How Big is the Cylon Fleet?

Set Nerd Phasers to Discombobulate.

So we just finished watching season three of Battlestar Galactica. It’s a pretty great show (and Julie likes it too, which reduces the geekiness factor as far as I’m concerned). The performances are above average for science-fiction TV, and the direction is very strong.

I’ve been most impressed, however, by the strength of the writing. As Cory Doctorow likes to say, all science fiction isn’t about the future, it’s about the present. I’ve really admired how the BG writers have taken on a schwack of contemporary topics–torture, military justice, terrorism, racism and so forth. For example, several episodes function as cutting criticism of American foreign policy.

I have a few outstanding questions about the show, but the one that’s most frustrated me is this: how big, exactly, is the Cylon fleet?

Do they have 1000 of those big base ships, or eight? I think the most we’ve seen is four or five, but I’ve got no idea if that’s the same four or five, or entirely difference groups (they don’t have license plates, so they’re hard to distinguish). Unless I missed it, the humans haven’t exactly exhausted much brainpower in counting the opposition.

Did I miss something?

On a related note, I wanted to discuss a particular aspect of the final episode of season three. I’ve included it after the break, so that if you’re still catching up, there won’t be any spoilage. If you’re such a person, read the comments at your own risk.

All Along the Flight Deck

I immediately recognized lyrics from Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower”–I forget what the first one was, and was pretty shocked to discover a contemporary reference in this actively unearthly show. As far as I can recall, this is the only example of a, uh, 20th century cultural reference.

Did it work? I’m not sure. At first I thought it was hokey, but when I thought about it more, it might make sense. Let’s assume that the show is set in the future, and the 13 colonies originally departed ‘our’ Earth some time after 2007. Just as we remember and retell 2000-year-old Bible stories, wouldn’t they possible retain fragments of ancient stories and songs?

So, having “All Along the Watchtower” in their genetic memory is a bit like us recounting the story of Noah’s flood. What do you think?

Here’s a lyrical analysis of the song which I pretty much entirely disagree with. I’m guessing if the writers are drawing any connections, they’re thinking much more specifically and short-term. For example, Baltar is “the joker”, 6 is “the thief”, Lee Adama has become “a businessman” and so forth.

And here’s a discussion of the particular sitar-infused recording by a composer on the show.


  1. I thought the season ender as a complete shark-jumper, and I found the Dylan tune jarring as hell. But then again, the Season 2 cliffhanger was out of left field too, and they came up with some great allegorical Iraq occupation stuff for the beginning of the third season, so….

  2. The producer addressed the question of how many base stars there are in one of the official podcasts, and unfortunately I cannot remember the answer. Not unlimited, nor even a vast number. As for the song, I keep going back to the scripture they frequently quote: “It’s all happened before and it will all happen again.” What if present day Earth is “before” and the TV setting is one of the repeats? Makes me very curious to see what Earth will look like when they finally get there.

    And don’t worry. Your geekiness factor barely registers compared to some of the rest of us…

  3. Richard: Interesting. I’m still surprised that the writers didn’t actually have the humans, you know, talk about the enemy. Surely it would come up?

    I was interested to see follow your link to ‘Caprica’. I’ve been waiting for news of a spinoff, given that next season will be BG’s last.

  4. I rather think the writing went downhill in the latter half of the season. At least, they seemed to be all over the place in where they were going (the writers, not just the humans). I’m still wondering why the hell they bothered with turning Lee into a lawyer, or what was up with the lawyer dude with the shades and the cat (not like that’s not a cool look). I wonder if they’ll drop all that for the final season, or somehow justify it. Well, regardless, there’ll be a father-son reunion (for the third time?) between the Adama men before the show ends. Perhaps the production company could save money and reuse footage from a previous reunion.

  5. In the recent episode “Six of One”, Cavil (model 1) says there are “millions” of each model. Of course, those aren’t all necessarily in space, but if they are, that would seem to imply hundreds and more likely thousands of ships.

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