Looking back at Dr. Catherine Langford's impact in the Stargate franchise

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Feb 14, 2018

In the Stargate franchise, there would be no Stargate Program without Dr. Catherine Langford. The character may not have been the primary focus of the 1994 movie or the TV show spinoffs that followed, but without her, none of it could have existed. That’s why it’s so exciting that we’re going to learn more about Dr. Langford in the new web series, Stargate Origins.

When the show is released on Feb. 15, we’ll be introduced to a new chapter of Stargate history with Dr. Langford finally in the starring role. As we prepare to watch this new series and learn more about her character, it’s the ideal time to look back at all the ways we’ve already seen Dr. Langford impact the franchise, which all began in the original film, Stargate.

In the movie, Langford first appears as a child in Giza, Egypt, with her father, Professor Langford. Taking place in 1928, we see the discovery of the Stargate and a young Catherine managing to pocket an artifact from the dig site: an Eye of Ra necklace she will wear whenever we see her in the franchise.

Stargate Origins will be set in 1939, and fill in what happens about a decade later, but what we know from the first spinoff TV show, Stargate SG-1, is that Langford's father was still experimenting with the gate in 1945, along with the United States military, as he led a research team during World War II. We learn more about this period in the Stargate SG-1 episode “The Torment of Tantalus," where it appears the researchers thought the gate could be a weapon, or used as one. At the time, Catherine was not part of the research. She tells Dr. Daniel Jackson that the military didn’t have any use for a 21-year-old girl, and neither did her father.

Despite that Dr. Langford being that age in 1945 in Stargate Origins may or may not remain canon, what we might learn in the new series is why exactly she is suddenly not allowed to work with her father. Considering she was brought to dig sites as a child, it seems like her father went from being perfectly fine with his daughter alongside him as he worked to not wanting her involved at all. It will be interesting to see if the series addresses what may have happened to cause this shift.

Still, what we do see in SG-1 is that Dr. Langford knows what’s happening with the Stargate at that time, because she overhears her father’s discussions with a fellow researcher and her fiancé, Ernest Littlefield. Ernest would tell her about his work, and we see that she, despite not being directly involved, has ideas about what they should be doing. She’s knows her field, and it’s clear that she should be more involved, because she’s as smart as the men who are working on it. Not long after this, though, the research was shut down due to what Dr. Langford was told was an “accidental” explosion that killed Littlefield. She kept her father’s notes, however, and didn’t just forget about the gate. She remained curious about it, as we see in another SG-1 episode, “1969.”

 

Here the SG-1 team goes back in time, and they need to find the Stargate to get home, so they visit Dr. Langford in disguise in order to avoid messing with the timeline. She tells them that after the accident and the end of the war, she and her father were told not to speak of the project again, and everything was locked away in an armory in Washington, D.C., with the military refusing to acknowledge its existence. During the discussion, you can see that she seems excited about the prospect that more discoveries were found relating to the Stargate, and after proving essential to the SG-1 team finding their way home, she eventually tries to return to the work. She petitions many administrations to restart the program again, which is where we finally find her in the Stargate movie. Without her resolve not to give up on the Stargate, it would have just remained locked away, and the events of the movie and shows would never have happened.

By the time of the film, though, she has spent about two years continuing to research what was found in Giza, with help from a team and the military. She eventually offers Dr. Jackson a job with the Air Force translating Egyptian hieroglyphs, keeping the whole truth from him at first. Unfortunately, during this time Dr. Langford continues to have to fight with the military to a degree. When Colonel Jack O’Neill comes to take over the project in case they succeed, she confronts him, saying he owes her an explanation and that she was told she had complete autonomy.

Despite such setbacks, though, her idea to recruit Dr. Jackson and embrace his ideas is just what the project needs, and they ultimately get the Stargate up and running. She develops a rather close relationship with Dr. Jackson, even giving him the necklace she took from Giza, saying it has brought her luck and he can bring it back to her. When he ultimately stays behind on Abydos, he gives it to O'Neill and tells him to tell her it brought him luck.

 

Nothing then happens with the gate until the events of Stargate SG-1. We don’t know much about what Dr. Langford was doing at the time, other than being retired and forced out by the military. And no one updates her about the program until Dr. Jackson visits her in “The Torment of Tantalus,” which takes place about six months after the show’s premiere where the Stargate was used again and they’ve discovered it can go to many places other than just the one planet from the movie.

While she is happy to see Dr. Jackson back on Earth, she is angry when she finds out he returned, and all this has been happening and no one thought to tell her about it! He agrees they should have told her, but that technically he couldn’t because it was classified. He went to her finally because he found out that the experiments in 1945 actually succeeded in turning the gate on, and they even sent someone through: Littlefield. All of this surprises Dr. Langford, who never knew due to her father’s lies. In the episode, for the first time, she finally gets to travel through the gate she spent so much time working on, and is reunited with Littlefield.

After which, it’s made clear that Dr. Langford retires, but her legacy lives on. Despite the fact that her character is not explored much, and we learn little detail about the work she’s done, it’s acknowledged throughout SG-1 that she was essential to everything they’re doing. When Dr. Jackson gets in trouble for speaking with her and revealing classified information to a civilian, O’Neill stands up for her, saying “she used to run the entire program and is responsible for most of our current knowledge about the gate.”

Even in an alternate reality, Dr. Langford’s contribution is clear. The episode “There But for the Grace of God” sees Dr. Jackson go to an alternate reality where he turned down her job offer, and so it was up to her and the team to make the Stargate work -- which they did, but it led to different events taking place. She’s much more involved with the program in this reality, and comes to believe in this other Dr. Jackson. She sacrifices her life to make sure he makes it back to his reality and can save his Earth.

 

Her real death is shown on SG-1, opening up the two-part Season 8 finale “Moebius,” where Dr. Jackson gives a touching eulogy at her funeral about her being curious, seeing potential in people, and leaving contributions to science that changed the world more than many people know. Her niece even tells him that Dr. Langford thought of him as a son, and gives him the familiar Eye of Ra necklace. Dr. Langford also leaves Dr. Jackson quite a collection of items she possessed, which kicks off a series of events that involve time travel and changing the timeline, though she’s most likely still dead, despite those minor changes.

The impact of Dr. Langford’s work, dedication, and belief in the Stargate research can be seen throughout the current franchise, but the details have always remained more in the background to make room for other characters and events. Now, with Origins, we’re going to finally have the chance to see a portion of the work she was doing. Considering she never told Dr. Jackson about the 1945 experiments, this just might be a fascinating part of her backstory that she also decided not to tell the character about. After all, while Catherine may not have known that they opened the gate and sent someone through in 1945, who knows what she did know about what they were doing in 1939 that she never mentioned? In every reality, Dr. Langford was the essential element needed to get the Stargate project running. It’s exciting that now we’ll get to see more of how she worked so hard to make sure that happened!