It was 2009, and the Stargate franchise was at an inflection point.
The feature film was about to mark its fifteenth anniversary, the television franchise had been in continuous production for 12 years, and a massively multiplayer online roleplaying game was in development. SG-1 had transitioned to DVD movies, and Stargate Atlantis had just aired its final episodes on Syfy Channel.
Enter: Stargate Universe.
The third Stargate TV series was prepping its launch that fall, with a brand new setting and a new cast. Creators Brad Wright and Robert C. Cooper intended to make SGU a different kind of series — more of a character drama than an action-adventure series. With a cast of characters marooned on a derelict alien ship called Destiny, SGU would tell its stories in a serialized fashion more than episodic. And it would not be afraid to have among its main cast anti-heroes who didn’t always make the best decisions.
Stargate Universe was also a pivot from a show set at a stationary base — both SG-1‘s Stargate Command and Atlantis‘s Ancient city — to ship-based storytelling. In a recent conversation with “Dial the Gate,” writer and executive producer Joseph Mallozzi talked about the changes and the new possibilities that the show offered — from a ship-based show, to a stellar ensemble cast, a ship with a continuously ticking clock, and more.
“The prospect of doing a third Stargate series but doing something very different intrigued me,” Mallozzi told host David Read. “Conceptually, I loved the idea of a ship show. It’s kind of classic sci-fi, with a Stargate angle. So that really appealed to me.”
There was also a practical production reason to avoid too much gate travel in galaxies millions of light years away from Earth. Watch the clip for the conversation:
While SG-1 and Atlantis focused on smaller casts of around five central characters, Universe was also more a true ensemble. Eight main cast members led by Robert Carlyle and Louis Ferreira (along with frequent guest star Lou Diamond Phillips) were given a chance to shine, while writers also enjoyed writing for a host of support personnel — like scientists Brody, Volker, and Park.
Mallozzi also talks about the decision to make the Ancient communication stones a regular part of the show, which also opened up stories that didn’t use the Stargate itself. The stones ended up being a controversial element in the series, both because it kept the reluctant crew of civilians and soldiers tethered to Earth and because the writers rarely explored the moral implications of their use.
But the stones proved to be a significant advantage to writing and producing the show on a budget. Using the stones “opened up the show and allowed them to not only communicate with Earth, but ultimately would also get us off the ship,” Mallozzi said. “And getting off the ship is easier said than done! Even though the Universe budget was healthier than Atlantis or SG-1, you would eat up a lot of that budget just by virtue of [the large cast and visual effects].”
While the writers were often criticized for so many planets looking very much like the forests of British Columbia, Mallozzi said that there was a desire on SGU to vary the looks of the planets visited by the Destiny crew. “The problem was that if you were going to go off-world a lot of time it would bust your budget, just because you didn’t want to do forests all the time. You would have to create these amazing sets or mattes.”
“On the other hand, they felt that just being on the ship all the time would feel claustrophobic. And so that’s why they introduced the stones.”
What did you think of SGU’s different way of telling stories? Was it time for Stargate to evolve into something new, or did you miss the episodic adventures of its predecessors? Sound off in the comments!