New Sci-Fi on TV

I’ve been watching a few new sci-fi shows recently, specifically the pilots of the Bionic Woman and Flash Gordon remakes, and the pilot of the Sarah Connor Chronicles, a spin-off from the Terminator movies. And my opinions?

I have to say that all three were… okay… not bad to watch, but nothing special either. I was actually slightly underwhelmed after all of the hype. The Bionic Woman, by the same guys who produced the excellent remake of Battlestar Galactica looks promising, despite the relatively low-key start. The bionic babe herself is played by the always nice on the eyes Michelle Ryan (formerly of Eastenders), while Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica manages to look a lot less butch, much sexier, and positively radiating menace as the nasty original Bionic Woman.

Flash Gordon updates the original story to the present day, and replaces the original (quaint but fun) dildo-shaped rocketships spewing sparks and smoke with a Sliders-like wormhole thingy to provide travel between Earth and the planet Mongo. There are lots of sexy babes (Ming’s daughter and Dale in particular), Dale is now a very Lois Lane-like newspaper reporter, and the story is now much more based around Earth and Flash’s family. On the negative side, the guy playing Ming seems a lot less suited to his role than his predecessors (Max von Sydow and Charles Middleton in particular). Overall, it was watchable, but with lots of room for improvement.

The most disappointing of the three was, funnily enough, the most action-packed, and the one that should’ve had the most potential of them all. The Sarah Connor Chronicles is a spin-off of the second Terminator movie, and each episode features Sarah and a more adult (mid-teens) John, running and hiding from a constant stream of Terminators while under the protection of a “teenage girl” Terminator. There was a lot more action and thrills in this pilot than in the other two, but, strangely enough, I reckon that there’s a lot less potential for improvement than for the others. How many times will we be able to watch Sarah and John survive yet another attack by the umpteenth tenth-rate Arnie clone before the series starts to get really monotonous and tiresome? Not too many, I’d reckon. This is the sort of thing that is more suited to the occasional movie, not a regular weekly TV show. I’m really hoping that I’m wrong, ‘cos I was a big fan of the Terminator movies. Time will tell.

Overall, so far, all three shows are watchable, but nothing special. Definitely nothing approaching the quality of Battlestar Galactica, Doctor Who or Heroes. But it is early days yet, so here’s hoping all three pick up a bit. I’m still waiting for someone to do a Battlestar or Babylon 5-level quality series adaption of E.E. “Doc” Smith’s classic Lensmen stories. Pretty much every space opera series or movie (Star Wars, Babylon 5 and others) have shamelessly ripped off the Lensmen and (to a lesser extent) Lord of the Rings. LOTR has had the big movie treatment. It’s about time that the Lensmen also got the movie or TV honours. Why it hasn’t been done a long time ago beats me.

Comics and Sci-Fi: A Marriage Made in Heaven

One day a guy who works at the local comics shop (hi Chris!) made a comment that left me completely dumbfounded. He stated that he didn’t like SF. He didn’t like to read it, or to watch it, either on TV or at the movies.

After I’d picked my jaw up from the floor, I managed to utter a few words, stammering…

“But… but… but, you’re a comics fan! How can you not like sci-fi? All those comics you read are full of sci-fi stuff – robots, spaceships, time travel. You sure you don’t like SF?”

“Sorry, nope”.

“You don’t like Star Trek, or Star Wars, or Babylon 5, or Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica, or…”

“Nope. I’m not into that kinda thing”.

“But… but… that’s impossible. You can’t be a comics fan and not like sci-fi. Man, you must be an alien or something… ” (Phil wanders off, shaking his head in bewilderment and disbelief).

I’d met something/someone I thought couldn’t exist. A paradox. A comics fan who actually, really did not like SF! I’ve been a comics fan myself for over forty years, and I’d never ever met anyone who liked one and didn’t like the other, at least to some extent.

As far as I’m concerned, they are inextricably linked. The first big daily newspaper SF comic strip, Buck Rogers, was inspired by Armaggedon: 2419 AD, written by Philip Francis Nowlan, an SF novella which appeared in the classic SF pulp magazine Amazing Stories in August 1928. The Buck Rogers comic strip first appeared in 1929, followed by the rival Flash Gordon strip (started 1934) in a competing daily newspaper published by the King Syndicate. The huge popularity of these strips led to the first sci-fi movie serials of the 1930s, the three Flash Gordon serials (1936, 1938 and 1939) and Buck Rogers (1939).

These serials were the progenitors of pretty much every interplanetary sci-fi and space opera TV series and movie that followed. So it can be argued without much disagreement that SF comics were inspired by SF literature, and spawned a lineage in US sci-fi movies and television that leads right up to the massive money-spinning SF movie blockbusters of the current era.

Most mainstream comics are steeped in SF imagery. Even the good old superhero strip is full of it, with all those aliens, and spaceships and robots and time travel, etc. The origins of most of the main Marvel superheroes are right out of the 1950s sci-fi monster movies: giant ants created by nuclear tests/Peter Parker changed into Spider-Man after being bitten by radioactive spider, giant tarantula created by nuclear tests/Bruce Banner caught in gamma bomb explosion and becomes the Hulk, nuclear tests on remote island turn iguana into Godzilla/four astronauts caught in cosmic ray storm become Fantastic Four, the list goes on and on…

I’m not saying that all comics have SF elements – many of the classic comics are from other genres or “real life” (Berlin, Maus, Palestine, A History of Violence, and many others). But with most mainstream comics and superhero comics, the SF link has always been historically very strong.

And I still say that any mainstream comics fan who doesn’t like SF is a mutant abberation… 🙂