Recorded on: 22, 24, 25 February, 27 May, 3 June, 13 June, 2 and 20 September 2011, 6 January 2012
Recorded at: The Moat Studios, Action Audio, Digital Sound Magic
During Season 10.
REOPENING THE GATE
Paul Spragg introduces the third season of Stargate adventures, featuring the return of Michael Shanks and Claudia Black as Daniel and Vala – and they’re once more taking on Ba’al…
It was David Richardson who first got me into Stargate. Way back in the distant past, he was editing Xposé magazine and needed someone to review Stargate SG-1 – then about to begin its third season – so he asked me. Having heard good things about the show, I agreed to take it on, albeit aware that I hadn’t yet seen a single episode. Being a dedicated reviewer who wanted to be sure he knew what he was talking about, I set about watching videos of the forty-four episodes I’d missed, and in short order I was caught up – and utterly hooked. It’s addictive you see, Stargate. Some of its early episodes are a little wobbly as everyone finds their feet and the show’s direction is established, but when it gels, a few episodes into its first season, it gels like very few TV shows ever have and you just can’t stop watching. It’s got one of the most endearing ensemble casts on TV. It’s got a massive, universe-spanning concept at its heart yet stays down to earth. It perfectly blends action, drama and comedy. It features a group of very real, very fallible humans going from planet to planet and trying to work out where – and indeed how – the human race can stand alongside a galaxy of alien races. And overall, it’s just so much fun.
I didn’t want to lose any of these elements for the third series of audio adventures, but it’s a lot to ask any writer to cram in. First, the basic requirements were laid down: the third series, after much demand, was to be full cast. Not featuring the entire SG-1 or Atlantis team (which might have bankrupted us before we’d started!), but featuring a full cast of speaking parts, not just two people. Our two stars would be Michael Shanks and Claudia Black, returning as Dr Daniel Jackson and Vala Mal Doran. Their chemistry in both Stargate SG-1 and our series one audio Shell Game was fantastic, and it was a no-brainer to once more pair them up. They also open up such a wide range of possibilities: with Daniel you can go to town on the archaeological and historical side of things which underpins the entire Stargate series, and with Vala you’ve got an outsider looking in on Stargate Command commenting on its faults, and a wild card who you’re never quite sure you can trust to do the right thing. It’s an unlikely yet hugely rewarding pairing. Then, at a US convention, executive producer Jason Haigh-Ellery and I were introduced to Cliff Simon, who said he’d love to be involved in the Stargate audios. And if you want a villain for a series, who better than Ba’al, the last of the Goa’uld System Lords, the aliens who set themselves up as gods and who SG-1 took great delight in beating from one end of the cosmos to the other.
All of this was presented to script editor Jim Swallow, who assembled a team of writers, some who’d written Stargate audios before (himself, Sally Malcolm, Sharon Gosling) and others who were newcomers to the range (Stargate book author Peter J Evans, Richard Dinnick and Steve Lyons). There was early consideration of doing a six-part story, but I felt that as nothing had lasted longer than three episodes on TV, we shouldn’t be stretching something out that long lest the story dragged and we pushed the limits of our audience’s patience. So two trilogies were conceived, but each story had to be self-contained so it could be enjoyed on its own. There’d be an overall arc, but you wouldn’t get confused coming in part-way through.
It was decided to do the preparation US writer’s room style. Renting a room in what appeared to be the dark and sinister basement of a London hotel, all the writers and I (minus Steve Lyons, who wasn’t available) got together to ‘break’ the stories. Thanks to a convention slightly beforehand, Jim and Sally Malcolm had had the chance to brainstorm a few ideas and put them in front of the group to be accepted or rejected. It was a vital meeting. Overall arcs were planned for both trilogies, writers were assigned to each part and outlines were created to provide a beginning, middle and end to work towards. I had a few stipulations to throw in: I wanted this series of Stargate to be big. Enormous. On audio you can have as many battles, as many spaceships, as many armies, as many cavernous, echoing locales as you like and you won’t break the bank. But, above all, I wanted the fun. I’m of the opinion that any series is improved by humour as it’s often a natural human reaction to even the darkest of circumstances, and Stargate, in no small part thanks to Richard Dean Anderson’s portrayal of Jack O’Neill, has spent most of its life with its tongue at least partly in its cheek. It’s all very well doing gritty drama, but no one is solely humourless and determined all of the time, and if moments before someone has been joking around, it helps make dramatic moments more powerful.
For the first trilogy, we already had our nemesis lined up: Ba’al. Ba’al’s big thing in the TV series was cloning, particularly creating versions of himself, so SG-1 kept thinking they’d ended his threat, only for him to pop up again a few episodes down the line. Knowing fans would expect cloning to feature in the stories once Ba’al’s name cropped up, the trick was to find a new angle and explore some different areas, which have enabled us to give more depth to Ba’al, keep listeners on their toes and hopefully spring a surprise or two along the way. It also creates a way to separate Daniel and Vala from their colleagues when they find they can no longer trust any of the people around them and have to operate outside the borders of the SGC to fight back.
Sally was keen to link back to her previous story Gift of the Gods and I liked the idea of the audio adventures having an internal continuity, so a quick note to actor John Schwab and Lt Hunter was back. As a special thank you, he was given a promotion to Major and became the voice of the SGC on the Chinese ship Sun Tzu, allowing the opportunity to play with his ‘fish out of water’ status a bit.
The recording sessions were complicated to organise, and not just because of taking actors’ hectic schedules into account. Claudia Black and Cliff Simon were directed in Los Angeles by Jason Haigh-Ellery, where Andrew Collins, taking on any other roles required, was so good playing Keto that he was given the role on the spot. Back in the UK, the supporting cast gathered over several days, with a selection of American and British actors helping to fill out Stargate Command and the Sun Tzu, which had caused some concern with its abundance of Chinese characters. We didn’t want to insist people put on a Chinese accent and run the risk of it sounding terrible, so director Lisa Bowerman quickly suggested asking actual Chinese actor Paul Hyu if he’d be happy to play the part of Colonel Yin. In studio, he was then able to offer better readings of lines and give pronunciations of some of the Chinese words and sayings that appear in the script from time to time.
Then it was Michael Shanks’ turn. Without a local actor and director to turn to out in Vancouver, it was decided to link up the UK and Canada so that Michael could be directed from London and recorded in Vancouver, with John Banks coming in to read other parts alongside the ones he’d already been playing in the stories. It was a difficult process, with Skype turning out to be the most effective way of linking the two studios and reducing to almost zero the satellite delay that can slow things down and spoil the energy of a scene. Michael slipped back into character effortlessly, and John Banks helped enormously by changing voices and accents to differentiate characters.
It’s been quite the epic undertaking bringing this series of Stargate to your ears, but I’m delighted with the finished result. Huge thanks to all the people who’ve given a massive amount of time to making it all work. The writers, who infused their stories with such imagination, excitement and love for Stargate. The stars of the show, who’ve provided energy and enthusiasm about returning to their characters; the supporting actors who helped realise a fully populated world; Jason Haigh-Ellery for directing out in Los Angeles and Lisa Bowerman for directing at unlikely times of the day in the UK and making sure everything sounds as good as possible in post-production. Studio engineers Richard Dolmat, James Barth and Toby Hrycek-Robinson – especially Toby for supplying his usual incredible food and creating full cooked meals for those of us in studio late at night. Robbie Dunlop for piecing together a vast amount of dialogue from different studios and different countries, Steve Foxon for adding some gorgeous music, and Jamie Robertson for his beautiful theme tune. It’s been a tough series to pull together, but I think it’s well worth the wait.
Work is just getting underway on the second trilogy, featuring none other than the SGC’s frequent alien allies the Asgard, and we’ve got a few little twists and shocks coming up with them as well. I can’t wait to hear the edits and have Thor (once more played by Michael Shanks, who has a soft spot for the little grey guy) and company back in action once again. But more on that in a future issue of our free magazine Vortex…