The demise of Stargate Atlantis has long been a point of contention in the Stargate fandom. While the story of how it ended has changed over the years, the commonly believed version is that Atlantis was canceled to make room for Stargate Universe, which aimed to take the franchise in new (not necessarily fan-approved) directions. The truth is a bit more complex, but even at the end of its run, Atlantis was popular, with solid ratings, an active fanbase, and growing good will for accepting and addressing some of the more common criticisms of the show. Whether its cancellation was deserved or not, we have to face the fact that with the reboot in the works, there’s no going back to Atlantis. With that in mind, the show’s writers have been uncommonly open about their plans, particularly Joe Mallozzi, who posted in great detail what he felt he could share about Stargate Atlantis season 6. There’s a lot to dig through, however, so I’m going to try to condense it all in one place.
The first plans for Stargate Atlantis season 6 began, naturally, bouncing around the writer’s room in season 5. It’s not uncommon for leftover ideas that didn’t make the cut for one season to be brought up again in the context of the next (One famous case of this is the recycling of an old Star Trek: Phase II script in The Next Generation during the writer’s strike of 1988, effectively using an idea that had laid dormant for over a decade). Mallozzi posted a photo of a whiteboard containing a list of potential episodes, roughly in order, that would make up a sixth season. Most of these are little more than premises and some even less than that, such as “a story about the Asuran Replicators.” A few of them, however, were decently well developed. Here are the more significant ones:
- The premiere would have seen Atlantis return to the Pegasus Galaxy, naturally. But we’ll save this one for a moment.
- An episode revolving around a group of children found cryogenically frozen on an abandoned ship. The team thaws them out and tries to get them where they belong, but soon find out they’re being hunted by a mystery ship. Given that this is Mallozzi’s idea, he probably had a little more developed, but he seems to imply that these are no ordinary children (hinting at it by referring to the episode’s working title as “Children of the Corn/Fantastic Four”) and quite possibly evil. It’s a common enough sci-fi plot, and it vaguely reminds me of the episode “Innocence” from Star Trek Voyager, but hopefully a lot more interesting.
- A “rashomon” style episode, where Carter is being court martialed and the various witnesses each give their own version of events. This is a pretty popular story telling device, as the different versions of the story can often reveal aspects of the person telling it. They did a trial episode in season 5 with “Inquisition,” which was fairly successful (and specifically the one mentioned above that addressed criticisms), given it was a clip show. But having one trial episode does not preclude the use of another; just look at Star Trek TNG‘s “Measure of a Man” and “The Drumhead,” which are both well-regarded. This one would also have featured an event not previously seen, as opposed to clips. Obviously, the fact that Carter was no longer on Atlantis might have impacted the story just a bit.
- The “Red Shirt” episode, a “day in the limelight” for one of the nameless soldiers who gets shot down in those fight scenes. The idea for this story would be that our red shirt gets captured instead of killed, and the regular cast have to break him out. It sounds a bit like an inverted version of “The Other Guys,” an entertaining SG-1 episode which dealt with two minor characters trying to rescue the apparently captured SG-1 team. The minor characters in question even compared themselves to red shirts in that episode!
- An episode in the style of the film “Crank,” which would have featured Sheppard living on borrowed time and trying to figure out why this was done to him. Mallozzi rightfully points out that the premise would lose a lot of its punch in a TV series, where the audience would know it was unlikely for Sheppard to actually die from this. I can see how this might be an attractive idea from a writer’s point of view, however, and given enough tinkering I suspect they could have made it work. Borrowed time is always going to force characters to reanalyze their priorities, and that can be quite revealing. On the other hand, it could just as easily have turned out formulaic.
- One idea suggests that the entirety of Sheppard’s team is spontaneously lost without a trace, only to reappear six months later–long enough for Atlantis to have formed a new expedition team and settled in to routine once more. The episode, then, would focus on the tensions between Sheppard’s team and the replacement team, who aren’t just going to step back from being the primary. How would the two groups work together? Would any of the previously known characters, like Major Lorne, have been a part of the replacement team? Eventually any animosities would have to be set aside, as the aliens responsible for Sheppard’s team disappearing show up. This is probably one of the most interesting undeveloped episode ideas, and I’d have loved to see this play out, especially if it had ramifications that lasted for more than just the one episode.
- The so-called “Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow,” which would have McKay develop a time traveling puddle jumper and set off a series of time travel shenanigans both in the present, 5 years in the past (AKA season 1), and 5 years into the (bad) future, where the Wraith had taken over Atlantis. Mallozzi pitched this one himself, and describes conflict between all three different versions of the team, as they each try to secure the time machine for their own (fully justified) purposes. Of course, this brings with it a level of timey-wimey that would even give some Doctor Who writers a run for their money. Stargate has usually had a very consistent approach to time travel, as seen and described in “1969,” “2010,” and “2001,” so this might have had some tricky problems to get past.
And that’s more or less all the even slightly developed episode ideas, according to Mallozzi. I’ve heard other rumors, specifically some surrounding the “Unknown Aliens” seen in season 5’s “The Daedalus Variations,” but he doesn’t mention them in the season 6 plans. However, in a guest post by Alan McCullough, the writer of the episode in question, it was mentioned that he’d have liked to see them again. And given how many of the alternate universes seen in that episode had events play out sooner than they did in the prime universe, it certainly seemed like they were being set up for a reappearance down the line. Mallozzi also speculated about a potential Stargate Atlantis season 6 finale, featuring an alternate Atlantis where Michael had taken over and converted everyone into wraith/human hybrids. Seeing the team fight the vampire versions of themselves might’ve been neat.
But what about that premiere? Well, you see, after it became clear that Atlantis wasn’t getting a full season and that Stargate Universe would be coming up in its place, the writers considered the possibility of doing more Atlantis through direct-to-DVD or TV movies, much like SG-1 had done with The Ark of Truth and Continuum. It’s hard to describe it better than Mallozzi did; after all, he wrote the thing, he’s more attached to it than any of us fans could be. So I’ll just leave you with a link to his post on the film, which would have been called Stargate: Extinction. It would have featured most all the things we loved about the series, some kickass action scenes, and given us a glimpse of yet another galaxy in the universe of Stargate.
I gotta say, putting together this Stargate Atlantis season 6 article has been a bit more depressing than the previous one for Star Trek Enterprise was. I’m not entirely sure why; part of it is that the writers of SGA were so open about what they had planned, and their disappointment comes through as very earnest when reading about it. Part of it is that the downfall of the Stargate TV franchise is a lot more recent, and it struck in several stages, effectively taking out all three pillars of the franchise in a row. We’ve all had nearly 10 years to get over Enterprise, and much like with SGU, it took time for that show to win people over. But SG-1 and Atlantis, they were beloved shows for a long time. Enterprise also didn’t have as many open plot lines as the various Stargate series did, although there were certainly plenty more it could have tackled if they felt like it. And of course, the recent announcement of the reboot trilogy has reopened that wound, reminding us that any hope of a Veronica Mars-like revival are but the desperate dreams of a fanboy now. There’s also the sense that the Stargate franchise didn’t die because of its own failings; while Enterprise had been lacking in the ratings department for some time, Atlantis was still going fairly strong, and the two DVD/TV movies were moderately successful for what they were. Outside factors, like MGM’s financial problems, change of leadership at SciFi (which became Syfy soon after), and the general decline of the economy in 2008 brought the whole thing to a close. There was just a lot of bad luck involved, which makes the whole situation all the more tragic.
Of course, there are still more tragic endings ahead, as that’s the nature of this feature. I’m planning on doing these at the end of each month, so if you enjoyed this, be sure to check back September 29 for the next one, Stargate Universe season 3. You can also subscribe to the “What Could Have Been” RSS Feed here. If you’d rather dive back into Atlantis, you can watch it on Amazon Instant.