Difference between revisions of "Experiment in Terra"

From Battlestar Wiki, the free, open content Battlestar Galactica encyclopedia and episode guide
m (Notes)
Line 81: Line 81:
* This episode reveals that a Colonial laser is capable of stunning a group of people with a single shot.  
* This episode reveals that a Colonial laser is capable of stunning a group of people with a single shot.  
* Edward Mulhare (John) is probably best known for his role as Devon on ''Knight Rider''.  
* Edward Mulhare (John) is probably best known for his role as Devon on ''Knight Rider''.  
* Kenneth Lynch (Dr. Gordon) played Grover in the Galactica 1980 episode [[The Night The Cylons Landed, part two]].  
* Kenneth Lynch (Dr. Gordon) played Grover in the Galactica 1980 episode [[The Night the Cylons Landed, Part II]].  
* One of the buildings in the Terran city was later used as the exterior of the Defense Directorate in Buck Rogers. The actual building is in Montreal, Canada.  
* One of the buildings in the Terran city was later used as the exterior of the Defense Directorate in Buck Rogers. The actual building is in Montreal, Canada.  
* John deLancie (Q from Star Trek: The Next Generation) appears as the Terran officer who approaches Starbuck's viper with a troop of soldiers. The scene occurs at Vaquez Rocks, an overexposed TV and film location because it has been frequently used to double as other worlds.  
* John deLancie (Q from Star Trek: The Next Generation) appears as the Terran officer who approaches Starbuck's viper with a troop of soldiers. The scene occurs at Vaquez Rocks, an overexposed TV and film location because it has been frequently used to double as other worlds.  

Revision as of 09:38, 26 August 2011

For other items of the same name, see: Experiment in Terra (disambiguation).

Experiment in Terra
"Experiment in Terra"
An episode of the Original Series
Episode No. Season 1, Episode 19
Writer(s) Glen A. Larson
Story by
Director Rod Holcomb
Assistant Director
Special guest(s)
Production No. 50928
Nielsen Rating
US airdate USA 1979-03-18
CAN airdate CAN {{{CAN airdate}}}
UK airdate UK
DVD release 2004-12-28
Population survivors
Extended Info Re-released as a telemovie
Episode Chronology
Previous Next
Baltar's Escape Experiment in Terra Take the Celestra
[[IMDB:tt{{{imdb}}}|IMDb entry]]
Listing of props for this episode
[[frakr:{{{frakr}}}|Satirical view of this episode on WikiFrakr]]
Promotional Materials
Watch this episode's promo (on-wiki)
Online Purchasing
Amazon: Standard Definition | High Definition
iTunes: USA | UK


The mysterious bright lights return again, transporting the bewildered Apollo to the planet Terra to avert war with the Eastern Alliance. Exposing a plan by the devious president, Apollo has Starbuck warn Galactica, which lends the protective powers of its shields to avoid planetary holocaust.


  • There he is told by John that he needs to help Terra and stop a war. Due to their lack of a substantive, corporeal form, they are unable to affect changes without need of a proxy (what Apollo sees is a projection or representation of their spirit). Apollo is also told by John that to the Terrans he will appear to be a missing warrior named Colonel Charlie Watts, to allow him some credibility during his attempts. After this encounter, Apollo wakes up near Terra, an incredible distance from his previous position, and well outside the Vipers' fuel range for a safe return to Galactica.
  • Starbuck and Boomer detect Apollo's distress signal at extreme range. Starbuck goes to help Apollo, while Boomer returns to Galactica.
  • Apollo is picked up after landing on Terra by Brenda Maxwell who was Charlie Watts' girlfriend and they return to her apartment. John again appears to Apollo and advises him he needs to reveal the truth about Lunar One. Whilst he is doing so, Brenda notifies the authorities of "Charlie's" return, believing him to need medical attention. Soon Officer Brace arrives and Apollo is taken into custody, and subsequently examined by Doctor Horning.
  • Back on Galactica Commander Adama decides that the battlestar will temporarily leave the fleet to investigate the beacon signal sent by both Apollo and Starbuck's Viper's, leaving behind two full squadrons of fighters to protect the civilians.
  • Starbuck, having landed and found Apollo's Viper, gets into a gun fight with the local security force, stunning them all. He then sets off to find Apollo.
  • After a brief discussion with John, Starbuck rescues Apollo, Brenda and her father General Maxwell who have just been imprisoned by Brace for questioning the Nationalist President's decisions regarding the Eastern Alliance. Brenda and General Maxwell realise what Apollo has been saying is true... he is not Charlie Watts.
  • The Leaders of the Eastern Alliance confirm their plans to launch a surprise attack on the Nationalists whilst at the same time, in the Nationalist Precedium, The President announces that a peace agreement with the Eastern Alliance has just been reached. Starbuck and Brenda Maxwell leave to retrieve Starbuck's Viper.
  • The attack is begun, the Nationalist's missiles being automatically launched after detection of the Eastern Alliance's surprise move. Galactica arrives, and following Starbuck's instructions uses its weapons to destroy all missiles from both sides. This surprise turn of events forces the Eastern Alliance to sue for peace.
  • John spirits Apollo away from he Precedium so he does not have to answer any questions from the President and General Maxwell. John then goes on to confirm to Apollo that Terra is not Earth, and their search for the Thirteenth Tribe will continue.


Experiment In Terra initially comes across as a superb episode, but under close inspection the story unfortunately falls apart. The Ship of Lights recruiting Apollo to help Terra is a cool idea, but their reasoning as to why they need to use a mortal human doesn't hold up. John says that the people of Terra can't see the "Guardians" (my own name for them) outside the confines of their ship. And yet on Terra, John makes himself visible to Starbuck by merely touching him. Even more problematic, Apollo's mission never makes sense. The Guardians know that the Eastern Alliance is going to launch a missile attack, so the master plan is to have Apollo tell the "west side" that the Eastern Alliance has been attacking them? Um, okay, but even if Apollo succeeds, how will this stop the Eastern Alliance from launching their missiles? Why not just have Apollo tell the Galactica to travel to Terra and destroy the missile attack? The answer, of course, is that there wouldn't be much of a story.

Sadly, there are many other flaws. Apollo says he can't reach Terra because the distance is too great, so he is "teleported" right in front of the planet. So how is it that Starbuck is able to eventually reach the planet on his own? Logically, he wouldn't have had enough fuel. Adama's decision to pull the Galactica out of the fleet is more out of whack than it may first appear. He didn't do that in earlier episodes when Starbuck or Apollo were crashed/stranded. This time Adama doesn't even know who the two pilots are, and yet he pulls the Galactica out of the fleet.

Even more ludicrous is the idea that the Galactica travels to Terra at light speed (and not just because it is scientifically implausible). If the Galactica was traveling to Terra at the speed of light, they should have reached Terra almost instantly (in fact, they probably could have found Earth during the pilot episode!) And how is it that the Galactica was able to travel to Terra unmolested? Surely there would be Eastern Alliance destroyers patrolling the area around the planet. And how does the Eastern Alliance not know that the Galactica was responsible for destroying their missiles? Surely the Galactica would have been picked up on their scanners.

Also, the West President's reasoning for withholding knowledge of the Eastern Alliance's attacks is questionable. Why does he think he can make peace with the Eastern Alliance if they are constantly attacking him? And if the Eastern Alliance has wiped out all of the West's satellite planets, how could the President possibly prevent word of this from leaking out? It's not realistic at all. Plus, the idea that the Eastern Alliance would be willing to destroy the entire planet (at least half of which they own) is pretty ridiculous. Okay, they ARE Bad Guys, but what's the point of destroying most of their empire when they were already winning the war?

With such a long list of problems, you would think that this is a terrible episode. Amazingly, this isn't the case. In fact, Experiment In Terra still ranks as one of the better one-hour episodes of Battlestar Galactica. Seeing the Ship of Lights again is a treat, and Edward Mulhare is delightful as John, Apollo's guide. This episode is another example where the great production values and strong performances from the actors are able to overcome the plot inconsistencies. What makes Experiment In Terra work so well is that its plot holes aren't immediately noticeable. I didn't realize how many there were until I sat down and really thought about it. Apollo's mission to save Terra, as pointless as it winds up being, is still extremely engrossing. Apollo's speech to the Precidium is very dramatic and moving, even though (as we've already said) everything Apollo does on Terra turns out to be a waste of time since nothing he does has any chance of preventing the Eastern Alliance from launching its missiles.


  • The episode's title was derived from the 1962 film Experiment In Terror.
  • This is the last episode of a three episode arc, consisting of "Greetings from Earth", "Baltar's Escape", and "Experiment in Terra".
  • An extended version of this episode was made into a television movie with the same title.
  • Many fans have speculated that this episode was the inspiration for Quantum Leap, created by Donald P. Bellisario who was a writer for Galactica. When Apollo "leaps" into the life of Charlie Watts, you would have to think this gave Bellisario a few ideas. Interestingly, Bellisario was asked about this in an on-line interview and he said it is not true and he can't even remember what Experiment In Terra was about. Considering the amazing similarities between the two, it's almost hard to believe him.
  • John reveals that Terra is not Earth.
  • Apollo's speech to the Precidium could be called "The Battlestar Galactica Thesis" since his argument of peace through strength pretty much sums up the stance of the entire series.
  • This script was actually written with the parts of Starbuck and Apollo reversed, but was changed when Richard Hatch complained that Apollo was being deemphasized in favor of Starbuck. To Hatch’s surprise the script was hastily rewritten. The dialogue stayed mostly intact, which resulted in Apollo talking in a way that sounds suspiciously like Starbuck. The differences are subtle, but they are noticeable if you listen closely enough. Apollo actually says "felgercarb", a word he has never said before.[1]
  • The Presidium on Terra was the French pavilion left over from Expo '67. It is one of the few buildings from the fair still standing. It is now Le Casino de Montréal.
  • The same stock shot of Le Casino de Montréal in this episode appears to also have been used for the Earth Defense Directorate on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century.
  • Adama misuses the word "sectar" as a measurement of time; an earlier episode notes that it is a unit of distance. The word that the writer of this episode may have wanted to use either centar (an hour) or secton (a week).
  • Some scenes of this episode were filmed at night at the Vasquez Rocks, notably the scene where Starbuck lands his Viper on Terra.
  • "Charlie Watts" is also the name of the drummer for the British rock group The Rolling Stones. It is rumored but unconfirmed that Larsen had the character named after Watts as a tribute to his reportedly being a fan of the show.[citation needed]
  • The "white uniforms" were reused in Galactica 1980 as part of the "time travel" effect employed in the series.
  • In the 2009 Galactica 1980 comic series, issue #3 is titled Experiment In Terra, an obvious nod to this episode.
  • This episode reveals that a Colonial laser is capable of stunning a group of people with a single shot.
  • Edward Mulhare (John) is probably best known for his role as Devon on Knight Rider.
  • Kenneth Lynch (Dr. Gordon) played Grover in the Galactica 1980 episode The Night the Cylons Landed, Part II.
  • One of the buildings in the Terran city was later used as the exterior of the Defense Directorate in Buck Rogers. The actual building is in Montreal, Canada.
  • John deLancie (Q from Star Trek: The Next Generation) appears as the Terran officer who approaches Starbuck's viper with a troop of soldiers. The scene occurs at Vaquez Rocks, an overexposed TV and film location because it has been frequently used to double as other worlds.
  • The Eastern Alliance in this episode seems very similar to the stereotypical image Americans held of the Soviet Union during the Cold War era. Interestingly enough, the Soviet Union issued a protest over Battlestar Galactica, claiming the series promoted false stereotypical notions that hurt the Soviet Union's image.


  • "Experiment in Terra" finishes off the arc started with "Greetings from Earth". It also serves as the last time the Beings of Light are seen in the entire series run, though this element will be reintroduced in "The Return of Starbuck", the final episode of Galactica 1980.
  • The episode was originally intended to be primarily about Starbuck, until it was rewritten for Apollo due to Richard Hatch's insistence on having an episode focusing on his character, hence the shift in characterization in Starbuck and Apollo. This is understandable since a majority of the stand-alone character-driven episodes have focused on Starbuck: "The Long Patrol", "Murder on the Rising Star", and "The Man With Nine Lives".
  • Many of the plot elements introduced in "Greetings from Earth" are closed in the episode, prime among them being the question of whether Terra is indeed the Thirteenth Colony. However, the Lunar Colonies mentioned in both this episode and "Greetings" are never seen. The conditions on the Lunar Colonies, now apparently controlled by the Eastern Alliance, are merely word-of-mouth, forcing the viewer to presume much of what has happened on these Lunar settlements. Of course, the plight of these Colonies, from where Michael and Sarah Fowler (and children) came, is seemingly written as an afterthought.
  • Much of the episode is an allegory of the Cold War, with fascism taking the place of Communism in the form of the Eastern Alliance.
  • This episode also reintroduces the concept of governmental authority as horribly flawed and inept, a recurring theme that has stuck with the series since "Saga of a Star World" and the episodes that have dealt with the Quorum of Twelve. Interestingly enough, this theme has been running through the entire arc, from the Quorum's handling of affairs in "Greetings" to their removal of martial law (and diminishing Adama's authority) in "Baltar's Escape". As was the case in both episodes, it takes Adama and the Warriors under his command to correct the errors in judgment, thus reinstilling the message that a strong military authority can right the wrongs of government.
  • The teasing in the series thus far has reinforced the fact that there is, indeed, another group of humans in the galaxy. Whether these humans are descendants of the Thirteenth Tribe that left Kobol ages ago is still very much in question, though it is something that viewers are to assume.
  • It is noteworthy that one of the writers of Battlestar Galactica, Donald P. Bellisario, would notably use the basic theme of this episode of putting the hero in the guise of a local accompanied by a "holographic" companion that no one could see again in the 1989 television show Quantum Leap. The similarities are quite obvious, especially given the Bellisario connection.


  • If the beings on the Ship of Lights were willing to interfere and save the planet Terra from destruction, then why didn't they interfere to prevent the destruction of the Colonies?
  • Why do the Beings of Light need proxies to do their bidding? Surely an advanced race would have resolved a more elegant solution than co-opting "primitives" for their needs?
  • Bearing in mind the interest the Beings of Light had with the Terrans, did the Beings of Light share this same interest and concern in the Colonials before or during the Thousand-Yahren War?
  • Why does Galactica leave the Fleet defenseless to protect Terra, particularly in lieu of Adama's comments in "The Living Legend", where Adama voices opposition to attacking Gamoray because it would leave the Fleet defenseless from a Cylon killing force?
  • Are the Cylons still pursuing the Fleet? If they are, will they too happen across Terra and likely destroy that civilization?
  • Why did John give Apollo the guise of Charlie Watts when Apollo immediately dumps this persona and introduces himself as Captain Apollo anyway? He then even tells the Precedium all about the Colonies but then is told to not say a word at the end to the leaders. Was this a writing mishap?


  • Starbuck enters the prison complex with his gun drawn, yet when we see him inside the building in the very next shot, his gun is in his holster. It is not until he sees the guards that he draws the gun again. Why would Starbuck put his gun back in his holster when he knew he'd have to use it?
  • Starbuck is miles away from his viper helmet when John causes his uniform to turn white, yet when Starbuck returns to his viper, his helmet is white.
  • After Starbuck stuns the group of Terran soldiers, he leaves them there unconscious. When he returns later, they are gone. Where did they go? If they regained consciousness, wouldn't they have confiscated the vipers?

Noteworthy Dialogue

Apollo: What was your name?
Brenda Maxwell: [remarking on "Charlie Watts's" state] Amnesia.
Apollo: Amnesia. That's a pretty name.
  • Apollo reflects on John's sense of humor:
Apollo: That's very funny. At least you have a sense of humor.
John: In my job, dealing with primitive cultures, it's an absolute necessity.
  • Upon learning that the Vipers are transmitting emergency beacons near Terra
Adama: Tigh, plot a course for Terra.
Tigh: What velocity, sir?
Adama: Lightspeed.
Tigh: Sir, it has been some time since the Galactica has been pushed to—
Adama: Lightspeed, Colonel.
Tigh: Yes, sir.
  • Upon learning the Eastern Alliance has launched a nuclear attack
President Arends: Well uh ... that's impossible. I have this treaty ...
General Maxwell: Well frame it! But hurry!

Official Statements

  • Richard Hatch discusses his "Starbuck"-esque role in this episode:
Richard Hatch: One of the biggest, well, kind of practical jokes was, there was an episode written for Dirk [Benedict], and I got the episode and I…I was a little upset. I felt they were, you know, knocking Captain Apollo. I felt they were really pushing him aside and I said, I think it’s time that HE had a story, that you did something for this character rather than just letting him give orders and go march around the ship. So he, Glen [Larson] said, you’re right, we really should, we need a story with Captain Apollo going down to HIS planet. So, about two hours later, the script I’d had, featuring Dirk, arrived at my house, and it had been…the two characters of Captain Apollo and Starbuck were simply interchanged, they’d put my name where Starbuck was and put Starbuck where Apollo was. And I immediately got into the car and was seeking out Dirk to apologize, because I simply had no idea, I thought, down the road, the next story, maybe a couple of stories later he’d write one for Captain Apollo. He didn’t do that, he just took the very story that had probably been in Dirk’s hands, he’d been going “what a wonderful script I have here!” and two hours later he gets a script where he was now Captain Apollo and I’m Starbuck and literally he has not changed any lines. In any case I was very embarrassed and I found him at a party and I explained the whole situation to him and how sorry I was and he said, well, I understand, I just think you should go to Glen Larson and ask him to reverse it, put it back the other way. So I tried to find Glen Larson, and I told him, I appreciate the gesture, but the next time will you be a little more subtle? Sometimes you want to expand your character, you want to bring in new dimensions to the character and they gave Captain Apollo the chance to do a few things that he didn’t normally do on that show because, as you all know, Starbuck got to run around and have fun with the ladies and Captain Apollo…kind of had fun with himself…and from that time on they actually began to change, not change the characters, but to give Starbuck a little bit of the Captain Apollo quality and Captain Apollo a little bit of the Starbuck qualities, and they started to make the characters more well-rounded, and I appreciated that.[2]

Guest Stars


  1. Sci-Fi Channel Sciography Battlestar Galactica documentary.
  2. Paxton, Susan J.. 1986 Galacon Q & A with Richard Hatch and Anne Lockhart (backup available on Archive.org) (in ). Retrieved on 12 August 2007.