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Friday 23 June 2017

Stargate SG-1 1-01: Children of the Gods, Part 1

Episode:1|Writer:Jonathan Glassner & Brad Wright|Air Date:27-Jul-1997

This week on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm kicking myself for not realising that it'll be Stargate SG-1's 20th anniversary this year! If I'd held onto this post for another month it would've worked out perfectly, but I already promised I'd write about this next and I'm two weeks late, so I decided to click publish on it today and hope I do better with the next anniversary.

What else came out in 1997 anyway? It seems like it was a good year for fantasy movies to get their own wildly successful semi-faithful TV franchises, as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Stargate SG-1 both kicked off within a few months of each other. I have to admit that I'm more of a Buffy fan, but Buffy's about vampires and Stargate's about stargates so this is the one I'm writing about on my sci-fi site. Other science fiction series starting in '97 include Deepwater Black, Earth: Final Conflict and Timecop and I've got even better reasons for not writing about them. Meanwhile Star Trek: Deep Space Nine finished off its 5th season, Babylon 5 got done with year 4 and Voyager wrapped up season 3.

They may have chosen the least exciting shot possible to put the title over, but Children of the Gods is the beginning of an epic TV franchise to rival Star Trek, that lasted for 354 episodes and 2 DVD movies! It also rivals Star Wars with how much it got screwed with years after the fact, as co-creator Brad Wright decided to have it re-cut to replace visual effects, tighten up the storytelling, restore the original Joel Goldsmith score and use a slightly more exciting shot for the title. Oh plus his revised Final Cut also removes the nudity that Showtime apparently made them put in, because it didn't exactly suit the family friendly 90s TV sci-fi tone they were going for.

But I don't have the Final Cut, so I'm watching whatever version came in my season one DVD box set, and I'll be writing all kinds of SPOILERS as I go. I'll also be spoiling the Stargate movie, but I won't say a word about what happens in the rest of the series. Or any other series.

The episode begins with a panning shot around a stunning recreation of the gate room set from the movie. Well as stunning as a plain concrete room decorated in power conduits can be.

Seems that the Stargate project hasn't exactly taken off since the events of the film though, as the most exciting thing going on in Stargate Command right now is a group of airmen playing poker. Though one of the players, Weterings, is more concerned about that mysterious ring-shaped object over there, as the tarpaulin's wafting like there's a breeze.

The others are less bothered, as whatever the thing did, it doesn't do it any more. They must have ran out of money as they've been shipping personnel out of the base for months now. So Weterings realises that there's nothing to be worried about and the teaser ends with them enjoying their game of cards.

Actually she get up and wanders over to the gate to investigate, her curiosity validated when the tarp flies off and the stargate fires all by itself. The others go scrambling for their guns and move into position directly in front of the thing. Personally I would've ran for cover (or better yet, out of the room, down the hallway and straight to the elevator), but then I know that the stargate is a portal to a thousand other worlds, many of them containing assholes.

Stargate (1994)
Here's the original movie set for comparison, with its empty walls and circular missile hatch in the floor under the walkway. You can see that the rooms aren't quite identical, but SG-1's set designers were extremely faithful to the spirit of it. This isn't a Battlestar Galactica-style reimagining that changes everything.

The stargates themselves are so identical you might think that they reused the same prop, though there are some differences that prove they didn't. For one thing the symbols around the rotating inner ring are embossed rather than engraved on the TV stargate. Also only the top chevron moves now, and they all light up orange. There's no lights at all on the movie stargate.

Anyway Weterings goes over to the wormhole to have a look, despite the others pointing out how stupid an idea that is, and a metal ball drops out and scans her. The dumbest thing to do here would be to pick the ball up, so she does, and... nothing happens!

But then then snake people come through and grab her.

These guys are like Ra's henchmen in the movie, except instead of CGI helmets they have practical ones that wobble around a bit when they open. The producers might have chosen this approach just to save money, but I think this effect's probably aged better than the one in the film.

Doesn't look much fun for the actors though.

The snake guy in gold uses a sci-fi hand device to knock Weterings out and this understandably sparks a bit of a shoot out between the two groups.

I've edited the hell out of this clip, but you can still tell that the airmen can't shoot through the alien armour, the snake men can't shoot anything, and the poker table dies a warrior's death.

A few of the henchmen are taken out by sustained gunfire, but this is a clear win for Team Snakeman. Weterings is the only human survivor and that's just because a snake guy called Teal'c shielded her from her friend's machine gun fire! Fun fact: Teal'c is the first character in the series to have his name spoken in dialogue, though you can't tell at this point because it just sounds like more alien dialogue.

But before the snake squad leaves, the man in gold flashes his eyes, revealing that he's probably another parasite alien like Ra from the movie! The casting department did pretty well here, finding a guy who actually kind of resembles the mask of Ra seen in the opening credits. Except he's not cross-eyed.

This scene was one of the ones edited for the Final Cut version of the episode, as they took out some of the shots of bullets bouncing off armour to make the invaders seem far less bulletproof. These guys are going to be cut down by machine gun fire all over the place later in the episode so there's a bit of an inconsistency there.

The base goes on full alert so the surviving snakes grab their ball and drag Weterings back through the gate with them. The wormhole then immediately shuts down, leaving the general in charge standing in his smoking gate room with a lot of dead people to clear up.

Back when I first saw the episode I assumed that the invaders must have walked back into the active wormhole they came in through, even though that's against the rules. Stargates are one-way only for anything besides radio waves, so if you step back in you're dead. But this time I realised that I'm an idiot as the gate's clearly turned off during the firefight and it's back on afterwards after the leader yells something in alien. In the Final Cut version it's made more obvious that they redialled the gate, though they still don't show how they did it without the base's dialling computers.

Then it cuts to the same opening credits sequence as the movie! Well there's different names coming up on screen obviously, but it's still a motion controlled shot panning across Ra's mask while David Arnold's fantastic theme plays.

The producers apparently ran out of time to create their own opening titles so Ra's cheerful face appeared for all five seasons that the series was on Showtime. I think this works in the series' favour as it firmly establishes the connection to the film, even if the character himself got nuked before the series started. It's just a shame that it's really boring to watch.

After about a minute of credits we're back to the episode, as two Air Force officers drive up to a house in a blue Chevrolet Caprice to visit Colonel Jack O'Neill, just like in the movie!

Only this time the scene takes place at night, and O'Neill's not staring at a gun in his dead son's bedroom, he's staring at the stars through a telescope. Plus he has a different face.

How this Major Samuels found him up here is a mystery though. He started off by trying the front door, but gave up after approximately four seconds when his friend pointed out that there was a ladder nearby. Samuels just can't resist climbing up onto a roof I guess.

Some people have no problem with a character being recast with a different looking actor, but personally I prefer it if the replacement is as close a match as possible, especially if the story's meant to be in the same continuity. But I realise that you want to cast the most charismatic and famous actor in your price range as your leading man, so I'm going to let them off for casting brown-eyed MacGyver to replace blue-eyed Snake Plisskin and then not making the hair match. At least he lost the mullet.

It's the way that Richard Dean Anderson plays the character that bothers me more, as he doesn't make me believe for a moment that he's the same person that Kurt Russell was playing in the film. But then O'Neil spent the whole film traumatised and suicidally depressed so I suppose that makes sense. Plus this guy is O'Neill with two 'l's.

Anyway O'Neill's retired at this point, but Samuels is here to tell him that General Hammond needs him to come over and have a chat about the stargate.

So O'Neill is driven over to the secret stargate base, which has been retconned to being inside the real-life military installation inside Cheyenne Mountain instead of the fictional Creek Mountain.

This means that the producers were able to send someone over to film footage of the real base for use in the series. This is the actual north entrance you're looking at right now and there was a shot earlier of giant blast doors closing which are real too.

This however is a set in Vancouver.

SG-1 got a huge amount of support from the US Air Force for a series filmed in Canada, though less so at this point. That's apparently why things aren't quite 100% accurate to how Air Force officers would dress and behave; they didn't have them checking their scripts yet.

Stargate (1994)
Here's what the complex looked like in the movie, just for comparison. It's not an identical copy, but you can believe that it's another corridor in the same base, two elevator rides deep into a mountain in Colorado. O'Neill mentions that he's been here before, so I'm considering that confirmation that it's the same place.

This guy isn't O'Neill though. That's Dr. Daniel Jackson, hero of the movie, who won't be showing up in this episode for a while. The fact that these are such similar scenes at such a similar part of the story is an early clue that O'Neill's pretty much replaced Jackson as the primary protagonist for the TV series.

General Hammond here isn't from the movie though. He's outright replaced General West as the head of the Stargate project.

Hammond brings O'Neill through to see the corpses and staff weapons they've collected from the shoot out in the gate room, and we learn these snake men aren't quite human. They're close, but they've got pouches in their gut like a marsupial.

This seems like it's going to be another retcon, as Ra's henchmen in the movie were normal humans, but then O'Neill actually says that the folks he met on Abydos weren't like this, so continuity is preserved! Except for the fact that no one called the planet Abydos in the film. The name wasn't invented for SG-1 though, as it was called Abydos in the video game and books years ago. It was only the movie itself that didn't seem to know where it took place.

O'Neill also mentions that Abydos is populated by the descendants of humans brought over from Egypt thousands of years ago by Ra, and that they killed the mad parasitic bastard with a tactical nuke. This exposition isn't just for the people who didn't see the film, it's also here to let the people who did see the movie know that everything in it counts as SG-1 canon... until it's contradicted.

But seeing a guy with glowing eyes come through and shoot his men has given Hammond reason to doubt O'Neill's story, so he's going to send another nuke to Abydos just to be sure! It's a different prop, a mark 5 not a mark 3, but it's still got the little detonator module you stick in the top and they've already started the countdown! Man I hope mark 5s are easier to disarm.

I love how smug and manipulative Hammond is in this. He's a stern authority figure in opposition to the hero who's pretty sure he's arranging to blow up thousands of innocent people, and yet he's awesome. Plus it takes some balls to arm a nuke right there in your living room. But he knows full well that O'Neill's going to fold and he's going to deactivate the thing, he just needed to prise the truth out of him.

Wait, he's not disarming the bomb! Even after O'Neill told him the whole truth about blowing up Ra's ship instead of the pyramid and then burying the gate instead. Damn, man.

So O'Neill's taken away into a holding room where he's reunited with an unfamiliar actor claiming to be Kawalsky from the movie. New Kawalsky mentions that the kids they met on Abydos are the whole reason they kept the secret and talks about the one that always used to salute him, Skaara. This gives O'Neill a reason to bring up his dead son, saying that Skaara reminded him of him. Well I guess people who skipped the movie had to learn all this somehow.

After the awkward exposition's sorted out, General Hammond comes in and announces that he's not going to nuke a few thousand innocent people after all, and he's open to suggestions. So O'Neill suggests sending him through to Abydos again, after they check to see if it's safe on the other side.

They could wait for the prototype probe robot to be shipped over, but O'Neill has a better idea, and picks up a box of tissues to throw through instead.

They're in a replica of the control room from the movie here, but I'm sure there used to be a giant star map behind where they're standing. I guess they moved it to the side and put stairs leading up to the briefing room in its place. They've also taken out all the smoke, so the room's a lot less hazy now.

Though one thing that's exactly like the movie is this shot of people pressing important buttons (Stargate on the left, SG-1 on the right... or perhaps it was the other way around, I forget). This isn't really something worth pointing out, I'm just overly pleased with myself for noticing. I also noticed that the scene takes place pretty much 20 minutes in for both stories.

On the other hand, all the shots of computer screens seem to be brand new, though they've copied the original displays so well that even when I put them side by side it's hard to see the differences. It's been over a year since the movie so any changes can be explained by them upgrading the OS to Stargate 95.

Oh here's something I've never noticed before:

They dial in the address with symbols printed on a keyboard! I hope a later episode explores what happens when you dial an address using the !@#$%^ and & glyphs instead.

Anyway, O'Neill's plan is to throw his box of tissues through the stargate to Abydos. If Daniel Jackson has unburied the other gate then he should be keeping an eye on it and he'll realise that the tissues must have been sent by a friend who knows about his allergies. Though O'Neill acknowledges that there's a risk that the snake people might find the box instead, in which case "They could be blowing their noses right now."

But the plan works! They eventually get an empty box back, covered in sand, with "THANKS SEND MORE," written on it.

So O'Neill's recalled to active duty and now he's back in his smart blue uniform from the movie again. The briefing takes place at 8 in the morning so now it's got me wondering just how close the base is to O'Neill's house. Did he have time to drive back home and get some stuff, maybe have a beer, or does he wear his uniform under his clothes like Superman? I suppose he could've brought it with him just in case.

He wants to put together his own team for the return mission to Abydos, but Hammond tells him that he's bringing Captain Sam Carter as well, as she's their expert on the stargate and it's standard procedure to throw their experts through a wormhole to this dangerous desert planet whenever they get the chance. O'Neill understandably assumes that Sam's a man when he hears her name, until she walks in and corrects him.

This is a pretty different scene to the briefing in the movie as there's a lot more giggling from those present and it's mostly about Carter standing up for herself against O'Neill's hostility and setting up her character. She's a multiclass combat pilot/astrophysicist and highly proficient in both. Though after she finishes giving her speech about how the placement of her reproductive organs doesn't mean she can't handle anything they can, O'Neill clarifies that he's got no problem with bringing a woman on the mission, he just doesn't like scientists. Carter's line was later removed for the Final Cut on account of it being the most cringeworthy thing said in all 10 seasons.

Now that we know who Carter is, Samuels interrupts and brings them to the 'why the obvious plan won't work' part of the discussion. The obvious plan is to bury the gate, it won't work because the aliens have spaceships and can just fly here instead. So they're going back to Abydos to do some recon!

Stargate (1994)
By the way, here's what this room looked like in the movie. I know that must be the same room, because that board on the right is in front of the window looking down on the stargate.

They have a better table now, but I don't like how Hammond's office is right there behind a window. I wouldn't want people in briefings looking in at me while I did my private office stuff. I do like how the SG-1 sets are all connected up though, so the actors could go from the office to the briefing room, down the stairs to the control room, out through a corridor to the gate room and then look up and see the briefing room again.

So O'Neil's team gathers by the gate wearing their backpacks, helmets, and appropriate camo, in contrast to how they'll be dressed every other time they step through for the rest of the run. Though to be fair they haven't got their special SG-1 uniforms with the patches on the arms made up yet.

This time it's Carter who stops to admire the rippling effect (which are apparently "fluctuations in the event horizon"), but O’Neill eventually gets tired of Dr. Jackson, Mark II and shoves her in.

Then the camera follows him as he steps through the gate, proving that he really is the protagonist this time.

They've saved a bit of money here, as this is the exact same wormhole sequence as in the movie, repeated in full. Except they've flipped the footage for some reason. Final Cut replaces this with the new wormhole effect created a decade later for Stargate: Atlantis.

The team comes out the other side frosty (just like in the movie), only this time they find that a group of the friendly locals are waiting for them.

So I guess this must be meant to be the room from the movie where O'Neill had the big climactic "Give my regards to King Tut!" scene. It looks kind of different, but I'm happy enough to pretend that it's just because they've found the light switch.

Three more of the movie characters are already here, so that brings the count up to six now. Though the only one of them to be played by the same actor is O'Neill's friend Skaara on the left. He's so happy to see him that he ignores Jackson at first and goes over to hug the kid instead.

Jackson's been living for a year on a desert planet with no soap or toilet paper, but he's been doing okay and he's still married to Sha'uri. Only he calls hr Sha're now because... maybe it's easier to pronounce?

Oh I should check how TV Jackson (Michael Shanks) compares to movie Jackson (James Spader).

Eh, close enough.

New Jackson's less cheerful than movie Jackson though. Movie Jackson was awkward but eager, TV Jackson looks like he's perpetually caught halfway between confused and concerned.

While everyone else is having a chat, Carter is mesmerised by the dialling device next to the stargate. So this is how Jackson got O'Neill and friends back home in the movie! It must have been just out of frame for the entire film. Amanda Tapping threw in an ad-lib here about it taking them "15 years and 3 supercomputers to MacGyver a system for the gate on Earth," which they actually left in! It stayed in right up until the Final Cut, where it was finally replaced with "jerry-rig a system". No fun allowed in the Final Cut.

Captain Sam Carter's eventually dragged away from the thing long enough to meet Dr. Jackson, and she introduces herself as Dr. Samantha Carter, to O'Neill's... amusement? It's hard to tell with him. She knows which title Jackson will respect more and she's clearly a fan of his so she's switched to full science mode.

Jackson wonders why they're paying him a visit so O'Neill tells him about the snake men that came through the gate. But they couldn't have come from Abydos as they guard their stargate 36 hours a day, so that means that there may be a third stargate they can dial, or more!

Jackson's got something to show them, but they can't leave yet because of another sandstorm, so they stick around and have lunch, just like in the movie! Though he's taught everyone fluent English during the last year, because he was bored I guess, so they can actually communicate with each other now.

Skaara takes the opportunity to give his lighter back to O'Neill, but he insists that he keeps it. He doesn't need it any more as he's stopped smoking. I bet he won't get him a refill for it though.

When the storm stops, Jackson leads O'Neill, Carter and Kawalsky out to show them this thing he's found, while Ferretti stays behind with the others. So now we get to see what the TV budget version of the planet Abydos looks like.

Okay that's fairly impressive. It's not taken from the movie either; this is a new effects shot. You can tell because it doesn't have the moons. It got replaced by an even newer CGI effects shot in Final Cut, and I have no idea why because this looks great.

Children of the Gods: Final Cut
They spent time and money to make it worse.

By the way if you scroll up and look through the screencaps again you might notice that there's never much going on in the left or right of the frame and the actors tend to be grouped together away from the edges. This is because the series was originally aired in 4:3 aspect ratio, but like Babylon 5 it was filmed with the 'shoot and protect' technique that left a bit of space around the sides for a later widescreen release. Though unlike B5 it seems they made the effects shots for widescreen as well, so it doesn't suffer the same quality loss when the scene changes to a big pyramid in the desert.

Here, I made some fake 35mm film strips to demonstrate (even though Stargate SG-1 was being filmed on 16mm for the first three seasons).

You can see that the Stargate crew gave themselves room to expand the frame, at the cost of resolution. The 90s Star Trek series on the other hand didn't, so Deep Space Nine's going to look great if they ever remaster it in HD, but it'll always have black bars down each side. Either that or they'd have to crop the top of Sisko's head off... which might actually improve those first few seasons where he still has hair.

Anyway, Jackson's taking O'Neill and the others out to show them something.

Turns out he's found a big temple of Ra here, with what looks like the Ark of the Covenant in the background. "This is the archaeological find of the century!" says an excited Carter, apparently forgetting that they dug up a working stargate a few decades back.

There's writing all over the walls, but Jackson can't translate what it says because... well each grouping contains 7 symbols, and they're all symbols you'd find on a stargate. It's a map to a vast network of stargates across the galaxy! Probably.

None of the other permutations they've dialled have worked so far, but Jackson theorises it's because the addresses are thousands of years out of date and the star systems aren't at the same coordinates any more. But with these new addresses to work from they can update the software on their dialling computer to compensate for the drift! Or something like that, I'm still a little fuzzy on it.

It's always nice to watch people solving problems though, especially when it's with the bare minimum of technobabble. Carter get the science a little wrong, saying that the planets have moved because of the expansion of the universe rather than the fact that they're orbiting the galaxy, but this was corrected in the Final Cut. They actually got Amanda Tapping in to re-dub her character with more scientifically accurate dialogue, which I can guarantee will never ever happen for Star Trek.

(Though they did fix Star Trek: The Motion Picture by changing the V'Ger cloud from 82 au across down to 2 au in the Director's Edition, so maybe I'm wrong!)

The folks they left back at the stargate pyramid are having fun too, as suddenly snake guys rush out, staff weapons blazing, like they knew they were there. It seems that they're just dialling each gate in turn, jumping out, and then kidnapping whoever's closest. Though they didn't use the scanning ball this time, which seems a bit reckless. If there'd been something blocking the gate they'd all be a stain on it right now.

Teal'c notices that these guys are using the same guns he saw back in Stargate Command so he stops his friend from blasting Skaara so that he can ask him where he got his M4 carbine. I'm a bit curious about that as well, as I thought the first stargate expedition only left behind MP5s. I'm also curious about why they're all talking to each other in English all of a sudden. I guess we're meant to assume they're speaking the language from the Stargate movie.

The snake squad gets nothing out of Skaara but a faceful of spit, so their mysterious leader knocks him out, checks Sha're's teeth (seriously), then kidnaps both of them. The dialling console prop he uses is cool, as each button lights up as it's pressed. Ferretti's so impressed that he can't resist picking himself up to have a look, despite being seriously wounded.

Jackson and the others arrive moments after the snakes leave, to find that most of his friends were only faking being dead! But Ferretti's on the verge of death so they need to get him back through the gate right now, and Jackson's coming too. He's against the idea at first, until O'Neill reminds him that they're looking for the people who kidnapped his wife.

So Jackson decides to leave his Abydos crew behind, telling them to bury the gate once they're gone,  then wait a year and dig it up again. If he's found Sha're by then he'll bring her home, otherwise they'll have to bury the gate again forever. Man I hope both sides get the timing right on that; they do have 36 hour days on this planet after all, and who knows how many days their years are.

And that's about where the first half of the episode ends I think. It's all one video on my DVD, but I'm splitting it into two posts because it's huge.

Click the link to jump to the second half of the episode, where Sam, Dan and Jack go out, end up at a party somehow, wake up on someone else's floor with a splitting headache, and then have to run back home before they're locked out: Part two.


  1. It's the way that Richard Dean Anderson plays the character that bothers me more, as he doesn't make me believe for a moment that he's the same person that Kurt Russell was playing in the film. But then O'Neil spent the whole film traumatised and suicidally depressed so I suppose that makes sense. Plus this guy is O'Neill with two 'l's.

    It would have been fun if they did an episode in which the stargate takes the team to a parallel universe and MacGyver-O'Neill meets MacReady-O'Neil. Maybe they did do this; I've seen perhaps ten episodes of SG-1, because it wasn't on any proper channels over here and I only watch it now when I come across it on SyFy or Five* or something. I doubt they could afford Kurt Russell though, even for a one-off, even in the late 90's.

    General Hammond here isn't from the movie though. He's outright replaced General West as the head of the Stargate project.

    He's also suspiciously similar to Major Briggs from Twin Peaks. I mean, I know it's the same actor, but Briggs was also working on a top secret magic portal project for the USAF.

    1. I've never seen Twin Peaks, but I checked its wiki and yeah I'm definitely seeing some resemblance there. Same uniform and face and everything.

      I doubt that SG-1 cast the actor in a similar role deliberately though. It seems more likely to me that David Lynch stole the character from series that would be created 6 years after Twin Peaks was cancelled, just to blow people's minds when wikis were finally invented.

    2. Hammond/Briggs was also Scully's stern navy captain father in The X-Files. Don S. Davis was never typecast.