THE BETA PIRATES
Leslie Stevens produced the early
episodes of Battlestar Galactica and later went on to produce Buck Rogers.
According to Alan J. Levi, director of half of the premiere and of Gun on Ice Planet
Zero, Stevens was at least in part responsible for the premiere script and Stevens was
also credited along with Don Bellisario and Michael Sloan for Gun, which they
expanded from John Irelands early script Crossfire. The Beta Pirates
is dated October 31, 1977, making it one of the earliest extent BG scripts along
with Crossfire. It appears to be a very early draft since it was not numbered and
divided into scenes. The script is 119 pages long and probably would have produced a
2-hour episode. It seems possible that there was something of a competition for the two
follow-on movies planned after the 3-hour premiere (BG originally being scheduled
as a 3-hour special followed by two 2-hour TV movies); Beta Pirates, Crossfire,
and probably the early Michael Sloan Fire in Space may well have been written with
this in mind.
Of all the unfilmed scripts I have read, this one is the best, although Sloans Fire in Space was also pretty good. Its not perfect; like all too many of the other BG scripts its riddled with scientific inanities. But the plot, while derivative, is interesting, and the quality of writing is high.
There are a few interesting differences from BG as we came to know it; as in Crossfire, Apollo is called Skyler. Boxey is an orphan with no particular attachment to anyoneAdama hardly knows who he is and it seems evident that Athena, not Skyler, is the person who looks after him. Beta Pirates also follows the original version of the premiere in that both Serina and Cassiopiea are absent.
The screenplay opens with an interesting vocal prologue by Commander Adama, considerably different from the Patrick Macnee prologue used, but including the words used as the tag to every episode, Fleeing from the Cylon tyranny . The story begins on the Galacticas bridge with the crew worried about ships in the fleet that cant keep up with the rest. The fleet is approaching a region of space, the so-called Beta Triangle, where a black hole causes severe distortion. In a gravity disturbance, the engines of the Gemini freighter are knocked out. Because the area is infested with pirates, Adama cant risk stopping to help, but he sends Athena and Starbuck back with a salvage vehicle to attempt repairs. Surprisingly, the cargo of the repair ship includes two repair robots (this was before the Cylons themselves became robots, thus the Colonials did not have an anti-droid attitude). Unsurprisingly, Starbuck and Athena find that Boxey and Muffit have stowed away on their repair ship. This is very likely the origin of Boxeys stowaway in Gun, cowritten by Stevens, who evidently was sufficiently taken with the idea to reuse it.
Athena, Starbuck, the surviving Gemini crew and the repair drones set to work trying to get the freighter underway again. Unfortunately, before they can do so, the ship is set upon by a pirate vessel. The crew of the Gemini is killed, Starbuck is knocked out, and the pirates take Athena, Boxey, and Muffit with them when they leave.
Knowing that something has gone wrong, Skyler and Boomer set out in a fighter bomber, a somewhat larger and more powerful vessel than a viper, to find out what happened to the salvage vehicle and the Gemini. Aboard the Gemini they find and revive Starbuck and escape from the disintegrating vessel just in time. Before they can get things sorted out, they come across an emergency pod and dock with it. On board they find a man, Aleph, who claims to be a castaway whose ship was stolen by the pirates (hes actually the commander of the pirates who boarded the Gemini and has been cast away by them, but of course Starbuck et al dont find that out until much later although the audience knows it all along). They return to the Galactica with him.
Skyler and the others naturally want to find and rescue Athena and Boxey (not to mention the daggit!), which gives Adama another chance to whip out his reliable (and boring) I will not risk the lives of everyone in the fleet even to rescue my son/daughter/Starbuck/Boomer/insert name here speech and makes plain his intention to continue on across the Beta Triangle. Aleph warns Adama that the way is extremely hazardous and suggests that he could guide the fleet safely through if he had his personal charts, which were aboard his captured ship. Aleph suggests that they send a mission to Cordugo Pit, a central asteroid in the Beta Triangle, where hes sure his ship has been taken. As an afterthought, he adds that at the same time they can rescue Athena and Boxey. And the daggit, of course.
Hurriedly, the Colonials disguise the fighter bomber (another robot paints stripes on it!), and Aleph, Skyler, and Starbuck set off. They arrive on Cordugo Pit without much incident, only to be waylaid by the local Ovion (!) police. Aleph pulls a Han Solo and blasts them stealthily, stealing their IDs in the process. In a docking bay (Cordugo Pit is more than a little reminiscent of Tatooine), they find Alephs ship. Aleph ambushes the crew (his old pirate crew, of course), and finds out that they sold Athena and Boxey (and .). Aleph wants to grab the starcharts and forget about the captives, but Skyler and Starbuck force him to lead them to the slave market so they can search for them.
In the slave market, the three partake of alien drinks and watch as the slaves to be auctioned off are brought in, including Athena, Boxey, and you-know-what. After some fairly weird creatures are sold, bidding starts on Athena, Boxey, and the daggit. The auctioneer comments that Athena is a droid (?!) and continues, The small one is something for the children to play with. Doesnt eat much purchase includes the daggit. Starbuck immediately puts in a suspiciously high bid of thirty cubits. Aleph warns him that humans just arent in demand, but Starbuck replies, For two of them? Plus the daggit? Athenas worth that alone! Indeed . Unfortunately an alien Bablion joins the bidding, and Bablions evidently dont like to lose. The Bablion bids up to a ridiculous price until Starbuck casually strolls over and shuts off its breathing tube, knocking it out. Just when he thinks hes won, another creature, Voyar, who proves to be a sort of Jabba the Hutt prototype, buys the three captives.
Starbuck, Skyler, and Aleph set off to rescue them (again), this time with the somewhat irritated pirate band trailing them. The pirates are quickly snapped up by the Ovion police and dragged off to the local Cylon garrison for interrogation. Naturally, the pirates immediately tell the Cylons all they know about the rescue mission.
In the meantime, Voyar is busy trying to seduce Athena. Dinner is served by three veiled house-slaves, who of course turn out to be our heroes. They dump the food on Voyar and escape from his house only to run head-on into the released pirate gang, who are hidden around the house planning to re-kidnap Athena. The pirates capture everyone except Aleph, Boxey, and the daggit, who are able to sneak off.
The captured Colonials are hauled off to jail, only to find out that Voyar is the local magistrate and after having had his dinner dumped on him he is not inclined to be generous. The Colonials are interrogated and asked if they know of a large fleet of vessels, led by a Colonial battlestar. They deny it, and are hauled off to the torture chambers.
Aleph is intending to write off the captured humans, but Boxey demands that he rescue them. When Aleph refuses, he and Muffit run off to do so themselves.
In the torture chamber, the very threat of torture to Athena causes Skyler and Starbuck to reveal their true identities. Such courage! However, they use the revelation to give an incorrect location for the Galactica and fleet.
Taken back to their cells, they are soon saved by Boxey and Muffit, who unlock their cells. On the verge of escape, the Cylons are alerted and would surely recapture or kill the humans save for the timely arrival of Aleph, who has had a change of heart (remember when I compared him to Han Solo?). To make a long story short, they return to the Galactica, the attacking Cylon force is conveniently sucked into the black hole, and Aleph leads the fleet safely through the Beta Triangle. Whew!
Admittedly some of this has more than a passing resemblance to a certain famous 1977 science fiction movie, but even so it would have been a fairly exciting, if somewhat lightweight, episode. Without having any information, I would hazard a guess that it was not filmed due to cost. The script calls for a lot of extras, a lot of aliens, lots of new sets, new spaceship models, and new SFX, and that all adds up to money. Gun and Lost Planet were not cheap, but at around $2 million each they probably cost half of what this script would have.
The characterization is serviceable, and certainly better than that seen in any of the other unfilmed scripts. Theres some entertaining dialogue (when docking with Alephs escape pod, Skyler warns Starbuck, Easy, try not to crumple it. Starbuck replies, typically, Have I ever crumpled anything, ever? to which Skylers natural reply is, Everything, often.). The plot moves along well and Stevens scene-setting descriptions are vividly written and interesting. The Beta Pirates would not have made a great BG episode, but it would have been considerably better than several that were actually shot. Happily, the script has survived to give us some idea of what this episode that never was might have been like.
©1988, 1999 by Susan J. Paxton
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