Season Five is ripe with change for the Sci Fi Channel's popular "Stargate: Atlantis." With the new crop of episodes beginning tonight, actor Robert Picardo (who plays Richard Woolsey) and executive producer Joseph Mallozzi talked to The Futon Critic's Jim Halterman about Woolsey coming on board full time, the big episodes coming down the pike, the departure of long-time "Stargater" Amanda Tapping as well as being a part of a legacy that includes "Stargate: SG-1" and "Star Trek."
Since finishing last season on a ratings high note, Mallozzi jumped in and addressed the changes in store Season Five. "One of the things we set out to do in season four � that we [do] in season five as well � was give each character a story and then a spotlight [to] really focus on them, and give them a chance to really step up."
Along with the focus on character, Mallozzi also shared that the world that is integral to the series will continue to come across new discoveries, as well. "Season five is kind of a step forward in a couple of ways. One, in a big picture way, we are introducing a couple of new races. We're suggesting that with the Wraith weakened in the Pegasus Galaxy, there are a number of civilizations that are basically standing up and assuming power."
Mallozzi promises big episodes, as well, which has become a huge draw for the series. "The midseason two-parter is going to be very big this year. It's 'First Contact' and 'The Lost Tribe.' And, of course, Daniel Jackson [played by Michael Shanks from 'Stargate: SG-1'] will be dropping in for an appearance and that's going be huge for a lot of the 'SG-1' fans who I'm sure have missed him and�have been asking what the hell is taking so long for Daniel to come on over to the Pegasus Galaxy." Comparing the two-parter to last season's, Mallozzi continues by saying this season's dual episodes are, "full of surprises and actions and spectacular visual effects and some really nice character moments, particularly with regard to McKay (David Hewlett) and Daniel Jackson, who are two characters that really haven't had a chance to sort of play off each other."
In regards to the cast changes, the character of Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping), who was a part of "SG-1" for that series' entire 10-year run and last season took over the reigns of overseeing the operations in the Pegasus Galaxy on "Atlantis" is departing. Tapping is leaving the series in order to focus on her new Sci Fi Channel series, "Sanctuary." Mallozzi explains that, in terms of the plot of ushering Carter out and bringing in Woolsey, "with the Wraith back on their heels the IOA [International Oversight Advisory] in turn flexed its muscles and they appoint Richard Woolsey (Picardo) as the new interim leader of the Atlantis expedition."
Picardo, best known for his portrayal of the Doctor on "Star Trek: Voyager," has guested several times on "Stargate: Atlantis" as the prickly Woolsey. By becoming a series regular and taking command of the Atlantis expedition, Picardo talked about how the dynamic of the Woolsey character will hopefully add a compelling element to the established series. "Although [Woolsey] still has insufficient people skills to be a leader, he's developing them now that he's assumed command. It's a very interesting dynamic that has its own kind of built-in dramatic tension. [Woolsey is] used to evaluating others but not to having that responsibility rest solely on his own shoulders."
The transition from Carter to Woolsey is not a smooth one either, Picardo promises. "Woolsey appears briefly at the end of the season opener 'Search and Rescue,' which is a very exciting, action-oriented episode. He comes in and rather abruptly relieves Carter of command with his�characteristic gruffness and lack, I think, of interpersonal skills.
Besides the both personal and professional dramatic possibilities that will come from Woolsey taking over, Picardo also saw the change as an opportunity to lighten things up with some comedic situations that will make Woolsey's new role more difficult. One such way is the 'B' story in the upcoming "Broken Ties" episode where Woolsey is having problems with the technology of the base that he is now commanding. Picardo explained that Woolsey is, "the kind of guy who will end a briefing room meeting and tell everybody what to do. And then�he's a little late following everyone out the door because he's collecting his notes. Then he doesn't know how to get out � he doesn't know how to open the door. I mean, he's running the base but he doesn't know how to use the technology yet and literally can't get out the door."
Picardo also couldn't help but talk about his experience working as a less-than-human character on "Star Trek: Voyager" and how the addition to "Stargate: Atlantis" definitely has its benefits. "I have to tell, though, after seven years as a hologram [on 'Star Trek'], I'm happy to be back playing human beings. I was afraid of getting out of practice. So I'm glad to be flesh and blood again, and to have the ability to, you know to change and even to age." Recalling a conversation he had with actor Brent Spiner, who is best known for his droid character Data on "Star Trek: The Next Generation", Picardo said they both agreed that, "You don't want to play a character indefinitely who's not supposed to age."
In replacing Amanda Tapping's Colonel Samantha Carter character, Picardo said that, "although it's daunting to replace such a popular character, I like to think that I'm not replacing her, that I'm simply � you know, that she's moved on." The door is definitely open for Carter to return to "Stargate: Atlantis in the future. Picardo commented, "There's always the hope that she'll come back and make guest appearances on the show and that the�audience will not only enjoy watching me in the role and�to see a character who's not really cut out to be a leader try to build himself into one."
In talking about "Stargate: Atlantis," it's obviously difficult for both Picardo and Mallozzi to talk about the series without harking back to "Stargate: SG-1" and "Star Trek." Picardo explains, "When I look at what "Stargate" does well in comparison to where I've been before, I think "Star Trek" does some things very well. ["Star Trek" is] very philosophical and cerebral. But its formula is very different from the�formula "Atlantis" does. "Atlantis" does action adventure extremely well but more importantly to me, it has this sort of breezy humor, this ability to wink at the genre that "Star Trek" cannot have. "Star Trek" has to take itself very seriously. That's the mold."
The exciting new season of "Stargate: Atlantis" starts tonight at 10:00/9:00c on the Sci Fi Channel.