Doctor Who: Engines of War Book Review

Hey folks, Dale here, and here I have the honour of reviewing the newest BBC book release ‘Doctor who: Engines of War’, by George Mann, which for the first time depicts one of the most mysterious and unknown periods in the history of Doctor Who- The Time War. In this story we see the return of the War Doctor, as played by John Hurt in the 50th Anniversary Special, The Day of the Doctor, as he struggles to fight the endless war of the cosmos between his people, the Time Lords of Gallifrey, and his bitter enemies, the Daleks of Skaro.

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Doctor Who Series Three : A Press Start to Begin

Oh good, it’s my turn! Now we’ve come to third installment of the Doctor Who series as part of our series of reviews where we look back on each season of Modern Who. Sadly last season, we said a heart-breaking farewell to the much beloved Rose Tyler. But this time around, the Doctor welcomes aboard the Tardis a new companion, plus a chance encounter with who will come in the next season. We welcome back one of the Doctor’s closet’s friend in the ever flirtatious Captain Jack Harkness, as well as the Doctor notorious arch-nemesis.

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Time of the Doctor

Well… that happened.

Y-M-C-A

Y-M-C-A

Time of the Doctor was a perfectly fine Dr Who episode. It wasn’t great by any stretch of the imagination, like Day of the Doctor was… but it was definitely pretty good. Time of the Doctor was highly respectful of the show’s continuity and helped tie together a lot of loose threads. So I figure long time fans of the show, and the Eleventh Doctor, would love the hell out of the show.

But speaking as a highly casual fan (this is probably my 3rd or 4th episode of Dr Who I have ever watched), this episode was rushed. It lacked the depth that Day of the Doctor had. If it was like.. I don’t know… 30 minutes longer or so, then maybe it would have worked? Or cut some crap they threw in just for the sake of throwing in, I think it could have been fine. I’ll get into that in a few minutes. Just figured it would be best to be straight forward up front… you know, lay my cards on the table.

Doctor-Who-the-time-of-the-doctor

It’s the town of Christmas.. because you know, it’s Christmas time.. get it.. get it? *nudge, nudge, wink, wink*

There was a lot to praise in this episode, so don’t get me wrong. This was a decent Dr Who episode. It had all the humor and whimsy that seems to be a trademark of the series. I found myself smiling a lot at how clever the Eleventh Doctor was and how charming so many scenes played out. Like when the phone rang on the Tardis, and the Doctor opened the door into outer space to answer it. The moment was disarming, like I could tell that the Doctor wasn’t worried about anything at all. Like everything was old hat to him.

The Sonic Screwdriver can fix anything

The Sonic Screwdriver can fix anything

For now, I’m going to assume that everything awesome about the episode is self-explanatory. There was a lot, like the dialogue, the interactions… how every scene was able to carry emotional impact so perfectly.

There was something strange about the episode though. A few things. Like why was the 300+ years the Doctor experienced so rushed? Why bother aging him at all? It didn’t seem to add much to the overarching story. Or why did the Angels show up? It felt like they were just tossed in for the sake of having them. They are bad-ass important villains. Why put them in a throw away scene?

All that the angel wanted was his halo back. But nope, the Doctor kept it all for himself.

All that the angel wanted was his halo back. But nope, the Doctor kept it all for himself.

Or why in the world have the location of Gallifrey be revealed that damn quickly? Day of the Doctor made it seem like it would be a huge adventure trying to discover the location of it. Like it was lost somewhere in the universe.. in some unknown and unknowable corner of reality. But nope. Outside of reality and the Time Lords are peeking in. It felt anticlimactic. Sort of like they were thrown in… but at least they had a justification (unlike the Angels).

The Time Lords exist to make Dr Who young again. That's something... right?

The Time Lords exist to make Dr Who young again. That’s something… right?

Maybe I’m being way too negative. There was a lot in the episode that I missed because I’m not a regular viewer. I’m not a Whovian….. god, I hate that name. Yeah… gotta focus back on the point I was trying to make…. Time of the Doctor was made specifically for Dr Who fans rather than for casual viewers. A special episode like this one would attract casual viewers, or people who might be curious about the show. It can be a great jumping-on point… so it is important to make sure the episode can be understood without needed a lot of outside references.

But on the other hand, the episode really did reward the Whovians who paid attention to the Eleventh Doctor’s run. It tied together a lot of loose threads and shows that the writers had a pretty clear idea of what was going on. I appreciate writers who plan in advance…. have a general direction for the story. I got the feeling the writers for Dr Who always have an idea. So I think that’s awesome.

What the hell am I doing here? This doesn't look like anything in the brochures.

What the hell am I doing here? This doesn’t look like anything in the brochures.

Yeah, I’m torn about the episode. There was a lot to like and some things I didn’t like. It should have been far better than what it was. I still feel it was way too rushed. But, take that from a highly casual fan.

Battlestar Galactica: In Defense of Gaius Baltar

One of the most brilliant things about Battlestar Galactica has to be the characters. Every single one of them has some sort of tragic flaw. That flaw ultimately defines them in a very powerful way, forcing them to act in shocking and unexpected ways. There’s one character in particular who, in my experience, gets a lot of hate for his flaws and how he responds to them: Gaius Baltar.

Gaius Balter

Gaius Balter

Gaius represents everything people despise about the intellectual elite. He’s the sort of handsome that only comes from never working a day in his life. He knows he’s the smartest guy in the room and has no problem flaunting it. He’s a coward. He’s arrogant to the extreme and get seemingly undo praise for his accomplishments, which only serves to feed his massive ego. He never has to deal with the consequences of his actions. Others pay for his screw ups. People believe, rightly so, that he’s getting away with murder. Worse, he gets the hottest women to sleep with him. He’s the only one who had a threesome! Probably on multiple occasions!!! Hell, he ends up with a HAREM at one point. A goddamn harem.

Baltar and his harem

Baltar and his harem

What I like about Baltar is how his guilt defines him as a man. Imagine with me for a moment what it was like for him, moments before the destruction of the 12 colonies. There he was, with an incredibly beautiful woman. He had everything he wanted. Wealth. Fame. He designed a defense system that was guaranteed to defeat the Cylon threat if they ever showed up again. He had everything that he ever wanted. And in a blink of an eye, everything fell apart. The Cylons used his flaws against him. They used a beautiful woman to win his trust. They used his arrogance, stroking his unbelievably large ego to get the codes for his defense system. They got him to drop his guard, and for that… nearly the entire human race was wiped out.

That event crushed him in ways we cannot possibly imagine. He walked in a daze, fully realizing he was responsible. Sure, he was tricked. But that didn’t matter. He created the defense system. He wasn’t careful. And because of his arrogance, humanity was on the verge of extinction. Worse for him, there was nobody he could turn to for help. Anyone he could talk to would kill him for what happened. He was constantly called on by the survivors to invent new ways to save them.

And his flaws started to manifest again. His arrogance took over. As others grew to trust him, his popularity skyrocketed. After some really powerful events, he became President and had humanity settle down on New Caprica. The Cylons attacked, capturing a good amount of humanity in the process. His hubris trapped him again. He thought his brilliance could keep everyone safe, and he was wrong. Once again, humanity stood at the edge of extinction. He was isolated like never before, because the humans were convinced Baltar was working with the Cylons… that he was a traitor. They never knew he was kept as a prisoner and the Cylons were using him as a figurehead. An order was put before him that the Cylons wanted him to sign, giving authorization to execute hundreds of humans.

President Baltar

He said no, he would not sign.

He was forced, at gunpoint, to sign that document. I cannot imagine what that was like for him. It was like he broke in half, the pressure was too much for him. Two times, he brought humanity to the edge. Two times, he played a role in the deaths of many people (yeah, I know, he also gave Six a nuke that was used to kill thousands… but I never got the sense that troubled him that much). And two times, he was isolated from it all. He had nobody to turn to outside of a voice in his head. But even then, he had nothing.

The Cylons captured him. And dear lord, you could tell he was shattered. At one point, he desperately wanted to be a Cylon so he wouldn’t have to carry around the guilt anymore. That, at least, he would have done something good for his own people rather than being the worst mass murderer in human history. And yes, he was returned to the surviving humans after awhile. You could tell he was changed after that. He wrote books, appealing for the rights of the working man (socialism, yo). He didn’t have any grandiose ideas.

Gaius Baltar, praying

Gaius Baltar, praying

It all came to a head at his trial, when Lee Adama took the stand to defend him. Lee pointed out, correctly, that everyone was always forgiven for the horrible things they do. Everyone but Gaius Baltar. He pointed out that Gaius was a scapegoat for everything that’s gone wrong for humanity. Everyone else is forgiven. Heck, Lee showed that he was horrible too, that he was ready to abandon the humans on New Caprica, yet he wasn’t punished for that.

In the end, Baltar was forgiven for his crimes and found not guilty, though everyone turned their backs on him. It was then that he became a cult leader. He didn’t start a cult. Nope. The cult picked him and dragged him in. And strangely, his arrogance was gone. He was humble, in his own way. He truly believed in some sort of higher power and felt responsible for the people around him. He willingly accepted people’s hatred. Heck, his womanizing ways slowly left him (though after he enjoyed his harem for about a season…. bastard) after awhile until he ended up with the woman he loved: Number Six.

I guess what I liked about Gaius was his flaws. How they isolated him from everyone and how he struggled against it. A lot of times, he ended up on the losing side of things. But that’s okay. One thing that Battlestar Galactica showed was that life’s a daily struggle. It’s okay to lose sometimes. As long as Baltar never quit… that’s what mattered. And he never did.

The evolution of Gaius Baltar, by WolfenMoondaughter

The evolution of Gaius Baltar, by WolfenMoondaughter

TV Review: Sliders

Sliders should have been one of the greatest science fiction shows of all time. It had so much going for it: a fun cast, decent writing, creative premise, The first season and a half were some of the best science fiction television you’ll see anywhere. But the show fizzled out quickly when the writers abandoned what made the show so good.

What made the show so good?

The premise of the show was pure science fiction. The lead protagonist, Quinn Mallory, constructed a device that was the result of gravitational theories he had. That device (thanks to modification from another Quinn that came from a different parallel Earth) created a Einstein-Rosen-Podolsky Bridge, making a link between two worlds. The device was referred to a sliding technology, as it was how the protagonists were able to move from parallel world to parallel world.

Sliders`

This is science fiction for a very simple reason. The show used that piece of sliding technology, that scientific principle, to tell a fantastic story of exploration. Science, at its heart, is about expanding human potential. It allows us to go farther, do more, survive places and situations we couldn’t before, understand the universe, and.. hopefully.. make us better people in the process.

The show was supposed to be about exploration. Tracy Torme, the creator of the show, wanted it to to be intellectual, political, and satire. The worlds that the heroes would go to were different from their home world. And as the heroes learn about why they are different, they start to see how the consequences of past decisions have a radical result in modern times. The show was thought provoking in a way that very few other shows were.

Sliders_000a

For example, one episode looked at JFK’s assassination and asked what would have happened if J. Edgar Hoover took over. Well, since Hoover tended to wield power like a tyrant, he would probably do the same as President and declare martial law…. gutting the Constitution and doing away with civil liberties. Our heroes entered into that world. They saw how important the Constitution was. More than that, there was something Maximillian Arturo, known as the Professor, said which struck a cord with me. Yes, it takes great men to carry an idea. And yes, freedom is important. But there is only one Constitution of the United States of America. Only one generation made it. If the Constitution was lost, that generation that made it will not be back to make another one.

It taught that we should appreciate the legacy of freedom we were handed, never to take it for granted. I think that’s a great lesson.

Another thing that made this show great was the dynamic between the cast. You had Quinn, the rebel genius. He was the smart guy who took risks. Those risks sometimes turns out for the best, sometimes turned things far worse. Either way, it made things interesting. You had the Professor, the father figure. He was the group’s moral center and the voice of reason/caution. The Professor grounded everyone, giving the group a sense of security and a huge fount of knowledge. You had Wade Welles. She was the spiritual believer in the group. She accepted the mystical side of life a lot easier than anyone else. She looked at each world with fresh new eyes. Yes, she was the love interest of Quinn, but she wasn’t limited to that. She investigated with the best of them. And finally, you had The Crying Man: Rembrandt Brown. He was the colorful everyman character, swept up in a situation outside of his control. The character had charisma to spare, instantly likable no matter the situation is was in.

sliders-tv-series

The characters play off of each other perfectly. I wish there were youtube videos that I can show you. There was one where Quinn, Professor, and Rembrandt were huddled up, peeking out from a tent’s entrance talking about the cannibals on the world there were in. The youtube video for this one is horrible (bad sound and bad video quality), not capturing the beauty of the scene. It was comedic, speculating who would be eaten first. I was left with the feeling the characters sincerely liked each other. They were friends on an adventure, exploring parallel worlds.

What Went Wrong?

The Fox Network wanted Sliders to be an action series rather than an exploration series. I kid you not. Keep this in mind. The Fox Network rejected the initial premise. Why does this matter?

The Kromaggs.

Hi

Hi

It doesn’t matter what the background story for these guys were (it wasn’t too bad, actually). What matters is this: they were trying to invade and conquer the many parallel Earths. They turned the series away from exploration and towards survival. The show turned its back on its main premise. There were a number of stories that had the protagonists battling the Kromaggs, struggling against them rather than exploring new worlds. They replaced what made the show work. This was so bad that the actor for the Professor left the series, causing a downward spiral….

When the actor of the Professor left, they had the character killed. The one who killed him stole the sliding technology and left. So Quinn and the rest were all about vengeance for awhile… because you know… vengeance is just as fun as exploration, right? Right? Because watching the characters get all angsty over the death of the Professor is just as lighthearted as everything else they encountered, right?

The actors for Wade and Quinn left as well after awhile. The other actors were pretty good, but didn’t capture the same magic of the original.

So what went wrong? The show abandoned their main premise because of the Fox Network. This led to the actors leaving and the show being dropped by Fox (low ratings… go figure, right?). The show headed to the Sci-Fi network, but kept on their strange direction. The series ended with the last remaining character, Rembrandt, going back home with a virus weapon to kill the Kromaggs that invaded. So it wasn’t about exploration and scientific discovery to get home… it was about war.

Yay?

Sliders shouldn’t have turned into vengeance and war. The moment the show abandoned it’s original premise… it changed from what science fiction was supposed to be toward.. well… something far less.

If you’re going to watch this, just watch the first two seasons. Ignore everything else and you’ll experience one of the greatest science fiction shows ever. If you watch any more, you’ll see a television show self-destruct, becoming an antithesis of what it was supposed to be. Human spirit and potential is removed, leaving pointless action in its place.

Sliders-Cast-sliders-410732_1024_768

Yes, I hate what it became. Everyone should. Do yourself a favor and watch the first two seasons. You will not regret it. I promise.

TV Show Review: Battlestar Galactica

I missed Battlestar Galactica when it was on the SciFi network originally. Too busy with school, work, etc. I was familiar with some of the advertisements for the series. Since I didn’t have much time, I made a quick evaluation. I betcha you can figure out what I thought when I read up on it.  Here, check it out for yourself:

Remind you of anything?

Remind you of anything?

It was an allusion to Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous work The Last Supper. I’m the type of guy who likes to keep science fiction and religion separate. At least, real life religions (Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc) away from science fiction.  Fantasy religions are pretty awesome (see DS-9 with the Prophets). But real life ones… it’s a personal thing, I guess. So I didn’t watch it. The series came up in conversation a few months ago between some online RP friends of mine, and I saw it was on Netflix, so I thought I would give it a try. I avoided as many reviews as I could so I would go in with a fresh perspective.

It wasn’t what I expected, I can tell you that right now,… and I mean that in the best way possible. The things that I loved about the series, I really loved. This series got so many things right that it is scary. The things that I hated about the series, I really hated. I’ve never seen a show where I felt like that, evoking a strong reaction.

The Good

1.  The Cast

The number one thing that this show did right was the casting choices.

Battlestar Galactica

That’s the first thing I noticed about this show. Every successful show requires a phenomenal cast, and this show had it in spades. Their roles couldn’t have been easy, as they had to play characters that were trying to cope with being in a stressful situation with no way to escape it outside of suicide. I don’t know how the actors managed to do that, but they managed to convey that stress in very convincing ways.

I think the best example of this can be seen when Anastasia Dualla committed suicide. That entire episode was emotionally painful. The crew found Earth and discovered it was a wasteland, not the paradise they were promised. It could never be their home. Their entire journey was a failure. Their faith was not rewarded. Kandyse McClure, the actress who played Dualla, captured the hopelessness of the situation. She was calm, almost serine. She came to terms with her situation and decided it was hopeless. So she made the best out of her last day and held on to the happy memory up until she blew her own head off.

McClure made that episode work. She had to sell the suicide as inevitable while showing her character as being happy being in the moment. That was a difficult line to walk. She did it so well, as Dualla was seemingly detached from the situation around her. Yes, the suicide felt like it came out of nowhere. It also felt somehow right, as if there was no other way it could have happened.

As a testament to the cast, I can honestly say that even the scenes I hated with a passion… I was drawn into because the actors did their jobs so well. How many shows can you say that about?

2.   The Soundtrack.

The soundtrack to this series was perfect. This right here is my favorite of the bunch. I had to share it. Had to. Close your eyes and listen. It carries so much intensity (starting around the 1 minute mark) that I knew the scene this was with had to be one of the most important in the series. Heck, if they played this while the cast was sipping coffee, I would have thought it was the most intense coffee drinking in the history of television.

3.  The Cylons.

Not the Final Five. I’m talking about the seven known models of humanoid Cylons as well as the variations on the machine Cylons.

5783c8d47120818bbb3414814c5c22ddThe seven Cylon models were genius. Absolute genius.  The Cylons weren’t just machines; they look like us. More so, they can think and act as if they are human. In fact, they are virtually indistinguishable from humans. And if that wasn’t enough, it was possible for Cylons to not even know they are Cylons! They can believe they are actually human until they are activated, making them the most dangerous enemies one can have. Well… that’s not entirely accurate. What makes them the most dangerous is that they could not be permanently killed. If you managed to kill one of them (or any Cylon for that matter), they download into a new body thanks to reincarnation technology.

These aren’t just seven Cylons. Each model has nearly infinite copies. Each of them have their own unique personalities. The actors were more than ready to live up to the challenge. I was blown away by it. The most prominent one to display this was Number 6 (played by the lovely Tricia Helfer). Number 6 had so many incarnations, it became difficult to keep up with them all.  I can assure you, each Number 6 was unique in her own way. Some of them were leaders. Others, more supportive. The most heartbreaking one was the rape-victim one. A Number 6 was captured on the Battlestar Pegasus and was brutally tortured and raped for infiltrating the ship and nearly destroying it. I don’t know how Helfer was able to bring out so much variety to Number 6, but it is a testament to her superior abilities as an actress.

Now, the Cylons.

cylon_vs_cylonYes, there was Cylon versus Cylon battles going on. And yes, even though I didn’t watch the original series… I fangasmed. The original Cylons showed up at the end of the series, so I think it was neat they were there. But that’s not what impressed me. There were Cylon ships (that looked like crescent moons) as well as foot soldiers. Their designs were intimidating, slick, and flat out cool. They could resurrect too. So if you killed one of the ships, the pilot would come back smarter. Same with the foot soldier. And guess what? They can go insane from all the resurrections as well. That was the story of one episode. A Cylon fighter ship that went insane and was trying to destroy many of the BSG’s fighters in a cat-and-mouse game. I cannot emphasize how freaking cool the Cylons are.

4.  They Never Explain the Technology

All that you need to know is that the technology works. The tech is never so far fetched that it requires an explanation. They can go faster than light thanks to their FTL drive. The Cylons resurrect thanks to their technology…they download into new bodies. They ships can easily turn in space! And they don’t explain how, they show the technology in such a way that it is easy to figure out. This way, all the attention remains on the story and action rather than on discussions on the technology.

The Bad

1.  The Overarching Plot – the Final Five

As much as I love the plot, and believe me I do… the Final Five is flat out stupid. There are five hidden Cylons called the Final Five. Four of the Five are somehow on the Galactica. And they ended up there, not according to anyone’s plans, but seemingly as a coincidence. I can accept one of them being on the Galactica without an explanation. But FOUR??? That’s a stretch. And do we get an explanation for them being there? Nope. We’re just told to accept they are there. So as if that’s not unlikely enough, the fifth member of the Final Five happened to be in the mountains while the nukes were falling and killing everyone. And he was able to get his hands on the medication to make sure he wouldn’t succumb to radiation poisoning. Pretty lucky he was found by a rescue party and brought to Galactica as well, eh? I would call it unlikely and deserving of a reasonable explanation.

final-five-cylons_lThe actors were great and they made it work really well. But there were way too many coincidences that had to have happened for them to have ended up on the Galactica. It felt like there had to have been some sort of plan in place to bring them together. The one who would have been most responsible would have been Number One, since he seemed most likely to be that sort of Machiavellian manipulator. But… he didn’t do it. So, guess who did?

2.  God

Whenever there was something unexplained, or some supernatural thing happened, it was God that did it. Not the Christian God (though it was HEAVILY implied it could be). Just… some sort of deity constantly referred to as God. While the lack of explanation worked with the technology, it didn’t work at all with God. It made what should have been understandable technology into something otherworldly. The series was strongest when it focused on the struggle for survival. Everything was intuitive on some level. But when you insert God, everything flies out the window.

  • Why were there shared visions between humans and Cylons? God.
  • Why did the Final Five survive the destruction of humanity and end up on the Galactica? God.
  • Why is Admiral Adama so freaking awesome? God.
  • Why was Starbuck still seemingly alive despite her dying when her ship exploded? God.
  • Why was Starbuck’s remains and ship found on Earth after it exploded inside the atmosphere of a gas giant? God.
  • Why did Baltar has visions of Number Six from the very beginning of the series? God.
  • Why did one of the Number Six’s have visions of Baltar? God.

So… rather than give a satisfying explanation for any of them (outside of Admiral Adama being so awesome), we are told that it was God that did it. I appreciate what they were trying to do, talking about an overarching cycle of birth and destruction that God was trying to break both the Cylons and humanity from. I get it. But it was terrible. And worse?

It wasn’t needed. Humanity could have easily found Earth following clues and myths. They could have found where they settled on in the end. They could have had the Final Five (with a reasonable explanation) and the resurrection technology still. Sure, the would have to have gotten rid of the shared vision (which the actors made work in the last episode), but that’s not a huge loss for me.

If the series would have stuck to its strengths and stayed a science fiction show rather than a quasi-religious show, that would have made it all far better.

3.  Baltar’s Visions.

battlestar_baltar_headsix

No. Just… no. After Baltar arrived on the Battlestar Galactica, he was grief-stricken from being responsible for handing over the codes to the Cylons, causing the near destruction of humanity. So when he started having visions of Number 6, the Cylon who tricked him, it was safe to assume he was having a psychotic break. She could have easily been the manifestation of his guilt. It would have been a satisfying answer to who she was. But…. she seemed to know things about the outside world that made it seem like she was a projection from the Cylons. Like he could have had something implanted within him to make him have these visions. And that would have worked as well. Of course the Cylons would want to keep in contact with him and bring him onto their side. He’s the smartest human alive. He could be a boon to their side.

But nope. She was an angel from God sent there to guide Baltar.

So we had two satisfying explanations. One of them would humanize Baltar and show complex ways of him dealing with his guilt. The other way showing how devious the Cylons were by manipulating his mind. Rather than go with either one… we get an angel instead.

Are you sure this is a science fiction show?

Yeah, the actors made it work. Believe me, they did. I was drawn in. But when I stopped to think about it, and you should try to think about it too, why was it necessary for her to be an angel? It then begs the question: who the hell was she?  She wasn’t a Cylon. So why did she look like one? Why did she show up only after Baltar made it to the Galactica? Why did she seemingly favor the Cylons for part of it? Why did she seem like she participated in killing humans? Why could she hurt Baltar? And don’t you dare say “because she was an angel.” She was physical enough to hurt him and lift him up. Someone should have run into her at some point. Not this pointless supernatural stuff. It works on shows like Buffy and Angel. It doesn’t work on a science fiction show where we expect everything to have an explanation (even of it is not given).

Let’s Wrap This Up

I’m getting a bit long winded. If you reached this far, thank you for reading this. So… do I recommend Battlestar Galactica. I’ll say yes, with reservations. As I said, the things the show did right, they did really right. The things they did wrong was painful, but the actors made it work. I know people who hated the show with a passion for the reasons I listed in the “bad” section. I know people who loved the show for the reasons I listed in the “good” section.

At the very least, the show is work a look. You won’t be disappointed in the mini-series that came before the TV series. Heck, you won’t be disappointed in the first couple of episodes.  Go and watch! Enjoy! Thank me later.

galactica

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