This is a great idea. I think this was my first really beloved scifi show. Stone me if you need to (and can find me) but I never loved Star Trek and this hit me right at the perfect time. It was a realized universe that dealt with all aspects of drama(political, military, personal, espionage, etc) in a more realistic way with flawed fleshed out characters. Garibaldi was my first fan crush before Mal, Crichton, or any of the other characters from all my favorite Scifi shows.
Here’s a pretty cool promo video that was shown on TV around the start of the show’s run on PTEN, and was included on the series 1 DVDs as a special feature
That tache on JMS
So, let’s talk The Gathering. This episode was the cumulation of years of work by JMS. He’d been pitching the show around Hollywood for years, with a detailed series bible which altered along the way, but was pretty solid in the year or two before the pilot got greenlit. The Bible included a lot of early design work by Peter Leger. some of these designs, including the Zen Garden remained almost identical to his work. It was a meeting with Dick Robertson at Warners that got the show on the road, shortly after JMS alleges he met with Paramount. Shortly after Babylon 5 was announced as a Warners prodution on PETN, Deep Space 9 was announced by Paramount, sold directly to syndication like TNG before it. As an interesting aside, in one of JMS’ early drafts for the characters had G’Kar named Shakaar, which was used as the name of the leader of Kira’s resistance group. Similarly the Minbari leader killed at the start of the war was Dukhat, and was named as such in the bible. So there is at least some circumstantial evidence to the speculation that DS9 was rushed to production to steal a march on Babylon 5
In cosmetic changes between the pilot and the show, all the alien makeup got revised. Optic Nerve, who also worked on Buffy and Angel came on-board for the regular show and reworked everything. This is most visible on G’Kar and Delenn, who got much softer facial lines. In Delenn’s case this was because they originally planned to present as male, with an electronic processing effect on Mira Furlan’s voice, but they couldn’t find an effect they liked. When JMS was showing early screening copies on the con circuit, when he brought up the plan to process Furlan’s voice, the most frequent feedback was to leave it as is due to the striking nature of her Croatian accent. As a result, they redubbed any reference to Delenn’s gender in the episode and left her female instead. Optic Nerve’s staff also designed many of the League of Non-Aligned worlds species, who don’t appear in this episode at all.
Beyond that, many props were dumped in favour of new designs, note the PPGs shown in The Gathering are smooth black objects, while the guns in the show are silver and have lots of greeblies. The Earthforce personnel in the pilot wear communications devices on their wrists, as opposed to the small blocks stuck to their hands in the show.
Four actors did not return for Series 1 for various reasons: Tamlyn Tomita (Laurel Takashima), Johnny Sekka (Ben Kyle), Patricia Tallman (Lyta Alexander) and Blaire Baron (Carolyn Sykes). Their roles were largely replaced by Claudia Christian (Susan Ivanova), Richard Biggs (Stephen Franklin), Andrea Thompson (Talia Winters) and Julia Nickson (Catherine Sakai) respectively. Not all the intended plot lines for the original characters were passed on to their successors.
Also in casting, Lieutenant Guerra, the C&C tech who gets most of the non-Takashima lines on that set is played by Ed Wasser, who would go on to play Mr. Morden in the show.
Babylon 5 was JMS’ first job as an executive producer, and he openly admits that his inexperience lead to some odd choices in The Gathering. Notably as a joke Peter Jurasik asked for his hair to be as flamboayant as possible during his costume test, expecting JMS to tell him to get stuffed - but Straczynski was thinking he should defer to the actors on some small things to garner goodwill and green-lit it. And so the crew worked with the hair and tried to make it manageable and try and make it seem less riduculous. A note from Warners complained about the percieved harshness of Tamlyn Tomita’s voice, and so they had her re-record all her lines to be softer. Leading to a note complaining that she wasn’t that commanding. More importantly he allowed Richard Compton, the director final cut on the pilot, which left a number of scenes JMS felt were important on the cutting room floor. He also wasnt a fan of the wide camera angles favoured by Compton, and as a result the show’s shooting design was revised. Compton would come back to direct five episodes in series 1, and was co-producer on those five and another five episodes.
When TNT picked up Babylon 5 after it was cancelled, they comissioned four TV movies and agreed to a budget to bring The Gathering in line with the the look and feel of the show, and add the scenes JMS liked but were cut back into the episode.
The most notable additions:
- The early moments where Sinclair admonishes a human from straying away from the recommended sexual partner list and confronts a smuggler in customs
- Takashima talking about her illicit coffee supply with Kyle (the coffee would be mentioned again as something Ivanova cultivates in series 1)
- Carolyn confronting Delenn about her abstention during the B5 Advisory Council hearing
- Sinclair throwing his medal commemorating the Battle of the Line at the wall. Audio from And the Sky Full of Stars was looped into the scene when he describes the battle to Carolyn as well
- The final confrontation has some added moments, most notably Garibaldi being dragged into the Alien Sector and more shots of Delenn helping Garibalidi and Sinclair.
- Kyle’s last monologue about what he saw while working to save Kosh
- The original soundtrack by Stuart Copeland of The Police was replaced by music from Christopher Franke.
- A number of the CG scenes from the original cut were replaced with new ones, and some stock shots of ships docking and B5’s customs area were added during the opening narration.
- A glowing effect was added to Kosh’s hand in Lyta’s telepathic vision, and a line of dialogue was added
There were some removals as well:
- The line about Sinclair being B5’s last commander was removed from Londo’s narration
- The shots of Sinclair and Lyta walking through the Alien Sector were removed, there were many complaints about the look and feel of the scene. JMS has called it a “muppet petting zoo”, and the production team decided to blow up that set at the end of the pilot for the shot of the Minbari Assassin’s suicide.
- G’Kar and Lyta’s scene had two lines removed - a mention of his mate was excised, as was a slightly longer bit where GKar uses a privacy mode made up of lights that would flow down and surround the table. It was felt that the moment didn’t work and wasn’t mentioned after the pilot.
- A line was removed from Sinclair and Garibaldi heading down to corner the Assassin, where they talked about dialing down the power on their guns. This doesn’t fit with how PPGs worked in the show.
The Gathering had multiple home video releases. It got a VHS release in the UK as part of Warners Beyond Vision SF line. amd was part of short-lived retail VHS collection in the US, but was also available as part of the Columbia House mail-order collection of the entire show. The original cut got released on DVD a couple of years before the box sets. The special edition was only released on DVD in the Region 1 movies box set - Warners UK decided not to include The Gathering or In the Beginning in the Region 2 box FOR SOME REASON. As a result, there is no official release of the special edition in Europe, no proper Widescreen version of it or ItB, and no access to the commentary tracks. Oh, and the DVD of the special edition has a commentary track with JMS and John Iacoveli, the production designer.
Opinion to follow
Thanks, this always seemed odd in that it was missing.
Even more infuriating is that the special edition of The Gathering and remastered In The Beginning aren’t even in the R2 complete box set!
Just watched it (the original, 4x3 version, with references to Sinclair as The Last Commander, etc). Enjoyable, but it definitely didn’t need to be 90 minutes long.
Londo and G’Kar are great from the start, even if the make-up on G’Kar isn’t right yet.
It’s kind of maddening knowing how long it will take for them to pay off some of the mysteries set up here. I think these days almost all of it would have to be dealt with by the end of Season One.
(My rewatch was the special edition)
To further hammer home the whole DS9 is a ripoff of Babylon 5 thing, by experience with The Gathering is quite similar to Emissary - I saw it well after I started watching the show, and I like it more now than I did upon first watching it.
It’s not as polished a production as Emissary, which I think has a number of reasons behind it - the theatrical nature of the production (John Iacoveli talks a fair bit about using techniques from theatre in the DVD commentary), the varied quality of the cast (it’s no secret that Andreas Katsulas and Peter Jurasik are the best actors on the show at this point), JMS’ writing style, and the disparate nature of the production staff. As I noted when we talked about the pilots, Paramount spent more on the production design of Emissary than they did on the same for Star Trek VI, and they had been working on Trek for 5 years. By comparison Babylon 5 was starting from scratch, on a shoestring budget - the average episode of B5 had half the budget of a TNG ep.
As always, the strength of Babylon 5 is in the storytelling, and this is no different. We get a complex, layered political plot, which uses the elements of the plot to give decent excuses to infodump on the history between the major races, while not being too intrusive. the really glaring point is when Lyta asks Sinclair ‘why Babylon 5?’ and he explains what happened to the prior four stations. You think she’d be familiar with recent events, even if just in passing.
What’s interesting is that at the end of the story, Sinclair and Garibaldi don’t have all the facts of the case. They correctly deduce that the Minbari Assassin had support on the station, but they don’t see a clue that we, the viewer did - when Del Varner’s quarters open, the screen outside says “Laurel Takashima Cleared”. At the very least, the Assassin had support high enough to clone Takashima’s access, if she herself didn’t grant it.
Of course, that’s a storyline that isn’t addressed in this form, as Takashima is replaced by Susan Ivanova for the regular series.
As @PaulF notes, pretty much everything from the pilot does get addressed and resolved eventually, but in some cases that final resolution is years from now. Of course, the show does a good job of adding more layers to the plot, and bringing up more issues and long-term problems for the crew as they discover or resolve an existing one. Takashima’s involvement in the plot aside, the big things coming out of the episode are:
What happened in Sinclair’s missing 24 hours on The Line?
Why did the Minbari surrender after The Line?
What is Delenn’s link to the Grey Council?
For that matter, why is she so friendly with Sinclair? They’ve known each other for a year at most and were on opposite sides of an apocalyptic war.
Why is Sinclair in charge of Babylon 5? It’s a major diplomatic outpost, it should rate an officer of flag rank at least in command.
What happened to Babylon 4?
I do want to talk about one thing from the special edition, and it’s hard to be circumspect, so I’m going to spoiler text for people who have not yet watched the show I feel that Kosh saying Entil’zha Valen in the Lyta’s vision is a step too far in foreshadowing and adding nods to future events. Valen is mentioned early enough in series 1 that someone could easily put 2 and 2 together and figure out who Sinclair is destined to become.
I need to see if I’ve got the episodes somewhere to watch.
If we’re doing this, are we doing a selection of season 1 episodes, or the whole lot? (I’ve traditionally skipped most of the really weak first season episodes when rewatching…)
I’m thinking do it in batches. Like have a timeframe to talk about every series 1 episode up until Mind War, then do it on its own. Then, uh I guess do The War Prayer on its’ own, then And the Sky Full of Stars, then all the episodes up to Signs and Portents.
I rewatched the Gathering some years after the show ended and when I saw him I had a serious OMG moment knowing who he would become.
I loved how these questions all got answers. Sinclair was very integral to the mythos but I think they struck gold when they got Boxleitner. He was such a good actor at these types of roles.
That was the genius of Garibaldi. he never let not knowing all the “facts” slow him down.
A lot of people actually thought Morden was Guerra at the start, and assumed JMS saying he wasn’t was a deliberate misdirection.
Yeah, Bruce Boxleitner was definitely a better leading man than Michael O’Hare, but I have come to appreciate the latter’s performance more than when I was a teenager. And he’s really good in his later appearances. And the circumstances of his departure form the show are just heartbreaking
And it doesn’t hurt the plot too much that they don’t discover who it was helping the Assassin - Assuming it was all G’Kar and that by faking the nanotech bomb they’ve neutralised him for the time being isn’t the most unreasonable conclusion to come from.
Well, untl (series 1 finale spoilers) Garibaldi almost literally gets stabbed in the back
I know all that and JMS bringing him back into the show is just another reason why this show was so great.
I think, in the UK, Channel 4 showed The Gathering after season 1. If I remember correctly. That was a double edged sword. It meant that, by the time I saw it, the setting and characters were already familiar, making it easier to connect with them (even in their protoforms). However, it also meant that the shoddy SFX was more noticeable. And, the original soundtrack, much like Crusade’s later on just wasn’t majestic enough.
You know, I do think that the Special Edition was released on DVD in Region 2. I’m pretty sure that I have seen it, from Lorcan’s description above.
Looking online there’s some vague information about it suggesting that the first DVD stamping was the Special Edition. With all subsequent versions being the regular edition. My DVD’s are in storage so I can’t confirm, but will try to do so before too long.
The stand-alone DVD release of The Gathering pre-dates the regular DVD box sets, and my understanding was it was the original cut, but I could be wrong. It definitely doesn’t have the bonus features from the movies box: the commentary, and the video introduction
Oh my God.
Your comment made me look up his bio.
I had no idea
JMS only revealed the truth after O’Hare’s death a few years ago. The fact that he felt he couldn’t discuss his illness openly while alive is the worst part of it.
Until a few months back, same here - it’s a terribly sad story.