What Almost Wasn’t: 4 Last Minute Scenes That Nearly Didn’t Happen — Friday Four

RIP GeneWhen you’re shooting a TV series or a film, sometimes real life gets in the way, and forces some changes to the plot. This is often expensive or problematic, so they’ll try to avoid it as much as possible (for example, giving Dr. Crusher and B’elanna Torres new oversized coats to hide their actresses’ pregnancies when the characters weren’t). But when it comes down to it, reality can force your hand–either due to budget reasons, or sudden illnesses or deaths, or scheduling conflicts, or even censorship, the original plan just flat out isn’t possible any more. Something new has to be made up, and fast. It sounds like a recipe for disaster, sure, but without those complications, we’d have missed out on some classic moments. So, let’s celebrate the good that came out of the bad by looking at these, 4 great scenes that nearly didn’t happen.


4. The First Regeneration–Doctor Who

The scene itself was only possible the way it was shot due to a lucky error, but it made for a spectacular way to go.

The scene itself was only possible the way it was shot due to a lucky error, but it made for a spectacular way to go.

Doctor Who is the longest running sci-fi TV series ever, and the concept of regeneration is one of the main reasons why. For a show that’s so heavily focused on a single character, being able to recast that character from time to time is a necessity in a long runner. Of course, it wasn’t one of those things planned for the show from the start. As first Doctor actor William Hartnell’s health began declining and he struggled to remember his lines, it became clear that he wouldn’t be able to do the show much longer. No one really wanted the show to end, however; it was quite popular at the time, so they began exploring other options. It was eventually realized that they needed to explain the Doctor’s change in the story, rather than a simple recasting, and after going through a few possible explanations, it was whittled down to the biological explanation we all know today. It was a bold move, and while it was no doubt sad to see Hartnell go, the first regeneration is an iconic scene now and directly responsible for the show’s longevity.


3. Zhaan Unites Moya’s Crew–Farscape

Farscape SPOILERS below. Skip ahead to #2 if you haven’t seen it.

Motherly encouragement, right to the end.

Motherly encouragement, right to the end.

Zhaan was always one of the most mature characters on Farscape, mediating over the constant states of conflict aboard Moya. Ultimately, Zhaan sacrifices herself to save the crew, and it’s this moment that finally allows them to start working together reliably from that point on. But Zhaan wasn’t killed off simply to give the other characters something to rally around. As I’ve mentioned before, Virginia Hey, who played Zhaan, had severe reactions to the extensive makeup required for the part, to the point where it was causing her to suffer from kidney failure. This forced her to leave the show, although even then not by choice, and resulted in a very touching scene where Zhaan dies, after having recently saved Aeryn from death, rescuing not just the crew, but Moya herself as well. Zhaan’s absence from there on has a profound impact on the show, and the lack of this mature mediator forces some of the characters to grow in unexpected ways to take up the slack.


2. Groundhog Day Shenanigans–Stargate SG-1

You never interrupt a man in the middle of his backswing.

You never interrupt a man in the middle of his backswing.

How about one that’s a little less depressing? See, there’s an episode of SG-1, called “Window of Opportunity,” where Teal’c and O’Neill are trapped in a time loop, reliving the same few hours over and over again. It mostly involves them having to deal with the problem on their own, without much help from their usual “smart guy” companions. The thing is, with a time loop episode like this, especially a loop that’s repeated as many times as this one, you can start to gloss over certain events that are guaranteed to happen in each repetition… which ultimately meant that the episode came in short of the 42 minute mark. That’s pretty unusual, as it’s normal for episodes of any TV show to have content cut instead (sometimes little things like establishing shots, or quicker cuts, but possibly entire short scenes that aren’t directly relevant to the plot). They still had to hit that mark, however, so the goofing around that Teal’c and Jack indulge in as they start growing bored with the loop was added to the episode to help fill out the time. And as it turns out, these scenes were among the most popular not just in the episode, but in the entire series. My favorite part is Jack teeing off and hitting a golf ball through the gate, but the whole montage is great for fans from beginning to end. It also happens to be the first episode that Joe Mallozzi wrote, whose blog provided a lot of the material for the SGA and SGU “What Could Have Been” articles.


1. Sarek Reflects Reality–Star Trek TNG

Even the greatest of men are still men... or occasionally, Vulcan.

Even the greatest of men are still but men… or occasionally, Vulcan.

One of the first Original Series characters to appear in TNG, Spock’s father Sarek had few appearances, but they really made them count. Sarek’s first appearance is, naturally, in the episode entitled “Sarek,” where it’s revealed that he is suffering from a debilitating mental illness that greatly impacts his ability to perform his ambassadorial duties. With Picard’s help, he’s able to make it through the rest of the proceedings without this secret getting out. His next appearance is his death in “Unification I,” and Picard is tasked with relaying that grim news to Spock (among other things).

But if you watch “Unification,” you might notice it opens with a memorial card for Gene Roddenberry, who died not long before it aired. It’s no coincidence that Sarek passes away at the same time as Roddenberry. Since Sarek is, in universe, a well-respected–no, almost legendary– figure in the Federation, he made for an excellent analog to mirror Roddenberry, whom the younger writers working on TNG felt similarly towards. “Sarek” the episode was consciously modeled on his declining health, and the transfer of control from Roddenberry to others was part of the impetus to move forward with that story. And while Roddenberry had not yet died at the time “Unification” was being written, everyone knew he didn’t have long. In the end, the Star Trek universe lost a great man who had shaped it for most of his life, just as the real world had. And as Sarek would live on in Picard and Spock, so too will Roddenberry, in the hearts and minds of fans across the world.


That’s all for this week. It’s tough to find subjects and info for more specific “What Could Have Been” articles, so I hope this will suffice as I try to find a show I can actually scrounge up more solid research about. It’s the second month in a row where the show I was working on just didn’t have enough material to fill out an entire article, which really sucks, but there’s not a lot I can do when that happens. Not everyone is as willing to share their foiled plans for the future as Joe Mallozzi or Kevin Murphy are. If you have any suggestions, you can always leave a message in the comments, or message me on Twitter @RetroPhaseShift.

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  1. another good article. i cant believe some shows would rather lose someone than figure out a way to do makeup differently without killing their actor!

    one other that comes to mind is the famous shwarma stinger in avengers (if you count that as scifi).

    • It’s about an alien invasion, so I count it. :p

      The makeup thing is actually a huge problem when it comes to sci-fi shows and there’s just no way to know how it will affect an actor before they have to deal with it on a regular basis. Even for someone like Michael Dorn, who wore the Worf makeup for about 15 years straight, it had health effects. You’ll notice if you look at modern pictures the area where his ridges were is quite a bit lighter than the rest of his skin, and that’s a direct result of the makeup.

      It has gotten easier over time, and nowadays CGI is sometimes used to augment makeup (Irisa’s eyes on Defiance, for example, are CGI-enhanced), but the hard truth of the matter is that having your pores blocked off for 12 hours a day, every day, for months at a time… that’s going to affect you somehow. I’d say it’s a testament to how dedicated some of these actors are to their work (Virginia Hey in particular. How much do you have to love your job to be willing to risk kidney failure just to continue?). We’re lucky as fans to have such people involved.