By Tom Anderson
From left: Debbie Reynolds (actress), Richard Nixon (President), Carrie Fisher (actress), Pat Nixon (First Lady). None of these appear in the Stargate episode Watergate.
Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
When we last left this article series, we were part way through season 4 of Stargate SG-1 and had just reached the episode Watergate. The title is quite interesting because it has nothing to do with Nixon – it’s about a Stargate with water on the other side – but it’s also subtly appropriate because it involves the Cold War... sort of. Our heroes learn that, once again, there’s a second Stargate in use on Earth.
Remember when SG-1 beamed up the original Earth Stargate to Thor’s ship in Nemesis to escape it just before it crashed in the sea – and then a replicator escaped and took over a Russian submarine in Small Victories? Well, it turns out that the Russians actually successfully retrieved the Stargate from the wreckage, and have secretly been using it on the side when the SGC wasn’t noticing. How? Well, it also turns out that Colonel Maybourne went over to the Russians’ side and told them how to time the Gate activations so they wouldn’t be spotted. And, in an interesting twist, the Russians have a Dial Home Device because the Nazis had it in the Second World War and the USSR captured it when they took Berlin. This is just thrown out casually and it fits so well with the Indiana Jones-type ‘Hitler obsession with random occult artefacts’ that it’s a brilliant bit of worldbuilding within the setting established in the original Stargate film.
Russian submarine, Kilo class. Replicators not included.
Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Theoretically, the plot of Watergate – which is interesting enough in itself – is that the Russians Gated to a planet where the Stargate opens underwater, and encountered intelligent microbes in the water that took over people and the base (reminiscent of The Thing). Our heroes have to save them with help from the Russian scientist Svetlana Markov, (Deanna Troi from Star Trek). Yes, Markov, not Markova; a research failure there, but I really cannot overstate how extraordinary it was that the series was actually acknowledging the existence of other countries. This was a sea change in Stargate that had huge consequences going forward, escaping from the surreal nineties X Files-eque quality of ‘Americans are more likely to be abducted by aliens that meet anyone from abroad’. The Russians actually keep the original Stargate and DHD, rather than them being destroyed or removed as one might expect. Obviously, all of this is a bit difficult to watch now we live in a world where Russia has taken more things from the Nazis than a DHD – like beliefs, modus operandi, and respect for human rights (or lack thereof) – but at the time it was fascinating.
The following episode, The First Ones, also significantly changes the status quo. SG-1 explores a jungle region on a planet, only to find it inhabited by the reptilian Unas (as seen in Thor’s Hammer and Demons). Daniel is taken captive by an Unas who lives at a Stone Age level of development. Daniel’s annoying sidekick Dr Rothman (who is basically the Niles to Daniel’s Frasier, a parodically exaggerated version of what Daniel used to be like) begins acting oddly. Eventually it turns out he’s been taken over by a Goa’uld symbiote, which swim freely in the rivers of this planet, and is shot dead for it. Carter and Teal’C didn’t sense the symbiote because the Goa’uld here don’t have naqahdah in their blood. The Goa’uld here also seem to have only bestial intelligence. Daniel works out that this is, in fact, the original homeworld of both the Goa’uld and the Unas, from which a group of Goa’uld and their Unas hosts presumably escaped. The free Unas on the planet have developed protection and skills to stop them being taken over as hosts. It’s a really interesting concept, and (as with the plot point with the Nazis and the DHD) the show doesn’t feel the need to entirely spell it out. Teal’C will reference the planet going forward when declaring to Goa’uld they are not gods, although the showrunners could really have given it a name (he always calls it by the long-winded ‘the world from which all Goa’uld originate’ or similar).
Picture courtesy Stargate Fandom Wikipedia.
Scorched Earth, by contrast, is an interesting concept that never comes back. SG-1 have just relocated a civilisation, the Enkarans, to another world. Unfortunately, an alien generation ship from a race called the Gadmere shows up and starts pyroforming it to a state that will be able to support their sulphur-based ecology. The ship is controlled by an artificial intelligence which creates a being called Lotan to speak for it. This is one of those classic ‘land dispute but in space’ sci-fi stories, but the Gadmere being so alien (we do get a brief glimpse of one of them) adds something special to it. In the end, it turns out the Gadmere ship scanned and found the Enkaran’s original homeworld (not the one the team found them on) in the process of selecting a target, so the Enkarans are relocated. A bit more pat ending than these stories usually go, but I don’t mind – I just wish we’d seen the Gadmere again.
Beneath the Surface is an absolutely baffling episode to me. Not because of the story itself (SG-1 have their memories erased and have to work underground at an alien power station) but because how incredibly similar it is to the later Star Trek: Voyager two-parter Workforce. Surely there must have been some copying or selling the same concept twice behind the scenes!
Point of No Return is another good example of how diverse the story concepts allowed by the Stargate setting are, this one being an X-Files-esque tale. A conspiracy theorist named Martin Lloyd seems to have information on the Stargate programme (mixed in with lots of the usual conspiracy theorist nonsense). Jack tries to talk him out of it, rather ineptly, by claiming that Project Stargate has to do with ‘...magnets’ (starting a minor running gag). It turns out that Martin is actually a member of an alien crew who were stranded on Earth, and had his memory erased. They were fighting in a war and deserted it, then turned on Martin when he had second thoughts. At the end of the episode, the other aliens disappear, but it won’t be the last time we see them.
Tangent has Jack and Teal’C test fly a Goa’uld Death Glider (captured in Serpent’s Lair) that has been retrofitted with Earth technology. Unfortunately, it turns out that it still conceals a fail-safe device from Apophis and the engines lock it on a trajectory out of the solar system. Unable to catch up to it with any Earth craft, Daniel and Carter hit on the idea of asking the Tok’ra for a faster-than-light ship to rendezvous. This succeeds, but only because they were able to use Jacob’s Teltac ship after he’s finished using it for a dangerous mission. During said mission, Daniel has to bluff his way past some Goa’uld ships, and claims the System Lord he’s working for is “The Great and Powerful Oz!” It’s one of those things that make no sense (surely Daniel of all people could make up something more plausible) but there is nothing that will get in the way of Stargate SG-1 making a Wizard of Oz reference, and we love them for it.
Some of the themes are followed up in the next episode, Serpent’s Venom. While Teal’C is captured and tortured, the rest of the crew – with Jacob and the Teltac – plot to sabotage a meeting between Apophis and Heru-ur to form an alliance. To ensure mutual security, two ships are surrounded by a minefield created by the extinct Tobin civilisation (may sound harsh, but good. If they were still around, that would be yet another faction starting with ‘To’ to keep track of!) and the mines will home in on whichever ship fires first. Jacob plans to sabotage the mines to kick off destruction without either of them needing to fire. This includes a fun sequence where Daniel interprets the Phoenician-related numbers on the mine Carter is trying to defuse, then they realise that the Phoencians had no concept of zero and that’s needed for the higher mathematics required to build the mines, so all the numbers are frameshifted, so 1 becomes 0 and 2 becomes 1, etc. It’s a clever idea and nicely links together Daniel’s archaeologist specialism with Carter’s science and engineering. In the end, it turns out Apophis had a way to conceal cloaked ships around his, and his ship survives while Heru-ur’s is destroyed – foiling Jacob’s goals, as now Heru-ur’s troops will join Apophis en masse rather than fighting each other.
The following episode, The Curse, almost feels like a superior remake of Hathor and feels like it belongs earlier in the show’s history. Daniel returns to Chicago to attend the funeral of his mentor, but it turns out his death is related to the discovery of a Goa’uld symbiote hidden in a Canopic jar. In fact, there are two jars, one for Osiris and one for Isis. Daniel teams up with an old flame, Sarah (who, interestingly, points out evidence in the excavated tomb that Daniel’s pyramids theory from the film was right – whereas, of course, Daniel barely notices because of everything he knows). The episode has a lot of misdirection, but in reality Osiris is alive and has taken over Sarah (after all, there is no reason why a symbiote associated with a male Egyptian god would have to take a male host!) Osiris manages to escape Earth and will appear again.
Chain Reaction is another good example of an X-Files type episode. General Hammond abruptly retires for questionable reasons and is replaced by a hard-nosed successor. Turns out that dark forces behind the scenes, the NID, actually kidnapped and threatened his grandchildren. O’Neill turns to the imprisoned Maybourne for help, who helps expose that Senator Kinsey is connected to the NID. (In one of the more realistic touches of the show, this seemingly doesn’t do much to dent his political career!) Hammond is restored, but O’Neill had to let Maybourne escape in the process, much to his displeasure.
We will end this article on 2010, a clear-cut example of what is now Alternate History, though at the time of the episode being written (2000), it was more of an Alternate Future. Ten years into the future, the Stargate is public knowledge and Earth has been transformed through an alliance with the technologically-advanced and seemingly-benevolent, if humourless, Aschen species. (No word on whether they make YouTube videos reviewing pieces of tat on a sofa). Here we can have more of a Twilight Zone or Outer Limits type plot because, of course, there’s a dark secret behind it all. The Aschen may have gifted us whizzo technology, removed Teal’C’s gold tattoo, and even plan to turn Jupiter into a second sun (er, why?) but a side effect of their medical treatments instil sterility. Their plan is to reduce humanity to a handful of hewers of wood and drawers of water while they inherit the planet. They are now too ensconced to remove, so O’Neill and company manage to recreate the time travel effect seen in 1969 and send a note back through time to the SGC – moments before O’Neill is cut down by needle-beam weapons leaving welts all over his body. The note is a bit unnecessarily ambiguous, saying: “Under no circumstances go to P4C-970. Colonel Jack O’Neill.” Nothing about not working with the Aschen if they encounter them anywhere else, so no prizes for guessing that this episode will have a sequel.
What’s really creepy is how the Aschen look just like the Thermians from GalaxyQuest, and also bear a certain resemblance to the (later) Vulcans at the start of Star Trek: Enterprise, who sometimes feel like a softer version of wanting to control humans.
Aschen applauding. Uncannily like Thermians.
Picture courtesy Stargate Omnipedia.
Oddly enough, the next episode also involves an alternate future setting. Tune in next time when, among other episodes, we look at Absolute Power.
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Tom Anderson is the author of several SLP books, including:
The Look to the West series