Okay, I thought that some of the people who come here might want to know a bit more about what makes me tick, and one of the best ways to know someone is to know their passions, their likes, what it is that they appreciate and admire. I’ve talked about some of that before, but perhaps a weekly list of my favorite things would help. My first list, then, will be something that I’m especially passionate about — sci-fi TV. Science fiction runs through my veins, and of course being a member of Generation X I was raised on television, so it’s no great surprise that sci-fi TV shows would be something I would be heavily steeped in. I hope you enjoy this little experiment, and if so, let me know in the comments section. Now, here we go…
… But first, a little disclaimer. I’m one of those people who’s a stickler about genre labels. I’m all for style mash-ups and blending genres, but for the purposes of this list I wanted to keep to solid, without-question sci-fi television. Some of my favorite shows have sci-fi elements to them (hell, even Buffy had a robot or two during its run), but here I’m going purely and unequivocally science fiction, meaning that the story is based on science, no matter how fantastical. If mysticism or fantasy takes equal or greater prominence to the story, then it’s out. Okay? Okay. Then let’s go.
Justin’s #5 Sci-Fi Show Of All Time
If you’d told me a couple of years ago that Doctor Who would be my fifth favorite sci-fi show of all time, I’d have slapped you across the mouth and called you a filthy liar. Luckily you didn’t do that, so I don’t have to make an awkward apology to you now. Yes, Doctor Who is amazing. Once the province of British citizens and effete TV elitists, Doctor Who is now a truly world-wide phenomenon, and much of the credit for that goes to Russell T. Davies, who helped bring the show back to life in 2005 and served as its head writer. Well done, sir!
I probably wouldn’t have given Doctor Who a chance were to not for two people. The first is Amanda Cales, a woman I came to know through my Dead Robots’ Society podcast. She constantly sang the show’s praises, and since I respected her opinion, I knew it was something I should look into. The second person was Christopher Eccleston, the actor who played the role of the Doctor in its 2005 return to television. I was familiar with Eccleston through two movies he’d been in (“Gone In 60 Seconds” and “28 Days Later”), but it was his role in the TV show Heroes that made me want to see more of his work. So, when those two things collided, I picked up Series 1 of the new Doctor Who on DVD.
And, I loved it. Definitely British, but in all the right ways. The Doctor was a more frenetic character than I’d expected from the fleeting clips I’d seen of previous Doctors from the 60’s and 70’s, but that was okay. And then, when David Tennant came on to play the Doctor (you have to watch the show to see why different people play him over time), that frenetic vibe went through the roof. The latest Doctor is played by Matt Smith, who is much younger than any previous actor who’s played the role. I’ll be honest, I expected the quality of the show to dip with his entrance to the show. Not only was he really young (which I figured was a transparent attempt by the BBC to get a younger audience), but his companion was also young (watch the show to understand why he has companions). Even worse, though, was the fact that Russell T. Davies had left the show, and in his place was Steven Moffat, someone who’d written some previous episodes but who I wasn’t overly familiar with. Now Moffat was suddenly the head writer, show runner, and executive producer. It’s easy to see why I was apprehensive, but thankfully the show has not only continued to be good, it’s been amazing. I actually think that Matt Smith’s Doctor is the best yet, and the scope of the show has expanded in fantastic ways. Hell, last season they even did some filming right here in the USA, and that was a first for the show.
Now, after explaining all that, what it is about Doctor Who that I love? I think it’s the breadth of the story they’re telling. The show constantly takes risks, it never goes where you think it’s going to, and the occasional infusion of new cast members means it never gets stale. Yes, sometimes the makeup and special effects can get sketchy, but so what. It’s the story that counts, and any show that’s willing to do the work it takes to create plots and subplots that take entire seasons or more to tell is a show I’m going to support. If you’ve not watched Doctor Who, and you’re a fan of sci-fi, then do yourself a favor and pick up the Eccleston season. You don’t have to know a single thing about the show prior to that, as they bring you up to speed gracefully. Go, watch it. I’ll wait…
Justin’s #4 Sci-Fi Show Of All Time
When I heard that they were rebooting Battlestar Galactica, I couldn’t have been more bored. Why do it? I hadn’t cared one bit about the original version, so what could they possibly do that would make a new version worth a crap? Oh, man, how little I knew. Suffice it to say they did a lot. What started off as a sci-fi tale of flesh versus steel quickly became a spiritual story about what it means to be human, what it means to have a soul.
Battlestar Galactica was everything I’d wanted Star Trek: Voyager to be – dark, dangerous, gritty, uncompromising. Nothing was ever easy for the crew of the Galactica, and the struggles they went through went far past the flesh into realms most sci-fi shows are too scared to even look at. I was constantly amazed at how unflinching the show’s writers would be, and how they could keep upping themselves. I implore you to go and watch the miniseries that started the reboot, and then watch the season one opener “33.” If you’re not hooked after that, I don’t know if we can be friends.
Justin’s #3 Sci-Fi Show Of All Time
The X-Files was the show that made me believe (for fans of the show, please pardon that pun) that television could produce something truly profound. I was so used to shows that only went skin deep, that wrapped everything up and moved on by episode’s end, so when The X-Files came along and created something that had depth and that told its story over weeks and months, I was hooked. It didn’t hurt that the two leads — David Duchovny as Agent Fox Mulder and Gillian Anderson as Agent Dana Scully — were incredibly charismatic and had wonderful chemistry with each other. This show had the perfect ingredients to make the sort of TV stew I could eat for years and years.
Sadly, The X-Files came in like a lion yet went out like a lamb. As much as I respect show creator Chris Carter for what he did, I’ll always wonder why he didn’t take a firmer hand with the show and guide it toward a definitive ending. The X-Files became a victim of its own success, not to mention the lack of story care it really needed. Had Carter or someone else stepped up and put it on a definitive track that had a known ending, I think The X-Files would have been the stuff of legends. Now, for most people, it’s just an interesting footnote. Personally, in spite of its failings and flaws, I still love the show. When it was hitting on all cylinders, I really was a marvel to behold. And, it also spawned a short-lived spin-off called The Lone Gunmen that was as funny as it was brief.
As a closing thought on the show, I know there’s been talk about doing another movie. If that’s true, and if Christ Carter is reading this, please make a movie that deals with the 2012 alien invasion that the show always talked about. It was laid out in the show that the aliens would come in force, and that 2012 was their due date. Well, that’s next year, and I can’t think of a better way to send the show off into history than to tell that final story. If there’s a god out there, this will happen.
Justin’s #2 Sci-Fi Show Of All Time
Some of you might be wondering why it’s taken me so long to mention a Star Trek show, and others might be wondering why this isn’t #1. To both of you I say, hear me out. I love Star Trek, and have ever since The Next Generation started in 1987, which was also my Freshman year of high school. Perhaps it was kismet that the year I started to really mature as a person is also the year I became a Star Trek fan. I’d of course seen episodes of the original series when I was younger, and I’d seen the movies, but they’d never really done anything for me. I think it was because they were artifacts of their time, and as a kid I was interested in the new, the hot, the now. Well, in ’87, that was exactly what Star Trek: TNG was. Picard was my first captain, Q my first Trek villain, and I’ve not been the same since. The season five episode entitled “The Inner Light” is one of the most powerful, most profound hours of television that’s ever been produced, and I dare anyone to say otherwise.
Now, even though TNG is the series I’m highlighting here, let me say that I respect all the series that Star Trek has produced, even the lesser ones (cough*Enterprise*cough*Voyager*cough), but TNG was my first Trek love, and I suspect it’ll always be my greatest. It was so unlike the sci-fi loves that had come before it, and I think it helped round me out as a genre fan. I’m just as eager to discuss Star Trek as I am Star Wars or anything else. I don’t believe you have to be either a Trek fan or a Star Wars fan. I love them all, each for their own gifts and quirks. I’ll boldly go to a galaxy far, far away, and be happy to do it.
But, if this is a sci-fi TV show list, and I’ve put Star Trek at #2, then what could possible be better? Funny you should ask…
Justin’s #1 Sci-Fi Show Of All Time
Babylon 5, baby! Yep, this might be heresy to some, but I don’t care. For my money, sci-fi television gets no greater than B5. This show is DEEP, its story is COMPLEX, and if you really want to understand its full glory, you HAVE to watch it from the very beginning. It’s part Star Trek, part Star Wars, part Excalibur, and part Lord of the Rings. Does that sound odd? Hell yeah it does, but it works. It works like gangbusters! I have yet to convince someone to give it a shot who hasn’t come back thanking me. More than any other show I’d ever seen, Babylon 5 didn’t give a crap about episodic television. If you want your story wrapped up at the end of the episode, or at the end of the season, think again. B5 was a five-season long adventure right from the very beginning, and even though things got rocky near the end, it stayed true and told that five-year story from beginning to end. I was blown away by how it all came together to reach its crescendo, and you will be too if you give it a chance.
A quick word though, before you run out and buy the series (you were going to do that, right?) — even though the show was planned from the beginning to last five seasons, with every season mapped out well in advance, things didn’t go as planned. PTEN, the network B5 aired on, told show creator J. Michael Straczynski that he wasn’t going to get his full five seasons, and would in fact have to wrap it up in the fourth. So, as you can imagine, he had to scramble to truncate the story, cutting out plots all over the place to hone in on the central story. Well sure enough, after all that was done, the TNT network came along and gave Straczynski his fifth season after all, which he filled out by taking some of those cut plots and making them into a new season story, as well as finding new ways to bring the finished story along for the ride. In spite of that sort of Frankenstein treatment, the end result was still amazing. I defy anyone to watch the final episode, “Sleeping In Light,” and not tear up. I do, every single time.
Babylon 5 is a magnificent achievement not just in sci-fi television, but also in plain old storytelling. I owned the show when it was on VHS, I own it now on DVD, and I’ll own it when it comes out in a new format. It is television at its finest, and I recommend it to everyone I meet – genre fan or not. Thank you, Mr. Straczynski. Thank you so much. You’ve given me a gift I don’t think I can ever repay.
Now, before we go, let me list a few shows that nearly made the cut but didn’t make it for whatever reason. Maybe here you’ll see a show you thought I should have mentioned.
LOST – This show is without doubt my favorite show of all time. Yep, I think that highly of it. BUT, while it has some sci-fi trappings, it’s not really sci-fi. It’s a spiritual story more than anything else, a fantasy. I wanted to list it here, if only so that I could once again sing its praises, but I couldn’t.
Firefly – I have no doubt that had the Fox Network not been complete morons and given Joss Whedon more episodes and more seasons to tell the story of Firefly, it would have eventually ended up as my #1 show. How can I say that with such certainty? Because even though Firefly only lasted for eleven episodes (fourteen episodes were actually produced, and you can see them all on DVD and Blu-Ray), it still nearly landed at my #1 spot. It’s THAT good! But, for this list I wanted shows that had lasted at least a couple of seasons, that had had a chance to develop and grow. Still, Firefly is a spectacular show, and the hatred I feel toward Fox for cancelling it still burns bright and hot. If you’ve not watched it, please do so, and then watch the movie “Serenity,” which Paramount was kind enough to help Whedon make so that he could try and finish his story. It isn’t really finished, not by a damn sight, but it’s better than nothing…
The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr – This is one of those shows that not too many people seem to remember, which I guess is why it only lasted one season, though at least the idiots at Fox let this one go for a more than full 27 episode count. From the outside, this show looked like a Western, but once you got into it you realized that this was really a sci-fi show, and I don’t know if people were really ready for that kind of thing. Bruce Campbell was so damn good as the titular character, he had a great cast to work off of, and as silly as the show could be it was always grounded by its heart. Another Fox blunder.
Farscape – I avoided this show for a long time, figuring it was just muppets in space, but I couldn’t have been more wrong, and I’m glad I eventually wised up. This show is unlike anything else you’ll ever see, and everyone involved gave it their all. And, it probably has one of the ballsiest stories TV has ever produced, in that Earth and we humans play next to no role in it at all outside of the main character. Everyone else is an alien, and all the action takes place on the far side of the universe. And, for a show that had a lot of prosthetic characters, it had more heart and emotion than most fully human shows could ever hope to produce.
And… yeah, I think that’s it. I could go on about more shows, like Andromeda and Chuck and Space: Above & Beyond, but really at this point I’m just flogging a tired horse. I hope you enjoyed this excursion into my mind, as crazy as it can be, but I especially hope that it has encouraged you to take a look at a show you might have avoided before, or maybe didn’t even know existed. I have no idea what list I’ll put together next time, so if you have a suggestion, please let me know.
Good night, and be well.