Star Trek DS9 and Babylon 5 Reviewed and Compared – By Mike Wilson

Babylon Five: Season One

“It was the dawn of the 3rd age of Mankind….ten years after the Earth-Minbari War. The Babylon Project was a Dream Given Form; its goal: To prevent another war by creating a place where humans and aliens could work out their differences peacefully. Its a port of call, home away from home for diplomats, hustlers,, entrepreneurs and wanderers. Humans and aliens wrapped in 2 million five hundred thousand tons of spinning metal, all alone in the night. It can be a dangerous place, but its our last, best hope for peace. This is the story of the last of the Babylon Stations…The Year is 2258, the name of the place is Babylon Five.”

J. Michael Straczynski’s brainchild is a complex show. I think that’s why it never seemed to get as much attention as it truly deserved. Instead of an alien-of-the-week, laser shoot ’em up, discovering new worlds, kind of show, Babylon Five is one huge story arc throughout all of its seasons. And it doesn’t come clear as to what it is, right away. In some ways its a soap opera played on a science fiction background. Before the show really hit the airwaves there was a TV movie that provided most of the back-story. The premiere episode of the show dealt with these issues, but it might be hard for someone who hasn’t seen “The Gathering” (The TV movie) to get it.

In a nutshell, though: Humans are expanding throughout the galaxy, after making first contact with the Centauri. The Centauri Empire seems to be in decline, and they’re holding onto their empire by their fingernails. It was from the Centauri that Earth acquired “Jumpgate” technology, which allows starships to open up an entrance into Hyperspace and travel fantastic distances in a short time. Soon, Earth had a fairly impressive space fleet and several colonies throughout the stars. But this ain’t Star Trek, folks….when an Earth ship encounters a Minbari starship for the first time a misunderstanding between the cultures ends up with the Minbari leader, Dukat, dead and the Minbari screaming for blood. This leads to the Earth-Minbari war….one which Earth can’t win. The Minbari are quite frankly, far more scientifically advanced and the literally plow through Earth’s fleet towards our planet, planning to wipe out humanity. The Battle of the Line was the last fight in that war, with the Minbari warships bearing down on Earth. Earth Force (the futuristic military of Earth, Natch) put up a fruitless fight between Earth and Mars, knowing that it was a lost cause, but determined to go down fighting. When the Minbari captured fighter pilot Jeffrey Sinclair in that battle they probed his mind and something they found made them surrender. No one knows what it was that they discovered from Sinclair, but the Minbari immediately stopped fighting and sued for peace. They wiped Sinclair’s memory of the probe and freed him. Sinclair himself doesn’t remember what happened in the hours when he was a Minbari prisoner.

Ten years later, Earth, the Minbari and several other empires like the Centauri and the Narn Regime conspired to build Babylon Five, a huge five mile long space station orbiting a dead planet in deep space. 4 times, prior to this, building a Babylon Station has been attempted. Sabotage and cost overruns kept Babylon 1 through 3 from being a reality. Babylon 4 simply vanished without a trace. The Babylon Five Station is to serve as a meeting place for the races of the galaxy, to hammer out their differences and avoid another deadly war. Old wounds and hatreds still abide though….and the Minbari….who fronted most of the cash to build Babylon five, demanded that the command of B5 be given to Commander Jeffrey Sinclair. Sinclair’s career has been on hold since his encounter with the Minbari, and he’s not the favorite choice for Earth Gov (That’s what they call the government in the future, and its run from a place called Earth Dome, in Switzerland) but they agree.

And that’s just the back-story to get you up to speed for Season 1.

Like I mentioned in my article about the first season of Farscape, one of the hardest things I think about launching a sci-fi show is getting the audience familiar with the universe they’re watching. Babylon Five does this, but not all in one chunk. Throughout Season 1 there are a few “filler” episodes, but mostly all of them have something to do with the overall story arc, even if its just one line of dialogue or a scene or two. As we enter this strange new world, we find the political situation is not all that good. The Narns, lust for revenge on the Centauri. years ago the Centauri invaded their homeworld and enslaved them. They also strip mined the planet of anything of value before finally being chased off by continued resistance. The Centauri on the other hand have a deep burning hatred for the Narns. The first episode “Midnight on the firing Line” begins with the Narns launching an unprovoked attack on a Centauri farming planet. The Centauri ambassador Londo Mollari and the Narn ambassador, G’Kar are at each other’s throats over this and the entire situation is about to start an interstellar war. Sinclair, his second in command Lt. Commander Susan Ivanova and Security Chief Garibaldi have a never ending task in keeping the peace and uncovering plots from all of the characters during the first season….and by Season 1’s end they find out that Earth has more trouble to worry about than the other races going to war…there’s a plot to kill Earth President Luis Santiago and his death will mean more danger than any of the characters imagine.

There are far too many plot points and subplots to list in an episode by episode format here (Though you can read about individual episodes here) but that’s one of B5’s strength’s. Once you get to know the characters and what drives them, the show will hook you. Many of them have secrets and issues that are dealt with over the course of the show, and not always in the “happily-ever-after” sense. They change, they grow and some of them die. But here’s the quick list of what Season 1 holds, via the participants.

Commander Jeffrey Sinclair: (Michael O’Hare) As stated above, Sinclair has been blacklisted in Earthforce because of the Minbari incident. He’s only given this command because the Minbari insisted, and the only reason they did that was to keep an eye on him. Whatever secret they discovered in his mind troubles them, and Sinclair knows that. He forms a cordial relationship with the Minbari Ambassador, Delenn, but he doesn’t trust her. Sinclair is a tortured man, he seems to have a death wish, and a cloud of melancholy follows him around. Michael O’ Hare does an excellent job portraying a man that inside feels he has no purpose, but can still take command of a situation and earn the respect of those around him.

Lt. Commander Susan Ivanova: (Claudia Christian) Ivanova, a career officer like Sinclair, is one of the strongest characters on the show, yet she has a troubling secret. On Earth, people with telepathic abilities are given a choice….take drugs that retard their ability, or join the psi-corps. (The Psi Corps is like a Gestapo organization…rarely trusted, and in fact, hated by “normals”. Yet, the institution is needed to keep telepaths under control) There are many rules for Telepaths even in the Psi Corps and they’re looked down upon and feared at the same time. Ivanova’s mother was forced to take the drugs when she was revealed to be a telepath and they slowly drove her insane. Ivanova hates the corps for this is afraid that one day they’ll discover that she may be a latent telepath. (Telepaths are barred from military service). She also mourns the loss of her brother in the Earth-Minbari war.

Chief Michael Garibaldi: (Jerry Doyle) Garibaldi has the same problem that many cops have in the present day on TV. He’s an alcoholic, and he struggles with that. But he’s also unwilling to give up on any task despite pressure from above, danger or impossible odds. Undoubtedly he’s Sinclair’;s oldest and best friend Like Sinclair he’s trying to put his life in order and make sense of it, but unlike Sinclair he doesn’t have a death wish. Other than Sinclair, Garibaldi doesn’t trust anyone. He even threatened to shoot Ambassador Mollari once, even though he likes him.

Dr. Steven Franklin: (Richard Biggs) Sadly, the actor that plays Franklin passed away suddenly in 2004. Franklin came to Babylon Five to replace the previous doctor, who was recalled to Earth after he became the first human doctor to operate on a Vorlon (keep reading, I’ll try to explain that). Franklin’s dedication to his patients is only matched by his humanity. But his devotion to duty will cause him huge problems in the following seasons of the show. Heck, every space opera seems to need a medical character, but at least Franklin isn’t the typical “I can whip up a cure to this unknown space virus in an hour” type of doctor.

Ambassador Londo Mollari: (Peter Jurasik) Londo may not seem like it during the first season, but he is a major part of the overall story arc. His people the Centauri sometimes have prophetic dreams about how they will die….and he sees himself in a death struggle with the Narn Ambassador G’Kar. Londo hates the Narns and wishes to recover the lost grandeur that the Centauri empire once held. The position on Babylon Five was not one that anyone in the ruling class of his world wanted, it was thought of as a joke. So Londo drinks and gambles and dreams about better days. At times he seems kind and wise, but he can also be cruel and devious. These two sides of his personality and his ambition are a driving force on Babylon Five.

Ambassador G’Kar: (Andreas Katsulis) G’kar represents the lizard like Narns on Babylon Five and is just as devious and hateful as Londo Mollari. The Narns are more than willing to go to war with the Centauri….as a matter of fact, they’re just waiting for an excuse. G’Kar’s schemes have one goal…to destroy the Centauri for invading his planet in the past. He’s willing to do almost anything to see that happen. The Narns by the way are the only major race that has no natural telepaths. those with the gene for telepathy were killed years ago because the were feared. G’Kar knows this was a mistake and it puts Narn at a disadvantage.

Ambassador Delenn: (Mira Furlan) Delenn’s secret is that she is much more than an ambassador. She’s part of the Grey Council, the ruling party of the Minbari. and she is on Babylon Five just to keep an eye on Sinclair. Why? Well, her secrets are revealed in Season Two….

Ambassador Kosh: Kosh is the Vorlon ambassador. The Vorlons, the most ancient and powerful race known are total mysteries. He wears an elaborate “encounter suit” but its not for life support. No human has ever seen a vorlon and lived to tell what they look like except for Dr. Kyle and the telepath Lyta Alexander. (Not seen in this season, but in the TV movie “The Gathering”). No ship entering Vorlon space ever returns, either. Though Kosh ‘s opinions and counsel are wanted, he rarely involves himself with the others. What his true agenda is will not be known for some time.

Talia Winters: (Andrea Thompson) Talia replaced Lyta Alexander as the registered telepath on Babylon Five. She’s fiercely loyal to the Psi-Corps, and that puts her odds with Ivanova. She holds a deadly secret that won’t be revealed until later seasons.

Special Features: Subtitles and closed captioning. Character and B5 technology profiles. Since B5 has a huge amount of back-story to it, even at the beginning, its needed.

Who’s Gonna Want It?: Fans of the show of course! Even if you’ve never seen it, you might want to get it if you’re a fan of science fiction. Babylon Five is one of the best example of good TV Sci-Fi.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Season One

As Star Trek: The Next Generation was drawing to a close. Paramount was preparing to launch a spin-off trek show. The Next Generation was a hit for the studio and it was only natural for them to air another show to keep the cash cow alive. Aired roughly around the same time that Babylon Five hit the waves, DS9 was different than what the previous Trek shows were like. But it did bear a lot in common with B5. We’ll get into that later.

There’s some back story for DS9, and most of it was covered in final season of NextGen. or TNG as I’ll call it from here on. In TNG we first meet the Cardassians, a militaristic, gray skinned, scaly race, that are pretty much like space nazis. The Cardassians have occupied the planet Bajor for about 50 years, enslaving the populace and strip mining the planet. The Bajoran resistance finally drove them away by the time DS9 premiered, but the Cardassians left the planet in ruins and without a central government. (They have a provisional government running things when the series starts, but theres a lot of in-fighting and differing opinions.) Its interesting to know that the character of Ro Laren, a Bajoran starfleet officer (played by Michelle Forbes) was met to be on DS9, but the actress declined to do the series.

The back story for DS9 goes further back than the last season of TNG though…in the 3rd season, in what is probably the favorite episodes of many fans, the Borg, a race of Cyborgs attacked the federation. At Wolf 359 they devastated a Federation fleet sent to stop them. In DS9’s pilot episode “Emissary”, we see that battle again, but not from the Enterprise. We see how it undfolded on the USS Saratoga, where Lt. Commander Benjamin Sisko serves as first officer. The battle of course, goes badly and the Saratoga is damaged enough that its Warp Core is going to go critical and explode. Sisko, in command after the captain is killed orders the ship to be abandoned and he races through the ship to his quarters to get his wife, Jennifer and young son, Jake. ( An aside here: I always hated hated hated the idea of “families” on what are essentially military vessels, but TNG established that, and for some reason it didn’t cause a riot by the fans, stupid as it is). Sisko finds his wife dead and her body pinned under debris, but Jake is alive, only stunned. As the ship falls apart around him, Sisko and his son escape, seeing the Saratoga explode as the escape pod races away.

Now, in the Present, Sisko is given command of Deep Space Nine, a space station orbiting Bajor. Bajor is not part of the United Federation of Planets, but has some interest in joining. In the meantime, the provisional government has requested that Starfleet take control of DS9 to help facilitate Bajor’s entry into the Federation. The Station is of Cardassian design, it was originally built to process ore from the planet and send it back to Cardassia. When the Cardassians abandoned it, they pretty much wrecked the place. Sisko is not amused when he and Jake arrive. the place sucks. Chief Miles O’ Brien, (Colm Meaney) whom fans know was the transporter Chief on TNG has been assigned as Chief of Operations on DS9, and Captain Picard himself makes a cameo to greet Commander Sisko and give him his formal orders. Its at this meeting that we find that Sisko has a Extra Large, super-Size Chip on his shoulder. Because Picard was under Borg Control at Wolf 359, and unwillingly helped the Borg, Sisko considers him responsible for the death of his wife. He doesn’t come out and say it, but when he meets Picard face to face, you can see he would like nothing better than to strangle him. Still, Sisko claims that he is considering getting out of Starfleet but for the time being, he will do his duty as ordered.

Doing that won’t be easy. His first officer, and liaison with the Bajoran Government is Major Kira, a former resistance member and dangerous terrorist, as far the Cardassians are concerned. Kira resents the fact that the federation is taking control of the station and she pretty much tells Sisko that. The new Starfleet Doctor assigned to the station, Julian Bashir, is young, brash, somewhat reckless and prone to putting his foot in his mouth; the chief of security, Odo, is a shapechanger that claims to serve only justice, but worked for the Cardassians; and the local bartender on the station is a Ferengi named Quark and he’s a typical Ferengi. Backstasbbing and greedy. The only bright spot is the science officer, Lt. Jadzia Dax. Dax is a symbiotic being, a worm like creature that lives in a host body, sharing existance. The former Dax, Curzon, was Sisko’s friend and mentor earlier in his career. When he died the symbiotic being ewas tranferred to Jadzia, who is not an old man, like Curzon, but an attractive woman. Still, she shares Dax’s memories so she’s an old friend of Sisko’s.

Even with this crew, Sisko has more problems to deal with. Gul Dukat, the cardassian commander that was in charge of Bajor’s occupation pays a visit to issue some veiled threats. And the spiritual leader of Bajor, Opaka, gives Sisko some cryptic messages about his destiny. She wants Sisko to solve the mystery of the Orbs, which she claims were sent by the Prophets. (The Bajorans worship these beings as Gods). In investigating that, Sisko and Dax discover a wormhole near the Bajoran system in space. This wormhole is remarkable, for as they discover its stable….and it leads to the Gamma Quadrant, an unreachable by conventional means. part of the galaxy, ripe for exploration. On their return trip though, they discover another fact…the wormhole was deliberately constructed by the beings the Bajorans call prophet. Their ship is forced to land and the Prophets send Dax back to DS9, but keep Sisko for interrogation.

Back on DS9, Major Kira correctly assumes that the wormhole will put Bajor on the galactic map, but they have to lay claim to it before anyone else discovers it. Dax and O’Brien manage to use the stations orbital thrusters to move the station close to the wormhole, although its a dangerous manuever. (O’Brien even warns that it’d take a starship to tow the station that far and they risk cracking it like an eggshell). Inside of the Wormhole, Sisko meets the Prophets. They don’t exist in linear time, but at all points of time at once. thus they don’t understand that cause and effect. Sisko manages to convince them that corporeal beings mean them no harm by using baseball as an analogy.

Gul Dakat, though, has discovered the wormhole and attempts to enter it, despite warnings from kira. However the prophets stop him midway through. Other Cardassian warships arrive, thinking that the Bajorans have somehow destroyed Dukat’s ship. They prepare to attack, but kira won’t back down, even though deep space Nine has minimal defenses. But just as the Cardassians begin to destroy the space station, Sisko comes to terms with the Prophets. Since they don’t live in time as we do, they access pieces of his memory to present themselves. But no matter how many memories they make Sisko relive they always come back to the moment Jennifer died. Sisko asks them why they keep making him go through this painful moment and they tell him they aren’t…he is the one that brings them there, by reliving his grief over and over again. Sisko comes to terms with the loss of his wife and makes a bargain with the aliens. They agree to allow safe passage through the wormhole and free Sisko, allowing him to tow Dukat’s ship back to Bajoran space. Dukat orders his forces to stand down, and the wormhole is in the jurisdiction of the Bajoran system.

Like all Star trek shows, this premiere was heavy with the “human condition” aspect. Sisko’s struggle with the loss of his wife was his major flaw, and though it comes up again in the series, by this episodes end he has a renewed vigor for life and his mission. The first season of DS9 was spent on a few episodes that were pure Trek in nature….meeting aliens and solving their problems. (“Captive Pursuit”, “The passenger” and “If Wishes were Horses” come toi mind). Some episodes dealt with the other characters though in large. Major Kira really took the limelight a lot….her internal struggle with her own loyalties is tested in at least two episodes (“Progress” and “Duet”). Odo, who doesn’t know his own origins is highlighted almost straight away in “A man alone” one of the first episodes, and Dax is given an episode that deals with her past lives. The overall tone though of the first season is the unification of Bajor. The planet is trying to recover from the horror of the Cardassian occupation, and the factions in the government don’t make Sisko’s life any easier. Still, this show did waht other trek show didn’t…it had different characters with different agendas take center stage. Sisko wasn’t the typical Starfleet commander that many fans expected….first he was the first African American commander in a series, and he’s not all that nice of a guy at first. He loses his temper a lot, as in the episode “Q’less”….Picard’s nemesis Q arrives on DS9 and when he angers sisko with his antics, Sisko punches him in the face. Q says he’s alot easier to anger than Picard and Sisko replies “I’m not Picard.”

The first season of DS9 was well received, but I don’t think Paramount paid as much attention to it as they did with Star Trek: Voyager, which honestly, wasn’t that good. DS9 was sort of like a stepchild, mostly ignored, and never really accepted as much. Well, that’s how I saw it, and I don’t know why. In my humble opinion it was better than any of the Treks that followed. DS9’s first season is an excellent acquirement for fans of science fiction in general. It did something we didn’t see in Trek before and really haven’t seen since…it had characters that had flaws. What they made of these flaws will have to be addressed in later seasons.

Special Features: Of course. Subtitles, profiles, the whole nine yards. The fans would go nuts if they didn’t include that.

Who’s Gonna Want It?: Fans of Trek are tenacious about getting Trek stuff. I’ve seen Trek lovers forego stuff like food, soap and rent money to get trek junk. But science fiction fans in general will like it, also.

And Now The Inevitable Comparison:

I won’t go into “They stole that from this show” because its pointless. Unless you have access to information to confirming it, both shows claim that the similarities are mere coincidence. Personally, I have an opinion about some similarities in the later seasons, but we’re talking about Season 1 for both shows right now. Both Babylon Five and Deep Space Nine are good shows on their own. But they have a lot in common, which works both for and against them separately.

Both shows take place on a space station.

Both have a Commander in title, and both commanders are men with a troubled past. the second in commands are both female.

Both Space stations are lightly armed, though both B5 and DS9 will have improved weaponry in future seasons.

In DS9 the name Dukat is given to the alien commander of the Cardassian Forces, he’s a constant thorn in Sisko’s side….on Babylon Five, the name dukat is used for the leader of the Minbari. This Dukat doesn’t survive as a recurring character, though.

Both B5 and DS9 are positioned near a shortcut in space. In DS9 its the Wormhole that leads to the Gamma quadrant, in B5 its the Jumpgate. The difference is that B5’s Jumpgate’s are man-made entry and exit points to Hyperspace, needed for interstellar travel. DS9’s Wormhole isn’t a natural phenomenon, and it serves as an important plot point in the series. That’s as close as that bit gets to a similarity. One could argue that B5’s jumpgates are merely that shows version of “Warp Drive”. (In B5 ships cannot travel faster than light on their own)

And you know what? Thats about all of the similarities. And they are superficial. I don’t think the concept for either show was robbed from either producer.

FAMILIARITY: DS9 wins this one, because more people are familiar with Star Trek than Babylon Five. You can test this out. Go find a person you know has little to no interest in Science fiction and ask them who Captain Kirk is. 9 times out of ten they’ll have an idea. But ask them who Commander Sinclair is and they’ll balk. Or make a comment about warp Speed. They’ll probably get it. Jump Gates? they won’t. Because of that many people will gravitate towards DS9 other than B5 because they don’t have to learn everything from scratch. Trek has become part of our culture, for the most part.

REALISM: It’s a science fiction show! Both of them! But B5 beats DS9 in this. Only a little though. Trek’s technology can be considered almost “fantasy”. B5 has less technobabble, and plausible explanations. Still, that’s only a matter of opinion….since the technology doesn’t REALLY exist as presented in either shows, it can’t count for or against them.

TECHNOLOGY: This CAN count, depending on your point of view. (Or better said, how much you can accept) In Star Trek there’s usually a way for any of the fantasy devices to do whatever is required of the plot. Though DS9 doesn’t overuse this facet, its kind of exempted. But still, as part of the Trek universe it holds a sting. The Transporter can do almost anything, from curing diseases that are otherwise unbeatable to teleporting people into different dimensions. The standard phaser handgun can be used to stun, disintegrate or warm up a rock for heat. Well, B% doesn’t have transporters…the people have to actually fly shuttles to different ships or planets. and the handguns they use fire some kind of helium round, because, hell, they don’t want to puncture a bulkhead on a space station.

CHARACTERS: B5 has an edge, but its given only because of Trek’s history. Star Trek main characters are always the good guys. They usually have few flaws, and they always do the right thing. Well, not always….DS9 changed that a bit, and its for the better. Sisko is angry and bitter in the first season, Kira is angry, bitter and defiant….Odo is just angry. Quark is greedy and sneaky, Bashir is somewhat foolish and Dax…well, the first season she was just a Spock/ Data Clone. Babylon Five was more character driven, but because of its darker tone, that might have turned viewers off. As I mentioned in the review, Commander Sinclair is a man with a black cloud over his head. Watching an unhappy man week after week on a space opera isn’t my idea of fun. Still, B5 pulled it off, and since they didn’t have the “rules” of Trek to abide by. A main character could kill in cold blood for example. Which I’m sure is against the Star trek writer’s guide. (I’d love to get a copy of that book)

If you’re looking for something comfortable to watch that doesn’t require too much of your attention span, the 1st Season of Deep Space Nine is probably the better choice. Babylon Five’s first season is enjoyable enough, but it ends with a cliffhanger, and a lot of things that happen in the 1st Season are important in later seasons. If you’ve got a big wad of cash, get both sets…if not you’ll have to choose between which one suits you best. Both shows are good, so it’s not an easy choice to make!