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Stargate SG-1 Review

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

    Thank the maker for DVD. No longer do we mere mortals have to suffer at the whims of the broadcasting channels and their inexplicable treatment of the science fiction series. Because this poor treatment is not limited to just one channel, oh no, this is a broad spectrum of conspiracy worthy of the X-Files, curiously, itself a program that suffered at the hands of our broadcasters. Stargate SG-1 started life as a spin off series in 1997, from the Roland Emmerich vehicle Stargate. The series quickly established itself as a force to be reckoned with and has outshined its rather lacklustre forbearer. In fact it is now well into its ninth year and matches the record held previously by the mighty, aforementioned, X-files, in becoming the longest running sci fi series on American TV. Why then do our British broadcast channels insist upon erratic scheduling and graveyard spots when, clearly, the shows in question are some of the best television. I guess that must remain one of those unanswerable questions like how big is the universe, what was before the big bang or why do Hollywood insist upon remakes.

    The reason Stargate SG-1 has remained around for so long is two fold; superb characters and consistently good story telling. The basic premise of a single 'stargate'; a devise able to create an artificial wormhole allowing instantaneous travel between two distant worlds, of the original film has been expanded for the series to an unknown number of stargates, scattered throughout our galaxy and beyond. This expansion of the original idea has allowed SG-1 to eclipse its origins and also is a neat way of explaining why everyone the team meet is humanoid. The wider scope of the series also needed a bigger or expanded baddie, instead of a single Egyptian God, there is an entire race called the Goa'uld, with their slaves the Jaffa, hell bent on ruling. Later, because forces are equal and opposite, we are introduced to the Asgard, the small grey alien figure seen throughout the world. Next baddies are the Replicators, insect like machines practically unstoppable, and finally the enigmatic Ancients; a super race upon which all the technology of the show is derived, it was they that created the Stargates in the first place. The human element is SG-1 an elite squad of the US Air Force charged with the protection of Earth from all the malevolent forces out there. It is the US Air Force that has control of the Stargate deep within an underground mountain complex called Stargate Control (SGC). The SG teams explore the different worlds the gates are positioned, in the first instance for exploration and then to procure alien technology to help protect the world from invaders.

    It is the working dynamic of the SG-1 team that keeps the audience tuning in each week. Richard Dean Anderson as Jack O'Neill is the leader of the team; his dry wit is never short of an answer and tends toward asking or answering what the audience is thinking, prime example in this eighth season Teal'c grows hair, O'Neill's first line of the season is “Teal'c, what's with the hair?” Amanda Tapping plays Samantha Carter, which is a combination of the 'Spock and McCoy' role, in that she is the scientific brains of the outfit, often having reams of techno babble to spout and then having to qualify to O'Neill (and the audience) what it actually means. Christopher Judge plays Teal'c, he is a Jaffa that rebelled against the System Lords and now fights to rid the galaxy of the Goa'uld, a sort of Warf character. Finally there is Michael Shanks as Dr Daniel Jackson, the archaeologist and linguist without whom the entire series could not exist since it was he who first translated the inscriptions to allow the Stargate to work. Through out the series run these characters have been through an awful lot and have developed further than most characters of any sci fi series. You see, unlike other programs these characters actually progress through their lives, be it personal or military rank. In this eighth season Carter is promoted to colonel and O'Neil to Brigadier General in charge of the entire SGC.

    As well as the interpersonal relationships between the group, this is the military, and the show is not shy in demonstrating this. In fact SG-1 is the only show on TV that is endorsed by the real US Air Force, so much so that they have a close set of military liaisons that advise in such diverse subjects as the length of Carter's hair, to military tactics, to the unattainable relationship between Carter and O'Neill. Anderson's portrayal of O'Neill has earned him the respect of the Air Force proper; they even honoured him with a brigadier general rank for services. It is this grounding in reality coupled with the fantastic story elements and above all consistency that has earned the show itself numerous awards, including Emmy's, that is still continues to win today.

    The eighth season of SG-1 came as a bit of a shock to the makers; season seven was scheduled to end on a spectacular cliff hanger that could be resolved in a feature film, and it did. However, when the Sci Fi Channel granted the licence for another season big changes were made; for one, the promotions, practically, this meant that Anderson was cast in the show in a smaller role, he wanted to make this his final season. Also, it was generally felt that this would be the final season so a decision was made to make this the best damn season of the lot. Over the twenty episodes there is a feeling of swelling to a climax, many of the previous years story arc are repeated and many forge together to the final climatic episodes; much in the same way the Buffy series did, only much, much better. The stand alone episodes, themselves, take the unusual step of developing the characters further as each of the team stars to see life outside the SGC and want to move on with their own lives, all leading to the conclusion that this is the end. The latter half of the season is just a pure rollercoaster ride, the first half is 'slow' in that it is building up the tension with more stand alone episodes, as you slowly go up the hill, then suddenly you are off, when nearly all the episodes have some reference to the final two parter, in some of the most thrilling and exciting TV entertainment this side of the galaxy.

    There is not a bad episode amongst the season, all are consistently good, but some do shine more than others. The season opener deserves special mention as it answers most of the questions asked at season seven's finale as well as setting up the spin of series Stargate Atlantis and introducing a new villainous Replicator. The next two episodes principally concentrate on O'Neill's new command and are perhaps the weakest of the season before the sublime Icon. This episode concentrates on a civil war started by the appearance of SG-1 through the gate; an excellent paranoid study of religious cult activity and the brutality of war; sometimes the best intentions just go wrong. This is followed by Avatar, although using a much seen 'trapped in a computer game' scenario, even from SG-1's own history, it is played with such gusto and looks so good it wins you over. Affinity starts off as another Teal'c heavy episode as he tries to adjust to life outside of the SGC, but quickly turns into conspiracy with The Trust blackmailing Daniel about some Ancient symbols. Covenant sees a billionaire industrialist try to expose the existence of the alien artefacts and the Governments involvement with covering up the epic battle for the planet at the end of season seven, but again quickly turns towards a Trust conspiracy. Sacrifices, one of the weaker episodes has Teal'c worry about his son's decision to marry, though still adds to the 'everyone moving on' feel. Endgame continues The Trust conspiracy started in Affinity, also sees some of the most horrific deaths, in terms of numbers, of the series. Gemini continues the Replicator story started with the season premier with the emergence of a new baddie. Prometheus Unbound is a loose tie in to the Atlantis series, and has Daniel fending off the 'advances' of a Super Soldier that is more than it seems. It's Good to be King, the penultimate stand alone episode has the return of Harry Maybourne, now a king and 'seer', in amongst the battle to save the people SG-1 discover a time travel devise that will features strongly in the finale. Endgame provides a satisfying conclusion to The Trust story line whilst keeping it open for further exploitation should the writers so decide. Citizen Joe, is a clip show, starring Dan Castellaneta, of Simpson's fame, as a barber 'blessed' with seeing the adventures of SG-1 which quickly become an obsession for him; one of the best episodes of the season this one! From here on in, the final five episodes are relentless in their excitement, everything builds and builds to the sublime finale when the entire eight seasons come full circle and threaten its own very existence.

    It is little wonder then with such story arc and characters that are so well established that I was able to pick up and follow what was going on after a break of several seasons. Why, you ask? Because this show has been treated so badly by the British schedulers, both Sky and Channel 4 insist on erratic and maddening time slots for the show, to such a point that I, and, no doubt, many others, gave up on it. It is a tragedy that this happened, for the show is so good it deserves respect. This DVD set gives it that respect with a picture and sound second to none. Only one complaint about it; this particular set contains the shorter syndicated version of the episode Threads, and not the original broadcast length. I only found this out due to researching the set, though there is good news, apparently MGM will release the full length episode in a new box set, and better still, will exchange the shorter version sets. So this is a win win situation! At least MGM do give the show and its fans the respect it deserves and I for one thank them for it.