21

Long predating production of Straczynski’s Babylon 5 television series, he was the lead writer on Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future,” a weekly television show based on Mattel’s toys of the same name which originally aired in syndication from September 1, 1987 – March 27, 1988.

One of the members of Powers’ “Soldiers of the Future” team was Lieutenant Michael "Tank" Ellis, played by Sven-Ole Thorsen, a genetically engineered expert in heavy weapons.

In the third S1 episode to air, airing October 4, 1987, “Final Stand,” we learn that Tank was not the only genetically-engineered person of his kind, and also the facility which genetically engineered him was “Babylon 5.” This was about six years before Warner Bros. commissioned the Babylon 5 series for production in May 1993.

Has JMS ever given any insight into the details of his origination of the name “Babylon 5” in his works? Did he originate the name for Captain Power, liked it and it was good enough to name his later series? Did his B5 show ideas predate Captain Power and he figured at the time Captain Power may be his only shot at getting the “Babylon 5” name on screen?

Has JMS ever detailed any insight to when and how he created the name “Babylon 5?”

5
  • 1
    midwinter.com/lurk/making/history.html Usually reliable Lurkers guide says B5 started development in 1986, so could have been used as the idea for the Captain Power facility.
    – Michael
    Commented Dec 1, 2021 at 15:10
  • 1
    According to SyFy Wire's oral history, he wrote the pilot script and story bible "around 1989", so it's plausible he had at least the name when he was writing that episode in 1987.
    – Withad
    Commented Dec 1, 2021 at 15:17
  • 1
    @Michael Interesting. This reports Captain Power production started June 1987, so the chicken-egg at least appears to begin with his B5 ideas not Captain Power ideas, which he wasn’t creator of: mentalfloss.com/article/504100/… Commented Dec 1, 2021 at 15:19
  • @Withad a maddening addition. So we have possible dates: 1986 B5 origin, 1987 CapP, 1989 B5 origin. That 1986 date is the lynchpin if true! Commented Dec 1, 2021 at 15:34
  • 6
    JMS is very active on Twitter and gives answers there frequently. You could just ask him.
    – kratenko
    Commented Dec 1, 2021 at 16:23

1 Answer 1

24

According to JMS, the name came from the influence of ancient Babylon on the show's plot. It's likely he had the name in mind before writing that Captain Power episode.


Evidence for the ancient Babylon influence comes from DVDs, which I unfortunately don't have access to at the moment. I've cited my secondary sources.

In the DVD commentary for the episode "Chrysalis", Straczynski says:

"I picked Babylon for the station, because a lot of what happens in the Babylon 5 story comes out of Babylonian creation myth, which says that the universe was born out of the conflict between order and chaos."

(Quote found on The Bablyon Project wiki's "Babylon 5 Influences" page)

In the DVD extras of Babylon 5: The Lost Tales, he explains further in a segment titled "Why Babylon 5?":

"If you look back at history, the ancient Babylon was a point of intersection for a lot of different cultures. It was a point of trade, it was a place where a lot of business got done. Also very corrupt, also very political. So on the one hand that represented Babylon 5. In addition to that we had the Babylonian creation myth which stipulated that the universe was created through the intercession or the balance between order and chaos. And that of course was the very nature of the Vorlon, Shadow conflict. And those who really wanted to get a peek ahead at what the conflict was could easily have gone back to early Babylonian creation myth, and what we did on B5 very closely parallels to Babylonian creation myth."

(Quote found on a Reddit thread asking a similar question, backed up by a description from a contemporary article about the DVDs.)

Of course, these just explain the "Babylon", not the "5". The fact that previous Babylon stations had gone wrong was a plot point but I couldn't find anything saying why he chose four previous stations as opposed to three or five or a hundred.


As for the when, that's less clear but we can make some educated guesses. Straczynski says in SyFy Wire's oral history of the show that he wrote the pilot and show bible "around 1989". However, he also says it took five years to sell the concept. Given that the pilot was greenlit in 1991, this suggests he might've been working on the idea as early as 1986.

This timeline (found by @Michael in the comments) backs up that earlier date, stating that the initial ideas were written in 1986 and the bible and pilot drafts were completed by mid-1987.


It's hard to be sure without knowing the production schedule of Captain Power but the most likely explanation seems to be that Straczynski already had the name "Babylon 5" planned for the show by the time he wrote "Final Stand" and simply snuck it in as an Easter egg.

If it had been the other way around - he came up with the name for "Final Stand" and later attached it to his show idea - I would've expected him to mention it in the above interviews when asked about the name.

3
  • 9
    I always saw it as a subtle homage to Monty Python. "They said we were daft to build a UN in space. So I built one. And it blew up. So I built another. And it blew up. We built a third one... which fell onto a planet and blew up. But the fourth one! It... vanished. But the Fifth one took!"
    – Machavity
    Commented Dec 2, 2021 at 13:36
  • 3
    And that's what you're gonna get, Ivanova! The strongest space-UN in the galaxy. Commented Dec 2, 2021 at 14:05
  • 1
    Comment on Twitter suggests '5' was for the planned five year arc, and the use on Captain Power was to establish the date of his idea. twitter.com/straczynski/status/…
    – Michael
    Commented Jan 15 at 10:11

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.