So…. Where were we, before I so rudely interrupted. Ah, yes. Battlestar Galactica, the opening series, in which a rag-tag bunch of humans flee across the universe, pursued by their own rebellious creations, the Cylons.
We are swiftly introduced to the leading characters: Admiral William Adama, in command of the fleet, President Roslin, erstwhile Secretary of Education, now elevated to the position of leader of humanity by virtue of being the only surviving member of the cabinet. Dr Balthar, a genius scientist. Lee Adama, William Adama’s son, leader of the fleet’s aerial fighter wing. Colonel Tigh, Adama’s second-in-command. Starbuck, a brilliant but reckless and rebellious pilot, and Helo and Boomer, also pilots. Number 6, a Cylon who seems somehow to be in telepathic communication with Dr Balthar. Chief Tyrol, in charge of the fleet’s engineering section. And so on.
The characters are excellently drawn and all without exception go on enormous personal journeys during the series. The premise is brilliant, the writing high-quality, the underlying theme, that those we think of as our bitterest enemies may in fact be more like us than we think, is profound and rewarding. But the best, the most striking thing about it, for me, is that so many of the leading characters are female.
Now, let’s not get carried away. It’s still not fifty-fifty. There are still more males than females. But compared to most films, TV programmes and books, Battlestar Galactica is absolutely stuffed with women. The President is a woman. Starbuck is a woman. Boomer is a woman (well, spoiler alert – a female). So is Number 6, and so is Athena, another iteration of Boomer (you’ll need to watch the series for an explanation). So are others of the Cylons, and Admiral Cain, the hard-assed captain of another Battlestar that appears unexpectedly halfway through the series.
And, wonder of wonders, these women are not there as the romantic foil for the hero, or in order to deliver the plot-critical line “Come to bed, honey, it’s late”. Nor are they there in supporting roles which showcase “female” traits, a sci-fi trope so common that Galaxy Quest made it into a rather excellent joke. (The aliens who used Galaxy Quest as a template to build a space travel civilisation, designed the computer so that it would only respond to the Communications Officer. Thus, when any other member of the crew wants to know something, they have to go through Sigourney Weaver as the only female cast member, who then repeats “Computer, how many dilithium crystals do we have left?”, or whatever. When the Captain mildly wonders whether it would be possible for Sigourney to ask the computer to respond to him directly, she bites his head off with the words “Look, I may only have one job on this ship, and it’s a stupid job, but it’s all I’ve got and I’m going to do it!!” Kerr-ching.)
Nope, the women in Battlestar Galactica have proper big roles doing proper big things and doing them bigly. Fighting. Governing. Adventuring. Espionage. Flying. Sabotage. Murder. Genocide. And a big sackload of gambling, drinking and shagging thrown in. In pretty much every respect the women are no different to the men. They’re as bold as the men, as brave as the men, as violent as the men and as ruthless as the men, but they do it without becoming bitch-caricatures. They are fully recognisable and believable people doing their jobs and their best in unthinkable circumstances. Nor is it their job to nurture their fellows, or to care for them, or to be their conscience, or to provide them with hot sex or love interest or reassurance or waffles or anything else, except in exactly the same way as the men do. They are the men’s equals in everything, and it’s wonderful to see.
So in short Battlestar Galactica is a pretty spiffy show from a feminist point of view. And from every other point of view too; it’s a cracking good story whichever way you cut it, brilliantly told. And as a final bonus it has the wonderful underlying theme that those who we believe to be so different to us as to be entirely alien may in fact be so similar that in the end we may not even be able tell which us and which is them. Now there’s a feminist ideal 😎
Next up, Aliens!!! More Sigourney! Shortly 😊.