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Doppelgangers - Review

Doppelgangers is the 4th episode in Season Four of Stargate Atlantis.

Review

Sophisticated story-telling married with a smorgasbord of special effects makes ‘Doppelganger’ an entertaining outing for the SGA gang. The action and emotional angst are nicely balanced with the main jarring notes being the chemistry between the new cast that is still in its infancy, and that both problem and solution are pulled from the SG1 past.

I have no issue in the reuse of story concepts or building on previous story ideas so long as it brings something fresh to the table. The idea of a crystalline entity, similar to that presented in SG1’s ‘Cold Lazarus’, is a good one and the twist of a malevolent entity taking on the persona of Sheppard only within the subconscious of each person it inhabits instead of a benign version taking on actual physical form does bring something new. This is a crystalline entity; it is pretending to be a member of the team; but there the similarities end and the differences begin.

What is strange is that these differences between the two crystalline entities aren’t more explored within the story itself. Carter does makes reference to the incident in ‘Cold Lazarus’, yet once the comment is made, the dialogue moves on as though it was nothing more than an acknowledgement to the audience of the similarity in storyline rather than what would have been a natural and valid comparison for the character to make within the parameters of the story to deal with the problem.

With the problem posed being rooted in the SG1 back catalogue, it is disappointing that the solution also came from another SG1 episode. It suggests a lack of imagination to truly make the story unique. An alternative solution to the technology first seen in ‘The Gamekeeper’ could have been imagined and here there is nothing really new or interesting in the reuse of the concept; one team-mate goes into the ‘virtual’ world of another to save them – this idea was already done in SG1’s very excellent ‘Avatar’.

There does need to be a balance of how much ‘reuse’ there is within an Atlantis episode of SG1’s history. Too much reuse and it does begin to feel unoriginal and boring. Yet, too little and the connection to the wider Stargate universe is lost. In some ways, having Samantha Carter transplanted to Atlantis as a character does present a challenge for the writing team as it is only natural to assume the character would draw on her past experience yet if Atlantis as a story is to retain originality, the character needs to be presented with new challenges and to think up new solutions – and hence so do the writers. For me, both problem and solution coming from the SG1 annals just shades ‘Doppelganger’ on the unoriginal side in this respect.

However, it is only just shaded and in most other respects shows a great deal of originality. The nightmare sequences are very well done and allow the special effects team – and the editing team – to demonstrate just how good they are. Teyla’s ‘Alien’ moment, Heightmeyer’s fall, the whale eating McKay, the fight sequence between the two John’s – all is very well done. The time-delayed effect of the final scene was fabulous and the editing of Ronon running through a deserted Atlantis only to open a door into a forest, fantastic.

The nightmares also provide the opportunity for a glimpse into each of the characters; Teyla’s fears about being trusted; Ronon’s about being abandoned and betrayed; Keller’s about a worst case scenario encounter with alien life-forms, Sheppard’s fears about failing his team and causing their deaths. McKay’s heroics provide the insight into him (that when it comes down to saving his friend he finds his courage) rather than his nightmare which is played mostly for the humour, (loved the clown), with the shocking denouement of his apparent death.

That was a twist that surprised and whilst the thought of ‘no, they wouldn’t really kill McKay; it has to be the entity’ quickly came to mind, the initial moment did have an ‘oh my God’ quality about it especially given the death of a recurring character within the story. The fact that it did even momentarily do that is down to the writing and direction from Robert Cooper and nice acting from Joe Flanigan who really ‘sold’ the moment as a distraught Sheppard.

The acting of the cast was superb throughout but the refreshed cast is still finding its groove as an ensemble; the group scenes feel awkward. The best of the bunch was the table scene with Keller and the SGA team where she first expresses her idea that there might be a link to the nightmares; this scene did have a good rhythm between the characters but the scene in the office with Carter, Sheppard, Teyla and Ronon is the best example of where it didn’t work. It just didn’t feel right to me and I couldn’t help but compare with the early SG1 chemistry where it all just flowed. Still, given that the characters are finding their feet in a newly structured team perhaps there is an element of realism to that lack of flow within the scene even if it doesn’t make for comfortable viewing.

Past SG1 history hovers around the edges of ‘Doppelganger’ like an uninvited guest but the episode does shine regardless. The story is strong, well-paced and well-told; the acting superb and the special effects outstanding. Once again, the audience has been invited to get to know the characters a little better; for the characters’ emotions to play a significant role within the story, and once again, the episode provides an enjoyable hour of entertainment as a result; I enjoyed it.
 

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