A series about a team of soldiers that regularly travel to other planets by means of a device known as the Stargate. It flips the conspiracy-theory genre on its head, putting us on the side of the conspirators. It also manages to avoid a problem that most other science fiction shows from the era haven’t.
Stargate is one of my favourite series on the planet. Similar to other shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Deep Space 9, it has that perfect mix of story-of-the-week and an overarching storyline. It’s a format that isn’t too popular today, although shows like Strange New Worlds seem to be bringing it back.
The premise of the show is that a device known as a Stargate was found in an archaeological dig in Giza. This device was kept secret and ended up in the USA, where a team consisting of the top scientists and the United States Air Force where able to turn it on and travel to another world. These events are chronicled in the movie, and the TV series follows on from these events.
The TV series expands around the concept of aliens posing as false gods. The main antagonists are parasites that take over human hosts, and rule other humans taken from Earth millennia ago. Our heroes travel through the gate fighting this adversary so they can one day free the galaxy of these false gods.
At the time there were several TV shows based around conspiracy theories. X-Files was the most popular and probably the only one most people remember. But there were a lot of shows that tried to copy the basic format of “evil-government-hiding-that-aliens-exist-from-public”.
Stargate took this premise and flipped it. Our heroes aren’t the ones trying to uncover the government conspiracy, they are the ones hiding things from the public. We are put on the side of the people that need to keep the secret to protect the public. It’s not a wholly original idea, Men in Black came out the same year SG-1 was released, and the film is based on a comic that started in 1990. Still, it is a concept that I think helped it stand out over shows that just felt like they were trying to copy the X-Files.
So why am I writing about this now? Well, I’ve been rewatching the series recently, and something struck me that made me realise it had managed to get around a problem other Sci-Fi shows have, especially those release over a decade ago. When Star Trek: Discovery came out this problem was plain to see.
Discovery Looks Better than the Enterprise
I know that this could be seen as an opinion, and is always going to be subjective. I’m not saying that the original series looks bad, and the new series looks good necessarily. What I want to focus on here is how realistic each show looks from a modern context.
Both the original series and Discovery are set in the 23rd century. They are both set in the same universe, so in theory they should both look similar to each other. But, as much as I love the original series, if you watch a random episode now it looks dated. Their technology uses lots of buttons, switches, dials, tapes on reels, SLOW…LOUD…BEEPY..COMPUTER…VOICES, and so on.
At the time the show was made, these kinds of things were seen as part of new and up-and-coming technology. This was an era when computers still filled a room – the first microcomputer wouldn’t come out until the 1970s. The design and the use of technology in Star Trek reflects that. This is how they imagined future tech at the time.
So today it all looks dated. Magnetic tape is a thing of the past. Most technology uses sleeker keyboards or touch screens. We all carry around a device in our pockets which seems more powerful than the Enterprise’s computer.
So when Discovery gets released, they have a problem. Despite being set in the same time period as the original series, they cannot make it look like that. A modern audience would be confused as to why future tech looks so ancient.
This is what I mean by “better”. The original series will always suffer from the fact that the technology seems dated by modern standards. It hasn’t stood the test of time. That doesn’t make it a bad series, of course. It’s the definitive science fiction series to a lot of people. But even something close to perfection still has flaws.
Now I’m going to go back to being subjective. I don’t think Discovery got it quite right, at least not at first. They fix it later by subtly altering the look of the show, and finally teleporting them even further into the future where the look of the ship works well. Strange New Worlds managed to pull it off, I think. They create an Enterprise that looks futuristic by modern standards, but is clearly inspired by the aesthetic of the original show.
Why am I talking about Star Trek, anyway? This is supposed to be about Stargate.
When watching Stargate, I noticed that there are quite a few analogies they use comparing the Stargate to dial up phones. In an age when the home phone has all but disappeared and everyone has a personal mobile phone, I wondered if younger viewers would still understand these analogies. There’s a small joke in the show where Daniel Jackson attempts to explain using a phone analogy to Teal’c. With Teal’c being an alien, Jackson immediately realises he’s talking to the “wrong person”. I wondered how many wrong persons there are today.
This made me think that Stargate is anachronistic. They fight aliens and use advanced alien technology all the time. Except they also have CRT monitors everywhere, use VHS tapes, and use a lot of tech that is dated by todays standards. But of course Stargate isn’t anachronistic. In Stargate it makes sense. Because even as I watch the show in 2024, Stargate is still set in the late 90s/early 2000s. No matter what year you watch the show, the human technology will always be appropriate for the time.
The alien technology is more advanced, of course. But even that technology doesn’t feel dated. There are explanations littered throughout the show as to why the technology has flaws. One of the main explanations being that the main adversaries, the false gods, like to limit the advancement of their subjects while also showing off their own power and extravagance.
It leads to a show that doesn’t have the same problem Star Trek has. The technology in Stargate is dated because it’s set in a time when that’s what the technology looked like. All the “future” technology is alien, so even if our modern day technology looks different, it doesn’t matter because alien technology isn’t human technology.
Anyway, that’s just my long winded way of describing something interesting I noticed about the show.