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Stargate: Atlantis

Entry updated 19 November 2023. Tagged: TV.

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Canadian-American tv series (2004-2009). Created by Robert C Cooper and Brad Wright for The Sci Fi Channel. Producers include Cooper, Wright, Joseph Mallozzi, Paul Mullie, and N John Smith. Directors include Martin Wood, Andy Mikita, William Waring, and Peter DeLuise. Writers include Cooper, Wright, Mallozzi, Mullie, Martin Gero, Carl Binder, and Alan McCullough. Cast includes Joe Flanigan as Major/Lt Colonel John Sheppard, David Hewlett as Dr Rodney McKay, Rachel Luttrell as Teyla Emmagan, Rainbow Sun Francks as Lt Aiden Ford (season 1), Jason Momoa as Ronon Dex (seasons 2-5), Torri Higginson as Dr Elizabeth Weir (seasons 1-3), Paul McGillion as Doctor Carson Beckett (seasons 2-3), Jewel Staite as Doctor Jennifer Keller (season 5), Amanda Tapping as Colonel Samantha Carter (season 4), and Robert Picardo as Richard Woolsey (season 5). 120-minute premiere followed by 98 60-minute episodes.

The first live action spin-off from Stargate SG-1 (1997-2007) posits that the Ancients, the Alien Forerunners who built the galaxy-spanning network of Stargates, were the originators of the myth of Atlantis, in reality a mobile outpost of alien construction, originally stationed on Earth but later moved to the distant Pegasus galaxy. When the Air Force discovers the means to travel through the stargate to Atlantis, it assembles a multi-national mission, led by diplomat Weir, to explore the City and learn its secrets. Though originally breaking with many of SG-1's conventions – the Atlantis expedition is led by civilians rather than the military, and without a means to gate back to Earth the mission is one-way (contact with Earth is not restored until the second season) – Atlantis quickly established the most important element of the Stargate model, the core team. As in SG-1, this team consists of a sarcastic, rule-breaking military leader (Sheppard), an equally sarcastic scientist (McKay), and a woman (Teyla). Though Francks, the fourth member of the team in the first season, breaks the pattern by playing a cheerful young Air Force officer, he is quickly replaced by Momoa, playing a taciturn alien warrior. Upon arriving in Pegasus, Sheppard's team accidentally awakens the Wraith, a race of Vampire-like aliens who feed off the life-energy of humans and have kept Pegasus's human population at a low level of technological development with periodic culls and retributory genocides against civilizations that attempt to develop defensive capabilities. Most of the Wraith had been in hibernation, but, awakened by Sheppard, they set out to conquer Atlantis in the hopes of discovering the location of Earth.

Atlantis quickly settled into SG-1's established pattern of lighthearted space adventure, but this format sat less well with a setting in which the main characters were the indirect cause of genocide (instances of which only increased as the series drew on). The characters' attempts to solve the problems they'd created, such as genetically engineering a virus that would cause the Wraith to turn into humans, frequently strained or violated any code of ethics – a point rarely addressed by the show itself except to state that the ends justified all possible means. In addition, Atlantis's writers found it difficult to write for Weir, a woman, a civilian, and a diplomat, and thus implicitly prioritized military solutions to the problems raised on the show over diplomatic and political ones (Weir was replaced in the show's fourth season by SG-1 alumnus Tapping, who herself was replaced in the fifth and final season by Picardo as a functionary in Stargate Command's newly formed civilian oversight body; both have significantly less screen time and a less prominent role in the show's stories than Weir). Atlantis's sole saving grace is, like SG-1's, the rapport between its main characters and the charisma of the actors. A particular standout is Hewlett as McKay, an arrogant, self-absorbed, and extremely funny genius who develops a strong bond and powerful loyalty to his teammates and occasionally emerges as an unlikely hero.

It is widely believed that Atlantis's cancellation after five seasons was motivated by budgetary reasons – that the third Stargate spin-off, Stargate: Universe (2009-2011), was only given the green light in exchange for halting production on Atlantis. Though the production team has promised to continue the series's story in television movies, as was the case with SG-1, these have failed to reach the production phase, and the failure of Universe makes them unlikely. [AN]


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