soldiers on with this five-disc, 20-episode set from the sturdy franchise's ninth season (2005-06), incorporating numerous changes while continuing to distinguish itself as one of the television's best sci-fi shows. Longtime star Richard Dean Anderson makes only brief cameos these days, after seven seasons as Lieutenant Colonel and one as Brigadier General Jack O'Neill. Stalwarts Amanda Tapping, Christopher Judge, and Michael Shanks (as Samantha Carter, Teal'c, and Daniel Jackson, respectively), are still on hand, but with Season 9, Ben Browder (known to many genre fans for his lead role in the excellent Farscape
series) takes over as leader of SG-1, the Stargate project's ace team in the field. As Lt. Col. Cameron Mitchell, Browder effectively projects the same kind of cocky irreverence that was Anderson's trademark, but he has a ways to go before he fully equals the latter's appeal. More engaging is fellow Farscape
alum Claudia Black as Vala (Daniel Jackson's one-time love interest and a vixen, thief, and liar who becomes an integral part of the team during the several episodes in which she appears), while Beau Bridges is capable but uninspiring as Major General Hank Landry, who runs the show back on Earth.
Then there are the bad guys. With longtime nemeses the Goa'uld having essentially been eliminated, we now have the Ori, whose agenda of domination through religion provides the season's principal story arc. They're certainly a timely addition. With their "Book of Origin," rejection of free will, and goal of subduing all heretics and "unbelievers," the Ori resemble extreme fundamentalists of various stripes; on the other hand, when the U.S. military talks about crusades and "ridding the galaxy of evildoers," parallels to the Bush administration's war on terror are obvious and unavoidable. Problem is, while we know that the Ori are relentless, devious, and bloated with the pride that always attaches itself to false gods, we can't actually see them. They have semi-human apostles, called Priors, who spread "enlightenment" and bad mojo (not to mention plagues of carnivorous bugs) all over the universe. They have mighty ships that that leave the good guys in dire straits in the climactic battle that ends the season (typically, little is resolved, leaving viewers to salivate for Season 10). But the Ori themselves are kin to the all-knowing Ancients, who exist not in recognizable physical form but as energy; unlike previous villains, from the Goa'uld to the Replicators to Stargate Atlantis' Wraith, when it comes to the Ori, there's no there there. Meanwhile, the writers' replacement of the ancient Egyptian iconography used in earlier seasons with various aspects of Arthurian legend (Merlin, Knights of the Round Table, sword in the stone) is sometimes cool, sometimes merely hokey.
As always, Stargate SG-1's production values and effects remain first-rate, even as the stories become more character-driven and less dependent on spectacular action sequences. The DVD transfers are excellent. Special features are similar to previous box sets: audio commentary on all episodes, featurettes focusing on sets, props, and special effects, and five "directors series" entries devoted to particular episodes. --Sam Graham