5. Escape from New Caprica (Season 3 Episode 4: ‘Exodus Part 2′)
You can’t really start any list of great Battlestar Galactica moments without including at least one space battle, and this is certainly up there as one of the most dramatic.
First, there’s Galactica’s entry into the planet’s atmosphere, which for sheer bravado – along with close to flawless execution both dramatically and technically – gets a fairly large number of commendation points.
Then there’s the space battle proper, and what starts as what one might refer to as a ‘manageable’ number of cylons quickly escalates into the realms of ‘oh god, oh god, we’re all gonna die’ rather quickly.
But a timely arrival and ulitmate sacrifice from the Pegasus – under the command of a rather dough-y Lee Adama – swings the tide back in humanity’s favour, buying Adama Snr enough time to flee with the civilian fleet
The magic of the entire moment is that it never feels like contrivance that the Pegasus came back, never feels over-blown that this outrageous plan is actually their plan, and Lee’s behaviour in the three previous episodes is almost entirely condusive towards him making the potentially suicidal decision to sacrifice the Beast so the Bucket can live.
It’s also one of the most majestic space battles committed to film – newtonian physics, authentic-feeling military jargon and ingenious tactics all swirl together to produce an exciting, emotionally engaging and above all hugely satisfying culmination to the New Caprica storyline.
And this one’s only number five!
4. The Battle of the Ionian Nebula (Season 3 Episode 20: ‘Crossroads Part 2′)
Of all the things that I was expecting at the end of this fabulous episode, Kara Thrace showing up in a brand, shiny-new viper wasn’t exactly up there. Once again, tensions are high – they had to be, this was the culmination of the third season, after all – but crucially, Starbuck is missing from the equation, and that seems to have put the military en masse on edge.
The build up to this battle – coupled with the events and revalations that take place during it. The final five are revealed to each other, and more critically, to us, are forced to pick their side, making for a intriguing commentary on nature against nature.
And it all culminates in that most unexpected of twists – Starbuck returning, in a shiny new Viper with not a scratch on her. As end-of-season cliffhangers go, this has to be among the more incredible ever committed to screen.
This is also the first of many mentions of to the wonderful Bear McCreary, here providing a pulse-pounding interpretation of Bob Dylan’s ‘All Along the Watchtower’ that gives the entire proceedings a sense of urgency and purpose. And little did we know at this point, the lyrics themselves would become important in the fourth and final series.
3. Ripping cue cards, breaking pencils (Season 2 Episode 20: ‘Lay Down Your Burdens Part 1′)
What’s this? A small character moment beating out not one, but two epic space battles? But to me, this is close to the epitome of what makes Battlestar Galactica so very special. There’s grand space opera, yes, but they put the time and the effort in to make us invest in the wellbeing and arcs of the characters, and this is a beautiful little moment of romance and character dynamics from Adama and Roslin.
Faced with a presidential debate, Roslin uses a rather poetic technique of systematic cue card destruction in order to aid her memorising the talking points. Bill – intrigued and bemused – offers up his own tried-and-tested method of concentrating, passed down from his father: breaking pencils.
It’s a beautiful moment that demonstrates the writers’ meticulous attention to minor character details – particularly the subsequent fit of giggles that Roslin undergoes as Bill walks her to the proceedings. Not many other sci-fi shows back in 2006 were so bold as to examine their characters in this light, considering this breed of sci-fi was still in its infancy then.
But notice how these days, every piece of sci-fi attempts to revolve around interesting characters – and it’s moments like this that paved the way for the thought-provoking, character-driven sci-fi that we enjoy today.
2. Goodbyes and new beginnings (Season 4 Episode 20: ‘Daybreak Part 2′)
There’re so many wonderful moments in the final 20 minutes of the series that it’s incredibly difficult to pick out any one in particular and call that the best – from Baltar’s moral crimes finally and crushingly catching up to him, to Lee’s quiet goodbye to Kara just as she vanishes into thin air.
But most spectacular of all is the final moments of Laura Roslin, and how Bill Adama comes to terms with it – a gorgeously tragic end to their romance as they survey the natural wonder which the stars – and Starbuck – had gifted them with.
But Bill keeps his promise – finding that quiet spot, building his cabin, and keeping Laura company for as long as he can. A more fitting end to the great philosopher, warrior and tactician William Adama, I genuinely can’t think of.
That and there’s the suggestion that the British and Irish are all descended from Galen Tyrol. Which… y’know… is awesome.
1. The Battle for the Tylium Refinery (Season 1 Episode 10: The Hand of God)
It may come as a surprise that our favourite moment of the entire series is also one of the earliest major set pieces, what with the majesty of the final battle, and a hundred other dramatic, action-packed moments that are just as well executed. So what makes this one so special?
Firstly, there’s quite how much is riding on this single battle, in terms of both character and story arcs. You have Starbuck grappling with her first Cylon engagement outside of the cockpit, Lee with the burden of being lead pilot, and Baltar with the concept of the Cylon God, all the while having to take into account the fact that if they fail, humanity would not only lack the starship fuel, but the confidence to continue fighting in the face of such overwhelming odds.
Next is quite how gloriously the sequence is written. Almost everything is beautifully wrapped in the symbolic nature of Joseph Adama’s lucky lighter, lent to Lee by Bill to bring him luck on the mission – and bring luck it does, but not all of it is particularly in humanity’s favour – particularly Baltar’s conundrum, which drenches the entire operation in a rather delicious dramatic irony.
And finally, there’s the culmination of the entire thing – Lee lands to rapturous applause, and presses his father’s lighter back into the man’s hands, with McCreary’s ‘Wander My Friends’ echoing in the background of unsentimental, beautifully simple direction.
Not just a great Battlestar moment, but one of the most exciting, and ultimately emotionally satisfying set pieces in television history.