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Celebrating 20 years of Stargate: The franchise’s 10 best episodes

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2014 represents the twentieth anniversary of the Stargate franchise. The original feature film, starring Kurt Russell and James Spader, hit cinemas on October 28th, 1994. Three years later, on July 27th, 1997, Stargate SG-1 premiered on Showtime in the US, with Richard Dean Anderson replacing Kurt Russell as USAF Colonel Jonathan J. “Jack” O’Neill and Michael Shanks taking over the role of archaeologist Dr. Daniel Jackson from James Spader.
The TV show picked the story up in continuity a year after the events of the movie and added into the mix Amanda Tapping as theoretical astrophysicist, Captain Doctor Samantha Carter, as well as Christopher Judge as the Jaffa warrior Teal’c. Who could have predicted back then that “Children of the Gods”, SG-1’s feature length pilot episode, would be the first broadcast episode of what would develop into a huge sci-fi franchise over the following 14 years?
From 1997 – 2011, the Stargate franchise produced 354 episodes across three series; SG-1, Atlantis and Universe. Inevitably it had its fair share of subpar storylines but on the whole it is a thoroughly enjoyable series of action and adventure.
To celebrate twenty years of Stargate, I have decided to document my 10 personal favourite episodes of the franchise as a whole. Picking just 10 standout episodes from 354 was no simple task. Unfortunately there were a few it pained me not to include. Some honourable mentions go to “Camelot” (SG-1 9.20), “Lost City” (SG-1 7.21/22), “Full Circle” (SG-1 6.22), “The Pegasus Project” (SG-1 10.03), “The Siege” trilogy (Atlantis 1.19/20 and 2.01) and “Midway” (Atlantis 4.17).
Now let’s take a look at the 10 episodes that did make the cut and why. Be warned, there will be major spoilers for all three series.

10. GAUNTLET (UNIVERSE 2.20)
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We begin at the end. After Universe was cancelled in its second season, “Gauntlet” had the daunting task of not only finishing SGU in a satisfactory manner, but also capping off the franchise as a whole for the foreseeable future. That begs the question then, did it succeed on either count? While many may disagree, I found it a very fitting end for both the series and for a franchise whose future was uncertain but not necessarily hopeless. It is for this reason that this episode makes the cut.
At the episode’s end the crew of the Destiny, with the exception of Eli Wallace, are put into stasis. In order to escape an enemy, the ship has to venture from the galaxy they’re currently in to a neighbouring one, which will see it spend three years in the void of intergalactic space. Worse still, there is the possibility that Destiny’s faster than light drive will fail and it will end up taking the ship thousands of years to reach its destination galaxy.
The closing shots of the episode show the ship powering down and the lights going off as it sails towards its unknown future. This served as an excellent metaphor for the Stargate franchise at the time – and still does. The ship powering down echoed the suspension of production on the franchise. It also mirrored the opening shots of Universe‘s first episode in which the ship dropped out of faster than light speed with its systems powering up and the lights turning on as its new crew arrived through the onboard Stargate.
Putting the characters in stasis seemed to represent the feelings of the producers concerning the franchise. They didn’t know when it would return but they were hopeful that it would, simply putting it into stasis until the time for its revival arrives.
I also found the final shot of Eli smiling to be representative of how the fans should feel. Eli could have dwelt on the fact he faced an unknown future, but instead he stood on the observation deck of the Destiny being thankful that he was given the chance to explore the universe in the first place.
Similarly, sure, it was sad that the franchise was being put on the shelf, but that’s not what we as fans should have been focusing on. We should remember and be appreciative of the hours of entertainment and adventure that Stargate has given us during the last two decades.

I found that to be a fitting end to the franchise. At least for the time being.

9. THE SHROUD (SG-1 10.14)
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SG-1’s tenth season was its final one and while the 6 episodes that came after “The Shroud” were by no means a waste, this really felt like the final episode of “classic” SG-1. In many ways it would have been a fitting series finale and lead into the movie, Stargate: The Ark of Truth. All of this is in no small part owed to the fact that it features the last appearance on the show by original lead actor Richard Dean Anderson as Major General Jack O’Neill.
We have Jack interacting with the other three original members of SG-1 and exchanging banter with them, particularly Daniel Jackson, like he never left. It reminded us of how much Richard Dean Anderson was missed on the show as a full time cast member. The Ori storyline also comes to somewhat of a head in this episode. In a suspenseful final few minutes, SG-1 are able to send the Sangraal to the Ori home galaxy, a weapon that will eliminate the Ori themselves. However, in doing so they pave the way for the Ori’s followers to send a new fleet of their powerful warships to our galaxy.
It’s an exciting episode, made all the more exciting by giving Jack O’Neill a substantial role, something that was rare in the final two seasons.

8. THE SHRINE (ATLANTIS 5.06)
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“The Shrine” is possibly the best character driven episode of Atlantis’s five season run. The plot revolves around Rodney McKay being inflicted with a seemingly incurable degenerative disease, similar to Alzheimer’s.
The episode charts his deterioration in an incredibly touching way that makes for some excellent character moments. My favourite example is the scene in which Sheppard and McKay have late night beers on the pier. The sense of friendship and respect these two characters have for one another is very apparent.

Other great examples include Woolsey opening up about his father, Keller finding out about McKay’s feelings for her and Ronon offering to take on a small Wraith army in an attempt to save McKay. There’s also an appearance by McKay’s sister, Jeannie, who was always a joy to see on screen.
On top of that, it boasts some beautiful visuals such as the Atlantis pier by night and the team being stranded atop a Stargate in a flooded valley. Fun fact: it was also the 300th episode of the franchise. But it’s for the well written and heart warming character moments that “The Shrine” makes this list.

7. ZERO HOUR (SG-1 8.04)
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“Zero Hour” fulfilled three separate functions. It documented the daily operations of Stargate Command. It documented a day in the life of the CO of the SGC. And it showed how O’Neill was handling his new position as general in charge.
In a time when Richard Dean Anderson’s role on the show was winding down, it was a real treat to get an episode that focused on the character of Jack O’Neill. It was also fun to be given an insight into what goes on in the SGC while its valiant SG units are off exploring the galaxy and fighting the war against the Goa’uld.
The title refers to the deadline Jack has to meet to have the SGC prepared for a presidential visit and unfortunately everything that can go wrong, does go wrong. From alien plants infesting the base’s electronics to arguing alien delegates to SG-1 going missing in action right down to red, white and blue bunting being unavailable for the president’s visit! Jack doesn’t get a minute to himself.
It also features an entertaining appearance by fan favourite villain Baal, whose interactions with Jack were always screen gold. This episode had all the makings of a familiar SG-1 escapade wrapped up in a somewhat unfamiliar premise and made for an extremely entertaining watch.

6. CRITICAL MASS (ATLANTIS 2.13)
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This is an example of how events in one Stargate series can effect those in another while also letting the other series stand on its own feet. The premise involves The Trust, a shady Earth organisation from SG-1 that was infiltrated by the Goa’uld, planting a bomb in Atlantis.
What follows is a great story that involves a search of Atlantis for the bomb before it goes off, as well as a search for The Trust’s mole. The shocking truth is discovered at the last minute that the Trust operative is Colonel Steven Caldwell, commander of the Daedalus. On top of this revelation, it’s also revealed that Caldwell is a Goa’uld, bringing SG-1’s main antagonists to Atlantis’s doorstep.
The climax of the story involves a musical montage in which Teyla sings, Ronon attempts to beat the codes needed to save Atlantis out of Caldwell and Sheppard uses a taser to subdue the Goa’uld in him. Just as McKay announces everyone needs to evacuate as the city is moments from destruction, Sheppard gets the information he needs from Caldwell to save Atlantis.
It’s pulse pounding stuff, beautifully crafted by the choice of music which manages to relay the emotion and tension of the situation very effectively.

5. THOR’S CHARIOT (SG-1 2.06)
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Before the cinema going masses knew him as the muscle bound mighty Avenger, Thor was a 3 foot tall recurring character on SG-1 modelled after the Roswell greys! First mentioned in the season one episode, “Thor’s Hammer”, this episode featured the very first appearance of the Norse god in the flesh, so to speak.
When the world of Cimmeria is invaded by the Goa’uld Heru’ur, Jack and Teal’c lead the defence while Daniel and Samantha Carter must solve a series of puzzles in the hopes of making contact with the fabled Asgard, a legendary race of advanced beings feared by the Goa’uld. After solving the riddle of the ruins, Daniel succeeds in making contact with Thor, revealed not to be an imposing Viking figure but instead a small grey alien. The chariot of the title is Thor’s command ship, the Biliskner, which descends out of the clouds at the end in epic fashion to eliminate the Goa’uld threat.
This episode featured everything that made SG-1 great – new races, impressive special effects, mythology and great battle scenes, while progressing the Goa’uld war arc. It also finally introduced Thor and the Asgard as small but advanced humanoids, designed to look like real life accounts of aliens which tied them to both Norse mythology and alien abduction mythology excellently.

4. WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY (SG-1 4.06)
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Certainly one of the most fun episodes of the Stargate franchise ever produced, “Window of Opportunity” is Stargate “Groundhog Day” style! SG-1 find themselves caught in a time loop, a fact that only Jack and Teal’c are aware of due to their interference in the initial process that began the loop.
This episode makes the list for the same reason “The Shrine” does, it’s a great character episode. However, unlike “The Shrine”, “Window of Opportunity” is quite a light hearted, comedic episode. The time loop plot allows Jack and Teal’c the opportunity to effectively do whatever they want without consequences. At first it’s a frustrating situation as each time things reset they have to convince everyone of the loop again and learn more of the Ancient language from Daniel so they can shut down the device responsible.
However, they soon decide to take the time for recreation in between. Highlights include Teal’c getting hit in the face by a door every time the loop resets; Jack hitting golf balls through the open Stargate and angrily telling General Hammond he was “in the middle of [his] back swing!” when interrupted; Teal’c and Jack learning to juggle; and Jack handing in his resignation so he can kiss Carter.
The episode allowed the writers to show the more playful side of the characters while also building upon the mythology of the Ancients, the race who built the Stargates, through the device that caused the loop.

3. THE PRODIGAL (ATLANTIS 5.14)
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This truly excellent episode of Atlantis featured possibly the most satisfactory final confrontation with a villain in all of the franchise. Like “The Shroud” for SG-1, “The Prodigal” was the fourteenth episode of Atlantis’s final season and would have, I feel, served as a satisfactory series finale if it came to it.
Atlantis’s main named villain throughout the bulk of its run was arguably Michael Kenmore, a Wraith turned Wraith/human hybrid, played to perfection by actor Connor Trinneer and originally created by the Altantis expedition themselves. In this episode Michael lays siege to Atlantis in a bid to kidnap Teyla’s son and take ultimate revenge upon the city’s population. We were treated to a fist fight between Michael and Ronon in Atlantis’s control room but what was so great was the final face off.
In an epic and visually stunning confrontation, Michael went head to head with John Sheppard on top of Atlantis’s central skyscraper, culminating in his hanging on for dear life over 70 storeys in the air before Teyla arrived to kick him to his death. Sheppard, Teyla and Ronon all had personal vendettas against Michael for various reasons and each got their chance to confront him in this episode. Ultimately it felt appropriate that it come down to a face off between Michael and Sheppard – the show’s lead character – and, when defeated, it was fitting that Teyla was present to deliver the death blow given their complicated history.
It was a thoroughly satisfying end for one of the franchise’s best and most enduring villains.

2. SECRETS (SG-1 2.09)
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Another episode from SG-1’s second season that featured the Goa’uld Heru’ur. The episode’s main plot involved Daniel and Teal’c returning to Abydos, the planet from the feature film that began the franchise. What was great about this episode was that it managed to capture the feeling of the original movie very well.
It featured the same planet and locations, many of the same characters and a Goa’uld landing his mothership on the Abydonian pyramid again. It also featured the first instance of a Horus helmet vanishing from around a character’s head on the show, a special effect seen prominently in the movie. Heru’ur is eventually stopped thanks to the timely arrival of Jack O’Neill from Earth and a well aimed throw of his knife.
Another important aspect of this episode was that it addressed what happened to Daniel’s wife, Sha’re, following her abduction by Apophis in the pilot episode. Perhaps just as importantly, the episode’s secondary plot, involving Jack and Carter in Washington, introduced Jacob Carter, who would go on to become one of the show’s most important and frequently recurring characters.
All in all, this episode nailed the essence of everything that made Stargate unique and great by returning it to its roots.

1. RECKONING, PARTS 1 & 2 (SG-1 8.16/17)
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The number one spot is a bit of a cheat in that it’s technically two episodes, but “Reckoning” needs to be appreciated as a whole and not just a single part. Almost everything SG-1 had built up story wise over 8 years came to a head in these two episodes. It was HUGE.
The war with the Goa’uld and the Replicators, the growing Jaffa Rebellion, the mythology surrounding the Ancients, the Stargate network itself, the Asgard, the Tok’ra – it all factored in and all paid off beautifully. All of the favourite and most important recurring characters also appeared, playing significant parts – Bra’tac; Jacob Carter; Thor; even General Hammond had an off screen presence. All of the main villains at the time were featured too – Anubis, Baal and the Replicator copy of Carter. Lord Yu and the other remaining Goa’uld System Lords also appeared in an opening sequence that was both shocking and exhilarating.
The war against the Goa’uld and Replicators came to a head worthy of a feature film as a massive fleet of Goa’uld motherships clashed in orbit of Dakara and a Replicator invasion force descended upon Earth through the Stargate.
Each of the four main cast members were given a pivotal role in the final battle. O’Neill led the defence against the Replicators on Earth, Teal’c led the Jaffa Rebellion against Baal and the Replicators in the clash above Dakara, while Carter helped Jacob solve the mystery of Dakara’s Ancient superweapon and Daniel managed to hold off Replicator Carter on her command ship long enough to allow everyone else a respite against the Replicators.
The best part came at the end though with a slow motion montage, coupled with a delightfully dramatic soundtrack, of each of the main characters making their last stands. On Dakara, Carter and the free Jaffa on the surface were quickly losing ground against Replicators, in orbit Teal’c’s mothership was a single strike from destruction, on the Replicator command ship Daniel loses control of RepliCarter and is apparently stabbed fatally through the chest, while on Earth Jack continues to fight hopelessly after losing containment of the Replicator invasion and ordering the SGC nuked from the outside. Just as all seems lost, Jacob manages to activate the Ancient superweapon, opening every Stargate in the network at once and translating its shockwave across the entire galaxy, annihilating the Replicators.

The next episode, “Threads”, serves as an epilogue of sorts, wrapping up dangling plot points, most notably Anubis. But everything reaches its climax in these two episodes bringing a truly spectacular end to the original SG-1 saga.

So there you have my list of the Stargate franchise’s ten best episodes. Agree? Disagree? Feel free to sound off in the comments section.

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One comment on “Celebrating 20 years of Stargate: The franchise’s 10 best episodes

  1. Sakib
    June 1, 2014

    In my opinion, Reckoning should have been the very end of series 8 and series 8 should have been the last series. One of the most emotional episodes for me was when Jacob Carter has cancer and his life is saved by joining the To’kra. The death of Daniel Jackson at the end of series 5 was a shock and I loved the ascension arc they did with his character. Full Circle was a brilliant episode, not only did it show Anubis as a serious threat, it also led to Daniel Jackson being resurrected and the links with the movie were nice.

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This entry was posted on April 8, 2014 by in TV and tagged , , , , , .

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