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TV review: Far, far away – yet strangely familiar

Stargate: The Ark Of Truth, Sky One The Colour Of Magic Sky One

RUNNING for almost as long as Doctor Who and much longer than any Star Trek strand, Stargate SG-1 has never quite won the same general recognition as either, despite an admirable commitment to showing that nine out of ten alien planets actually look like a woodland on Earth. You might not even have realised that it was cancelled recently, after ten years and a couple of spin-offs, and that The Ark Of Truth was not just a really long episode, but a special TV movie to tie up some loose ends.

The big baddies of the series were originally the Goa'uld, power-crazed space Egyptians who enjoyed conquest and apostrophes. They were eventually beaten though, then star Richard Anderson left and the show tried to reinvent itself by bringing in half the cast of Farscape on a free transfer and setting up new enemies – the Ori, space fundamentalists trying to impose their ultra-strict religion on the rest of the galaxy with only the plucky troops of America's Stargate Command to stop them.

Any relation to current events in the Middle East was, of course, quite as intentional as Beau Bridges's flying jacket and good ol' boy swagger making him a dead ringer for George Bush. But perhaps as the real war began to lose popularity back home, the sci-fi version seemed less appealing, leading to the show's demise.

Stargate was always more gung-ho and militaristic than the idealistic Star Trek, but without the guts to push home its real-world parallels, unlike Battlestar Galactica, which has explored terrorism and torture. The SG-1 heroes prefer trading quips than exploring psychological depths: "Oh God," sighs fightin' archaeologist Daniel at one point – to be informed by the fanatical priest: "Your gods cannot save you now!" "No," Daniel shrugs, "It was just a statement of general dissatisfaction."

By the end of this feature-length special, SG-1 had conveniently found a magic box which miraculously unconverted all the fundamentalists into right-thinking adherents of Truth, Justice and the Earthling Way, leaving them free to move on to less complicated threats in future films. It's not quite so easy to find an exit strategy in real life, eh?

From sci-fi to fantasy – two genres usually coupled, but not really so similar – with the concluding part of Terry Pratchett's The Colour Of Magic. The opening instalment, based on Pratchett's first and possibly worst Discworld book, was far too long, dragging out its attempts at satire with leaden direction and script. But things definitely improved in part two (based on the next book, The Light Fantastic), having got the set-up out of the way and allowing the always reliable David Jason and former hobbit Sean Astin to do their thing.

Jason was clearly several decades too old for the role of rubbish wizard Rincewind, but never mind, as his involvement obviously got the project made. Besides, compared with David Bradley, playing the 87-year-old decrepit, toothless hero Cohen the Barbarian he looked positively sprightly.

Pratchett's humour has never really worked for me, though I keep trying, but this was a good-looking production that proper fans probably appreciated. The CGI was mince at times, which actually suited the artless British eccentricity of the story better than a slick approach.

But like Stargate, eventually all roads, whether in a far-off galaxy or a magical world carried on the back of a turtle, lead to a strangely familiar-looking wood.

 
 
 

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