). But this is good as it means we're introduced to Lise Hampton, who helps flesh out Garibaldi's backstory out a little, and complicates his current story. It also means he has to... well he doesn't quite apologise for waiting for Talia in the transport tubes all those times, but he at least has a proper conversation with her.

Then there's a C plot, which is Delenn hanging out with her old friend Draal. I've decided that I don't need to see any more scenes of Delenn sharing a drink in quarters with one of her old friends. It's nothing to do with the actors, but when two wise and respectful space elves have a polite discussion in their formal manner of speech my mind begins to stray from what they're saying and focus the sci-fi jug they're using to pour the drinks instead. Not much else to say about this story as it's pretty much just introducing a character for later.

Finally there's Londo, who spends the episode moving in and out of everyone else's plots, because that's where Londo's at right now. Still, at least he seems to be in a good mood this week.

Overall I found this to be a watchable enough 40 minutes of TV, but surprisingly underwhelming. Also the cliffhanger's crap, but it's still got me looking forward to the second part.


Babylon 5 will return with A Voice in the Wilderness, Part II. And that's the next episode I'll be watching on Sci-Fi Adventures.

If you have anything you want to say about this episode or this website, you should leave a comment in that comment box right there.

3 comments:

  1. The Great Machine does look a lot like the one from Forbidden Planet -- I have always assumed this was deliberate -- but yes, it is a bit like the one from Total Recall too, so you're okay.

    It's weird; my memory of B5 is that nothing important happens in the first series, but here we have the Great Machine and I see that "Babylon Squared" is coming up, so it's clear my memory is once again faulty.

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