The start of Atlantis overlaps with the last few series of SG-1. A group of Earth’s top military and scientific minds are sent into another galaxy, into the lost city of Atlantis. It’s thought to be a fantastic hi-tech place, as it was built by the technologically advanced Ancients.
Almost immediately, problems start. As well as being a one-way trip (due to huge power requirements), Atlantis is underwater, the shield protecting it from flooding is failing, the military commander ends up dead, and his successor accidentally wakes up a far more advanced race from hibernation. To top things off, said race (the Wraiths) have a diet primarily consisting of humans. In short, it’s about as successful a start as a man attempting to impregnate a beehive.
After the initial woe is dealt with, the series settles down and is quite similar in nature to SG-1. There’s a four man team (Sheppard, McKay, Ford and Teyla) that swan off around the Pegasus Galaxy, trying to find allies against the Wraiths, recover technology and so forth. A nice addition is the discovery of Atlantis’ puddlejumpers, small space craft that can fit through the Stargate (especially useful for gates that are in space).
I do have a bit of a problem with the party. Ford is amongst the most boring of sci-fi characters (I’m glad the actor got to display a bit more range when Ford goes off the rails), and is duly replaced with Ronon. Ronon is a charismatic warrior, but there’s a bit of a lack of character development. His world has been destroyed so (excepting a couple of episodes where he encounters old acquaintances) there’s not the same level of interesting backstory we got with Teal’c.
This is the same for the first Pegasus resident companion, Teyla. She initially starts off with her people, they’re forced to evacuate to Atlantis, and then the two drift apart. Teyla does possess some vague psychic abilities to detect the Wraith, though.
Sheppard leads the team, and is a likeable character with a wry sense of humour. McKay is overloaded, I think. He’s not only the science guy, he’s also the chap who knows the most Ancient history, is the everyman (being far less gungho than others, and quite realistic in that respect), and has his own sarcastic sense of humour. Unlike the equal parts of the SG-1 team, it feels a bit imbalanced.
There are some interesting new takes on things, particularly two enclosed episodes. One features McKay trapped in a puddlejumper that’s halfway through an open gate. The gate automatically shuts down after about 38 minutes, and because the puddlejumper’s halfway through (and in space) that would mean he’d find himself floating in zero-G unless they can get him out. Another involves McKay becoming trapped with Carter (who commands the mission in the fourth series) and Doctor Keller in a confined room on an alien world (which sounds rather nice, to be honest), which featured a seriously tilting floor and was well carried by the three thespians who had almost the entire episode to themselves.
For much of the early days, the Wraith are treated as a kind of race threat, with no significant individuals. This changes later on with a couple of interesting characters (such as Tod), and I think that approach works better, as it allows for more nuanced episodes. Instead of simply being viewed as irredeemably evil, some level of trust can develop, which also allows for betrayal and uncertainty.
Atlantis is an enjoyable show, which ran for five series. Universe is the next and final Stargate TV programme (to date), which I’ll write about shortly.