Patrick Macnee in Space!

If you didn’t know already, you certainly know by now . . . John Steed from The Avengers was the most famous role played by British actor Patrick Macnee, who died last week on June 25th, 2015. Did you know, however, that Macnee also had a recurring role in the 1978-79 TV show Battlestar Galactica?

Actually, Macnee had a total of three roles in the original Battlestar Galactica. The voice in the opening credits was Macnee, and he also provided the voice of the Imperious Leader of the show’s villains, the Cylons. Macnee’s main role in the show was the charming, mysterious, and dangerous Count Iblis.


The story of Count Iblis goes like this . . . when a Colonial Viper expedition from the Galactica consisting of Lts. Starbuck, Sheba, and Captain Apollo lands on an unexplored planet to investigate a massive explosion, they find Iblis, who warns them away from the wreckage of a huge starship which had crashed on the planet some time before. Due to high radiation levels around the crashed ship, the Galactica crew is unable to explore it further.


A devilishly charismatic wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Iblis is taken back to the Galactica. He proves to be charismatic and likeable, and quickly becomes very popular among the crew. However, several mysteries surround him — he is very elusive about his background, speaking only vaguely about being pursued by “enemies,” he objects to having medical scans taken of him, and when he walks on the bridge nearby instruments go off-line. Nevertheless, Iblis’s popularity grows further when he promises to protect the fleet from the mysterious Lights that have been following it recently and to lead them to Earth, which he implies he has visited, if he is given command of the fleet. To prove himself, Iblis moves some objects by psychokinesis and makes food grow on the farm ships, and offers to perform three miracles chosen by the Quorum of Twelve.

The Quorum quickly picks the first two miracles: to have Count Baltar delivered to them and for Iblis to plot a course to Earth. Hours later, Baltar delivers himself to the Colonials.

Count Baltar

Count Baltar suspects that there’s more to Iblis than meets the eye.

Baltar is shocked to hear Iblis’s voice, which he claims to have heard before. He later recognizes it as the voice of the Cylons‘s Imperious Leader. But for that to be possible, Iblis must have been on the Cylon homeworld thousands of yahrens ago, when the original biological Cylons were wiped out by the mechanical Cylons, and the robotic Imperious Leader was built to duplicate the biological Imperious Leader it replaced. That means, Iblis says, “I’d have to be a thousand yahrens old!”

Meanwhile, Count Iblis’s tricks are being uncovered. Apollo learns that there is a scientific explanation behind the sudden growth of the plants on the farm ships (the mysterious light ships give off radiation and the plants were affected when they flew past the farm ship), and Adama remembers that the Colonials have latent psychokinetic abilities. Baltar, fearful of a powerful new common enemy, had come to the fleet to discuss the appearance of the Lights under a flag of truce. Although Iblis had had no direct effect on any of these occurrences, it is too late. The Quorum of the Twelve is considering giving Iblis the presidency.


Iblis’s true form is revealed!

Convinced that accepting Iblis’s leadership will lead to disaster, Apollo and Starbuck head back to the planet where Iblis’s ship was found. They are followed by Sheba, who is still under Iblis’s spell, and Iblis himself, who teleports himself to the planet when he senses the plot. Apollo and Starbuck realise that the high radiation levels around the crashed ship were an illusion; they enter the ship and learn Iblis’s true identity. Apollo reminds Sheba of the ancient texts that talk about the deceiver, by various names we know in Earth holy texts. (He cites the names “Mephistopheles,” “Diabolis” or “Diaboles,” and “The Prince of Darkness.”) Apollo points out to Sheba that Iblis is, very literally, the Devil. Iblis and Sheba try to stop them, and the confrontation leads Iblis to curse Apollo by saying, “May her soul curse you throughout eternity.” He then tries to kill Sheba; however, Apollo takes the blow and dies in her place. Moments later, when the Lights appear, Starbuck, crying, shoots Iblis with his laser, to no effect but revealing his demonic actual appearance. Iblis vanishes, swearing to the Colonial warriors that he will see them again, in another place and time.


Iblish’s true colors are revealed, and the show’s biblical influences became rather clear as well.

On the flight back to the Galactica, Starbuck, Sheba and Apollo’s body are taken aboard the Ship of Lights. The angelic beings aboard it explain to them that Iblis used to be one of their kind, but was expelled from their number for trying to rebel. His power is limited to those who freely give him power over them, and he uses that power to corrupt and lead others away from the truth. By killing Apollo, who had rejected him, he had overstepped his rights, and so he must now “forfeit a payment of our choosing.” The beings restore Apollo to life, and give the Colonials the coordinates to Earth.

Following The Avengers, Macnee’s tenor as Count Iblis was one of his most major TV roles, and quite the departure from John Steed, but nonetheless a role that took full advantage of Macnee’s trademark mellifluous, yet menacing, voice.

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