Given the 17-season franchise that it launched, “Children of the Gods” just may be one of the most significant pieces of sci-fi television in a generation. Brad Wright and Jonathan Glassner’s interstellar adventure picks up where the 1994 feature film left off, reuniting Jack O’Neill and Daniel Jackson and opening up a universe of ongoing adventures for the small screen.
Now GateWorld has obtained the original, first draft of the Stargate SG-1 pilot script. And while it largely reflects the final episode that we saw premiere on July 27, 1997, there are some notable changes from script to screen.
This draft of the script is dated October 18, 1996, placing it around four months before principal photography began on the series.
Wright and Glassner were matched by MGM as writing and production partners when both men (who were working on MGM’s The Outer Limits at the time) approached the studio about turning Stargate into a TV series. They co-wrote the pilot and produced the show together for its first three seasons, after which Glassner departed.
Years later Wright would return to the project, re-editing the SG-1 pilot into the now definitive edition: 2009’s Children of the Gods: Final Cut.
What changed between the autumn of 1996 and the spring of 1997 might surprise you. That includes changes to major characters’ names (and, in one case, ethnicity), tweaked plot points, and entire scenes that were cut or pared down to fit the budget and time table of the ambitious cable production.
Apophis wasn’t Apophis.
The show’s writers knew from the beginning that they wanted to use the movie villain Ra’s race as a primary antagonist for the new series. We learn in the pilot that Ra was not in fact the last of his kind; other Goa’uld took humans as hosts as well, and control multiple planets with human slaves.
The first (and arguably greatest) Goa’uld System Lord the team encountered was Apophis (Peter Williams). It’s a logical choice to kick off the television series, since in ancient Egyptian mythology Apophis serves as a counterpoint to Ra. Ra was the sun god, whose light was said to bring order; but Apophis was the god of chaos, who ruled the night.
In the first draft of the script, though, Wright and Glassner opted for one of Apophis’ other names from ancient mythology: Apep.
When his guards are shot down in front of him their larval Goa’uld symbiotes leap out of the Jaffa pouches and into Apep’s arms, where he cradles them tenderly.
Open the Gate
One long-standing piece missing from the episode’s opening sequence, in which Apophis himself comes to Earth, is just how he redialed the Stargate to leave. The original episode simply showed him barking orders to his Jaffa and then walking back through an open Stargate. The Final Cut added sound effects to at least indicate that the gate was redialed.
But in the original script, we see just how the gate was reactivated: Apep himself has the power to control the gate at will. He uses his hand device to open the Stargate, both on Earth and again later on Abydos:
Carter wasn’t Carter.
In the weeks between a script being written and the start of filming, production offices will work through the process of legal clearance for all character names. That line in the credits of a movie or TV show that says “Any similarity to persons living or dead is purely coincidental”? That’s what this is about. If there is a person with the same name and enough background similarities, the script has to be changed.
In the case of Stargate SG-1, that evidently happened with one of the show’s lead characters. Either that, or The Powers That Be just decided they liked the name “Carter” better. When she is first introduced to Jack O’Neill and the others in the briefing room, we instead meet Dr. Samantha Clayman — theoretical astrophysicist and a Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force.
Amanda Tapping would be cast in the role, which of course by the first day of shooting had become Samantha Carter. She also got an early promotion, starting the series at the rank of Captain.
In the first draft Clayman complains repeatedly about how short-sighted the military has been with regard to the Stargate program. She even suggests to Daniel that she hates the military … or at least she did, up until her chance to go through the Stargate finally became a reality. She only joined the Air Force because they offered to pay her way through grad school.
That attitude would be dropped for the series, which went on to establish the fact that Carter has a long family connection to the Air Force. Her father, General Jacob Carter, was introduced in Season Two.
Chulak is buried in snow.
When the probe sends back the first images from the Goa’uld-controlled world of Chulak, it doesn’t look like a forest in British Columbia. The planet appears to be covered in dunes of drifting, white sand. Better bring the sunscreen, right?
But when SG-1 and SG-2 arrive, they find freezing temperatures. Chulak is covered not in sand, but snow! (Time to add some temperature sensors to that probe …) As the camera pulls out, we see that in fact the planet’s Stargate is located atop a great mountain.
Though the scenes would eventually be shot in the more temperate climates of the British Columbia forests, some of the dialogue survived as originally scripted. In the finished episode Kawalsky (Jay Acovone) and his men complain about the bitter cold as they awaken in their base camp the next morning. “Rise and shine, boys, it’s another fine day on planet Kawalsky!”
Fight! Fight! Fight!
In the first draft, Teal’c’s first meeting with O’Neill and his team goes a bit differently. In the episode, remember, he speaks with the Colonel just long enough to see his wrist watch and recognize the humans’ level of technology. But in the original script, their meeting is very different.
When Jack is reunited with Skaara inside the Chulak prison, the young man is caught in a fight with a 10-foot-tall fellow prisoner (identified as “the Primitive” — Javvaha). O’Neill tries to diffuse the situation but ends up forced to fight the giant in front of the loosely assembled crowd of onlookers. It’s a fairly elaborate fight scene that shows that the various people trapped in Apep’s prison are happy to turn on one another for a little cutthroat blood sport.
O’Neill breaks the man’s nose but eventually goes down, at which point Sam gets in on the action too. She showcases a bit of her martial arts training, knocking the Primitive back (but not down) with a dropkick!
The giant eventually gets Jack on the ground and moves to kill him with a large animal bone. As the crowd cheers on, Teal’c arrives and breaks up the fight by shooting the raised bone and shattering it with his staff weapon. Teal’c issues a stern warning to the prisoners, then walks away.
All of this is cut from the final episode. But the character of “the Primitive” is there and credited by that name — played by actor John “Bear” Curtis.
Sam’s martial arts training would make one or two more appearances early in the series, including her hand-to-hand fight scene in “Emancipation.”
Teal’c’s betrayal seems more impulsive.
Teal’c’s meeting with Jack and his wrist watch in the finished episode also includes Daniel telling the Jaffa where they are from: the Tau’ri of Earth. After Apophis orders everyone in the prison executed, Teal’c seizes his moment and turns his staff weapon on his own Serpent Guards. He seems to have been waiting for just such an opportunity for some time. (A more complete look at what’s going on in Teal’c’s head in this moment would be told in flashbacks years later, in the fifth season episode “Threshold.”)
But in the original draft, Teal’c seems ready to follow through on his orders and execute Colonel O’Neill. After Apophis gives the order Jack attacks one of the guards in a hopeless effort to escape:
Teal’c fires at another guard and at the prison wall, opening up a route of escape. But the familiar dialogue “Many have said that — but you are the first I believe could do it!” is not here.
We see Skaara’s implantation ceremony.
Skaara was one of several characters from the feature film to return for the new series’ pilot episode. But Alexis Cruz was the only actor to make the crossover. (Erick Avari’s Kasuf did not appear until Season Two.) Cruz says that the show’s producers originally approached him about being a series regular. He turned them down and instead took the job as a recurring character.
The creative result was a Goa’uld’ed Skaara, who is featured throughout the 2-hour premiere but then becomes a prisoner of the enemy. (He would return as the impetuously evil Klorel in the first season finale.)
The climax of “Children of the Gods” as scripted includes SG-1 and the prisoners heading toward the Stargate, while Kawalsky and SG-2 engage the enemy ships in the air and foot soldiers on the ground. With the battle raging around them, Apep leads a ceremony to implant the newly selected “children of the gods” with their symbiotes — including Skaara. He is strapped to an altar in front of the Stargate, where he begs helplessly for his sister Sha’re to intervene.
This was simplified in the final episode, with the entire ceremony scene removed. Instead Apophis orders the Stargate dialed immediately upon their arrival, and he and Sha’re leave. As the rest of the Goa’uld evacuate Jack approaches Skaara to stop him. But the young man has already been turned: he raises his arm and fires a hand device, knocking the Colonel backward. Skaara’s eyes glow.
That confrontation is in the script, but only after the implantation scene — during which Jack is still some ways away, and can hear Skaara screaming in the distance.
When an iris isn’t enough …
In the first draft the Stargate on Earth gets not only a metal iris to protect from unwanted invaders through the wormhole, but also a giant pair of concrete doors that closed in front of the iris.
Apparently this was deemed overkill, and dropped from the show. But in the first draft, it made for a gruesome, TV-MA conclusion to the final escape sequence.
Kawalsky is fine.
In the episode’s climax, the last moments of fighting at the Stargate see an immature Goa’uld symbiote leap from the body of a fallen Jaffa and into Lt. Kawalsky, setting up the events of the next episode. At least in the finished show.
In the script, however, originally it was not Kawalsky who was at risk of becoming an unwitting sleeper agent. Instead the symbiote attacks Corporal Warren, one of the members of SG-2 under Kawalsky’s command. Rather than burrowing into him, though, it only clings to his back and hitches a ride as the man carries a fallen comrade back home through the Stargate. But when they get back to Earth, O’Neill and the others see the snake-like creature.
Notably, when Wright revisited the episode’s conclusion for 2009’s Final Cut, he removed the shots of Kawalsky being taken as a host. He told GateWorld that he thought the twist was extraneous to the story … especially since it ended up being a fluke. As the show went on SG personnel were not regularly at risk of being infected by stray symbiotes leaping about.
Removing those shots also helps “Children of the Gods” stand on its own as a self-contained movie, without the need to tease the audience with a set-up for the next episode.
CHANGE IS GOOD!
Now 23 years after the show premiered, the original pilot script is an important artifact from Stargate’s history. It also illustrates how the realities of television production shape a finished episode — from casting and budget, to locations and directorial choices, to the capabilities of both practical and digital effects.
A few other notable differences between the 1996 script and the completed episode:
- General Hammond is African American, described as a “tough as nails career military man (think Colin Powell).”
- Jack O’Neill isn’t just retired … he’s really retired. When Samuels finds him on his roof with a telescope O’Neill has a full beard and mustache, as well as longer hair. He’s also sporting a cardigan sweater and a pipe, described in the script as “almost professorial.” Not exactly a look that series lead Richard Dean Anderson is known for!
- Major Samuels (played by Robert Wisden) originally carried the rank of Captain. His first name is given as “Franklin,” though this didn’t make it onto the show.
- The first draft actually solved a little timeline problem for the TV universe. The finished episode picks up only one year after the events of the 1994 movie, though it premiered in 1997. But this script places the events three years after Jack and Daniel’s first trip to Abydos. (Sam also says that she was studying the gate for five years before Daniel Jackson made it work — a line that was scaled down to two years in the episode.)
- The Gate Room was on Sublevel 17, not 28. During his first time in the Gate Room Jack gets into a fist fight and has to be restrained, trying to stop technicians from prepping the bomb meant to be sent through to Abydos.
- Daniel and Sam don’t hit it off at first. She complains that he doesn’t like her because she’s too military, while Jack doesn’t like her because she’s too much a scientist.
- The cavern on Abydos where Daniel has found a cartouche filled with potential Stargate addresses is described to be much larger than the (still impressive) set that was eventually built — “at least the size of the Astro-Dome. The word ‘huge’ doesn’t do it justice.” The cartouche itself is “at least fifty yards long and twenty five yards high.”
- The epithet “shol-va” makes an appearance, but it doesn’t mean “traitor” — which is how the term will come to be used with regard to Teal’c. Instead “shol-va” here is translated as “coward.”
- What do you call a Stargate? In the shared language spoken by the Goa’uld, Jaffa, and Abydonians the Stargate is called the “Chaaka-ra,” as well as the “Chappa-ai.” The latter would become standard for the show; but in this script the first of these is more common.
- The small ship that ferries Apep, Sha’re, and other Goa’uld from the palace to the Stargate in the final act was originally scripted to be a flying barque, with an open platform that would have the characters visible as it landed. After depositing its passengers it transforms (like a harrier jet) into a death glider. (This was simplified into a large death glider with transport rings in the episode; and then replaced by a proper cargo ship in the Final Cut.)
- Because they serve the gods as incubators for larval Goa’uld, the Jaffa are known in Goa’uld society as “demigods.” This matches with the feature film, where Daniel exposed Ra’s warriors as mere men in order to help turn the hearts and minds of the Abydonian people.
What are your favorite moments from “Children of the Gods?” What were you glad to see changed in the Final Cut? Let us know in the comments below!