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Stargate SG-1 Season 1 (DVD)

Starring: Richard Dean Anderson, Michael Shanks, Amanda Tapping, Christopher Judge and Don S Davis.

Rated: 18. As far as I can tell, this rating is pretty much down to some brief full-frontal, female nudity in the pilot episode. The rest of the series ranges between PG and 12.

Story: In the Stargate movie, the US military discover and activate a device which allows a team to travel through an interstellar worm-hole to the planet Abydos. They find a human civilisation very similar to ancient Egypt and make some friends. Then an alien pretending to be the god Ra arrives in an enormous spaceship and things start getting hairy - especially when it turns out the alien has been pretending for a very long time and really is, in some sense, Ra.

The TV series begins a year after the events of the movie. A way is found to access scores of other stargates and more teams are sent out to explore. Unfortunately, Ra's race, the Goa'uld, are somewhat upset by what transpired on Abydos and view humanity as a nuisance to be dealt with. The exploration teams must seek out information, technology and allies in an effort to protect Earth from attack. Team SG-1 is composed of Colonel Jack O'Neill (wise-cracking toughnut) and Dr Daniel Jackson (civilian archaeologist) from the film, along with Captain Samantha Carter (airforce pilot, astrophysicist and babe) and a guy in a red shirt whose days are numbered as soon as the team manages to recruit Teal'c (a warrior formerly enslaved by the Goa'uld).

Most of the stargates lead to worlds with human populations seeded there by the Goa'uld as a slave supply. These human societies are usually technologically primitive and each is descended from a distinct civilisation from Earth's past. ('Hey, look! This week it's Vikings!') They also usually have a problem that only space adventurers who've never heard of the Prime Directive can solve... Since SG-1 contains an expert on all the relevant topics (i.e. ancient cultures, science, aliens and shooting stuff), they're perfectly equipped to sort things out...

Comments: How late am I to this party? I'm a full nine series behind. Thirteen if you include the spin-off Stargate: Atlantis. I've got a bit of catching up to do...

I actually bought this about three years ago to watch while sitting up during the night with Sproglette. I only managed the first five or six episodes, however. It got to the stage where I couldn't entirely be bothered to put the DVD in the machine and ended up watching repeats of Top Gear instead. The pilot episode is good but it's quickly followed by a selection of clunkers involving modern Americans imposing their morals on ancient cultures. These episodes are predictable and tedious.

Making another attempt to watch SG-1 more recently, I almost gave up again. Fortunately, around about episode eight or nine, things start to pick up. The team gets taught a lesson in humility, the situations become more interesting, the back story is fleshed out a little and the episodes become better entwined. The final disc is very entertaining.

The series as a whole has plenty of rough edges, though. For a start, Richard Dean Anderson just doesn't seem quite right in the role played by Kurt Russell in the film. He's not macho enough. (On the other hand, he's likable and I have fond memories of MacGyver, so I'm willing to let him off with it.)

Another element which grates is the bizarre way that the galaxy is inhabited entirely by people who speak modern English. The film makes a big deal of Daniel Jackson having to learn to speak ancient Egyptian to communicate with the people of Abydos but the series ignores the issue almost entirely. Occasionally, SG1 find they understand every word that's said to them except the most important one. This is essentially a pretty cheap way to build suspense and just makes you wonder how they can understand everything else. The truly odd thing is that it would be easy to explain the whole set up in terms of some magic technology conferred by passing through the stargate and which is broken or damaged on some worlds. The writers apparently just don't care. Amusingly, half the cast don't even seem sure how to pronounce the name of the alien race they're fighting.

The biggest problem is the lack of subplots in most of the episodes. This means that the main plot of each episode has to fill out the full forty minutes. There ends up being padding and postulating where there should be some light relief or a secondary mystery. It's like having an episode of CSI with only one murder rather than two - without all the cutting back and forth, unlikely twists and logical flaws are very obvious.

All this is acknowledged by the fact that there's a 'Best of Series One' DVD available which features the first episode and the last three. If you only watched this, you'd miss out on some interesting bits and pieces but it might be the best course of action if you're low on patience.

Conclusion: Starts well and ends well but must have come pretty close to getting cancelled somewhere in the middle. Rent the pilot episode. If you like it, then it's worth persevering.

Explosions: Some.
Excellent episodes: Not enough.
Dodgy science: Plenty.
Minoans speaking English: A surprising number.
Chance of Season 2 being better: High.

Rating: Variable. Disc 2 is a definite 2/5 experience while Disc 5 (the final one) is more 4/5. I guess it all averages out to 3/5 but the strong ending has made me keener to watch Season 2 than might otherwise be the case. (That and the current bargain price of the box sets, anyway.)

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