BLOG Going Through Another Gate

A few months ago I wrote a blog about Stargate: SG1 . I ended that blog by saying that I was heading straight into watching Stargate: Atlantis , a show I’d never seen before. Since that blog I’ve watched most of Atlantis . Sky’s run of the show is currently around episode seven of season five. Enough, I think, to give an overview, enough time to know that I like Atlantis almost as much as its parent show and that I’m going to miss it when this final season ends. And also enough time to want to rave about a certain member of the cast.

Going into Atlantis I didn’t know very much about it. I knew the basic premise because it was set up in SGI. I suppose I thought of the show as Star Trek’s DS9 compared to The Next Generation or The Original Series . I’d heard about a few of the cast and I knew that Amanda Tapping’s Sam Carter was in it for a single season. The thing I knew most about was Carson Beckett and the furore over his death and later return – the SG franchise really can be cruel to its doctors, can’t it?

The Wraith as the new big bad are great. They seemed a little bit pantomimey to begin with, but there are several scenes in the season one episode “Letters From Pegasus” where the true horror of what the Wraith represent is shown as Sheppard and Teyla witness a culling and from then on I started to take The Wraith a bit more seriously.

To begin with I missed the SG1 cast, and still do a little; Atlantis is a good show, with a great cast, but they’ll never be SG1 , and this is like watching characters that have been tweaked to the right or left of those in the original show.

But one character, Doctor Rodney McKay, stood head and shoulders above the rest. Of course I knew the character from his guest roles and banter with Sam Carter in SG1 . Rodney was my favourite from the start. He’s such an interesting, flawed man; brilliant, acerbic, sarcastic and arrogant, yet often needy and scared. As he himself describes it, he’s “petty, arrogant and treats people badly.” But he’s so much more complicated than that, and he’s the most unlikely of heroes.

Over the course of the show there have been many great Rodney episodes: “Grace Under Pressure” in which Rodney is stuck in a damaged sinking Puddle Jumper with little hope of rescue; “The Hive (Part 2)” in which Rodney takes an overdose of Wraith serum to heroic and very funny results; and “Duet” in which Rodney and lieutenant Cadman, because of an accident with alien tech, end up sharing the same brain. Last week I saw the episode “The Shrine” in which Rodney is affected by a parasite that causes Alzheimer’s-like symptoms and the episode was heartbreaking.

All these episodes allow the character and David Hewlett, the actor playing McKay, to really stretch and show different and interesting sides, more so than any of the other cast members. Add to that the regular things that Rodney gets up to in the average episode: from the banter and bickering with Colonel Caldwell and Zelenko to his always accurate moaning to the military members of the expedition that it’s the scientists who solve all the problems.

Most of the rest of the cast are okay, but they feel like they’ve been done before and are playing stereotypical hero types. Not that this a bad thing, far from it. I enjoy all of them. I’m just saying that they rarely step out of their standard character templates; Sheppard is more or less Jack O’Neill lite, while Weir is the boss, and there is very little scope given to her beyond that. Teyla is some sort of cross between Xena and Worf. Apart from McKay the other really interesting character is Carson Beckett and I already knew his days were numbered.

The other season one main cast character Lieutenant Ford – whose name was the only one I had to go and look up while writing this – only got interesting when he became a sort of bad guy and only then intermittently.

Some later cast changes add a little more to the mix; Amanda Tapping and Robert Picardo as new mission commanders, in season four and five respectively, bring different takes to the dynamic. Jewel Staite as Jennifer Keller, the replacement doctor after Carson Beckett’s departure adds a character who isn’t as confident or tough as most. And the addition of future Conan Jason Momoa as Ronon Dex adds a bit of muscle and Teal’C style coolness to the line up.

If I’m honest some of the guest cast are my favourites, particularly sci-fi stalwart Mitch Pileggi as the Deadalus’ commander Colonel Stephen Caldwell, and David Nykl as McKay’s harassed scientist colleague Dr Zelenka.

All that being said, I’m still happy to follow this band of explorers on their missions anytime. Stargate: Atlantis has been a great ride; not quite SG1 , but entertaining and exciting none-the-less. As I said on the previous blog, I miss shows like Stargate on my TV. For the last few years we’ve been in a world where no new Stargate shows are being made and I think that’s a sad thing. Stargate was a franchise that just wanted to be entertaining; it’s a slice of classic sci-fi, not too dark or serious, not overly earnest or worthy. The show tells the tales of a group of heroes off fighting aliens and space ships to keep the rest of us safe and sometimes that’s all I want from my sci-fi. After the last few months of two episodes of SG1 or Atlantis every day I’m really going to miss it when it comes to an end.