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Alternate History and Stargate. Part 3

By Tom Anderson

It's a high-tech magic wardrobe.

Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

In my last Alternate History (AH) in Stargate article, I covered the end of season 1 of SG-1 and the opening of season 2, which used an AH story in a clever way to set up events. As we go on with season 2, I’ll mention examples of AH alongside episodes which introduce important recurring elements, as before. From now on, I’ll be assuming that the reader has read the previous articles and knows what a Stargate and a Goa’uld is.

The episode In the Line of Duty sees Carter seemingly possessed by a Goa’uld, but this one, Jolinar, claims to be a member of the Tok’ra (“Against Ra”), a good-guy faction of the Goa’uld who live symbiotically with their hosts. Jolinar dies in the course of the episode saving Carter’s life, showing that her words were true, while the System Lords send an assassin after them both. Thor’s Chariot is a follow-up to Thor’s Hammer; the team’s actions have made the planet Cimmeria vulnerable to an attack by the Goa’uld Heru-ur (aka Horus) now that it is no longer protected by the Hammer when they destroyed it. Fortunately, by solving Indiana Jones puzzles they are able to make contact with the Asgard, who resemble Roswell Grey aliens. Thor’s titular chariot, an advanced starship called the Beliskner, is able to destroy Heru-ur’s invasion force, including three pyramids built as landing platforms for his ships (as in the film). That sequence is very nicely done, incidentally, because of how it shows the Asgard’s higher technology than the Goa’uld; their weapons look just like subtle transporter beams hoovering up and vanishing the Goa’uld and their pyramids, no explosions, nothing spectacular.

Thor's Hammer, an alternative version.

Picture courtesy Lego.

Secrets sees Daniel keep his promise to go back to Abydos to tell Sha’re’s family he couldn’t rescue her, but they are unexpectedly reunited – temporarily – as she is pregnant and her symbiote loses control for the duration. During the same episode, we meet Sam Carter’s father, retired General Jacob Carter, who now has terminal cancer. This is followed up on a few episodes later when the crew meet the rest of the Tok’ra and are suspicious of their intentions, but Jacob volunteers to blend with a Tok’ra symbiote to cure his cancer. The symbiote, Selmak, does so, and to Jacob’s delight also cures his arthritis. After helping the Tok’ra hunt out a traitor, an uneasy but lasting alliance is forged between the Tok’ra and the Tau’ri (as they call the humans of Earth). Incidentally, I don’t think anyone thought through how confusing it would be to have two groups of advanced allies whose names both start with the syllable ‘toe’. In later episodes, there are a lot of lines like Teal’C saying: “The Tollan have said they’ve never heard of it, the To’kra have warned us not to deal with it,” with the emphasis on the second syllable. I suppose you could say that it is the sort of confusing situation that could arise in real life.

The Abydos Stargate, the first planet reached through the Stargate programme.

Picture courtesy Stargate Wiki Fandom.

Spirits introduces the super-strong mineral trinium (and does the usual clumsy thing when trying to deal with Native American spirituality, see also Star Trek: Voyager). Touchstone has a group of rogue NID people in SG uniforms steal a weather control device artefact from a planet, and it turns out they’ve stolen the second Stargate that was in Antarctica and were using it secretly. This will be yet another recurring element.

The Fifth Race is a very important episode for the background lore, building on what was established in The Torment of Tantalus. The SG-1 team Gate to a seemingly featureless cubic stone room with no exits or entrances, and Jack gets incautiously close to the one feature, a metallic portal-like thing that grabs his head and flashes lights at him (after turning down Teal’C’s, probably because he’s a Jaffa). Back home, O’Neill undergoes a physical and irately insists the is “nothing cruvus with me”. It turns out that his vocabulary is being gradually overwritten, first verbally and then in written form as well, with another language. Daniel busts out his linguistic skills and finds that it’s a form of Latin, leading into his speculative theory that the Goa’uld did not build the Stargates themselves, but only took advantage of them after they were built by another race. He ties this into the Romans (allegedly) having a belief in supernatural beings called “the Builders of Roads”, ie, Stargates. The mythology and linguistics doesn’t quite work (why would the alien language sound like mediaeval Latin?) but it’s still a cool idea.

O’Neill not only has the language of the ‘Ancients’, as they became known, but also some of their knowledge – he is able to input into the computer the addresses of thousands of ‘new’ Stargates which the Goa’uld never found, so weren’t on Daniel’s Abydos cartouche. However, the effect of the knowledge in his head means O’Neill is now dying. Fortunately, he is also able to use it to build an amazing new source of power out of random things (well, Richard Dean Anderson is MacGyver... as the showrunners frequently lampshade) and use it to power the Stargate. This time, the seventh symbol is NOT the point of origin, with that instead being an eighth chevron. The coolness of this idea is enough to make the average viewer not question why they never brought up there being one – or two – extra chevrons before, or how the computer knows to replace a convenient little graph on the screen with an eighth symbol as it comes in. The extra power was needed because O’Neill needed to reach another galaxy with the Stargate – specifically, an Asgard planet.

The Asgard are able to remove the knowledge from his brain to heal him, but explain what has happened. As Ernest had speculated in The Torment of Tantalus, of old there were four races who came together for diplomatic exchange, and formed an alliance. The four were the Asgard, the Nox (“Know them,” O’Neill says), the Furlings (“Don’t know them,” – and it’ll become a minor running gag) and the Ancients, the builders of the Stargates. Daniel was right, and the idea that the Goa’uld are mostly creatively sterile and steal other people’s technology will be a recurring one. The Asgard say that O’Neill encountered the Ancients’ knowledge too early and the human race is not yet ready – a classic trope from these kind of sci-fi stories. In a wonderful moment, O’Neill respectfuly thanks the Asgard for their help, but notes that whether they like it or not, humanity is out there, whether it’s ready or not. They are a curious race, after all. The Asgard consider this, and seem to approve of his attitude. “You have already taken the first steps towards becoming... the fifth race.”

O’Neill is sent back to Earth, and tells Daniel not to worry about all the ‘meaning of life stuff’ that was lost on the planet in The Torment of Tantalus – “I think we’re going to be all right.” It’s both an important episode but also, more importantly, a wonderfully written one. This episode’s events will be referenced numerous times in the future, including setting up the running gag that the Asgard consider Jack O’Neill to be the best of humanity (much to the bafflement of the rest of the team). “They like me,” O’Neill will later explain, and that’s before they name a prototype ship after him.

This is followed up by another excellent episode, but not an AH-relevant one, A Matter of Time. An SG team tries to dial back to Earth as a black hole is about to collide with the planet they had visited, causing time to slow down – which extends through the wormhole to Earth. The Stargate also can’t be turned off due to drawing power from the black hole, rather than terminating after 38 minutes as it usually does. Now the gravitational force is also extending through and is threatening to swallow the Earth unless the Gate can be closed (and no matter what, SG-10 is lost). This is one of the most impressively written episodes of any TV science fiction series for scientific background – what is especially noticeable is that when the writer needs physics to work differently to how it does in the real world, Carter explicitly points this out and says that it must be an undiscovered aspect of wormhole physics. I won’t go into detail about how they resolve the situation, but the idea of a Gate connected to a black hole will return a few times.

In an example of the breadth of storytelling Stargate SG-1 affords, the next episode, Holiday, is a mostly fun and jokey one where Daniel swap bodies with an old inventor named Ma’chello, and O’Neill and Teal’C also accidentally swap bodies – mostly as an excuse for Richard Dean Anderson and Christopher Judge to show off their acting chops playing each other’s characters. Typically for SG-1, even this apparently self-contained episode sets up a sequel later, as Ma’chello says he has devoted his life to making inventions to fight the Goa’uld, and one of them shows up in a later episode.

This is followed by Serpent’s Song. After his invasion of Earth failed, rather than coming back for another go, Apophis has (rather realistically) been knocked off his perch by other System Lords after losing so much military material. Now he actually seeks asylum on Earth, but is already dying after being tortured by the new kid on the block, Sokar (who models himself on Satan, do we hear alarm bells ringing yet?) Everyone has moral dilemmas about what to do about it, and Sokar uses a particle beam to project an image of himself on the other side of the iris, and then bombard it with energy to heat it up to try to break through, demanding they hand Apophis over. To add to the moral complexity, Apophis’ symbiote dies and his host, who was taken from Egypt thousands of years ago and kept alive by sarcophagus, now ‘wakes up’ and has no idea what is happening. He is still dying, so Daniel performs Ancient Egyptian funeral rites with him so his spirit can go to the next world. With advice from the Tok’ra, the team reluctantly send Apophis’ corpse through the gate to Sokar – though Martouf from the Tok’ra notes that, with a sarcophagus, Sokar can still revive and torture him again, making everyone uncomfortable, despite Apophis’ past crimes. No prizes for guessing that Apophis will, indeed, show up again – slightly undermining the closure of this episode.

In Show and Tell, a young bald human boy appears through the Stargate, and tells the base crew of an impending attack by the Reetou. The Reetou are a race of invisible giant spider-things – sleep well tonight. They are a rival power to the Goa’uld, who attacked them and wiped a number of them out. The central Reetou government is benign, but there is a radical faction who think the best way to stop the Goa’uld is to kill humans to cut off their supply of hosts. This faction is plotting to attack Earth. At first, the base crew is rather sceptical when the boy (who takes the name Charlie after O’Neill’s deceased son) claims he is talking to his adoptive mother, an invisible Reetou accompanying him. They change their tune when she gets impatient and blows up a monitor with an invisible energy weapon. It turns out that Charlie was genetically engineered by the Reetou to be able to see them, having an enlarged gland in his brain, but this is now causing him health problems. Sam’s dad returns from the Tok’ra and explains that not only are the Reetou real, but the Tok’ra have weapons that can reveal them. Using these, the base crew manage to fight off the Reetou rebels, but Charlie’s adoptive mother is killed in the battle. Charlie goes with the Tok’ra instead, who will be able to use a symbiote to heal him of the ill effects of his engineering. Unfortunately, the Reetou never appeared again (possibly because of the special effects being made by filling model spiders with dog food and then blowing them up!) but the Tok’ra anti-invisibility weapons do reappear.

The invisible giant spider terrorists are coming to attack you.

Picture courtesy Stargate Wiki Fandom.

The penultimate episode of season 2 is a fun one: 1969. While passing through the Gate, the effects of a solar flare cause the wormhole to jump through time and spit them out in the Gate Room more than thirty years earlier – when it was a missile silo, and they’re in the middle of test firing a missile. Fortunately, the team manage to stop it, but then they’re taken captive by the US military and interrogated. O’Neill claims his name is James T Kirk (I can only assume the interrogator had never seen Star Trek, as it had been on air for three years at this point) and then later ‘comes clean’ and admits: “My name isn’t Kirk, it’s Skywalker.” It turns out that General Hammond passed Sam a note earlier when he noticed a cut on her hand, and this is a message for his younger self, Lieutenant Hammond, who is assigned to guard the captives. The young Hammond agrees to help them escape.

Using an observatory, and via a road trip with some hippies, Carter and the crew figure out how the solar flare caused the wormhole to jump through time. In order to replicate the incident, they have to retrieve the Stargate from the warehouse it’s languishing in in 1969, before Catherine persuaded the Air Force to take another look at it. They successfully pull it off with a solar flare in that year, but in a nice twist of realism, the incredibly jury-rigged plan doesn’t actually work – Carter instead flings them into the future, where they meet an aged Cassandra. I really like the way the future is presented – the Gate and the Gate Room are just covered with futuristic dust cloths, and the implication is that humanity has moved on from even needing the Stargate. Cassandra is able to send them back to their own time, where Hammond explains that he’s known he would encounter them in the past from the start of the programme, and recognised the wound on Sam’s hand from when he had seen it as a younger man. This last but is actually the only bit I don’t like about this otherwise great episode, as to my mind it cheapens the tenseness of Apophis’ invasion if Hammond always knew the team would have to go on to have more adventures, But that’s a minor point, and probably most viewers never thought about it.

We finally return to AH relevance – sort of – with the last episode of season 2, Out of Mind. This is a classic plot that’s been done many times in fiction. I recall it being done in Buck Rogers in the 25th Century for instance, and in the Star Trek TNG episode Future Imperfect. O’Neill wakes up from cryogenic suspension, allegedly in the year 2077. (No sign of Keanu Reeves wanting to blow up a city). This is another cleverly disguised clip show, with the future people questioning O’Neill about the events in which he was the sole survivor of SG-1 and ‘trying to jog his memory’ with questions about the Tok’ra, the Asgard, and so on. There’s some detail about this future setting and how it works, such as human offworld colonies, but the future people seem to make a lot of mistakes about recent (to O’Neill) events, like not knowing Apophis is dead and then quickly covering by saying they were just trying to rekindle his memory.

It doesn’t take the most genre savvy viewer to suspect that, just maybe, this isn’t the real future, but a cleverly designed illusion as a way to make O’Neill let his guard down and give away information. What elevates it a bit over some versions is that O’Neill is clearly not taken in from the start, but just keeps quiet about it. It turns out that Carter and Daniel are also undergoing the same treatment in other futuristic SGC copies, while Teal’C returned alone after they disappeared on a mission. At the end of the episode, the person behind the abduction is revealed – Hathor, the Goa’uld System Lord whose symbiote had escaped from a pyramid in (checks notes) Mexico, and had taken over the SGC in the widely-hated season 1 episode Hathor before escaping through the Gate. The season ends on a cliffhanger of her wanting to implant a symbiote into one of them – a symbiote which has mysteriously become conspicuously CGI rather than the physical models previously seen.

I’ll continue my look at Stargate SG-1 with season 3 in the next article.

Comment on this article here.

Tom Anderson is the author of several SLP books, including:

The Look to the West series

among others.


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