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Stargate: Atlantis Review

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by Simon Crust Nov 1, 2005 at 12:00 AM

    The spin off series is nothing new, name any successful TV series and nearly all have a direct spin off; some are better known than others, becoming almost synonymous with each other, for example Buffy and Angel; itself a series taking a leaf from the Star Trek franchise, the first to have a direct spin off run concurrently with its flagship series. It is no surprise then that the phenomenally successful Stargate SG1 was given the green light for a spin off, but it is a surprise as to why they waited so long, eight years in fact. It was widely accepted that season seven of SG1 would be its last, ending with a spectacular climax to be concluded as a feature film. However, the Sci-Fi channel renewed the contract for another year and at the same time gave the go ahead for Stargate Atlantis' first year. Taking as its lead from the same climax at the end of season seven of SG1, the Atlantis series also took Torri Higginson who plays Dr. Elizabeth Weir, the then head of the SGC. Her task, and thus the plot of the pilot was to ready a team and use the Stargate to travel to the legendary city of Atlantis, a real place built by the Ancients (the builders of the Stargates), which is situated in the Pegasus galaxy. The team is civilian lead, but contains a strong military presence, the combination of which alters the lead dynamic compared to its mother series. The city itself was abandoned some ten thousand years ago and was submerged when first discovered. It is only with the arrival of the Atlantian team that it comes to life and resurfaces due to its extremely low power supplies, the reserves of which are not even enough to return our team home, effectively trapping them. Thus the season is set; all new team; all new galaxy to explore and all new stargate adventures as the team searches for new power supplies. The pilot episode also introduces the nemesis of the Pegasus galaxy, the Wraith, (glibly described by the behind the scenes crew as Marilyn Manson vampires - not sure who should be insulted there) a race as ancient as the Ancients themselves and were ultimately the cause of their destruction. It was an unfortunate side effect that the Atlantis team awoke their entire civilisation when they tried to rescue one of their own. I know this is only the first season, and we are told they are still waking up, but the Wraith do seem rather easy to tame considering they are feared throughout the entire galaxy, with the exception of the one in episode twelve, a truly formidable opponent there.

    As to the team leaders, there is the aforementioned Dr. Elizabeth Weir, a diplomat by trade, she leads with a feminine touch, i.e. without the presence of a leader used to making the hard choices, yet. The 'SG1' portion is headed up by Major/Lt. Colonel John Sheppard (Joe Flanigan), in a role very similar to that of Richard Dean Anderson (O'Neall) even down to the looks and wit. The Teal'C character is played by Rachel Luttrell, her character Teyla Emmagan is one of a race of people rescued by the Atlantis team and brought back with them to inhabit the city, not only a skilled warrior she also acts as liaison between the various races of the Pegasus galaxy and the Atlantis team. The Sam Carter and Daniel Jackson role is played by David Hewlett as Dr. Rodney McKay, himself another cross over character from SG1. His role is to be scientific advisor and all round genius as well as being comic relief, Ancient interpreter and general annoyance. Leaving Rainbow San Francks bringing up the rear as Lt. Aiden Ford, the Doctor Who companion if you like, there to ask the right questions. There are also a huge number of other incidental characters and as the season progresses these are fleshed out a lot more than one would normally expect. This does have the detrimental effect of reducing the main team's characterisation and as such their working dynamic is never fully explored, there is little emotional involvement both between the characters and we as viewers. It is this flaw that the series has to deal with as without that hook, the eye candy won't hold the audience for long.

    The two episodes immediately following the pilot are stand alone and have do not embellish upon any of the elements already set up. I understand this is due to the writers getting to know the characters; however I felt it detracted from the strong start. It is not until episode three (Suspicion) that the arc continues, though this episode could also be viewed as an excuse to rid the series of so many extras, being as it relocates all of Teyla's people to the newly discovered mainland. From here on in the series does become far more involving with even the stand alone episodes having sense of building towards the climax. In episode eight, Underground, we are introduced to the Genii, they later get an excellent two part episode involving the taking of Atlantis and the subsequent 'Die Hard-esq' retaking, and at times become more of a threat than the dreaded Wraith. It is with the Brotherhood, episode sixteen that things really start to hot up for Atlantis with the arrival of a Wraith dart that scans the city then self destructs but only after relaying its scan to deep space, to three awaiting Hive ships, only two weeks away! Would you believe it that would make it the season finale too?

    I would dearly love to review the next four stories as the build up was such that they would definitely be the best of the season; unfortunately there is a fault with the pressing of some of the DVD season sets. It appears that disc five, having all the right printing, is in fact the same as disc one; i.e. the pilot and first two episodes, including extras. This is a huge disappointment to me, and a problem that anyone purchasing this set should be aware of! As such I cannot complete the season review other than to say after a slow start the season did pick up dramatically and did have me wanting to see more. The fact that the missing final disc held such disappointment to me could itself be viewed as a testament to the quality of the show. There is enough of the SG1 formula to keep fans of that show happy, there is enough new material to bring on board and keep its own fan base, and finally there is just enough drama and eye candy to keep the audience coming back for more. If season two builds more on the interpersonal relationships and their plight at being trapped and essentially cut of from their home world and at the hands of alien invaders this series has the potential to become very big indeed, already is has attracted the attention of the award critics as it continues to be nominated for and has won various awards including Emmys.