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Friday, 25 August 2017

Stargate: Atlantis 1-01: Rising

Episode:1-2|Writer:Robert C. Cooper & Brad Wright|Air Date:16-Jul-2004

This week on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm writing about another epic feature-length Stargate spin-off series pilot episode! They didn't put an episode title on screen for me to screencap, but my sources (the DVD box) tell me that it's called Rising.

My sources also tell me that it was co-written by two guys who'd been there since the start of Stargate SG-1: Brad Wright and Robert C. Cooper. Wright was its co-creator and Cooper came up with a lot of the backstory of the universe. It's been a long while since I've seen this episode and I can't remember if it's any good, but if anyone's got a handle on the convoluted mythology it's them.

It's definitely not me, as I'd stopped watching SG-1 for a long while by the time the spin-off started and I never got caught up with it. I skipped the entire 'search for the Lost City' arc, the blonde Dr. Weir episodes and, well I don't actually know what I've skipped... because I skipped it. Which may be a bit of a problem for me, seeing as Rising first aired the week after the SG-1 season 8 premiere New Order and picks up the story where it left off.

It aired in July 2004, ten years after the Babylon 5 and Deep Space Nine episodes I've been writing about lately, so that puts Stargate Atlantis in the Battlestar Galactica and Doctor Who era of sci-fi television, where bringing back old series that died in the 80s was apparently in fashion. Meanwhile, Andromeda and Enterprise were about to start their final seasons, Firefly and Farscape fans were still holding out for some kind of ending, and Revenge of the Sith was just a year away from bringing the Star Wars prequel trilogy to a conclusion.

I'll be recapping the whole story and writing my comments as I go, so this will basically be wall to wall SPOILERS for the episode. I might even spoil a few things about earlier Stargate SG-1 episodes, but probably not much because... well, I didn't watch all that much.


The episode begins with a spaceship flying across an icy wilderness towards a snowflake-shaped city sitting under a bubble.

That text claims that this is taking place several million years ago, which doesn't exactly put it in the Jurassic period, but it's still way way earlier than the Stargate movie's 8,000 BC prologue. It's like a decade compared to a week.

Oh, hang on, something's happening. There's two ancient humanoids on screen and they're... having a staring contest?

There's not a word of dialogue in this scene, but the internet tells me that the woman is called Ayiana, and she appeared in SG-1 two seasons earlier when the team found her frozen in Antarctica. The producers went to the effort of bringing back the same actress for this short non-speaking cameo and cast her real life husband as 'Man Who Stares Back At Her'. Though he soon walks off screen, so she stares out of the window instead.

But the prologue's not about them, it's about that city in the background taking off into the sky, leaving her and this building behind.

Cut to a research base deep under the ice in present day Antarctica, where a group of scientists seem to be investigating the exact same room. Either that or Ayiana got her gross techno-organic reclining chair from the same shop.

Though now they've turned the lights on it looks more like a weird ugly looking sci-fi prop, and the rest of the room isn't all that convincing either. Stargate up to this point had always been shot on either 16 mm or 35 mm film, but this is the first episode where they switched to digital HD so it seems possible that the director of photography needed more time to figure out how to create a cinematic look with their new camera.

Stargate SG-1 7-22: Lost City II
It just happens that I have a screencap of the exact same room shot on film for comparison.

The series actually inherited this particular set from Stargate SG-1, as it was featured in the season 7 finale Lost City, which was all about the heroes looking for the lost city of Atlantis... I presume. I haven't actually seen the episode, but it seems that they didn't actually find the place in the end because these scientists are still looking for it.

To be honest, the first time I saw any Stargate Atlantis was when I walked into a room showing this scene and I didn't feel a need to stick around to see what happened next. It's not just that it looks a bit rubbish, it's also missing a hook. It starts with scientists discussing how they need people to sit in the ancient weapon system control chair and see if they're genetically compatible and right away it's making me very aware that I've missed a lot of the story so far.

There's been 154 episodes and a movie up to this point establishing the whys and the WTFs of the setting, and jumping right into it like this isn't helping me feel welcome. Fortunately, the scientists have brought in an expert to help explain the basics.

It's Dr. Daniel Jackson himself, the protagonist of the first film, and master of exposition and product placement. He's looking very cosy in that The North Face jacket he's wearing, with the prominent logo often right up in the camera.

First, he runs through what a stargate address is (just like in the movie), explaining to the two experts in the room they're they're made up of six symbols that represent coordinates in space, with the seventh symbol representing where you're coming from. They already had the address for the Lost City (somehow) but Jackson reveals that they've just discovered an eighth symbol (somehow). What this means is that their city is way further away than expected, but they can go there now! So... yay?

Maybe next he can explain why those fluorescent lights aren't the brightest thing in the shot, because it's messing with my head.

This'd be where the opening titles sequence would come on, but they can't show an exciting montage of scenes from Atlantis interwoven with images of the main cast until we get there and meet them all, so instead they've filmed shots of a helicopter flying across Antarctica to put their credits over.

It's weird, I know that getting in a helicopter and flying out into the snowy wastelands is something TV series can't afford to do all that often, but there's still something about this sequence that comes across as cheap and 'TV movie'. Is it the font they've used perhaps? The fades between shots? The way that it keeps dragging on and on with no context until all the names are done?

Oh speaking of the names, Dr. McKay and Dr. Weir have appeared in two of my screencaps already and I haven't even mentioned them yet. They've also appeared in a few of episodes of SG-1 each, though Weir was played by a different actress for half of hers. McKay actually came on board the pilot late as the producers had created a new scientist character for the series called Dr. Ingram, but replaced him when they realised they already had someone better to use.

And now we finally learn that the helicopter's being piloted by... two people hidden behind helmets, mics and sunglasses. It was maybe not the best idea to introduce these two with their faces covered up, seeing as that's the legendary General Jack O'Neill on the right and the other guy is going to become very important soon.

I also think it was a weird choice for the story to start in the research base with scientists talking about Ancient genes and high-tech chairs, when there's an outsider flying in right now who knows nothing about Stargate lore and could've been an audience surrogate. Like Daniel Jackson in the movie!

Oh speaking of the chair, McKay convinces a guy called Dr. Beckett to sit in it, because he has the Ancient gene that'll give him control of the technology they left behind. The Ancients are the human-looking folks from the snowflake city in the intro by the way. They built the stargates and stuff. Anyway, Beckett sits in the chair and accidentally telepathically gives an Ancient homing missile instructions to fly over and blow O'Neill's helicopter up.

Fortunately, Beckett gets the squid missile deactivated before it can kill off two of the main Stargate heroes, though not quite fast enough to save them from having to land and jump out into the snow. The production crew did a really good job of getting their squid missile prop to slide right up and stop just in front of O'Neill's hand, I'm impressed.

O'Neill and his mysterious pilot finally get to the base without further incident and he announces that the guy's name is... Major John Sheppard. That's 'Sheppard' with two 'p's and no 'h', so don't get him mixed up with Dr. Jack Shephard from Lost or Commander Shepard from Mass Effect. It's weird how all three of these series started production around the same time.

John was a fairly popular name for sci-fi leads around this time as well now that I think about it, with John Crichton and Jonathan Archer. So 'John Sheppard' is about the most generic perfect name you could give a space hero in 2004.

Now that everyone's here it's time for another exposition break with Daniel Jackson. This time he's explaining that the Ancients decided to fly off in their city between 5 and 10 million years ago because... well mostly because Stargate SG-1 didn't get cancelled like the producers thought it would and they needed to have the spin-off series set in another galaxy to give both series some room. Or maybe the Ancients were trying to escape a plague, or seed another galaxy with humans for science fun, no one knows.

To get to Atlantis they'll need to travel to the Pegasus galaxy, 3 million light years away, which is about 40 times further than the furthest possible stargate in the Milky Way, but it turns out that the stargate they've got can handle that no problem. They'll just need to unplug the ZPM battery powering this outpost, wire it up to the gate, and they'll be sorted.

O'Neill's not keen on authorising that (presumably there's an SG-1 episode where he went through a lot of effort to get the thing), but the others talk him into it as Atlantis would be a treasure trove of technology on the same level as the stargates, and they need to go to start up this spin-off. Plus the Ancients built the ZPMs so there's a better than zero chance they'll find another one on the other end they can use for the return trip, and the expedition won't be trapped in another galaxy forever.

Meanwhile, Sheppard went to confront Beckett for shooting a drone at him and ended up sitting in the chair himself. Turns out that he's basically the Luke Skywalker of chairs, with an innate gift for using this technology, as now everything's lighting up. In a safe way I mean, without homing missiles.

This should've been Dr. Beckett's introduction in my opinion. It should've started with the helicopter dodging the homing missile, then Sheppard comes down here, meets Beckett and gets introduced to the chair. It would've been just like the movie where Jackson came into Stargate Command, saw a translation on a blackboard, and immediately got to work correcting it to show that he's the Luke Skywalker of Egyptology and introduce us to the basic concepts the setting is built on.

McKay comes over, asks him to visualise where they are in the solar system, and a holographic map comes up! This doesn't actually help them in any way, but it does mean that Dr. Weir wants this guy on her team. He can fly things, shoot things and use chairs and they need someone like that. Also, I just noticed that the chair's base is a snowflake too. I wonder if this was a deliberate design choice because the city was built in the snow.

Then we get a montage of scenes showing the main characters saying goodbye to their loved ones, including one of Dr. Weir telling her fiancĂ© that she's going off on a mission to an unexplored city in another galaxy and may never find a way to return. Well, she doesn't tell him exactly, she leaves him a video to watch. Surely if she could get him security clearance to hear this she could've gotten him clearance to have a conversation about it before she's gone. If the writers want Weir to be sympathetic they're going about it in a weird way.

I remember when Captain Janeway got taken off on a one-way trip to a distant unexplored space in Star Trek: Voyager she was really gutted that she couldn't say goodbye to her fiancé, and it was played as being tragic. But Weir's not that bothered; he's just not as important to her as science.

Also, McKay gives his cat to someone and that's weird too because I can't imagine him owning a pet.

Anyway, Weir's Atlantis expedition team gathers in that amazing SG-1 gate room set to see if their address works, including Robert Patrick as her military commander Colonel Sumner! He's in there I promise, he's the one with a hat on. No, the other one.

You can't really see it on this DVD screencap, but there's a lot of different flags on their arms. Unlike the SG teams from SG-1, this will be a truly multinational operation made up of the best and brightest from across the world.

So here's the plan so far:
  1. Use the battery powering the Ancient outpost, Earth's only defence against alien invasion, to open up a wormhole to a mythological city that apparently flew to another galaxy a few million years back.
  2. Drive a M.A.L.P. through to check if the life support's working over there and if it is, send all the smartest people we have through the gate in one go before the power runs out. Except for Daniel Jackson, he doesn't get to go.
  3. Hope that they can ever find a power source with enough energy to open the wormhole for a return trip.
Goodbye smart people, I hope Earth can make do with the second-best and brightest for a while.

I'm a bit confused about why all these civilians are in a special custom uniform, but then that's been Stargate's thing from the start I guess. If you go through the gate you get a costume. Adventurous music's a Stargate thing as well and we're definitely getting that here.

The camera followed Jackson through the stargate in the film, it followed O'Neill through in the pilot for SG-1, and this time it's following Sheppard through. So the episode's definitely latching on to him as being the protagonist now. Though on the other hand, he gets the "I'm sure you'll warm up to me when you get to know me," line that Samantha Carter had in the SG-1 pilot.

Time to wormhole sequence on my PAL DVD: 23 minutes, 4 minutes faster than SG-1.

Hey, they've made a brand new 3D rendered wormhole effect with more of a tube shape and fewer lens flares! I like it more than the old Stargate movie/SG-1 wormhole but it's a bit generic; I keep waiting for the TARDIS to fly past. Deep Space Nine's wormhole effect is ridiculous but at least it's distinctive.

Also, they've put a starfield in the background despite this being a trip between galaxies, which is... strange. It's almost like they created the effect to be reused over and over again throughout the series! In fact, SG-1 decided to start using Atlantis' flashy new vortex as well, though they tinted it blue so that it'd be different. Then five years later Stargate Universe went with a white version of the same effect. I guess wormholes must cost a fortune to make.

The city has a different stargate design too! This one lights up blue instead of amber and doesn't have the rotating inner wheel. I have to admit, it's my least favourite of the three stargate designs as I think spinning is a crucial part of intergalactic portal rings, but it definitely looks newer so job done there. This is the next generation Pegasus galaxy stargate that replaces Earth's constellation symbols with a set of custom Photoshop brushes, so I hope our heroes are good at remembering dot patterns.

The lights in the massive gate room set turn on as they arrive and they start exploring the area. Seems that the place is abandoned, but the previous owners were thoughtful enough to stick covers over the consoles to keep 5 million years of dust off them.

Hey, the computers on this 5-10 million-year-old Ancient city have been set to display English! That's handy. Either that or they've got one of their own computers to interface with it already, which seems only slightly more plausible.

The good news is that they've found a shuttlebay loaded with little spaceships. The bad news is that they're kind of ugly cylindrical things. The worse news is that it turns out that the Ancients abandoned the Pegasus galaxy due to a war against an enemy that fed upon their human worlds like a great scourge. The worst news is that the city is currently pulling a 'Rapture' and hiding at the bottom of an ocean, and the energy shield that's keeping the water from flooding in is running out of power now that they've started turning things on.

On the plus side, this does mean we get a scene where McKay keeps reminding someone "Using power, using power, using power" while they're cheerfully showing off how their new gate has a force field instead of the Earth gate's aftermarket metal iris.

McKay picks an address from the city's database and tries to do the "Chevron 1 encoded" thing, dialling the gate one symbol at a time for dramatic effect, but Weir would prefer that he didn't. They can dial much faster than Stargate Command can here as they're using the proper hardware.

This new gate of theirs looks cheaper than the old one to me though, with the way that it lights up instead of spinning. In fact, it looks like it belongs on a game show set, though I've read that the spinning symbols were actually added in post-production with CGI. Sometimes it costs less to have a bunch of experts figure out how to make something look photoreal on a computer than it is to just build the thing for real, especially if you have to then stick the thing in a truck and drive to out to a forest.

That's why the other gate embedded in the ground here is entirely 3D rendered. I don't know why they didn't give it a 3D rendered pedestal to sit on like the gates in SG-1 and Universe have though.

But it's nice to know that no matter what galaxy you visit, the planets always look like a forest near Vancouver. A team of nameless soldiers are sent through, along with Colonel Sumner, Sheppard and a guy called Ford who's been doing a good job of avoiding screen time so far. They've come to this particular planet because the Atlantis expedition needs either a replacement super battery or a place to live that isn't going to fill with water and drown them, and they haven't much time.

Sheppard soon runs into a kid being attacked by a vicious monster in the dark. Fortunately, he takes a moment to investigate and discovers that the creature's actually just another kid in a mask. Then his dad comes over and it turns out that they all speak English so there are no communication problems whatsoever! I'm not sure this lack of a language barrier is ever explained in 14 years of Stargate episodes, but SGA writer Joseph Mallozzi once mentioned on his blog that "gate travel implants travellers with translator nanites". So there you go.

The team are brought to the family's camp to meet Teyla Emmagan, who I guess leads their tribe. Though she's not interested in trading with strangers, so this might be a dead end.

Sumner seems like he may be about to start pushing his weight around a little, but Sheppard steps in and tries to charm them instead by listing his favourite things (fast vehicles, football, Ferris wheels). This wins him a cup of tea, so the colonel decides to let him continue and see how far his approach gets them. He may have been a bit of a grumpy asshole so far, but he wins likeability points here by not letting his dislike of Sheppard sabotage their mission.

Though that doesn't mean he isn't going to following up on his own lead, which means I finally have a daylight screencap of their camp to show. Wait, how did it get daytime so quickly?

I've noticed that they seem to have removed their Atlantis badges as the patch on their arm is just black. I guess they don't want to advertise where they're from just yet, especially with their city flooding. It'd lead to some awkward conversations where they have to admit that they were only in Atlantis 20 minutes before accidentally destroying it.

Now that the sun's up they've spotted another abandoned Ancient city in the distance. If they're lucky there might be another ZPM or two there. If they're not, they'll at least have a roof over their heads for the foreseeable future. Unless they somehow manage to get this city crushed by an ocean as well.

Teyla's people discourage them from going over there though as they believe it'll make the Wraith come, which leads Sumner to wonder what a Wraith is exactly. Sheppard pieces together that they're probably the enemy that defeated the Ancients... so basically the last people that they want to meet out here.

I'm not sure if Sumner goes to the city or not, but he leaves Sheppard to hang around with Teyla and she decides to take him on walk through the forest, to show him what he needs to know about the Wraith. They reach a stone bunker and he finds her old necklace on the floor. No Eye of Ra on this one, though he does see something else that's worrying.

Her ancestors documented their ancient battle with the ancient evil on the walls, just like in the Stargate movie! The Wraith allow human populations to grow to a reasonable number, then they swoop in, cull the herd and then disappear again to sleep for a few hundred years until it's time to come out again. Kind of reminds me of another ancient evil that a different Earth hero called Shepard fought in a certain video game series.

The episode's getting better at introducing backstory now because it's not trying to serve two types of viewers anymore. The Wraith would've been new to everyone at this point, even the most hardcore of SG-1 fans, so everyone's on the same page now.

If this feature length pilot was split into two regular length parts, the next episode would start here with Ford waiting outside the stargate in the dark. The planet's got really short days it seems, which is cool as it's something you don't see in sci-fi episodes all that much. Then the gate dials up and a space fighter flies out of it. Three of them actually.

Things are getting a bit X-Files now, with the alien ships flying through the night, scooping people out of the forest in beams of light. Another beam comes after Sheppard and ends up teleporting Teyla away, but that effect shot didn't look as good as this one so I'm using this screencap instead.

Sumner and his men start firing at the ships but are distracted by ghostly apparitions in the woods. Though once they learn that they're just illusions to distract them they go right back to firing at the ships and actually blow one up, just like in the SG-1 pilot! Except they go and get captured by the next fighter, so there goes Sumner.

By this point Sheppard's figured out that it's probably not a good idea to blow up fighters with captured people on board so he tells Ford to let them escape and memorise the illuminated symbols on the DHD device next to the gate to find out where they're going (just like in the SG-1 pilot). Sheppard's really getting the hang of this stargate tech for someone who only learned it existed a couple of days ago. Though next time they should maybe pack some kind of Earth tech in their pouches that can keep a record of the DHD symbols without asking someone to remember six alien constellations in sequence. Like a digital camera... or a notepad.

Damn, I sure hope no one we liked was in this wrecked Wraith ship Sheppard just found, else they'll be as dead as its pilot.

Oh, hang on, he's not quite dead, as his hand's trying to make a getaway. Or maybe the Wraith are actually a race of sapient hands, we don't know yet. Sheppard decides to put a couple of rounds into it and that ends its unnatural animation.

Now he's got a bunch of survivors to deal with and a kid who lost his dad. So he decides to bring them all back to Atlantis with him (just like how the prisoners were brought to Stargate Command in SG-1's pilot) and manages to interrupt McKay's attempt to dial out. Turns out that the folks in the city were about to evacuate as the city's shield is failing and they're all about to be crushed by the ocean.

But Sheppard's on the case and asks the kid to input a friendly address for them to escape to... though they only make it halfway up the stairs before the shield begins to collapse.

Hang on, I'm just going to interrupt their certain doom for a moment to talk about this control room set, now that they've given me a fairly good view of it to show off.

Honestly, I don't like the place, as it's a bit of a mess. I don't mean the boxes and laptops scattered around, that was a great idea and really helps sell that this is mysterious ancient technology they're trying to figure out. It's the weird glowing panels scattered across the walls and the consoles covered in lit up bits of clear plastic that bother me. It's like they realised they'd ended up with a really drab design and tried to dress it up to look alien. It wouldn't make it onto my 'All-time Top 10 Science-Fiction Command Centres' list is what I'm saying, even if the list actually existed.

Right, what was I talking about? Oh right, the expedition's inevitable demise due to drowning/getting crushed by an ocean.

Turns out that they manage to escape certain death because the city decides to rise to the surface by itself when the shield fails. Seems like a sensible feature, though a bit counter-productive if the Ancients had submerged the city to keep it out of Wraith hands. Funny how no one on the team thought to check to see if the place could do this though; how many of the smartest people on Earth came here again?

I could moan about how that the city model looks less than feature film quality, but I'd rather talk about how great those water effects are. Especially in the shot where the camera rises with two of the buildings and breaks the surface with them. It looks even better in a proper resolution video... and when I haven't edited almost 2 minutes out of the 2-minute sequence.

Then we finally get a good look at the city of Atlantis. Looks more like a spiky space-station than a city to me, with those thick flat areas outlining the piers, but I'm not considering that to be a problem. It's a fantastic looking design.

Shame about the interiors though.

The gate room's looking a little different with the sunlight shining in, but it's still an overly busy over-lit mismatch of different shapes and patterns. I have to give them credit for making this all one big interconnected set though, so characters can walk out of the office across a gangway into the control room and look down at the gate as they're heading out to the balcony.

Anyway, the city's ZPMs are all entirely dead after that, but now that they don't have to keep an ocean out they're able to run the systems off the sci-fi generators they brought with them. So they've got no shield but they do have life support, not that they need it anymore as the planet's atmosphere is breathable. This right here is the main reason I used to watch Stargate: all these scenes of smart people discussing what they can do with what they have and working through technical problems logically. I'm only slightly joking.

Speaking of working through problems, Sheppard wants them to get to work figuring out where to find the Wraith from the six symbols that Ford memorised. McKay starts to complain that there are hundreds of possible permutations and Sheppard immediately replies "720", which takes him aback a little. The chances of more than one of them being a legit address are slim, so they'll keep trying combinations until they get a lock and that's where Sumner and Teyla will be.

Weir's not liking where this is going though and brings Sheppard outside onto the balcony to have a word. One thing I like about this scene is that the two of them then proceed to spend a good 20 seconds just taking in the view and listening to the waves before they get into their serious discussion. It's nice that the episode takes the occasional breather to acknowledge the wonder in-between the scenes of life-threatening crisis or else what's even the point of setting the series in an ancient city in another galaxy? Of course, if this was a Stargate movie they'd have also shown us the epic view instead of just showing their reactions to it, but flashy visuals cost money.

Hey, I've only just realised that they're wearing colour-coded undershirts to show their departments like on Deep Space Nine. Red must be command, blue is science, black military... that's all I got.

Weir and Sheppard have a pretty good argument here with both of them making good points and being forced to acknowledge them. Like Weir doesn't want Sheppard to go out on a rescue mission without thinking things through as they may well lead the Wraith back to Atlantis. He counters that it's the right thing to do because... it is! But he also points out that it's only a matter of time before a prisoner gives up their location.

He shuts down her suggestion that they could negotiate peace with the Wraith and she makes it clear that she's not risking any more lives until there's at least a chance of success. So now he's been challenged to find a way to make his plan work instead of rushing off half-cocked.

Oh, there's the view! Shame this balcony doesn't look even slightly wet here.

Meanwhile, in Wraith HQ the sets are looking ever more rough, though they've hidden that a bit by keeping it dark and messing with the colour grading.

All the characters we've met are still alive, so that's good. Less good is that they're in a cell with webbing across the doorway that only opens up when a Wraith walks up to it.

Like this.

You might be wondering why Wraith would be wearing masks inside their own ship. Well, that's because they're shy. Actually, the Wraith captured a metal band once and two of them were allowed to join up on condition that they hide their ugly normal faces. Or perhaps makeup is just time consuming and expensive, I don't know!

Sumner decides to say 'hi' to the boss and gets shoved across the room for his impudence. Then they grab Teyla's friend and walk out. Sumner and Teyla both yell for him to take them instead, but he couldn't be less interested in either of them, even when Sumner insists that he's the group's leader. "They have no need to explain themselves," Teyla explains.

Meanwhile, Team Atlantis have found the gate the Wraith are using, but when they send the M.A.L.P. through to do recon it ends up drifting away into space! That poor innocent M.A.L.P... see this is why you never walk through a gate until after you've checked what's at the destination.

On the plus side, they've found an orbital space gate! Well okay, that's kind of a negative right now, but it's still something new (I think). Also, McKay's got something to show Sheppard: a room full of cylindrical spaceships that are the perfect size and shape to fit through a gate.

Meanwhile, Dr. Beckett's reappeared in the story to show Weir that gross Wraith arm they discovered. Turns out that he's learned that the Wraith don't age and they're bloody hard to kill, so that's... fantastic.

In happier news Sheppard's discovered that the shuttles have a cloaking device, giving them the edge they need to raise the odds of a successful rescue from none to 'remote chance'. That means Weir's going to let him go get their people back!

Of course, Sheppard's never flown a spaceship before and he doesn't even have little sticky notes telling him what the buttons do, but Ancient technology is telepathic so there's a good chance he can get this thing safely down onto a planet on his first try with no practice. Finding that space gate again afterwards might be trickier though, seeing that the gates are relatively small and space is very big.

But before he leaves he decides that McKay's name for the shuttles sucks, so he's renaming them Puddle Jumpers instead of Gateships. It's important to be childish when you're taking a bunch of people to attack an enemy stronghold hundreds of light years away.

We learn here that the Puddle Jumpers launch by dropping down from the gate room ceiling and they've each got their own onboard DHD console to dial the gate, which makes more sense than having to send someone out to press the buttons (especially as there are no buttons in space). We also learn that they can respond to telepathic commands and dispense handheld scanners. Though turkey sandwiches are shown to be beyond their capabilities, so Deep Space Nine's runabouts win this round.

Back in Wraith HQ, the villains return to the cell and take Sumner with them this time, so Sheppard's team doesn't have much time left to save him.

Oh no, they've ended up right back at the forest planet they just came from! Well, Sumner's screwed.

Actually, the editor's tweaked the colours a bit to indicate that the rescue team actually has landed on the hostile Wraith planet. Sheppard immediately starts yelling out orders, instructing his men to split into two-man teams. He and Ford will head to the enemy lair to rescue everyone, while the other teams will hang back to lay down defences to cover their escape... exactly like in the SG-1 pilot when the team went to rescue Skaara and Sha're!

Well not exactly the same, as SG-1 was a three man team at the time. So they were theoretically 33% more capable, but in practice they went and got 100% captured the moment they arrived.

Meanwhile, Sumner had been taken to an equally terrible looking part of the Wraith base and left to ponder this skeleton/feast situation that's going on here. The obvious conclusion is that he was poisoned, but that doesn't work at all because he's a skeleton and the food is fresh. Plus he's that guy who was taken from the cell first, so he hasn't been dead all that long.

Oh, apparently that giant animal head on the table is a mastadge prop that's turned up in both the Stargate movie and the SG-1 pilot. It's a shame they didn't find a way to fit it into Stargate Universe's pilot as well... unless they did and I just didn't notice.

In SG-1 the prop was part of a feast on a world controlled by the main villains, where the team's commander first encountered the enemy leader about an hour into the story. Funny how exactly the same thing's happening now. Except Sumner was dragged here from a cell instead of the other way around.

The Wraith may have no need to explain themselves, but this one felt like dropping in (from the ceiling) to snarl and ask Sumner he'd like something to eat. Seriously, it says "(snarls)" in the subtitles right after "You must feel hunger by now".

This actress is really hamming it up to a dangerous level, considering she has a mouth full of sharp fake teeth. In fact, she's got a bit of a weird sexy Borg queen thing going on, which makes sense as she's a Wraith queen.

Meanwhile, Sheppard and Ford are inside the base, dodging Wraith patrols with the handy handheld motion detector while setting C-4 for their escape.

There you go, a blinky prop with a proper screen on it; because it's 2004 and they've got colour PDAs to stick inside now. Ford calls it a 'lifesigns detector', blatantly disregarding Sheppard's instructions to never name anything again, but he's got nothing better so he decides they'll name it later. Shame O'Neill isn't around, I bet he'd call it a tricorder and then get told they can't use that.

They find Teyla and the others in their cell, trying to look like they're forcing the door without accidentally breaking the set, and give them some C-4. But they can't trigger the remote explosives until they find Sumner and are ready to leave, so Sheppard tells Ford to wait behind while he goes on alone. Ford points out that he's the only absolutely non-expendable member of the team as he's the only one that can fly them home, but Sheppard decides to be a hero and risk stranding everyone here to save Sumner.

He must be really determined to get this guy to like him.

Unfortunately, he's a little late as Sumner gets a first-hand demonstration of how the Wraith feed on humans when the queen puts her hand on his chest and does some sci-fi life-stealing bullshit that of course turns him into an old man. So these guys really are space vampires!

To make things worse he was telepathically interrogated and let slip that there's a planet called Earth with billions of humans to feed on, though he thankfully stopped short of giving her the gate address.

Sheppard manages to find his way there by following the screams and opens fire on the queen, but she just drains more of Sumner's life to pull a Wolverine and heal her wounds. So Sumner gives Sheppard a subtle signal to put him out of his misery and he complies, firing a single shot right through the Wraith's hand as she feeds.

Then Sheppard immediately gets captured himself, so this is all going about as well as SG-1's rescue mission did in their pilot so far. Fortunately, Ford's still free to run in shooting, which gives a Sheppard a chance to trigger the C-4 he planted around the base. Then he decides to test how well the Wraith queen can heal from a spiky sci-fi swordfish gun through the heart. Turns out not so well!

And thus the threat of the Wraith is no more.

Except not really, as her death just woke up the whole hive from hibernation in their triangular ceiling pods. I hope the Atlantis team can manufacture bullets for those P90 submachine guns they carry because there are at least five seasons worth of bad guys waking up right now.

Hang on, these are snowflakes again! I guess they were going for a bee hive kind of thing.

Wow, they really messed up the Wraith's base with that C-4... probably. It's a bit hard to tell with all the smoke and the episode didn't really give us a good look at what it looked like beforehand.

The heroes run through the trees and get into the Jumper, with Sheppard taking a Wraith fighter down with a SAW along the way... just like how the heroes shot down a Goa'uld Death Glider at the end of SG-1's pilot! Though in SG-1 they had to fight off a whole army surrounding the gate, while Sheppard's team gets away relatively easily. They just cloak the ship and fly into orbit.

Oh, there's your enemies surrounding the gate. Still, at least this gives them an excuse to hang back and enjoy the scenery for a moment. I tend to get annoyed when I notice a series taking liberties with the realism, but it seems to me that if you're not making your space shots unnaturally pretty then you must be doing something wrong.

The cloaking device won't do them any good here because as soon as they dial the gate the Wraith fighters will just concentrate their fire in front of it, so Sheppard decides to decloak, get their attention and lure them away instead.

Have I mentioned how much I dislike the look of these Puddle Jumpers yet? Their basic 'cylinder with lines etched into it' shape and their overly complex scrawny fold out wings really puts me off. I don't hate them, but they're not going to make my 'All-time Top 10 Sci-Fi Shuttles' list... which doesn't really exist any more than my 'Top 10 Command Centres' list does, so don't go typing it into the search box.

Also, Lt. Ford seems to have been replaced by a cardboard cut-out for these scenes. He looks fine from the front but kind of flat from the side. This isn't even slightly an issue with the scene, you have to pause and go through frame by frame to spot it, it just amused me.

Anyway, Sheppard figures out how to fire off some of those explosive drones we saw back in Antartica and they use them to clear a path to the gate.

Then they send the code to deactivate Atlantis' force field, the gate room gets shot up a bit by stray lasers, and then they fly through to safety! I always love those shots where you see people enter a stargate from the side.

This sequence is way longer in the episode by the way, with lots more scenes of the actors doing acting. They actually had to reshoot a lot of the cockpit scenes to make the dogfighting more exciting because Joe Flanigan was playing Sheppard too calm and professional at first. Seems that what made sense for the character didn't work too well for the overall scene.

I was going to point out that the laser fire hitting the base wall happened in Children of the Gods as well, but I just checked again and I'm misremembering. The SG-1 team definitely put the gate's iris up at the last moment though, to let the pursuing enemies slam into it and die with a thud, and that's exactly what happens here when the Atlantis team raise their high-tech force field again. Stargates are terrifying.

The episode's pretty much over now, but there's still a little time left for it to show off the series' massive Blade: Trinity set. They inherited it from the movie after it was done because it saved the Blade folks the hassle and cost of dismantling it. Passing on sets like this is apparently not that unusual, as elsewhere in Vancouver the successful 2004 Battlestar Galactica remake ended up with the sets from the failed 2004 Lost in Space remake.

So they saved a few people, lost a few people, woke up a scourge that will feed upon all human settlements in the galaxy, and managed to get the gate room of their ancient Ancient city shot up a bit. Not a bad result for a pilot episode. Oh, plus the place has ended up full of refugees and rescued prisoners, so that's one last thing this episode has in common with the SG-1 pilot. Doesn't seem like they'll be getting rid of them so soon though.

Also now that Sumner's dead, Sheppard is the ranking military officer and gets to lead all the missions from now on. So that's why he's on the box art instead of Robert Patrick!


CONCLUSION

I always like it when pilot episodes called Pilot actually have a pilot in them. This particular pilot episode's called Rising, but it stars a pilot anyway and has a decent amount of rising in it as well, so I'm satisfied. Atlantis rises from the ocean floor and the Wraith rise from their sleep, reviving a millennia old conflict between the two that even the folks who built the stargate networks couldn't win. So... good work humanity, you've gone and stepped in it again.

The episode establishes Stargate: Atlantis as being the Deep Space Nine of the franchise (with Stargate: Universe being its Voyager). I don't mean it's ripping it off, or even that it has a similar tone, but it does put a crew out onto an alien space station next to a wormhole to a distant part of space to get them far away from the heroes of the original series. Well okay, it puts them through the wormhole onto an alien city, but close enough. Plus there are shuttles, and colour coded uniforms, and an Ops centre at the top of the central tower, plus a recurring character from the last series has been promoted to series regular and given an opportunity to be awesome.

Rodney McKay doesn't entirely get to shine here as I believe he's basically playing the role of the written-out Dr. Ingram, but by the end of the story I was keen to put the next episode on just to see what he and Sheppard get up to in that. Not that the other characters are bad, as Weir came off as a sensible commander without being a General Hammond clone and Dr. Beckett was likeable enough as the chair-fearing doctor. Also, there's Teyla and Ford who... were there too. I think I'll need to rewatch more episodes to form an opinion on them because this episode really didn't give them much to do. In fact, it didn't seem to be in a hurry to pin down exactly who the main cast was going to be, which isn't necessarily a terrible thing.

I keep calling this 'the episode' but it's almost like two distinct episodes, with the first half feeling like some 'made for Syfy' movie and the second feeling more like legit Atlantis. The cheap looking Antarctic outpost sets, the long helicopter ride, the cheesy montage of people saying goodbye... none of this really works for me. Plus I think the way it opens with scientists discussing ancient technology discovered in another series was a mistake, as it's not a great hook for new viewers. Deep Space Nine's pilot starts with a flashback to an event in Next Gen, but that works because it's all about a character dealing with a tragedy, not scientists dealing with a chair. Plus it has spaceships blowing up and that always helps to draw the eye and earn a bit of attention. It's a shame because the episode had Sheppard right there! All they had to do was rip-off the Stargate film a little more (and Doctor Who with its companion characters) and use him as the audience surrogate to bring us into the Stargate universe from a newbie's perspective.

Fortunately, the story picked up for me once they reached Atlantis itself and the team had a chance to go out, meet new people and inadvertently ruin everything they touched. It sets the series up to continue the moderately lighthearted action-adventure tone of its predecessors, more like the Trek movies than the Trek spin-offs, with people running through corridors with submachine guns, spaceships dogfighting above a planet, and a chat with a campy vampire queen. And overall... I enjoyed it.

It's just a shame that the set design looks a bit rubbish to me, to the point where it actually puts me off. In fact, I think if I was forced to choose between them I'd rather live on Babylon 5, even with the rooms constantly spinning all day. Better that than getting seasick in a skyscraper.



COMING SOON
It's possible you'll see more Stargate here at some point, maybe SG-1, maybe Atlantis, I don't know. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures I'm going to be writing about Babylon 5's Soul Mates.

I don't want to say that typing a message underneath this post will make you a better person, but it can't be a coincidence that everyone who leaves me comments is awesome.

4 comments:

  1. The series was a ratings success for the Sci Fi Channel, and was particularly popular in Europe and Australia. (Wikipedia)

    I... had never heard of it up until now, although I admit am not the biggest fan of the franchise. I thought the only spinoff was the one with the spaceship with Begbie from Trainspotting in it; this one passed me by completely.

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  2. I wish all spin-offs featured Begbie from Trainspotting...

    Yeah, Stargate Atlantis did pretty well. Well enough that it was a surprise to everyone when it was suddenly cancelled at the cliffhanger ending of season 5. I think it aired on Channel 4, though I didn't start watching it until much later because, well, everything I saw of it on TV looked kind of terrible. Unlike Begbie Stargate, which looked fantastic... at first glance.

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    Replies
    1. Will you be reviewing Begbie Stargate?

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    2. If I see it for cheap somewhere, sure.

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