Monday, 20 January 2014

Battlestar Galatica: Its first UK free-to-air showing shouldn't be missed, to be honest

Watching the first few episodes of the epic last-humans-in-space drama Battlestar Galatica, having binged on a box set of the entire series during the summer of 2012 - popped on an episode or two in between watching the Olympics, I did - is perhaps the ultimate in dramatic irony.

You know exactly what's coming, but the characters you're watching have absolutely no idea what lies in store.

And knowing how everything unfolds in the show, now getting its first UK free-to-air showing on digital channel Pick (Freeview channel 11), every Monday at 9pm (and a repeat on Saturdays at 11pm), makes it all the more interesting to go back to the start, and watch it at the rate of an episode a week.

And tv-ooh can say it is definitely, definitely worth sticking around.

Pick has jumped straight to season one episode one, skipping the opening mini-series/pilot episode (the channel doesn't have the rights) but will show all four seasons - and the show's style can take a bit of getting used to if you've not watched it before.

'Hand-held whip-pans'

The grainy, documentary feel of its camerawork, that sort of 'Cinéma vérité' look, as if the action is happening whether the camera is there or not, and the breathless eagerness of the queasy hand-held whip-pans and jump-cuts, can all be a bit jarring, first of all.

The mood is often bleak - these are, after all, the last 50,000 survivors of the human race, and they're being pursued by the Cylons, a human-created robot race who have gained superior technology and turned against their creators, wiping out everyone else.

The Cylons can take human form, which might seem like a money-saving idea to limit the need for expensive CGI, but actually, it's where much of the drama lies.

'Substitute swear word'

Later on, the mystery of who is human and who is Cylon becomes central to the story, as it moves into questions around what it means to be a human, and other themes come into play, such as mythology and religion and faith and identity and racism and violence - but not whether 'frak' really is a good substitute swear word or not. There are also regular sequences of space ships fighting a lot.

But as the series progresses, hearing the word 'frak' stops sounding odd, and the thought of an ever-diminishing group of humans wandering space in search of a home will become essential viewing - especially from the start of season two, when the storyline and characters really find their feet and the production budget goes up.

And if the premise sounds a bit too sci-fi, don't be deterred - dismissing the show as 'only' sci-fi is to miss the point of the show entirely. It's all about people; about characters in a tough situation. Except that tough situation is in space. On space ships. With aliens. But it's still basically drama - and it's very, very good.

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