Crusade was intended to be a great many things, the first Babylon 5 spin-off, a star-trek-esque adventure of the week with an underlying story arc, and the logical extension of the involvement of Turner Network Television (TNT) in the B5 universe.
TNT had produced four spin-off telemovies, which had unfortunately (in my opinion) decreased in story quality over the duration. The first, In the Beginning was a great prequel to the events of Babylon 5 and covered the Earth Minbari war, and the ramifications of sending arrogant trigger-happy commanders into first-contact situations with alien species. The second, Thirdspace was situated in the Babylon 5 storyline, between seasons 3 and 4 and concerned left-over Vorlon technology, the tinkering with which, caused a rift in space and time letting doom come through to look for some action. The third, The River of Souls concerned the “Soul Hunters”, a race who take the souls of dying people and preserve them. Apart from seeing Martin Sheen in heavy make-up, this was a largely forgettable movie, and should really have been folded into the original run of the show as a one hour story, probably in season 2.
The fourth of the movies, however, acted as pilot for Crusade; A Call to Arms concerned an attack on Earth by allies of The Shadows, the baddies of B5’s first three seasons. This was a good introduction on what was to come, and created a reason for the crew of the Excalibur, an advanced starship, to be wandering from world to world in search of a magical elixir to save humanity from certain death.
Premiering in 1999, the show was beset by problems from the outset. J. Michael Straczynski (JMS) intended the show to hit the ground running; the telemovie served as an introduction to the series and the stories would follow logically from there, without introducing every single character in turn. However, TNT disagreed and forced another first episode to be filmed. JMS pushed some dialogue into the episode which indicated the lengths he’d had to go to in order to get the series made, and then continued with the rest of the series.
That is, except when further interference occurred, including a different order of episodes than originally planned, additional character motivations (one character was to be a sexual adventurer with alien races) and finally cancellation.
To be fair, the show could have continued, but in a far different form than originally envisaged by JMS. Called into a meeting of TNT executives to discuss the changes they wanted, he dug his heels in and said a simple “No”. He didn’t want the story and the work that had occurred in the B5 universe since 1992 to be corrupted by TNT’s interference.
Crusade lasted a total of 13 filmed episodes, and unfilmed scripts by JMS and Fiona Avery circulated the net giving a tantalising look at what might have been had the show have continued into a second season. JMS hinted in online forums and conventions that it was going to be a very, very different storyline, with the crew of the Excalibur on the run from their own government, despite having cured the plague which threatened humanity.
I would love to one day see a Crusade reboot, even if it were in graphic-novel form, for the potential I saw in the show excites me to this day.
Available on DVD