Monday, 18 September 2017

Battlestar Galactica: The Odyssey of Richard Hatch

Richard Hatch as Apollo on the original "Battlestar Galactica"
Starting out as a show that looked as if it was just trying to capitalize on the “Star Wars” craze, it would turn out to have its own lasting impact into the next year, and even the next century.

“Battlestar Galactica” was something that started out as a theatrical release that became a TV series, a second TV series then, after a long hiatus, was resurrected as one of the best TV dramas of the first decade of the 21st Century.

There was one person who was part of virtually all of that, and earlier this year Richard Hatch passed away, finally ending his long association with “Battlestar Galactica”.

It’s a sequel, no it’s not
The first time I saw a commercial for “Battlestar Galactica” in 1978, I honestly assumed it was the much-anticipated sequel to “Star Wars”. I soon found out that it really was not. Instead, it was the story of a race of humans who barely escaped annihilation at the hands of their robotic enemies the Cylons by taking off into deep space aboard a rag-tag fugitive fleet seeking a lonely planet known as Earth.

The story is set on that last remaining battlestar, called Galactica. It only survived because Adama, its commander, was not sold on the peace initiative with the Cylons. He suspected a double cross, and he was right, narrowly saving his ship from destruction. His son Apollo was a pilot in the fleet of vipers that protected the planets.

Apollo was played by Richard Hatch.

An actual sequel
“Battlestar Galactica” was cancelled after one season, just 24 episodes into its run, but was not finished yet though. Echoing “Star Trek” in this fashion, a letter-writing campaign brought the series back as “Galactica 1980”. Set 30 years later, the Galactica has finally found Earth. The main characters are Colonial Warriors Troy and Dillon. At one point Troy talks about his father, also a Colonial Warrior who has died. He picks up a picture of his father and it is – Apollo. That photo is the only appearance of Richard Hatch in the series. It would last 10 episodes and suffer the same fate as its predecessor.

Watching Battlestar Galactica
Unlike “Star Trek”, which disappeared from the peasant vision airwaves for a long time, I had a long association with “Battlestar Galactica”.

We did go see it in the theatre, and it was really good. I liked it, and once it started, I did not even compare it to Star Wars once. A few months later, “Battlestar Galactica” was on television. It was a Sunday night, and we were visiting my uncle and aunt who just lived up the road on a neighbouring farm. So, we started watching it there. Suddenly, it stopped. It was interrupted for a live news feed of Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat signing the Camp David Peace Accords with U.S. President Jimmy Carter watching. “How long is this going to take?” I thought. Normally, if they pre-empted something, they would just re-join it in progress. We took the opportunity to go home, which was like a five-minute drive. When we got home, the movie still had not re-started. When it did, they picked up right where they left off I think.

To my surprise, in school I discovered “Battlestar Galactica” was being made into a series too. One of my buddies saw the commercials. He had cable. I discovered it was on peasant vision too, Channel 13, every Sunday night. I looked forward to it every week, at 9 p.m. if memory serves, and I didn’t miss an episode.

Then it was gone – cancelled after one season.

Just as quickly as it was gone, “Battlestar Galactica” was back in its familiar Sunday night time slot. This time as “Galactica 1980”, I anxiously caught the first part of the pilot which, like so much TV in the 1980s, was a cliffhanging two-parter. Sadly, I missed the second part because we went to Calgary to visit family. I had to find out how it ended on the school bus from my neighbour Mike. I didn’t miss a single episode after that.

Again, as quickly as it came, it was gone too – cancelled after 10 episodes.

Yet, that was not the end of watching the show. In the early 1980s, CTV would air episodes Saturday mornings after cartoons, so I caught most of them again. Then, when I was in university, my friend Sean Drake told me he had all 24 episodes on tape. The Science Fiction Channel had aired a “Galactithon”, and a friend of Sean’s had taped it. He could get six episodes on a tape, so every six hours he woke up, changed tapes and went back to sleep. Over the summer of 1994, we watched all the episodes again.

Finally, with the dawn of DVD box sets, I bought “Galactica 1980”. I was visiting my friend Jeremy Stemo in Edmonton in 2012 and his partner Melanie, hearing my love for the 1980s and “Battlestar Galactica”, mailed me a set of DVDs with all the episodes she made shortly after my visit. Finally, I saw the actual box set at HMV in Lethbridge and picked it up on sale. My collection was now complete.

Body of work
Richard Hatch was on the rise in the late 1970s. Although I never saw him play the role, he took over for the departing Michael Douglas in the police drama, “The Streets of San Francisco” opposite Karl Malden for its last season. I only found that out playing a trivia game a couple years later.

I did see him in a pretty touching and inspiring TV movie called “Deadman’s Curve” in 1978, about the music duo Jan and Dean. Hatch played Jan Berry opposite Bruce Davison who played Dean Torrence. Jan suffers a terrible accident and it seems their performing days are over. But Jan mounts a stirring comeback, learning to walk, talk, and sing again. Hatch was excellent in that movie. I distinctly remember Jan’s labouring to sing again.

He made another good TV movie in 1980 called “The Hustler at Muscle Beach”. It was set in the world of bodybuilding and featured Hatch as a promoter who finds a young man with some special needs who wants to compete as a bodybuilder. The movie also introduced me to real-life bodybuilders Franco Columbu and Frank Zane. I still remember that clearly.

Beyond these performances, Hatch would go on to the usual guest starring spots in the 1980s in shows such as “Fantasy Island”, “Murder, She Wrote”, “Love Boat”, “T.J. Hooker”, “Hotel”, “MacGyver”, and a turn on “Dynasty”. He was also in episodes of lesser known, short-lived shows “Masquerade”, “Blacke’s Magic”, and “Cover Up”, which are all mentioned elsewhere in this blog.

Never give up
The Richard Hatch story does not end there however.

He kept on writing, and working, trying to revive “Battlestar Galactica”. He even mortgaged his house to pay for a trailer. Seemingly though, it was just not to be.

Then, in 2003, another project was launched. Neither a sequel nor a continuation, “Battlestar Galactica” was one of the first of a new genre of TV called a re-imagining. It used the original series as source material, but completely changed the arc of the series. In this case, the male characters of Starbuck and Boomer were female in the re-imagined world, and the enemy robotic Cylons now also had models in human form. It was written and produced by Ron Moore, who had made a name for himself on the various re-booted “Star Trek” series.

Richard Hatch as Tom Zarek in the re-imagined "Battlestar Galactica"
At first Richard Hatch was highly critical of the new “Battlestar Galactica”. In a brilliant casting move, he took on the role of Tom Zarek, a terrorist and prisoner who becomes a member of the elected council, and a thorn in the side of the president and colonial fleet.

Richard Hatch had come home.

Parting thoughts
Richard Hatch died on February 7, 2017, oddly the birthday of my old friend Mike who filled me in on the school bus of the details of episodes of “Battlestar Galactica” I had missed.

It just reminded me of a simpler time, where we would talk about the previous night’s episode on the school bus, then chase each other around as Colonial Warriors at recess using pens as weapons and our desks as Vipers.

Richard Hatch’s story also serves as a testament to determination and perseverance. He believed in Battlestar Galactica when seemingly no one else did. He kept that dream alive in the darkest hours when it only had a glimmer of hope. Then, when a new show was made, instead of snubbing or ignoring it, he became an important part of it, although he stuck to his principles and was critical of the new show.

The re-imagined Battlestar Galactica is some of the best TV of the past 15 years, that is for sure. Adding Richard Hatch to the cast was the crowning touch to pay tribute to the show’s past.

And Richard Hatch had seen his dream come true, in part at least, even if it was not what he had envisioned.

The odyssey of Richard Hatch was now complete.

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