Because it became clear very early on into this project that an article covering the entire Stargate Franchise would be far too long I broke it down into four parts. But I also wanted to present the full article in all it’s glory as well so here it is. What you might consider the Deluxe Edition. I hope you all enjoy it.
UNLOCKING THE GATE – THE ORIGINAL FEATURE FILM
In October of 1994, Stargate hit the cinema screens and became a surprise hit. Critics were not kind to the Roland Emmerich-directed epic adventure, but it struck a chord with audiences with it’s stunning photography and intriguing story. It launched a franchise that has become one of the most popular Science Fiction franchises of all time. A franchise that consists of: 3 films, 3 live action series, 1 animated series and, most recently, a 10 part mini-sode series. Not to mention the various games and books that were released. But we will get to all that in time; first we need to go back to the beginning, to where it all started….The 1994 feature film.
I should probably preface this part of the article with a small statement; it may seem like I am being harsh against the feature film but that is only because of everything that came after. The film started it all and without it we wouldn’t have got SG1 or anything else, however, for me the film just doesn’t hold up in comparison to the series.
The film was originally conceived by Roland Emmerich in the early 1980s as a film about an alien spacecraft that was buried under the Great Pyramids of Giza. Emmerich continued to work on the idea throughout the years and eventually met and became close friends with Dean Devlin. Devlin had an idea about a Laurence of Arabia-type of film set on a distant planet and eventually, they combined their two ideas into one film, and developed the screenplay together. After they garnered commercial success with the 1992 Jean Claude Van Damme film, Universal Soldier, they were able to finally get the budget together to make Stargate. With a budget of $55 million they set about making their vision a reality.
The Stargate as we know it is not how it was originally conceived; the original concept was triangular and would be standing on the tip. However, Emmerich wanted a long-dialing sequence to activate the Stargate and the triangular shape could not achieve this so they changed it to a large ring. The Stargate was actually two rings; a smaller one that could spin was encased in a larger one with chevrons that would “lock” in place. The original gate was black but it looked too much like a tire, so it was painted to a grey colour-which gave it a more metallic finish. The activation of the Stargate (or the “Kawoosh” as it would be later named), was achieved by mounting an air cannon an inch above a water tank and firing it into the water. They would then superimpose the resulting effect over the Stargate. The swirling effect that is at the back of the Stargate (what they referred to as the strudel), was achieved by simply stirring water until it kept whirling on its own. For the shots of the actors faces appearing through the event horizon, they had them put their faces in water; someone would fan away all the air bubbles and they would pull their faces out of the water slowly. When played in reverse, it looked like their face was passing through a wall of water.
When it came to casting the film, Emmerich and Devlin wanted Kurt Russell for Colonel Jack O’Neil. However, Kurt Russell wasn’t interested and turned down the role multiple times before finally accepting it. The character of O’Neil in the film was that of a broken man and we are introduced to him in an apparent suicidal state. Like most of the main characters in the film, his character is quite one dimensional. He is the soldier with nothing to lose. His character arc throughout the film is to go from unable to deal with the loss of his child, to dealing with it and being fine. It’s quite a bizarre arc for the main character of a Science Fiction film. Yes, there are the bad guys to fight but they are more of a catalyst to events that affect O’Neil than any sort of defining character arc for him. His interactions with the people of Abydos are small (with the exception of the character Skaara). His character in the film though is essentially just the token soldier, with the exception of the backstory of his son’s death-there isn’t really any depth to the character.
With the character of Daniel Jackson they cast James Spader, who admitted that he only took on the role for the money. He often clashed with director Roland Emmerich when he didn’t get satisfying answers to questions about his character’s motivation. He would also question some of Emmerich’s creative decisions. Despite these clashes- and the fact that he only took the job for the money- he turned in an outstanding performance and gave the rather cliched nerdy scientist character some depth. The sequence where Sha’uri presents herself to him as a gift is particularly good, as there is very little said and it is all about what is not being said. You can see that whilst attracted to her, he is very uncomfortable with the whole situation. Despite his opinion on the script and his apparent embarrassment of being in a Science Fiction film, Stargate would actually make Spader more of a household name.
Jaye Davidson had been shot to stardom by an incredible performance in The Crying Game as a transgender singer. At the time, he was a little hesitant about whether or not he wanted to continue acting, so when they offered him the part of Ra, he asked for $1 million. When asking for such a high amount of money he expected that they would turn him down but was surprised when they agreed and he took the part. The costume department were forced to work around his nipple rings as Davidson refused to remove them for the part. He also found the costumes so uncomfortable that he very quickly grew to hate them and, on the last day of filming, tore off the clothes and ran through the set completely naked.
For the desert planet of Abydos, the production team went to Yuma in Arizona. Unfortunately, because they shot during the summer, the temperatures got to unbearable levels and everyone was drinking at least 5 gallons of water a day. Due to the heat, nobody actually went to the bathroom, they just sweated all the water out of them. The sand would get everywhere; into camera equipment, clothes, everywhere. Because they had to make the desert look like it was undisturbed, after every take they needed to smooth out the sand as the footprints were massively obvious. They tried several different techniques which included using big fans and even flying a helicopter over, in the end the simple act of using large sweeping brushes to smooth the sand out worked. They had several people on hand ready to sweep the sand after a take.
The sets were epic in scale and grand in design. For the Pyramid, they built a 90-foot-high front that had an 125-foot ramp down to the desert surface. The whole set was built directly into a 500-foot-high sand dune. The rest of the Pyramid was added in post-production with the aid of matte paintings, however, the practical set allowed them to shoot the majority of their shots without the need for any effects work. Practical effects work was always preferred, the Mastidge was a Shire horse they put a large plastic frame on, which had the Mastidge model on it. For the sequence where Daniel Jackson was dragged through the desert, they used a smaller model and put it onto a dog. The dog would drag a small puppet through the desert and they intercut it with shots of a stunt man being dragged to sell the effect. For the final battle sequence, they used 1200 extras, and the final shot of them all cheering in victory was difficult to coordinate due to the sheer number of people who had to all cheer in unison.
The design of Ra’s ship came down to practicality. They wanted a ship that would land on a pyramid, and the best thing to land on a pyramid would be another pyramid. Once they had this in mind, it was simply a question of what else could they do with it. The top opening was a way to get some natural light into the set and allow Ra to look out on everyone. The Death Gliders originally started out as very blocky in design- Emmerich wanted something that didn’t look like it should be able to fly and they had these ships that looked like cargo containers. However, in the testing phase they realised that they looked pretty stupid and abandoned the idea. Patrick Tatopoulos brought in some costume items to a meeting and there was a belt buckle that caught Emmerich’s eye and they used that for the design of the Death Gliders. The practical Gliders they built had a wingspan of 3 feet and were quite difficult to shoot with.
The head pieces for Anubis and Horus were both remote controlled- they would be able to make the ear parts articulate live in camera. The turning of the head was achieved by building the heads on a bearing which allowed the actors to just move their head and move the head piece itself. Ra’s helmet had no moving parts to it but was so detailed that they used it for the opening credits sequence. The details in the helmets was so intricate that you don’t notice most of the detailing on them apart from the Ra helmet, and that is only because of all the close up shots of it in the opening credits sequence.
Interior locations were shot in the Spruce Goose building because they couldn’t find a sound studio big enough to fit in the designed set for Ra’s Throne Room. To prevent scratching the delicate flooring of the Throne Room, crew members wore special booties on set and it would be buffed regularly.
The music for the film was composed by David Arnold. Arnold created an epic score that is still being used in film trailers to this day. It captured the wonder and excitement of the film and seamlessly combined it with the action adventure elements to create a truly unique and incredible score. David Arnold would go onto to work with Emmerich on Independence Day and Godzilla. He would also become the official composer of the James Bond films starting with Tomorrow Never Dies and ending with Quantum of Solace– composing the score for every Bond film during that period. Elements of his score for the film were carried over into the TV series and in the first season they even used tracks from the film (most notably, the track You’re on the Team from the deluxe soundtrack appears several times throughout the first season).
Shortly before release they did a test screening of the film. One of the notes they received was that Ra didn’t seem alien enough, so they added the effect of the glowing eyes just before the release of the film. The film released to mixed reviews; some reviewers criticized the film for relying on the special effects too much and using too many clichés. I can see where they are coming from regarding the clichés- the characters themselves are, for the most part, cliched caricatures. Daniel Jackson is the nerdy science guy with allergies and glasses. Jack O’Neil is the stoic military man of few words who sports a flat top and rarely smiles. However, there are still merits to the film. The practical effects work is a wonder to behold and the early CGI, whilst now it does look dated, was amazing at the time. The film made $200 million at the box office world wide and sequels were planned by Devlin and Emmerich who envisioned Stargate as a trilogy of movies.
In 1995 an Egyptology student named Omar Zuhdi sued the production company for $149 million – claiming that Stargate had been stolen from a manuscript he penned called Egyptscape. The case went on for a while, and whilst the Judge found in favor of Zuhdi, the case was settled out of court for $50,000. Whether or not this played a part in going with a TV series over more films is not clear. Whatever the reason, Studio Canal sold the TV rights to the Stargate film without the knowledge of Emmerich and Devlin.
I may have come across as not a fan of the film in several parts of this article, and in some ways, it is true that I don’t really regard the film in high esteem. The reason for this is because of everything that came after was far superior in my opinion. I think as a concept it was a fantastic idea, but the execution of the idea was not the best in some areas (particularly the characters who relied too much on their cliché stereotypes). However, the film is still an amazing epic, has some incredible production design and a wow factor when it comes to the photography. The epic sweeping shots of the undisturbed desert are beautiful and it laid the groundwork for everything that came next.
RE-OPENING THE GATE – STARGATE SG1
Due to the success of the original film, there was intention for Stargate to continue, the original creators of the film envisioned a trilogy of films-whilst others had a different idea. Producers Brad Wright and Jonathan Glassner had been working on The Outer Limits together and both of them, independently from each other, approached MGM with the same idea: a TV series based on the Stargate film. Upon realising they had the same idea, they decided to work together on the project. They spent three months studying the original film to learn the mechanics of the Stargate and came to a conclusion: there was no way that the Stargate would only go to one place. From the idea that the gate requires 6 symbols and the point of origin to establish a connection (and there are 38 symbols on the gate itself, not including the point of origin), you can deduce that there are 1,987,690,320 different permutations of gate addresses possible. That’s a lot of potential addresses to go to. So, it makes sense that there are Stargates all over the galaxy rather than just two.
What really appealed to Brad Wright about the series was the fact that it was humans of today who were going out and having these adventures (unlike Star Trek, where it’s set hundreds of years in the future). It was people like us. When they were breaking down the characters, they knew that they wanted to bring across Colonel Jack O’Neill (now spelt with two L’s) and Dr Daniel Jackson, but they had to also deal with the other two surviving members of the original Stargate expedition: Majors Kawalsky and Feretti. In the film, Kawalsky was portrayed by John Diehl, who they approached to see if he would be interested in reprising the role. When he turned them down, they then decided that instead of keeping the character around they would simply kill him off. Jonathan Glassner pushed for a strong female character to be one of the leads as he felt that they would better capture a female audience. He felt a character who was not your standard ‘damsel in distress’ that was usually seen in television at the time would appeal to women watching. They also wanted an alien member of the team to provide insight into the worlds that they would be exploring, so they weren’t always blindly wandering around the galaxy.
For the role of Jack O’Neill, they knew that they needed an experienced actor to lead their cast, and John Symes (who at the time was president of MGM Worldwide Television) had worked with Richard Dean Anderson on MacGyver at Paramount. Symes approached Anderson and asked him to have a look at the original film. Upon viewing the film, Anderson told Symes to “forget it”- he wasn’t interested in playing a serious military character like that for -what he knew could be as long as – 7 seasons after his experience on MacGyver. Symes went back to Anderson and explained that they had a forty-four-episode commitment from Showtime and that Anderson would be free to take the character in whatever direction he wanted. Despite not being a fan of Sci-Fi in general, the freedom to take the character where he wanted to was what convinced Anderson to take the role. He would also very quickly step up his role in the series to that of Executive Producer.
One of Anderson’s stipulations was that the cast would be an ensemble and not just one lead character with supporting characters. Each character was in their own way a lead, as he didn’t want the burden of being the single lead in the TV series as he had been previously. His other stipulation was that it would be fun. It would be a fun set to be on and that people would have fun making the series. Anderson wanted to inject his own sense of humour into the character of O’Neill, giving the character a sarcasm, which would help to really show the edge when the character went to darker places. In an early interview, he was asked about how O’Neill compared to his MacGyver character. He described them as complete opposites using the left side/right side of the brain comparison. MacGyver was a softer character whereas O’Neill was a harder edged character; there were softer sides to O’Neill but overall, he was a rigid military officer. The sense of humor really helped to offset these hard-edged elements to the character and made it fun for Anderson to play. He also started to inject more of himself into the O’Neill character including his love of dogs, fishing and The Simpsons.
The episode Cold Lazarus was written specifically to help O’Neill fully deal with the loss of his son. Whilst the character started out quite sarcastic, there was always this lingering part of the character regarding his son. He never fully got over the death, but the episode really helped O’Neill process the loss and start to fully enjoy life again. It was this which allowed them to give the character more of a sense of humor rather than the occasional sarcastic quip. The idea behind the sense of humor of the character was to add credibility to the role-if the character had remained the humorless person from the film then it would be boring to watch, and the audience would find the character less relatable. It was also a factor in Anderson taking the role, because he finds characters that can have a laugh much more interesting to play and feels that audiences find them much more interesting to watch. I believe that this trait of the character really helped the show to be as successful as it was, because the laughs set it aside from a lot of other Sci Fi series out there.
Anderson had been told before that in order for audiences to understand things in TV and film, they need everything dumbed down for them. He found this quite offensive, and in his capacity as Executive Producer, really pushed for more intelligent stories to be brought into the show. To give the audience the benefit of the doubt of their intelligence- they don’t need to be spoon fed everything. The rest of the production were already on his side and found it helpful that they had someone else ready to fight for intelligent stories. Initially, during table reads, Anderson would change lines here and there to make them funnier and, whilst it did make the cast laugh, it began to upset the writers – who felt that their writing was being disrespected. Brad Wright took him to one side and talked with him about how the writers felt, and from then on Anderson made sure to not only ask for permission to change lines, but actually worked with the writers to come up with something else. Eventually, the writers found it easier to write the O’Neill dialogue as they got used to how Anderson thought in terms of what he would say.
Because they had an established star in their lead role, the producers were able to cast unknowns in the roles of the remaining characters. Michael Shanks had studied the original movie (in particular, James Spader’s performance in the film) before his audition. When he walked into the audition, he did a perfect impersonation of Spader from the film. He was cast immediately. The Daniel Jackson role initially started out as the token translator, however, when they quickly discarded a lot of the translation required for the characters to do, (as they didn’t want every episode spending half the episode figuring out what the language was) the Jackson character became the moral center of the team.
At 26 years old at the beginning of filming, Shanks was a relative newcomer. With only a few small minor roles under his belt, he was the definition of an ‘unknown’. But, he was a very talented unknown. He spoke in an interview, detailing the reason he got interested in acting- it was because one day at the beach he saw a crew shooting a TV series and saw the star of the show. The show that was being shot was MacGyver and the star he saw was Richard Dean Anderson, his future co-star. Over the course of the series, Shanks’ Daniel Jackson would slowly come out of the shadow of the James Spader imitation that he did in his original audition. Shanks brought a sincerity to the role that was impressive- considering his relative inexperience. He embodied the character of Daniel Jackson and worked little mannerisms into the character wherever he could. From the way he would put his glasses on, to the way he would stand with his arms folded, the little subtleties that were brought into the character were what made his performance so good. He would also branch out in his roles in the series- most notably he would provide the voice of the Asgard Thor. However, his turn as Ma’chello was of particular impress. In the season 2 episode, Holiday, Shanks would go through a rigorous make up process to play both Daniel Jackson and the elderly Ma’chello. It really helped showcase his abilities as an actor that he was able to seamlessly play both characters with the vast majority of the audience being unaware until the end credits rolled that it was Shanks in both roles.
It wasn’t just the episodes where he played other characters that Shanks excelled. He brought so much to the character of Daniel Jackson that he elevated the character from the cliched, geeky archaeologist to a deep, three-dimensional character. The first main character arc of trying to save his wife was what drove the character throughout the first three seasons, but after that was wrapped up it was his wondrous nature that kept him going. The character had a need to explore; to amass knowledge- as the mythology of the series grew deeper, it was Daniel Jackson who was there to uncover its secrets and that was why audiences fell madly in love with the character. Although, as the series got on and the character had less to do, it would be these repetitive traits to the character that would ultimately drive Michael Shanks away from the series (but we’ll get to that later).
Captain (later Major and then Lt. Colonel) Samantha Carter: what can I say about Sam? One hundred percent the first crush of my adolescent years, as I’m sure she was for a lot of Stargate fans my age. She wasn’t just a beautiful woman though; Carter was smart, tough and funny. Her brain was her most powerful weapon and it laid on the shoulders of a young actress called Amanda Tapping to handle the majority of the techno-babble of the series. Whilst the Daniel Jackson character dealt with the mythological and historical aspects of the series, it was Sam Carter who had to deal with the futuristic technological marvels and explain them to us.
Amanda Tapping was in her early thirties and had mostly only advertisements on her resume when she won the role of Captain Samantha Carter. She made the decision very early on to thoroughly research the science that she was going to talk about in each episode. The main reason for this was that she wanted to come across as authentic and not like someone who is just reading from a script. This commitment to the role is one of the reasons the character came across as so genuine. She would get into the habit of spending about 2 hours each evening doing her own research into the science she would be talking about the next day. It was Jonathan Glassner who pushed for a tough female role for the series and not only was she tough, but she was the brains of SG1, particularly when it came to the science. Some of the dialogue in the first season that she had to say was a little cringe-worthy- the reproductive organs line especially being particularly bad. According to Brad Wright, it was Jonathan Glassner who really pushed for that line to be in the original pilot. When they were editing it, Wright would remove it, and he would go back after Glassner had been in with the editor to find it re-inserted.
Tapping hadn’t realized initially how physical the role was going to be, but she was really glad for all the physical stuff she got to do and was even happier as the series progressed that it was expanded. She threw herself into the physicality of the role-sometimes a little too hard though. During filming the second episode, her character is thrown against the back of an elevator and Tapping launched herself so hard against the wall that when she hit it, her head impacted hard and she gave herself a concussion. The shot of her slumping down to the floor in the lift was not acting- it was real. It looks great because of it, but she was dissuaded from causing personal injury in the future. Tapping said that initially her character felt very one dimensional, but as the series progressed and her character evolved, she found that it became a dream role for any actor. This was because she got to play so many different sides of the character. She had the intense philosophical debates, the technological wizardry, the intense physical scenes, the light-hearted comedic scenes and the heart wrenching dramatic scenes. Amanda Tapping described the character as a mixture of Colonel O’Neill and Daniel Jackson.
Teal’C was a hard character to cast for the producers- that was until Christopher Judge walked in for his audition. They took one look at him and said “OK, send everyone else home”. What really sold them on casting Judge was his intense physical presence and his ability to turn off his emotions and deliver lines in a stoic, almost robotic, manner. The irony being that Christopher Judge himself was the exact opposite to Teal’C- in Judge’s own words, he is loud and obnoxious. He and Richard Dean Anderson got into the habit of trying to out fart each other- it was almost like a contest to them. The character of Teal’C started out very subdued and more like a robot than a living person, but as the series went on more the character developed and we saw more of his emotions coming out. Judge spoke about when he went to the audition there were people from all kinds of ethnic origins waiting to read for the role. He only found out about the role because he was at his friend’s house and overheard his friend’s roommate reading lines. When he went out, Judge took a peak at the script and immediately called his agent and told him that if he didn’t get him an audition then Judge would fire him.
Teal’C was an interesting character because when we first meet him, he is the right-hand man to the main villain, Apophis. He started out as a wooden and almost robotic character, however, as the series continued on, he became more and more-dare I say-human in his interactions with the characters. To the point that, by the end of the series, he is referencing pop-culture. Whether or not that was a step too far is debatable, however it was the natural progression for an alien character who starts to assimilate themselves into human culture, that they would pick up elements of our pop-culture. Teal’C’s backstory is explored throughout the course of the whole series- we meet his family, old flames and his mentor, a fan favourite character Master Bra’Tac. Teal’C’s knowledge of Goa’uld culture and organization became invaluable to the team in their travels through the gate and the exploration of the crimes that Teal’C committed (whilst under the service of Apophis) made for interesting viewing. It asked the question of whether there was enough good the character could do to make up for all the bad they did in service of the Goa’uld. This was explored in detail in the season 1 episode, Cor-ai.
Christopher Judge, over the course of the series, would push for more episodes that explore the Jaffa culture. Not necessarily even Teal’C centric episodes. He would write several episodes that explored the Jaffa as a race and contribute to the development of the species. Sometimes these contributions would be unintentional, as with the inclusion of Kelno’reem. Kelno’reem is a Jaffa meditation technique that was created because, in the earlier seasons, Judge would go out partying until the early hours and spend most of the filming day hungover if it was a light day for him. One day, after a particularly heavy night, Judge was sat at the briefing room table and had his eyes closed. When being asked if he was asleep Judge responded with something about meditating because Teal’C meditates. A few episodes after this Kelno’reem was introduced. This became a huge part of the Teal’C character and they expanded on it using it to delve into backstory and push stories forward in later seasons. Judge also had a connection with Richard Dean Anderson- he had guest starred in an episode of MacGyver in 1990 as a high school student that MacGyver mentors. Richard Dean Anderson has since admitted that he didn’t remember working with Judge on MacGyver.
Because Michael Shanks, Amanda Tapping and Christopher Judge were the unknowns, they also were the ones who were paid the least. The three of them stayed in the same hotel whilst they filmed the pilot which helped build up their friendship. Amanda Tapping described it as they lived out of each other’s pockets during filming the pilot. The three of them grew very close and when the series was picked up their friendship stayed strong. Once they all got to know Richard Dean Anderson, the four of them gelled so well that the set became a very fun place to work for everyone.
Don S Davis rounded off the main cast as Major General George Hammond. He was introduced to replace the character of General West from the original movie. If Colonel O’Neill was the older brother to the team, General Hammond was the loving father to them. However, his character didn’t start off that way. He was quite a stern person in the early seasons, but they did work on lighter, more caring moments for the character, but it took a little longer to soften the character to what he became. Even though the character started off as hard-nosed, even in the first season there were moments where you saw that he had the backs of everyone who he commanded. Throughout the seasons, the character softened and even begun to smile on a regular basis. We started to find more out about his family and his history in the military. Even the set decoration built up the back story for Hammond- they decorated his office with medals and commendations including a knife that was awarded exclusively to Vietnam Veterans. It was Davis himself who tried to soften the character of Hammond by adding the different dimensions to his character, off handed remarks about his grandchildren were added at Davis’ request. Davis was himself a real military veteran, he served as a Captain in the US Army and was stationed in Korea during the Vietnam War. As a personnel and administration officer he worked alongside a lot of Generals and stated that experience was something that helped him in his portrayal of General Hammond.
Don S Davis was used to playing authority figures as he had portrayed many of them throughout his acting career. He also had a connection to MacGyver– he was the photo and occasional stunt double for Dana Elcar, Elcar played MacGyver’s boss in the series. It was a weird closing of the circle that he had doubled for Richard Dean Anderson’s boss and now was playing his boss.
The series had a rocky first season with some episodes being incredible, and some episodes being downright awful. A first season is usually difficult as everyone is getting into a rhythm of who their characters are, the writers are getting used to what the show is, and directors are trying to establish a look for the show. The pilot was a strong start but throughout the first half of the first season, the quality of the episodes was not great. They also had to contend with interference from Showtime from time to time- the most notable instance is the full-frontal female nudity in the pilot episode. That was all Showtime- Brad Wright and Jonathan Glassner were completely against it as that was not the kind of show they wanted to make. Showtime gave up trying to sex up the show during the first season but some of the early episodes show that influence in them. Wright and Glassner were able to push back more against the inclusion of nudity as the show went to a full series. The latter half of the first season was a definite improvement on overall quality from the first half, with the season ending on a nail biting cliff-hanger- the knowledge that they were coming back for certain and they could afford to end the season on a cliff-hanger.
The forty-four-episode order from Showtime was an unprecedented commitment to a first run cable show. What was even more unprecedented was that half way through the first season, they doubled their order to eighty-eight episodes. So, the producers knew for certain that they were going to get four seasons. This meant that they were free to set up long running arcs and continue them running for longer without fear of them being cut short. The fact that the series got off to the strongest viewership figures Showtime had got for a premiere episode certainly helped their decision- 1.5 million households tuned in on July 27th, 1997 to the premiere episode. Wright was certain that if they had been on any other network than Showtime, then the series wouldn’t have made it past its first season. Despite some initial attempts to influence the producers, Showtime, for the most part, left them alone to take the show in whatever direction they wanted.
Throughout the first season they had a lot of one- or two-time directors shooting the episodes, but it also had an episode in the latter part of the season directed by a man who would become synonymous with the big epic episodes. Martin Wood directed the season 1 episode, Solitudes, for that episode they shot on a refrigerated Sound Studio and brought in real snow and ice instead of simulating it. The shoot was a difficult one for the cast and crew due to the freezing temperatures. The sequence when Carter slips and slides down the ice wall was not scripted- Amanda Tapping actually slipped when climbing up and slid all the way down the set. Martin Wood would go on to direct a further forty-six episodes of Stargate SG1, including the epic two-part Season 7 finale The Lost City. If the episode had huge action then more often than not, it was Martin Wood who was behind the camera. Wood’s direction and meticulous planning assisted the series in having these huge spectacular action set pieces on a television budget. For any new set that was being created, he would receive preliminary sketches followed by small maquettes (models) of the sets that he would use to come up with ideas on how to shoot scenes. This allowed the episode to be story-boarded with how the set was going to look well before the set was constructed. This saved a lot of time in the shooting schedule. When shooting the season 6 episode, Frozen, Wood refrigerated the very same sound-stage he had refrigerated for his very first episode and they did the same thing for The Lost City as well.
Another regular Stargate SG1 director was Peter DeLuise. DeLuise, son of comedy actor Dom DeLuise, started out as an actor himself. His most famous role was opposite Johnny Depp in the 80s TV series 21 Jump Street. DeLuise’s first episode was the season 2 episode, Serpent’s Song, and he very quickly became a prolific SG1 director, directing a total of 56 out of the 214 episodes. If Martin Wood was the go-to director for the huge epic episodes, then DeLuise was the go-to director for the smaller character-driven episodes. As a director, DeLuise was what you would call an ‘actor’s director’- he knew his craft as a director, but he also knew how to direct people. This was partially down to his experience as an actor. DeLuise started a tradition of episode directors appearing as background characters in their own episodes. Martin Wood would pick up this and would usually be seen hanging around with Sgt Siler and a giant wrench. DeLuise would usually be in the background or have a very brief speaking role in the episode. His characters names would also reference characters he had played in the past- the Airman uniform he wears in several episodes has the name Penhall on it, a reference to his 21 Jump Street character. As a director DeLuise would often pay homage to other films in his style. DeLuise is a huge cinephile and loved watching films. He took inspiration from all kinds of films and injected that inspiration into his own work. He spoke of being inspired by the 1985 film Enemy Mine for his episode The First Ones and he talked about how, for the episode Allegiance he took heavy inspiration from the film Predator, even to the point of copying some of the camera moves from the film.
As the most prolific of the SG1 directors, both Wood and DeLuise would have long stretches of episodes in a season where the directorial duties of each episode would alternate between each of them. In particular, season 4, where for the first ten episodes the director would alternate from Wood to DeLuise and back to Wood and then back to DeLuise. The episodes worked so well because each director brought their own unique take on the material, but at the same time no episode felt out of place. Where Wood was a director primarily, DeLuise also tried his hand at writing for the show as well. He wrote 13 episodes, including the episode The First Ones, which took a more in depth look at the Unas and their origins. DeLuise and Christopher Judge worked together on the season 5 episode The Warrior. In the episode, DeLuise included several Capoeira practitioners to establish some sort of Jaffa martial art and it was only by chance that he found the Capoeira people. He had seen a sign up for classes when he was at the gym and went along to watch, DeLuise brought each of the Capoeira practitioners onto the episode and they worked with the stunt team to design fight scenes. These same fighting techniques would be used again in the season 7 episode, Orpheus. Of all the writers on the series, it was DeLuise who sought to explore and expand the Unas and the Jaffa and their respective cultures more than any others.
When it came to the writers, series creators Brad Wright and Jonathan Glassner worked on a lot of the first season’s scripts. The fifth episode of the series, The First Commandment, was written by Robert C. Cooper. Cooper would rise through the ranks from staff writer all the way up to Executive Producer and co-creator of spin offs Stargate Atlantis and Stargate Universe. When you look at Cooper’s episodes, the quality of the stories varies a lot. He wrote some excellent episodes such as The Fifth Race, Nemesis and Meridian but to name a few, however, some of the episodes he wrote were also seen to be some of the worst the series had to offer. The writing team of Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie joined the series in season 4 and their first episode, Window of Opportunity, is seen by many SG1 fans to be one of the best- if not the best- episodes of the whole series. Interestingly enough, when they originally pitched the idea to Brad Wright, he turned them down due to a very similar episode having been made on Star Trek The Next Generation. Mallozzi and Mullie worked on their idea a bit more and came up with the idea of it just being O’Neill and Teal’C who had any memory of the loop, Wright went for it. Mallozzi and Mullie wrote quite a lot of Earth-bound episodes in their tenure as writers on the show and in an audio commentary on one of the DVDs, Peter DeLuise joked that Brad Wright had to keep reminding them that they had the Stargate to go to other worlds with. Various other writers also joined the team and some writers would write one or two episodes of the series before leaving. Even though Brad Wright was more of a producer, he would still write episodes all the way into the final season of the series.
The writers had a knack of being able to quickly adapt the scripts for unexpected events or changing them when something better than they had originally written had become available. One such unexpected event was during the season 3 finale and just before filming was to commence, Michael Shanks appendix blew. They knew that there was no way that Shanks could be in the episode, so they quickly wrote him out and then worked tirelessly to come up with a reason why he was not in the episode. Robert C. Cooper thought, why not just have his appendix blow? It was an interesting idea, as we had seen them fight hordes of enemy soldiers and be OK, but there were still the regular things that could affect them. The scenes with Daniel Jackson in the episode were shot weeks after principal photography had completed, as Shanks was still recovering for quite a while. The season 4 opening episode Small Victories originally had a fishing trawler being the vessel at sea that was taken over by the Replicators. However, a real Russian submarine became available to shoot on, so they changed it to a Russian submarine. Interestingly, the plot point of it being a Russian Submarine would actually form part of the larger arc regarding the inclusion of the Russian government into the Stargate program.
The stunt team was led by Dan Shea, who also portrayed Sergeant Siler on the series. Shea would have his team performing stunts and using techniques that were typically only used on feature films (such as rachet pulls and air rams) to propel people into the air. Without these spectacular stunt performers literally risking life and limb, the show wouldn’t have had the action-packed elements that kept audiences returning. They would do quick in-camera switches between the stunt double and the actual actor to sell it that the character was doing these incredible fights and it worked, the way they used the camera to hide the stunt performer’s face and then have the real actor swap in was seamless.
The series had the full cooperation of the United States Air Force during filming, and they had an Air Force liaison who would work with the producers and oversee the scripts for any errors in how the Air Force operates. It is quite easy to see at what point in the first season the Air Force advisors came on board. This is seen as General Hammond would go from wearing his full-dress uniform in briefings to a white duty shirt, as the full-dress uniforms were never used for just every day briefings. The Air Force provided valuable insight to the inner workings of their organisation so that the series could be accurate in their portrayal of the service. Because of the cooperation with the USAF, the production crew were able to get access to the real Cheyanne Mountain complex to get several stock shots for establishing the location. It was rare that they outright objected to anything the writers wrote, however, when it came to a relationship between O’Neill and Carter, they said that officers of their positions would never be allowed to engage in such a relationship. They stuck so vehemently to this that they insisted on O’Neill resigning before kissing Carter in one of the time loops during Window of Opportunity.
Not only did the Air Force give them notes on keeping things accurate, they also provided them with equipment from time to time. Most notably, in the episode Watergate, they had a real C-130 detour to Vancouver specifically for the SG1 crew to shoot it. They weren’t allowed to shoot on the plane flying due to Canadian air space rules, but the USAF pilot who was flying the C-130 said for them to jump in and they shot footage out of the open back of the C-130-which made it into the episode. In the season 6 premiere episode, they also had real USAF F-16 fighters in the background of several shots on an airfield. Not only would they provide the production with Air Force equipment, but also personnel. They had not just one- but two- US Air Force Chiefs of Staff appear in episodes; the first was during season 4 when they had General Michael Ryan appear; and then in the season 7 finale Lost City General John Jumper appeared. Whilst filming with General Ryan, Richard Dean Anderson asked him if his portrayal of an Air Force Colonel was at all accurate. According to Anderson, Ryan stopped him mid-sentence and said, “Son, we have Colonels in the Air Force like you, and worse. You’re doing a fine job”. I remember reading in a magazine called SFX when it was announced that General Jumper was going to appear in an episode, that when he was made Chief of Staff of the USAF, he jokingly said in a speech, “Now, when do I get to be on Stargate?”
In 2004 Richard Dean Anderson was invited to Washington DC to accept an award on behalf of the series for all the work they had done to show the Air Force in an accurate light. He was incredibly honoured by this, and to his utter shock he was also honoured himself with an honorary rank of Brigadier General in the USAF and presented with a set of stars by General Jumper. Of this experience, Anderson said that he was incredibly humbled by the whole affair as the people who were at the dinner were the real deal and he was just an actor.
The art department on Stargate SG1 was one of the most inclusive teams; they worked alongside pretty much everyone. They would work closely with the production designers and the visual effects teams to make sure that the look of the show was consistent throughout. Richard Hudolin had been brought in as the lead production designer on the pilot episode. He was tasked with recreating the Stargate from scratch. He flew out to Los Angeles and found the original prop (which was in serious disrepair) and managed to take several casts from it to build their production Stargate from. There were a few changes he made to the Stargate; the inclusion of light up chevrons and retooling the dialling sequence, so that each symbol locked in place on the very top chevron. The Stargate itself was computer controlled and they could stop it anywhere they needed with ease. The smoke that was generated by the Stargate whilst it was dialling was created by simply putting some dry ice into slots on the Stargate itself.
Even though the Stargate was an impressive prop, what was more impressive was the set that it was held in. The Gateroom, corridor, Control Room, Briefing Room and General Hammond’s office were all one huge set. It was impressive and gave directors the ability to have someone come through the Stargate, walk into the Control Room and then up into the Briefing Room all in one take. It was one of the largest single sets for a television series at the time. Hudolin wanted it to be even larger; he had originally designed a three floor set but was told that he could only have two floors for it. The set was expanded even further as the series went on and the room on the other side of the Gateroom was actually a multipurpose room that they used for the infirmary, gymnasium and cafeteria- amongst other sets. The wall behind the Stargate was moveable as well and had a green-screen behind it so they could easily superimpose the Stargate puddle. To save money on some shots, they would do the gate effect just reflecting on the actors. This was achieved by projecting a light against a reflective sheet held up with a stand and off camera a grip would gently shake the pole the stand was on.
The briefing room scenes were always difficult days as they usually consisted of a lot of dialogue and it got to the point where they struggled to do anything different with the shots, because they had the issue of the table being so huge. One of the directors had the idea of cutting the desk in half so they could easily move the camera around. This allowed them more freedom on shooting the briefing room scenes. However, they were still difficult days to shoot as they were mostly heavy dialogue scenes, and sometimes when they were behind, they had to shoot multiple camera setups. On Lost City, they were running behind, and instead of the usual two camera setup for the briefing room scene they had a four-camera setup.
Whenever they had to shoot on a Goa’uld ship they would have to build a set. It got to the point where it was costing them so much to keep building Goa’uld ship sets, that between season 6 and 7 they decided that they would create a standing Goa’uld ship set for season 7 and put different lighting rigs in place so they could light it differently. This helped keep the costs down and because they could light it in multiple different ways, it would never look like the same set from episode to episode. Having said that, they did have nearly $100,000 worth of lighting rigs built into the set, so they could light it in so many different ways.
For location shooting they had a portable Stargate that took 6 people an entire day to set up and several trucks to transport to the location. Where the SGC gate was completely computer controllable, the on-set one wasn’t. It was also made from rubber rather than fibreglass. They shot in and around Vancouver whilst on location, their main base was at Bridge Studios where they would end up using 75% of their studio space including holding the production offices.
Rainmaker Digital Effects provided the visual effects for the series throughout its 10 season run. One of the visual effects artists in the first season was Neil Blomkamp, who went on to become a successful film director. The visual effects were achieved with various different methods- sometimes the blending of live action with the visual effects and sometimes they were 100% computer generated imagery. The kawoosh effect of the Stargate activating was initially done in the same way to how it was created on the film- by firing an air cannon into water, but this became too costly to keep doing so they had a computer model built of the kawoosh to reduce costs and allow them more freedom of movement in the placement. By the time season 4 came around, the VFX department had advanced to the point where they could create a fully CGI Asgard and the sequence of Thor walking through the Stargate in the episode Small Victories was a CGI effect. They would still use the puppets to cut down on costs when they could but now, they had the ability to show the Asgard walking around which they couldn’t do before.
The VFX team would sometimes have to fill in missing parts of a set or a prop, for example, in the Season 6 episode, Redemption, they built a cockpit for the X-302. The wings and fuselage were all created in CGI and blended seamlessly with the live action photography. The use of matte paintings blended with CGI effects was used quite often and by the time they were in the seventh season, they started using green-screen more, which made a camera set up a lot quicker to achieve as they were able to set up the green screen a lot quicker. It also gave them more freedom as to what they could show on the background. The VFX work was not cheap though- even minor changes that effected the VFX could cost thousands. In the episode The Tomb, just before walking through the Stargate, Richard Dean Anderson decided to mime slapping the event horizon and they didn’t get a version of the shot without him doing that. That slap cost the VFX team $3,000 and the additional expense was actually taken out of Anderson’s pay check. Director Peter DeLuise got into a bit of trouble from the producers for not shooting a version without the slap.
The Asgard puppets went through several different designs; the original one was very basic and had very little articulation. With each new iteration of the puppet, the design became more and more advanced thanks to advances in puppetry. The puppeteers liked to have fun on the set-there is apparently a gag reel somewhere of the Thor puppet doing a very adult stand-up comedy routine. During the shooting of Small Victories, the puppeteer controlling Thor moved the hand up and touched Amanda Tapping’s bum. She turned around and slapped the puppet. Almost instinctively, she then apologized to the puppet before realizing that she had just said sorry to a latex covered puppet. Of the Thor puppet, Richard Dean Anderson used to joke that he was his favorite actor to work with.
At the end of the third season, Jonathan Glassner left the series and Robert C. Cooper took his place, Glassner still kept a consultant role on the series for a couple more seasons. Showtime would pick up the series for another twenty-two episodes taking them to a total of 110 episodes. They would decide to not renew the series past the fifth season. The producers were not content with ending after a fifth season, so they started approaching other networks to see if they had any interest. The series was doing quite well in syndication on other networks, so they were certain that someone would be willing to pick them up. However, Michael Shanks had grown tired of the series and decided to not renew his contract. Shanks cited creative differences and feeling that the Daniel Jackson character was being underused as the main issues that caused his departure. He also wanted to take on more challenging roles. Instead of killing Daniel outright, the producers decided to have him ascend so they had the option to bring him back if Shanks ever reconsidered. In a convention after the series had ended, he was asked why he left after season 5, he jokingly replied that he hated Robert C. Cooper. He then on went to explain that he wanted to explore other roles and do theatre work, but some people do feel like the Cooper comment was not entirely in jest as he had also said previously that he didn’t like the direction the show and his character were going in. Fans revolted at the thought of Daniel Jackson leaving and even set up a Save Daniel Jackson website- the national coverage that came with this campaign was what convinced the Sci-Fi Channel to pick up the series for a sixth season. The series would remain on Sci-Fi until its cancellation at the end of its tenth season.
With Daniel Jackson out of the series they needed a fourth member of the team to replace him with: enter Jonas Quinn. Corin Nemec was hired to take on the role of an alien banished from his homeworld who would join the SG1 team. Amanda Tapping spoke of her decision to be harsher towards the character of Jonas Quinn in the first episode to be true to the friendship between Carter and Jackson. Jonas was not well received by the fans of the series and I feel that the main issue with that is down to how he was introduced. He is partly responsible for the death of Daniel Jackson and even goes along initially with his government’s attempts to smear Daniel’s name. Even though the writers did provide redemption for these actions, the audience never really came around to the Jonas character. Whilst Corin Nemec tried to differentiate his character from Daniel Jackson by being much more enthusiastic, the character took on the Jackson role on the team which led to fans referring to Jonas as a knock off Daniel Jackson. Personally, I didn’t mind Jonas as much as other fans, however I do appreciate their viewpoint and I can understand where they are coming from with their criticisms.
The season 6 opening episode, Redemption, had originally been envisioned as a single episode. They had so much to fit into the episode, along with fully introducing the Jonas character, that the episode ended up becoming a two-parter. Amanda Tapping and Christopher Judge found the first few episodes without Michael Shanks really strange, as the three of them had grown so close over the course of the series starting with the pilot. As I mentioned earlier, they had been living out of each other’s pockets throughout the course of the making of the pilot, which forged their friendship. Michael Shanks did return for three episodes during the sixth season; the first was Abyss where he comforts O’Neill whilst he is being tortured by the Goa’uld Ba’al. When speaking about returning to the series for guest appearances, Michael Shanks said it was a lot of fun to see everyone again and knowing that he was only there for a few days meant that he could really have fun and then go off and do something else. Season 6 also introduced a new concept for the series: an Earth built Starship, the Prometheus. The episode that introduced the ship was not one of Richard Dean Anderson’s favorite episodes to shoot, as he found the scenario of the episode quite ludicrous and suggested several changes which were taken on board. The reason he didn’t like the episode so much was because the idea that a camera crew would get past background checks and not be discovered to be rogue NID agents just seemed so absurd to him. He was able to channel his frustration at the setup into his performance which is why O’Neill is so aggravated when confronting Major Davis.
The season 6 finale, Full Circle, was originally slated to be the series finale, and from here on out, every season finale was expected to be the series finale, which meant that the season finales had much larger budgets. Full Circle took the team back to Abydos in an attempt to stop the Goa’uld Anubis from obtaining the Eye of Ra. The conclusion of the episode left Abydos destroyed with a spectacular explosion of the Pyramid. Director Martin Wood spoke in a behind the scenes special about the episode that the initial budget for the model Pyramid they had come in at $50,000- to which he thought that was an impressive amount of money for a single effects shot. When the final budget came in for the Pyramid it was $100,000- which just blew his mind. The effect was certainly impressive as they designed the Pyramid to explode in sections, starting at the top and going down towards the ground. They added a shockwave effect in post to complete the look but for the most part, what you see is a practical explosion of the Pyramid.
When they returned for a seventh season Michael Shanks had been convinced to return to the series- much to the fans delight. Also, at the beginning of Season 7, Richard Dean Anderson had a much-reduced schedule (as his daughter had been taken back to Los Angeles by her mother and Anderson did not want to miss out on her growing up). The producers worked out a way to make it work, and Anderson would work 3 days a week and every month have a whole week off. The benefits of his reduced time meant that the other characters were able to get more screen time and be developed further.
The episode Heroes was originally intended to be a single episode, but when the script was finished it was about fifteen pages too long, not wanting to cut anything they decided instead to add to it and turn the episode into a two-parter. The episode was originally envisioned as an on-base episode where you would follow the film crew and never see anything that they didn’t see. However, with the expansion they wrote off world scenes- including one of the most intense battle sequences Stargate SG1 had throughout the entire series run. Season 7 also introduced the Kull Warriors, a new type of Goa’uld soldier. These Super Soldiers were introduced as a reaction to more and more Jaffa rebelling and the Goa’uld having less trust in their Jaffa. Whilst the episode was being written, the writer, Damien Kindler, would be in constant contact with the art department getting updates on how the soldiers were going to look. Kindler spoke about coming up with an idea for removing one of the helmets, and a load of mucus being on the inside of the helmet and speaking to the art department to see if that were possible. The art department would then alter the design to make it possible. The collaboration that the writers and art department had on a lot of episodes was fantastic, which is why they were able to turn out feature film level productions week after week.
Again, with season 7 being spoken of being the last season, they designed a series finale that, in part, was designed to set up the spin-off series that Brad Wright and Robert C. Cooper had come up with. The Lost City was originally intended to be a feature film, but as time went on, they realized that the likelihood of them getting a feature deal was becoming less and less, so they decided to use the idea as what they thought would be the series finale. The Lost City was a huge two-parter, which had a huge budget and so many VFX shots that it was not the last episode to be shot- because the post production team needed so much time to complete the VFX work that they had to shoot it earlier. Whilst shooting The Lost City, Amanda Tapping was also prepping her directorial debut episode, Resurrection. When they realised that they would be picked up for an eighth season, the producers knew that they would be running SG1 and the spin off series Atlantis concurrently.
With season 8 came a lot of changes. Due to Richard Dean Anderson’s reduced schedule, it was becoming more and more difficult for him to be the leader of SG1. Don S Davis also departed the series due to health problems, which opened up the commander of the SGC to be filled. To help work around Anderson’s reduced schedule, they promoted O’Neill to Brigadier General and put him in charge of the SGC. Another promotion came to Major Carter who was promoted to Lt. Colonel and given command of SG1. Another change was the episode run was cut from twenty-two episodes to twenty, although the same production team were also producing twenty episodes of the spin off Stargate Atlantis, which meant they were actually producing forty episodes instead of twenty-two. Another huge change was that Teal’C was sporting a full head of hair. In a behind-the-scenes special for season 7, Christopher Judge talked about his hope to have hair before the series ended- for season 8 he was finally allowed to grow his hair. With this change, Teal’C also started to grow more as a character. In an episode of season 8 he even got a place to live off base.
The spin off series Stargate Atlantis (which I will cover in the next part), had more attention given to it by the network, so SG1 was able to get away with a few things more than normal. The episode Prometheus Unbound is an example of this, as it was quite broad in its comedy, which Michael Shanks didn’t think they would have gotten away with if they tried to do the episode in season 7. Prometheus Unbound guest starred Claudia Black as Vala Mal Doran, a thief. But much more than a thief, she was once a host to a Goa’uld. Black and Shanks had such great on screen chemistry and her character was so popular, that they would bring her back later on.
The producers had expected from season 5 onwards that each season would be the last so when it came to season 8, they decided it was time to wrap up the Goa’uld storyline and end the series. Season 8 was heading towards a huge showdown, and we ended up with a three-episode arc; one of the episodes when it aired in the UK was an extended episode as well, which finished off the Goa’uld’s domination of the galaxy. It was an incredible end to the story; epic in scope and blew my mind when I first saw it. The season 8 finale, originally intended to be the series finale, capped off the whole series by returning SG1 back in time to 3000 BC, when Ra was ruling the Earth, then creating an alternate timeline that brought back many characters from the first season including Apophis and Major Kawalsky. The series had a satisfying ending- the characters main arcs were all nicely wrapped up and the galaxy was safe. Then they were renewed for season 9.
With the renewal of the series for a ninth season, there were more changes. Brad Wright and Robert C. Cooper had toyed with the idea of changing the name of the series beginning with season 9 and calling it Stargate Command- not focusing on SG1. When they realized that the audience would not like that, they kept it with SG1, but they knew that Richard Dean Anderson was done as a regular. Anderson didn’t want to leave because he had so much fun shooting the show, but his daughter was getting to the age where he wanted to make sure that he was around a lot more for her, so he made the decision to leave the show and go into a state of semi-retirement. In response to this, a new set of characters was introduced. Lt. Colonel Cameron Mitchell and Major General Hank Landry were brought in, played by Ben Browder and Beau Bridges respectively. Wright and Cooper had initially wanted Browder for the lead role in Atlantis, but he was unavailable due to his commitment to Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars. When creating the character of Cameron Mitchell, Wright and Cooper had Browder in mind.
Browder fit in with the cast quickly and both he and Christopher Judge formed a close friendship- they would often screw around on set together having lots of fun. It did start to annoy Michael Shanks a little- to the point of during filming an episode the hijinks got to such an extreme level Shanks actually put earplugs in, so he didn’t have to listen to them. Browder had a similar sensibility towards his job as Richard Dean Anderson did, he was there to have fun and he wanted to look after the crew as much as his fellow castmates.
Michael Shanks spoke about returning for season 9, and that he really enjoyed it because the introduction of the new cast members. The return of Claudia Black meant there was a renewed sense of enjoyment for the role because it felt fresh and new. He also spoke about the decision to have Jackson sporting a beard for the first few episodes, and according to Shanks, that was to differentiate Jackson from Mitchell, as there were concerns that new viewers would be confused as they felt that Browder and Shanks had a similar look to them.
The cast and production team felt that Beau Bridges brought with him an air of class to the series. Bridges had been in the business since he was a child and came from a family of Hollywood royalty-his father Lloyd Bridges was a well renowned actor of his generation and his brother Jeff is an even bigger star. Acting is in his blood and it shows in his performance. He had such a presence on the screen it was easy to buy him as a Military General.
Season 9 and 10 of Stargate SG1 felt somewhat like a different show- for the most part the Goa’uld are gone (save for a few small factions that were trying desperately to hold onto their power), the Jaffa were free and forming their own government. In some ways, Season 9 feels like the denouement to season 8- the wrap up of the story after the big evil has been defeated and how life in the galaxy has changed. The introduction of the Ori so late made the series feel like something completely different, and for some it was quite disappointing. The main issue I had with the Ori was that the characters had just defeated an enemy who demanded people worship them as Gods, and the next big villains who enter the scene are an enemy who demand people worship them as Gods. Add to it that due to her pregnancy, Amanda Tapping did not really return to the series until episode 6. There was something un-SG1 about the first quarter of Season 9.
Despite these early issues, season 9 still had some fantastic episodes. The two-parter, The Fourth Horseman, is a particular standout, and the season finale –Camelot– ends season 9 on their first cliff-hanger ending since season 4.
Season 10 would be the last season of Stargate SG1; it was announced shortly after the 200th episode aired that the Sci-Fi Channel would not be renewing the series for an eleventh season and that the tenth would be the last. There was an outpouring of emotion from the cast and crew at the announcement, as well as pleads from the fans to not end the series. The continued interested from the fans would yet again save SG1 from complete oblivion. Whilst the series would not return, MGM commissioned two direct-to-DVD movies- the first was to wrap up the Ori storyline, whilst the second was a time travelling epic that would be reminiscent of the SG1 episodes when it was at its peak. Stargate SG1’s final episode, Unending, aired on 22nd June 2007- almost ten years after the airing of Children of the Gods. Instead of a bombastic action packed spectacular, the series finale was a more subdued and moving episode that saw SG1 in a time dilation field growing old. It was not the finale we expected for the show but nonetheless is was a beautifully produced episode.
The first of two direct-to -DVD movies, Stargate: The Ark of Truth, was written and directed by Robert C. Cooper and released on DVD on the 11th March 2008. It was made on a budget of $7 million and returned to using 35mm film (as from season 8 they had shot on HD video). The film was primarily a way to wrap up the Ori storyline and whilst it did that, there was -what I felt -an unnecessary subplot involving the Replicators. I feel that they could have used the time that the replicator subplot used to better explore more of the Ori plot. The follow up film Stargate: Continuum, I felt was the stronger of the two films. Continuum was directed by Martin Wood and written by Brad Wright. The film was a time travel yarn which had Ba’al going back in time and sinking the Earth Stargate as it is being transported across the Atlantic Ocean in 1939-which meant that the Earth humans never opened the Stargate. The film was shot again on a budget of $7 million and brought back Richard Dean Anderson along with the rest of the regular cast. The most impressive part of the film is the sequence in the Arctic, which they actually shot on location in the Arctic. A sequence that involved a real US Navy Submarine surfacing through two feet of ice, they would also shoot on board the Submarine itself. The film was released on both DVD and Blu-Ray, the only SG1 starring Blu-Ray release so far and got a much more positive reception than Ark of Truth. A third SG1 film was planned but never went into production.
The series, as a whole, boasted an impressive main cast, but also a fantastic set of regular recurring guest stars who themselves became integral to the main unit that was Stargate SG1. Teryl Rothery portrayed Dr Janet Fraiser in seventy-seven episodes of the series- her character started off as a one-off guest appearance who didn’t even have a first name. Rothery and Amanda Tapping built up a great on-screen chemistry and a very close off-screen friendship which was probably one of the reasons she was continually brought back. In real life, Rothery is 5’2, so in order to for them to be able to frame shots better she would wear special shoes with large lifts in them as most of her male co-stars were over 6 feet tall. The character of Fraiser would be developed more and more throughout the first seven seasons of the series, before she is given a hero’s death in the emotional season 7 episode, Heroes. Her death was both shocking and indicative of the character, she dies trying to save a life.
Another recurring character is one who was one of the few characters to appear in both the first and last episodes of the whole series. Sergeant Walter Harriman, the man who, for the majority of the series, would announce “chevron seven LOCKED!” The character was just in the scripts as ‘Technician’ for the majority of the series, even Gary Jones, the actor who portrayed him, didn’t know what his name was. He was told that his name was Harriman Davis, the flight suit he wore had the name Norman Davis and Richard Dean Anderson adlibbed his first name as Walter in the episode 2010. It wasn’t until season 8 his name was officially established as Walter Harriman. Walter was, in some way, an integral part to the series as his voice became the announcement for most of the activity around the Stargate.
There were other recurring characters who appeared less often, but their characters became fan favourites very quickly. Two that spring to mind immediately for me are Master Bra’tac, portrayed by Tony Amendola, and Jacob Carter, portrayed by the late Carmen Argenziano. Bra’tac was described to Amendola as a Medieval, futuristic, Roman, Samurai Warrior when he was first cast. One of Amendola’s favourite memories from the series was whilst shooting the episode The Serpent’s Lair. He and Richard Dean Anderson were locked in one of the Death Glider’s together for several hours and Amendola spoke about being a hair claustrophobic. When they started to bolt the canopy in place, he started to feel it more. What got him through was Richard Dean Anderson and he really enjoyed getting to know Anderson and they laughed and joked throughout the shoot.
Carmen Argenziano was cast as Samantha Carter’s father, Jacob, in season 2 and started a story arc that would last into the eighth season. Jacob would become a part of the SG1 family- his character had backstory with General Hammond and he would become the human envoy to the Tok’ra, a resistance against the Goa’uld. The Tok’ra were Goa’ulds that opposed everything that the System Lords and other Goa’uld stood for. They were all wanted fugitives who the Goa’uld hunted down. Jacob became our conduit to the Tok’ra as they fought the Goa’uld with the SGC. The alliance would waiver throughout the run of the series, but it would endure despite the mistrust that started to build up between each race. Argenziano portrayed Jacob Carter with a playfulness but he also managed to get across the feeling of a character who has two separate personalities sharing the same body.
When it came to guest stars, word began to spread that the Stargate SG1 set was the most fun set to work on and it was this that allowed them to get actors such as Ronny Cox, William Devene, Michael Rooker, Robert Picardo, John de Lancie, Louis Gossett Jr., Issac Hayes and Saul Rubinek -to name a few- to make guest appearances. They even had Dan Castellaneta, Homer Simpson himself, make an appearance- which was one of Richard Dean Anderson’s favorite moments in the series. Anderson was a huge fan of The Simpsons and would even try to slip in references to The Simpsons where he could. They would also have several actors who would appear in different roles throughout the series; most of the time their faces covered with prosthetics, so you didn’t recognize them. One of the most prolific was Dion Johnstone, who portrayed several different aliens including the Unas Chakka, which became a fan favourite character.
The villains were mostly guest stars, even though their arcs would last for seasons in the series they would be used sparingly. One of the most popular villains of the series remains the original Goa’uld, Apophis. Peter Williams brought an intensity to his performance that all other Goa’uld aspired to reach and whilst the writers wrote more powerful enemies, none of them had the sheer gravitas that Apophis had. The way he spoke had such a power to it; whilst some of that is down to the flanging effect they used on the voices, a lot of it was also down to the way Williams pronounced the words. The flanging just emphasized what was already there- nobody said “Shol’va” quite like Apophis did. David Palffy was brought on to play Sokar, and whilst the actor only appeared on screen as Sokar in two episodes, he impressed the producers to the point where they brought him back for the last big bad Goa’uld System Lord, Anubis. Because Anubis did not have a face that we could see, they were able to get away with this as there was no way to recognize Palffy from his brief stint as Sokar. Each actor who portrayed a Goa’uld System Lord brought their own flavor to the role.
Mythology was a huge part of the series- the Goa’uld took from a number of Earth mythologies, not just Egyptian, but also Greek, Indian and others. In the pilot episode, Apophis is identified as the Serpent God who ruled the night, whilst Ra was the Sun God who ruled the day. They toyed with these because of the comparative nature of mythologies, the Goa’uld were the same Gods from each different culture, they didn’t always choose their Egyptian versions. I think this was a deliberate choice by the writers to draw in more mythologies. Mythology didn’t extend to just the Goa’uld. The Asgard took the Norse Mythology of Earth and used it in their protection of humans. Asgard is a term in itself that relates to the Norse Gods. Our biggest Asgard ally was Thor, and the idea of Thor’s Hammer was brought into the series in the first season. Norse mythology has become more mainstream now with the Marvel Thor films, however it was Stargate SG1 that introduced me to a lot of the concepts that are more well known. Ragnorak is referenced in the season 2 episode, Thor’s Chariot. And Norse Gods Loki, Heimdall and Freya are introduced as Asgards. The series used mythologies and used them to create the characters they wanted to introduce, when bringing in Anubis they wanted a character who embodied death and destruction and what better than the Egyptian God of the Dead?
A huge part of any film or TV production is the music and Stargate SG1 had a film music legacy in the form of Joel Goldsmith, son of the great Jerry Goldsmith. Joel composed the music for Stargate SG1, Stargate Atlantis and Stargate Universe. His scores could get the heart pumping for the intense action scenes, but also break it for the deep emotional scenes too. The music was performed by the London Symphony Orchestra and some of the themes were literally created from producers humming down the phone at Joel and him translating that into actual music. He was an extraordinary talent and I wish there was more of his music from all the Stargate shows available. There is enough content to fill a dozen CDs easily.
In an early behind the scenes special, Brad Wright made a joke about there being at least ten seasons worth of stories, and they got their ten seasons. It became one of the longest running American Science Fiction television series, not even any of the Star Trek series made it past 7 seasons and a series with a smaller fanbase made it where Star Trek couldn’t. The series had its ups and downs but, in the end, it was a huge success and one of the most entertaining Sci-Fi television series of its time and in my mind, it is still one of the best shows. Martin Wood said that he believed that the sense of humor the show had was what made it so successful and I agree. Typically, Sci-Fi is quite a serious genre, but here was this show that had some very serious moments in it but offset it perfectly with this wonderful sense of humor.
EXPLORING OTHER GALAXIES – STARGATE ATLANTIS
With the success of Stargate SG1 the producers started to think of ideas on how to expand the Stargate universe. They started coming up with several different ideas on how to continue the franchise. The initial idea was that SG1 would end and the spin off would pick up where it left off. The SGC would have relocated to an ancient base under Antarctica and the series would have taken place in our galaxy still. When they realized that there was no way they were going to be able to wait for SG1 to finish because it kept getting renewed, they decided to run both series concurrently and move the Atlantis series to another galaxy.
Moving the series to the Pegasus Galaxy freed the producers and writers up to tell different stories and introduce new and different races and cultures that were not bound by the canon that SG1 had established. It also meant that they needed to establish a new antagonist species to the series. They didn’t want to re-tread old ground on the type of enemy they had for Atlantis– they wanted something different from the Goa’uld. The Wraith were the result. Vampiric in nature, the Wraith feed upon human beings- draining their life energy and absorbing it into themselves. This makes them incredibly resilient to damage and allows them to heal quickly (especially if they have just recently fed). It was decided that the Wraith would have a matriarchal society with Queens being the top of the chain, much like bees. They took a lot from the hierarchy of bees in designing the Wraith.
When it came to creating the new main characters to lead the series, they knew that they needed military personnel to fight the enemies they would face; but also that this was a civilian expedition primarily. Elizabeth Weir was introduced in the Season 7 finale of Stargate SG1, The Lost City. She was initially played by Jessica Steen, however, when it came to the Atlantis series, Steen was replaced by Torri Higginson. Steen had been told that her character might carry on into the spin-off and she was paid to not take any additional work until the decision whether or not to greenlight Atlantis was made. When the series was greenlit, they decided to go with a different actress; Steen was never informed why this was, she was just informed that they would be replacing her as Weir.
Torri Higginson’s approach to Weir was different to Jessica Steen’s, Higginson played her a little stiffer and more professional in her approach, whereas Steen’s Weir always came across as a little more casual. Despite the more professional Weir, she was able to cut loose and have fun however; as the leader of the Atlantis expedition, she quickly adapted to a more militaristic view of how things had to be run when they encountered the Wraith. Because there was a bigger split of military and civilian personnel in Atlantis, Weir had the difficult task of arbitrating between the two parties. The character was set up to be an expert negotiator and her position as leader of the Atlantis expedition made total sense with this background as she would be in charge of two very different groups of personnel. Her experience with military and civilian personnel alike became invaluable in her role. Finding herself in the position to make a military decision over a scientific one created a real sense of tension and drama putting her on the outside of both parties at times.
Towards the end of Season 3, the producers started to feel like there wasn’t a lot that they could do with the Weir character; they were running out of ideas for where to take her They made the decision to reduce the role to a recurring one. At the end of the last day of shooting the Season 3 finale, Higginson was called up into the producers’ office and she was informed that they were cutting her role to a recurring one. Higginson was not pleased with the news or how they had handled it, and rather than accept the reduced role, she decided to walk away. She agreed to return for four episodes of Season 4 to finish off the character’s arc, however when they wanted her to return for a guest role in Season 5, she refused. Her decision to walk away was primarily due to how they had broken the news to her that she was going to be a reduced role. She had also felt like her character was being under-utilized in the series and would often spend days just standing in the background.
The military commander of Atlantis was a hard role to cast. The producers wanted Ben Browder for the role, but due to his commitment to Farscape: The Peacekeeper Wars, he was unavailable. They auditioned several other actors for the role and couldn’t find anyone who fit the bill. By chance, an MGM official had approached Joe Flanigan’s agent at an award ceremony. Another actor who he represented had just won an award and in congratulating him, the MGM official asked if he knew anyone who could fill a role he was trying to cast. When describing the role, Flanigan’s agent felt like he was describing him, so he arranged a meeting for the next day. After a two-hour meeting in the morning he was cast by the afternoon. Flanigan had initially turned down the role though because he didn’t feel like he could be in a Science Fiction TV series- he didn’t think he was good enough to be so serious. Because he hadn’t seen Stargate SG1 he didn’t realize was that they wanted the character to have a sense of humor. What really appealed to Flanigan was not just the sense of humor the Stargate franchise had- but how it had fun with the Science Fiction genre and didn’t take it 100% seriously. The sense of humor of the show really made it an enjoyable experience for Flanigan because they were able to reference other Science Fiction as the characters would be aware of them. As well as the comedy in the series, he also loved shooting the action scenes and would do as many of his own stunts as he could. With the stories that they were telling he loved it when they were able to do stories that were completely different from that of what SG1 had done. When being interviewed during Season 1, Flanigan said that his favorite episodes they had shot so far were the two-part episode The Storm and The Eye because of all the action scenes he got to play. Flanigan liked getting involved in the whole process. When they were casting Ronon Dex, Flanigan flew out to LA to read with the actors who were auditioning and thought that Jason Momoa was the best person for the job. He wanted to write a script at one point but didn’t have the time so instead he came up with a story outline and Brad Wright wrote the screenplay. The episode was Epiphany , but unfortunately it didn’t turn out quite as he imagined it would and he was a little disappointed with it in the end.
John Sheppard was a different lead than that of Jack O’Neill. Whilst they shared some characteristics- like their sense of humour- there were also some real opposites to the characters. O’Neill would bend the rules from time to time, but he never really broke them. Sheppard, on the other hand, had no issues bucking the authority wherever he could and breaking rules. The character had a history of disobeying orders and they explored the consequences of one of these decisions in one of the episodes. Before the pilot aired, people were making comparisons between Sheppard and O’Neill ,but after the premiere of the series the comparisons stopped because it was clear that the characters were completely different. Despite being the military leader, it is revealed early on that Sheppard had passed the MENSA entrance exam, although he didn’t join. His intelligence was one of the main reasons for disobeying orders- he felt that he knew better and, while he was-at times- correct ,there were consequences to these decisions. Flanigan also really wanted to make sure that they were doing things differently to how they had been done on SG1 to really set the series apart from its predecessor.
Rainbow Sun Francks submitted an audition via an MPEG video to the producers. Brad Wright talked about watching a tiny video of his audition and struggling to see everything but realizing that he was really good. They brought him in for a proper audition and he was cast as Lt Aiden Ford. Francks was a professed Sci-Fi fan , so being cast in Stargate Atlantis was a dream role for him. Francks talked about the lack of a Ford-centric episode in the first season and felt that whilst he didn’t have a whole episode dedicated to his character, the character was fleshed out a little more in the B or C plots of other episodes, Letters From Pegasus allowed the audience to see a little more of Aiden Ford instead of Lt. Ford. He found it really tough not having much background for his character as he could create some aspects himself but in other places he wasn’t able to create them so it was a tough balance of what was OK for him to do and what wasn’t.
Francks was not kept on as a regular after the end of Season 1. Of the decision, he did say that he was disappointed but- with the direction they took Ford -it was much more interesting to him as he got to play a bad guy. He felt that his character had been a bit of a ‘yes’ man in the first season and having the freedom to play bad was very liberating for the character and for him as an actor. The choice by the producers to write out Ford was down to the reason that they saw the character as the weak link. The character was just there as the gun guy -which is useful for action scenes, but apart from that, there wasn’t much else they could do with the character. They had kind of painted themselves into a corner with him. The choice to make him a villain and bring in Ronon Dex was definitely the best choice they made, as Ford as a villain was way more interesting than he was as the good guy. I only wished they had brought him back a few more times.
Rachel Luttrell had to audition for the role of Teyla Emmagan on five separate occasions before she got the part. Luttrell had a background in dance and music, which seemed an odd choice for such a strong leader as Teyla. However, Luttrell’s dance background helped her in the fight sequences, especially the stick fighting. She was taught the basics by Stunt Coordinator James “BamBam” Bamford and then given a set of the fighting sticks and sent home to practice. She took to it very quickly and was able to pick up a lot of the fighting styles with very little effort. Due to a chance encounter with Ray Park (Darth Maul from Star Wars) at London Comic Con, she got to train with him for a couple of days. He offered to show her a few tricks and, always ready to take on more knowledge, she jumped at the chance.
Teyla had an exotic beauty to her as well as a strength in conviction. She never backed down from an argument and would often fight her corner against anyone. Her knowledge of the Pegasus Galaxy provided the Atlantis team with valuable insight when gathering resources and establishing trade, and her knowledge of the Wraith would be invaluable as the series progressed. While her dance background helped with the stunt work she did, including the stick fighting, the producers took advantage of her music background in the episode Critical Mass. Luttrell had to record the song for the episode twice, as the first time it didn’t sound like Teyla, it sounded like Rachel singing and they wanted the vocals to be less refined and a bit more amateur.
Luttrell was a fan of the original Stargate film and had seen a few episodes of SG1. Add to that Teyla’s character description really captured her imagination, she wanted to get the role. The most appealing part of the character was how grounded she was despite being the leader of her people. While initially there was some flirtation between herself and Sheppard that never became anything other than a close friendship which I am glad of. Too often series will just go the relationship route with male and female main characters solely because they are in the main cast. Luttrell talked about the relationship between Teyla and Sheppard in an early interview and she said that although there was flirtation, she felt that it would take something away from the character if she did get into a relationship with Sheppard. Teyla was seen to be the moral compass of the team- she was always the character who would push the others to do the right thing, even if it put herself in harms way.
When Luttrell became pregnant, the writers wrote into the story that Teyla had become pregnant and made it a core story point throughout the fourth season and into the fifth season. The writers wanted to take the character down a darker path as she had always been a noble warrior and they wanted to explore her dark side. They did that in the season 4 episode, Missing, where Teyla is trying to find the Athosians who have been taken. You can see how far she is willing to go to find her people and taking such a noble character to that level was always fun for the writers to explore and interesting for the viewers to experience. It was one of the things that made all the characters so realistic, the fact that they can do something so out of character, it made them more human.
Dr Rodney McKay was first introduced in Season 5 of Stargate SG1 as a one-off character. He was a sexist pig who thought he was way smarter than anyone else; a character the audiences loved to hate. On his second appearance in SG1 they did soften the character and humble him a little. Initially, the character had never been supposed to appear in Atlantis at all- the character was originally called Dr Ingram and was described as an African American character, however they were finding the character incredibly difficult to cast. Filming had already started and they still hadn’t found someone to play Ingram so Martin Wood suggested that they brought the McKay character into the series instead. They contacted David Hewlett to see if he was available and interested in auditioning for Dr Ingram, wanting to keep the McKay idea secret so it didn’t leak out straight away. Just before Hewlett went into his audition, he was informed that it was actually the McKay character and the next day he was on set filming.
David Hewlett was a self-professed science nerd as a child so he loved all the scientific aspects of the character and was actually already reading up on a lot of the things for research. What really appealed to Hewlett about the McKay character was how unlikable he was. Most of the time the regular characters were nice people who the audience liked but McKay was (in the beginning at least), quite unlikeable. Those characteristics were so interesting for him to play as a series regular and slowly have the character evolve and build up friendships and gradually become more likeable over time. Hewlett also enjoyed the fact that McKay was the pessimist voice in the series- everything was always doom and gloom and rested on his shoulders to fix. Even though most of the time he was responsible for getting them into the situation where something needed fixing.
Hewlett had great difficulty learning his lines so a lot of his spare time was taken up with just learning his lines for the next day. Although the technobabble was easier for him to learn as he was always interested in science and liked taking things apart and trying to put them back together again. Despite the role not being a very physical one, Hewlett would always find himself in situations where he was doing some sort of stunt work. In the Season 2 episode Runner, he was suspended by his leg for six hours while they shot the sequence where McKay is snagged in a trap. Not once did Hewlett complain, or vomit, even though it was a bit of a concern at one point when he had to swing himself around as if he was trying to shake loose of the trap.
Some elements of McKay would bleed into his real life, he would return home from a days shooting and his girlfriend would tell him that he has fifteen minutes when he gets home to get McKay out of his system. The mannerisms of McKay would stick around after filming so he would be snapping his fingers and pointing like McKay and his girlfriend would tell him, “Alright , that was Rodney, and you have five minutes now.” In one of the episodes it was revealed that McKay has a sister. Originally it was written as a brother, however as Hewlett had sisters he wanted to change the line to sister. He did have an ulterior motive to the request- one of his sisters is an actress so he hoped that if they ever brought McKay’s sister into the series his real life sister would get the chance to play the part. They did bring her in and Kate Hewlett, David’s real life sister, played Jeannie Miller, McKay’s sister.
One character who was originally intended to be more of a background character was Doctor Carson Beckett. Paul McGillion had played a small part in the Stargate SG1 season 1 episode, Torment of Tantalus. He had impressed the producers and when they were casting the role of Beckett they remembered him. The character was never written as Scottish, that was something that McGillion brought himself. His accent was so convincing that there are still people to this day who think McGillion was Scottish himself. McGillion’s family was Scottish so he found the accent very easy to do and for any of the medical terminology he would ask his brother, who is a doctor, how he would pronounce the medical jargon in a Scottish accent.
McGillion’s chemistry with the rest of the cast certainly helped the character’s expansion. Of all the characters he had the best chemistry with McKay. The reason for this was that McGillion and David Hewlett struck up a close friendship off screen which translated into an on-screen friendship. The two characters friendship became the highlight of many episodes; their interactions were fan favourite moments within the series. In Season 3, McGillion was promoted to series regular which wasn’t bad at all for a character that was originally intended to just be a background character.
In the shocking Season 3 episode, Sunday, Beckett was killed off giving the Stargate franchise one of it’s most heart wrenching episodes. Some would argue even more so than the SG1 episode, Meridian, where Daniel Jackson ascended. When shooting the episode, McGillion found it incredibly difficult as he knew he was saying goodbye to so many friends. The sequence where Beckett hands over the tumour and it explodes was shot in silence and there was a very sombre mood that day. Fan outcry was huge, a website savecarsonbeckett.com was set up and got a huge amount of traffic. As well as the website a peaceful protest was organised outside the production studios. Fans loved Dr Beckett and they wanted him back. The producers didn’t expect the response from the fans that they got and so they did eventually bring the character back in a recurring role.
When they had made the decision to replace Lt Ford in Season 2, there were several ideas floated around. Brad Wright wanted Ford’s replacement to be a military officer who arrived on the Daedalus, the resident Earth vessel of Atlantis. However, Robert C. Cooper was worried that another Earth military officer would give them the same issues they had with Ford and wanted an alien like they had with Teal’C on SG1. A compromise was met and it would be an alien with a strong military background. That is how Ronon Dex came to be. When they were casting the character, they had Joe Flanigan to run lines with the finalists. According to Brad Wright, when one of the finalists walked in for his audition Wright said to Robert C. Cooper, “If this guy can act then he’s the guy.” It turned out that he could act.
Jason Momoa, the future King of Atlantis, was cast as the resident Chewbacca, Ronon Dex. His 6 foot 4 inch built like a tank appearance crossed with his gruff voice and even gruffer appearance made him stand out in the world of Atlantis. He first appeared in episode three of the second season, Runner, and stayed with the series until it’s end. To an outside observer, Ronon was just a Teal’C clone, however, Ronon has about as much in common with Teal’C as Sheppard does with O’Neill. They are both aliens, they are both tough and they are both men of few words, and that’s where the similarities end. Where Teal’C was very stoic, Ronon had a sense of humour to him which played nicely off of the other characters. He was also the one character you could count on to have a weapon or twenty hidden around their person. In a particularly humourous moment from the Season 2 episode, The Hive, Sheppard asks him how many knives he has hidden on himself and Ronon replies with, “How many do you need?” These were the moments that separated him from the Teal’C comparison and really made the character stand out. If you were on his side he would have your back no matter what. Joe Flanigan talked about how he started referring to the Ronon character as Chewie, but Momoa in an interview said that it was he himself who started calling Ronon ‘Chewie’. Whoever said it first it eventually made its way to the writers who started to have Sheppard call Ronon Chewie whenever he was being particularly aggressive.
To look at Momoa, you would expect that he had been doing action scenes his entire acting career- this was not so. His first ever fight scene was in his first episode of Stargate Atlantis and it was a knife fight. According to James Bamford, the stunt coordinator, Momoa took to the fights like a duck to water. He had a natural talent for the fight scenes and he enjoyed doing it, to the point where he would do as many of his own stunts as possible. Not only did Momoa take to the physical aspects of the show but he also fit in really well really quickly with the rest of the cast and crew. In particular he struck up a very close friendship with Flanigan, whom he became roommates with throughout the duration of the series. He also liked pranking and one day after a particularly exhausting shoot Flanigan was driving them back home when Momoa spotted David Hewlett and got Flanigan to pull up next to Hewlett’s car and he, as he put it, pulled down his pants to the knee and hung his ass out of the window. Apparently, Hewlett turned to see what was happening and locked eyes with “the brown star” and looked terrified. Both he and Flanigan laughed their asses off about the whole situation, Hewlett on the other hand is probably still seeing a therapist about the event.
When Momoa was cast he came in for wardrobe, and then the very next day they were shooting. It was a fast turnaround and he felt that he did an OK job in the first episode. Looking back on the episode he felt that with the hindsight of playing the character for several years there was more he could have done. However, the character in his first appearance did not feel like a half-baked portrayal, we got the essence of who Ronon was, and any lacking in the performance was easily explainable by where the character was mentally at the time. Of all the characters in the series Ronon was probably the one who evolved the most. Comparing the character in his first episode to where the character is in the final season it’s like night and day. Ronon could have just been the token tough guy but he had a heart to him that set him aside from most other “muscle” characters from shows. The season 3 episode, Sateda, was a really important episode in the Ronon character’s arc. We saw a lot of his character’s back story and the pain and emotion that he had buried deep down inside. When the emotions came out it was raw and it showed us a side to the character that we hadn’t seen before. The episode was very dear to Momoa as it allowed him to explore so much more of Ronon than he had been able to.
One of the most key components to any action adventure series is the stunt team and because SG1 and Atlantis were running concurrently, they needed a separate stunt team for Atlantis. James “BamBam” Bamford was the stunt coordinator for the whole five years Atlantis ran for. BamBam as he went by, worked closely with all the lead actors whenever they did any stunt work, he was the person who trained Rachel Luttrell in her stick fighting. When they did any rehearsals BamBam would video them and actually cut them together to show to the director how the fight could be shot and how it could turn out. The stunt team were top notch and committed to every single stunt no matter how much it hurt them. When shooting the episode Sateda, the stunt double for Jason Momoa was thrown into a metal door and fell down onto real brick and rolled onto solid concrete. Because of the costume the stunt man wasn’t able to have much padding either. He did that several times for the shot and after one take the crew thought he had badly injured himself because of how hard he hit the ground but he just stood up and asked if they needed another take. The stunt performers were the toughest people on the whole shoot, Rachel Luttrell talked about how she was scared of her stunt double at times because of how tough she was.
In the Season 3 finale there was a huge set piece stunt that involved exploding glass and a rope pull of the stunt woman who was doubling for Torri Higginson. The stunt had been rehearsed several times and they had it all set and perfectly rigged. The double would be pulled back as the glass blew and would land safely on a large crashmat. However, when they performed the stunt with the glass explosion, because the glass was blowing inwards it covered the crash mat that the stunt woman was being pulled towards. Thankfully the rigger pulled on the rope at the last second to prevent her from landing on the crash mat. This was the focus that these guys had- if that rigger had not noticed the glass landing on the mat and reacted instantly, the stunt woman could have been seriously injured. BamBam commented on how proud he was of his team constantly but that day the rigger got a lot more kudos than normal and deservedly so.
The Visual Effects Department on Stargate Atlantis were a lot of the same team that worked on SG1. The city of Atlantis was a 100% computer-generated composition and they went all out on the VFX of the city. They composed the city of 4 million polygons which at the time was feature film levels of Visual Effects and the sequence of Atlantis rising from the ocean floor was the most expensive visual effect in the pilot episode. They wanted to make an impact with what kind of visual effects we could expect from the series and they made an impact. I remember being blown away by the sequence when I saw it for the first time when the episode first aired in the UK. The way the water was thrown in the air by the city’s rapid ascent to the surface and even the subtleties in the effect of the water running down the side of the walls once it had risen. The physics of the situation were even accounted for as you see in the establishing shot of the city on the surface a wave of water moving away. It was incredible and it still is incredible to see. The marvellous VFX work didn’t end with the city rising, consistently throughout the series the VFX team pushed the boundaries of what was possible and did things that had never been done on TV before including creating a ginormous CGI storm for the two part episode The Storm and The Eye and in the season 3 finale, First Strike, a one minute long complete CGI shot which included a moving camera shot which is incredibly difficult to do in CGI.
The production design on the series was top notch, they designed a new style of Stargate for the series and an intricate and detailed practical set for the Atlantis base. The Atlantis set cost $2 million to create and contained $70,000 in lighting alone. Where the SG1 gate was constructed of fibreglass the Atlantis gate was made of rubber. They also had to create a ship that would be able to travel through the Stargate itself. It was decided that the ship would have engines that could retract inside the ship itself in order for it to fit through the Stargate. For the Wraith vessels the production team opted for a more organic design, it was creepy and reminiscent of Alien. The surfaces looked like a living organism and had a really icky feeling to them which was how they wanted the audience to feel whenever they were aboard the Wraith ship. The production design was incredible on the series as each week they managed to give the series a theatrical feeling in the design, nothing felt low budget about the design and it was impressive to see each week.
Throughout the course of the series all the main cast members of SG1 appeared in Atlantis, due to financial issues neither Carter or Teal’C could appear in the pilot episode of Atlantis. However, they would go on to appear later on in the series with Amanda Tapping even joining the Atlantis series as a regular in season 4. When she joined Atlantis she commented about how she was now the Don S Davis of Atlantis and how much she missed going off world. Tapping was approached by writers Joe Mallozzi and Paul Mullie because they wanted the new head of Atlantis to have both a military and a scientific background. Samantha Carter was the perfect character for what they needed and to their joy Tapping accepted the offer. The writers had a lot of fun writing Carter’s interactions with the rest of the Atlantis team, most of all though they really enjoyed writing the scenes with Carter and McKay because of their prior interactions on SG1.
Richard Dean Anderson guest starred on three episodes of Atlantis in season 3, The Real World and The Return Parts 1 and 2. This was because he came up to shoot some scenes for the 200th episode of SG1 and wanted to hang around for a bit and shoot more than a brief cameo, there wasn’t anywhere they could fit O’Neill into the SG1 episodes but they came up with a way to write him into Atlantis. The writers also felt that putting O’Neill in Atlantis would be more interesting and wrote an elaborate underwater stunt for Anderson in The Return Part 2. It didn’t hurt that his prescience on the series would give the ratings a boost. When Michael Shanks guest starred in the season 5 episodes, First Contact and The Lost Tribe the writers put him and David Hewlett together in a lot of scenes and realised that because of how fast they were delivering their lines the scripts needed a higher page count than normal to compensate for the speed in which they talked.
Beginning in season 3 the writers wanted to develop the relationships between all the characters a bit more putting them in more social environments for scenes. This helped build up the character’s friendships and made them more human, the episode Sunday focused on this aspect a lot and because of that the heart-breaking final scenes had much more of an impact to them. The added social elements to the series was one of the things that separated Atlantis apart from SG1, it felt like a different show but it was still similar enough that you knew it was in the same universe. These were the reasons that made it such a great spin off, it wasn’t just redoing the same things as SG1 did.
When Dr Beckett was killed off, they needed a new medical doctor to fill his shoes and they got that in the form of Dr Jennifer Keller. Jewel Staite had portrayed a Wraith in the season 2 episode, Instinct, and because she had impressed the producers so much in her first role using prosthetics they wanted her to join the show as a regular. Staite had experience of Sci-Fi having starred in the Joss Whedon series, Firefly, and the feature film follow up, Serenity. Keller was written as a character who starts out very unsure of themselves and gradually over time gets more and more confident. She also became a love interest for McKay, that was never the original intention of the character though. Staite originally wanted her character to get into a relationship with Ronon because as she put it, “Keller has a crush on Ronon because she has, you know, eyes.” However, the chemistry between Staite and Hewlett worked so well and in the episode Trio they really were able to showcase that.
As the series went on Keller became more involved in a lot of the episodes interacting with all of the main cast. She also got into a few action scenes including some very intense fight scenes and stunts in the episode, Missing. There was a particularly intense sequence in the episode that involved a rope bridge which Keller had to cross. Staite talked about shooting that sequence in an interview and she said that she felt like she was getting a wedgie in six different places from the harness. That episode helped her and Rachel Luttrell bond though because they were working closely together for 12-hour days and carpooling to and from the location.
They introduced the Replicators into the Atlantis series in season 3 as a way to fully explain where they came from. From SG1 we already knew that the android Reese created the Replicators but who created her? From what is established in Atlantis we can deduce that the person who created Reese is one of the Ancients who returned to the Milky Way Galaxy. The Replicators would become a substantial threat throughout their appearances in Atlantis to the point where humans and the Wraith would actually join up to fight them. The Replicators of the Pegasus Galaxy were a different breed, they had been around for thousands of years evolving more and more which made them a much bigger threat than the other Replicators that had been encountered.
In the season 2 episode, Michael, the writers created a character who would end up becoming one of the major players in the Pegasus Galaxy all the way up to the final season. Michael Kenmore was originally designed as a one-off character; however, Connor Trinneer impressed the producers so much when they watched the dailies, they decided to bring him back. The character of Michael was extremely interesting because it posed the question of how far we could go to fight the enemy and did we have the right to go as far as we did. A serum that was supposed to turn the Wraith into humans was tested on a Wraith they captured and the consequences of that. The episode played out like a mystery of who Michael was with the reveal at the end. It was a masterfully put together episode and thanks to an incredible performance from Trinneer set up a long running arc. Michael was the wildcard character, neither Wraith or human, he was a hybrid and with that he was more dangerous than either of them. Trinneer spoke in an interview about how surprised he was that he was able to convincingly portray the character as it was unlike anything he had ever done before.
Michael was not the only Wraith who would return multiple times. Christopher Heyerdahl throughout the first season had portrayed Halling, an Athosian and one of Teyla’s close friends. In season 3 he returned to portray a Wraith by the name of Todd who would become a regular recurring character on the series. Todd was created to show that the Wraith are actually more complex a species than the life sucking aliens we had seen up to that point and to show that there was more to them. The character was popular and Heyerdahl impressed the producers in the role that they decided to bring him back several times and through the character of Todd they could explore more about the Wraith which included a deep look at how the Wraith society functioned. The character would ultimately become an ally as long as it suited his best interests, a Wraith that you could half trust, which was the best you could hope for when it came to trusting Wraith.
For the final season Colonel Carter was replaced as the commander of Atlantis with Richard Woolsey. Woolsey who had started out as a one-off character on an episode of Stargate SG1 had come back several times over the course of the series. He was a bureaucrat who felt that the rules had to be followed precisely to the letter. Once he was in the position of making the decisions though he very quickly started to realise that life as the commander of Atlantis was never so cut and dry. All his questioning of why they hadn’t followed protocol in this situation or that situation would be turned back around on him and he would come to realise that in the real world the rules have to be bent, stretched and even at times broken in order to ensure the safety of the people under your command.
Woolsey was portrayed by Sci-Fi Icon Robert Picardo. Picardo who is best known for his role as the Emergency Medical Hologram in Star Trek Voyager is no stranger to Sci-Fi and has appeared in various Sci-Fi films and TV series over his career. Picardo had appeared in seven episodes of Stargate SG1 and six episodes of Atlantis before being promoted to the commander of the Atlantis base. The character very quickly assimilated himself into the Atlantis team and put his own stamp on how the base is run. There was an attempt to add more bureaucracy into the base, however that didn’t last very long. He did develop close bonds with most of the characters and in the episode Inquisition he defends Sheppard and his team in a court of law using his background as a lawyer. The episode ends with Woolsey and Sheppard sharing a cigar and a glass of Scotch celebrating their victory in a scene that is a slight parody of Boston Legal which stars James Spader, the original Dr Daniel Jackson. Picardo really liked the idea of pairing Woolsey and Ronon together in as many scenes as possible because their characters were such complete opposites, Ronon is a man of few words and a man of action where Woolsey is a man of many words but little action. The contrast in characters worked well from what we did see of them together.
Stargate Atlantis was cancelled in August 2008 and a follow up film entitled Stargate: Extinction had been announced by MGM. Joe Flanigan found out about the cancellation whilst eating lunch in his trailer on set. Because of the news of the cancellation came during the production of season 5 the writers could make sure that it didn’t end on a cliffhanger. Joe Mallozzi had the idea to shoot a two-hour opening episode to season 6 as part of the season 5 run which could have been edited into a film if they couldn’t find someone to pick up the series for a sixth season. He regrets waiting for permission from MGM instead of just going ahead with it as the follow up film that was announced never happened. The last episode they shot of the series was Vegas and, in that episode, the alternate John Sheppard character dies. This was the last shot they took for the episode and because of that the last shot filmed for the whole series was the main character dying.
After the cancellation and when it became clear that Stargate: Extinction was not going to happen Joe Flanigan decided that he was going to do something about it. Not content with the series ending he decided to try and get the production back up and running himself. Flanigan didn’t feel like that the film was ever going to happen and that it was a way to try and satisfy the fans that he felt had been ostracized by the announcement that Stargate Universe was going after a younger sexier audience. He set up a deal with MGM to lease the Stargate franchise for ten years, part of the plan was to produce season 6 of Stargate Atlantis. The funding for the project had been secured and they had worked out that they would shoot the series in Europe as it was cheaper and just before the deal was signed MGM filed for bankruptcy. The project was thrown into upheaval and Flanigan had to start all over again with the people who now owned MGM’s backlog, Spyglass Entertainment. He went through the entire process with them from scratch and they weren’t interested, they seemed more interested in rebooting the original film with Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin. Flanigan was not pleased with this outcome as he felt that the Stargate franchise had extended way beyond the original film. He felt that even though one season of Atlantis made more money than the original film did there was more of a prestige and glamour attached to films which angered him as that was not what the audience wanted, they wanted more of the series.
Stargate Atlantis was more than just a spin off, it was a show that stood on its own and connected to a larger universe. The series had characters that stood apart from the characters of SG1 and were not just copies of the SG1 characters. The series could be watched on its own or alongside SG1 and I know people who first watched Stargate Atlantis before SG1 and were never lost. It was a series that combined high concept Sci-Fi, serious drama, exciting action and laugh out loud comedy into one giant package. The cancellation of the series was really the beginning of the end of the franchise as many fans were angry with the cancellation. They were made to feel like they didn’t matter when they announced that the next Stargate series would be going for a younger sexier demographic. The fans also felt that Atlantis was cancelled to make way for Stargate Universe. Whether or not it was or it wasn’t is something that only a few people will really know the truth to, the producers claim it wasn’t but not many believe this claim. The announcement of going for the younger demographic is one of the biggest reasons that many do not believe that Stargate Universe had nothing to do with the cancellation. Despite the cancellation Atlantis got ninety-nine fantastic episodes under its belt and is the only Stargate series that has had the complete series released on Blu-Ray. It sits proudly on my shelf and throughout the whole process of writing this I’ve been itching to get the set back down and watch it from the beginning.
REACHING OUT INTO THE UNIVERSE AND BACK – STARGATE UNIVERSE, STARGATE ORIGINS, AND THE LEGACY
With the cancellation of Stargate Atlantis and the announcement that the new series of Stargate would be going after a younger, sexier demographic; Stargate Universe was already on a back foot before a single scene had been shot. The loyal audience of Stargate SG1 and Stargate Atlantis felt ostracized by the producers of Stargate Universe with the announcement. It didn’t help that they also decided to take the series in a darker direction, capitalizing on the success of the recent Battlestar Galactica remake which was getting high critical acclaim. Because they copied the grittier tone of Battlestar Galactica, the sense of humor was almost entirely stripped away from the series- this left the fans feeling like it wasn’t a Stargate series at all. Add to it that most of the characters in the series were seen as bland or downright unlikable, there was this feeling of disassociation from the brand that turned off many Stargate fans away from the series. The series also took too long to find its direction- many of the early episodes felt like their hook was literally just about what resource they needed to replenish this week.
Stargate Universe was developed by Brad Wright and Robert C. Cooper. The idea to be a more serious character-focused series was mostly down to Cooper. He wanted to do something a little more grown up and mature and get away from doing what he referred to as “the same old thing”.
For the aliens, they wanted to get away from the latex-faced, English-speaking characters that they had done previously. In setting the series so far away from the other two series, they freed themselves up to have a fresh start in the storytelling. The rationale behind the unlikable characters was looking at a series like Survivor, where you have lots of people on a desert island and the best and worst of them comes out. Cooper wanted to do that with a Stargate series; really showcase how un-heroic and heroic humanity can really be.
With the new approach to the series they decided to change up some of the crew, which included a new director of photography. Both SG1 and Atlantis had been primarily photographed by Jim Menard and Michael Blundell, but for Universe they brought in Ronn Schmidt (who had shot The Shield), for the first three episodes to establish a new, grittier look for the series, Menard and Blundell took over after those initial episodes. The idea was to have the series shot like a documentary crew was following them around- this again was a technique employed on Battlestar Galactica. Although Cooper spoke about how he expected to be accused of copying other shows, he felt that as they were going for more reality in the series that shooting it in the style of a documentary would help that. Shooting in this manner also meant that the way they shot the scenes was different- they would shoot whole scenes in one go instead of doing masters and close ups like they had done on SG1 and Atlantis.
When it came to the cast, they wanted a true ensemble. Instead of the four-person team with several supporting characters, they wanted to have nine characters that were just as important to the show as the other. Leading the cast though was Robert Carlyle as Dr Nicholas Rush. Rush was a character who had very little redeeming qualities and Carlyle loved playing a character like that. As he said in an interview, just when you start to like him (Rush) -he will do something so reprehensibly dreadful you hate him all over again. He was a character who had so many layers to him and that was one of the main things that attracted Carlyle to the character. I remember when he was cast in the role there were a lot of people who were surprised at the casting, as Carlyle was a very serious film actor and here he was appearing in a Science Fiction television series. The producers had actually got in contact with Carlyle a year before they had even started production on the series about him being involved. Reluctant at first, it was actually Carlyle’s manager who convinced him to take the role.
In season 2 of the series Carlyle was offered the chance to direct, a chance he jumped at. Even though the episode he was scheduled to direct was the fourth episode of the series it was actually the first one shot of the season. Because there was a highly emotional scene in the episode for the character of Eli, Carlyle contacted David Blue’s real parents and had them send him a photograph of Blue as a child. He used this to illicit a more realistic emotional response from Blue and it worked. It took Blue utterly by surprise when he presented him with the photograph as nobody had told him that it was going to happen.
The character Eli Wallace was, in the original character breakdown, compared to Matt Damon’s character from Good Will Hunting with a little Jack Black thrown in there. A genius in mathematics and computers, but also a slacker. David Blue was very much like Eli in the sense that he was a gamer and into Sci-Fi. Blue was also a big fan of the Stargate franchise. He would watch SG1 after school and when Atlantis premiered he taped it. In his days of waiting tables he served Christopher Judge and was taken aback by how huge he was, he was too intimidated to even fan boy over the actor. Of his character, Blue described him as a person who got bored easily, he saw the reason that Eli dropped out of MIT was not because he was an outcast or because of bad grades but because he wasn’t getting the challenge he hoped for.
Because Eli was in the science part of the group he had to deal with technobabble, but because the series was more of an ensemble there were more characters to pass the technobabble to and Robert Carlyle would often end up with the worst of it. Eli was partially inspired by the vloggers that had been rising in popularity and the Kinos were a way for the audience feel like they were there with the crew. Eli running the Kinos made him the pseudo documentarian who was shooting all the footage we were seeing. The character of Eli was the best person to be running them as well; because of his geeky nature, he was like the audience and was the person who they could relate with the most in the series.
Eli always was in the middle of the central power struggle between Rush and Colonel Young. There were two sides to the characters; whilst Rush was someone who Eli looked up to, Young was someone whom he respected, so he was always torn between who he should side with if it came down to it. The main relationship in Eli’s story is the relationship he shares with Lt. Scott. As the series progressed Eli and Scott’s friendship built and built into something that the writers themselves never expected. That came from Blue and Brian J. Smith’s real-life friendship- they hit it off pretty quickly and that friendship translated into a great on-screen chemistry. Eli suffered a lot over the course of the series and instead of crumbling, the character came out stronger. When the woman he fell in love with, Ginn, was murdered, he finally started to take more responsibility for his life. These events were what led to his decision to remain alone on the ship and try to repair the last stasis pod.
Colonel Everett Young was the military commander of Stargate Universe and throughout the first part of the season he was recovering from injuries sustained when the team arrived onboard the Destiny. He was in a constant power struggle with Rush throughout the series and even when they appeared to have reached a common ground, something would come along to drive a wedge between the two. It was an interesting dynamic in that the two senior members of the team had such wildly opposing viewpoints. Young started to doubt his abilities and question if he was the right person for the job and made some questionable decisions throughout the show including beating Rush unconscious and leaving him to die on an alien planet.
Young was played by Louis Ferreira, a seasoned actor who had appeared in several films and TV series as minor characters or guest roles. Ferreira saw Colonel Young as a character who had lost a lust for life, someone who was almost dead inside, desperately trying to find some sort of spark to reignite that love of life he had lost. As a fan of the Stargate franchise-specifically SG1– Ferreira was drawn in by the new direction the series was taking and, even more specifically, the inclusion of Robert Carlyle. Of Carlyle he said that it was wonderful being able to play opposite someone who was a brilliant actor but also very humble and giving. When he did a screen test with Carlyle, Brad Wright and Robert C. Cooper immediately saw something between them that could become something really special. They had a great on-screen chemistry, even though they were at each other’s throats a lot of the time.
Ferreira really enjoyed playing a character who had literally hit rock bottom. Completely cut off from everyone he ever knew apart from the people who made it onto Destiny with him. The challenge of playing a character who started to question if the rules he obeyed before still applied anymore. Someone who felt like to survive, he was going to have to break the rules, change them or die. Young was seen as both the protagonist and the antagonist in the series and that was such a fascinating role for him to play. Having the audience constantly switch between loving him and hating him in the same episode was something that he loved about the character. There was no black or white with Young; everything was grey.
Ferreira was known for pulling pranks and cracking jokes a lot on set, including setting up a fart machine near the Stargate which he would keep setting off whenever Alaina Huffman was nearby. Lightening the mood on set was one of the things that got them through the long days and the tough shooting conditions, Ferreira loved being able to keep everyone’s spirits up with his hi-jinks.
Whilst Colonel Young was the official military leader on Destiny, it fell to Lt. Matthew Scott to take charge at times. Scott and Eli built up an unlikely friendship and there was also a love triangle that developed between Eli, Scott and Chloe Armstrong. The love triangle aspect was one of the things that actually put some viewers off as they felt it was too soap opera-like and thankfully the writers did away with it after a while. Scott was usually at the forefront of any of the conflicts in the series and would often be in harms way trying to save everyone. He found his natural leadership skills through a baptism of fire, being given command of the military personnel whilst Colonel Young was incapacitated meant he had to step up and take charge. He would not only excel in the role but when Young starts to crack under the pressure, he puts his commander in his place and tells him that he needs to shape up. For a young Lieutenant to stand up to his commanding officer like that takes real guts and Scott had guts. Even with his lack of experience he was an effective commander.
Brian J. Smith was 27 when he was cast in the role of Lt. Scott and he had done very little screen acting- a guest role here and there, but mostly he was a stage actor. Taking on the role of Lt. Scott was a bit of a worry for Smith as he wasn’t used to screen acting as much as he had spent the last year and a half before his casting doing off-Broadway plays. When interviewed shortly before filming had begun, he expressed how he got chills whenever he thought about doing a scene with Robert Carlyle as he was in awe of him as an actor. When talking about the leadership style of Scott he talked about how he felt that Scott was more of an emotional leader, which meant he was prone to hot headed decisions instead of a more level headed approach. The character was still learning how to be a leader throughout the course of the series. His arc throughout the series was mostly about stepping up to being the leader that everyone needed. Smith wanted to explore more of Scott’s spiritual side as he was a deeply religious character, considering priesthood before joining the military and keeping his faith throughout everything. He wanted to explore more of this side of the character because of the notion that the Destiny was searching for the source of where everything came from and what that would do to someone’s faith in God.
Alaina Huffman portrayed Tamara Johansen, or T.J as she was known by. T.J was a medic who found herself promoted to the medical doctor of Destiny and it was a position that she was unprepared for. Like a lot of the other characters thrown into the situation they found themselves in, T.J found herself overwhelmed at first but she eventually rose to the situation and found the strength inside herself to really take on her new role. Huffman found T.J to be a very vulnerable character who had a strength inside her, but she also doubts herself a lot. All the characters suffered in some way during the course of the series but none more so than T.J. It was discovered early on that she was pregnant and in the season 1 finale she was shot in the abdomen and lost her baby. She wasn’t able to truly grieve for the loss of her child because of the situation she was in which affected her greatly. Whilst there were moments where she kept processing the loss it was never truly dealt with and she still suffered with it throughout the course of the series.
The reason for T.J’s pregnancy was because early into shooting season 1, Huffman herself fell pregnant and rather than work around it the writers wrote it in as a plot point. This was a smart move as it really helped the character evolve and grow, and they wouldn’t have to worry about hiding her bump behind folders and tables and all those other things productions did to hide pregnancies in series. However, they always knew that they didn’t want to have to deal with a baby on Destiny so the pregnancy was never going to have a happy conclusion.
Huffman herself was no stranger to Sci-Fi, having appeared in Smallville and Painkiller Jane previously. She was not prepared for how big an audience Stargate had, as she wasn’t really familiar with the Sci-Fi genre itself. She knew which shows were shooting around Vancouver but that was where her knowledge ended. Having acted in several Sci-Fi series she started to get into the genre itself and found that it was a genre she loved. She was one of the few actors on the series that was actually approached to audition by the producers themselves. She initially read for Chloe but quickly realized that she wasn’t right for that role. She ended up finding herself in the role of T.J and when auditioning for that role, she nailed it.
What really attracted Huffman to the series was the fact that they took the time to develop the characters and focus on them over the flashy effects. Whilst she felt there was some negativity towards this approach as it was vastly different from the previous Stargate series, she also felt that the stories that came out of the character driven aspects were a lot stronger. She enjoyed evolving T.J throughout the series and played on the fact that the character was maturing in her role as the medical doctor, and that she was no longer just flying by the seat of her pants- but actually starting to get the confidence in her abilities as a healer.
Chloe Armstrong was the daughter of a visiting Senator to the Icarus base who was caught up in everything that happened. She takes a mental beating very early in the series with her father dying and facing imminent death herself. She sought solace in Lt. Scott, which turned into a relationship. Initially her story lines all revolved around her relationship with Lt. Scott and Eli, however, in the season 1 episode, Space, she was abducted by a group of aliens. From then on, the aliens influence on her evolved into her beginning a sort of transformation. Whilst the transformation was halted, there were lingering side effects which were never fully explored due to the series end.
Elyse Levesque had been a child actor on Incredible Story Studio before moving on to other roles, mostly guest appearances on various TV series and the odd TV Movie. She was cast in the role of Chloe after a successful screen test; they wanted her to cry in the screen test and of course as soon as she needed to for her audition she was unable to get many tears up. She saw the next woman coming out of the screen test and she was drenched with tears. At that point she thought she had lost out on the role, but she was successful. Levesque expected that her character would move more into a leadership role but when she got the outline of where the character was heading in season 2 she was really surprised and excited about the direction Chloe was heading in. Of the love triangle between Chloe, Scott and Eli, she spoke about how Eli was a friend to Chloe unlike any she had before, because she came from a world where she didn’t really trust anyone. Eli was the first person she met who would literally give his life for her and Levesque did feel that Chloe loved Eli, but that she also saw him as just a friend and nothing more.
The first time we meet Master Sergeant Ronald Greer he is in the brig for assaulting a superior officer, and yet his fellow officers placed a great amount of trust in Greer. He was a bit of a renegade and thrived in the hostile environment that Destiny took them to. He was always willing to put himself in harm’s way to save the lives of others, even to the point of offering to donate a kidney to save the life of one of the scientists. He was portrayed by Jamil Walker Smith, who-at the time-was best known for his voice acting work in the series Hey Arnold. Comparing the two roles, he felt that the voice acting helped prepare him for screen acting because it was mostly dialogue work which prepared him for cold reading. At the time of his casting, he had just written and directed a film that was about marines going away to war- so he had interviewed several Marines at Camp Pendleton. Smith’s favorite episode of the first season was Lost because it was the first episode that really delved into Greer’s past and explored where he came from.
Of all the characters in Stargate Universe, Camile Wray was a character in an unexpected position for a Sci-Fi series. A human resources officer, Camile was also the first gay character in a Stargate series. The character struggled with being away from her long-term partner, however, she stepped up to a leadership role taking on the role of the leader of the civilian population of Destiny. Camile was portrayed by Ming-Na Wen, a veteran actor known most notably for her long running role in the hit series E.R. Ming-Na rarely took work outside of Los Angeles because of her family commitments, but Robert C. Cooper talked her into taking the role and assured her that they could work out a schedule so she could be in Los Angeles with her family as often as possible. Of course, this meant a lot of flying back and forth- she joked about having meetings on flights that she never would have had if she had stayed in Los Angeles. Camile was always battling for complete control of Destiny and whilst she didn’t trust Rush, she allied herself with him in order to try and get more people on board. Ming-Na is a big fan of Sci-Fi and she had so much fun working on the series, even the simple things such as standing on the set gave her pause and she felt like she was a little girl playing Star Wars.
The series was shot mostly on sound stages but they did get the chance to shoot some location work from time to time. For the episode Cloverdale they shot on location in Cloverdale, British Columbia. Cloverdale is one of the major shooting locations for Vancouver-based film and TV series. For the third episode, Air Part 3, they actually left Vancouver to shoot the desert scenes and moved to White Sands, New Mexico. The five day shoot in New Mexico was a horrible shoot for everyone involved, due mostly to the extreme heat. Towards the end of the shoot the temperatures got as high as 117 degrees Celsius (242 degrees Fahrenheit) and the cast especially really suffered as they were in full costume.
The major issue a lot of Stargate fans had with Stargate Universe was the fact that it had become more of a soap opera than a Sci-Fi series. Whilst the other series had relationships, they never had full on love triangles and jealous ex-lovers. Another thing that really hurt it was that in the 200th episode of Stargate SG1, one of the parodies was a recast younger edgier version of the show, and whilst they were parodying it, Stargate Universe actually did most of what they were parodying in the clip. Although there was some solid Sci-Fi in the series, the soap opera aspects of the show put off a lot of people. Another issue was that it took too long to really find its feet and by the time it had done, a lot of people had already tuned out. I have watched Stargate SG1 more times than I can count, same for Atlantis, but I’ve only seen Stargate Universe once. Whilst I did enjoy it, whenever I wanted to watch Stargate it was never the series that I would go to. I would always go to either SG1 or Atlantis. Maybe at some point I will re-watch the whole series again and given more time away, I might have a much greater appreciation for it. But at the moment I felt that it was an OK addition to the franchise. I don’t think it was the dog shit entry that some people accuse it of being, but it is far from the best series in the franchise. The series was cancelled after its second season and the main reason was due to MGM’s bankruptcy. With the cancellation of Stargate Universe, for the first time in 15 years the Stargate franchise itself had ceased production.
In 2018, a ten mini-sode series called Stargate Origins was released. Each episode was ten minutes long, which when edited together would make a 100-minute film. The series was a prequel to the original film that followed Catherine Langford’s exploits in 1939 as her and her father tried to uncover the secrets of the mysterious ring that was found in the Egyptian desert ten years previously. The series was directed by Mercedes Bryce Morgan and written by Justin Michael Terry and Mark Ilvedson. Origins would be available exclusively on the new streaming service that MGM had set up for all things Stargate; Stargate Command. They said that the series would be a thank you to the fans and that it wouldn’t step on any previously established canon.
Where to begin with this series? Abysmal is not a word that I normally use- I tend to go with more colorful metaphors such as shit, or fucking shit. Stargate Origins was the biggest steamiest pile of shit that the Stargate franchise has ever produced. Now, I watched it from start to finish in one sitting. If I hadn’t been writing this article I would have given up after two episodes, maximum. The writing, acting, visual effects, editing and even the sound mixing was just awful. It had such a predictable ending to it which was even worse than I had even Imagined. The first ten-minute episode is made up of about five minutes of stock footage from the original film. When they say Naquadah they pronounce it Nagada- but the subtitles say Naquadah. There are things in the series that just wouldn’t have happened in 1939 and the way they keep it from stepping on previously established canon is the Sci-Fi equivalent of “and it was all a crazy dream.”
The whole series was an insult to the fans, as soon as Catherine sees how the Stargate opens, I immediately thought to myself that she is getting her memory wiped. And then they doubled down on it and had her instruct her two companions on how to open the Stargate. When they travel through the Stargate in an attempt-a very, very loose attempt- to recreate the shot of Daniel Jackson’s face passing through the water from the original film, they basically have the actress playing Catherine dunk her head into what looks like a fish tank. That effect in the original film was well thought out and done to make it look nothing like putting someone’s head into a tank of water- in Origins, it felt like they just said, “Oh dunk your head in this fish tank and look surprised.” The Goa’uld had yellow contact lenses in instead of glowing eyes which just looked weird, there was a strange decision to have a Harsesis child which went nowhere and Ra’s appearance at the end was just to monologue about how evil he is.
I’m going to speak about the end and then I’m going to move on because frankly four paragraphs is too much to dedicate to this train wreck but it’s part of the franchise now, no matter how much we wish it wasn’t. So, I mentioned the mind erasure earlier on- it gets worse though. Aset, or as she was also known as Isis (who was established to be dead in Stargate SG1 in a canopic jar at this point, but that’s another issue that I won’t go any further into) uses a Goa’uld hand device to erase Catherine and her father’s memories. But what she also does is then tell them to assemble a team and come back and overthrow Ra. The list of things she doles out to Catherine to do was ridiculous and I was half expecting her to say “You will find a man called Daniel Jackson and he will work out how the Stargate works.” This decision to have Aset tell Catherine to do all of these things just takes away so much from the character. In the series, Catherine was seen to be this wonderful woman who spent her life fighting for the government to let her research the Stargate and to have the drive and determination taken away and replaced with some sort of weird command from an alien ruins her character’s motivation. I can safely say that I will not watch Stargate Origins ever again and I actively advise Stargate fans who haven’t seen it to avoid it.
The Stargate franchise started out as a single film with a modest budget for a Sci-Fi epic- it has since ballooned into an epic franchise that rivals the likes of Star Trek and Star Wars in fandom circles. It now comprises of three live action TV series spanning seventeen seasons and 352 episodes, 4 films (if you include the film release of Origins), numerous books, a mobile game, fan made video games, role-playing games and merchandise. Two officially licenced video games went into production during the series run, Stargate SG1: The Alliance and Stargate Worlds. Neither of them were ever finished, however, two trailers did come out for The Alliance and footage of it was actually used in the episode Avatar. There are Stargate conventions that take place all over the world and the cast have been attending conventions since the beginning.
Amanda Tapping’s first convention experience was in England and when she went out on stage, she was freaked out how many people were there to see her. It was like nothing she had ever experienced before. Women have come up to Tapping and told her how they got into engineering, or science or joined the military because of her portrayal of Samantha Carter. She has been given so many gifts by fans and in the episode, Ascension, she actually included some of the gifts in the decoration of Carter’s house. She has spoken numerous times about how moving it is having people come up to her and tell her how much of an influence she has been in their lives. At a convention it was revealed to be her birthday so the entire convention hall sang her “Happy Birthday“.
Christopher Judge loves the convention appearances, he always warns people at the start of his talks that he has ADD and mild Tourette’s and tries so hard to keep his language clean. However, he tells the audience that if he does swear, he will give every child in the hall a dollar. At one convention appearance, a rather strong swear word slipped out and he asked all the children in the audience to come and get their dollar- suddenly a sea of children appeared and he had to get someone to go change a $50 to have enough dollars for all the kids. Judge loves the conventions because he got to show everyone more of himself- people expected him to be this stoic warrior when in reality he is so goofy.
Initially Michael Shanks avoided the conventions because he didn’t know what to expect and had a pre-conceived notion of what they would be like. He felt that they would be much more intimidating but when he finally went to a convention, he realised how much fun they can be. He still found it a little overwhelming when he had the one on one time with some people and they got a little too close, but apart from those rare occasions, he loved it. He is also probably the most honest of the cast at conventions. When being asked about the Zat’nik’tel weapon, he didn’t mince his words when he said that it looked like a penis and he thought the way it operated was stupid. One shot stun, two kill and three disintegrates. He also revealed that if he could avoid it, he would never carry a Zat and it was rare that you would ever see him with one.
Richard Dean Anderson was late to the conventions- I don’t think he attended a single convention whilst the series was still on the air. However, in recent years he has made several appearances in conventions. For Anderson he loved just talking to people; his sense of humor would come out very quickly and that sarcastic O’Neill character we all loved would be there on stage because that is pretty much what Anderson is like in real life. He has told stories about him and Christopher Judge trying to out-fart each other, and stories about getting into trouble for ad-libbing. When asked at a convention if he would return to Stargate, he said “absolutely”.
Joe Flanigan was a huge fan of the conventions because it was really the only time he managed to interact with any of the fans. He would always get such an intense feeling of gratitude from the fans at conventions and it was at a convention that he revealed that he had tried to lease the Stargate franchise. He hadn’t talked about it up until that point because he was so disappointed by the outcome and he felt like he had let the fans down, but getting it out really helped clear that feeling.
The future of the Stargate franchise is uncertain, with the reboot of the film dead and the fan outcry against Origins, MGM has apparently spoken with Brad Wright to discuss where they can take the series next. Wright has publicly stated that fans should not expect a full TV series anytime soon but he has said that MGM are interested in doing something, as they realize that it is a genuine franchise and they are taking it very seriously. With Richard Dean Anderson saying that he wants the series to come back with Brad Wright behind i, and saying that if Brad wants him back he will do it, the chances that Stargate will return in some form are high. I hope that whatever we get is much closer to SG1 and Atlantis and very far away from Origins. However, if I have one wish it would be to see Stargate SG1 get a Blu-ray release sometime soon, because it deserves it.
The franchise has survived and endured 25 years; it gave us all so many wonderful moments- funny, heartbreaking, nail-biting, exciting moments. It taught us about mythology, about science, it inspired and opened our eyes to the mysteries of life and the universe. For me the Stargate franchise isn’t just another TV series or film to watch,-it is an important part of my life. I am so glad that I turned the channel onto Sky One all those years ago and saw the final ten minutes of the season 3 finale, Nemesis. In doing so I found a series,-and later franchise- that has become a huge part of my life in ways that no other TV series or film has ever done before. If there is more Stargate to come and it is closer in quality to Stargate SG1, I cannot wait to see what the next 25 years brings us.
Matt is a huge film and TV buff who studied film and moving image production at university. In his spare time he enjoys reading comics and books, the occasional gaming session and writing novels.