A review by Nalini Haynes
There is a stargate on a planet, Icarus, and a computer-stored address with a 9th chevron. So of course the Stargate division try to dial another universe. Having secured the services of the best scientists including Dr Rush (Robert Carlyle of Hamish Macbeth and The Full Monty, swoon/sigh), they are unable to crack the code. Finally, Dr Rush suggests putting the puzzle online in a computer game to see if some random geek can crack the code. Enter Ely Wallace (David Blue) who plays an MIT drop out with no discipline but a natural talent for maths. After he cracks the code General Jack O’Neill (do I need to name the actor?) arrives on Ely’s doorstep. Ely is recruited and goes to Icarus where he meets a large group of civilians including a US Senator Alan Armstrong (Christopher MacDonald) and his daughter Chloe (Elyse Levesque).
There is an attack on the planet indicating that SG Command has a leak. The planet is about to blow up (?) so instead of dialling a nice safe planet in Earth’s galaxy, Dr Rush dialled the nine chevron address. Equipment malfunction means that people either die or go through to the unknown address. The group is stranded on an ancient ship dating to pre-ascension times with whatever provisions they could carry, which means lots of paper but limited medicines and food. The fight for survival begins.
The ship, Destiny, is on their side although they have very limited ability to interface with the ship. Dr Rush tells it life support is malfunctioning, so the ship drops out of faster than light (FTL) briefly to allow them to gate to a planet to search for the vital chemicals. In other episodes they search for food, find medicines and so forth.
SGU is aimed at a more mature audience than previous SG series, with more gritty storylines. This has mixed success. The occupants of Destiny brought the soul-swapping stones with them, enabling them to switch bodies with military on Earth. Initially these are used as a means of reporting back, seeding political conflict on board and bringing the evil Colonel Telford (Lou Diamond Phillips) on board in Colonel Young’s body. There is a power struggle between the two, even when they are in different galaxies, although the origin of their conflict isn’t really explained.
In one entirely unbelievable episode, the colonels switch bodies. Colonel Young visits his estranged wife who suddenly wants to have sex with him. Young and Telford switch back in time for Telford to experience the orgasm then switch back to opposite galaxies again. Telford later pursues the wife as part of his nefarious plan, poisoning her further against her husband. (Can anyone say SOAPIE?!) While this is the worst of the body swapping stories, most of these stories are unbelievable in that people are allowed to walk around freely, tell civilians what is going on and behave in inappropriate ways in borrowed bodies.
I can honestly say most of the episodes are better than that, even though I have a number of other criticisms. There is a civilian/military divide that has been tried before, in Atlantis for example, but is too simplistic. There should be conflict within the civilian community. The civilians are mostly boffins with a minority of politicians, so why stage a coup to get the guns? Especially when they’ve recently run into a hostile alien force. And why be so supportive of Dr Rush who stranded them on Destiny and who, motivated by self-interest, endangers their safety in previous and subsequent episodes.
A number of the episodes are good, even if the material isn’t overly original. For example, ‘Time’, where Destiny arrives at a planet with human remains that turn out to be their own due to a solar flare worm hole time slip. The story ends at a place where hubby thought was going to lead into a sequel because so many US series tend to spoon feed the audience, but NO! There was no sequel, the story moves on.
Camille Wray (Ming-Na) is half-promised promotion in the IOA (International Oversight Committee – yes, I know Committee begins with C). Camille has a choice to make that results in her becoming something like a political officer in the USSR, even inciting mutiny. She and Dr Rush make interesting bedfellows in their plotting.
By the end of season one Dr Rush’s character is the most complex and well-developed. Only an actor of Robert Carlyle’s calibre could portray Dr Rush without becoming a caricature.
Season one ends with a 3 part story, well-paced and increasing in intensity up to the inevitable cliff hanger. There are plot holes, but nothing as bad as in ‘All Good things’, Star Trek Next Gen’s finale.
I doubt that the Stargate franchise can succeed in making a series of the calibre of Babylon 5, but season one of Stargate Universe is much better than season one of B5. While I enjoyed Stargate SG1, I felt that it succeeded in part because it didn’t take itself too seriously. I gave up on Atlantis because the network kept screwing around with the times, cutting the program to fit more ads in and the story became somewhat tired. I have read reviews that indicate the series picked up after I gave up on it, and after watching season one of SGU I am looking at revisiting Atlantis. However, SGU looks like being the best serious SF from the Stargate franchise. In my opinion Deep Space Nine is the best series of the Star Trek franchise, to which SGU could be serious competition – if it is given a chance. See Syfy cancellations.
This article was previously published in Dark Matter issue 3, April 2011, and predated on this website to reflect the original publication date. UPDATE: Predictably SGU was cancelled, but we did get a second season.