Stargate Atlantis has the Stargate spotlight all to itself on Sci Fi Fridays, so no more comparisons from reviewers like moi privy to the first two episodes of season four.
But the new setup isn’t all good for all cast members, as fans of the Sci Fi Channel drama already know – and as has been nagging at me since seeing the review disk. Torri Higginson’s character, Dr. Elizabeth Weir, the civilian leader of a key U.S. Air Force installation in another galaxy in the ancient city of Atlantis, has been reduced to a “recurring” role.
Taking Weir’s place in the star firmament of Atlantis is Amanda Tapping, who was the female lead in Stargate SG-1, the MGM show originally starring Richard Dean Anderson that premiered on Showtime in 1997 and spent its last five seasons on Sci Fi Channel. Sci Fi didn’t renew SG-1 for season 11, so MGM is producing SG-1 movies for DVD instead.
Sci Fi tried to promote Higginson, showing off her humor in interviews and behind-scenes videos and showing off her figure a little more in costume on the show. Tapping remains a bigger star, though, even after taking maternity leave in 2005.
My opinion: Tapping’s character of Samantha Carter, the brainy and weapons-trained astrophysicist and Air Force officer, deserves her continued service on Sci Fi in Atlantis’s Pegasus galaxy. Carter’s been tough, brilliant and gorgeous in Stargate roles longer than Weir, and has a big following.
But it would seem there ought to be room for both Carter and Weir, who was badly injured in an explosion during last season’s cliff-hanger ending.
Accommodating Carter is something that’s happened to Weir, before, too.
Stargate SG-1 two-part episode Lost City, at the end of the seventh season, introduced Dr. Elizabeth Weir as the new civilian commander of SG-1’s Stargate Command, in Colorado. Placed in a very difficult position, Weir backed the SG-1 team at the right moments, while fending off attempts to influence her by the nasty vice president who put her in that job.
That Elizabeth Weir was played by Jessica Steen, a blonde actress who might be best known for being in the show Earth2 and who, in my opinion, shone in the role on SG-1.
Why didn’t the same actress play the role when it shifted to the new spinoff Stargate Atlantis?
Possibly because she looked a little too much like Tapping, also a blonde Canadian-born actress.
Steen’s Web site doesn’t even list her Stargate SG-1 guest stint in her resume and filmography. And here’s how the FAQ section of the site ends:
Q: Jessica played the character of Dr. Elizabeth Weir in the season 7 finale of Stargate SG-1. Why did they hire another actress to play that same character in the spinoff series Stargate: Atlantis?
A: We don’t know why. When Jessica was hired for the two-part Season 7 finale (Lost City) she was told that her character might be in a possible Stargate spinoff series. Jessica was even paid not to take any other work until it was decided if they were going to do the spinoff. Stargate: Atlantis was eventually given the green light, but for whatever reason, "the powers that be" decided to go with another actress.
Now, the powers that be have downgraded what About.com reviewer Mark Wilsoncalled “the brunette version of Dr. Weir," too, in deference to Tapping’s Samantha Carter.
I remain a Stargate fan, and Higginson has some shining moments in the first two episodes of Atlantis’s Season Four, returning on Sept. 28. There’s still a nice photo of her on Sci Fi’s Atlantis home page. And the long-established (on SG-1 and Atlantis), often adversarial relationship between Carter and Atlantis brainiac Dr. Rodney McKay (David Hewlett) always leads to fun dialogue.
But I’m forced to agree with Wilson on this point: “Dr. Weir, as interpreted by either actor, is a great character and it’s a shame that she has to fade into the background just so that Atlantis [can] pull a Worf.”
(Translation installing a character from an earlier hit in the franchise, like the Klingon character Worf who was first in Star Trek: The Next Generation then in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.)