Review: Stargate Universe 1×1-1×2

It's BSG-lite, but it still tastes okay

Stargate Universe cast

In the US: Fridays, 9pm, SyFy
In the UK: Tuesdays, 9pm, Sky 1/Sky 1 HD. Starts tonight!

It’s odd how genres change. Look at science fiction. For over 10 years, Stargate SG-1 was it as far as sci-fi was concerned, having in turn inherited its mantle and style from Star Trek: The Next Generation: amiable wisecracking soldiers with no personal lives turn up on planets full of primitive people, have fights with bad aliens in silly costumes then kill them all. Everything’s right in the world again. Nothing truly bad happens. The end.

Then Battlestar Galactica came along. Suddenly, all that went out the window, in favour of grittiness, misery, handheld cameras and terrible things happening to everyone. And Stargate started to look silly – well, sillier. Stargate Atlantis suffered even more from that and as a result, only made it to half the run of Stargate SG-1, despite its best efforts.

Now we have Stargate Universe, which while pretty impressive in a lot of ways, is kind of like ‘Battlestar Galactica lite’ – it’s BSG but with half the depth. While it’s light years ahead of Stargate in tone, it’s still not quite the show it wants to be. But you never know.

Plot
After unlocking the mystery of the Stargate’s ninth chevron, a team of explorers travels to an unmanned starship called the Destiny, launched by The Ancients at the height of their civilization as a grand experiment set in motion, but never completed.

What starts as a simple reconnaissance turns into a never ending mission, as the Stargate Universe crew discovers the ship is unable to return to Earth, and they must now fend for themselves aboard the Destiny.

The crew will travel to the far reaches of the universe, connecting with each of the previously launched Stargates, thus fulfilling the Destiny’s original mission. Challenges will arise though as the ship comes into range of Stargates placed centuries ahead of the Destiny and the crew is unable to control the ship’s navigational schedule. If someone is left behind, there is no way to go back for them, adding to the drama of encountering new races, enemies and adventures.

Is it any good?
It is surprisingly good, but there are enough Stargate trimmings still around to give you doubts their heart’s in it.

The basic plot is that a Stargate with a ninth chevron is discovered. It needs a certain amount of power – and the right sequence – to use. The team run by Robert Carlyle put clues in an online adventure game, which if solved, will yield the answer to their problem.

When a gamer solves the clues, he’s taken to the planet where the super-Stargate is, along with a whole load of other people. Then, for reasons I won’t go into, everyone has to bundle through the Stargate without knowing exactly where it leads.

They get to the other side, discover they’re on an abandoned spaceship, and realise there’s no way back. Oh dear. Now this collection of explorers has to fend for survival and work out if there’s maybe a way home.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before
So basically, it’s BSG – motley collection of explorers with no way home have to survive without supplies and maybe find a new home. It’s shot like BSG, it has the same tone as BSG. It’s BSG.

Certainly, it’s not really Stargate any more. People argue, and don’t know the answers to things. People die and make sacrifices. Fights actually matter, rather than act as simple excuses for daring-do heroics. When the obligatory cameos from the Stargate SG-1 cast occur, it feels like the cast of In The Night Garden have turned up it’s so out of kilter with the show’s tone.

There’s still all the usual crud about Ancients, ascension, chevrons et al, but we’ve so far avoided ridiculous jargon as best as possible, which is something to be glad for.

But we don’t, as of yet, have anyone to really like. The cast is vast and there’s been very little characterisation beyond “this is the soldier”, “this is the whiny bint”, “this is the stuck-up civilian” and so on. And the main characters that have had characterisation, namely Robert Carlyle and that gamer, you really don’t care about. They’re arses.

It’s also a little ponderous. By the end of the first two parts – most of which revolves around getting enough air into the spaceship (echoes of BSG‘s Water there) – we know that everyone’s going off exploring through Stargates again. But we don’t yet have any real threat and we know full well that as with Star Trek: Voyager, they’re not going to get home, if at all, until the final episode of the final series. So each week is going to be exploring, exploring, exploring, looking for food, water and trinkets to give to the inevitable humanoids they meet along the way.

Joy.

Benefit of the doubt
But I’m prepared to give the show the benefit of the doubt. Its heart is certainly in the right place. It wants to be a good show and there’s inevitably room for development in the following episodes – unlike BSG which got a mini-series, this had a mere hour and a half to work with in setting up the show’s scenario.

Lou Diamond Phillips is also in all the cast photos. He doesn’t appear to have made it through the Stargate, which suggests there’s also going to be a mix of exploring and Earth-based “where the hell are they?” hunting for the lost explorers, which could make it more interesting (or lessen the tension. We’ll just have to see).

So, I’m sticking around for next week’s episode at the very least. It may end up reverting to Stargate type, but I’m optimistic the producers want this to be a different show and that’s what we’ll get. Fingers crossed, huh?

  




  • Ski

    Who is ROB? Thought I was being asked to comment on SGU
    Well episode 4 has just passed me by at warp factor 35 (great sunscreen) and has left me wondering “WTF”. There’s no air, then there is, there’s no power, then when it fails it sustains life. The light dim (apart from those lighting up the corridors)and the craft is tonking on through time and space like a Mexican fighting for a blue light special at K Mart.
    Hope it gets better cause it can’t get no worse. Pitiful acting and the plot line (if there is one) is as loose a whores drawers at spring break

  • Anonymous

    [oh Rob!] Well We’ve got as far as the “Time” episode and the only Humanoids we’ve come across are, well, humans.
    I completely disagree on the whole “Like Battlestar Galactica” front.
    For a start BSG had a known enemy and it also has an entire fleet of ships where SGU has one.
    You might as well say the plot was a rip-off of Star Trek and Star Wars because it has spaceships in. You’d have been better off comparing it to Voyager but then you’d have lost your ‘Gritty and realistic’ angle.
    I also don’t agree about them being confused about their intentions. To give an example Star Trek DS9 added political intrigue to the World of Star Trek. It may have suffered by choosing to link itself to the Universe of Star Trek but it still managed to gain a level of political realism even though the characterisation was still quite one-dimensional.
    Sci-Fi is trying to grow up and treat itself like real drama. If the old franchises want to get in on the act and start writing storylines for adults don’t knock them.
    So far SGU has been brilliant. I seriously hope they don’t come across any aliens bigger than the diseases, parasites, mysterious nonspecific entities and critters they’ve come across already.
    Totally agree with you about the “In the night garden” comment though. It does seem weird however I guess they’ll try and keep it to the minimum.
    It doesn’t totally ruin things. Torchwood managed to keep it’s links to Doctor Who despite the difference in tone and I think SGU should be able to do the same with SG1 etc. if they’re careful about it.
    Mind you I bet they wouldn’t be brave enough to do something similar to an episode where all but 3 of the main characters dies and one of them sacrifices their own child in a morally dubious manner. Guess British Sci-Fi is still that little bit more daring….

  • Andrew

    Although I wasn’t exactly hooked by Stargate Universe immediately, I was intrigued enough to give it some time, it grew on me and I really ended up enjoying SGU. It was never going to replace Batlestar Galactica in my heart but I liked it enough that it was pretty frustrated when it was cancelled without giving the characters a proper send-off (i.e. and ending). Luckily it seems SyFy has listened to the fans and put together a conclusion. I’m glad they’re doing this. The timing could have been better though, being that I travel a lot and won’t be around much when it’s on. (MediumRob: ad removed)