Friday, 31 January 2014

Stargate Atlantis and Universe

Pick (formerly Pick TV) has been running what might be called a Stargate marathon. Since about October 2012 they’ve played every episode of SG-1, Atlantis and Universe, as well as the two SG-1 films.

Rather stupidly, I managed to miss, (as I did when first broadcast) a very significant middle episode of SG-1, but otherwise I saw almost all of every series.

There will necessarily be some vague spoilers, but given SG-1 started when floppy disks were still in use (1.44MB of storage… seems ridiculous now) and Universe ended a few years ago I imagine most people who want to have seen it will have.

I wrote about SG-1 here.

To summarise, I really like SG-1. It might be my favourite sci-fi series (I’ve just started watching Battlestar Galactica, though, so that may or may not last). If you haven’t seen it, you really should give it a try.

Atlantis has some good points… but quite a few drawbacks too. I feel even some of the major characters are underdeveloped. Teyla (and the Athosians), Ford (the most boring man in the whole franchise) and Ronan lack much of a backstory. Yes, yes, Teyla’s people got attacked, but the Athosians aren’t especially interesting and if I were asked (after watching a hundred episodes) to name a few things Teyla did when she wasn’t doing her job I couldn’t answer (beyond meditating).

McKay’s a great character, but they seem to have accidentally given him too much. He’s the sarcastic one, the slightly awkward one, and the incredibly clever one. Shepard (who I really disliked initially, but thought was alright later on) is the leader, which relegates Teyla and Ford/Ronon to just muscle.

The Wraith are an interesting villain, but the lack of a real ‘bad guy’ individual early on was a weakness, I think. Apophis and others helped SG-1 (who is Holmes without Moriarty, or the Doctor without the Daleks?). Until Michael and Todd there isn’t anything remotely comparable. That said, I liked what they did with Michael and Todd quite a lot.

It is an entertaining series, but not on a par with SG-1.

Universe was a whole different bag of monkeys. To get biblical on you, Universe is the asynoptic gospel. Whereas SG-1 and Atlantis have a broadly similar feel, Universe deliberately goes for a much darker tone. The cast are stranded on a ship, Destiny, which is on the other side of the universe (hence the name) and have only limited contact with Earth.

I like the premise a lot. The execution… less so.

Robert Carlyle as Rush and David Blue as Eli were very good. I was surprised to like Eli so much. Although a mathematical genius he is the everyman character, thrust into Stargate’s advanced world out of the blue. Normally I loathe ‘nice’ everyman characters, but Blue played him very well.

Carlyle’s a cracking actor, so remarking on that is as redundant as noticing that Samuel L. Jackson is cool. Nevertheless, and for the record, Rush is the best character on the show.

But… otherwise I was less taken with the characters. It’s hard to know whether to attribute that to actors or writers. The colonel, for example, I found tedious every time I saw him. The lieutenant (Matt) came across as a stereotypical incredibly nice guy trying his best and being bland as hell. The sergeant, however, was somewhat interesting (with his anger management issues).

The dark tone was a significant shift for the franchise, but there was no reason it couldn’t work. A problem was when it butted against the light-hearted lore (I remember Jack O’Neill making a typical witticism which seemed to jar with the dreadfully serious tone of the series).

Lack of enemies (as with Atlantis) that were interesting was another problem. There were vaguely menacing but not very well-defined aliens. And automated attack drones with no backstory whatsoever. And the Lucian Alliance, which (being mercenaries) were somewhat more interesting but couldn’t fill the void by themselves.

The issue of long-term confinement with serious difficulty obtaining sufficient food and water came up a few times, and was handled pretty well.

The biggest problem Atlantis and Universe faced was an inability to match, or come close to, SG-1. I’ve heard a few more Stargate films are in the offing, so it’ll be interesting to see how they go.

Although I’ve been a bit down on the latter two series, I do like the Stargate world. It’s less serious and more humorous (and realistic because of that humour) than other sci-fi worlds, but to keep going it needs a new head of steam. Will they bring back the Goa’uld? Or the Ori (I hope not)?

And for those into sci-fi, Pick have just started repeating SG-1 (first episode is on tonight, 8pm) and Battlestar Galactica airs from 9pm on Mondays.



  1. With Atlantis at times it seemed like the character of McKay was the only one that gave the actor something to get their teeth into. The problem with Universe I found was I just couldn't remember the characters names, which made it rather difficult to feel anything about any of them.

    1. I agree on both points. Ronan and Teyla [or however it was spelt] could've and should've been a lot more interesting (as Teal'c was).

      Most of the Universe crew seemed a bit forgettable.