Reasons for Stargate Atlantis failure

Posted in Reviewson Feb 9, 2009

Source: Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

Sci-Fi show, Stargate Atlantis, endured 5 seasons before it was canceled. While I felt slightly empty after its predecessor, Stargate SG-1, got canceled after 10 seasons, my reaction to the end of Atlantis was much more subdued. I never felt like Atlantis really got going as an excellent Sci-Fi series.

Much of the problems behind the show’s failure was that it seemed like the producers were trying to follow a Sci-Fi formula rather than breaking free and creating something original. I believe originality and exploration of new ideas is one of the attractive features drawing fans to Science-Fiction television. With various technologies, episode plots, and series developments, Stargate Atlantis followed more than it lead.

Another major problem was an inconsistency of cast. Of the 10 main characters listed on Wikipedia, only 3 of which were cast for all 5 seasons. The series saw two doctors, three commanders, and a replacement of one of the main military guys. Such cast turnover prevented fans from building a long relationship with the characters. Additionally, a few of the characters who transferred to Atlantis after the SG-1 series was canceled had major personality changes–again causing character inconsistencies.

Stargate Atlantis at times seemed to be “Science-Fiction, minus the Science.” One of Sci-Fi’s appeals is that it allows writers and viewers to imaginatively explore new ideas and concepts by setting the show in some technologically advanced state. Atlantis disappointed in this respect because rather than reasonably using technology to explore new ideas, the writers simply invented new technology or unrealistic events simply because they thought it would make the plot more interesting. For example, in the very last episode, the crew used a never-aforementioned “Wormhole Drive” to jump across the galaxy in a second to save the day.

Stargate Atlantis, while at times was interesting and many episodes illustrated great Sci-Fi drama, the series as a whole slowly failed itself into cancellation because they forgot what it takes to be a great TV show, and what it takes to be a great Sci-Fi series.

Clarification: Some point out that a show that makes it 5 seasons isn’t a failure, which is probably right. I should have said something like, “Stargate Atlantis failed to make my list of all-time great Sci-Fi shows,” or “Stargate Atlantis failed to be as great as Stargate SG-1.”



February 10th, 2009 at 4:48 am

Stargate Atlantis didn’t fail.
The series was cancelled after five years because the series had become too expensive to continue production. Stargate Atlantis is supposed to continue in made for TV movies, but with the current economic meltdown, it looks like the movies have been temporarily (hopefully) placed on hold.
You cite inconsistencies in the cast as one of its failures. I disagree. Atlantis was set in the Pegasus Galaxy, fighting multiple nemeses. A change in personnel would be expected — to rotate back to Earth or to be wounded (or killed) in action. For this not to have happened would have made the series unrealistic.
As for major personality changes, I assume you’re referring to Carter and Woolsey. Their personality changes reflect the changes in their assignments — both Carter and Woolsey were promoted to be the Atlantis base commanders. Their characters had to reflect their new responsibilities, again to make their characters realistic.
I’ll agree that the “wormhole drive” was a last minute invention, but it was only one of a few examples. The majority of the science on Stargate Atlantis followed series science canon already established in Stargate SG-1.
Also, Stargate SG-1 was on for ten years, and not for 11 as mentioned above. And it’s “whole” and not hole.


February 10th, 2009 at 10:28 am

@Morjana – You make some excellent points and corrections (which I’ve made). I was referring to Carter and Woolsey, but their personality changes were far more than just their change in assignments. I don’t remember one Carter brainy moment on Atlantis, even though she was very frequently brainy on SG-1. You can’t tell me that someone would stop being brainy the second they are the expedition commander. The Woolsey personality changes were more subtle, but take a look at the first time he appeared on SG-1, and he is a completely different character. I don’t appreciate shows who flip-flop their characters around based on what they think will be popular with the ratings.


February 10th, 2009 at 11:02 am

Jacob & Morjana:
You both make excellent points!
Having been an ardent fan of SG-1, I initially had some problems with adjusting to Stargate Atlantis when it first aired and to be honest, it took a couple of seasons before I started liking it….but I do have to agree with Jacob in that SG-1 was simply a much better show all around. My biggest complaint with SGA was and always will be is the role of Rodney McKay…there is simply too much of him…I do realize that he has a tremendous fan following but part of the beauty of SG-1 was in the fact that it was an ensemble cast and many of the episodes, if not all, had that tongue-in-cheek flavor which greatly added to it’s greatness…SGA on the other hand seemed to take itself much more seriously and was all about Rodney….sigh….that being said, I do miss SGA now that it is gone and wait with nervous trepidation for the new Stargate series…Stargate Universe.


February 10th, 2009 at 11:39 am

@BillieO – You were very much right about SGA being the McKay and (I would add) Sheppard show. One of the reasons I wrote this post is that I was trying to explore why SGA just didn’t quite satisfy me, and what could be done better with the Stargate Universe series.


February 17th, 2009 at 2:37 pm

Hi Jacob:

Yes, I know exactly what you mean…I tried so hard to like SGA as much as SG-1, but even after 5 years it just was not the same… be honest, I also tried to figure it out but at the end of the day, does it really matter?

As long as fans like STARGATE in any incarnation….the producers and writers will keep serving them up to us….which is fine by me!

….and as always….
Have A Very Stargate Day!



May 25th, 2013 at 11:22 pm

i cant agree with any of you, i thought both shows were great.


July 13th, 2015 at 3:26 pm

@ Jacob

Regarding Woolsey, you’ve to see his whole character arc. The first time we see him in SG-1, he’s the aide of a villainous politician and uses the rules to help the politician to try shut the Stargate program. But he eventually sees the errors of his way in these episodes and helps the SG-1 team to defend Earth.

Later, he becomes an important person in the IOA (the political body that controls the Stargate program), and is sent as an ambassador to Atlantis when the Ancients come back and demand to retake the city. But in the season finale, beginning of the new season, the Ancients die in an attack and he and O’Neill are in serious danger from that attack. His life in the end is saved by the Stargate Atlantis main team, who rescues him against the military’s orders (which were to nuke the city).

So, when Woolsey finally becomes commander of the city in season 5, HE HAS GROWN AS A CHARACTER. He has all this history with Stargate and with Atlantis and he has changed from the first time we saw him. He’s thankfull for the main characters of the Atlantis show FOR HAVING SAVED HIS LIFE IN THE PAST, so he’s nice to them and respects them. No wonder he doesn’t behave like an ass like the first time we meet him, since all this stuff happened.

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