The first two episodes of the new Stargate spinoff aired this week, and I must admit, I was very impressed by it. Obviously the creative team have decided to give the franchise a shot in the arm before it gets stale by shaking things up and going for a different feel to the previous two series.
Borrowing a lot from the Battlestar Galactica remake in terms of tone and visual style, this new series follows a group of survivors from the Icarus Project. The project’s intention was to unlock the 9th chevron in the Stargate and access an address stored in their databases. To do this though, there was only one power source available, and they were tapping the core of a planet to power the gate. However when the Lucian Alliance (as seen in the later seasons of SG-1) attack the planet, the crew of the base are forced to flee, and when Dr Rush (Robert Carlyle) ceases the opportunity to dial the 9 chevron address, they find themselves trapped, galaxies from home on the far side of the universe, onboard the Destiny, and automated ship that’s ancient, even by Ancient standards.
The other obvious comparison in terms of shows is Star Trek: Voyager, which similarly found a mismatched crew trapped far from home. However that show always drew criticism for magically dodging the realism of the situation. The kitchen was always well-stocked and the ship in tip-top condition even after 7 years stranded. Fortunately more recent shows have ensured to learn from Voyager’s mistakes, and SGU is no exception. The Destiny is an old, old ship and as such is riddled with hull breaches and a knackered air filtration system, so no sooner have the crew arrived than they’re immediately facing the issue of dying of oxygen starvation.
Comparisons can also be drawn with the opening of Stargate Atlantis with the team finding the lost City and immediately being trapped with the city under water and the power to the shields running out (easily solved when a failsafe kicks in and raises the city). However in this case, the Destiny seems more alien and perhaps even a more hostile environment than Atlantis (which felt very cosy and safe almost immediately) was.
Another thing I loved was the way the show is tackling the usual cliches. Early on, there’s a need for someone to sacrifice themselves, sealing off a damaged shuttle that’s leaking air. The Colonel has been badly injured, and is still laid up despite slowly healing, so obviously I jumped to the conclusion that he was going to nobly sacrifice himself for the good of the men under his command.
However he doesn’t get the chance. As the senator that was with the group, and who is also badly injured (with very ropey chances of survival) gets to the shuttle first. Stargate (and Sci-Fi in general) has a long history of politicians being untrustworthy, self-serving types, so to see that turned on its head was a really nice surprise.
Another Stargate staple is that the main cast are by and large a trustworthy heroic lot. Not so much here. Robert Carlyle’s Dr Rush comes across quite ambiguous in these first two episodes, and you’re left feeling unsure as to just whether or not he can be trusted. His actions maroon the crew on the Destiny when he refuses to dial Earth (or some other appropriate planet) to escape on Icarus base, instead driven to take his last opportunity to dial the 9 chevron address. He’s quick to make off with the ancient communications device, the crew’s only link to Earth, and despite saying he’s been put in charge, there is a question mark over whether or not he did actually contact home.
There also seems to be a hint of a mystery in the pilot. Although its not really touched upon, it does seem a bit of a surprise that the Lucian Alliance managed to locate Project Icarus. I can’t help but think this is something that’s going to come up again as the series goes on, and I suspect someone in the crew may have sold them out.
All in all, a very solid launch indeed. There seems to be a fair amount of stuff setup between the age and unreliability of the Destiny, the crew’s various secrets and perhaps some broader plot elements as well (the idea of there being further automated ships sent ahead of the Destiny for example).
Roll on next week, and the third part of the opening story. I’m very intrigued by how the ticking clock element will affect things as the crew have to be back to the Destiny before it heads off again to the next stop on its journey.