Stargate: SG-1
Volume 44
(Season 9 - Vol 1)

Starring: Ben Browder, Amanda Tapping, Christopher Judge and Michael Shanks
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
RRP: 19.99
Certificate: PG
Available 27 March 2006

SG-1 has been disbanded and it's down to Lt Col. Cameron Mitchell to choose a new team. Jack O'Neill, Teal'c, Samantha Carter and Daniel Jackson have all been reassigned to new commands. However, as Jackson is about to leave the SGC an old acquaintance steps through the Stargate. Vala is back, but this time she brings with her a map to ancient riches. Jackson knows that Vala's presence will mean trouble and whilst together Vala clamps a Jaffa bracelet to his wrist and her wrist so binding them together...

Avalon - Part One is the first in a three part story arc that introduces us to the fresh characters and new villains of SG-1's ninth season. For those not aware of the changes that take place in this season you're going to be in for a bit of a shock. Gone is Richard Dean Anderson's Jack O'Neill (no real surprise there) to be replaced by the new head of the SGC General Landry, played by Beau Bridges. The old familiar SG-1 crew has parted (O'Neill has left the SGC; Carter is now head of R&D at Area 51; Teal'c is attempting to build a new system of government that will span Jaffa worlds throughout the galaxies; and Jackson is all set to go to Atlantis.)

Colonel Cameron Mitchell (Ben Browder, who sci-fi fans will know from Farscape) has been given the job of forging a new SG-1 team. It looks like Mitchell has his work cut out for him as each interviewee just doesn't look like they will fit into his team. Actually, there is a great comedic scene with Mitchell interviewing several possibilities on the short list - it would appear that you need some sort of personality flaw to enter into the Stargate project.

But before we've even got time to get used to all the changes Vala steps through the Stargate. Yes Claudia Black (another casualty of the cancelled Farscape) is back as Vala larger than life and looking for treasure. Her first lines to her old Farscape colleague, Browder, will make sci-fi fans smile. "I know we haven't met. That I'm sure I would remember."

Black adds something to this episode that has been missing for the last eight years - some much needed sexiness. It's never overdone, this is a family show after all, but all of a sudden Stargate seems to have grown up. And it's not just this element that helps to give us a more mature show. As this season progresses there is more jeopardy and more intelligent storylines. The producers intention to revitalise Stargate could have easily backfired. Thankfully it doesn't and what we get is something so familiar, but at the same time so fresh, that old and new fans should go along for the ride with few complaints.

Dr. Daniel Jackson and Vala find themselves transported to a distant galaxy populated by worshipers of a potentially threatening authority. When Jackson and Vala don't fit in with the rest of the worshippers Vala is seized and offered up to the local gods in a sacrificial burning...

Avalon - Part Two opens with the conclusion to the clichéd cliff-hanger from the last episode. Jackson and Vala are trapped in a room with a ceiling that is being slowly lowered on them. Although, why they are panicking is anyone's guess. In the middle of the room is a huge stone table that should easily support the weight of the ceiling. The chances of them being crushed is incredibly slight. If the table will give under the weight of the ceiling then this is a trap that can only be used once and is therefore pointless.

Actually, while I'm nit-picking, why is it that two tests need to be completed? For this episode it's simply because the group split in two, but later in this episode Mitchell has to be alone in the caves before his reward appears. So surely the Ancients were expecting only one person to attempt to complete the puzzle where they are trapped in a room... so why are there two?

This episode also has a scene that has been done to death (no pun intended) - the burning of a nonbeliever, or witch. However, somehow the writers and director manage to turn a clichéd idea on its head and offer something totally fresh.

The ending to this episode also leaves you wanting more, which when you consider you've just watched what could should have been a dull run-of-the-mill body swapping, backwards society, witch burning series of events, is quite an impressive achievement.

Dr. Jackson and Vala have been saved from the fanatical Ori followers but learn that their reactivation of an Ancient communications device has accidentally alerted the Ori to the vast number of unbelievers on Earth. The Ori Immediately send out missionaries to Earth and other planets, where the humans are, to convert the people by any means necessary...

Origin sets up the new alien threat. However, could the Ori really have been unaware of Earth and all the other countless planets that SG-1 had encountered? While we keep being told that the universe is endless, all it took was for Jackson to activate a teleportation device for the Ori to work out where Earth was - not very thoughtful of the Ancients to spend all that time hiding the human race from the Ori, only to hand over the teleportation device to the first person who could complete a simple trial and then defeat a sword wielding knight. Okay, that's slightly simplistic I suppose, but if the Ancients had really wanted to keep the Earth secret from the Ori, they shouldn't have left a device around that would set off a huge alarm.

Okay, I know that this was a convenient way to bring in the new baddies and that I'm just being anal again. To be honest the introduction of the Ori is incredibly well done. We are not sure, at first, whether the Ori are good or evil. And I was impressed at how quickly the new threat was established. The Ori are not going to be as simple to overcome as previous threats to Earth. I'm really looking forward to seeing how the Ori weave themselves into the ongoing narrative.

Dr. Jackson and Vala are safely back at the SGC. The bracelets that has bound them together has finally been removed but its effects remain, causing great concern for the team. General Landry orders the two to seek out the individual who Vala stole the bracelets from in the hope that the bound can be undone. However, the two don't know it yet, but they are about to embark on a wild goose chase to track down another item to trade for the information they need. That quest in turn leads to yet another quest, and that to another...

Stop reading now and skip to the next paragraph if you don't want to learn any major plot developments of this episode. This episode is notable as its totally pointless. I loved it! A total waste of time on the parts of everyone involved - but that makes it all the more realistic.

The Hands That Bind stars Wallace Shawn (who Star Trek: Deep Space Nine fans will know as Grand Nagus Zek) as the solution to Jackson and Vala's problems - it was from him that Vala stole the bracelets that bound the two. Of course he won't give this information for free, he wants the necklace that Vala stole from him returned. Once they track down the trader that Vala swapped the necklace with, he will only agree to giving it her back if she gives him back the item that they traded for originally... and so on...

There is some great humour in this episode, including a monk who is not all he seems, Wallace Shawn's retelling of his and Vala's love affair, and just about every scene with Claudia Black in it.

Extras include audio commentaries for each episode; It Takes a Crew to Raise a Village (14 min featurette that looks at the new standing village set that was built for this season); SG-1 Director's Series: Avalon (11 minute behind the scenes look at filming the opening two-part episode); and a photo gallery.

It's good to see that after the lack of audio commentaries on last seasons single disc releases they are back for Season Nine. These, as always, are really interesting. But there's one thing that I've always wondered about, and this collection clears all of that up. In previous commentaries I've noticed that the sound occasionally seems to go back to the episode commentary and I suspected that the audio commentary was being censored. Well, I suggest that you listen to the audio commentary on The Hands That Bind and switch the subtitles on. Whoever cut the dialogue we weren't supposed to hear forgot to also cut the subtitles. This happens on at least four occasions, and it's great to hear the crew moaning about the Sci-Fi Channel.

To be honest I was starting to get a little tired of Stargate. As good as last season's episodes were, it was getting a little too predictable. The first four episodes of Season Nine show that there's still life in the old dog yet. Stargate fans are in for an exciting ride.

Darren Rea

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