Hold on to your butts, guys. This is going to be a pretty straightforward post this week. I just watched all of Battlestar Galactica in a week, and now I’m going to give you a couple of reasons why it was one of the best sci-fi shows out there.
- No Shields.
A little while ago I was watching some re-run of Star Trek where Picard is going up against the Borg. The Enterprise jumps to warp speed and the Borg chase them down, launching attacks specifically designed to drain the shields before they launched their actual attack. It was at that moment I realized how incredibly stupid shields are.
They cut to a scene in Engineering where the crew are talking about rerouting power from every other system (save life support) to the shields and I thought to myself, “Man, why don’t they just have all the power to the shields at all times?”
It was that question which led me to the realization that shields are stupid. Sure, in however many centuries it takes for us to work on space travel there’s a chance we might figure out how to develop some sort of shield. Moving at those speeds you’d need something to deflect debris and other particles; otherwise you wind up with a ship full of holes.
You know what the Galactica has? It’s got a hell of a lot of armor plating. It’s got enough armor plating to withstand being destroyed by both conventional and nuclear warheads, and not only does that make more sense in terms of where we are technologically, it’s just way cooler.
- Conventional Weapons.
In the same vein as the whole shields thing the ships seen in Battlestar Galactica sport guns and missiles. Vipers and Cylon Raiders are all armed with machine guns, while Raptors and Cylon Heavy Raiders are capable of firing a barrage of rockets. The Galactica itself is loaded down with a huge amount of machine gun and missile batteries, and is capable of launching nuclear warheads at a target. These are things you’d expect on a human warship, unlike a lot of other sci-fi where you’ve got whatever they happen to call their energy weapons.
It’s ridiculous. The Borg could have been way more cooler if instead of resigning themselves to using the standard energy weapons of the Star Trek universe they paired those awesome shield draining weapons with, say, nukes. How fast would you be able to take down a fleet of ships if you could drop their shields in seconds and then slam them with a nuclear warhead?
Pretty damn fast.
- The Captains Don’t Know Everything.
This one was pointed out to me by a friend who works on ships while we were watching an episode of Voyager. It seems like every Star Fleet Captain knows everything about their ship. They know how the engines work, they know how the weapons work, and they can fix anything. Weapons officers and Chief Engineers are there primarily for dialogue and deus ex machina purposes. For example, the Chief Engineers primary job is to make the ship go a little bit faster than should be possible, but if it came down to it the Captains could run the whole thing. This comes to a pretty blatant point during a story arc in Voyager when the Emergency Medical Hologram assumes command and runs the whole ship with just his knowledge and the computer’s help.
I’d never given much thought to that before, but my friend pointed it out. His example, Firefly, mirrors Battlestar Galactica. The Captains in those two shows know enough to tell their people what needs to get done, and it gets done… but it doesn’t seem as if they can do it themselves. Adama can’t fix his ship. He’s got Chief Tyrol for that. His job is solely to give orders to the personnel who specialize in their jobs, because they’re the ones who know how to do the job.
On the last ship my friend worked on he told me about a conversation between the Captain and the Chief, when there was a problem in the engine room. It went something like this:
Captain: I need that engine fixed. How long is it gonna take?
Chief: I dunno. Probably six hours or something.
Captain: Good enough. Lemme know when it works again.
That’s it. No explanations needed for what was broken or why it was broken. It was enough that it was broken and could be fixed. That’s all the Captain needed to know because it isn’t his job to know how to fix stuff.
- Persistent damage.
As Battlestar Galactica progressed the ship herself took serious damage, and every time you saw an exterior shot that damage was visible. The worse it got the more it was visible in the show. There was a real sense of dread surrounding the entire exodus, because the viewers could infer that the next impact from a Cylon Basestar could be the one that blew the whole thing up. You just don’t really get that in any other shows. There’s always somewhere to dock for repairs off camera in other shows, and that just isn’t going to happen in Battlestar Galactica.
So, there you have it. Four reasons. Well, three reasons and an anecdote about how ships function. In all honesty I had briefly considered writing a thing on how the ending of the show wasn’t nearly as bad as it was originally received but I don’t think that’s absolutely necessary. The whole show shoves the idea of a circular history down your throat, so really the ending fits that perfectly. But hey, maybe you guys really hated it. Maybe you didn’t. Maybe you were so caught up in specifics of where the various groups decided to settle you totally missed it. Maybe you watched Caprica and found out first hand the Battlestar Galactica mythos could be done way worse. Hit the comments, and lemme know what you’re thinking.