RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Battlestar Galactica (1978): “The Gun on Ice Planet Zero, Parts I and II” (Story 5)

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Last time out we discussed the wonky ways the episodes of this series can be numbered. This two-parter could be considered episodes 6 and 7, or 8 and 9, or (In the syndicated movie package) 3. This one is more confusing than most, actually, since there’s a rumor that this was actually intended to be the second episode of the whole series. We’ll discuss that more below. In the meantime, since I’m reviewing two parters as if they were one anyway, I’m just going to dispense with all that confusing crap and refer to ‘em as “Stories.” This two-parter comprises the fifth complete story in the series, regardless of the number of the episodes, so let’s roll with that, shall we?

PLAY BY PLAY

Two stories back, “The Lost Warrior” blatantly ripped off “Shane,” one of the classic westerns of all time. They really could not be any more blatant about it if they came to your house, sat on you, and flogged you with the script while your wife and children looked on. This time out, they’re blatantly ripping off “The Guns of Navarone,” one of the all-time great classic World War II flicks. They don’t call him ‘Glen Larceny’ for nothing, folks. The good news is, however, that whereas “The Lost Warrior” was probably the worst and certainly the most boring episode of the entire series, “The Gun on Ice Planet Zero” is a pretty entertaining rip off.

The fleet is on the run, having fought periodic rearguard actions against Cylon patrols and task forces as they flee. Adama has the feeling that they’re being maneuvered in some subtle way - they can’t go back for obvious reasons, they can’t go up, down, left or right for reasons that are never explained, they can only go forward, which whigs the old guy out. (In a deleted scene, he calls for more advance patrols, and Tigh says they’re already pushing the pilots too hard. They’ve even started putting cadets in the rotation)

Starbuck and Boomer are leading three cadets on a patrol way ahead of the fleet. They come upon “A small moon” (Which is curious, as there’s no planet in sight, nor is one ever referred to, and it’s big enough to hold a breathable atmosphere. So what’s it a moon *of?* Added to which it‘s called “Ice Planet“ in the title fer frack‘s sake!) They get attacked by a super weapon which takes out two of the cadets, and the third one - Cree - makes a forced landing on the surface. Starbuck and Boomer head back to the fleet to inform them of what’s up.

The data reveals a huge laser weapon atop a mountain, and built into the living rock like, I dunno, like the guns of Navarone or something. It could easily destroy the Galactica with one shot. Adama decides to send a commando team to take the gun out before the fleet has to go through the area. He institutes a computer search to find the right folks for the mission. Starbuck, meanwhile, goes to the computer center and sends Corporal Komma (Jeff McKay) the computer tech on a wild goose chase to look for the female warriors from the Second Story. Starbuck then reprograms the computer to insert his name in whatever results it cranks out.

(When Adama gets the list, in a deleted scene, Apollo isn’t on it. He’s been ruled ‘not expendable’, but he argues with his daddy and Adama relents) Starbuck feigns surprise at being included on the mission, and Boomer genuinely is surprised, “Ok, I pulled the mission on Thule, so it makes sense I’d get picked, but you? You get dizzy if your drink’s too cold!” The team is mostly made up of guest stars, all of whom are criminals: Thane, a murderer/environmental specialist; Leda, a bitchy medic with an unpleasant Diana Muldaur thing going on; Croft, who has a big scar; and Wolfe (Richard Lynch, who played Xavier in Galactica 1980) a demolitions expert. These four were evidently a Colonial Warrior commando team before the fall. They raided a civilian (!) Cylon platinum mine, and refused to give a cut to the ranking officer, who then slapped ‘em all in jail. There’s also three ‘red shirts’ (in a deleted scene we’re told their jobs, and one of them is said to have “Fought a heroic rearguard action in the battle of Caprica.”)

Seriously, why would the Galactica have taken the time to rescue a bunch of hardened criminals and haul them along with the fleet? “Well, we could rescue a few thousand more children and pregnant women and med-techs, but, eh, what the hell, screw them: let’s take a bunch of murderers and rapists instead! Never know when they’ll come in handy, and we can always make more pregnant women.” Something like that.

Anyway, so a shuttle and a fighter go to the planet/moon/whatever. The Big Gun takes out the fighter, and a Cylon fighter damages the shuttle enough to crash. One of the red shirts is KOed and never regains consciousness through the episode. Everyone piles into the Snowram (A landram painted white, which frankly doesn’t look big enough to hold 10 people), where they discover Boxey and Muffett are stowed away.

They escape, but one of the cons gets in a fight with another of the redshirts, which results in the redshirt getting injured, and the Snowram getting disabled. (Again, no more lines for that guy in this episode) A “Diethene Storm” rolls through, toxic for humans and very cold. Thane informs them there’s a chance it might reach “Deathpoint” when the atmosphere turns to liquid. Muffet runs off to get help, and actually succeeds. The commandos pass out and wake up in a ski lodge run by clones, one of whom is Britt Ekland. (Hey, if you’ve got to pick one chick to make copies of, you could do a lot worse. It could be a whole planet of Maude clones, or Ruth Buzzi clones, or Post-Cheers Kirstie Alley or something). The clones prefer to be called by the term “Theta Class Life Forms,” as so many people do in this crazy, mixed up, politically correct world of ours.

Clones are considered subhuman by the Cylons, and allowed to work as slave labor. These ones are rebels, but they agree to help the colonials. They sneak ‘em into the Cylon/Clone city, find Boxey a daycare, and set up a meeting with Dr. Ravishol, the colonial expatriate working for the bad guys. (In a deleted scene, they first take Apollo to meet with the Planner’s Council - a different series of clones - who say they’ll contemplate the matter, and get back to him in a megacenton or two.) Apollo and the doctor have an argument/debate: He says it isn’t a weapon, it’s a big transmitter to reach new civilizations, and pretends not to know what it’s being used for, but eventually lets on that he does, but doesn’t care. He’s just an apolitical scientist. Apollo points out that the clones are breeding - remember Boxey’s daycare? - and that brings Ravisol around. He gives them technical info they’ll need to blow the pulsar. It will require a simultaneous attack on two points, so the team is split in two.

Baltar is quite a bit behind the Galactica, and has sent out a call for more baseships to support his operation. He’s ordering his fighters to attack the battlestar, even though they won’t have fuel to make it back, and it’s a suicide run. Once the attack is going well, he orders them to break off and head back, much to Lucifer’s consternation. Once Luifer informs him 30% of their fighters (About a hundred) will have enough fuel to make it back. Baltar again confuses Lucifer by ordering to the fighters to re-engage the Galactica, then explains that Adama will interpret these repeated attacks to mean they’re much closer than they really are.

Lucifer: Very clever. A bit hard on our pilots, but very clever.
Baltar: They’re machines!
Lucifer: We are all machines of a sort, Baltar, even you.
Baltar: Even if they were human pilots in those fighters, I’d still give the order.
Lucifer: Yes, I believe you would.

Somewhat later:

Baltar: Attack again, it will drive Adama crazy.
Lucifer: He’s not the only one.
Baltar: Did you say something?
Lucifer: Hmm? No, only ‘By your command.’

Thane, meanwhile, is captured by the Cylons while attempting to escape, but he manages to kill himself and take out several of them without giving away the game. Starbuck - whom you’ll recall wormed his way on to the team - is actually interested in rescuing Cadet Cree, so he ditches his duties temporarily, and he and Brit Ekland bust him out of the cooler - eh, the “Cold Cells.” While climbing the mountain, Wolfe and Leda attempt to make a break for it and steal a Cylon fighter to make their way to “Starlos,” but Croft stops ‘em, and Wolfe runs away. Britt tells Starbuck that the other clones will help the colonials take out the Cylons, but they won’t let him take out the pulsar, as they think they’ll need it to defend themselves. Starbuck talks to the clones, and is losing the argument, but Ravishol saunters (Or more like hobbles) in and tells them that he didn’t give the Cylons *everything* and he can defend them. The clones agree to help, for realsies this time. The rest of the team makes it to the top of the mountain, and infiltrate the control room. The simultaneous attack goes off without a hitch, excepting Leda sacrificing herself to save Croft. (Did I mention she was his estranged, and quite spiteful wife? That’s been a running source of plot tension.)

Croft: [Stunned] “Why would she do that? Sacrifice herself for me?”

To his credit, Apollo doesn’t give some hackey line about love and hope, he just says “Come on, let’s go.” The scene of Croft straightening out his wife’s corpse before he runs away is actually kind of moving. Just a little flash of character, but a nice one.

The Cylons are dead, the bomb goes off, everyone is saved, the end.

OBSERVATIONS

This really is a good episode all the way through, though the actual attack itself is a bit of a disappointment, it goes off too easy. Also, this big huge mountain must really be a cakewalk to climb as they make it to the top in like two or three hours, with plenty of time to spare. The intercutting for tension - Apollo et al on the mountain, Starbuck et al inside the mountain, the gun endlessly firing, and the bridge crew of the Galactica freaking out - doesn’t work as well as it should. The rhythm is somewhat off, so the gunshots and freakouts are really just more tedious than tense. There’s also quite a bit of stock footage. The fighter battle is, of course, entirely canned, but we get some brief footage of a couple of the women warriors from “Lost Planet of the Gods” launching, and a LOT of second unit stock shots of the warriors riding their little tram-car through the tunnels to the hanger bay. (How do we know it’s stock? Because you can clearly see Starbuck in one of ’em, even though he’s off on the planet at the time.)

The Galactica loses more vipers in this episode than any other: Six! (And five pilots).

So how many Vipers have they got left? Well, they started the series with 76. They lost one after that in “Saga,” one in “Lost Planet,” and six here, which brings the number down to 68. Actually, it’s probably less than that: in “Lost Planet,” Starbuck mentions “We lost a lot of good pilots up there,” but definitely no more than 68. No one seems terribly concerned about this - one of my kids said “What? Are they just building new ones or something?” - but they seem more concerned about how quickly they’re burning through experienced pilots.

Speaking of which: I really, really, really like how all the red shirts have names in this episode: All the cadets who die in the beginning are referred to by name, the three ’additional support’ redshirts who go along with the mission are all given names and one of ‘em even gets a line of backstory (though this is relegated to the cut scenes. And all three survive, even if they do disappear faster than an Earth Alliance Heavy Cruiser in a battle scene), as does the pilot who dies covering the shuttle. I like that they really tried to make these people human, not just dispose-a-crew. I also like how Adama was clearly upset when the experienced pilot, “Killian,” died.

Lots of internal continuity in this one: The Women Warriors get a name check, then turn up. Baltar is rubbing his leg in one scene, and pacing in a circle, limping conspicuously. Is his bad mood in that scene due to his leg hurting him, or bad news from Lucifer?

No one seems terribly upset by the loss of the shuttle. I’m sure it’s just because it’s a 70s TV show and no one cares about details like that, but it got me to wondering how many they’ve got left. We never are told how many they carry, but a cutscene from “Lost Planet” informs us that they had several from other battlestars running personnel back and forth when the attack came, and no matter how good the Cylon attack was, they clearly couldn’t have gone after every shuttle, so there were probably scads of ’em undamaged on the Colonies. Given how many people they had to ship into the fleet, it’s probably reasonable to assume they packed up on as many as they could carry, way more than the normal compliment. Even so, we’re told (Again in “Lost Planet”) that they took massive losses - both in shuttle pilots and civilians - on Carillon.

Ravishol (Dickensian name? “Ravish All?”) has something funky going on with his right arm. He can use it, but he’s always got it in awkward, uncomfortable positions, his fingers clawed, and he doesn’t move it unless he has to. He also walks with a cane. I think we’re supposed to believe he’s had a stroke. He’s apparently a more-than-passing misanthrope. In the original script there was another tie to earth here, some writing in Hebrew or something, but I don’t know the details.

Between Baltar and Ravishol, the Cylons don’t seem adverse to working with humans, do they? Likewise, between Muffett, C.O.R.A., and letting a computer decide who stays and goes on a mission, the Colonials don’t seem to have any fear of artificial intelligence. No real paranoia on either side. Of course this was before the internet…

We get a LOT of Cylon society building in this one: there’s a class between Centurions and IL series (The gold “Command Centurion”). Cylons can and do lie. Centurions value their lives, at least a little bit. Cylons clearly consider themselves to be “Alive” in the same sense we do. They consider humans to be machines too, albeit biological ones. Subhuman biological machines - such as sterile clones - are not considered a threat, but humans are. Cylons are pragmatic, and will make uncomfortable alliances if it suits their ends (Though we knew that already). There are *Civilian* Cylons! Cylons - or at least the IL Series, are ambitious and willing to scheme if suits their ends. Frankly, that’s a lot of information. People who keep talking about how thin and goofy the Cylons were in TOG clearly have never seen “Lost Planet of the Gods,” and “Gun on Ice Planet Zero,” or they simply weren’t paying attention if they did.

It was really cool when the Snowram pulled out of the garage on the back of the crashed shuttle. A minor thing, but full of dash, you know?

It’s a little odd taking a show that’s still trying to find its footing, and turning half the episode over to guest stars - Thane, Wolfe, Leda, and Croft - and indeed, had this been a later episode, it pretty obviously would have been mostly our regular characters (In fact, we see a similar commando run in “The Living Legend” later on), but I think it mostly works. The performances are pretty good, and I think Roy Thinnes’ performance as Croft is understated, but quite good, a semi-broken man trying to regain his honor, even though he knows it’s not in his best interests to do so. James Olsen’s openly psychotic performance as Thane is also quite good. Alan Stock’s merely-adequate performance as “Cree” is bolstered quite a bit in the scenes where he heroically tries to give false information to the Cylons under torture. Even Boxey is pretty good in this one - he’s not in much of the episode, but his presence tends to ratchet up the tension a lot. Really, the only offputting performance in the whole deal is Christine Belford as Leda (Belford is best known as Samantha Sanders from “Beverly Hills 902-whatever”). Even she’s not *bad,* she just doesn’t quite fit. Too stern, to Diana Muldaur, as I said. Weird vibe. Out of place.

We get some neat character building on Starbuck as well: He’s quite a bit smarter than he appears, and he goes out of his way to hide this. He’s actually really good with computers, but feigns complete ignorance thereof. He prefers coming across as a dumb fighter jock, but in actual fact, there’s probably a reason Apollo and Adama place so much importance on him, and why Boomer looks up to him so much. And who knows: maybe there’s even a reason why he seems so intent on pretending Cassiopeia is more than just a hooker. That said, Starbuck wears his heart a little too obviously on his sleeve in this episode. His clear anger at himself after the crash is overdone (But well written), and his obsession with rescuing Cree - a kid he barely even knows - is weird. Not so much that he’d risk his life to save a guest star, or connive his way on to a mission to do it, but rather that he’d endanger a mission to pull it off.

Speaking of which, Cassiopeia, Dr. Salik, Omega, Jolly, and Greenbean do not appear in this episode. Rigel (Sarah Rush) gets slightly more to do here than usual, and we get a Giles (Larry Manetti) sighting. In fact, this might be his last appearance. Tigh and Athena are relegated to their normal “Oh my God, what will we do?” roles. Oddly enough, the mostly-forgettable Corporal Komma will become a very minor recurring character. After all the buildup about Cree and Croft, it’s surprising we never see either of them again. Boomer is in this episode, but disappears for pretty much the entire second act and most of the third. When he turns up again, I’d forgotten he was on hand.

By the way, doesn’t Croft seem a little young to be a Commander? I mean, he’s about Apollo’s age. Apollo is a mere Flight Captain. Adama’s a Commander…

There’s a lot of new special effects in this episode, mostly of vipers and shuttles crashing in the snow (Very, very neat!) and flying through the air and fog. This is the last episode to have any significant amount of new special effects.

How does Adama know the commando team is even still alive? They know they crashed, and have had no contact since then. For that matter, how does Starbuck know Cree is still alive?

I’m assuming that the “Planner” series of Clones didn’t survive long after the revolution. They were cut out of the episode entirely (Excepting a name check), but the cut scenes make it very clear they were happy toadies for the Cylons.

I think we have our answer to the confusing line from “Saga,” in which the Imperious Leader says “So long as one human remains, we are vulnerable.” That would seem to indicate some confusion with human biology, but no, in fact, he was right: The Humans have cloning technology, and it’s obviously pretty advanced. Provided he’s got the Clone-o-Matic from Sears, a single human could repopulate the species pretty quickly.

The clones are fairly open sexually. I suppose that makes sense, as there’s only one female model we see, and only two male types. There’s a cut scene of Starbuck putting the moves on Britt, and then her responding a bit too emphatically, and (Apparently) wanting to do him right there in front of everyone, which really flusters him, until he’s rescued by Apollo. Despite his reputation as a gambler, pilot, and womanizer, we haven’t seen him win a single card game, or had sex (Though there’s two women interested in him, and he gets close, he keeps blowing it, and here he blows it - yet again - with three identical clones). Also, in this episode, he crashes a shuttle.

The odd-looking corridor the pilot’s tram runs through on the Galactica? It’ll be re-used as the main corridor on the Draconia in Buck Rogers.

According to the readout, Croft served on a base called “Perdition.”

Two oddities:

We were told in the previous story that the Galactica was now in a new galaxy, one “No one in the fleet has ever seen before,” though it’s fairly obvious that humans have been out this far, it was pretty uncommon. Internal dialog makes it clear, however, that they’re still well inside known space (Presumably the Cyranus Galaxy) and even know their way around.

In one scene, Adama orders the fleet to flank speed, and then in a subsequent scene, Tigh mentions that they’re only traveling as fast as the slowest ship in the fleet.

COLONIALISMS:

Centon - we’ve heard it before, but it *clearly* means “Minute” here.
Megacenton - never used before or after. I’m assuming it’s a week or so.
Timepieces - watches (Cool calculator watches, years before that was possible)
Solanite - high explosive
Hand Mine - Grenade
Magnite - a nearly-indestructible metal
Grid Barge - slang for the prison barge
Grid Rats, Grid Lice - slang for prisoners. I really like that one.

THE PRODUCTION QUESTION

I’ve been told this story was actually the second one produced, filmed before “Lost planet of the Gods,” and in production when the word came down that Galactica was supposed to go to full series, rather than just three or four Movies of the Week. I assumed this was true, but having re-watched it, I’m not sure.

On the one hand, it has a different feel from any other episode, even the two-parters. It’s actually more episodic and standalone than really anything else in the series, and some of the characterization seems ever-so-slightly off, as well as the reliance on guest stars rather than the cast. The whole style is different. There’s also a lot of new special effects, more than in any episode excepting “Saga.” John Dykstra was doing the special effects for the series, but quit “After the second episode.” Clearly there’s very few new FX in “Lost Planet,” but there’s a buttload of ‘em here.

On the other hand, there’s a lot of internal continuity here which argues against it being second. I suppose it’s possible that they re-shot some scenes to fit it into the larger continuity. I really don’t know.

Regardless of when it was produced, I *am* certain that this was a very early script, and I know for a fact that it was one of the three that were approved as a “Movie of the Week” before they went to series.

NOVELIZATION

The Galactica novelizations were odd. The first was based on an earlier draft of the script than ended up getting used in the series itself, but rather than just ditch that crap and hold to the show, they decided to adapt episodes of the show to the *original* premise - the Cylons are reptiles, Baltar is dead, there’s 220,000 ships in the fleet, humanity didn’t come from Kobol, but from Earth, and is trying to find its way home, etc. This proved exceedingly difficult as the series went on, but they kept at it, running this parallel continuity all the way up into the Galactica 1980 stories, oddly enough.

As such, author Robert Thurston was free to take a very liberal hand in converting the stories, and added or cut massive plot elements on a whim. This was the second one novelized, under the name “The Cylon Death Machine.” I’ve only read the first two of these. I found the first one to be overly florid, but “Death Machine” was actually pretty good, a nice read from start to finish. Oh, wait, I also read “The Young Warriors,“ which was wayyyyyyyy better than the episode itself. There were eight books in the series, the last coming out (Surprisingly) in 1988. I do kind of wish he’d done more.

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