Perhaps one of the coolest vintage SciFiNow features we’ve found in their archive (btw have you read about Archive in the new SciFiNow+ yet?) is this exclusive from way back in issue 40. Veteran entertainment reporter Ed Gross sat down with Stargate Universe creators Brad Wright and Robert C. Cooper for their showrunner’s commentary on the first ten episodes of SGU’s first season. Enjoy!
Bottom line: in the first half of its inaugural season, Stargate Universe has taken a lot of crap from fans and critics for being considerably different from its predecessors, SG-1 and Atlantis. The irony, of course, is that those differences are the very reasons that Robert C. Cooper and Brad Wright created the series in the first place. Even more so is the fact that as the show – which drops a collection of military personnel and civilians onto an alien craft known as Destiny – goes on, it will begin to embrace many of the tenets those shows had in the first place.
“We know where the series is going, and it’s interesting to see how people’s reactions are to each little moment as they unfold,” muses Cooper. “Sometimes you want to say, Just wait until this happens and it will all make sense; you’re prejudging based on this. I think we definitely were carrying a lot of baggage – not in a negative sense – in terms of people’s expectations about what Stargate is and what it should be, and feeling like we were neglecting a certain segment of the fan base. It’s not to say that we don’t have a responsibility in the initial episodes to deliver a quality product and message, but I think there were a few things that people reacted to early on and I just wish that they would not give up on the show. There is a lot of good stuff coming up.”
Wright concurs, adding, “I love the first ten, but I think fans who feel there were elements missing from what they consider to be a Stargate, will find them very much present in the second half of Season 1: alien interaction, adventure, and so on. There’s just more of that in the second half, because we devoted so much of the first half to basic survival and forging the characters and their relationships. I think all of that was necessary and partly designed to bring aboard a new audience who wouldn’t otherwise have watched a show called Stargate.”
One point he emphasises is that this was always the plan, right from the beginning, and that most of Season 1 was in the can prior to the show beginning to air in America. “There was no going back and adjusting anything based on criticisms,” he says. “Had we introduced the non-latexed aliens that we do a little bit sooner, fans from the old series might be a little more like, ‘Now I see what they’re doing.’ I think what we’re doing now is rewarding the audience – both the new audience we’ve gained and the audience that has been with us for many years – by giving them some of those elements that made Stargate, Stargate.”
Episodes 1-3: Air Part 1, 2 and 3
Writers: Robert C. Cooper, Brad Wright
Director: Andy Mikita
A mismatched group of military and civilians, while escaping an alien attack, travel through a Stargate and end up on extraterrestrial spacecraft Destiny. Immediately they come to realise that it is going to be a struggle to survive – not made any easier by the fact that members of the crew can’t stand each other.
Brad Wright: “When Robert and I sat down to break the story, we didn’t intend for it to become three hours. We expected it to be two hours, by the end of which we would have gone to the planet and gotten what we needed to survive. But we wanted that story to be about basic survival – the wrong people unprepared, which was the complete opposite of what we had done in over 300 hours of things called Stargate. There it was the razor-sharp, right people, fully prepared, going through the Stargate as the best and the brightest. This was the cleaning people, some civilians and definitely not the A-team. And what do they show up with? Nothing. Right off the bat, you know this isn’t going to be an easy journey for them.”
Robert C. Cooper: “I think pilots often crumble under the weight of the pressure of having to do all of these magic things – introduce characters, introduce the rules of the world and make it not feel like it’s an introduction. The breakthrough for us when we were writing was the idea of telling the story in two styles – the flashback revealing how we got to this moment, and how we’re going through things at the moment it’s happening. We wanted to start from a point of action of getting onto the ship, but we also thought it was important to outline how these people got there. When we expanded to three hours, we were able to explain how things would be going forward – that there wouldn’t be neat, wrapped up endings and that things would bleed into one another. It’s not a movie; you don’t have to wrap everything up.”
Episodes 4-5: ‘Darkness’ and ‘Light’
Writer: Brad Wright
Director: Peter DeLuise
Power is failing and Destiny is locked on a direct course heading for a star. The crew prepare for their end, with only a handful vying for survival by taking a shuttlecraft.
Brad Wright: “This was originally a one-hour script called ‘Fire, and it was not an overly long script. But to properly serve the scenes with the lottery and the life and death and the weightiness of it all, we couldn’t clip it along. Also, the network’s biggest criticism was that I had ended it in a perfunctory way. When I realised I had almost two episodes of material, I wrote a whole new ending where Scott has to dock the ship. That wasn’t in the original draft; once they made contact, they were rescued. Of course, now that’s my favourite part of the episode. ‘Darkness’ was also a great opportunity to introduce the Kino [an alien recording device] as an element, and we could focus on some secondary characters in some detail. We have a huge ensemble and the three hours of the pilot was still pretty tough to introduce some folks in.”
Robert C. Cooper: “We started to answer some of the questions about Destiny, including the fact that it’s solar-powered and that’s how the ship has been going all of these years. And just the fact that we’re so under-educated about this ship and behind the curve in terms of having all of the easy answers. The idea is that this was going to be a discovery process for us, and I think those episodes really play that out. There’s a little more sense of reality in this show, and I think that, hopefully, you did feel and do feel going forward in every episode that there is real jeopardy: that it’s not just that they’re going to get out of every situation in the end.”
Episode 6: ‘Water’
Writers: Carl Binder (teleplay), Brad Wright, Robert C Cooper, Carl Binder (story)
Director: Will Waring
Scott and Young go to an ice planet to hopefully replenish the water supply of Destiny, while the living dust cloud that came aboard in ‘Air’ begins to absorb what’s left of the water on board.
Brad Wright: “We did a whole bunch of stuff early on that was very ambitious. ‘Water’ was creating an almost entirely CG alien landscape with just a tiny waterfall set. That was tough and I think Will Waring did a great job.”
Robert C. Cooper: “This came out of a desire to not do a planet with trees on them. We did a lot of running around in trees in the last two series and we really wanted to demonstrate that this show is going to be about exploring a really cool, mysterious, interesting universe. How can we create alien worlds that are going to be a challenge for us and beautiful? And I think that was as much about demonstrating early on the environmental issues. This was also the first chance to see our characters in a more standalone episode – one that wasn’t directly related to the pilot. We’re running out of water and they have the little bug aliens from ‘Air’ kind of pay off in that, but nevertheless, it stood alone a little bit more as a story.”
Episode 7: ‘Earth’
Writers: Martin Gero (teleplay). Brad Wright, Robert C Cooper, Martin Gero (story)
Director: Ernest Dickerson
Using an Ancient communication device, Young, Eli and Chloe are able to visit Earth by inhabiting other bodies, while Telford takes over command of Destiny. O’Neill orders that a dangerous plan be put into effect to bring the crew home.
Brad Wright: “One of the things we wanted to do was infuse more realism into these stories. This isn’t escapism. We’re actually trying to engage the audience in a way that’s not as escapist as the other two series were intended to be. There’s still humour and a team, but not everybody’s on the same team.”
Robert C. Cooper: “[This gave us] a chance to demonstrate the way in which we could tell some stories about who these people are and what they’ve left behind… And also how we can still tie our story back to Earth; that there is still relevance for our connection to home and how this mission is going to go forward… I like seeing our characters in the life they’ve left behind, so that was, think, the thrust of that episode.”
Episode 8: ‘Time’
Writer: Robert C. Cooper
Director: Robert C. Cooper
The crew finds a Kino on a jungle planet that shows how they were killed by a virulent disease – before it has actually happened. Now they have to find a cure before they really are infected.
Brad Wright: “I think this is where the series really hits its stride. There are elements of the fandom that said, ‘Now that’s Stargate’, yet we would not have been as engaged had they not cared about the characters and had the introduction of the first seven hours.”
Robert C. Cooper: “I wanted to do something that had a really alien environment, and also then to expose our characters to the danger of what they were doing while exposing the fact that they’re in over their heads in a lot of ways. We’d done tons of time-travel stories before this and it was a question of do we do it again and how do we make it different? Is there something really in here worth pursuing? I think it all kind of gelled for me when I spun the ending and the way that the structure of the story was. There were some complaints that it was a reset to zero in that the characters didn’t get to grow or learn anything, but I don’t get that criticism. They still have the Kinos and were able to observe everything that they went through. I think one of the most interesting dynamics in the episode was watching them watch themselves.”
Episode 9: ‘Life’
Writer: Carl Binder
Director: Alex Chapple
Onboard Destiny, a chair similar to the Repository of Knowledge is found; Scott and Camille use the communication stones to travel to Earth, but they bizarrely arrive in the bodies of Telford and a female airman, Mooney.
Robert C. Cooper: “We realised we needed an episode that talked about what life is like on this ship. We sort of dealt a little bit with what they’ve left behind, but now that we’ve established a kind of normal, what is normal going to be like for people on this show and how are they going to deal with that? We also wanted to ramp up the situation between Rush and Young so you understood where things would be coming from between them. Everyone around here really likes that episode. It was certainly not a fan favorite, but in some respects, I don’t think ‘Justice’ or several other episodes that are coming up in the second half of the season would have the same impact if ‘Life’ hadn’t existed. You need to see that episode to know some of the things that were happening in order for these other things to pay off.”
Episode 10: ‘Justice’
Writer: Alan McCullough
Director: Will Waring
When Spencer is found dead, Colonel Young is implicated as the murderer. Things come to a head between Young and Rush, culminating in the colonel abandoning Rush on an alien world (setting up the cliffhanger that concludes the first half of the season).
Brad Wright: This is the dynamic that the series is all about. There are no latexed-faced English-speaking aliens. This is us: we’re fighting each other and we have to find out how to get along… There’s going to be some sparks flying, which is what ‘Justice’ is all about. It’s a very strong hour of television by any standard, I think. And I hope that folks are going to be intrigued by it.”
Robert C. Cooper: “In the other shows, this episode would have been about ‘whodunit?’ It would have been all about the murder, but this is not what the story is about. It’s not about a trial, and the payoff is what it was all leading up to. It’s a character story, less about the murder on the spaceship, even though that is an interesting and important part of the episode. What would you do if you were trapped in the Wild West where there was no sheriff and, even worse, maybe you thought the guy who was the sheriff committed the crime? What do you do? How do you deal with it when the people you’re trusting to lead you are potentially the ones who are committing the crimes?”
Brad Wright: “Rebounding from something like this is the fun of the subsequent episodes. We spend some time getting into that. It isn’t tied up into a shiny bow. Going forward for the entire back half of the season and into Season 2, there are these conflicts between the characters. Not to tell you too much about where we’re going, there is going to have to be an inevitability about us getting along and pulling it together… There’s stuff to do that’s important. There are some big issues coming up.”
Robert C. Cooper: “I’d like to say Young and Rush don’t bounce back from this, which is part of the ongoing nature of what I think the show is. It’s not a reset button at the end of every episode or a magic solution. Obviously, I’m giving a major plot point away, but as they go forward and end up both back on the ship, they have to deal with the obvious ripple effect and the repercussions of the action they took, and lack of trust they have in each other, and where all of that is going. In many ways, the first half of the season was all leading up to that moment. On this show, there are no classic heroes or villains. Everybody is flawed and it’s about human beings trapped in this extreme, almost pressure-cooker situation, and having the essence of their characters really come out.”