It’s time. Time to settle, once and for all, which genre shows rule and which ones drool.
Talk to the fans and you will always run into people who feel one show with a premise of x is so much better than that other show based on x.
Today’s Smackdown: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Vs. Babylon 5.
The Premise: A space station run by humans but far from where humans call home. Adventures ensue week to week as an assortment of aliens and humans come by for a visit.
Deep Space Nine:
When the Bajoran people free themselves from a long and brutal occupation at the hands of the Cardassians, naturally, they call up the United Federation of Planets and say, “Hey! We have this space station called Terok Nor that was used by our oppressors to keep us inline – there’s a ton of bad blood and bad memories there – why don’t you send some Starfleet types to run it for us? We’ll totally let you call it whatever you want.” *paraphrasing*
Following the events of the Earth / Minbari war, the idea of a ‘united nations’ in space was appealing, only they would need to build it. They said it was mad to build a space station in the middle of nowhere, but they did! And it sank into the swamp! (actually, it blew up) So, they took the debris and built Babylon 2 and that sank into the swamp too. SO, they started again and built Babylon 3! It blew up, caught on fire and sank into the swamp. Babylon 4, though – it held! Didn’t blow up, didn’t burn up and it did NOT sink into the swamp. It did, however, disappear without a trace but Babylon 5 – now there was a space station!!!
“If you build it, they will come.”
Well, that was the idea anyway. Rather than having a ship that’s flying around visiting alien planets, why not have a fixed point in space (not a planet cuz that would be all expensive and stuff) where everyone comes to visit?! It’ll be brilliant and never boring and we’ll never run out of story ideas! (yeah right)
We can even have the space station be near something cool! (Deep Space Nine had the Wormhole, Babylon 5 had Epsilon III and it’s ‘Great Machine’ that only showed up in a story like twice. Can’t be all that ‘great’ if it only shows up twice, now can it?! Someone should’ve asked Zathras. But no, no, no – no one ever asks Zathras. Zathras just goes about his day, doing his job without anyone paying any attention…)
“Ships? We don’t need no stinking ships!”
Actually, both shows had ships almost immediately. Deep Space Nine had their ‘runabouts’ which were bigger than a shuttlecraft and capable of warp speed. Babylon 5 had starfury squadrons which were single pilot, short range fighters and they had some shuttle craft for longer trips.
It wasn’t long before both shows added permanent, bigger, long range ships that the crews could take out for a spin. On Deep Space Nine it was The Defiant, the first ship in a new class of heavily armed warships designed to fight the Borg.
Babylon 5 had the White Star, a fusion of Minbari and Vorlon technology built specifically to fight The Shadows.
Both ships, designed to fight off the big bad, also and conveniently allowed for new stories that took place OFF the respective space stations.
Speaking of stories…
When it came to story telling, the two shows started out very different. Babylon 5 was conceived with a series arc in mind – that is, the show had a long-term plan. (Unlike the Cylons… but that’s a different post.) Politics, religion, racism and war were all a part of the plan that would run for five seasons. Deep Space Nine, on the other hand, ran with the same basic formula that had worked well for The Next Generation – single-story episodes from week to week – at least, for the first season. Fairly early on, they began to move away from the ‘monster of the week’ concept and into more arc driven plots like with the Klingon and Dominion Wars. Religion and politics also played a large part in the series, just like with Babylon 5.
Controversy? Oh yeah…
Babylon 5 creator, J. Michael Straczynski said that he first took the idea for the show to Paramount in 1989, providing them with a detailed synopsis of the concept and a series bible. Paramount passed and so he took it to Warner Brothers where it was eventually greenlit. After that, Paramount announced Deep Space Nine. Straczynski cried foul but never sued anyone. Both shows ended up in syndication, Deep Space Nine for seven seasons, Babylon 5 for four seasons in syndication and a fifth on TNT.
Straczynski rather famously wrote 92 of the 110 episodes of Babylon 5. Lots of people wrote the 176 episodes of Deep Space Nine. Did Stracynski’s efforts in maintaining control over his vision pay off in the long run?
Innovation & impact
When you look at both shows, at what they did, what they accomplished, you have to wonder – how did they innovate? What did they bring to the genre, to tv, that wasn’t there before?
DS9: When The Next Generation first came on the air, it was immediately compared to the original series. Deep Space Nine found itself being compared to The Next Generation, which was still on the air (unlike the original series, of course). It stood out by being darker than Next Gen and was nominated for two Hugo’s (Babylon 5 beat DS9 both times it was nominated). The special effects were the same model-driven effects combined with blue/green screens used on The Next Generation. It was, however, a Star Trek show and that name carries with it a lot of clout and a lot of expectations. The writers, producers, actors and everyone else involved with DS9, were able to not only produce a good Star Trek show, they were able to stand out from their predecessors and shine in their own light.
B5: Babylon 5 was an ambitious endeavor out on a very thin limb. It constantly struggled in the ratings and had the threat of cancellation hovering over it very nearly all the time. Set in an entirely new and unknown universe, it didn’t have the Star Trek name to help launch or sustain it – it had to fight pretty much every step of the way. Stracynski even had to change his plans for the show, condensing the arc from five seasons to four due to the looming threat of cancellation. When a fifth season was commissioned for air on TNT, a sort of ‘epilogue’ season was written. Many fans felt that this fifth season was the weakest. Bucking the system, B5 also used computer generated images or CGI rather than miniatures and models. Although groundbreaking at the time, comparing B5 to DS9 today, I think DS9’s visuals hold up better. But, oddly enough, I tend to forget that when watching B5 because the stories are compelling and engrossing.
omfg epic space battles
Both shows had some massively cool space battles full of lazors and pew pews!!
One of my favorite B5 battles is below:
I can’t talk about how utterly badass that battle is without including this clip (“If you value your lives, be somewhere else.”):
Not to be outdone, DS9 gathered a massive amount of Starfleet vessels for a battle with the Dominion & Cardassians:
…the DS9 clip has way more talking in it. I also have to say, KLINGONS KLINGONS KLINGONS! (still too much talking, not enough pew pew imho):
…being a red shirt has always been dangerous, but it also sucks to be the guy standing next to a main character during a battle no matter what color your shirt is.
My personal experiences with both shows is amusing and sad. Deep Space Nine aired Saturdays on the local CBS affiliate (The Next Generation aired Sundays on the local independent station that became a FOX affiliate later). It was often preempted by sports, had its time slot moved around without notice or warning and would, at times, be joined ‘already in progress’. This meant that it was very difficult for me to get into the show with any sort of consistency. Calls and complaints to the station fell on deaf ears.
Babylon 5 aired on that independent station that became FOX, but was just as wildly erratic in its time slot. Sometimes it would be on as normal, sometimes it would be listed but not on. I would later find it airing at 3 am or some weird crap. The battle that I linked above? When they aired it originally, Sheridan told everyone on the station that the battle was acomin’, then they cut to commercial and when they returned, Sheridan had a bandage on his head and the battle was over – THEY’D COMPLETELY CUT THE BATTLE SCENE!! When I called to complain, they said there was a mixup, they were really sorry, and had absolutely no plans to reair the show anytime soon – have a nice day.
Of the two shows, I fall squarely on the Babylon 5 side of the aisle. When TNT picked the show up, they started airing the complete series every day and I was able to (fairly quickly) get caught up and fall in love with the show (I also was able to catch up with DS9 when ITS reruns began airing every day a few years after the first runs). I recorded it every day religiously and eagerly awaited the new season (arguably the worst season). When it was released on DVD, I bought every season and rewatch them occasionally to this day.
I still don’t own a single season of any of the Star Trek shows. That really goes more to the ridiculous pricing of the shows from the get-go rather than saying anything about how I feel about them. ($100 a season last time I cared to look, and that was just way too much. $51 on Amazon as of this writing for S1 of DS9 and even that is too much as far as I’m concerned. Max I will pay for a full season is $40.)
So. My vote: Babylon 5.
What’s your vote?