By Your Command: The Unofficial And Unauthorised Guide To Battlestar Galactica Volume 1 by Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore (book review).
‘By Your Command’ is an above-average example of an unauthorised guide to a popular series, in much the same way that the original ‘Battlestar Galactica’ itself was an above-average example of Science Fiction TV show. While it has its flaws, certainly, ‘By Your Command’ is thoughtful and deep, offering not just detailed facts about the plot and production of each episode, but also analysis and reflection into their inspiration, meaning and influence.
The book kicks off with a two-page foreword by Richard Hatch, one of the stars of the original ‘Battlestar Galactica’ as well as a recurring guest star in the ‘re-imagined’ series. One of his themes is that while ‘Battlestar Galactica’ was cancelled after just one series, this had more to do with its high production costs than any problems with quality or ratings. Despite this, Hatch observes, the ‘Galactica’ story lived on among the fans, inspiring no fewer than four further shows in the form of one straight sequel and three re-imaginings. What this volume of ‘By Your Command’ aims to do is to cover the original series and the sequel, ‘Galactica 1980’, while the second volume will be about the three re-imagined series (‘Battlestar Galactica’, ‘Caprica’ and ‘Blood & Chrome’).
Most of this volume of ‘By Your Command’ is given over to an episode-by-episode analysis of the two original shows, specifically, the twenty-four episodes of ‘Battlestar Galactica’ and the ten episodes of its subsequent sequel, ‘Galactica 1980’. In each case there’s a plot summary followed by an analysis of the episode’s strengths and weaknesses. ‘Battlestar Galactica’ was a show with a strong philosophical core and revealing these themes is a major part of the book. For the most part the show was optimistic, but with what the authors Alan Stevens and Fiona Moore of ‘By Your Command’ suggest could be interpreted as a neoconservative message in their discussion of the episode ‘War Of The Gods’ for example.
Right-wing politics and religious values had, of course, been tackled in other shows before and since, but the authors argue that ‘Battlestar Galactica’ was unusual in the frankness in which such themes were explored. An obvious parallel can be drawn between the Colonials (as Americans) and the Cylons (as Soviets) or put another way, humans with free will on the one hand and the collective, communist Cylons on the other.
As well as the philosophical themes of the show, the authors of ‘By Your Command’ are also interest in its production, including such aspects as casting, writing and special effects. By the standards of the time ‘Battlestar Galactica’ was a very expensive show, but the quality of individual episodes did vary considerably. Needless to say this is one aspect that the authors like to focus on, in particular, arguing that many of the later ‘Battlestar Galactica’ episodes were substantially weaker than the earlier ones. They put this down to a change in formatting as much as anything else, with the producers playing down the role of the Cylons in favour of other, human, enemies more in line with a thriller-type show that happens to be set in space.
Be that as it may, ‘Battlestar Galactica’ was cancelled after one series, but not long afterwards the idea was resuscitated in the form of ‘Galactica 1980’. This show is generally regarded as pretty poor and the authors of ‘By Your Command’ largely go along with this. They do, however, point out some of the good stuff in this series, including the appearance of human-like Cylons that would go on to be so important in the re-imagined versions of the show.
Capping off the episode guides are scripts and episode ideas for the two series that were never filmed. They are reviewed in the same sort of way as the episodes proper, giving clues into how the shows’ producers would have liked to have seen the storylines develop.
Oftentimes ‘unofficial’ guides are more random collections of stuff gleaned from websites, genre magazines and fan conventions, but ‘By Your Command’ manages to process and digest all this knowledge into something with real, critical value. It’s an excellent episode guide to the show and a study of its themes, and is highly recommended to fans of both the original show and its re-imagined sequels.
(pub: Telos. 295 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £15.99 (UK), $34.95 (US), $34.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-84583-060-1)
check out websites: www.telos.co.uk