Top Ten: Sci-Fi Shows (Part Three)
More on Doctor Who
Part one: Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Fringe and Quantum Leap.
Part two: Farscape, Red Dwarf and Battlestar Galactica.
And now, part three. I won't bore you with rambling text — let's delve straight into our final four top sci-fi shows.
The X Files
Luciano Howard: The X files spanned nine years between 1993 and 2002, during which it took its place in the pantheon of science fiction shows for a multitude of reasons. Let me name a few: the cigarette smoking man, the truth is out there, deep throat, Mr X, Krycek, Foxy Mulder, Scully, the lone gunmen. At its end, it was the longest running sci-fi show ever on US TV.
It began life thanks to the inventive genius of Chris Carter (creator, writer, director and producer of the show at various stages in its lifetime) and the casting of Mulder and Scully (who became the spooky equivalent of Moonlighting’s star couple - will they, won’t they?) is what sustained it. The show had some fabulously inventive monster of the week episodes (for example, Tooms, a man who every 30 years ate livers to regenerate before hibernation) which often were based on real-life instances of weirdness (Der Golem), crazily comedic installments (Jose Chung’s from outer space is one of my favourites, a real mind boggler, with its slightly peculiar tone causing one of my good friends at the time to call me up afterwards on the house phone and scream “wtf?” down the line within earshot of my folks) and the all-encompassing series arc focused on Fox Mulder’s relentless search for the truth, his abducted sister and the men behind the cover-ups and the rest uncovered over time.
The aforementioned cigarette smoking man is still just about the most overwhelmingly secretive man ever to appear in a TV show. Growing up I wanted to work for the FBI. I even got so far as working out how to become a US citizen so it would be possible. I never actually watched the final few episodes. A mixture of university, lack of TV and changed priorities stopped me from doing so. But from the first moment I watched that pilot episode, something I almost didn’t do (having recorded it on VHS when first shown in the UK on BBC 2 I was so tired the next night and needed the tape I almost just taped straight over it!), all the way to now, it holds a very special place in my heart. So special in fact each and every season box set is sitting on my shelf waiting to be watched by my wife and I. That’s how good The X-Files was.
Amy Jones: Confession time: I haven’t watched many of the old Doctor Who episodes. I only started paying attention to the Doctor in 2005, when my Dad managed to persuade a sulky, spotty, fifteen year old me to watch the first episode of the reboot. As soon as I started watching, however, I fell completely in love. That’s not an exaggeration. It was love.
Doctor Who somehow manages to be unashamedly ridiculous whilst taking itself seriously enough so that amazing amounts of effort and energy is poured into it. It is exciting and witty, well written and well acted. The CGI isn’t always spot on, but it’s pretty damn good for BBC TV. The series plot arcs are ludicrous and over-complicated, but tie together so utterly perfectly that you have to stand back and admire them. It’s brilliant. Just brilliant.
It also taps into our love of superheroes. Can you think of a better hero than Doctor Who? The guy who makes armies run away just by turning up? The guy who defeats the bad guys just by talking? Can you think of any other TV show, or in fact any other piece of fiction, that advocates trying your hardest to do the right thing without hurting anyone, even the bad guys? The Doctor is the most thoroughly good person in existence. He is the best hero in the entire world.
It’s not all saving the day and big explosions, though; it’s also brilliantly human. The emotional roller coaster you ride when watching Doctor Who is amazing. It has made me cry more than every other piece of fiction ever put together. Screw Titanic; if you want to cry so hard your eyes stop working, watch the series two finale, with Rose and the Doctor pressing their faces up against a crack between two universes.
Doctor Who is funny. It’s smart. It’s viewing for children that doesn’t patronise them. It’s a show for adults that doesn’t require them to dumb down. It’s serious and ridiculous and joyful and sad and superb on every level you can think of. In short, it’s one of the best sci-fi shows ever, if not just one of the best shows ever.
Luciano Howard: Lost was a slow-burner, that's for sure. Many people gave up part-way through season one. A few less in season two and the last to depart (probably) did so either when Hurley drives a van or Jack gets a tattoo; both in season three. I understand where these folks are coming from. I really do. But I disagree entirely that it was ever time to get out. So would they if they came back and watched the remainder of the show. I implore everyone to finish where they left off, or start at the very beginning if Lost is virgin to you.
The first few seasons, and a couple of episodes in the third are very much all about the character. It pays off. Latter seasons whizz by and are so much the better given the time you’ve invested in the players, getting to know what you know - be it in terms of actions, emotional responses, attitude, fears, hopes or loves. Anyway, the early seasons still had great narrative and many many questions - the driving force of Lost was the questions asked, by either the viewer, characters or writers. Answers did come, eventually, but normally with more questions.
Each season had a specific focus, though. A big picture which by and large would be completed, allowing things to move on. By the climax (or early next season) you knew most of what you needed to, aside from a few bigger, more widely-reaching issues, which were answered - in one way or another - before the (very) end. Season one was all about the island, two the hatch and so on.
The show didn’t come across as sci-fi early on. But it ebbed and flowed throughout various avenues over the course of six seasons - electro-magnetic island activity, time-travel, alternative worlds, reanimated people, god-like forces and so on. It tried so much, succeeded in nailing it (the time travel for example was handled superbly well) and all in amongst the ever changing situation filled with the larger than life characters.
In terms of the finale of Lost the show, I went with it and absorbed it and fell for it. Many didn’t, and the arguments are well voiced and can be found in this very site’s TV forums, the finale review and myriad other places around the internet. All the discussion is valid, and points are made and argued supremely well, and en-masse. Like the way Lost lived its run, it ended it - thousands or more people talking over every little thing, every choice, every end point. How can this not be regarded as one of the finest pieces of sci-fi on television - ever?
Colin Polonowski: the series that refused to die; at least the first time.
Fourteen episodes of the most enthralling science fiction adventure we've ever seen, cruelly and unjustifiably throttled in its prime by Fox - the scourge of genre TV! Many films and TV series have laid claim to being a 'western in space'; the original Star Trek was pitched as 'Wagon Train To The Stars' by Gene Roddenberry and Han Solo could rightly be considered a space cowboy.
However it was Joss Whedon's first series, post-Angel, that really truly could own that claim - it really was a western that just so happened to be in space. Mal Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) did his best impression of a meld between Clint Eastwood and and a Solo-era Harrison Ford. He was a proper scoundrel and rogue, but also a hugely fun and sympathetic character.
The realistic blend of western values with the Chinese language gave the series a grounded edge - it's easy to see the future being something like this. Throw in Whedon's razor-sharp wit and you have something really special.
One of the series key strengths was its cast - giving the crew of Serenity an immensely likeable rag-tag feel. Alan Tudyk's Wash had the pick of the wit while Jewel Staite's quirky, cute, tomboy Kaylee couldn't fail to raise a smile. And, who can forget the Jayne (Adam Baldwin) or the brilliantly mysterious River Tam (Summer Glau)? The fact that Firefly was euthanised so early in its promising life truly is the biggest crime committed against a series by a studio we've seen.
Thankfully fans didn't give up and massive DVD sales lead to renewed interest, this time by Universal, who finally stumped up the cash to bring the crew back to the big screen in the excellent Serenity; a film released in the same year as George Lucas' conclusion to the Star Wars prequel trilogy. Suffice to say, there was one science fiction movie worth watching that year and Revenge of the Sith wasn't it. Of course quality often doesn't win out and Serenity sadly failed to set the box-office alight despite hitting the top spot in the UK movie charts on its week of release; Universal unfortunately didn't take up the option of further adventures of the surviving crew and 'Browncoats' the world over are left to mourn the passing of one of the most original, intelligent and funny science fiction series ever committed to celluloid...
Do you agree with our suggestions? Did we miss your favourite? Tell us below!