TV lists

Babylon 5 at 25 – The top 5 episodes of spin-off series Crusade

As our lookback at Babylon 5 continues, Baz Greenland discusses the cancelled spin-off series Crusade...

Babylon 5 was a hugely influential piece of sci-fi television, telling both an episodic tale of the crew of a multi-racial space station in the future and a number of complex, war-driven story arcs running across the five years of the show. As it celebrate the show’s 25th anniversary, we’ve looked back at the top five episodes of each season and now we move onto Crusade, the spin-off series cancelled after thirteen episodes…

Crusade only lasted thirteen episodes and it is very much a curious anomaly in the Babylon 5 franchise. The series’ premise – Earth infected with a Shadow plague by the Drahk, leaving humanity with just five years to live – was set up in the fourth TV movie A Call to Arms.

The hunt for the cure, led by Gary Cole’s Captain Gideon and the crew of the Excalibur, was only supposed to be the beginning; hints of much darker tales can be found in the unfinished scripts available online. But the series never really got to move beyond that original premise.

Sadly, TNT’s interference, from a suggestion of more sex and violence, the forced creation of a new pilot episode, scheduling changes and even sudden updates to uniforms, meant that J. Michael Straczynski was never able to deliver his true vision on screen. Crusade ended the franchise on a whimper and goes into that great TV series of one-season wonders in the sky.

But there were moments of greatness and in that fashion, here are the five best episodes of the show’s limited run…

Racing The Night

Straight off, you’ll notice that the five episodes listed here are the final five episodes of the show’s run. What it proves is that Crusade might have taken its time to find its feet, but when it really got going, there was some of that old Babylon 5 magic here. First up is ‘Racing The Night’, originally conceived as the pilot episode before TNT meddled with the broadcast order and demanded a new, more traditional pilot be made – hence ‘Warzone.’

The trouble is, this is a great introduction in its own right; A Call to Arms had already set up the Drakh plague and this could have been Crusade‘s version of Babylon 5 season one opener ‘Midnight on the Firing Line’. Here we see Gideon and the crew deep in action. The dream sequence / flashback at the beginnings establishes Gideon’s motives and the journey to the dead planet, subject to the same plague centuries earlier, raises plenty of tension. The vivisection of a crew member, the frantic pursuit through the ruined city and Galen’s mysterious actions makes for a cracking tale.

This was the opening Crusade truly deserved, As it stands, late in the show’s run, it is certainly one of the season’s best.

The Memory of War

This episode continues on a similar theme, as the crew of the Excalibur head to another mysterious dead planet in search of a potential cure. It probably feels unfairly placed next to ‘Racing The Night’ and while not quite as good, it does have plenty of atmosphere and tension as the crew discover a video message from the race just prior to their eradication and come under threat themselves.

The appearance of a second Technomage helps to explore the mystery behind Galen and the opening ISN feed, featuring a returning Maggie Egan from Babylon 5 is the icing on the cake, giving audience a glimpse of the chaos on the quarantined Earth and tying the show back to its parent in a simple but effective way.

The Needs of Earth

This is probably the weakest episode in this top five, indicative of the fact that Crusade never really had the chance to get going. But it is also an important one, showing just how far Gideon will go to get the information he needs to save Earth. Using information gleaned from the Rangers, he is willing to defy an entire alien race to obtain illegal information from an Edward Snowden-type character.

It is a solid morality tale with an intriguing twist – the alien Natchok Var didn’t have the secrets to have humanity, just the art, music and poetry of a race that has quashed all free-thinking. A culture is saved, it just isn’t Earth’s.

Visitors from Down the Street

The X Files was still a big cultural icon at the point Crusade aired and this episode plays a spoof where humanity is the mysterious race that has studied and abducted them over the centuries.

It never feels fully fledged but it is a fun idea, with Harry Van Gorkum’s Durkani and Françoise Robertson’s Lyssa the ‘Mulder and Scully’ of the episode that have uncovered a secret government conspiracy and come looking for answers.

Each Night I Dream of Home

Babylon 5 star Richard Biggs pops up as Doctor Stephen Franklin in his last ever appearance in the franchise (he would tragically die aged 44 five years later). Along with ‘Racing the Night’, it’s the strongest episode of Crusade‘s run, with the stakes raised by Franklin’s desperation to find a cure, discovering in the process that the virus attacks organs one by one while the Drakh launch an attack on the Excalibur, providing plenty of action alongside the emotional drama.

Adding in the burgeoning romance between Gideon and Babylon 5‘s recurring guest star Lochley, and this is an episode that really is firing on all cylinders. It’s just a shame it was cut short before it could really get going…

And the worst episode of Crusade?

 

Warzone

This episode was forced upon J. Michael Straczynski in place of ‘Racing the Night’ intending to bring in viewers that hadn’t watched A Call to Arms. Sadly, it wouldn’t have done much to keep them interested. It is a convoluted mess, starting with Gideon in a fist fight and going downhill from there. There’s a lot of military mumbo jumbo, exposition set-up and character introductions that Straczynski really didn’t feel were needed. Even the presence of the villainous Drahk isn’t enough to stop this full being a snorefest.

And worse of all, the addition of this episode bumped ‘episode 14’ off the filming schedule, an episode that would have seen the return of Walter Koenig’s evil Psicop Bester. It adds to what is already a bitter taste in your mouth…

Crusade was a short-lived series that could have been as epic as Babylon 5; between the scheduling changes and studio interference, there wasn’t a whole host of great episodes to chose from. Do you agree with the above? Are there earlier episodes in the season you think on more favourably? Let us know in the comments below.

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