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LOST PLANET OF THE GODS

Analysed by Michael Daly

Dedicated to John Colicos: 1928 - March 6, 2000

Of the 17 stories comprising 24 hours that made up the original run of Battlestar Galactica, my favorite episode has always been Lost Planet Of The Gods. It is this episode that most digs into the “Origin” mythos that comprises a large part of the show’s premise. It has also come under criticism for certain portions of its basic plot. The following is a look at this episode with comments on its subplots and themes. Included within are numerous references to the episode Gun On Ice Planet Zero:

PRIMARY EPISODE CAST:

Apollo—Richard Hatch

Starbuck—Dirk Benedict

Adama—Lorne Greene

Boomer—Herb Jefferson Jr.

Baltar—John Colicos

Athena—Maren Jensen

Boxey—Noah Hathaway

Cassiopeia—Laurette Spang

Jolly—Tony Swartz

Tigh—Terry Carter

Serina—Jane Seymour

Salik—George Murdock

Dietra—Sheila DeWindt

Brie—Janet Louise Johnson

Greenbean—Ed Begley Jr.

Giles—Larry Manetti

Voice of Imperious Leader—Patrick Macnee

Voice of Lucifer—Jonathan Harris

WRITERS—Glen A. Larson and Donald P. Bellisario

DIRECTOR—Christian I. Nyby II

ORIGINAL AIRDATES —24 September and 1 October 1978, ABC Television

PRODUCTION NUMBER: 003


Originally titled The Tombs Of Kobol and filmed as a telemovie—in accordance with Glen A. Larson’s original plan for Battlestar Galactica to be a series of monthly movies rather than a weekly series—Lost Planet was slated to be the third Galactica story in the series; Gun On Ice Planet Zero, AKA The Cylon Death Machine, was slated to be the second. In the changeover to a weekly series the two episodes were reversed—Gun became the fifth story (Episodes 8 and 9) while Lost Planet became the second (Episodes 4 and 5). Larson’s original plan shows up in the publication order of the two stories’ novelizations. The Cylon Death Machine is the second Larson-Robert Thurston novel, while Tombs of Kobol is the third.
The changeover also reflects in the novel’s treatment of Baltar. In the novelization of Saga Of A Star World Baltar is taken out of the Imperious Leader’s chamber and a centurion reports he has been beheaded. As a result, Baltar never once appears in The Cylon Death Machine, though he appears prominently in Gun On Ice Planet Zero. In the novelization of Lost Planet it is explained that the sentient cogitator Lucifer intervened and had Baltar spared and placed in his custody. This angle adds greatly to the interplay between Baltar and Lucifer.
Baltar’s first scene in Lost Planet is a quick recap of the Glen Larson-directed Epilogue of Saga of a Star World, with extra dialogue introducing Lucifer to Baltar, and curiously also less echo.
The basic story was a compilation of three different stories forced together by ABC, which explains the episode’s many subplots. The switch to a one-hour episode format also explains the deletion of numerous scenes, most of which wind up in the novel, a pattern repeated in Gun On Ice Planet Zero, The Living Legend, and so forth.
The actual episode opens with a dinner in Adama’s quarters, at which there is considerable bantering, highlighted by Boxey’s speech about being taught about slowness in human thought in instructional period. There is tension as everyone is waiting for Apollo to say something. Finally prodded, he announces he and Serina intend to take the Seal. This leads to one of the episode’s (and the series’) funniest moments—Athena sits next to Starbuck, a “we can get married and have kids, too” look in her eyes. Starbuck hastily retreats, leaving Athena to sheepishly wonder why.
The other hilarious moment comes when a bachelor party being prepared by the other warriors is raided by Council Security blackshirts searching for missing rations from the officers’ mess. They interrogate the warriors until sent on their way by Colonel Tigh. Priceless is the scene where the head blackshirt quiveringly requests to leave, and Tigh curtly orders, “Dismissed.” Tigh lectures his men that the only thing worse than lifting rations from officers’ mess is getting caught doing so.
While Starbuck and Apollo go out on patrol toward the Epsilon Quadrant, Boomer and Jolly vector toward the Otarsis Quadrant. They land on an asteroid and find a Cylon outpost, then return to their vipers, unaware that they have contracted an alien virus (brilliantly given life in the novel); Jolly is felled by the virus almost upon landing on the Galactica, while Boomer spreads it to other warriors at the party. Soon, as Adama pointedly notes to Doctor Salik (making his first appearance in the show) the disease infects almost every viper pilot and half the bridge officers, “everyone who’s been in contact with anyone from that party.”
This disease-of-the-week angle is the show’s weakest point. I suspect Larson and Bellisario wanted the pilots incapacitated in combat but were overruled by ABC— the influence of ABC Standards & Practices shows in the retitling of the episodes; Lost Planet of the Gods and Gun On Ice Planet Zero are less belligerent-sounding titles than their original monikers.
With almost the entire contingent of fighter pilots incapacitated, the Galactica upgrades shuttle pilot trainees—all the ones seen in the episode are female—to warrior cadets, including, much to Apollo’s dismay, Serina. In a scene deleted from the episode, Serina lands a shuttle just before Boomer and Jolly return.  Boomer even refers to it when he scolds Jolly, “That cadet made a better approach.”
The female warrior cadet angle is often criticized for chauvinistic undertones. In an interview with TV Guide Maren Jensen was particularly upset over the show’s “macho” attitude and criticized the universal youth, slimness, and attractiveness of the female cadets in this episode. Also criticized is the scene in Part Two where Apollo and Starbuck chat about domestic pleasures—Apollo talks about acquiring quarters on “the Astrodon freighter” which he intends to decorate with paint, curtains, and “soft, translucent” Valcron—while Serina and the other female warriors boast over drinks about their collective combat prowess.
This scene is intended as mild comedic relief, and one is hard-pressed to find a truly chauvinistic attitude here. If anything, the scene offers an interesting, and unsettling, contrast—the rookie warriors are all excited over their combat prowess and basically regard it as a game; the veteran warriors Apollo and Starbuck avoid discussing combat because they’ve seen it all and know firsthand that war is never a game, even when you win. The scene calls to mind Starbuck’s heart-to-heart talk with Athena in the long version of Saga Of A Star World, where he melancholically talks about seeing all his buddies incinerated by the Cylons and Athena almost tearfully admits she can’t bring herself to fall in love with anyone else because of the chance she’ll have to see another loved one die.
The officer’s club scene shows that the criticisms of chauvinism in the episode actually have it backwards. There is a huge contrast between Lost Planet’s treatment of its female cadets with the treatment of male cadets in Gun On Ice Planet Zero. In Lost Planet Starbuck and Apollo’s treatment of the female cadets is quite gentle—Starbuck is only minimally upset when, in a simulated battle, Athena blasts a Cylon raider, and then “kills” Starbuck; there is also the scene, not used in Part One but shown in the quick plot recap that opens Part Two, of Starbuck calmly explaining to female cadets manning consoles about how thinking helps and hurts in combat.
Gun On Ice Planet Zero’s opening shot of male cadets is completely different. When Cadet Cree gets too close to Boomer’s thrusters, Boomer brusquely orders him back into proper formation. The novelization The Cylon Death Machine is even harsher in its treatment of cadets. Starbuck regularly belittles Cree; when Cree asks about aggressive initiative Starbuck snaps, “Stow it, Cadet. That’s just so much academy felgercarb,” and tells Cree to “keep your trap shut”; when the patrol approaches the Cylon-controlled ice planet, Cree volunteers to help scan the surface, but Starbuck curtly responds, “This is no time for practice. I’ll give you a spot-quiz later.”
The contrast continues in the baptism of fire the two groups of cadets undertake. In Lost Planet Adama launches Blue Squadron to wipe out the Cylon outpost so Doctor Salik can isolate the source of the virus; in the ensuing battle the female cadets make rookie mistakes, disobey orders (Apollo orders them back to the Galactica as Cylon raiders launch), and win the battle, attacking the Cylons with gusto, shooting down all of their raiders, and suffering not a single casualty. In Gun On Ice Planet Zero, Cadet Bow is blasted out of the stars by the Ravashol Pulsar. Cadets Cree and Shields disobey orders to return to the Galactica (the novel includes an especially sharp exchange between Starbuck and Cree), make the rookie mistake of trying a frontal attack on the mountain, and Shields is blasted while Cree is forced down by Cylon raiders and captured.
If there is chauvinism in Galactica, it is more female chauvinism than male, and is one of the few instances where Galactica suffers from what is today known as political correctness.
With the Cylon outpost destroyed and Salik’s research on the asteroid finished, Adama orders the Fleet into the void, ostensibly so that its distortive energy can provide cover from Cylon tracking. This, though, doesn’t take into account Baltar. By now we have seen Baltar established as commander of a Cylon base star with Lucifer as his aide-de-camp. Baltar is now wearing an impressive dark blue uniform with cape. John Colicos insisted on changing out of the disheveled robes—diapers, he called them—he’d worn throughout Saga Of A Star World. His blue uniform became as much a part of the show’s visual appeal as the special effects and other costumes - the uniform design was also used for Starbuck, albeit Starbuck’s was brown to Baltar’s blue, in The Long Patrol.
The interaction between Baltar and Lucifer is superb. Lucifer is both fascinated and jealous of Baltar, and often questions the wisdom of Baltar’s orders. He is especially sharp when Baltar orders the capture of a Colonial warrior—it turns out to be Starbuck. Baltar explains that he wants to offer peace to the Fleet, and will release Starbuck in time. Starbuck of course doesn’t believe him, and neither does Lucifer. Soon, however, the Fleet encounters a star, and finds what Adama has been searching for—the planet Kobol, motherworld of humanity. In the original script, the star is sighted on the Galactica’s scanners; in the episode, however, it appears when Serina and Apollo go through the Sealing ceremony (Serina practically begs Apollo to “marry me now” after Starbuck’s disappearance), a change designed to add drama to the scene. True, it’s a case of drama taking precedence over science, but it still works.
By now the episode, which has been rather sluggish overall, truly takes off, as the Galactica lands a warrior contingent and vipers around huge pyramids on the planet. Adama, Apollo, and Serina explore the city that surrounds the pyramids and find the tomb of the Ninth Lord of Kobol, which Adama believes contains information as to where Earth is. Adama possesses a medallion, The Seal Of The Lords, which enables him to open doorways within the temple.
When the Cylon base star scans the star, Baltar realizes what Adama is searching for. The episode is vague as to how much Baltar knows about the planet’s mythology, though it’s clear he knows enough to greet Adama within the temple of the Ninth Lord of Kobol. When Baltar appears in the temple (having landed on the planet undetected by the Fleet), Adama attacks him, but Apollo stops him. Baltar insists he was forced to help the Cylons but now intends to betray them by using the Fleet to overthrow the Cylon empire. Baltar’s performance here is excellent, leaving the audience unclear as to whether he means it.
Baltar offers as proof of his sincerity the release of Starbuck, a promise he keeps when Starbuck reappears on the planet. Lucifer, however, believes Baltar DOES intend to use the Fleet to overthrow the empire, and ponders whether to launch an attack. Just as Adama discovers the burial chamber of the Ninth Lord, Lucifer’s phalanx of raiders attacks the planet; Adama, Baltar, Serina, and Apollo are trapped in the burial chamber; when Baltar belatedly realizes what’s happening, he growls, “If I ever get my hands on you, Lucifer!”
The attack is harrowingly portrayed, featuring excellently booming sound mixing of explosions, laserfire, the roar of Cylon engines, and the screams of warriors on the ground amid superb SFX visuals of Cylon raiders strafing the planet—the show’s sound mixing is vastly better than in Saga Of A Star World, being louder and more ferocious. The surface contingent of vipers manages to launch but when the cadets engage the Cylon phalanx, this time they are cut to ribbons. This is the most refreshing change in the series and one of the very few times in any action film where the bad guys are allowed to pummel the heroes; it is thus a bitter disappointment that in the novel, the cadets are allowed to have their consistent rookie mistakes actually allow them to outmaneuver and slaughter the attacking Cylons; if anything, the novel, freed of the restraints imposed by TV, should have shown the Cylons blasting the rookie warriors and the planet in even more graphic style.
It also shows the Cylons changing tactics— instead of attacking the Galactica as at Carillon, the Cylons have wised to the deception Adama used there and blast the planet first, and thus protect their flanks before engaging the Fleet.
In any event, on the Galactica the veteran warriors stricken by the disease manage to recover enough to man their vipers (presumably they are flying backup vipers stored as ready reserve; certainly the Galactica, with two flight bays each bigger than a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, can operate 200 fighters and still have room to store another 100 in reserve).
Just before Boomer and company arrive over Kobol, Adama finds hieroglyphs recording the Great Exodus from Kobol to the Twelve Colonies and to Earth. But before he can deduce where the Thirteenth Tribe went, Cylon raiders blast the pyramids to smithereens—my all-time favorite SFX shot, from Galactica or any other sci-fi show or movie. Baltar is buried under fallen pillars while the writings are smashed, but the chamber is opened up. While Boomer’s phalanx catches the attacking Cylons by surprise and blast enough raiders to send the enemy retreating, Adama and his children have no choice but to abandon Baltar; the Great Traitor is thus left to vow revenge on Lucifer, in one of the show’s most chilling scenes.
Adama, Apollo, and Serina are found on the surface by other warriors, but before they can leave, two Cylon centurions (landed as part of a larger squad to rescue Baltar; the novel details how Lucifer leads the rescue effort) appear and open fire; Serina is shot in the back while the two Cylons are dispatched. Apollo is left with a look of genuine fright on his face while Adama and the others look down in stunned horror. The episode closes out in poignant (if somewhat overly weepy) fashion as Boxey and Apollo say goodbye to Serina before she passes on.
The episode’s bitterly sad ending—forced on the show when Jane Seymour decided against continuing with the series—is bold; how often does any TV show feature anything but a happy ending? Going back to the officer’s club scene, it helps ram home to the cadets what war does, and is among the show’s best moments.
Overall, Lost Planet Of The Gods, despite the excess of plots and the deletion of scenes that add to the story’s power, is a winner. It ranks with The Living Legend, War Of The Gods, and The Hand Of God as the best episode of the show.


2000, Michael Daly

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