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FIRE IN SPACE BY MICHAEL SLOAN

Battlestar Galactica fans are all-too-familiar with the episode Fire in Space written by Jim Carlson and Terrence McDonnell. Despite some particularly nice bits of characterization (including an unintentional focus on Terry Carter and Herb Jefferson that brought the writers a nomination for the NAACP’s Image Award—BG was a laudably colorblind show and the equally colorblind writers thought nothing of featuring Terry and Herb), the episode was flawed by an all-too-obvious plot, cheapjack special effects, poor costuming, a total lack of any effort at even psuedoscientific accuracy, an overflow of stock footage, and the traditional ABC interference that completely ruined the episode’s ending.
But if one looks closely at the credits for Fire in Space, one notes that the Carlson/McDonnell script is “based on a story by Michael Sloan.” And this is the story behind that credit.
Fire in Space, the Carlson/McDonnell version, was broadly based on Fire in Space, a two-hour script by veteran producer Michael Sloan, whose credits include The Equalizer. Carlson and McDonnell never saw the script, but Glen Larson gave them the idea for the plot lifted out of Sloan’s script. He should have filmed it as is.
Sloan’s script is dated June 22, 1978. According to Sloan, he wrote it in Hawaii at one end of a table while Glen Larson wrote a pilot at the other end. It is possible that Fire in Space may have been a candidate for the third BG movie; I have found at least one quote that suggests this script was considered to follow the premiere and Gun on Ice Planet Zero. At this remove it’s impossible to be sure.
The cast includes the usual heroes, although Dr. Wilker is here called Dr. Tolkay. Cadet Cree, at one time apparently considered a recurring minor role, has a small part. The episode opens with Apollo, Starbuck and Boomer undercover in a bar on the planet Adelphos. The three are not only undercover, but are disguised as aliens. Sloan describes them, “Apollo is dressed in black with a dark cape, one side of his face severe in its animal origins, the other humanoid. He carries a sword and wears sandals. Beside him Boomer is also disguised…Starbuck is immaculately dressed, impeccably manicured…until, in looking up, one gets to his face…it is that of a pig.” Indeed…. The three drop into a tavern, described as “a kind of Galactic Casablanca” but which sounds a lot more like the Tatooine cantina (indeed, just as the barkeep in Star Wars couldn’t abide droids in his bar, this one doesn’t want humanoids hanging out and bringing the place up). All of the customers are aliens, except for a young woman singer who is chained and is evidently the slave of the bar owner. The three warriors enter a card game, with an Ovion dealer (the Ovions were also supposed to be continuing characters but Glen Larson wasn’t happy with the way their costumes turned out—the Ovions were supposed to be tall and slender, and ended up short and dumpy) and, passing themselves off as bounty hunters in search of the human fleet, commence pumping other bar patrons for useful information. One, a reptilian creature, reveals that he has recently transported supplies to the Cylon base ship trailing the fleet, and gives Apollo its location; he also mentions a Cylon plan called the Delta Factor. Unfortunately, before Apollo can question him further, a Cylon patrol strolls into the bar as one of the aliens Starbuck has been playing cards with accuses him of cheating. The creature attacks Starbuck and his false pig head is knocked off, revealing him to be a human. A wild shootout ensues between the warriors, the aliens, and the Cylon patrol, leaving dead bodies strewn everywhere and Boomer wounded. The three warriors escape, but not before Starbuck rescues the slave girl, Helatia. They make it to their shuttle, take off with Cylon fighters in hot pursuit, but with some help from a nearby viper patrol, they return safely to the Galactica. Boomer and Helatia are taken to Life Center, while Starbuck and Apollo report to Adama the results of their mission. Using the information gained from the reptile, Adama lays a new course he believes will take the Galactica and fleet out of range of the pursuing Cylons, and declares the mission a success…although no one knows what the mysterious Delta Factor is.
As a reward for their mission, Adama awards Starbuck and Apollo (plus Boomer, once he’s well enough) an all-expenses paid evening on the “Starlight Cruiser” (obviously the Rising Star). Starbuck is in his quarters, getting ready for an evening out, when one of his lady friends, a woman named Rachel (who lives aboard the Galactica but is apparently not a crewmember—in this script there are civilian passengers aboard the battlestar) comes in. He invites her and her children to spend the evening with him, but she informs Starbuck that her husband Orion, previously believed killed in the holocaust, has turned up alive and she can not see him again. Later, aboard the “Starlight Cruiser,” Starbuck and his friends are playing pyramid when a somewhat belligerent Orion appears and includes himself in their game.
Meanwhile back aboard the Galactica, Apollo, Boxey, and Muffit are visiting Dr. Tolkay. Tolkay shows Apollo a new device he’s invented, a crystal that emits hypnotic rays. Tolkay hopes that this will prove to be a painless interrogation method, and gives it to Apollo.
Back aboard the “Starlight Cruiser,” Orion is becoming increasingly abusive, accusing the warriors of being too proud to drink with him, asking them where they were during the destruction, and accusing Starbuck of moving in too quickly on his wife. Starbuck invites him to leave, but Orion continues to insult him and reaches for his gun (Orion is a civilian, a farmer; in the series we never saw armed civilians but he has a laser pistol in this script); Starbuck more or less invites Orion to go ahead and make his day. Orion flings out more accusations, telling the crowd in the room that Earth is a myth and that the warriors are leading them all to their deaths. Pushed to his limit, Starbuck finally draws on Orion and tells him to shut up or get shot; Orion replies that there will be another time, tells him again to stay away from Rachel, and leaves.
Though Apollo left earlier, Boxey and Muffit have lingered to visit with Dr. Tolkay. Finally Tolkay shoos them out, and Boxey and Muffit head back toward Apollo’s quarters. At the same time, in a Galactica corridor, Orion has been lying in wait for Starbuck’s return and confronts him. Starbuck sets his laser to stun and shoots Orion, leaving him to sleep off the stun and his intoxication. A few centons later Boxey and Muffit come down the same corridor, just in time to see a dark figure shoot Orion again, this time to death. The figure spots Boxey and starts after him, but is forced to flee when he hears someone else coming.
Apollo is trying to question Helatia when Cadet Cree arrives in Life Station and informs him that Orion has been shot. Rushing to the scene, he learns that Jolly found the body. Boxey is also present, and tries to tell Apollo what he saw, but Apollo impatiently sends him off to bed. Jolly regretfully tells Apollo of the confrontation between Orion and Starbuck earlier in the evening, and Starbuck is arrested.
The trial scenes are quite interesting and very different from the arrangement seen in Murder on the Rising Star. The entire Council sits in judgment, with Adama at their head. Starbuck is placed in a device that forces him to tell the truth and is also subjected to a memory probe, which displays his visual memories of the shooting for all to see. Starbuck insists that his pistol was set to stun, but unfortunately he didn’t actually look at it as he reset it, so there is no visual memory to confirm his claim. Pending the autopsy report, Starbuck is grounded and, as set forth in the Book of Elders, he must take full responsibility for Orion’s family.
Apollo returns to his quarters after the trial and is surprised to find a young Council member, Callon, there. Callon claims that he’s been checking on the sleeping Boxey, but before Apollo entered the room the viewers were treated to Callon starting to unholster his laser (EVERYONE in this episode is packing heat! It’s worse than Texas!); we take it, correctly, that Callon is the killer of Orion and was planning to dispose of Boxey to cover up the deed. Apollo is somewhat suspicious when he notices a recent burn on Callon’s wrist that looks like the backflash of a laser in the hands of someone who doesn’t know how to use one; Callon claims he burned himself on a pipe in his quarters (the Galactica uses hot water heat?!).
Before Apollo can pursue his suspicions, scanners indicate an incoming Cylon attack wave. Adama is confident that the fleet will prove to be beyond their range. At the same time, Starbuck is having dinner with Rachel and her children, since he now has responsibility for them. Understandably, the meal is rather tense. Rachel hates Starbuck, believing he killed Orion, while the children, who obviously think highly of Starbuck, are sad. Back on the bridge, the Cylons continue to close and it becomes obvious that the fleet’s course change didn’t help and the Delta Factor, whatever it is, has led the Cylons right to the fleet. Apollo goes to life station, finds Helatia in pain, and wonders if she herself might be the Delta Factor. He orders the doctor to perform an immediate brain scan as the Galactica begins to launch her vipers in defense.
Starbuck naturally tries to respond to the alert even though he’s been grounded. As Boomer holds him back, Apollo and the doctor (never named, but fairly obviously Dr. Paye as he expresses sympathy to Apollo for the loss of Serina early in the episode) find a tiny transmitter implanted in Helatia’s brain. Apollo surmises that this indeed is the Delta Factor, and that the Cylons must have similar human traps waiting for them everywhere. In spite of the danger, he orders the doctor to remove the device.
Back in the hangar, Starbuck is still trying to get into a viper. Apollo arrives and while he and Starbuck are arguing, the Cylons commence suicide runs on the Galactica; the two warriors watch in horror as the viper Starbuck had been about to take off in is destroyed as a Cylon fighter crashes into the bay. Another Cylon crashes into the bridge, yet another into the passenger quarters. Adama is wounded but conceals the severity of his injuries; Starbuck has to rescue Rachel and her children from their burning quarters. A second Cylon attack wave arrives and another Cylon crashes into the bridge. Adama collapses and is rushed to Life Center.
The doctor finds that Adama to be severely wounded and must be operated on immediately. However, he needs supplies from the ship’s Beta storage deck, which is on fire. Apollo decides to lead a team to try and reach that part of the ship, while Starbuck volunteers to try and make the task easier by attempting to extinguish the fire from outside, with a viper loaded with foam. In spite of the danger—the Galactica is still under heavy Cylon attack—Apollo has no choice but to agree and the mission goes forward, with Apollo and his men struggling through the burning ship and Starbuck barely evading Cylons on his extinguishing runs. The mission succeeds, and the needed supplies are delivered to Life Center.
Afterwards, Apollo goes to his quarters. He almost trips over Dr. Tolkay lying on the deck; during the fire Boxey and Muffit turned up in his lab and he had been returning them. In the background, Council Member Callon is busily setting the room afire. Boxey, Muffit, and Helatia who, after her operation, had been put in Apollo’s quarters because there was no room in Life Center with casualties streaming in, are in a corner, terrified. Callon levels his gun at Apollo, who demands to know why he’s doing this. Boxey reveals what he’s wanted to tell Apollo all along, that he saw Callon shoot Orion. At the proper moment, Muffit bounds forward and bites Callon in the leg, throwing him off balance, and Apollo takes advantage of his surprise to jump him. As the two men struggle, Boxey, Muffit, Helatia, and Dr. Tolkay, who has regained consciousness, escape from the room. Apollo remembers the crystal Tolkay gave him, which is still in his flight jacket pocket, and uses it to momentarily daze Callon, who he is then able to knock out.
Starbuck and Boomer land after driving away the remaining Cylons; Apollo is in the bay to greet them and give Starbuck the happy news that Callon is the real murderer of Orion; the two men had had a feud that predated the holocaust. The Cylons retreat, vanquished, Adama recovers, and naturally all is well in the end and the long journey to Earth continues.
There are a few problems with this script, mostly concerned with the question of whether or not there would be civilian passengers aboard the Galactica and just who in the Fleet is allowed to carry weapons, but they are relatively minor and may have been eliminated in rewrites, had the episode been filmed. Overall the script is very well written, tightly plotted, has first-rate characterization and dialogue, and in my opinion would have made one of the best BG episodes had it ever been filmed. Why it was not shot probably mainly is concerned with how much it would have cost to film; like Beta Pirates, another good script that wasn’t filmed, it would have called for new sets, new costumes, new special effects, and all of those cost money (the first seven hours of BG cost over $1,000,000 per hour to shoot in uninflated 1978 dollars, but the later episodes came in under $700,000 an episode, and it shows).
This script and Beta Pirates escaped to fandom fairly late, in the middle 1980s (this one I discovered rather accidentally, when a fan published a fan story based on the script, which at that time she apparently was the only fan to have a copy of!). Before I saw them I had thought that all of the unfilmed scripts deserved their fate—Two for Twilly, Mutiny, and so on—but afterwards I had to wonder what other fine BG scripts and story ideas have been lost forever.

Read what Jim Carlson and Terrence McDonnell have to say about their version of Fire in Space in their interviews.

1988, 2000, Susan J. Paxton
Originally published in
ANOMALY 15

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