Stargate is one of the best science fiction franchises of television. For more than a decade, the creators, writers and actors on both Stargate series have consistently delivered entertaining and interesting plots, storylines and worlds. They have created a compelling, complex universe with its own history and a consistent and logical set of scientific rules. In many ways, Stargate is the equal of that titan of TV science fiction, Star Trek.
Like many other viewers, I was disappointed when I found out that Stargate: Atlantis was going to end, leaving television without a Stargate series. I was equally excited when I learned that a new Stargate series was in the works. Unfortunately, I have just finished watching the second installment of the two part series premier for Stargate: Universe, I’m a bit worried about the future of the franchise.
Many of the core facets of the other two Stargate series exist in this third incarnation. The special effects, set designs and props are all of the same quality that Stargate: Atlantis possessed and are miles beyond Stargate: SG-1 when it started. Richard Dean Anderson, Amanda Tapping and Michael Shanks even make cameo appearances to help establish the show in the Stargate universe (no pun intended.)
But the Stargate television series has always been about more than just special effects and pretty visuals. Stargate: Universe shares the same excellent writing, character development and dialogue of the other two series. It also utilizes the same sort of interesting pseudo-scientific problems and solutions that have been core conflicts in both SG-1 and Atlantis. In fact, I suspect that, much like its predecessors there will be many episodes where there are no bad guys to present danger, only problems (no doubt life threatening) that need to be solved.
In fact, that’s exactly what occurs in the first two episodes of the new series. The cast of the show goes through a stargate and end up on a ship hurtling across the other side of the universe, a ship they can neither control, nor get away from. If this problem sounds familiar, that’s because it’s only one sexy cyborg who wants to kill and then join the crew away from being everyone’s least favorite Star Trek series.
The big threat in the first two episodes is that the air purifiers on the ship are broken and the people who are trapped on it have to find a way to fix it or suffocate. To avoid spoilers, I’ll simply say sacrifices must be made and the crew has to come up with and implement a scientific, daring solution to save themselves in true Stargate fashion.
The Stargate franchise has also always been about exploration and adventure and the new series promises both. The characters are on a ship on the other side of the universe, after all, and there can be little doubt that they’ll run into new cultures and aliens that have yet to be seen.
With all these things going for it, there are still many things that are very aren’t very Stargate about the series. First, the cast is quite large. Whereas the two previous shows started with a core cast of four characters and several supporting cast members, there are at least eight characters in Stargate: Universe that promise to be vitally important to the series in addition to supporting cast members. While both SG-1 and Atlantis eventually worked their way up to this many important characters, it is quite a divergence to begin with so many. Perhaps the nature of the show, i.e. the fact that they are isolated, requires there to be such a large cast to begin with, but it’s disorienting to be tossed into such a large cast so early on.
It is also what’s being done with these characters that is a divergence from the Stargate tradition. While there has been suspicion and betrayal in both previous series, Machiavellian maneuverings and general distrust between the core characters has never been a driving theme. In fact, the interactions between the characters in Stargate: Universe often seemed more reminiscent of Battlestar Galactica than either of the other Stargate series. At many points, the people trapped together seem just as willing to turn on each other as they are to help each other, whereas in both SG-1 and Atlantis, the characters always depended on each other and trusted each other for success and survival. While all franchises have to grow and change, it seems derivative and pointless to try to adopt a strategy that was done so well by another show that ended so recently.
Some of the other themes are just as aberrant in a Stargate series as well. For example, one of the primary characters, Eli Wallace (a Daniel Jackson, Rodney McKay genius outsider type,) is all but forced to join the mission (by Colonel O’Neill, no less.) He doesn’t seem too upset about the course his life takes, but it seems a weird path to take for a show that has always had promoting self determination and freedom as one of its primary themes. It simply seems out of character for Stargate command to force an unwilling person to participate in a mission.
Dr. Nicholas Rush’s character is just as unusual in a Stargate setting. He has a disregard for morality and human life that would be more fitting for a scientist from a 50’s film (“sure these aliens enjoy dining on human toddlers, but imagine all the things we can learn from them!”) or Gaius Baltar from Battlestar Galactica. In fact, it is his obsession with the stargate that leads to ship that causes the rest of the characters to be trapped on it rather than returning safely to Earth.
The scientific characters aren’t the only ones who seem to be out of place in a Stargate series. One of the primary military characters is equally alien. Greer is reminiscent of Lt. Ford from Stargate: Atlantis, but is already much darker and more violent than Lt. Ford became even after his transformation into a Wraith hybrid. Matthew Scott is a much more familiar Stargate character, though his background proves to be somewhat clichéd.
In the end, Stargate: Universe has the potential to expand and improve the Stargate franchise instead of just continuing it, but those involved in its creation must walk a fine line to live up to that potential and remain true to the feel of Stargate. Otherwise, they are in danger of making the show Battlestargate: Voyager and abandoning what has come before