It’s only natural on a long-running franchise: cast members decide they’re done with the show before the show is over. Whether they’re moving on to new opportunities, ready to retire from show business, or are driven away by conflict on the set, there are moments in the life of a hit show where the actor leaves … but the show must go on.
And so the characters we’ve come to know and love set out for greener pastures. Or they’re recast with another actor. Or, worst case scenario, they get killed off.
Stargate SG-1 was no exception. Running for 10 years across both Showtime and the SCI FI Channel in the United States, the series saw its fair share of cast changes over the years. In each case the writers had to think creatively to write the character out of the show – and in a few cases to bring them back again later.
In fact, every single member of the show’s original cast ended up written out at one time or another … everyone, that is, except for one. Let’s round up when and why the writers wrote out each member of the original cast, as well as a couple of honorable mentions along the way.
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Michael Shanks | “Daniel Jackson”
The fifth year of Stargate SG-1 signaled a turning point for the show. After five successful seasons Showtime decided it had had enough, and wouldn’t be bringing the show back for a sixth.
Canadian actor Michael Shanks had taken on the role of archaeologist and linguist Dr. Daniel Jackson, played by James Spader in the Stargate feature film. And though he started out with a spot-on impression of Spader’s Jackson, over the years Shanks made the character his own. Daniel got a haircut and hit the gym, learned to use military weapons, and started taking antihistamines for those allergies.
By Season Five he was a real action hero.
It was at this point that Shanks decided to move on with his career. He was looking to try other things, and also not shy about the fact that he felt the show’s writers as of late hadn’t been giving Daniel a lot of distinctively “Daniel” things to do. Maybe he’d reached the end of where this character was going.
The end of the series on Showtime felt like a natural time to move on. MGM, though, wasn’t ready to let the show go just yet. They convinced SCI FI Channel to pick up Stargate SG-1 for a sixth season.
Taking Daniel’s place on the team would be the eager and enthusiastic Kelownan Jonas Quinn, played by actor Corin Nemec. Jonas was introduced in the episode that saw Shanks written out: Season Five’s penultimate story “Meridian.” After SG-1 finds a planet experimenting with a highly volatile variation of naquadah, Daniel exposes himself to a lethal dose of radiation in order to prevent an explosion and saves the Kelownans from their own hubris.
Back in the S.G.C. infirmary each member of the team says goodbye to their friend, as he slowly wastes away. It looks to be a grisly end for the person who is the heart of the SG-1 team, until the ascended being Oma Desala turns up and offers to help Daniel ascend to a higher plane of existence. In the end he voluntarily chooses to go, asking the team to stop trying to save his body so that his spirit can move on.
Daniel’s journey was just beginning. And after numerous guest appearances in Season Six, Michael Shanks was back on the call sheet full time in Season Seven. Which brings us to our next departure from the cast …
Corin Nemec | “Jonas Quinn”
Jonas was the young guy coming onto the team to take Daniel’s place, but at the age of 31 Corin Nemec was already a veteran actor with dozens of credits to his name. He played Mr. Papadapolis’s nephew Nicky on Webster, before landing the title role in the FOX comedy Parker Lewis Can’t Lose. And he played Harold Lauder in the 1994 Stephen King miniseries The Stand.
Nemec had the unenviable role of stepping into the shoes of a beloved character on a popular TV series. While he was no Daniel Jackson, the show’s writers made every effort to make Jonas likeable. He studied Dr. Jackson’s journals and read every mission report, and had a photographic memory. He was affable and curious, and didn’t just fall into his place on the team but had to earn the respect of his teammates … especially Colonel Jack O’Neill.
Jonas grew over the course of the season, as fans got to know the character. But when the show was renewed for a seventh season, producers extended an olive branch and invited Shanks back. He agreed. That meant there wasn’t space on the team for two characters who essentially provided the same function to the story (let alone room in the budget for another salary). After one year on the show, Nemec’s contract was not renewed.
Jonas and Daniel did get a great team-up in the opening two-parter, “Fallen” and “Homecoming,” as Daniel returned to his mortal form and Anubis moved to seize control of Jonas’ home planet. After Anubis’ ship is destroyed and the villain is sent running, Jonas returned home – it seemed somewhat reluctantly – to help his people to rebuild and unite with their rival nations.
Corin Nemec would return later in the season with “Fallout,” as SG-1 checked in on Jonas and Kelowna. It would have been great to see more of the character, even perhaps to spin him off to Stargate Atlantis when that show started a few months later.
Teryl Rothery | “Dr. Janet Fraiser”
Technically, actress Teryl Rothery was never a part of SG-1’s main cast. But she was so essential to the core of the show that she deserves an honorable mention here. Rothery wasn’t in the main credits, but was a frequent guest star – introduced early on in the show’s first season. As Stargate Command’s chief medical officer, Dr. Fraiser appeared in around half of the episodes in a typical season.
As the show began production on Season Seven, the writers had every intention of this being the show’s last year. A plan was already forming for an SG-1 feature film about the discovery of the lost city of the Ancients, which would set the stage for a spin-off: Stargate Atlantis. (This story eventually became the 2-hour finale, “Lost City.”)
The fact that the show was only going to continue for a handful of episodes beyond the fateful two-parter “Heroes” is cold comfort, though. Somewhere between network executives at SCI FI, and writer-producer Robert C. Cooper, the decision was made to kill off a key member of the team. This served a dramatic purpose for “Heroes,” a M.A.S.H.-inspired look at the dangers and sacrifices of military service from the vantage point of an outside camera crew.
Cooper was convinced that, in order to have its desired emotional impact, the episode needed a death that mattered to the audience. A guest star or supporting player wouldn’t do. The lot fell to Dr. Fraiser, who is killed by a Jaffa staff blast while providing aide to a fallen soldier in the field of battle. Truly a hero’s death.
Rothery was understandably disappointed to be written off, and other members of the cast – who by now had become like family to her – were sometimes vocal in their disappointment over the decision. But it did make “Heroes” an indisputably powerful two episodes of television, one that many of the show’s cast and crew cite as their favorite episode of the series.
By the end of the seventh season, though, Stargate‘s cast and crew heard the news: the network wanted them to come back for yet another year anyway. As the series headed into an eighth season, the role of the base’s chief physician would have to be recast.
Don S. Davis | “General George Hammond”
Don Davis was a natural father figure for every member of the SG-1 team. General Hammond was on the verge of retirement when asked to take charge of the new Stargate program, and for seven years he brought his courage, strength, and wisdom to this front-line command.
Davis had previously worked with Richard Dean Anderson on the set of MacGyver, where he was a stunt double for series co-star Dana Elcar. He also sometimes appeared on screen in minor roles. In his screen career Davis frequently played strong military figures, including Major Garland Briggs on Twin Peaks and Dana Scully’s father on The X-Files.
General Hammond’s exit from Stargate Command felt organic to the story, if somewhat abrupt. A new president was elected, and after learning the astonishing truth about the Stargate program he set about taking stock of what it was and what it ought to be doing.
Although the Air Force would continue to serve at Stargate Command, President Hayes put a civilian in charge: Dr. Elizabeth Weir, a diplomat with experiencing bringing different nations to the table in common cause.
The President recognized General Hammond’s service and his ability, though, and gave him a new mission. After sending good men and women out into the field to risk their lives every day, Hammond himself got to take on a task vital to Earth’s survival. With Anubis’ fleet bearing down on Earth, he took command of Prometheus – Earth’s most advanced ship. He and the crew engaged the enemy during the Battle of Antarctica, risking their lives to protect SG-1 while the team uncovered an Ancient weapon buried under the ice.
After his heroics Hammond would not return to the S.G.C. Actor Don S. Davis was forced to reduce his workload due to ongoing health concerns. He made several return appearances in later years, commanding Prometheus again in “Prometheus Unbound,” giving a speech for the Air Force in “The Fourth Horseman,” and playing an alien version of General Hammond on Stargate Atlantis (“Home”). He even voiced Puppet Hammond in SG-1’s two-hundredth episode.
Don Davis’s final appearance on Stargate came in the 2008 movie Stargate: Continuum. He passed away in June of that year of a heart attack, at the young age of 65. Stargate paid him a final tribute by naming a ship for him – the U.S.S. George Hammond, commanded by Colonel Samantha Carter.
Richard Dean Anderson | “Jack O’Neill”
It’s not a stretch to say that Stargate SG-1 became the hit that it was in large part due to its leading man. Already a household name as TV’s Angus MacGyver, Richard Dean Anderson took over from Kurt Russell and made Colonel Jack O’Neill a deep and complex character, whose humor and wit concealed a deep and personal family trauma.
Anderson gave his all to the series for five long years, helping to establish Stargate as a top-tier science fiction series and a pillar of the Vancouver film and television community. In the second year of the show he and his partner welcomed a daughter, Wylie. (That’s why Jack is sidelined at the start of the episode “Spirits.” Anderson got a few days off from filming.)
In Season Six the actor agreed to stay on for another year, to help the cast and crew transition to the SCI FI Channel. But he wanted more time at home with his family in California, and so his deal included more days off. As a result Jack was sidelined several times this season, and even written out of one episode entirely (he’s off with the Tok’ra during the events of “Nightwalkers”).
This lightened workload continued into Season Seven, when Anderson agreed to sign on for another year.
His promotion to command the base in Season Eight was also part of the strategy to keep the actor around for just one more year. The newly promoted General O’Neill would take over for Hammond, sending the team on missions … but rarely going off-world himself. That kept the beloved actor and character on the show, but gave Anderson far fewer shooting days to spend in Canada.
By the end of the eighth season Anderson was ready to bid the show farewell, so that he could be at home to help raise his now 6-year-old daughter. In-story, General O’Neill was off to Washington to take charge of Homeworld Command. But Anderson would be back for numerous guest appearances on SG-1, Atlantis, and to help launch Stargate Universe.
Amanda Tapping | “Samantha Carter”
Although today she’s known as a prolific Canadian director, Amanda Tapping is synonymous with the character she played on Stargate for more than 12 years.
She was a main cast member on SG-1 for all ten seasons, after which she joined her cast mates in two movies – Stargate: The Ark of Truth and Stargate: Continuum. When SG-1 ended and Tapping still had one year left on her contract with MGM, she even crossed over to take charge of Atlantis as a full-time cast member during that show’s fourth season. (After that she leapt over to Sanctuary, to headline and executive produce her own fantasy series.)
So if Amanda Tapping was a part of the Stargate television franchise from the very start to the very end, what’s she doing on our list? Colonel Samantha Carter had taken command of SG-1 back in its eighth season … but then, the writers were faced with the prospect of temporarily writing her out for the first five episodes of Season Nine.
Tapping and her husband had a child during the break between filming, and she received some well-earned maternity leave. As the season begins SG-1 has disbanded, with Jack off to Washington, Teal’c helping to establish the new Free Jaffa Nation, and Daniel getting ready to finally visit Atlantis. Colonel Carter has taken a new assignment with Area 51, leading Stargate’s research and development.
She has a short video chat with Cameron Mitchell soon after he arrives at Stargate Command, hoping to lead SG-1 (and not rebuild a team from scratch). She also appears in a brief flashback when Cameron was in the hospital a year earlier. But otherwise Carter is gone for the first five episodes of the season. Claudia Black was brought in for an arc to replace her on a temporary basis, reprising her role of the thief Vala Mal Doran.
Fortunately, Tapping was written out of Stargate only temporarily. By the time we get to “Beachhead” and the Ori are trying to invade our galaxy, Sam is back to help save the day.
So who’s the only member of Stargate SG-1’s original cast who never had to be written out? Of course it’s Christopher Judge, who played the stoic Jaffa warrior Teal’c day in and day out for 11 years.
Judge appeared as a regular throughout all ten seasons of the television series, plus the two SG-1 movies. He also made a couple of guest appearances on Stargate Atlantis. The first was a single scene in “Reunion,” as Teal’c gives Colonel Carter a pep talk and says goodbye before she travels to Atlantis.
In the second, Teal’c has a very memorable match-up with Jason Momoa’s Ronon Dex in the episode “Midway.” Here Teal’c has been sent to Atlantis to help Ronon prepare for his interview with the I.O.A., which could affect his ability to continue to serve on John Sheppard’s team. When the two travel back to Earth via the new Midway space station, they run afoul of a Wraith invasion.
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