“The Gathering”, the feature-length pilot episode for Babylon 5, still ranks amongst the best of introductions to any TV science fiction show. In 1993 there was just nothing else to compare with its wall-to-wall CGI effects backed up by eye-popping architectural and interior production design, costumes, alien make-up and hairstyles. A couple of flat performances let down an otherwise intriguingly cast ensemble, but these problems would vanish in the series. Here, character introduction and development was refreshingly left to fend for itself within an elaborate narrative structure that kicked-off several plot threads at once. Creator Michael Straczynski ambitiously starts proceedings with a multi-layered mystery concerned with the nature and destiny of the soul. Political shenanigans, trigger-happy action stereotypes and wavering physics linger in the viewer’s memory, but the tantalising tale told by smooth Commander Sinclair (Michael O’Hare) about the “hole in his mind” makes the strongest impression. Considering how convoluted the show’s mysteries would become, “The Gathering” remains an essential starting point.
On the DVD: Babylon 5: The Gathering is presented here in its 1998 Special Edition version. However, nowhere on the packaging is this stated. In fact, the back-cover credits are incorrect: apart from anything else, this version features a new score by Christopher Franke and not Stewart Copeland’s original. Special effects and sound quality are also superior to the original version, even if still only presented in 1.33:1 ratio and two-channel Dolby.–Paul Tonks