Babylon 5 Series Bible Review
J. Michael Straczynski set a record by writing the entire third season of Babylon 5, a feat he repeated for the fourth season. However, this was not Straczynski's original plan. He intended more writers to participate, but this became impractical as the arc that existed in Straczynski's mind took center stage. Straczynski was able to share the writing chores during the first two seasons when more standalone, non-arc stories occurred. In fact, 10 of the 22 episodes in season one were written by authors other than Straczynski. To help these writers who had not been thinking of Babylon 5 for the last five years, Straczynski wrote the Babylon 5 Series Bible, Season One. The Series Bible gives writers an overview of the universe and characters they are writing for. It also lets them know what types of stories the producers are looking for. It is an unexpected boon to Babylon 5 fans that this series bible was released to the public. It is an important piece of Babylon 5 history.
The Babylon 5 Series Bible was sold by the Official Babylon 5 Fan Club as a collectible. It is 64 pages long - not counting illustrations and covers - and has a nice plastic binding.
The cover of the Series Bible is dated May 20, 1993 and labeled "Version 1.1". A red fan club stamp certifies that the product is authentic.
J. Michael Straczynski begins by introducing the main priority of Babylon 5: the characters. He urges writers to concentrate on the main characters, keeping in mind that they are not interchangeable with characters on other shows.
Straczynski continues with a discussion of the tone of the series. Writers are reminded that the characters should be the focus of the scripts. Stories should reflect the human condition and affect the main characters directly. Writers are warned that points should be delivered with subtlety. Straczynski mentions that Mark Twain said good fiction should neither overtly preach nor overtly teach but must covertly preach and covertly teach. He mentions several previous shows as examples of the tone he wants, including the original Star Trek, The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, The Prisoner, and Blake's 7.
Straczynski lays out the rules for the types of stories the producers are looking for. They do not want rip-offs of movies or short stories. They also do not want quick resolutions, scientific illiteracy, expensive off-station settings, or stories about cute kids or robots. Straczynski reiterates that he want stories that focus on the main characters, but he also wants writers to refer to the fact that there is a larger universe in which the characters exist.
The five-year arc is described as a triptych, a large picture assembled from several small pictures. Each episode is intended to stand alone, but regular viewers will see the bigger picture. Writers are warned that they may on occasion have a pitch turned down because it conflicts with the arc. Straczynski explains how the arc will impact the first season. He lists eleven points that appeared as he promised during the first season. One interesting note is that the Shadows are referred to as the Shadowmen.
The budgetary constraints of the show are explained. Writers are asked to concentrate on the primary characters, limit guest characters, and combine minor roles. They are also asked to stick to the standing sets.
Straczynski provides a character sketch for each of the major Human characters.
Commander Jeffrey Sinclair is described essentially as he appears in season one of Babylon 5. Michael O'Hare has placed Sinclair's Series Bible entry on his Web site.
Unlike Jeffrey Sinclair, Susan Ivanova's character deviated from the character sketch in the Series Bible. While the bible does refer to her brother dying in the Earth-Minbar War, it also states that she still harbors resentment towards the Minbari, a trait that was never developed on the show. Her parents are also still alive according to the bible. They are scientists working on Io. Could Straczynski have originally planned to have them figure into the discovery of the buried Shadow ship? Ivanova is also described as "not given to shouting or carrying on". This obviously changed when Claudia Christian was cast in the role. She was not yet cast when this bible was written.
Having appeared in the pilot, Michael Garibaldi's character was also firmly established when Straczynski wrote the Series Bible. The only difference in his background is a reference to his ailing, estranged father, a character history later transferred to Ivanova. One curiosity is that Straczynski devotes almost a full page to the story of Garibaldi's introduction to Sinclair. This story was later told as "Shadows Past and Present" in issues 5 through 8 of the Babylon 5 comic book.
Like Ivanova, the character of Dr. Stephen Franklin was not yet cast when the Series Bible was written. The character sketch is mostly accurate except for his family background. Franklin is given a divorced wife and two teenage children who live on Earth. It is indicated that they may have appeared occasionally.
When he wrote the Series Bible, Straczynski was still expecting Patricia Tallman to appear as Lyta Alexander in the series. Her character sketch includes a wealth of information about telepaths in general. Straczynski describes Lyta as "wrapped pretty tightly", and indicates that he plans to push her until she unravels, something that did eventually come to pass on the show. He also foreshadows her increase in powers. Writers are told to not involve Lyta romantically. Straczynski has stated online that this was because he always intended her to be a follower (but not a lover) of Byron.
Nearly a page and a half are devoted to Catherine Sakai, indicating that she may have originally been destined to play a larger role after season one. Straczynski indicates that she would eventually learn that the companies she works for are not as altruistic as they appear.
Straczynski provides character sketches for the alien ambassadors. Each sketch includes background information about the history and culture of the ambassador's people.
By the time he wrote the Babylon 5 Series Bible, Straczynski had the Minbari well thought out. The bible describes in detail how the Earth-Minbari War began and how it ended. It also tells of the Minbari involvement with the Babylon Project and the appointment of Jeffrey Sinclair as the commander. The nature of the Minbari is also firmly in hand. They are described as quiet and thoughtful, but capable of surprising action when provoked. The importance they place on honor and truthfulness is also discussed.
Delenn is revealed to be a member of the Grey Council. Her primary motivation is to maintain peace for the Minbari. Her fascination with the Humans is mentioned, but then Straczynski adds and interesting comment: "She has no desire whatsoever to be human, however." Her mission to watch Sinclair and kill him if necessary is also revealed.
Straczynski provides an excellent analysis of Centauri society. Drawing parallels to the Roman Empire, he describes how their once mighty empire has dwindled due to apathy and excess. He provides some insight into the Senate and the throne. The Centauri are obsessed with status, and display it with their titles, clothes, and hair. The Centauri women, who are often hairless, are described as far more sensible than the men.
It turns out that Londo Mollari got the job of ambassador to Babylon 5 because one of his family members first made contact with Humans. His position is not a desirable one, but it keeps him away from his wives. His weaknesses are drink, gambling, and women. Straczynski reveals that Londo is far more than he appears. Some of his comic relief is just camouflage, and he often is not as drunk as he appears. He is gathering information that he hopes will restore his republic to greatness.
The Narn homeworld is described in the Series Bible as having a strategic location along a supply line, a point which was revealed in the show because the Shadows had used it 1000 years earlier. However, the bible mentions another interest the Centauri had in Narn. The Centauri grew a plant on Narn that was refined into a recreational drug. When outlying worlds broke away from the Republic, Narn's strategic location became less important. Also, a synthetic version of the popular drug was created on Centauri Prime. For these reasons, the Centauri lost interest in Narn and abandoned it. In the resulting power vacuum, the Narn became their own oppressors. They strip mined their own world and used forced labor to build ships and weapons. At the time the story begins, they are treating other worlds as the Centauri treated them.
G'Kar's mission on Babylon 5 is to prevent the other major powers from forming alliances while creating his own alliances with the non-aligned worlds. He is described by Straczynski as foppish and overconfident. G'Kar's mate is said to be a highly-placed confidant of the Narn leader. Unlike Londo, his position as ambassador is one of honor.
The Series Bible entry for Kosh and the Vorlons is terse and vague, as it should be. It is revealed that they have interfered in the affairs of other worlds and that they dealt with the Minbari many years before. Writers are urged to use Kosh as an X-factor.
Straczynski provides the writers with several supporting characters, some of which never appeared on the show.
Mr. Jones is an enigmatic character who is sometimes a help and sometimes a hindrance to the main characters. Rumors about his age and his fear of Dr. Franklin indicate that there's something not quite normal about him. He sometimes helps Sinclair by giving him information. Susan is attracted to him. There isn't anything in his character sketch that makes his absence from the show seem like a great loss.
The Boss is the head of the Lurkers in Downbelow. He is described as a protector, manager, and arbiter for the less fortunate residents of Babylon 5. He does not trust his lieutenants. While Garibaldi would like to be rid of the Lurkers, Sinclair understands that they are a fact of life. He would rather deal with the Boss he does know, than one he doesn't. Babylon 5 featured several leaders of Lurkers over the years, with many of them being crime bosses. However, we never saw a character with the power of The Boss. This is probably for the better since the disorganized chaos of Downbelow depicted on the show is more realistic and leads to more interesting stories. Having an area of the station that is out of everyone's control provided many story opportunities over the years.
Unlike the first two supporting characters, Ombudsman Wellington did appear on the show. The bible describes him as funny, wise, and a pain in the butt. Unfortunately, we did not see more of him. Using him more would have helped with Straczynski's challenge to the writers of showing the larger universe around the characters. The story is not necessarily over just because Garibaldi catches the bad guy. Wellington would have allowed us to see what other characters besides the command crew thought of their adversaries.
Ko'Dath, the original, short-lived aid to Ambassador G'Kar, is called Ko D'ath in the bible. She is described as ambitious. She got shoved out an airlock, paving the way for her replacement, Na'Toth.
Vir is named Virell in the bible. While it is assumed that G'Kar and Delenn were intended to have larger staffs, Londo was always supposed to have a staff of one. His character seems to be significantly different from the one eventually played by Stephen Furst. The Vir described by the bible is more resentful. He responds to Londo's efforts to instruct him with disdain. Straczynski says that Vir "is headed for a fall. Bigtime."
Lennier is described a quiet, soft-spoken, and respectful. This translated well onto the screen. He is very knowledgeable, but his knowledge is only theoretical. Straczynski describes him as an innocent, but adds that it won't last.
On the subject of Kosh's diplomatic staff, Straczynski merely says, "Hasn't got one."
At this point, Straczynski gives the writers some guidance on the use of guest star characters. He reminds them that the main characters should be the focus of the stories. A guest star's situation should always affect a main character directly or help a main character grow. He reminds writers that there is plenty of conflict between the existing characters, so guest stars are not necessary for every story. Straczynski points out that there are a quarter million people on Babylon 5, so it is entirely reasonable that a guest character could appear out of this population and then disappear into it, never to be seen again. Writers are asked to limit the number of guest stars since the regular cast is already so large. Straczynski also says that there are not many families living on the station.
The next section of the Babylon 5 Series Bible describes the Earth in the year 2257. Writers are urged to refer to it in their stories. Straczynski describes the unique psychological state that the humans find themselves in as a result of the Earth-Minbari War. He describes the splintering of opinion that led to the cults, hate groups, and independence movements that featured in the show. He also mentions that Earth is not a utopia on this show. The organization of the Earthforce military and the Earth Central Senate are briefly described. A timeline of Earth history places first contact with the Centauri in 2184, the Narn in 2230, the Minbari in 2242, and the Vorlons in 2257. Straczynski states that the story line of the birth of the Third Age of Mankind runs from 2257 to 2262. He adds, "2262 will signal a major, and as-yet classified transition in the Babylon 5 universe."
Straczynski devotes three full pages to the Psi Corps. The history, organization, and legal limits of the Psi Corps in the Series Bible are the same as what eventually appeared on the show and in the novel Dark Genesis. He also hints that some high level telepaths may actually be controlling "certain major political figures".
Straczynski asks writers to use Babylon 5's security forces intelligently. He compares them to Israeli airport security. They are not wimps or cannon fodder.
Next, Straczynski provides a glossary of technologies and terminology. This resource includes sections on jump gates, ships, PPGs, links, encounter suits, the credit system, trade and exchange, armor, drugs, the alien sector, and the ambassadorial quarters. The PPG section is especially good, describing several models of the weapon in detail. In the drug section, Straczynski mentions Dust, which has a particular classified property. Writers are instructed to not refer to this drug, which in the show was revealed to enhance telepathic abilities. There are also three entries in this chapter that are defined with the phrase, "We don't have them": universal translators, transporters, and artificial gravity.
Straczynski concludes with an afterward in which he refers to a "Babylon 5 Resource Guide" and a technical manual. He also instructs writers to keep this Series Bible confidential. Writers are urged to pitch a story verbally before investing much work in it to prevent them from duplicating other efforts.
The Babylon 5 Series Bible includes four black and white illustrations and three color illustrations by Peter Ledger. The black and white pictures are various spaceship designs plus an early rendition of the station. The color artwork depicts the station exterior with surrounding ships, the core of the station, and the central corridor.
The cost of this book from the Official Babylon 5 Fan Club was $35. Considering the size and collectible nature of this volume, the price is reasonable. While much of this information has been presented elsewhere, it is interesting to read it as J. Michael Straczynski originally wrote it. It is also fun to study the several differences between this source material and the final product.
Sadly, with the demise of the Official Babylon 5 Fan Club, this collectible is no longer available first-hand.