If the 1970s were the golden years of telefantasy for me, the 1980s were a bit of a disappointment, with many of my favourite series going into decline or disappearing off the air altogether, and very few decent new sci-fi series stepping up to take their place.
My favourite TV series, Doctor Who, after the glory decade of the 1970s with Pertwee and Baker in the role, was now on the slide. After Tom Baker left in 1981, the series began to go into decline, and following Peter Davison’s departure in 1984, Doctor Who rapidly degenerated into a pathetic parody of its former self, sliding towards its final demise in 1989. As a hardcore Doctor Who fan, I was NOT a happy bunny from 1981 onwards.
The early 1980s also saw a few of my other favourite telefantasy series wrap up – Sapphire and Steel, Blake’s 7, The Incredible Hulk, Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, and Battlestar Galactica/Galactica 1980. With the exception of V and the remake of The Twilight Zone, the period from 1982-1987 was pretty crap, filled with bland, silly, formulaic US series such as Knight Rider, Airwolf, Automan and The Greatest American Hero. It wasn’t until 1987, and the first appearance of Star Trek: The Next Generation, that the Eighties started getting interesting for me again, at least as far as telefantasy is concerned. With both Quantum Leap and Alien Nation appearing in 1989, at least the end of the decade had three decent sci-fi series that I liked on the air at the same time.
As the 1980s moved into the 1990s, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Star Trek: Deep Space 9 and Star Trek: Voyager were pretty dominant in the US telefantasy world, each with an impressive seven-year run (Quantum Leap was the only other decent sci-fi series on the air at that time). TNG and DS9 were favourites of mine, but once DS9 ended, my love of new Star Trek started to wane drastically, as Voyager was the only Trek left on the air, and I didn’t rate it highly at all.
I’d been a hardcore Star Trek fan since the original series, and Voyager was the first Trek that I actually really disliked, to such an extent that I never even bothered following it on a weekly basis. I thought the scripts were really lame, excessively based around and padded out with treknobabble nonsense, and most of the characters were less likeable and less well defined than those in earlier Trek series. There were very few truly stand-out episodes in the entire seven-year run, and the only real redeeming features were the holodoc’s sarcasm and 7 of 9, who was absolute heaven on the eyes.
Aside from Quantum Leap, the only real competition Trek had in the early 1990s was when both Babylon 5 (my favourite 1990s sci-fi series) and the X-Files burst upon the world in 1993. This was a complete game-changer, as the X-Files, in particular, rocketed to the top of the popularity charts. Star Trek (of ANY kind) was now no longer top dog among telefantasy shows. And by the mid-to-late 1990s, it was no longer even in second or third place, as the three really big telefantasy successes of that era, in terms of popularity, were the X-Files, Stargate SG1 and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
I really like both the X-Files and Stargate, although I’d agree with the common criticism that they both might’ve gone on a bit too long and run out of steam in their last few seasons. I watched the X-Files religiously when it was on TV, but for some totally unfathomable reason, and despite the fact that it became a big favourite with me when I watched it on DVD a few years later, Stargate SG1 never registered with me at all back in the day. I have absolutely no recollection of ever seeing it on TV back in the Nineties.
Buffy (and its spin-off Angel) never really did much for me although it was extremely popular. I did watch the occasional episode whenever it was on, and I thought it was okay, but I’m not really a big vampire or zombie fan, more of a time travel, space adventure kinda guy. Two other very popular series, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and its spin-off series Xena: Warrior Princess also weren’t what you’d call huge favourites of mine, as I’m also not big into fantasy either. I thought they were both ridiculously silly and formulaic, and I could take them or leave them, only watching the odd episode when nothing else was on.
The second half of the Nineties also gave us the new version of The Outer Limits, which ran for seven years. I quite liked this one, although some episodes were better than others. But in my opinion it was, overall, never as good as the original classic 1960s series, and I was really surprised that it actually made it to seven seasons.
On the downside, there were a few Nineties telefantasy series that I liked which unfortunately never got a fair crack of the whip, and ended well before their time. The ones that I recall (there were quite a few others, but these were favourites of mine) were Babylon 5: Crusade, which was cancelled after only thirteen episodes, Dark Skies, Space: Above and Beyond and American Gothic, all of which got axed at the end of their first season, and Chris Carter’s Millennium, which also suffered a premature end, although it, at least, made it to three seasons. Even Babylon 5 itself, although it did make it to the end of the fifth and final season, had its last two seasons totally messed up by network interference and cancellations.
Unfortunately, telefantasy series are very expensive to produce, compared to mainstream TV programming. During the 1990s, US and UK television networks seem to become much more inclined to quickly cancel even relatively successful series, if viewing figures weren’t good right from the outset, or so much as dipped slightly. For every Buffy, Stargate or X-Files, there were many other potentially classic telefantasy series that were cut short or never even got off the ground, while crap US and UK sitcoms, soaps and reality TV shows seemed to breed like rabbits.
To Be Continued…