Reclaiming My Inner Geek


I haven't seen much of the Battlestar Galactica revival, so I shouldn't pass judgment on it; if I watched a full story arc I might warm to the series. But the episode and a half that I did see seemed self-serious and dull—when critics call it "The West Wing in space," my internal response is "Maybe, but I hate The West Wing." If you want to watch some producers dig into the TV vaults, pull out a long-dead science-fiction show notorious for its campiness, and create a new version filled with sly political commentary and aimed at intelligent adults, I've got a better suggestion: the regenerated Doctor Who, a major hit in Britain that finally comes to the U.S. tonight on the Sci-Fi Channel.

I wrote an article about that series before it debuted, focusing on how its arrival might affect the old show's long-established fan culture. But that piece was an exercise in cultural studies, not eager anticipation, and I didn't have high expectations when I finally got a chance to see an episode myself, through a means that may or may not involve illicit downloading. What I saw was unusually good. It had its flaws, of course (the first two episodes have anticlimactic conclusions, and so for that matter does the season itself), but the writing and acting were sharp and unexpectedly satiric. Battlestar Galactica may well have broadcast a story parodying the Iraq war, but—if you want to avoid spoilers, you should jump to the next paragraph right about now—I doubt it began with a flying saucer crashing, 9/11-style, into Big Ben; and I doubt it revealed that Britain's leaders are, David Icke-style, really reptilian aliens in disguise.

Another episode mocks Rupert Murdoch's news operations. An easy target, perhaps, but what's especially intriguing is that we return to the same world a few stories later and learn—spoilerphobes better jump ahead again—that the Doctor's intervention actually made things worse. The tidy endings of the old series are gone, along with the cheesy costumes and rickety sets.

Bonus points: My favorite story of the season, told in the episodes "The Empty Child" and "The Doctor Dances," manages both to mock Star Trek and to borrow from Philip K. Dick's novel The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch. Point me to a Battlestar Galactica tale that does that, and I'll embrace the series immediately.