Stargate SG-1 and Atlantis Season 1 by Big Finish – Audio Drama Review [Shadowhawk]
Shadowhawk reviews the first season of Big Finish’s Stargate SG-1 and Atlantis audio dramas, extended narrations featuring the actors from the two TV shows.
“A good solid production all around, these audio dramas are a must for any fans of the two TV shows. Be prepared to be blown away.” ~The Founding Fields
Stargate is one of those long-enduring science-fiction settings that refuses to give in and die out, even long after the TV shows have gone off-air. Starting with a movie starring Kurt Russell and James Spader, there was eventually the ten-season Stargate SG-1 show along with its spin-off Stargate Atlantis. The line of TV shows ended with the third, Stargate Universe, in May last year. But of course, the end of the shows was not the end of the franchise. There have been numerous direct-to-DVD films and novels over the years. And it all has continued concurrently with a series of audio dramas from Big Finish, who readers may recognize also does audio dramas for Black Library, 2000 AD and Doctor Who among other things.
I bought the current two seasons available in February and have been listening to them on and off since. The audio dramas have exceeded my expectations and I’ve been very surprised with the quality of the content and the voice-actors.
The first one in the collection is Stargate SG-1: Gift of the Gods by Sally Malcolm, and is read by John Schwab and Michael Shanks, the latter having played Dr. Daniel Jackson, SG-1’s archaeology and Ancient/Goa’uld expert, in all the TV shows. This was definitely a great experience. The plot is somewhat derivative and reminds me of a couple similar plots from the series itself, but on its own it stands solid. It was great to get back into the Stargate universe with this audio drama (I actually listened to Savarna first as it turns out), particularly the character of Daniel Jackson. If it had been anyone other than Michael Shanks doing the reading for this, especially for his character, then the same magic wouldn’t be there. Shanks’ Jackson has developed so many character tics and mannerisms and what not that it just wouldn’t have been the same.
The audio drama (like all the others in the collection) is really cinematic. It was very easy for me to visualise everything that was going on and the ending is really one of the more emotional endings of the SG-1 franchise. It just has that quality to it, to move you like that. Its been years since I last saw the show and getting a glimpse of the early seasons was great. Side note, the audio drama is set in Season 3, just before the episode Fair Game.
The second audio drama in the collection is Stargate Atlantis: A Necessary Evil by Sharon Gosling, and is read by Timothy Watson and Torri Higginson, the latter having played Dr. Elizabeth Weir, the leader of the Atlantis Expedition. This one was definitely a surprise. Personally, I’m not a big fan of the character but have to admit that she was played well by Higginson. She was definitely a better fit for the role than the original actress who did so when the character was first introduced. I saw the first two seasons of Atlantis before SG-1 so I connect with the former much more and it definitely ranks quite highly for me. Getting back into one of the most pivotal moments of the show, the beginning of season 4, was just as emotional as listening to Gift of the Gods. People who have seen Season 4 will know what I’m talking about. So yeah, Big Finish has definitely not pulled any chances with its scripts so far.
The audio has some good pacing and some really evocative moments. Sharon Gosling has captured the spirit of the character very well and since Higginson herself is doing most of the voice-work here, it is all that much more poignant. The script is very much about the loss of innocence, a theme that I personally saw as a prevalent theme in the show and often overused as a plot hook. But, it has been executed very well here. Dr. Weir rarely got to take centerstage during the show and that’s why this audio is that much more special. We get a lot of insight into the character through the monologues and it makes Dr. Weir come across as a much more rounded character. I certainly appreciate the character much more now.
Next we have Stargate SG-1: Shell Game by James Swallow, read by Michael Shanks and Claudia Black, the latter having played the all-round troublemaker and mercenary-of-sorts Vala Mal Doran on the show, Daniel Jackson’s love interest in the latter third of SG-1. To start off, I never really liked Vala on the show. She is too snivelly, too troublesome, too irritating, complains all the time and so on. I liked the System Lord Baal more than I did Vala, even though the former is only a side character and she is a member of SG-1. As such, it is only the fact that James Swallow wrote this audio that I listened to it at all. James Swallow is one of my favourite authors for Black Library and his 40k audios are among the best in the franchise. Going in, I was hoping that he could present Vala as a much more likable characters than the show ever did.
I wasn’t too disappointed with it really. The only real weakness of the audio is that Vala talks a LOT lot. A little too much for my tastes as it were. When you are presented with a character you don’t like and this is what happens, then it kinda sucks the enjoyment out of it. Still, I did get some more Shanks/Jackson action in it so that helped. Putting Vala in a situation where she is very much forced to go against her character is what I think the audio excels at. Vala is horrible at telling the truth at the best of times and James Swallow did great by showing that side of the character. It doesn’t make me like the character all that much but I’m also not averse to listening to more Vala/Black either now. And I have to say, the twist at the end was textbook perfect. Loved it. Side note, the audio takes place during season 10, so its one of the last stories from the show.
Then we go back to Stargate Atlantis for some Dr. Carson Beckett action this time in Sally Malcolm’s Perchance to Dream. Beckett is one of my absolute favourite characters from the show and Paul McGillion definitely one of the better actors on the show. That endearing Scottish accent may have something to do with that too! What can I say, this was a perfect audio drama, start to finish. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and by the end, it was almost difficult to part ways with Beckett. Once again, if you have seen the show then you’ll know why that was. Paul McGillion did a fantastic job with the character on the show and listening to him take on the mantle of the most, umm, humane character on the show in the audio was great. The funniest parts are him trying to do the voice of the other major characters on the audio. They definitely had me laughing out loud. Kinda embarrassing really since I was in the gym when I was listening to it.
But yeah, fantastic pacing and a fantastic story. I got a real good feel for the character and Sally Malcolm pretty much put me right there in Carson’s mind. Paul McGillion only made it all that much more vivid. This is definitely an audio drama that I would highly recommend because Beckett/McGillion are worth the time and money. As part of the Atlantis storyline, this has some of the usual gimmicks of the show, the ones that the show’s writers often over-used but realistically, its not all that bad. As a complete package, the script is actually really good. Side note, this is a season 2 script.
Second to last, we have the Stargate SG-1 audio Savarna, written once again by Sally Malcolm and performed this time by Toby Longworth and Teryl Rothery, the former being one of the lead voice-actors for Black Library’s audio range and the latter having played Dr. Janet Fraiser on the show. As a season 7 script, it marks one of the last appearances of Fraiser/Rothery on the show and overall I have to say that this is as good an audio as Perchance to Dream, for the same reasons even. There are a lot of parallels to both Beckett and Fraiser, parallels that at first glance simply make the two of them clones of each other. But dig past the surface and you realise that they are not as similar as you thought they were.
With Toby Longworth along for the ride, this is definitely in the top 4 Stargate audios from Big Finish (to date there are twelve in total, six per season). Having listened to so many Toby Longworth audios before, I still had a tough time recognising him as the other voice-actor on the audio which was a surprise. This was a problem I had with some of his Black Library audios because there just wasn’t enough variation in his characters but that really is not a problem here. One reason is that Teryl Rothery does most of the voice-acting, even for the male characters, so Toby remains quite focused on his primary character. The other is that he is just that good. I would love for him to do more Stargate audios, and Black Library of course.
Overall, a highly enjoyable audio that is very personal and immediate in its approach to the main characters voiced by Rothery and Longworth. The growing sense of desperation and the need to do the right thing are very strong right until the end.
And last but not the least, we go back to Stargate Atlantis for James Swallow’s Zero Point, starring David Nykl and Ursula Burton, the former as Radek Zelenka, Rodney’s fellow lead scientist for the Atlantis Expedition. Just like Janet Fraiser and Elizabeth Weir and Carson Beckett, Radek Zelenka never really got any prominent scenes on the shows so it was nice to see him being featured in his own audio drama. I have to say that this is a much better script from James Swallow than Shell Game is. He is really able to get into the mind of the character and bring it out in the script while David Nykl, who played Zelena on the show, brings the character alive once again. This is definitely a really good, fun audio drama and deals with a very core Science Fiction concept: Just how do we as humans define sentience and how do we react to a(n) (arguably) superior lifeform.
No hard and fast answers of course, and Zelenka/Nykl are the perfect medium to explore that concept. Job well done. The audio kept me hooked from start to finish and the ending is definitely one you don’t expect to see coming, at least, not Zelenka’s crazy solution to the problem at hand. Great pacing, great introspection and some really fantastic never-before-seen alien lifeforms. Plus the excellent voice-acting from Ursula Burton who makes for a great military officer.
Overall, the Season 1 audios are fantastic. Some real, great variety in the characters featured and some excellent writers too. I really loved the actor Q&As at the end which gave some great insight into the actors themselves and how they view their roles and their performances. Makes me wish they would bring both shows back somehow.
Highly recommended must-buys for fans of the franchise and if you wanna take you first dip into the Stargate universe, then they are pretty good starting points too. None of them really spoiler the events of the two shows. Not by much anyway.
Overall rating: 8.75/10