REVIEW: BATTLESTAR GALACTICA RETRO-STYLE CYLON CENTURION
"There are those who believe that life here began out there, far across the Universe with tribes of humans who may have been the forefathers of the Egyptians... or the Toltecs... or the Mayans... that they may have been the architects of the Great Pyramids... or the lost civilizations of Lemuria... or Atlantis. Some believe that there may yet be brothers of man who even now fight to survive--somewhere beyond the heavens!"
With these words, followed by a majestic orchestral score, the TV series BATTLESTAR GALACTICA took to the airwaves in 1978, commencing with a three-hour movie on the ABC Network.
Science-fiction, up until recently, had not had an easy time of it in either the movie theaters or on television. There had been Star Trek, of course, in the 1960's, and the movie theaters had played host to the Planet of the Apes series of movies, which had led to an unfortunately short-lived live-action television series in 1974. There had been Stanley Kubrick's confusing "2001: A Space Odyssey" in 1968, and 1976 had seen a movie called "Logan's Run", which purported a future world governed by a computer system in which everyone had to report for euthanasia at age 30.
But then along came Star Wars in 1977, and everything changed. Suddenly, high-quality science-fiction and space fantasy was seen as an abundantly popular, and certainly profitable and marketable format. And it continues to be so to this day. The list of movies and television programs that have benefited from the ongoing popularity of science-fiction would be preposterously too long to even begin to list here.
One of the first to take advantage of the new popularity of the genre was Battlestar Galactica, and it was no accident that the superb special effects for the time were developed by one John Dykstra, who had worked on Star Wars.
In the series premiere, we were introduced to the twelve colonies, twelve planets inhabited by a human race indistinguishable from our own. They had long developed advanced space travel, and were certainly technologically superior to us. They had also been at war, for centuries, with a race of sentient robots known as Cylons.
Allegedly, a peace had been brokered between the Colonies and the Cylon Empire. On the even of the signing of that declaration of peace, however, the truth was revealed. It had been a feint, orchestrated by a human traitor named Baltar. The colonies were attacked and devastated, as was the Colonial Fleet, a vast armada of huge spacecraft, essentially spaceborne aircraft carriers called Battlestars, that carried squadrons of fighter craft known as Vipers.
At the end of the assault, the Twelve Colonies were in flames, the human race was nearly extinct, and there was only one surviving Battlestar, the Galactica. Its commanding officer, Commander Adama, made a grave decision. He assembled a fleet of any spaceworthy vessels, populated by the survivors of humanity. They would leave the ruined colonies behind, and set out across space in an effort to find a legendary 13th tribe, a 13th Colony of man, which inhabited a planet known as -- Earth.
The series lasted one season, producing 24 episodes, including a number of two-part adventures. The special effects, despite using a fair amount of stock footage over time, were top-notch for the time. The stories, with a few exceptions, were superbly written, with an emphasis on the urgency of their mission and no shortage of action.
Unfortunately, the show was just too expensive for the network, and between this and no small amount of mishandling and poor scheduling by the network, the plug was pulled. There were protests outside the network's headquarters, but to no avail.
Battlestar Galactica was briefly revived in a sequel series called "Galactica 1980", in which the Galactica did find Earth, in our present day (at the time), only to discover that Earth was not the shining technological marvel it was hoped it would be. Instead, the Galactica found itself in the unenviable position of having to covertly protect the planet from the Cylons, even as its people did what they could to bring the planet up to speed.
Unfortunately, for the most part, the series was dreadful. It had to be produced on a much cheaper budget, most of the original cast was gone, and for whatever sad reason, the network dictated that the level of "violence" had to be curtailed, and replaced by "educational content". The highlight of the series was the return of the popular character Lt. Starbuck, who would have appeared a second time if the show hadn't been, perhaps mercifully, brought down after a meager ten episodes.
In more recent years, a new Battlestar Galactica cropped up, developed by former Star Trek veteran Ron Moore. Unfortunately, this new Galactica, despite obviously superior special effects, just as a result of advancements in the field, reportedly decided to rely on political intrigue and social commentary over a decent level of action. I heard nothing good about it from anyone who was a fan of the original. I've never seen it, I have no desire to, I consider it a disgrace, and it will be ignored here.
The original Battlestar Galactica did inspire a toy line. Now, in the 1970's, the major player in the action figure world was Mego -- period. Since the early part of the decade, they had produced numerous series of 8", cloth-costumed action figures based on a wide range of concepts. Their basic design was simple, and yet it made perfect sense. They developed a basic body design that could be produced in any color needed. There was a hole in the top of the torso that any head could be easily snapped into, and the final figure could be dressed as needed. Mego had the licenses to DC Comics, Marvel Comics, Star Trek, Planet of the Apes, Wizard of Oz, and a great many other concepts. About the only popular show of the time that they didn't have was The Six Million Dollar Man, which went to Kenner.
But in 1977, Mego missed out on Star Wars, which also went to Kenner. This was, at the very least, part of Mego's eventual downfall.
Another concept they passed on was Battlestar Galactica. It went to Mattel. In the 1970's, Mattel wasn't exactly known for action figures. They'd had exactly two hits in this area -- Major Matt Mason in the 1960's, and Big Jim in the 1970's. Masters of the Universe was still several years away. Their Galactica figures were -- not terribly inspired. Their best one was of Muffit, the robot dog (or "daggit" in Galactica-speak), which in the series was actually a chimpanzee -- one assumes an exceptionally well-trained and tolerant one -- in a robot dog suit. Their Cylons weren't bad, and at least featured a cool chrome finish. Their humans were -- meh. Not terribly well detailed, and certainly not very well painted. No facial features whatsoever were painted onto these 3-3/4" scale figures.
I still have my daggit, and it's about the only Galactica toy of the time that I bought. One sort of wonders what would have happened if Mego had picked up the Galactica license.
Wonder no more! A company with the rather unusual name of "BifBangPow", in conjunction with EmCe Toys, a company dedicated to bring back the Mego-style action figures as precisely as possible (and having done a generally superb job of this with their Star Trek and Planet of the Apes lines), has produced a series of 8" tall, cloth-costumed, Mego-type action figures based on the original Battlestar Galactica!
This review will take a look at the figure of the CYLON CENTURION. First of all, let's consider the history of the Cylons.
The Cylons were not originally the mechanical foils seen throughout the series, but an advanced reptilian race who created the robots (who were referred to as Cylons within the show) to serve them, maintain their vast empire and to man their military forces in the face of a sudden population drop that eventually led to the Cylons' extinction — seemingly overnight. This fact is briefly mentioned in the 1978 movie-length premiere of the series when Apollo relates the Cylons' origin to Boxey. In the episode "War of the Gods", during Count Iblis's private discourse with Count Baltar, Baltar mentions that he recognizes Iblis's voice, referring to Patrick Macnee's voicing of the Imperious Leader in the opening episode/theatrical movie (Macnee also played Iblis), with Iblis countering that if that was true it must have been "transcribed" over a thousand yahren (years) ago and programmed into the mechanical body of the Imperious Leader.
The follow-up series Galactica 1980 had a two-episode arc entitled "The Night the Cylons Landed" that featured a humanoid Cylon, though this was still a complex mechanical construct.
There are various types of Cylons established within the original series.
Imperious Leader is the leader of the Cylon Alliance and highest Cylon model. The Imperious Leader is an IL-Series Cylon with some extra augmentation, including a third brain and a body shell resembling the reptilian Cylons. It is stated in the original novelization of the pilot episode that the Imperious Leader's third brain is specifically designed to emulate the human mind, solely for the purpose of anticipating human actions. One was killed at the Battle of Carillon in the pilot episode and his successor was possibly destroyed during the Battle of Gamoray in the episode: "The Living Legend - part 2". In the original 1978-79 series, the voice of the Imperious Leader is identical to that of Count Iblis, as both were performed by Patrick Macnee. In the Galactica 1980 episode "Space Croppers", the voice of the Imperious Leader was performed by Dennis Haysbert. All of the Imperious Leaders look identical.
IL-series Cylons act as commanders for the military and governors for civilians of the Alliance. They have two brains, and a mostly transparent head through which various lights can be seen pulsing. They also have a metallic, semi- humanoid face with two eye scanners (compared to the single eye scanner of the Centurion models), and wear clothing, in the form of full-length glittering robes.
Two IL-series Cylons have been seen onscreen, both of which have an effete human-sounding voice, unlike the flat mechanical tones of Centurions. They are Lucifer, Baltar's ambitious second in command -- rather ironically voiced by Jonathan Harris, better known as Dr. Smith from "Lost in Space", who had a running feud with that show's Robot, and Specter, commander on the planet Atilla in "The Young Lords", and a rival of Lucifer and equally ambitious, voiced by Murray Matheson.
Lucifer refers to the second Imperious Leader as being upgraded from being a IL-model like himself.
Command Centurions are Centurions with gold armor. These are the lower commanders for individual military units, though they can be responsible for entire Basestars and garrisons. The most well-known Cylon of this model is Commander Vulpa in "The Gun on Ice Planet Zero". Their voices are slightly lower pitched than regular Centurions.
In the novelization of the original series it is stated that there is an elite class of Command Centurions, referred to as First Centurions, roughly equivalent to feudal Counts, which act as executive officers to the Imperious Leader and are not subordinate to the IL-Series, and like the IL-series, they were also said to have multiple brains. In the TV series these are actually seen on screen, though very rarely, and are distinguished from other Command Centurions by black bands on their gold armor. Vulpa was originally of this class but had been demoted and stationed on ice planet Arcta.
Military androids with silver armor. Basic Centurions make up the ground forces and pilots of the Alliance military. Centurions are armed with a powerful energy weapon, often referred to as a blaster rifle. They also have bayonets and swords for close combat and the execution of prisoners. Although Earth's Roman Centurions commanded a unit of eighty men, Cylon Centurions form the rank and file of the Cylon forces. Some Centurions in the series have been given names: Flight Leader Serpentine from "Saga of a Star World", Centuri from "The Night the Cylons Landed" (Galactica 1980), and Cyrus from "The Return of Starbuck" (also Galactica 1980). In the episode "The Lost Warrior", there is a Cylon Centurion that remained active after its ship crashed on the planet Equellus and was named "Red Eye" by the humans who found it.
The Cylon Centurions – the type most often depicted in the original Battlestar Galactica — were designed by the same concept artist who had worked on Star Wars, artist Ralph McQuarrie).
Both the gold Command Centurions and the silver Centurions had their voices vocalized with the use of an EMS Vocoder 2000.
There is also a unique Cylon with glittering robes, with a metallic humanoid face. They are seen in the Imperious Leader's delegation to Gamoray in "The Living Legend". This is evidently some kind of civilian Cylon, as Gamoray is said to have a very large community of civilian Cylons, though how civilian Cylon society differs from its military is never explored.
In the 1978 Galactica movie and series and the 1980 spin-off, the Cylons were created by an extinct reptilian race that were also called Cylons, as related by Apollo in the premiere episode. In the episode "War of the Gods", Count Baltar mentions that the reptilian Cylons were eventually "overcome by their own technology," and recognizes Iblis's voice as that of the Cylon leader, and Iblis counters that if that was true it must have been "transcribed" over a thousand yahren (years) ago.
At the beginning of the series the Cylons are singularly devoted to the destruction of humanity. The war started when the Cylon Empire sought to expand into the territory of the Hasaries, and the Human Colonies intervened on behalf of the conquered Hasaries. Due to those events, the Cylon Empire now viewed the entire human race as a target.
Cylons are led by the Imperious Leader, an IL-Series Cylon elevated to a supreme leadership position over all Cylons. All Cylons from the IL-series down, typically repeat the phrase "By Your Command" when responding to any order.
The Cylon Empire is also responsible for tributary powers under the aegis of the Cylon Alliance. The Ovions (an insectoid race enslaved by the Cylons and transported to the planet Carillon for mining purposes) are the only known member of the Cylon Alliance shown onscreen. Aside from the Ovions and (the defeated) Hasaries, the only other known race conquered by the Cylons are the Delphians, which are mentioned to have been exterminated in "The Living Legend".
Cylon society appears to be almost exclusively military. Until the discovery of Gamoray, which the Colonial fleet had targeted for its rich fuel reserves, no civilian Cylon outpost had ever been seen by anyone.
And on a personal note, the Cylons represent the only time I've ever been actually assaulted by a pop culture villain from any fictional concept. Allow me a few moments to elaborate.
In 1978-79, Universal Studios was understandably pushing Galactica. At Universal Studios in California, part of their Tram Tour included a Galactica-based attraction, which featured a stop in a futuristic setting which had been taken over by Cylons. At one point, a Colonial Warrior broke through, and engaged in a battle with the Cylons, using real laser-firing weapons. The Colonial Warrior was victorious, and the Tram proceeded on its way.
That was cool, but elsewhere in the park, they had this costumed guy dressed up as a Cylon. Visit almost any major theme park that HAS a prominent theme, and you'll find costumed characters. And for whatever reason, this Cylon decided to pick me as a target.
He grabbed me around the neck and started making remarks about the extinction of humanity. It was an effective costume -- all chrome and black, the roving red eye, and I suspect one of those Vocoder devices was somewhere in the helmet. He was big, too.
Just one problem. He was playing his role a little too well, because he was actually choking me, and I was starting to have a little trouble with my airways. Only when I told him that I was a personal friend of Commander Adama and that an entire squadron of Vipers would be all over him if he didn't let me go, did he finally relent and release me. And where the heck I found the presence of mind to play along at that point I'll never know.
Meanwhile, there's several dozen other tourists around who doubtless thought it was all part of the show, and I likely worked for the company. As if...
You know, twenty years later, I was verbally harassed at Universal Studios by someone dressed up as one of the Commando Elite from "Small Soldiers". Now look, I like Battlestar Galactica. I like the movie Small Soldiers. But really, people, you wouldn't see this sort of thing happen at Disneyland... I'm all for giving costumed characters a bit more freedom than they seem to have in the Land of the Mouse, but sheesh! Getting choked out on one occasion and taunted on another isn't my idea of a vacation. If I were to visit the Marvel section of Universal's Islands of Adventure in Florida, I'd probably get chased down by Doctor Doom.
So, how's the figure? Absolutely outstanding. Let me say this. I've been seeing any number of Mego-esque retro-type figures that seem to be a good bit more advanced than what I think Mego would have actually turned out back in the day if they'd had the opportunity. That's not a complaint. The sadly short-lived Zica Toys did an amazing Buck Rogers figure based on that TV series, and I was really looking forward to their Hawk. EmCe's own Star Trek figures seem to have taken a few steps up the ladder with their all-new Next Generation division, featuring Captain Picard and a Borg. And then we have this Cylon Centurion!
BifBangPow has licensed the body design of the Mego-type action figures from EmCe Toys. They also made one improvement on it -- they added an upper arm swivel. Beyond this, as far as I can determine, the body design is very nearly identical. And no, I don't intend to undress the figure to find out. Way too complicated.
The design is certainly closer than Mattel's Retro-Action DC Super-Heroes. I have no argument with that line, and it was certainly cool to finally have figures of quite a few characters that Mego never made, but I do wish the design had been a little closer. BifBangPow got a lot closer, by working with the company that brought back the design.
The headsculpt is superb. The head is painted silver, with some black detailing in the back, a black grill where the mouth would normally be, and the eyeslit, through which a single red eye, a bright light, customarily moved back and forth, has been painted deep red. Nicely done.
The figure is wearing a black body suit made from the same kind of stretchy knit fabric that Mego used for many of their costumes. Now, we come to the armor, and this Cylon has plenty of it, and it's all been chromed in silver. These include an ornate chest plate and back plate, with accompanying belt and lower torso armor, armbands, heavy gauntlets, and boots with fancy chrome knee pads.
What I can't entirely figure out is how they got this armor on the figure. Well, the armbands and such aren't too hard to figure out, but the center piece -- it's a mystery. It's also a very well detailed mystery, with black painted detail where appropriate, some little colored buttons on the back, and even a very ornate bit of fabric hanging down in the back like a partial tunic, a detail that might have been easy to overlook, but definitely was not here. The fabric is a thin mesh with little silver sequins in it.
The armbands are distinctly separate from the lower arms. The hands are part of the figure itself, of course. The boots are clearly derived from Mego's original design, with the addition of the chrome knee-pads. These boots have also been used for Apollo and Starbuck in the Galactica line, and they have the initials "DM" on the bottom, standing for "Dr. Mego", a well-known collector and customizer.
The upper legs also have leather-like wraparounds. This is appropriate for the Cylon Centurion, and uses a type of fabric that Mego also utilized on certain of their action figures, especially in Planet of the Apes and Star Trek.
The end result is extremely impressive, but I also have to say that the figure as a whole is probably a little more complex than what Mego would have actually turned out in 1978. Frankly, they probably would have found the Cylon a considerable challenge. It might have been interesting to see what they would have done, but I have to say that I am abundantly pleased with BifBangPow's efforts.
Of course, the figure is very nicely articulated, and is poseable at the head, arms, elbows, wrists, waist, legs, knees, and ankles. Some of the uniform components restrict some of the articulation a bit, but I have the feeling that the actors wearing these outfits probably had the same difficulty. That one at Universal Studios didn't exactly run off after letting me go.
The Cylon Centurion comes with two accessories, a blaster rifle, and a sword. Both are very nicely done. It's weird to think of a futuristic robot using a sword, but, there it is, and I do seem to recall them turning up in the series from time to time.
There are two other Cylon versions in this collection, which are pictured on the package. A "Battle-Damaged" version, and a gold-trimmed Cylon Commander. To the best of my knowledge, the only place these have been sold was as a set at the San Diego Comic-Con.
So, what's my final word? I wish the original Battlestar Galactica had fared better, or been treated better. I have no use for the more recent series. At least the original clearly has its adherents to this day.
As such, there is still the original series, which has been released on DVD, and now, there's some truly awesome action figures based upon it. If you're a fan of the original Battlestar Galactica, and as such, you really need to have the Cylon Centurion, then you definitely need to check out these action figures. You will be immensely pleased.
One last thought. There's a lot of potential for this line, and I really hope that BifBangPow isn't going to limit it to just one assortment and the Comic-Con set. The logical candidates were certainly chosen -- Adama, Apollo, Starbuck, and several Cylons. But consider what else could be done. A second assortment could readily include Colonel Tigh, Lt. Boomer, Baltar, and -- heck, why not Commander Cain of the Battlestar Pegasus? And although it would take some extra tooling, I'd buy a two-pack featuring Boxey and the robot Daggit, Muffit. And how about Lucifer? Or Count Iblis? Lots of potential here.
In the meantime, the BATTLESTAR GALACTICA figure of the CYLON CENTURION from BifBangPow definitely has my highest recommendation!