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The Hidden Horror Stories of Battlestar Galactica

Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, industrial engineer, mother of two, and published sci-fi and horror author.

“Battlestar Galactica”: The Original Series

The original “Battlestar Galactica” show shared several traits with the original “Star Trek”. Every few episodes, there’s a new planet and new people who are suspiciously human. In “Battlestar Galactica”, these constantly discovered human worlds were described as stragglers from the original group that went to Earth.

This raises a number of questions. One would be why these colonists were left behind instead of the ship bound for Earth staying there. We could argue that the Western world wasn’t considered good enough for a full colony founded by exiles. Yet “Terra” became an advanced technological civilization complete with massive cities. Who colonized that world?

If it was stragglers of the fleet going to Earth, that suggests the fleet going to Earth was as big as the one that settled the 12 colonies. If that world rose from a small colony of thousands to a full tech civilization in a few thousand years, that suggests either:

  • the Earth's colonial fleet was more advanced than the others
  • something held back the 12 colony worlds from developing at the same pace
  • something really walloped the Earth colony to send it back to the Stone Age … we’ll get back to that later

What bothered me was the Colonial fleet getting caught up in Commander Adama’s vision. We will go to Earth! That’s our only hope!

Imagine being one of the people stuck in an overcrowded refugee ship, knowing that Cylons are hunting you to extinction, and you find out about a habitable colony world that the fleet just left. It isn’t just habitable, but there is already a small colony of humans who’ve lived there for generations. No one asked you if you wanted to get off. No one even considered offloading excess population or sharing information about Colonial culture, though they’re clearly afraid of being wiped out. There is a fair chance that a shuttle of misfits, criminals and people going crazy from the stress could contribute to that colony’s culture and economy. It would certainly improve their long-term odds of survival through diversification of the gene pool.

Furthermore, bolstering those small colonies with people not allowed to carry tech that could attract Cylons improves the odds the human race as a whole survives. But, nope, on to Earth-like Adama says.

The nightmare must have only gotten worse when they reached Earth a long generation later in the 1980 series. Imagine having hoped for safe harbor only to hear that Earth is primitive by your standards, we’re moving on. Making matters worse was the throwaway line that they’d station a few scientists to bring Earth up to a higher technological level. The competition to get off those ships must have been intense. And a number of people would have become violent, having not been given that option five planets ago - or this one, either.

Cover of a novel based on the original "Battlestar Galactica" series.

Cover of a novel based on the original "Battlestar Galactica" series.

“Battlestar Galactica”: The Reboot

The rebooted “Battlestar Galactica” lasted longer than the original series and was far better than the shorter-lived 1980 series that was the campiest of them all. However, there’s a horror story there that at least a few others have addressed.

In this “Battlestar Galactica” series, habitable planets are rare. Every planet that could be suitable for colonization is colonized or they at least set out a plan for it – including ancestral home Kobol. That prevents the TOS Star Trek “wagon train to the stars” feel of finding Wild West towns on alien planets and not even having blue horns (hat tip, Star Trek Enterprise).

There’s a different horror story here, and it starts with the final episode. The entire fleet decides to land on Earth and colonize it. Genetically compatible humans without technology or even language already live here. It isn’t “Earth” but “Earth2”; the real Earth was nuked in a civil war between its robots and the descendants of Cylons who figured out how to become biological. Interesting that no one decided to go cyborg or just “Borg” here, but that’s a different issue.

The advanced humans colonize Earth. We’re all descendants of mitochondrial Eve, Hera. There’s just one problem – the fossil record. These advanced humans were building towns. Their tools and technology would be like plopping medieval tech on a Neanderthal site. But we don’t have that. We only have their genes. They’re even shown planning agriculture. So where did it go?

We see the Cylons depart on a ship. We hear the warning that they may come back. There’s a logical answer to this whole conundrum – they did come back and nuked the obviously settled towns. The only survivors were scattered explorers, hunting parties, and anyone who interbred with the natives. (Sons of Baltar, most likely.)

This would mean that the genetic contribution of the Colonials was scattered, terrified survivors of a second attempted Cylon genocide. Some of Hera’s granddaughters and great-granddaughters survived. These few girls and women passed on to their children a stronger language, culture, and tool use than the cavemen who were their neighbors, and now there’s no reason not to interbreed with them.

Imagine the woman who was raised in a civilized town with stories of grand cities in another world by her grandparents who’d been gathering food a few kilometers from home when fire from the sky killed everyone you loved. The only family you have left are the two children you took with you this afternoon in the woods. Worse yet, the only support you have are a few other scared survivors, some of them physically and emotionally scarred from what they witnessed. You can’t bash Baltar the fifth for banging a cave-girl who thinks his spear-thrower is a gift from the Gods, since he brings home meat so you can try to make a livable camp, and you need his help to take care of kids in this truly Stone Age lifestyle.

At least your children are better than the savages, benefitting from Mom’s genes and cultural toolkit, so they’re at the top of the social totem pole. Maybe it will get better. Maybe.

It did, after tens of thousands of years. And that’s the hidden horror story of the “Battlestar Galactica” reboot’s finale.

Questions & Answers

Question: Terra was advanced but not as advanced as the 12 Colonies. They didn't have colossal Battlestars for instance. But you're right I often wondered, why not just stay on once of the habitable planets? The western world planet was a problem for Apollo because he was alone. If the entire fleet came down, they'd be running things in fifteen minutes.

Answer: The in-universe answer is that they didn't want to bring the Cylons to these lost straggler colonies. And their low tech meant they were apparently invisible to Cylons, since we don't see them wiped out by the Cylons though the Colonial fleet went by.

I can understand the idea of keeping the Colonials together, but they could improve both their fates by letting some Colonials settle on the backward worlds as long as they didn't develop the tech that was advanced enough for Cylons to show up and bomb it. The case of Terra proves it may be interstellar flight. Go set up power grids on the Western world and democracy on the prison planet.

And the Colonial fleet actually improves its odds for survival in the long-run, because they could force essential personnel to stay but let the emotionally strained or non-essential people leave. You extend the length of time your life support systems last, and you could bring the numbers down so you could crowd people into the remaining ships if one of them suffers a critical failure.

© 2018 Tamara Wilhite


Tamara Wilhite (author) from Fort Worth, Texas on December 24, 2019:

Plotwise, you're right. But then Hera can't be the ancestress of all humankind.

Terence McQuillan on December 24, 2019:

A possibly better ending to BSG2003 would have been for them to arrive at Earth in the not quite so distant past, and the Colonials are the cause of the development of agriculture.

Tim Truzy from U.S.A. on October 11, 2018:

I like the way this version of "Battlestar Galactica" tapped into the Alien Astronaut theory and the unsettling idea that these people populated an Atlantis of some kind. By having the Cylons obliterate humanity again, we don't need asteriods for extinction.

You are right: there in lies a terrible, horrible, truth about humanity and our ancestors, according to this tale.

Thanks for a wonderful article.

Much respect,