14 March 2004 | evilcritic
The franchise to fear
Ten years after Emmerich & Devlin showed the world how it SHOULD be done, the TV spin off of their (still) greatest achievement has finally proven itself to be the best franchise in existence today.
For those unfamiliar with the original film, the Stargate is a device found buried in the Giza plateau of Egypt in 1928. In 1994 (or 1996, if you follow the chronology of the series) the United States Air force has come into possession of the gate and recruits radical Egyptologist Dr. Daniel Jackson (then played by James Spader) to translate the runes found alongside it and activate the gate.
Sure enough, Jackson opens the gate and a reconnaissance team led by the stoic Colonel Jack O'Neil (a dour-faced Kurt Russell) is assigned to survey the world on the other side, later to be known as Abydos. Jackson too, is sent along with the goal of reopening the gate on the other side. Once on the other side though, the team come across a civilisation being ruled over by the mythical god Ra and come to discover the truth behind both the Abydonians and the Ancient Egyptians - that thousands of years ago a dying alien parasite came to Earth and took a host in the form of a primitive human boy (Jaye Davidson). Using his advanced technology, the alien - now in human form - masqueraded as the god Ra, conquering the planet and using the Stargate to transport thousands of humans to Abydos to mine the minerals needed to sustain his technology.
Needless to say, O'Neil and Jackson see to it that the Abydonians are shown the truth about their god and rebel against him. Jackson stays behind on Abydos with his new wife Sha'uri (later changed to Share) and O'Neil's team returns to Earth.
The series picks up one year later, when the now dormant Stargate is reactivated unexpectedly and a hostile alien force seemingly under the leadership of Ra launches an attack on the base, taking a hostage in the process. In response, the base's new CO, General George Hammond (the superb Don S. Davis) calls on the now-retired Jack O'Neill (who, as well an extra 'L' in his name, has also become the much-lighter Richard Dean Anderson) to lead his team back to Abydos and determine the nature of this new threat. Back on Abydos however, Daniel Jackson (now played to perfection by Michael Shanks) shows O'Neill and scientist Captain (later Major) Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping) that the Stargate can evidently open doorways to more planets than simply Abydos and that whoever attacked Earth did not originate from Abydos.
The situation becomes more critical though, when the same force attacks Abydos and both Share and her brother Ska'ra are taken. Jackson immediately returns to Earth, where the President authorises the creation of nine teams to uncover what lies through the Stargate on each different world - O'Neill's team (including Jackson and Carter) being designated SG-1.
Following the Stargate address seen during the attack on Abydos, SG-1 travel to a planet known as Chulak where they discover the true origin of the enemy force - another alien masquerading as a god, this time as the god Apophis. The situation worsens when both Share and Ska'ra are revealed to have become hosts to the aliens, known as the Goa'uld. Imprisoned on Chulak, SG-1 must rely on Apophis' head guard when he turns traitor and agrees to help the team escape. The alien, Teal'c (the impeccable Christopher Judge), leads the team to the Stargate, all the while fighting a bloody battle in an attempt to recover Share and Ska'ra.
After the rather breakneck pilot, season 1 of SG-1 falls into a rather repetitive pattern pretty quickly - the team shows up at a planet looking for advanced technology to fight the Goa'uld, stumbles across a problem with either the locals or said technology and spends the rest of the episode solving that problem. Although the episodes aren't really that lacklustre, they do serve to remind you that the Star Trek franchise has existed for years on pretty much the same recurring `planet of the week' plot. It's not until the season's final three episodes that the show shows even any sign of promise.
The season closing trilogy however, rejuvenate the series back to the strong form it displayed in the pilot, when Apophis finally launches his ships against Earth and SG-1 alone must prevent the planet's destruction. Although the story is concluded in the second season premiere, the main plotline picks up tremendously from there. By two-thirds of the way through it's sophomore season Apophis is gone and the scope of the show is revealed - there was never only two aliens to fight, there are in fight a large group - all masquerading as gods - known as the System Lords.
The show from then on deals largely with defending Earth against these enemies, although at the midway point in season three Apophis returns as the series' biggest foe and takes much of the play until the season four/five two-parter. It is in Apophis' aftermath that a new foe is revealed : Anubis. Once a powerful and sadistic Goa'uld System Lord, Anubis was banished when even the other Goa'ulds objected to his activates.
Mastering the technology of the Stargate builders (known as the Ancients), Anubis takes the tension to a whole new level when - by the close of season seven - he shows up in orbit of Earth with an armada waiting to destroy the planet.
The beauty of the series is simple : it never slumps unrecoverably. In every instance of a slightly dull episode, the following episode will undoubtedly show itself to be one of the best pieces of television you'll ever see. On a story-arc level alone, the series beats genre shows like Deep Space Nine and The X-Files hands-down almost simply because the arc stays consistent, there are no ludicrous changes of pace, no unexplained leaps that need to be taken and no confusion over the eventual direction of the story.
The evolution of the show is also a high point. By season six, technology recovered in the preceding seasons have been mastered and put into practical use. Characters show bonds that grow with time, even enemies become fleshed out and changed allegiances (for the first time I can remember on television) are actually plausible.
The two biggest selling points of SG-1 are it's writing and it's performances. In Anderson, the show has a leading man that fits every bill perfectly. The character - although admittedly a big leap from Russell's performance - grows incredibly to the point where every nuance is golden. In the confines of the Stargate universe, O'Neill has basically two roles - comedian and action hero, both of which are superbly portrayed. Shanks begins the series by essentially playing Spader playing Jackson and then evolving the character to the point that you forget Spader ever filled the role in the first place. Tapping - although irritating as hell in the initial episodes - eventually becomes intensely loveable, mainly serving as both the frustrated emotional core of the team and the brains of the outfit - coming up with a plan for every alien threat that comes their way. Judge is also spot-on, taking the kind of stoicism earmarked by Michael Dorn for all those years and graduating it to a level of pure awe. Teal'c is a character that in the hands of an other actor could have been a disaster, but with Judge you actually find yourself revelling in the character's highs and lows as much as he himself does. Obviously the character fills the role of the team's muscle, but his level of comic relief is superb - not just on a level of writing, but also on a level of deadpan and delivery.
This show launches it's first real spin off in July (US) and September (UK) in Stargate : Atlantis, and with a proposed movie on the horizon the future is looking rosy. Above all, this is a franchise that deserves it's endurance and widespread appeal.