Sci-Fi on Television (Part 3)

The 2000s have provided a relative scarcity of good new telefantasy that I’ve actually liked (in comparison to, say, the 1960s, 1970s or 1990s), and the unnerving policy of cancelling potentially good series (both UK and US) before they even get off the ground still continues to hang over every new television sci-fi creation.

In the UK (and, indeed, worldwide), the modern incarnation of Doctor Who has been a runaway success, and is still going strong after seven seasons. Although not as big a fan of NuWho as I am of the classic series, in my opinion, it still ranks among the very best of recent telefantasy. I was also quite fond of spin-off series Torchwood, although it seems to have petered out after a run of four seasons (I hope I’m wrong and it returns at some point in the future). Another of my favourite UK series was Primeval, which had a decent run lasting for five seasons, but it also seems to have disappeared. The 2011 series Outcasts, was cancelled after only eight episodes, due to poor viewing figures, just when it was getting really interesting and I was starting to really get into it. I was well pissed off about that.

As for US telefantasy series, I quite liked Andromeda (2000-2005), although what seems like a change in tone and general direction in the middle of the run took it down a path that I didn’t like quite as much as I did the earlier seasons. One of my favourite series of the past decade was the remake of Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009). Four seasons of the main series, plus the initial 2003 mini-series and the two TV movies Razor and The Plan, provided a rivetting storyline, which actually managed to wrap up everything neatly by the end. It’s a great pity that the two very interesting BSG prequel series, Caprica and Battlestar Galactica: Blood and Chrome barely made it out of the starting blocks, as they both had a lot of potential.

Star Trek: Enterprise was one that I wasn’t fussed on first time around, but I got to like it when I watched it a few years later on DVD. Sadly it was cancelled after four seasons, the first Trek series since the original 1960s show to be canned prematurely. Stargate SG1, another one that I didn’t get into until a few years afterwards, lasted an incredible ten seasons, ending in 2002, and spawning a couple of spin-off series that I liked quite a lot.

I quite liked Stargate Atlantis, which was sadly cancelled after only five years to make way for its much more serious and BSG-influenced follow-up series, Stargate Universe, which ironically and sadly was also canned, after only two seasons. This one never managed to pick up the big audiences of its predecessors, who were most likely put off by the bleak grimness of the series. Both these series had interesting characters and scripts, and deserved to last longer (particularly Stargate Universe).

The fun Warehouse 13 and its sister series Eureka both made it to a respectable five years, while Sanctuary made it to four seasons. However, The Sarah Connor Chronicles, an interesting Terminator spin-off, only made it to two seasons, as did Alphas. I really, really wish the damned networks would give these series a bit more time to grow before nixing them.

Taking this into consideration, I was delighted that one of my favourite series, Fringe, actually got to finish off its storyline in a fifth season finale. I really, REALLY hate it when a good series is cancelled on a cliffhanger, without the overall story being resolved, as happened with Farscape, another favourite of mine. At least The Peacekeeper Wars mini-series gave some closure to that one, but still left a hugely unsatisfying taste in my mouth.

Worst of all, the excellent Firefly only made it to fourteen episodes before being canned by moronic network execs. The follow-up movie Serenity, as good as it was, was no compensation for that extremely short-sighted and tragically premature axing of the main series. Firefly was, in my opinion, Joss Whedon’s best television series, and it’s really sad that the suits wouldn’t give it more of a chance to spread its wings, as it would’ve been really big. The television network suits only understand viewing figures. They wouldn’t know good TV if it kicked them up the arse and screamed “WATCH ME!”

As for current telefantasy series, There isn’t much out there right now. Two of my favourite series finished recently, Fringe in January 2013, and the adult comedy sci-fi drama Misfits in December 2013. With those two gone, I don’t see any current sci-fi television worth getting too worked up about. Well, maybe Defiance, which isn’t too bad (and it seems has been given the green light for a second season), and Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., which is okay for an hour’s viewing, but nothing special overall.

And then there’s the current US remake of classic 1970’s UK kid’s sci-fi series The Tomorrow People. I wouldn’t really describe this one as “good”. It’s a bit “Meh” to be honest, bland and Americanised, in many ways yet another teenage soap opera, chock-full of pretty boys and girls and mindless fight scenes. It’s lost pretty much everything which made the original 1970s series such fun (despite it being so cheap and cheesy), and falls strictly into the “watch if there’s nothing else good on another channel” category. I do keep watching in the hope that the series comes up with something interesting, but I doubt that it will. I don’t think the scriptwriters have the balls or the talent. But I really do hope that they prove me wrong.

Maybe there have been other recent telefantasy series aside from these, but they certainly weren’t a big enough hit for me to even notice them. Good new telefantasy series in the second decade of the twenty-first century seem to be as rare as hen’s teeth, and, at almost half-way through the decade, this trend shows no signs of improving. It seems like it’s left to good old Doctor Who to carry the lone banner for decent telefantasy right now, and if IT finishes up, God help us all. If it wasn’t for my big collection of classic telefantasy DVDs, I’d go off my head. 🙁

Sci-Fi on Television (Part 2)

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…