When it comes to the greatest science-fiction television series of all time, only a handful of series are ever seriously in the conversation. Star Trek, The X-Files, Doctor Who… and Battlestar Galactica. The reboot of a campy ’70s series wasn’t expected to change the course of science-fiction when it debuted as a miniseries in 2003, and yet, the genre hasn’t been the same since.
Prior to BSG, sci-fi TV wasn’t taken very seriously. Critics would dismiss the bulk of it as silliness, filled with aliens and time travel and other fantastical things that had little bearing on the real world. No sci-fi series could ever match the storytelling capability of human dramas like The Sopranos or The West Wing, it was thought, because the genre didn’t deal with real issues. Of course, that was never true. Star Trek and The Twilight Zone were at the forefront of tackling taboo social issues in the 1960s, they just did it under the guise of sci-fi parables. But BSG took a different approach. There was nothing subtle about the way the series handled difficult real-world issues like war, politics, and religion, and it made these issues feel true and urgent. This wasn’t Star Trek with its idealistic vision of the future, this was a dark and gritty sci-fi drama that showed how complicated and horrible the world is — and likely will be in the future.
BSG also revolutionized sci-fi characters on television. Prior to the series, the genre was full of largely inflexible archetypes and dichotomies. Captain Kirk was passionate, while Spock was logical. Mulder was a believer, while Scully was a skeptic. But BSG didn’t take these kinds of simple views of its characters. Starbuck, Laura Roslin, Bill Adama, and the rest of the cast are all highly complex with various shades of gray, and none are so easy to pigeonhole into any specific archetype. Kind of like, you know, real people. BSG‘s blend of real issues with characters who acted like actual people made its stories more engrossing. The fact that it took place on a spaceship where humanity’s last remnants did battle against a race of robot villains seemed almost irrelevant. It wasn’t the science-fiction aspect of BSG that defined the series, it was its storytelling.
When you think of the current boom of excellent sci-fi TV series like Stranger Things, Westworld, and The Expanse, it’s hard to imagine any of them existing without Battlestar Galactica having come before. They all feature morally ambiguous characters and deal with complex philosophical issues, and its those aspects — even more than their sci-fi worlds — that keep fans coming back and critics satisfied.
Even if fans and critics didn’t anticipate the revolution that Battlestar Galactica would kick off, at least one person did. Series creator Ronald D. Moore said prior to the series’ debut in 2003: “Our goal is nothing less than the reinvention of the science-fiction television series.” A lofty goal, for sure, but one that was undeniably met.
The revolution will be televised! Battlestar Galactica has landed on COMET, with episodes airing every weeknight at 8 pm/7C.