James Callis Sees The Difference Between Star Trek And Battlestar Galactica As A Matter Of Morality

This post contains spoilers for "Star Trek: Picard" season 2.

On the cult TV series "Battlestar Galactica" (1978-1979), actor John Calicos played the evil Count Baltar, a human traitor who had sold out his species to the Cylons, a phalanx of genocidal androids who aim to destroy all humanity. Baltar was often seen in capes and robes and looked very much like a supervillain. In the world of "Battlestar," the Cylons have, in a sudden attack, destroyed the human homeworld. The remaining survivors must traverse through dangerous, enemy-laden space to the only known source of safety, a long-lost planet called Earth. Baltar would alternately betray the humans, but also secretly help them when he realized the depth of the Cylons' villainy.

The 2003 revival of "Battlestar Galactica" began with a massive miniseries experience, and the character of Baltar was reimagined as the more morally complicated Dr. Gaius Baltar, played by actor James Callis. In the reboot, Dr. Baltar was having an affair with a woman that, unbeknownst to him, was a human-looking Cylon in disguise. His relationship with Number Six (Tricia Helfer) unwittingly led to the robot genocide that would kick off the series.

Callis, who was previously known for "Bridget Jones's Diary," would play Dr. Baltar for the series' entire run through 2009, appearing in 73 episodes. His character went through far too many dramatic events to list here. Needless to say, appearing on "Battlestar" has made him a sci-fi icon for the rest of his life.

Years later, in a fun twist of casting, Callis appeared on two episodes of "Star Trek: Picard," playing a much different type of character. This has also afforded him a unique perspective on what, on a philosophical level, sets the "Battlestar Galactica" and "Star Trek" universes apart.

The dream father

In the "Star Trek: Picard" episode "Monsters," Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) has been hit by a car in the year 2024 (it's complicated) and has fallen into a coma. Inside his comatose mind, a whole drama unfolds. He is, at first, being analyzed by shrink in a Starfleet uniform (James Callis), the actual identity of whom is not immediately revealed. Picard, over the course of the episode, witnesses his own child self (Dylan Von Halle) not only wrestling with literal monsters stalking through his subconscious, but he will recall dark memories of his mother's mental illness and her eventual taking of her own life. Picard eventually realizes that the psychiatrist is, in fact, a younger version of his own father, Maurice. The two men will come to realize each other's mutual struggles in living with a person with mental illness.

In a 2022 interview with Inverse, Callis talked about taking part in two of the more notable sci-fi TV franchises in recent memory, and the big differences between Dr. Balter and Maurice Picard. He decided to establish right away that he behaved professionally, and didn't want to start comparing notes with his "Picard" co-star:

"It was such a gift to work with Sir Patrick Stewart. There is no one word or thing to describe it. [...] But because it was — as it were — his brig, I didn't start a conversation where I said, 'So Patrick, there was this one time on "Battlestar..."' It was not what we were doing."

In Callis's mind, however, the key difference between his "Star Trek" and "Battlestar Galactica" roles was a difference of the respective shows' core moral tenets.

The real doctor

James Callis observed the cycle of influence that "Star Trek" and "Battlestar Galactica" had on one another. When the original "Battlestar" hit the airwaves in 1978, it might have been seen as an antidote to the upstanding moral strength of Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and his Enterprise crew on "Star Trek: The Original Series." The revival of "Battlestar" overlapped with the temporary closure of "Star Trek" on TV in the mid-2000s, denoting the optimism of "Star Trek" was less well-received in a post-9/11 world than the paranoia and destruction brought on by Cylons. The show's extended story arcs and hard, war-like edge clearly, in turn, influenced "Star Trek: Discovery" when it debuted in 2017.

Callis laid it out thus:

"'Battlestar' was a one-off. [...] It's possible to take elements from it and recreate it, but it was one-of-a-kind. Growing up watching the [original] 'Star Trek,' the guys on the Enterprise were the good guys. When I was on the 'Galactica,' I was not necessarily one of the good guys. There's a moral gray area there. [...] But in ['Star Trek'], it seems like that universe is evidently much more advanced. If we're going to get to space and all wear uniforms and chat in other languages, we're gonna have to get on with each other."

Both "Battlestar" and "Star Trek" reflected the times we lived in. Callis, however, seemed to hold "Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry's ideals that diplomacy and togetherness will be required to build an advanced future. That he played a compassionate psychiatrist as well as a sympathetic father on "Star Trek: Picard" certainly speaks to that. "Monsters" is about withholding moral judgment on a resented parent. The whole of "Battlestar" was about finding a moral compass in a desperate situation.

Your favorite will depend on your disposition.