Sci-fi – or science fiction – is the genre that shows something reality-based television series never can. It alludes to settings of escapism and fantasy, allowing the viewer to set aside worries of everyday life and lose themselves in the show and its characters. Many sci-fi shows remain viewer favourites long after the last episode has aired, while others fade quickly into obscurity.
Star Trek first arrived on screen in the late 1960’s with William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy heading the cast. It became a cult favourite and spawned continuations, sequels, spin-offs and movies. Its success and popularity can still be seen over four decades since it first began. The Star Trek (2009) took us back to the early days of Kirk, Spock and other members of the U.S.S. Enterprise. It confirmed its place in sci-fi history and the legacy of Star Trek continues to engage its audience as it has done in all of the past few decades from the original to the spin-offs including Star Trek: The Next Generation with Patrick Stewart as Captain Jean-Luc Picard.
Another show that originated in the 1960’s, preceding Star Trek by a few years, is Doctor Who – the British television show loved by different generations. Returning with a new series in 2005, the show was already on its ninth Doctor and very few (if any) shows can claim to have eleven actors taking on the title role with credibility. This, however, is where its success lies because built into the background of the show is the “regeneration” aspect and when an actor can no longer continue with the leading role, the writers have a way to change the dynamic of the show. Each of the eleven actors who have starred as the Doctor have brought their own quirks and eccentricities to the Doctor, which mean the pace of the show never falters despite the change in its leading face.
Firefly introduced itself to viewers as a “space western”, something of an odd concept that had never been seen before. Joss Whedon fans were full of critical acclaim for his newest creation and critics later jumped on the bandwagon but audiences were let down by network executives who cancelled the show. Audiences were treated to a follow-up movie (Serenity) that tied up some loose ends but continued to leave the door open for any future opportunities. Definitely complex, the show takes on a deeper approach from its anti-corporate ways and the social backgrounds of its characters. Its concepts, rich in human flaws and corporate oppression, are developed without stifling the attention on the main cast.
Another leading sci-fi show was Farscape, following John Crichton as he attempted to regain entry to Earth via a wormhole. His entrapment out in the galaxy was a long journey of exploration, finding new relationships, friendships and enemies out in space. On a living ship, Farscape followed genre rules and broke a few, all the while introducing audiences to a well-developed cast who bonded well despite their material values, social standings and physical differences. Even Scorpius and Crais – the obvious enemies/anti-heroes – become valued characters and are essential in developing the plots.
Other shows that deserve a mention are The X-Files with David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson playing the compelling leads as Agents Mulder and Scully respectively, Xena: Warrior Princess with Lucy Lawless and Roswell (bringing us early appearances of Katherine Heigl and Emilie de Ravin). Battlestar Galactica remained a champion, despite the failure of its prequel series Caprica, as did Babylon-5 and Stargate SG-1. Modern contenders for future claim to the best sci-fi television series include Warehouse 13 and any production by Joss Whedon is bound to be a success with a core audience.
The success of these shows in length vary, although each remain firm favourites with the viewers who enjoyed one episode or the entire series. Whether down to a strong background or intriguing episodes, we have the actors and writers to thank for interesting productions time after time and the producers and network executives to give us the opportunity to see these television shows – for however long it may last.