It’s 2257, and Babylon Five has just become operational. It was designed to be a neutral location for discussion among the five major spacefaring races of the galaxy—the humans, the Narn, the Centauri, the Minbari, and the Vorlons. Commander Jeffrey Sinclair (Michael O’Hare) is in charge. The pilot episode takes place about one year before the first season episode “Midnight on the Firing Range.”

As they wait for Ambassador Kosh (voice of Ardwight Chamberlain) to arrive from the Vorlon home world, telepath Lyta Alexander (Patricia Tallmann) arrives. Ambassador Kosh falls ill immediately upon arrival, apparently poisoned. The Chief Medical Officer Doctor Kyle (Johnny Sekka) tries to save him, while Security Chief Michael Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle) investigates. Doctor Kyle and Lieutenant Commander Takashima (Tamlyn Tomita) are worried that the powerful Vorlons will attack the station if he dies, so they persuade Lyta to scan the unconscious Kosh. She sees Commander Sinclair poisoning him and accuses him of attempted murder. After a meeting of the Council, it is decided to deport Sinclair to the Vorlon homeworld in twelve hours.

Garibaldi suspects that a civilian arrival named Del Varner (John Fleck) might be involved, but he discovers Varner dead in a fish tank in his quarters. Lyta enters Medlab and begins to mess with the instruments keeping Kosh alive. Doctor Kyle tries to stop her, and she attacks him, but the real Lyta enters the room at that moment, and the double escapes. Garibaldi learns that Varner had been smuggling and recently obtained a changeling net, which can make one person look like another. The crew realizes that Kosh had been poisoned by someone imitating Sinclair. Since the device uses a lot of power, Takashima uses the station’s scanners to track down its location. Sinclair and Garibaldi head for it just as the Vorlons arrive to seize Sinclair.

Sinclair and Garibaldi confront the assailant, and Garibaldi is injured. In a struggle with Sinclair, the changeling net is damaged, and the perp is revealed as a Minbari assassin. A member of the Warrior Caste, he wishes to discredit Sinclair in retribution for his role in the Earth-Minbari War. He tells Sinclair, “You have a hole in your mind.” Then he triggers an explosion. Sinclair gets away, but the explosion rips a hole in the station’s hull, and it begins to tear itself apart, but Takashima uses the station’s stabilizers to restabilize its axis. The Vorlon delegation drop all charges against Sinclair. Afterward, he reveals to Delenn (Mira Furlan), the Minbari ambassador, the statement about a hole in his mind. She calls it nothing more than a Minbari insult, but he mentions that he lost 24 hours of memory during the climactic battle of the war. Takashima declares Babylon Five open.

Just to make it interesting, there were two versions of the pilot, one a TV movie that aired in 1993 on the Prime-Time Entertainment Network, and a special edition that aired on TNT Network four years later, accompanying the prequel movie called In the Beginning. There was some editing and a new score by Christopher Franke. This is the one I saw. Kosh’s prophetic statements were added at that time. Ed Wasser, who plays Morden in the later episodes, plays Guerra, one of the command staff. The episode was nominated for the 1994 Hugo Award, beaten out by Jurassic Park.

A number of characters in the pilot were replaced when the series was picked up, as often happens. First Officer Laurier Takashima (Tamlyn Tomita) was replaced by Susan Ivanova (Claudia Christian). Lyta Alexander (Patricia Tallmann) was replaced by Talia Winters (Andrea Thompson), and Doctor Kyle (Johnny Sekka) by Doctor Franklyn (Richard Biggs). The explanation was that the last two saw too much of Kosh and had to leave. The looks of G’Kar and Delenn were slightly different in the pilot, much less attractive physically and character-wise. The original idea was that Delenn was a male who was to be transformed into a female in Season Two. It didn’t work out that way, but her look was quite masculine and Delenn’s voice coming out of that character was a little disturbing.

If you watch the entire seven-year run of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and then return to the pilot, Encounter at Farpoint, you will be amused at some of the characters as they were first presented in an effort to sell the series, compared to their later personalities. This is particularly true of Riker and Troi, who begin telepathically linked, promising all kinds of interesting complications later, but which the writers, no doubt, looked upon in horror. The same is true of The Original Series, in which the laughing Spock in the pilot is almost disturbing. Soon, of course, it became clear that a green-blooded alien was more believable to 1960’s audiences than the cerebral woman played by Majel Barrett. This is true of Babylon Five as well. Claudia Christian’s tough-minded and vulnerable Susan Ivanova was one of the best characters on TV in my opinion, and I doubt if Tamylin Tomita as Laurel Takashima could have reached that level. Likewise, Mira Furlan’s male Delenn in the pilot can’t hold a candle to the secretive, mysterious, yet tender, female Furlan became, and is really quite unlikeable. Most of the characters, in fact, were aggressive and callous in the pilot, a far cry from the hilarious and heartbreaking characters they grew into.