The Hidden Evolution of Babylon 5, Part II: “Babylon Prime”

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Yesterday we discussed the “Original Plan” for B5, which differed pretty wildly from what we saw. It’s not fair to judge an original concept we didn’t see based on the heavily altered version we did see, though it is fair to say that the original seemed like much less of a crowd pleaser.

In 1993, during the first season of Babylon 5, Joe Straczynski gave an interview to the late great magazine, “Science Fiction Universe.” He said that B5 was essentially a self-contained show in which followed a definite arc, and all the storylines in the series would resolve themselves by the conclusion of the “Five year plan,” with the exception of one. Though everything else would resolve itself, he said this one dangling thread could provide the basis for a spinoff series “If there was enough interest among viewers to warrant doing it.” He made similar statements over time, but that was the first one I came across, and I wondered for a very long time what that dangling thread would be, and what the spinoff would be. Then Crusade came…and went….quickly, and I was left wondering “This can’t really be the spinoff he was talking about four years ago, can it?”

Turns out it wasn’t.

As you’ll recall, the Memo JMS gave the suits at Warners had B5 ending with the complete and utter defeat and destruction of Babylon 5, the Shadows running the galaxy, and Sinclair, Delenn, and their unnamed baby running away in the night, with everyone on all sides of the equation wanting them dead.

The Memo also contained some details about the original plan for the spinoff series, called “Babylon Prime.”

DETAILS:

* The Sinclair family are hiding out, presumably on Epsilon III, under Drall’s protection, though this isn’t overtly stated.
* The Sinclair family and some friends (Including Zathras) use The Great Machine to travel back in time and steal Babylon 4, nine years earlier. It’s unclear who these friends are, but probably one or two cast members from the previous series, and a couple recurring characters bumped up to cast member status, and one or two entirely new people as well. I presume “Mister Jones” would have been involved, but I have no proof of that.
* They bring the station to the future (Their own present, I think), and use it as a base to start an alliance to clean up all the messes left over from the previous series.
* An curious factoid that’s mentioned in all the technical information over the years about B4 finally plays off here: Babylon 4 had engines, and could move about through space. They’re not sitting ducks like B5 was.
* Babylon 4 is renamed “Babylon Prime.”
* B-Prime travels around through space and time building up this new alliance. Presumably we’d meet up with G’kar again, and others as well.
* Emperor Londo is controlled by a Shadow Keeper, not a Drakh keeper as in B5.
* Traveling through time causes Sinclair and Unnamed Baby Sinclair to rapid-age. Baby Sinclair is an adult very quickly.
* Eventually Londo captures the Sinclairs. The Shadows want them, but Londo betrays them and they go free. The Memo doesn’t specifically say how this plays out, but mentions Londo gets the worst of this deal, so I don’t think it’s too much of a surmise to assume G’kar and Londo kill each other, same as we saw in the actual, real, *filmed* B5 series.
* The unnamed baby Sinclair - now an adult - becomes a messianic figure to the people of the galaxy.
* Earth defeats Minbar in the Second Minbari War (Or part 2 of the first Minbari war, if you like, since the issues involved were never really resolved. We’ll just say there was a 14-year halftime in the middle there)
* Sinclair’s name is cleared.
* Ultimately Team Sinclair defeats the Shadows, and everyone is free
* After the war, Delenn and Sinclair split up. (Whaaaaat?)
* Delenn goes back to Minbar and resumes her duties on the Grey Council, since her people need her to recover from the last decade of shenanigans.
* The Team Sinclair/Babylon Prime alliance sort of transforms in to a new interstellar Alliance, sort of like how the allies in World War II sort of transformed in to the UN.
* Their never-named child - now an adult, and a full-on religious leader - becomes the first leader of this alliance.
* Sinclair retires to a completely uninhabited planet, and goes fishing.

THE END

OBSERVATIONS

Well, obviously, this ain’t Crusade!

This is more like what we’re used to when we think of B5. The good guys win, the old order is changed forever, blah blah blah. Much, much better than the previous series.

Obviously, what happened here is that somewhere along the course of the first season, Joe must have realized that given the exigencies of TV production and ratings and stuff like that, he’d be lucky if got a chance to finish *one* five-year-arc, let alone two back-to-back ones, and pretty clearly he decided to combine both shows from his ten-year meta-arc into a single five-year hybrid arc. I think we’ll all agree that we’re much the better off for this decision.

In fact, if we look closely we can actually see the sutures: Season 1 has a really really laconic pace, and even after Sinclair leaves and things are allegedly heating up, Season 2 continues this glacial scheme up until the final four of the second year, though the Narn/Centauri conflict is crammed in to the second season, rather than being played out over a year and a half or so, which give the proceedings more energy, even if most of the action takes place off screen. Season three ramps things up considerably, season four reaches a crescendo, and season five falters like hell, but ends well.

In essence, the outline for the series we discussed yesterday got compressed down to the first two-and-a-half seasons of the show as filmed, and the entire “Babylon Prime” concept became the second two-and-a-half seasons of B5 (As filmed). Again, I have to say this works out best for everyone, though there’s some conspicuous retconing of the “Babylon 4” arc to try and make sense of it in this new context, and a bit of handle-jiggling to transition us from the intended Sinclair/Delenn romance to the realized Sheridan/Delenn romance. And of course blowing up B5 at the end of the series never made a lick of sense. When all this happened, baby messiah Sinclair really got the short end of the stick, becoming basically a vestigial appendix to the story, and never even appearing on screen.

There’s a lot of substantial differences here, though: the endless cycle of shadow wars is completely absent from this version of things, and was obviously a late addition to the concept. There are no Rangers, no Telepath Crisis, no Civil War with earth, no Drakh, and no Drakh Plague, though we’ve all known that was a very late addition to the “Crusade” concept, so no surprises there.

What strikes me as most interesting about this, of course, is the absence of the Drakh. When the cycle of Shadow Wars was finally ended by Sheridan convincing both sides to “Get the hell out of our galaxy,” it created a power vacuum, so he introduced the Drakh as essentially auxiliary replacement shadows, “Shadows of Shadows,” as they describe themselves on one occasion. Why would Joe do this? Obviously, there were some stories he intended to tell involving a shadow-controlled galaxy that got lost in the process of frankensteining his two theoretical series in to one real one. Whatever the *real* plot of Crusade was, it was in large part intended to use up concepts he’d intended for “Babylon Prime,” but never got to use. We’ll probably never know what those were, but, Lord, I’d love to know! (My hunch is that Crusade was really all about the Technomages, just as B5 ended up being about the Shadow/Vorlon conflict)

Another thing that strikes me as really interesting about this is Joes’ somewhat cavalier attitude towards continuing the B5 universe. During the 4th season, when the show looked like it was going to be cancelled, he said he didn’t mind so much as he’d accomplished “90% of what we set out to do” with the series. What? How is that possible? Well, remember, when he said that, he’d more or less wrapped up the accelerated “Original” B5 side of the equation, and was like half way through his projected “B-Prime” arc. So it makes sense - in retrospect - that he’d declare victory and leave it at that. The Telepath War and the Drakh Plague and whatever was going on with the Technomages were never central to his story, though they’re interesting enough on their own to warrant expansion and exploration. But if he never got the chance, eh. No big deal. To him, anyway. To me it’s the kind of stuff that keeps me up at night.

Which, again, just makes us wonder what the left-over bits he never got to use were. Dammit.

There are a lot of elements that are unmentioned, but probably would have shown up in some form in B-Prime. The Earth Civil War probably would have happened in some form, though there’s no express description of it in the Memo. Ditto the internal Minbari conflict. I have no doubt that the mysterious “Mister Jones” (Who I have to reiterate is not mentioned in this Memo at all, this is just my surmise - eventually became Galen the Technomage) A lot of this would have been fun to see played out longer time in greater detail, but there’s no doubt the B5 we got was way the hell better than the B5 that was planned, .

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