For a lot of people who loves Transformers, they either were introduced to the franchise through the original 1980s cartoon or the live action films. But for children born in the 1990s, or first taste of the robots in disguise was through Beast Wars, the sequel series to the G1 cartoon, which ran from 1996 to 1999. Instead of the Autobots and Decepticons, we had the Maximals and Predacons, who favoured beast modes in favour of trucks and guns for disguises. Though the animation used nowadays looks primitive, it was state-of-the-art in 1996. Developed by Larry DiTillio and Bob Forward, the series introduced a fully-fleshed out cast of characters, explored the universe of Transformers a little more, and featured compelling storylines that remain some of the best in the franchise’s history. In this article, we look back at the series and list ten of its best episodes.
Before this episode, fans were unsure if Beast Wars was a direct sequel to G1 or a soft reboot of the franchise. Well, they got their answer when Waspinator, the Transformers’ equivalent of Kenny McCormick, is possessed by Starscream himself. In the original cartoon, Starscream becomes a ghost, retconned to having an immortal Spark, but lacks a body. Thus, he hijacks Waspinator’s body. Starscream actually does pretty well, quickly conquering the Maximal base thanks to his military leadership, and tries to coax Blackarachnia over to his side to betray Megatron. However, the Maximals and Predacons quickly grew weary of Starscream’s habit of treachery and double cross him, with the equally treacherous Blackarachnia sending the former Air Commander packing. This episode firmly established itself as a continuity of the much loved 1980s cartoon, and silenced those who roamed the internet forums declaring the infamous “trukk not munky” cry of anger.
09. The Spark
A major element of Beast Wars was the introduction of the “Spark”, essentially the soul of a Transformer, something which the movies still have to properly explain in their story. In Beast Wars, a Transformer is born as a blank protoform and placed in a stasis pod until they scan an alternate mode. We meet new characters this way. However, one stasis pod crashlands and is badly damaged, pitting Rhinox and Cheetor against the clock to save their new comrade before its spark dies or the Predacons get their hands on it. Eventually they succeed and introduce Airazor to the cast. Though the story is not all that exciting, it is an important episode in introducing what would become a key part of the Transformers’ mythology.
08. Maximal, No More
The most compelling character in the show was Dinobot, a former Predacon-turned-Maximal, driven by a strict code of honour, but yet remains conflicted by his own inner conflicts. Upon learning Megatron’s endgame, Dinobot worries if he is betraying his Predacon heritage, and ends up pledging allegiance to Megatron in a moment of moral crisis. However, Dinobot’s loyalties soon come into question when he is asked to retrieve the all-important Golden Disk, and his counterpart Rattrap shows up to defend him. It is a very pivotal episode in Dinobot’s character arc, cementing his true loyalties and choices.
07. Master Blaster
This episode mostly gets on the list for its action. The Predacons manage to gain control of Optimus Primal’s body, using him to defeat the other Maximals and take control of the hidden Ark (the Autobot shuttle). Megatron visits his G1 predecessor and steals his spark, hoping to gain more power as Primal did when he carried Optimus Prime’s spark. However, Tarantulas and Quickstrike have their own agenda, grabbing Megatron and chucking him into a lake of lava. But, that doesn’t stop Megatron, who rises from the lava in spectacular fashion as a dragon. The only downside is that this episode creates a small plot hole for the finale, where we never see Megatron’s spark returned to its host (though it was confirmed to happen).
06. Nemesis, Part 1 and 2
Megatron’s meddling in the past was both great and small, but he brings about the endgame of the Beast Wars by hijacking the Decepticon warship, the Nemesis, previously found by Tarantulas in one of his many secret schemes. It is a race against time to prevent the Predacons from winning the war with the warship’s power. I would say the first part is better than the second, with a genuine sense of urgency amongst the Maximals to get stuff done. The final battle between arch enemies Depth Charge and Rampage is well-written, and the ending is one hell of the cliffhanger.
The second part meanders a bit, with most, if not, all of the Maximals trapped in their base while Optimus Primal goes to fight Megatron in a fist fight. The episode also kills off several characters for the sake of it – Inferno and Quickstrike are both nuked by Megatron, the godlike Tigerhawk goes down two episode after his debut, and Dinobot’s clone has a change of heart in the space of ten minutes due to vague plotholes caused by an episode that never made it past the script phase (look up “Dark Glass” on the Transformers Wiki). However, the last few minutes are awesome, with Rhinox rather than Optimus saving the day, and Megatron’s defeat is perfectly humiliating for old grapeface.
05. Bad Spark
For the most part, the Autobots were squeaky clean heroes. The Maximals, on the other hand, were a bit more complex. It is revealed in “Bad Spark” that the true reason behind the Maximals’ intergalactic exploration mission was to actually rid of Protoform X. A Transformer tortured and mutated by the Maximals, Rampage, as he is later called, went on a serial killer-like massacre before being captured and imprisoned. However, his stasis pod crashes on Earth and he runs around frightening the Maximals and Predacons alike. The episode’s creepy atmosphere works well, Rampage makes a compelling villain, and the romance between Blackarachnia and the heroic Silverbolt grows.
Speaking of Rampage, his most important episode comes in the form of “Transmutate”. Innocence is a major theme of war shows, usually with children or harmless characters. In this case, we meet a one-shot character named Transmutate, a deformed, Frankenstein-like Transformer born from a malfunctioning stasis pod. She can’t transform but rather can fly and has untapped supernatural powers. Considered Transmutate a kindred spirit due to their twisted existences, Rampage befriends her in his own weird way and wishes to protect her. Meanwhile, Silverbolt also takes a liking to the newcomer and wants to protect her. However, the other Maximals are more cautious around her, while Megatron just wants to all-out destroy her.
The episode examines the moral complexities of the Maximals. Optimus is open to reason but is more concerned about Transmutate’s instability, in comparison to Silverbolt’s all-loving sense of compassion. He is trying to live up to the sense of heroism and honour he was born with, and that includes sympathy to all things. Of course, war is cruel, and the episode culminates in Transmutate’s tearful death, blocking her friends’ attacks and is destroyed. Rampage actually cries, and when Optimus prepares to start round two, Silverbolt stops him, sympathising with Rampage for their shared loss. This is a very hard-hitting episode, showing the cruelties of war and the penalties of it.
03. Dark Voyage
The character Rhinox remained perhaps the kindest of the Maximals, despite his role becoming increasingly limited as the show went on. But his best episode had to be “Dark Voyage”, where he, Cheetor, Rattrap, and Dinobot were caught in an Energon explosion, which left them trapped in beast mode but also blind. Using nothing but their wits and animal instincts to travel for their base, the four Maximals face their most perilous journey. Rhinox remains calm and strong while his friends, even the usually focused Dinobot, freak out. Rhinox relies on some Zen-style meditation to boost what powers he has left to blast the Predacons out of the sky, encouraging the others to overcome their temporary disabilities to defend themselves.
02. The Agenda Trilogy
Okay, now I am just cheating, but this trilogy of episode is the most vital part of the whole series. While “Possession” made it clear this series was a sequel to G1, “The Agenda” revealed Megatron’s endgame, and delivered a shipload of fanservice. Ravage, former minion of Soundwave, shows up to arrest Megatron, sent by the shady Tripredacus Council who agree with Megatron’s plan but thinks it is too risky. The first part is pretty exciting, with the Maximals and Ravage launching a full-scale assault on the Predacon base to capture Megatron. Not sure why they gave Ravage a Russian accent but I guess it was to tie-in with him being an untrustworthy character.
The second episode focused on Silverbolt and Blackarachnia’s complex romance and tracking down Megatron’s prize, revealed to be the Ark itself, with the slumbering Autobots and Decepticons inside. Megatron himself convinces Ravage to switch sides upon revealing the Golden Disk hides a video recording of the original Megsy instructing his descendants to go back in time and assassinate Optimus Prime to ensure a Decepticon victory. Holy shit! That’s totally awesome! The third episode ends on one hell of a cliffhanger, and it would’ve been an absolute travesty if the series had ended there.
The trilogy of episodes have tons of great moments – Inferno tries to blow up Optimus and Cheetor in a moment of self-sacrifice, Ravage goes out in a blaze of glory, Megatron’s slow march through the Ark to confront Optimus Prime is driven by great dialogue. The fanservice is just great. Ravage transforms into his classic cassette tape mode, all of the popular G1 characters make cameos, and Optimus Primal even makes a nod to the original way the toys were created via die-cast construction.
01. Code of Hero
Well, it had to be this episode. As said above, Dinobot was the show’s most compelling character and one of the greatest heroes of Transformers. In “Code of Hero”, Dinobot truly realises the extent of Megatron’s plan to change time when he identifies Mount St. Helens where the Ark is buried, and then plots to exterminate first humans. With the other Maximals miles away, Dinobot goes on a suicide mission to defeat all of the Predacons and save the humans. In the end, he succeeds, destroying the Golden Disk, but collapses from his wounds.
In his final moments, Dinobot quotes from Hamlet, in the most moving moment in the series, receiving a salute from the other Maximals and even a missing man formation. Ultimately, Megatron would create a clone of Dinobot using half of Rampage’s immortal spark, loyal and obedient, but in “Nemesis”, the clone has a change of heart, inherits Dinobot’s sense of honour and saves humanity once again. Transformers has a lot of great characters, and Dinobot stands up top as one of the best. To quote Optimus Primal: “He lived a warrior, and died a hero. Let his Spark join the Matrix, the greatest of Cybertron.”
Do you have fond memories of Beast Wars? What are your favourite characters or episodes? Leave a comment below or on our Twitter feed.