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Sci-Fi for the Masses by Pete Written on 18th March 2006

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Teal'c Carter, O'Neill and Jackson Posing
Okay, okay, I’ll start by confessing that I’m a sci-fi geek, but before all you non-sci-fi’ers start rolling your eyes, I’d like to point out that I don’t watch just any old drivel. I’ll even go so far as to bet that any non-sci-fi geek out there would even find the series I’m about to lay so much praise on at the very least entertaining, so give me a chance before you dismiss this article out of hand!

I must say I was extremely sceptical of a TV series based on such a top-notch film, and even though I loved the TV series MacGuyver, I couldn’t shift the mental image of MacGuyver travelling to other planets. As such, and much to my own loss, I didn’t give the series the time of day when it first aired on Channel 4 here in the UK.

It took a chance viewing of a two-parter Into the Fire/Serpent’s Lair one afternoon to make me realise that this was more than just a show with the same four cast member boring the pants off the viewer each week. With this two-parter I saw that there were story arcs, character developments, a touch of humour and a good sense of camaraderie that made the whole thing more believeable than I’d imagined it would be.

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"Guys... did you spike my drink again?!"
Because I didn’t have much better to do with my spare time, I bought the Season 1 boxed set and was rather pleasantly blown away from beginning to end. Okay, so the actors portraying Colonel Jack O’Neill and Dr Daniel Jacksonn (team leader and archaeologist respectively) had changed from those in the film, but they and the other characters introduced in the pilot episode really made the show.

The Characters

Colonel Jack ONeill, played by Richard Dean Anderson (who for some reason gets his name slapped all over the DVD box, titles and just about anything else… must be marketing plot to subtly say “Hey look! We’ve got MacGuyver here so it has to be good!”), is team leader of SG-1 – the first team formed to travel to new worlds through the Stargate, which it just so happens can go to thousands of other worlds and not just Abydos which we see in the motion picture.

Richard Dean Anderson altered his character considerably form the stony-faced O’Neill which Kurt Russel played in the film and, thankfully, RDA’s O’Neill can crack a joke or two. In fact, he’s the main source of comedy in the entire show which serves to lighten up what would otherwise be an all-too-serious show. He gets to act dumb when someone spurts out a load of techno-babble so it gets explained to him (and us) in layman’s terms - something which Star Trek ought to have done!

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"See this?" *WHACK*
Supporting O’Neill is his second in command – Captain Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping) who, in the pilot, comes across as something of a super-feminist, but thankfully they stopped that from episode two onwards and she’s then both much more believable and likeable.

Carter is the science geek and serves to basically discover the source of each show’s problems which the team then have to put right before they can return to base for a mug of cocoa and a choccy biscuit.

Following on from the film, we see the return of Dr Daniel Jackson, the archaeologist who unravelled the secrets of the Stargate and made it work in the first place. He plays the character of Daniel Jackson so faithfully to the film that it’s almost scary – the mannerisms and speech are identical and it’s only when you actually go back and check the film that you can convince yourself it’s not the same guy.

Dr Jackson basically serves to read all manner of alien language just to get over what would otherwise be a very tedious drawback in each episode. Apparently learning alien languages is relatively easy if you look like a complete nerd.

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The Bearded One
Finally, bringing the team up to four and providing us with a constant reminder of the main antagonists in the series, we have Teal’c who is a Jaffa – one of the foot-soldiers of the parasitical alien race known as the Goa’uld. Just to keep things interesting, Teal’c and his fellow Jaffa carry a larval Goa’uld in their stomachs and carry them until they are mature enough for implanting into a human host. The up-side for Teal’c? The larval Goa’uld heals all his wounds and makes him immune to the plethora of diseases which the rest of the team get on an almost scary basis. The downside? If it’s ever removed, he dies!

So…a range of characters so varied that even if one manages to bore you, there’s always another you’ll be fond of.

The Ongoing Stories

Thankfully, this show veers away from the Star Trek way of thinking and ultimately, the team interfere with a different alien race in each episode just by stepping through the Stargate. This is often where the problems begin as the only other people who use the gate system are the evil Goa’uld. So, the team often find themselves having to tell the locals that they’re not the bad guys and quite often one or all of the team will be taken prisoner in one way or another during the early episodes.

Kicking off from the first series though, and indeed the first episode, we get a number of story arcs to keep us tuning in for more.

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So... do I die this episode or do you?
Firstly, Daniel Jackson’s wife Sha’uri gets implanted with a Goa’uld larva and goes off with the main bad guy for the first five seasons – Apophis (another Egyptian god – there’s a distinct Egyptian theme in case you hadn’t noticed from the film!). Daniel joins SG-1 as archaeologist and translator initially only to find and save his wife.

We’re introduced to the fact that the Jaffa only follow the Goa’uld as they believe them to be gods, so Teal’c and his mentor – Master Bra’Tac (Tony Amendola) – set off to overthrow the Goa’uld and bring freedom to all Jaffa.

Early on we’re introduced to the idea of the System Lords – rival Goa’uld who have taken on the guise of ancient earth religious figures. Initially, they’re mostly from ancient Egyptian mythology, but as the series progresses we see some of them portraying ancient Greek and Japanese figures.

We get our first introduction (though not an actual sighting) in season one of what will turn out to be Earth’s first major ally – the Asgard. The Asgard are a powerful race who could defeat the Goa’uld and bring peace to the galaxy, but as we find out in a later story arc, they’ve got their own problems to deal with – the deadly Replicators!

Series 3 or 4 (I forget which) sees the introduction of the Replicators. These are little spidery-type robots made up of small building blocks who can rebuild themselves when damaged and move from planet to planet using up resources to build more replicators and seek out new technologies. They’re like Star Trek’s Borg, but they just opt for killing other life forms who get in their way, thus making them even more formidable and enemy.

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"Alas, poor Yorick..." Shit... where did I put that skull?!
Aside from these arcs, the show does a wide range of one-off episodes which occasionally serve to put across certain points about life (though not in the Star Trek we’ll spell it out really carefully for you way) or to further develop our understanding of the characters or even to explore the relationships between the characters.

Thankfully the characters do evolve and O’Neill warms up a little towards Dr Jackson, Teal’c occasionally says more than three words an episode and *gasp* even smiles, and there’s usually a hint in one episode in each season that O’Neill and Carter may have more than just feelings of friendship for each other.

The supporting cast also helps to provide a little variety in the show – Major General George Hammond (Don S. Davis) is the base’s leader. He serves to keep the team under control when they occasionally want to go on a suicide mission – it’d make the show less believable if they were allowed to go unchallenged, though he’s usually talked into letting them do what they want…in a believable kind of way...

Dr Janet Fraser (Teryl Rothery) always patches them up no matter what alien disease they bring back with them, but it’s always explained in a way that you can believe rather than just a one-injection-cures-all fashion.

Apophis (Peter Williams) – the evil Goa’uld who runs off with Dr Jackson’s wife – brings an air of arrogance to the show that sets the template for all the Goa’uld we meet from here on in.

Those Hard-Working Folks Behind the Scenes

The actors make the characters – no doubt about that, but without considerable assistance they wouldn’t be able to make the show work.

The writers behind Stargate are the real heroes of the show and succeed in writing episodes which should at the very least interest you and, hopefully, immerse you deeply in their world. Cleverly, as you never know when a series will be cancelled, they write cliffhangers into the last episode of each of the first four or five seasons which had the fans begging for more, but there doesn’t seem a need to continue down this track now that the show has entered it’s tenth season!

Bringing those stories to life, the directors (especially the regular ones such as Martin Wood and Peter DeLuise) do an amazing job and have a good working relationship with the cast and crew (as can be seen from the extras on the later DVDs). I don’t think I’ve ever seen such messing about going on on set and I’m the kind of sad individual who watches all the extras.

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Chilling Battles!
The special effects department and set builders appear to have worked flat out to make the environments come alive which is no mean feat on a show which can often be in a different location each episode. As the seasons progress, the effects get more and more fantastic, even coming up to feature-film quality which is quite an achievement for a TV series.

The sound effects team and composers have also done a fantastic job in continuing the mood from the motion picture, but branding it very much as their own, all the while fitting the mood or effects requirements of the scene.

Over all, the show just works. All the elements above come together to provide forty-odd minutes of action-packed entertainment each episode which will have you gripping the edge of your seat and wanting more. There’s love, laughter, life and death and a lot more besides.

It’s not just easy-viewing television – it’ll leave you wanting more!


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