The Stargate Franchise: Universe
A look at the Stargate TV franchise, beginning with Stargate: SG-1. Spoilers for the series and the preceding film follow.
Stargate began as a film in which the US military send a few chaps through the eponymous gate (think magic galactic doorway). They stumble upon a world akin to Ancient Egypt, ruled over by a tyrannical, parasitical alien. Plot happens, and one nuke later the good guys win.
Stargate: SG-1 begins with the Stargate mothballed. But then, a bad guy very similar in appearance to the film’s antagonist comes through, shoots up the handful of soldiers guarding it, and abducts a lady soldier. Cue the heroic(ish) attempted rescue, spearheaded by the SG-1 team. After the two-parter first story, the series gets into its stride, with a mix of monster-of-the-week shenanigans and longer plot arcs involving persistent villains (and allies).
The best thing about this very good show is the perfect balance of the main cast. Not only are O’Neill, Daniel Jackson, Carter and Teal’c all interesting and likeable (there is no Wesley Crusher in the Stargate universe), they all have the right mix of abilities and perspectives that brings some natural conflict on occasion, and leads to everyone having value, bringing something to the table.
The show also has a knowing sense of humour (“Things will not calm down, Daniel Jackson. They will, in fact, calm up.”), which is usually a nice addition and occasionally dominates an episode (the 100th and 200th in particular, as well as Window of Opportunity, in which O’Neill and Teal’c take advantage of a Groundhog Day situation to do what they like without having to face the consequences).
The Egyptian (mostly) background to villains (the Goa’uld) works well because it’s exotic enough to be interesting whilst still being somewhat familiar. Ruthless, arrogant, with a penchant for slavery, melodrama and megalomania, the Goa’uld have enough individual character for favourites to emerge (the relatively nice Lord Wu, or Baal). Their arrogance and ambition leads to petty infighting which has implications for the plot and means, early on when they’re hugely outmatched, the SG-1 team can play their powerful enemies off against one another.
In the last two series O’Neill is gone and two new characters, Colonel Cameron Mitchell and Vala, join the team. Vala is the first major character who’s mostly there for comic rather than plot reasons (the latter does change a bit later on). Not quite as good as the original lineup, and fans of Farscape might find it odd seeing Ben Browder be serious business and Claudia Black be silly and light-hearted, but it still works.
The final two series also sees a new enemy. The Ori are a race of evil ascended aliens, the opposite of the good but non-interventionist Ancients. They’re followed by a cult of religious zealots whose worship (in a bit of a cliché) empowers them further, and the Priors, priests endowed with immense power by the Ori in return for blind obedience and spreading their religion.
After the charismatic, if dictatorial, Goa’uld, the Ori are an interesting change of pace. It’s more about fighting an invidious ideology than a specific individual (mostly), which is especially tricky when the Priors do things like infect a world with plague that they’ll only cure if the inhabitants all worship the Ori.
Early on in the ninth series there’s a very well-written public debate between Daniel Jackson and a Prior, both trying to persuade a primitive people to either shun or follow the way of Origin (the Ori religion). The persuasive argument the Prior presents is compelling, and you can see why people would adopt such a belief (and for those who don’t, the threat of annihilation works pretty well).
There are two films that followed the tenth and final series, which saw the show cancelled (and kudos for the writers to put together a good final episode despite that limitation). Ark of Truth resolves the Ori storyline, and Continuum features Baal, one of the most popular Goa’uld, using stolen time travel technology to make himself ruler of the galaxy.
Overall, the excellent cast balance and knowing sense of humour make Stargate: SG-1 one of my favourite sci-fi series, perhaps *the* favourite. It could’ve gone on for longer, and it’s not surprising it spawned two more series (Atlantis and Universe). I’ll write about them soon.