Top Ten: Sci-Fi Shows (Part One)
Here at The Digital Fix, we love sci-fi. New sci-fi, old sci-fi, you name it and there's probably at least one of us who can go glassy-eyed over it. But there's a lot of sci-fi out there. If you're a sci-fi newbie, how would you know which shows are worth watching? Lucky for you, then, that we've got this handy top ten. You're welcome.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Dean Love: DS9 has a special place in my heart as being the first Trek series and even the first sci-fi series that I got to watch from the start as it first aired. Years of tuning in at 6pm to BBC2 to watch a series of Star Trek where everyone mostly sat around a big space station and didn't actually trek anywhere changed in later seasons, with the discovery that you could rent the new episodes from Blockbusters before everyone else got to watch them on the Beeb. Suddenly, three-hour marathons on a Saturday afternoon became the norm.
As a show, it also neatly encapsulated the wonderful changes that were happening in television at the time. Pick a random episode from the first two seasons of DS9 and, unless you happen upon one of the rare two-parters, then it likely stood entirely alone. Pick up one from the last of its seven seasons and there's a good chance you'll find yourself in the middle of a huge plot arc with no clue what's going on.
The show took the Star Trek formula and evolved it - the fact that the setting was stationary meant that the storylines were so much more dynamic. Rather than travel a hundred different places, we saw how the political, social and religious development of a single sector of space progressed over seven years.
It even tackled that thorny issue of religion in a remarkably even-handed way: one of the show's major races was hugely religious, but their gods were actually real, and just happened to be fairly powerful aliens. It certainly raised interesting questions in the mind of a teenager bought up to believe and accept Christianity as, well, gospel.
The show also raised other interesting questions in my teenage mind, but most of those related to Terry Farrell's role as Jadzia Dax and aren't suitable for print...
Luciano Howard: Fringe is basically a modern day X-Files. It has secretive government and private individuals. It has mad scientists and all-knowing characters. It has a central pairing of man and woman investigator. Although it is true that both halves of this couple are openly willing to accept the unusual, as opposed to the dichotomy of Scully and Mulder.
Fringe works because it feels old school. Although its central tenet is the investigation of occurrences explainable only by the very fringes of science (and as such very few people in the world, i.e. Walter a wonderfully offbeat scientifically genius but slightly clinically insane Granddad of a character) it does so at a sedate pace, using scientific explanations and methodologies developed 30 years ago, often using the same kit from that time too. The FBI do not spend all their time manipulating computer databases. They get out on the street and investigate. I could be watching the X-files with a slightly different plot. Or I could at first, anyway.
Once Fringe grew in confidence it continuously built into and through each season and returned increasing levels of quality as a matter of alarming regularity. The review of season two’s finale I wrote will testify to this. In fact, the choice the writers made at the end of the sophomore season, and the direction the show was headed from that point on, showed remarkable confidence and belief in and of itself by the creative team. Secure in the knowledge their show would be around for a while barring a severe disaster in the ratings avoided up to that point.
Season three, which I am watching right now, is testament to this. Every new link and filling in of gaps - or creation of a new one - feel wholly intelligent and wonderfully generated. I cannot wait to see where this goes as it continues - something many of the other shows on this list do not allow.
Amy Jones: I have fond memories of Quantum Leap — it’s actually the first TV show I can remember watching and my family adored it. I always thought it was alright, but wasn’t until I started watching it in my late teens, though, that I realised just how brilliant it is.
Sam Beckett, is part of the Quantum Leap project. He “leaps” into people in history to right wrong events. Sometimes he’ll leap into, say, Marilyn Monroe’s driver and change history. Other times he’ll leap into a teenager and stop his sister from marrying an abusive alcoholic, changing tiny things that mean nothing to the world but the world to some people.
The brilliance of Quantum Leap lies in three things. Firstly, it’s that every episode is unique. Sam could leap into anyone — a black man in 1950s America, a secretary who is being sexually harassed by her boss, a young man with Down’s Syndrome starting a new job. He’s been a stuntman, a pilot, a chimpanzee, an inmate in a women’s prison, a blind pianist and Elvis. Yes, Elvis. No episode is repetitive. It is always interesting.
Secondly it’s the writing. Every character in Quantum Leap, from the female radio station owner with something to prove to the womanising, cigar-smoking charmer that is Sam’s companion, Al, is completely believable. It’s amazing how much you can respect, pity or dislike a character in 45 minutes, but the writers make it so. They also make each episode exciting, heartfelt and just damn good.
Thirdly, it’s Sam himself. Is there a kinder man? A more brilliant action hero? A more charming genius? I don’t think so. I watch Quantum Leap, and I have done since I was a child, because I want to cheer for Sam. He’s a good guy. I like cheering for good guys.
And, as Luciano rightly pointed out, it has the best theme tune ever.
It ended before its time, before the writers were ready to finish it, before by rights it should have been finished. Quantum Leap is a shining star in a sea of crap TV, and well deserves its place on this list.