Carson Beckett: Don't Kill Off the Fan Favorites

Actor Paul McGillion poses for photographers at the Sci-Fi Channel talent

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To be fair, he wasn't even supposed to be a regular of the popular science fiction show in the first place...

Dr. Carson Beckett, an irrepressible, slightly technophobic chief medical officer playing off his more genial mission commander, started out as a sporadically recurring character in season 1 of Stargate Atlantis. By December of 2004, however, only a few months after the show's July premiere, Beckett had proved popular enough to be promoted to a regular character. Throughout season 2 Beckett is in the thick of things, developing gene therapy to transform Wraith individuals into humans and spending more time on off-world missions. People started calling him the "heart of Atlantis."

His Scottish growl, sharp gaze, and ready candor made both Beckett and his alter ego, actor Paul McGillion, an immediate hit. McGillion was happy, if abashed, to receive the recognition, both from fans and producers alike. "It's wonderful to be one of the leads on the show," he told the Cult Times after his promotion. "I mean, I always felt that I was part of the team and think everyone else thought the same so it’s really nice to have confirmation. It’s a dream job. I love it."

"I'm really happy with the way the character's going," he told Sci-Fi Online at the end of season 2. "I've really been blessed with some great storylines this season and last season. So, I'm very happy with the direction that the character is going in."

Why Was He Killed Off?

Apparently, that direction wasn't what McGillion was expecting. Two months prior to the filming of "Sunday," the third season episode in which Beckett is killed, McGillion met with the producers, who outlined their plans. McGillion is quick to praise the quality of the episode, written by Martin Gero, and the support of his producers and castmates.

"I got nothing but good things to say about those guys," he told Gateworld after "Sunday" went out. "They gave me a great opportunity. I was the only one from Vancouver that was a regular cast member. Being able to play a Scottish character, I had just a blast. That being said ... It was a change for me, not to be able to go back and work on the show."

Gero had had the idea for a story about a quiet Sunday with no jeopardy as far back as spring of 2006, following the private doings of five characters in an almost cinematic way. The characters are off duty, relaxing, exposing their non-crisis personalities. Initially Gero thought this concept seemed unlike a typical episode and therefore hesitated to write it, but eventually, it was this very off-duty scenario that made it a perfect vehicle for exploring and developing some of the characters in an unusual way. This being drama, however, idyllic scenes are never allowed to last. And how better to destroy paradise than to kill off ​a main character?

The episode itself, which aired in January of 2007, was widely admired. But the jarring incineration of a well-loved character ranked with the sudden death of Henry Blake at the end of a similarly peaceful 1975 farewell episode of M*A*S*H. As with Blake, the sudden death seemed like an unnecessary message tagged onto an episode to drive home a point about the unexpected sacrifices of conflict.

Fans recoiled in dismay and anger. And critics agreed with fans. Maureen Ryan of the Chicago Tribune, for example, called killing off Becket a "boneheaded decision."

The Campaign to Save Beckett

Fans are feeling muscular these days, especially now that CBS's post-apocalypse drama Jericho was yanked back from the abyss by a literal deluge of fan outrage, in the form of 20 tons of nuts mailed to stunned network execs. Fans responded almost immediately with the straightforward rallying cry, "Save Carson Beckett!"

One of the nexuses of this fan movement is the website, where fans meet to talk about strategies and rumors; other websites and blog communities have joined the fray. The high point was a small but vocal rally outside the Atlantis studios. According to news reports, several dozen hardcore fans, along with a bagpipe band in honor of the Scottish doctor, assembled outside Bridge Studios in Burnaby, British Columbia (near Vancouver) on March 22, 2007, to vent their umbrage.

The rally, the petitions, and other forms of protest have caught the attention of various forms of sci-fi media and a fair amount of peripheral publicity was created, including an April 6 appearance on NBC's Today show giving the effort national exposure. And all the outcry seems to have worked — kind of.

On June 11, executive producer Robert C. Cooper told Sci Fi Wire that Beckett would return during season 4 -- for two episodes. "We know what the fans enjoy, and we want to keep the fans happy," he said. "For example, we killed off [Beckett] at the end of season three. The fans were very vocal about his departure, and we understood that he meant a lot to them. We're working on a storyline that may see him return temporarily."

Some fans apparently aren't satisfied at the bone they're being thrown, it seems. The campaign to save Carson is as strong as ever. A major protest is scheduled to coincide with ComicCon in San Diego on July 27, at which fans hope to express their outrage directly to Cooper and to the other producers and network executives who performed the bloody deed and, fans hope, might be forced into resurrecting one of the most missed casualties of the Stargate franchise.