Babylon 5 - The Lost Tales: Voices in the Dark
review by John W. Herbert
Babylon 5 is back in the first of what is hoped to be a series made-for-DVD adventures under the moniker The Lost Tales. The first disc, entitled Voices in the Dark, contains two short tales both written and directed by Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski.
Set ten years after the original series, the first story involves B5 commander Colonel Lochley (Tracy Scoggins) who has summoned a priest to B5. She is convinced that a crewman on the station has been possessed by a demon and only an exorcism can save the unfortunate victim presumably destroy the demon. However, the demon insists on being exorcised, and this presents the priest with an ethical dilemma.
In story two, President Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner) is on his way to B5 for a ceremonial function when Galen the technomage (Peter Woodward) visits him and presents him with his own ethical dilemma: a teen-aged Centauri Prince that is traveling on the same ship as Sheridan will grow up to lead a devastating Centauri attack on Earth. Galen wants Sheridan to kill the teenager before he grows up to be the Centauri's leader and bring havoc and chaos to the galaxy. Essentially the question Sheridan faces is the Babylon 5 version of would you go back in time and kill Hitler as a boy?
These are short tales, each clocking in at only about 35 minutes. Straczynski has said he wished to approach this new project as an anthology show, telling small stories in the corners of the B5 universe. Perhaps he has succeeded too well in this. The stories, especially the first one, are very talky. There's only six speaking parts across both stories, and barely an extra in sight. But where they lack in action, they make up for in philosophical meanderings.
The stories are also perhaps too similar. In both cases, Lochley and Sheridan solve their puzzles by playing back something that was previously said, Lochley by listening to a tape playback while staring out alone into space, and Sheridan by running back a conversation in his mind while flying alone in a spacecraft. (Maybe that's way this set is called Voices in the Dark.) This isn't to say that the stories are not entertaining -- they are -- but there seems little to tie them to the overarching Babylon 5 canvas, and that's a pity. Mind you, enough plot threads are left dangling from the Sheridan sequence that it could be easily picked up in further installments.
The special effects are very good and Straczynski's direction is good, too. He effectively uses some interesting camera work in the Lochley segment, and he keeps a sure hand on the proceedings. The actors seem to be pleased to be reprising their roles, particularly Boxleitner and Woodward who seem to having immense fun in their scenes together.
The DVD contains many behind the scenes features, in total as long as the feature itself. What is sorely missing is a commentary track, but on the other hand the reenactment of a major scene from the show using sock puppets almost makes up for that gaffe.
So while it is not as effective as it could have been, this first volume of The Lost Tales marks a successful return of Babylon 5 to our screens, and here's hoping that there is a second helping soon.