It’s inevitable that a long-running TV show will eventually face the need to replace core members of its cast. Whether it’s Kirstie Alley replacing Shelley Long on Cheers, George Clooney departing ER for a film career, or Denise Crosby walking away from Star Trek: The Next Generation, it seems that cast departures are just part of the reality of television production.
Stargate, of course, is no different. Only Stargate Universe has been spared major cast disruptions (perhaps due to its run being cut short at just 40 episodes). But between Stargate SG-1 (which ran from 1997 to 2007) and Stargate Atlantis (2004-2009), our favorite franchise has said goodbye to a regular cast member no fewer than eight times.
Why did the actor leave? Who jumped, and who was pushed? We don’t always know the reason, but in some cases public statements have offered viewers at least some explanation. Sometimes it’s because the cast member is ready to move on to other things and chooses not to renew his or her contract; and at other times it is a creative or production decision.
Here they are — with a little bit of Stargate production history, and a word on how the writers fit the actor’s departure into the story.
Character: Dr. Daniel Jackson
After five years the OG Stargate team suffered a profound loss when the man who unlocked the Stargate … died. It was stunning. It was heroic. Daniel exposed himself to lethal radiation to save the people of Kelowna from what would have been a catastrophic naquadria explosion. Fortunately Oma Desala turned up and helped Daniel to ascend to a higher plane of existence. His journey would merely continue in another form.
A year later, of course, Daniel would return to his mortal coil when Shanks rejoined the cast (“Fallen”).
Actor Michael Shanks expressed at the time that he wasn’t content with where his character was going, and opted not to renew his contract when SG-1 moved to the SCI FI Channel. By the fifth season the Sha’re storyline was over, and he felt Daniel was often being written in not especially Daniel-y ways.
Character: Jonas Quinn
After his introduction in the same episode that saw Daniel’s death, Corin joined the cast as a series regular in Season Six. He had the unenviable task of filling the shoes of a beloved character — a fact that the writers decided to make use of in the story itself. Jonas Quinn was eager and optimistic, often turning to past mission reports and Dr. Jackson’s own notes to keep up with the team, while Colonel O’Neill proved hesitant to embrace him as a member of his team. At least at first.
He got there eventually, of course. Jonas was embraced by the team and loved by many fans, including much of the new viewership that came on board when SG-1 made the jump to basic cable that year. (One particularly enthusiastic bunch christened themselves the “Order of Jonas’s Banana.”) When Michael Shanks’ Daniel Jackson returned to the team in Season Seven, however, Jonas was written out — returning to his home world of Langara to help unite the disparate factions and join the rest of the galaxy.
After the two-part season premiere Corin returned only once, in Season Seven’s “Fallout.”
Don S. Davis
Character: General George Hammond
Departed: “Lost City”
Major General Hammond was the steady rock at Stargate Command for its first seven years of operation. He got the new program up and running, and sent SG-1 and two dozen other teams out on assignment through the Stargate. His strength and wisdom as a leader were matched only by his compassionate heart. It was General Hammond who upheld one of the S.G.C.’s most basic principles: We don’t leave our people behind.
Hammond even put himself into the action on more than one occasion — negotiating with a hostile alien government in “Prisoners,” joining a rescue mission in “Into the Fire,” and defending the base from Replicators in “Menace.”
Prior to his death in 2008 actor Don S. Davis retired from the daily grind of series television in 2003, with the completion of filming on Stargate SG-1‘s seventh season. In the fictional universe the new President tapped General Hammond as a personal adviser; off-screen Davis’s doctors advised him to take it easy. (He also told us that, after Teryl Rothery was written off the show, things at work just weren’t the same for him.) In his retirement Davis continued to make convention appearances and embraced his art, including painting and wood carving. He returned to Stargate for several guest appearances on SG-1 and Atlantis, and for the 2008 movie Stargate Continuum.
Richard Dean Anderson
Character: General Jack O’Neill
Losing the series lead was a tough moment for the Stargate franchise. Richard Dean Anderson not only brought in lots of fans and recognition from his MacGyver days, but also set the tone on a set that became a place of laughter, family … and dogs. His daughter was born during the show’s second season (that’s why O’Neill is sidelined in the episode “Spirits”), and by Season Six he was looking for ways to spend more time with her — while continuing to support the cast and crew of the TV show, which had found new life on basic cable.
The solution was a reduced workload in Seasons Six and Seven, which saw the rest of the team step up as Jack was periodically taken out of commission (host to a Tok’ra in “Nightwalkers,” under arrest in “Smoke and Mirrors,” captured by an alien in “Fragile Balance”) or just not at the center of the story (“Space Race” is just one example among many). Anderson agreed to stick around for one more season, and spent the show’s eighth year behind a desk (and with fewer shooting days) as the S.G.C.’s new base commander.
When Season Eight finished (with the team gone fishin’) Anderson’s years as a cast member and executive producer were complete. Always up for a chance to return to Vancouver and play, though, in subsequent years he made multiple appearances on SG-1, Atlantis, and Stargate Universe. The movie Stargate Continuum even gave him the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel north to the Arctic ice flows!
Rainbow Sun Francks
Character: Lt. Aiden Ford
Departed: “The Siege, Part 3”
Stargate Atlantis launched in the summer of 2004, making Stargate a bona fide franchise. Joining Major John Sheppard’s recon team was an eager young officer, Aiden Ford. Rainbow Sun Francks’ character was an explosives expert, trained to protect his teammates and ready to put his life on the line (as he soon had to do, in memorable episodes such as “Thirty Eight Minutes”).
He would also be the first casualty of the spin-off show’s regular cast. After a single season The Powers That Be decided to replace the character (the new team member would be Jason Momoa’s Ronon Dex). After his system was flooded with Wraith enzyme Ford’s mind was twisted, and he began to seek it out like a drug.
Rainbow told us that his character just hadn’t gotten the development everyone had expected in the first season, and so he was at least looking forward to Ford’s dramatic turn in his Season Two arc. “There was no hard feelings,” he said. “It wasn’t like I felt bad about it. I felt very good because I knew that I was going to get to work. And I was going to get to do good work and they were going to write some really cool stuff for me.”
Character: Dr. Carson Beckett
Writer Martin Gero’s simple “day in the life” of the Atlantis base ended up anything but ordinary. “Sunday” brought about the shocking demise of one of the show’s most beloved characters. The Scottish doctor wore his heart on his sleeve, and had found his way into the hearts of fans and teammates alike as a thoughtful and compassionate member of the expedition.
Paul McGillion had been a recurring guest star when he was originally cast on Stargate Atlantis — only to be written into most of the first season, and then upped to series regular for Season Two. With SG-1 ending in 2007 the rumor was that the network or studio execs wanted to “shake things up” a bit for Atlantis, and opted for a major character death (or two). “I’ll be really honest with you, I was very disappointed,” he told GateWorld just after the episode aired. “I was very disappointed with not being able to continue on the show. I love the show. It was shocking to me and disappointing.”
But fans of Carson Beckett quickly rallied, launching a write-in campaign and even holding a Scottish-themed protest (with pipe band) outside the Bridge Studios! Writers brought the character back a year later (in the form of a clone), making Carson Beckett the second main character to be killed off on screen and then brought back from the dead. “[After] the sudden demise of Beckett and then to come back and be invited back on the show again … I was really excited about it,” the actor later told us. “I thought it was a really clever way to bring the character back.”
McGillion took on a recurring role, appearing in five more episodes during the show’s final year.
Character: Dr. Elizabeth Weir
After the loss of Dr. Beckett, the subsequent departure of original cast member Torri Higginson caught most people by surprise. The writers weren’t done shaking things up heading into Season Four — SGA‘s first on the air without SG-1 as a lead-in. In the third season finale the city was attacked by the Asurans, and Elizabeth was critically injured during the city’s escape. Healed by Replicator nanites in the fourth season opener, she ended up joining the team on a fateful mission to the enemy homeworld.
“I think that my character — we never found a place for her,” actress Torri Higginson told us in a 2007 interview. “I think everybody can take a bit of responsibility for that, obviously myself included. … So many of the episodes I was just there in the background, which wasn’t challenging for me.” When the producers then looked for a place to make changes to the cast, they settled on the expedition’s commander.
For her part, the actress thought that Weir’s heroic send-off — sacrificing herself to the Replicators so that her people could escape — was fitting for her character. “It was lovely to show that sense of her willingness to sacrifice for everybody,” she said. “That was nice. … All those characters have put themselves into situations where they would die for each other. So I think it wasn’t a huge stretch, but it was wonderful to have her show that in one of her last moments.”
Torri returned later that year, only to have that Elizabeth Weir discover that she is a Replicator duplicate and not the genuine article (“This Mortal Coil”). And when the show’s writers invited her back as the leader of a faction of Replicators seeking ascension (“Ghost In the Machine”), the actress opted not to do it.
Character: Colonel Samantha Carter
Departed: “Search and Rescue”
Newly promoted to full-bird Colonel, Sam Carter’s tour of duty in the city of Atlantis was destined to be a brief one. With SG-1 gating off into the sunset after ten years Amanda Tapping still had one year left on her contract with the studio. They opted to make Carter the new leader of Atlantis, filling the office vacated by Dr. Weir and thereby keeping a strong female character in charge of the expedition. It was a new direction for Sam’s character to grow, as she now had to get used to sending teams off into dangerous situations while remaining behind on the base.
Producers reportedly hoped to convince Amanda Tapping to re-up for Season Five, but a new opportunity lay before her: Tapping left Stargate to helm her own series, executive producing and starring in Sanctuary for SCI FI Channel (2008-2011). But the Queen of Sci-Fi would never be far off from her Stargate roots. She reprised her role in multiple episodes of SGU — now in command of her own BC-304-class ship, the U.S.S. George Hammond.
What are the fondest memories she takes from eleven years on Stargate? “It’s the little things that I’ll take with me,” Amanda told us. “It’s the little daily memories. Of laughing on set. Of getting a hug from Chris Judge in the makeup trailer in the morning. Looking over at Michael and not having to say anything, you know, everything being understood. It’s our crew. It’s the sense of family, of familiarity and a sense of fun.”
Honorable Mention: Teryl Rothery
Character: Dr. Janet Fraiser
No, we didn’t forget ol’ Doc Fraiser — perhaps the Stargate franchise’s most shocking and heart-breaking death. Janet lost her life in the line of duty, caught in the crossfire by a Jaffa staff blast while tending to a wounded soldier on the battlefield of an alien world.
Teryl Rothery’s departure makes our list as an honorable mention because, despite appearing as a guest star in a whopping 75 episodes over seven seasons, she wasn’t actually a series regular. But she was certainly a member of the family, and her character’s loss was felt both behind the camera and in fandom. Network executives (“some stupid bean counter,” in the words of co-star Don Davis) reportedly pressed the writers to kill someone off. And the show’s producers, meanwhile, believed that Season Seven was going to be SG-1‘s last anyway.
Dr. Fraiser was selected for a hero’s death, followed by a hero’s funeral in “Heroes, Part 2” — a moving episode that gave the rest of the characters (and the actors who played them) time and space to mourn the loss of a beloved friend and comrade.
Janet would make one brief return, turning up at the S.G.C. from a parallel universe in the ninth-season episode “Ripple Effect.”
Which cast departure hit you the hardest? Sound off in the comments section below!