In Part 1 of this series GateWorld’s managing editor weighs four places that a fourth full-length Stargate series could air (or stream). In this installment he considers when in the Stargate timeline the series should be set.
We want a new Stargate television series — a fourth live-action, full-length show set in the same canonical universe. And while co-creator Brad Wright is talking with MGM again, it doesn’t sound like a new show has reached the drawing board yet.
It’s been seven years since Stargate Universe went off the air, and it is by no means a given that a new show will get the green light. Today there is also no guarantee that a new should would pick up right where SG-1, Atlantis, and SGU left off.
So when could a new Stargate show be set? When should it? Are fans interested in a prequel about the Ancients, or maybe leaping ahead a hundred years into Earth’s future? Or is there enough story to pick up with Earth’s Stargate program in the present day?
Earlier this year we put just this question to Stargate fans on Twitter. Before we break down each of the four possibilities, let’s take a look at the final results:
POLL: When do you think the next full-length Stargate TV series should be set (assuming a continuation of SG-1, SGA, or SGU is not feasible)? #StargateLives
— GateWorld.net (@GateWorld) February 20, 2018
Let’s look at the possibilities. First, a word about the qualification in the way the poll question is worded:
WHY NOT CONTINUE SGU, SGA, OR SG-1?
Of course nothing is impossible in Hollywood. If a studio is convinced that there is money to be made, they would spend what it takes to rebuild the sets and make the deals happen.
But resurrecting cancelled shows — many years later — is a huge lift. Sure, it has happened before. Firefly got a movie. Arrested Development got new seasons on Netflix. But they are the exceptions that prove the rule.In part it’s just cost-prohibitive to rebuild old sets and cast the same actors who have, in the intervening years, moved on to other work (which often puts them under exclusive contracts). Studios also have a tough time buying the argument that enough people will turn up. SGU, for example, was cancelled in part due to low ratings on Syfy Channel.
For a resurrection the studio would have to be reasonably confident not only that all the old fans would come back, but that they could also build a new audience to make the project sustainable.
And so the bottom line is that, for business reasons, restarts of cancelled shows almost never happen. As much as we love these characters (and want to see loose story threads tied up), the reality is that a studio is more likely to bank on a new project set in the same world — one where they can build a new cast of young talent, and where new viewers can easily come on board.
A STARGATE PREQUEL
Only 7 percent of fans in our Twitter poll thought that a full series set sometime before Stargate SG-1 is the best idea.
It’s safe to say that, even apart from Stargate, the marketplace currently has a bad taste about most any prequels when it comes to established sci-fi universes. (I’m looking at you, Darth Vader as a kid.)
Those relatively rare exceptions that sandwich prequel content into the middle of an established universe can make for some entertaining viewing. Despite its flaws Star Trek: Discovery is a fine addition to that universe of stories. Star Wars is also telling new stories in between film trilogies, including two different TV series (the animated Star Wars: Resistance and the just-announced live-action show The Mandalorians). And now Marvel is filling in the backstory of its cinematic universe with films like 2019’s Captain Marvel and, later, Black Widow.But prequels require some severe out-of-the-box thinking with respect to creative direction. And even when they are done well, they remain controversial.
The negatives of a prequel far out-pace the positives. They limit storytelling — sometimes in small ways and sometimes in big ways. There are characters the viewer knows cannot die. There is technology that can’t be developed yet, or alien races that can’t be a part of the storytelling. Star Trek: Enterprise was constantly struggling with its location in the timeline, wanting to introduce Borg and Romulans and Ferengi for the sake of fan service … but knowing none of these encounters could be permitted to “stick.”
More often than not prequels deserve the bad wrap that they get. That’s especially true with an established universe of hundreds of hours of stories. Fans usually want to move the ball forward, to see what happens next, and occasionally check in with old friends.
This doesn’t mean, of course, that there are not great stories to tell here. The digital Web series Stargate Origins is off and running with a fun, self-contained romp through the Stargate in 1939. I think these sorts of stories ought to continue on Stargate Command and run in parallel to a full-length TV series, telling short-form stories about the history of the Ancients, or the fate of the Furlings, or a young Bra’tac, or something else entirely. The possibilities are limitless.
But the fourth full-length show? I’m going to agree with other fans here and say that a prequel is not the best way to move our favorite franchise forward.
Here’s your poll winner: 64 percent of fans want the story to pick up in the present day, some years after Atlantis came to Earth and the crew of the Destiny went into stasis.Even Brad Wright himself — co-creator of Stargate SG-1, Atlantis, and SGU — weighed in on the matter. In a Twitter reply to the GateWorld poll he called Stargate’s present-day, real-world setting as fundamental to its winning formula. “The Stargate series worked because they were set in the here and now,” he wrote. The shows are deeply relatable because, unlike so many other science fiction franchises, these stories are about us. They are about men and women in the here-and-now, struggling to do their best in an impossible world.
The run-away poll winner isn’t a surprise. All three Stargate shows that we know and love were set in the present day. It would divert from the formula, in a not insignificant way, to create an ongoing series set in the past or the future.
There are also a ton of good arguments to be made for another present-day show — both creative and practical. One thing Stargate does well is weaving its mythology through the different series. The fourth show would have wall-to-wall opportunities to check in with those old friends: have Rodney McKay show up for a science project, send Daniel Jackson on a top-secret mission, or dial up Eli Wallace to find out how Destiny‘s crew woke up.
To bring back those actors for guest spots, it makes sense to have them play their characters at their current ages.
But does a Stargate show need to focus on people from present-day Earth in order to recapture the heart of Stargate? Let’s look at a couple of other possibilities for the fourth series.
THE NEAR FUTURENot all sci-fi futurism is the same, so when posing this option to Stargate fans I wanted to offer a choice. While 10 percent want to see a series set in the distant future, nearly one in five like the idea of a show set in the near future.
For me “near” means less than a generation, when characters like Samantha Carter, Matthew Scott, or Radek Zelenka are still living and participating in the Stargate program. We’ve seen flashes of this in previous stories — like the alternate timeline in “The Last Man,” when an aged General Lorne commanded the S.G.C.
Pushing the story of the canonical universe a few years down the road opens up some interesting story possibilities that a contemporary series might wish to avoid. Earth can be given new allies and technologies, or the writers can introduce the grown children of familiar characters.
This allows a more futuristic Stargate, while also staying relatively grounded in the familiar world, and with familiar characters.
Now, of course some of this would naturally be available to the writers of a new show set in the present day — simply by virtue of the fact that viewers have not visited Stargate Command in more than a decade. From the vantage point of SG-1‘s DVD movies and Atlantis‘s final season, at least a decade will have passed anyway. And that opens up space to advance Earth’s technological development, the size of its fleet of ships, and the scope of the Tau’ri footprint in the Milky Way Galaxy.
But what if Stargate went even further into the future?
THE DISTANT FUTUREIn 1987 Star Trek opened up its own storytelling universe by kicking the ball way down the field. The Next Generation was set a hundred years after the original series. This allowed for not only more advanced ships and technology but reshaping the landscape of the Alpha Quadrant (peace with the Klingons!) — and a totally different look and feel for the show’s production design.
A Stargate show set in the twenty-second century (or later) could draw connective tissue with the world of the present-day. But it would certainly be the biggest divergence from the way in which the franchise has told stories. In fact, this is precisely how Stargate differentiated itself from Star Trek — following the adventures of U.S. Air Force personnel in the here-and-now, humans who were always out of their element and in over their heads when they ventured onto the soil of other worlds.
If it dispenses with this element of the formula, the next show becomes a Stargate that has fundamentally different DNA.
MGM has actually tried this once before. There was a series set in the future — the oft-maligned animated series Stargate Infinity (2002-2003). There were numerous problems here (and the creators of the live-action shows weren’t involved with it at all). But I’m not convinced that the future setting of Infinity was necessarily one of them.
Infinity was set some 30 years in the future, teaming up a group of cadets, a veteran commander accused of a crime he didn’t commit, and a newly-discovered alien life form. Forced to flee from Earth, the group spent the show’s 26 episodes moving from planet to planet, searching for a way to clear their names and return home.The team was “us” — but in the future. And their forced displacement from the S.G.C. removed some of the complications that would have otherwise inevitably crept in.
The fact that Earth already possesses a fleet of interstellar ships, each equipped with the advanced weapons and shields technology of the Asgard, already relativizes some of Stargate’s original “here-and-now” premise. The writers wanted SG-1’s hundreds of off-world missions to start paying dividends (and rightly so). A show set on an advanced Earth in the twenty-second century might seem miles away from the premise of Stargate SG-1‘s first season … but is it all that far off, conceptually, from where the franchise ended up by 2011?
I think a future Stargate might conceivably work if the idea is just right. Science fiction offers infinite possibilities, so there’s always a clever way to retain the core elements of Stargate in a show set in the far-flung future. Characters from the present day could find themselves passing too close to a solar flare, sending them into a future Stargate Command where they must navigate a world that is both foreign and familiar.
Mash together the premises of Stargate SG-1 and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century? I might actually be able to get on board with that.
What is the best of these options? For my money the next Stargate show should be set in the present day or the near future. That keeps it tied to the three previous series and allows it to bring in familiar faces as guest stars while also advancing the story of the Milky Way beyond the Goa’uld, the Ori, and the Lucian Alliance.
The near future — say the 2030s — is an enticing idea. The technology acquired through the Stargate can be further deployed through public society, including medical breakthroughs and clean energy.
And the franchise has always been slightly askew from the real world anyway (with President Henry Hayes inaugurated in early 2004, for example). Moving the show’s setting a decade off-axis seems like it could open more possibilities without sacrificing the foundational element that Stargate is about “us.”But more than anything else we can opine on or speculate about, having watched Stargate fandom up-close for nearly two decades one thing is clear to me: what the franchise needs is a unifying show. In the wake of 2002’s Daniel Jackson / Jonas Quinn wars; following the cancellation of Atlantis and the failed attempt to get a movie off the ground; and after the catastrophic division within fandom during SGU‘s run (including some blaming the show for Atlantis‘s premature end), the fourth series has to bring people back together.
There are strong, smart business reasons to create a show that can heal old wounds while giving fans — of all different stripes — a common place to jump on for new adventures. The market is speaking, and it wants a show that doesn’t pit one type of fan against another, doesn’t alienate groups because of which incarnation of Stargate they loved most.
The ideal fourth series builds something new while, at the same time, bringing a measure of resolution to Stargate’s first generation. Mix characters old and new; tell us the fates of Atlantis and Destiny; give a glimpse of Homeworld Command; and use all of it as only a launching pad to leap into new adventures with a new team of soldiers, scientists, and aliens.
Stargate needs a show that us old timers can love right alongside the newbies — and those people out there who aren’t even Stargate fans yet. A new show will serve as a verdict on the current state of Stargate, and may well determine its creative direction for the next generation. It’s time for the franchise to put its best foot forward, not only for us who have loved Stargate for years but for everyone who is about to discover it for the very first time.