Stargate Atlantis is technically the second spin-off of Stargate SG-1 (read the Rewatch review here). Stargate Infinity came first, but it’s not great and largely no longer considered canon, so I like to think of Atlantis as the first true spin-off.
The show premiered in 2004 during the 8th season of SG-1, so a lot of the universe’s ground work was already laid. They’re able to focus exclusively on the new worlds, technology, and cultures of the Pegasus Galaxy without getting bogged down with explaining previous Stargate lore. The show initially followed the team of Joe Flanigan as Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, David Hewlett as Doctor Rodney McKay, Rainbow Sun Francks as Lieutenant Aiden Ford, and Rachel Luttrell as local recruit Teyla Emmagan, all under the leadership of Torri Higginson as Doctor Elizabeth Weir. The series begins with the discovery of Atlantis in the far-away Pegasus Galaxy, and we very quickly and accidentally awaken the Wraith, the primary villain of the series, who literally feed on the humans. It’s time for our heroes to quickly get to work both exploring the galaxy and stopping the enemy they inspired, which when you put it that way, sounds a lot like SG-1, and that’s a very good thing here.
Like SG-1, the cast is great. Also like SG-1, there were some notable cast changes during the entire 5-season run. In season 2, Francks’s character is essentially replaced by Jason Momoa as Ronon Dex (though you may know him as Aquaman these days), and in season 4, Higginson’s character is essentially replaced by Amanda Tapping as Colonel Samantha Carter (who transitioned over from SG-1 when the series ended).
And finally, in season 5, Tapping left the show and was replaced by Robert Picardo as Richard Woolsey. You may remember him as The Doctor from Star Trek: Voyager, and speaking of doctors, Jewel Staite as Doctor Jennifer Keller was upgraded to the main cast this season.
Compared to SG-1, the villains don’t feel as developed. You’ve got the Wraith, they’re basically vampires who routinely conquer the galaxy by feeding on most of the humans, slumber for decades, and do it all over again. They’re bad because that’s bad. They aren’t pretending to be a variety of established gods from our past, like the Goa’uld, they just feed on humans and we obviously don’t like that. You’ve got your re-imagined Replicators, in which they actually have a more believable origin story, but not much else. You’ve got your evil Asgard, who only show up for two episodes. And, finally, you’ve got your variety box of bad humans doing bad things.
Despite those shortcomings though, there are some fascinating individual villains, in particular Christopher Heyerdahl as Todd the Wraith, who forms an often tenuous alliance with Atlantis when the Wraith hives start fighting each other over their food supply. Wraith fighting Wraith is definitely advantageous for both sides, but they always know where they really stand with each other, and Todd has a solid wit when it comes to calling our heroes’ bluffs. Every episode with Todd guarantees plenty of delightful dialogue sparring. And it’s always fun when Robert Davi shows up as Commander Acastus Kolya, a mostly one-note character, but one who is played with a captivating singular conviction.
As I mentioned earlier, the cast is great, but a few really stand out. Hewlett really shines as McKay, and has the most character growth throwout the series, along with some impressive solo episodes. He grows from a cowardly, selfish, know-it-all scientist; to a cowardly, selfish, know-it-all scientist who is happy to return fire with the enemy and take charge of rescuing his team. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but if you were to watch the first and last episodes back to back, it’s quite a range given how Hewlett handles the character. Picardo shines if only for one brief season as Woolsey. He started in SG-1 as a paper-pushing policy-enforcing overseer, but once he’s actually put in charge of Atlantis, he begins to learn that policies don’t have all the answers. His growth is similarly subtle, but Picardo again puts some impressive range into it. And last, but not least, David Nykl as Radek Zelenka. Zelenka is often paired with McKay as his top subordinate, perhaps equal, perhaps even his better. He’s not part of the main cast, but he almost always manages to save the day when he’s around, and he presents a delightfully humble balance to McKay.
Stargate Atlantis ran for 5 seasons, and though it was canceled before it could be given the ending its creators intended, the ending it did receive wasn’t a cliffhanger and offered a lot of closure. Stargate Universe followed in 2009 as the final spin-off of SG-1, and I’ll get around to reviewing it as soon as I’m done rewatching it. You can stream Stargate Atlantis on Hulu or buy the complete series on iTunes for just $49.99. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!