By Tom Anderson
"Look above you."
What could possibly go wrong when standing in the middle of an open field?
Picture courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
In the last part of this series, we looked at the early part of season 6 of Stargate SG-1, which, although it had some high-quality episodes, had a dearth of any with AH relevance. Worry not, however, because now we are onto the episode 2001. An oddly prosaic title, one might think, just the number of the year it came out in? But the twist is that this is a sequel (sort of) to last season’s episode 2010, which was set in what was then an alternate future.
To briefly recap, in 2010, Earth had been transformed into a utopia and safe from the Goa’uld thanks to an alliance with a technologically advanced race known as the Aschen. However, it turns out there’s a sharp secret behind all the shiny spires – the Aschen are secretly rendering the human race sterile. In a rather Twilight Zone-like sequence, it’s already too far gone for our heroes to simply fix the scenario, but they manage – at the cost of their own lives – to get a message back through the Stargate to their younger selves via time travel. Said message is rather unnecessarily vague and simply says: “Under no circumstances go to P4C-970. Colonel Jack O’Neill.” Well, the SGC heeded his advice and didn’t go there. Shame there’s more than one Aschen planet, eh?
Yes, 2001 opens with SG-1 travelling back through the Stargate and informing Hammond that they’ve been introduced by the Volians, a “simple agrarian society”, to some friends of theirs who might be useful allies – though Jack notes they lack a sense of humour. The teaser ends on an upbeat Carter brightly telling Hammond the ominous (to the viewer) information that this new potential ally race is called the Aschen. That’s actually a pretty big leap to expect the viewers to make, to remember the name of a race that was only brought up once before, though admittedly the episode does include a ‘previously on’ recap (which rather spoils the surprise).
We immediately get some more information about the Aschen which is rather fascinating. I should point out that the Aschen are themselves biologically human, but this rarely comes up (showing how Stargate’s conception of advanced transplanted human societies, albeit based on the ‘Dark Ages’ historiographic nonsense, blurs the usual sci-fi line between either only humans vs humans or all humans vs aliens). We are also reminded that the Aschen are advanced enough to have ignited a gas giant into a second sun (as they did to Jupiter in 2010) and Daniel even brings up the Arthur C Clarke prototype. Most interestingly, the Aschen have interstellar spacecraft but can only travel within their small confederation. They have two Stargates, one on their homeworld (whose location they don’t share with outsiders) and one on the Volian planet, but both were found without a surviving DHD and they don’t have any Gate addresses.
Aschen. The resemblance to the Thermians is uncanny.
Picture courtesy Stargate Omnipedia.
This shows a fascinating contrast with the history of the Stargate we know and love where, despite being less technologically advanced, Earth (or rather the United States) was able to get the Stargate working because they had just one piece of information the Aschen lacked – a single Gate address on the capstone which Daniel interpreted in the film. From this they were able to go to Abydos, ultimately discover the Goa’uld cartouche of many addresses, later add more from the Ancients, and the rest is history. Meanwhile, the more advanced Aschen are stuck on their small group of physically close planets. Throughout the episode, there’s a B-plot of working out where the Aschen homeworld must be, and that there’s a one in four chance it’s the planet O’Neill’s note named.
Of course, the episode is largely taken up with our heroes learning the Aschen’s dark secret all over again, but this time in the setting of an alien world. They uncover evidence that the Volians used to be an industrial society (including showing newspapers written in an interesting Celtic-inspired script). Something has sent them back to being a small number of agrarian farmers who produce grain which is sent to the Aschen homeworld through a Stargate attached to a harvester vehicle. (The Aschen can only travel between those two Gates).
The Aschen have promised to double human lifespans and eliminate disease, but Daniel reads a newspaper headline as: “Aschen vaccine causes… something” and can’t interpret the last word. In a slightly contrived moment, one of the Aschen negotiators cheerfully reads out the word alone as “sterility” when asked. I mean, even lacking context, surely that should ring some alarm bells for them. The Aschen also have less subtle bioweapons, which they cite as evidence they can protect Earth from the Goa’uld, and then try to use one on Earth instead when they are found out. Fortunately, this is stopped and they are cut off forever.
Earth did give them some Gate addresses in the negotiations, but O’Neill reveals that these started with the black hole planet and went downhill from there. Maybe they tried it, because this is the last appearance of the Aschen in the franchise. Almost a shame, as they were an intriguingly different cold foe and it was interesting to see our heroes on the receiving end of attempted colonialism and genocide couched in far more civilised terms than the Goa’uld. I believe they were used in one spinoff novel, but that’s it. And, as I said before (especially in this episode rather than 2010) they creepily remind me of a humourless version of the Thermians from GalaxyQuest, and I even think the early Vulcans from Star Trek: Enterprise may have been inspired by them. Their idea of an alliance with Earth sometimes seemed about as exploitative and unbalanced as the Aschen’s, or at least that’s how Archer saw it.
It went downhill from here.
Picture courtesy Stargate Wiki.
Back to Stargate. Desperate Measures feels like an episode very ahead of its time. A reclusive billionaire named Adrian Conrad kidnaps Carter and has acquired a Goa’uld symbiote by the inevitable Colonel Maybourne, hoping to use it to cure his terminal illness. Of course, while he thinks he can master the symbiote, it has really taken him over. O’Neill and company rescue Carter and try to bring the possessed Conrad down, but O’Neill is shot in the back by Colonel Frank Simmons (played by John deLancie aka Q – the one from Star Trek, not the one from James Bond.) who recruits the Goa’uld for the NID’s nefarious schemes. O’Neill recovers but the details of what happened are unknown. This is another great example of how the Stargate setting allows for X-Files intrigue-based plot alongside high-concept science fiction and, as seen in the next episode, comedy.
The timing of Wormhole X-Treme! is unfortunate as it debuted right after the 9/11 attacks. It basically does to Stargate what GalaxyQuest did to Star Trek, being an affectionate parody, but this time made by the showrunners themselves. It was partly playing off the conspiracy theory that the SG-1 show was just there to cover up real similar experiments by the US Government. Martin Lloyd, the amnesiac alien from Point of No Return, is now the head writer for the titular show, which is clearly based on his garbled memories of SG-1 (he’s been memory wiped again). The episode is crammed full of meta-humour and sci-fi parody, too much to go into here. Possibly my favourite moment is when SG-1’s real producers Michael Greenburg and Brad Wright stare at Martin’s real alien spacecraft landing (the result of a plot by his former comrades) and dismissively say they’ve seen better effects and they’ll have to fix it in post. This one probably deserves its own separate article.
Proving Ground reintroduces last season’s character Jennifer Hailey, Carter’s protégée from Prodigy. Hailey is now part of a team of other young cadets undergoing training to join the SGC, using the replica human weapons converted to stun which Apophis’ own young recruits used before (from Rules of Engagement; a neat bit of continuity and also a realistic practicality. Why not use them for training exercises if they have them now?) During the training, O’Neill learns that there is a Foothold situation (from Foothold) at the SGC – ie, the aliens have taken over. Now O’Neill has to take the untried team to take back the facility, and things grow all the more grim when he is wounded. Yes, you might perhaps have figured out that this is all a training simulation. It’s not an original idea but it’s well executed, and I like all the nods to past episodes.
Saluting in an action setting? Shame on you.
Word has it that Hailey was originally intended to replace Carter, but that didn't pan out. Presumably contract renewal ended up not being a factor.
Picture courtesy Stargate Wiki.
48 Hours is a very strange episode, but one which introduces a deceptively important new character. Teal’C and O’Neill are on a planet when they are attacked by Tanith (remember him?) in an Alkesh, a Goa’uld warcraft heavier than a Death Glider but smaller than most others. Teal’C, using a huge anti-tank type staff weapon, is able to take him out in the cockpit before travelling through the Gate just as the Alkesh crashed on them. O’Neill makes it back, but Teal’C doesn’t. This is where things start to get weird. The episode is driven by an urgency that allegedly Teal’C’s pattern or whatever is still stored in the ‘Gate Crystals’ but will degrade. This is very weird because the Gate has never been described in these terms before – though it is a bit ambiguous about how much of it is to do with a wormhole vs whether physical objects are converted to something else and reassembled on the other side (like a Star Trek transporter). I didn’t like the concept. Anyway, the episode sees Simmons introduce Guest Arsehole Expert Dr Rodney McKay (David Hewlett) trying to stop them saving Teal’C because he’s convinced he’s already gone and Carter’s experiments might blow up the Gate. He also insults Carter repeatedly in the process, getting a rise even out of her. Out of desperation, O’Neill appeals to Maybourne and manages to find where Conrad (from a few episodes ago) is being held captive. Carter is able to use his knowledge of how the Stargate works to pull off a miracle and get Teal’C back, much to McKay’s shock. Teal’C, of course, only cares about having had his revenge on Tanith, and is oblivious to what has happened. Few viewing McKay for the first time would imagine he would graduate from obligatory arsehole guest star to becoming a beloved regular on Stargate Atlantis – albeit he’s quite different even just in his next appearance.
As you can see, the showrunners have now become adept at bringing in mini-arcs, with characters and concepts being introduced and then reoccurring a few episodes later. Next time we’ll be looking at a full-blooded two-part story that’ll shake up the Goa’uld status quo forever – which in the UK was broadcast after the episode Fail Safe, itself a fascinating concept, but should properly precede it. Tune in next time for more imaginative ideas from Stargate SG-1.
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Tom Anderson is the author of several SLP books, including:
The Look to the West series;