Science/Fantasy Monday: Top 10 SciFi Television Shows, Pt 3
Here we are at last! The end of my three-Mondays-long countdown of my personal Top 10 SciFi TV Shows. For those of you who missed the first two parts, or just need a refresher, you can find them here:
“Top 10 SciFi Television Shows, Part 1”
“Top 10 SciFi Television Shows, Part 2”
Back? Good. Now, let’s get down to business. I’m sure that most, if not all, of you can probably guess what shows are coming. The big question now is what order did I put them in? Which show got #1 and which got pushed down to #2?
Well, wonder no longer! We have a tie for First Place! And it goes to Star Trek and Doctor Who! (Who’s shocked? Raise your hand. No one? Didn’t think so.)
#1: Star Trek (whole universe) and Doctor Who (original and revival)
I love them both. They are both amazing and brilliant. They were both so foundational to science fiction television, and scifi of any medium. I simply could not find any way to say definitively that either was better than the other, so a tie seemed the best solution.
Star Trek: Original Series
Star Trek was created by Gene Roddenberry and first aired in 1966 and ran for three seasons before it was canceled due to low ratings. It wasn’t until it went into syndication that Star Trek: the Original Series (TOS) truly gained the immense popularity that made it the icon it is today. It was followed by a short-lived Animated Series, and six movies: Star Trek the Motion Picture, The Wrath of Kahn, The Search for Spock, The Voyage Home, The Final Frontier, and The Undiscovered Country.
Star Trek: Next Generation
Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) started in 1987 and last seven seasons, during which time it became, I believe, the most popular of all the series. Even many of those who grew up with TOS are usually willing to admit that TNG is better. There is a decent-sized group of people who would argue that the third series, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (DS9) is actually the best incarnation of the show. My brother, a few of my friends would count themselves among that group. I’m sort-of, kind-of there too, though I’m a little more on the fence. For a more detailed discussion of my reasoning behind that argument please see: “The Age Old Question: Which Star Trek is Better?”
Still, TNG was an absolutely fantastic show. And even if I like some parts of DS9 better, Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the Starfleet Enterprise NCC-1701-D will always ALWAYS be MY Captain. He is one of my favorite characters ever. Data, the android who wants to be human is definitely near the top of my favorite list also (and TNG’s answer to Spock who is also one of my favorite characters).
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
As for DS9… it was much darker than either of the two series that came before it, which is also cited as a mark against it, but which I really enjoyed. And it had a large overarching plot that really tied the show together and gave it an amount of tension and suspense that TNG only managed on a few occasions (though it was AWESOME when TNG pulled it off, most especially in “Best of Both Worlds,” Pt 1 and 2). But again, you can get more of rant about DS9 on my previous post, linked above.
During this time, there were four more movies, focusing on the TNG crew: Generations, First Contact, Insurrection, and Nemesis. Star Trek: Generations was emotionally-taxing because we all had to watch Kirk die not once, but twice. But the best of the bunch has to be Star Trek: First Contact, which featured fantastic special effects, the creepy arch-nemesis of the TNG crew The Borg, a cool plot, and Picard at his absolutely most awesome.
Star Trek: Voyager
After DS9, we had Voyager. This was the first Star Trek show to feature a female captain (there have been plenty of woman captains within the universe of Star Trek, of course). Voyager has been argued about for a number of reasons. It is very popular with some fans, and hated by others. It was, admittedly, a little hit-or-miss sometimes, but the first four seasons, at the very least, were consistently good. Most of the characters were well-written and complex. But I think many people didn’t like the heavy focus on romance in a number of episodes, especially in the second half of the series. This is a complaint I understand, and I would admit that some of the relationship stuff definitely got tiring. But overall, the show was intelligent, well-acted, exciting, and fun. And Captain Kathryn Janeway was an absolutely KICK-ASS female character.
Star Trek: Enterprise
Last on the list is Star Trek: Enterprise. I watched most of the first season, and I have seen a few other episodes here or there. But this series just could not match up to the Star Trek tradition. The producers/writers tried to change too much, make it more “theirs” instead of Roddenberry’s, and it just didn’t work (though Capt Archer, played by Scott Bakula, was a pretty good character).
What I think makes Star Trek so important, despite its flaws, the occasional hit-or-miss series, the cheesiness, etc… is that it is able to critique society (like much of scifi) and show us ourselves in all our nastiness, but it is ultimately built on a fundamental hope and optimism. Star Trek: The Original Series featured the first interracial kiss aired on television. It attempted to show the world that tolerance and peace and prosperity were possible, despite all the problems we face. And that optimism seems even more important now than it did in the 60s.
I will add, briefly, that the newest movie was very good. I approached with trepidation, but it seriously impressed me, and I’m looking forward to the next one. There are also rumors of a new Star Trek series, which would be AWESOME, because it’s just a tragedy that it’s been so long since we had a new Star Trek adventure to enjoy every week.
The First Doctor: William Hartnell
Doctor Who premiered in 1963 and run for 26 consecutive seasons until 1989, making it the longest running science fiction television show of all time and one of the longest running tv shows of any genre (even before its revival). In 1996 a television movie was released in the hopes of reviving the show for an American audience. This failed. But in 2005, the show was finally revived by BBC and has now run for 6 more seasons. This revival is not a reboot, but an actual continuation of the same universe and timeline, which means that seasons 6 of the revival can also be called season 32 of Doctor Who. And the show is still going strong.
Anyone who knows me (and people who have been following this blog for awhile), knows that I am obsessed with Doctor Who. I could go on about the show for hours if you let me (I don’t suggest you let me if you plan to do anything else for the next few days). Thankfully, I have already written three blogs about various aspects of Doctor Who. So, rather than ramble for quite as long as I did for Star Trek above (which I haven’t written about as much before), I will now start by referring you to those previous blog posts:
“The Doctor Is In: A Brief History of Doctor Who, Pt 1”
“The Doctor Is In: A Brief History of Doctor Who, Pt 2”
“They’re Never Really Gone: The Top 3 Doctor Who Villains”
These three posts should give you good handle on some of the major elements of Doctor Who.
It always fascinates me that Doctor Who was originally intended as more a history lesson for children disguised as action-adventure television. But very very quickly the historical episodes (which are still a ton of fun) gave way to the flashier, more dramatic, more iconic Doctor Who-ish space/alien episodes. Doctor Who is still the most popular television show in England, and whoever is playing the Doctor at the time, is consistently one of the most popular actors of the time. Every single person in England knows who the Doctor is, what Dalek is, understands the significance of celery and a really long striped scarf, and realizes that the Master is never really dead. Now, thanks to the revival’s growing popularity in America (which, I think, was actually spurred on by Torchwood: Children of Earth, surprisingly), almost everyone in America is beginning to know these things too.
Doctor Who is smart, crazy, exciting, hilarious, dramatic, intense, and occasionally depressing, all wrapped up into one insane hour-long program.
10th Doctor with companions: Rose, Martha, Donna, and Sarah-Jane
It has featured some fascinating characters as the Doctor’s companions, such as his granddaughter Susan Foreman, The Brigadier, Sarah-Jane Smith, Ace, Rose Tyler, Jack Harkness, Donna Noble, and most recently Amelia Pond and her husband Rory Williams (who is awesome, by the way). While the Doctor does sometimes travel with a variety of aliens and even robots (such as the robot dog K-9), he has always had a special affinity for human companions (despite the fact that he often looked down on humans as the First Doctor). And these human companions are US. They are our entrance into his world, they are our emissaries into the insane, exciting, dark universe of the Doctor.
John Sims as the Master
What I think makes this show so amazing and enduring is that it can take the strangest characters, the strangest places and plots, and make them emotionally important. We care about alien races destroying each other. We care about the Companions who die, or get left behind. We are terrified (and exhilaratingly fascinated by) the Daleks and the Cybermen and the Master. But really, it’s all about the Doctor. He is a genius, a pacifist and warrior at the same time, compassionate and, at times, ruthless, always off for an adventure, with a entourage of humans and aliens and robots, and yet ultimately alone. He is an alien, of course, and in so many ways he is completely non-human. And yet, he is very human. And that’s what makes him so amazing.
To end, here is a quote about the Doctor from episode 9 of Season 3 of the revival, “Family of Blood.” It’s a little melodramatic, but it’s awesome anyway: “He’s like fire and ice and rage. He’s like the night, and the storm in the heart of the sun. He’s ancient and forever. He burns at the centre of time and he can see the turn of the universe. And… he’s wonderful.”
All Eleven Doctors
That concludes my Top 10 SciFi Television Shows list! Please let me know what you think! I love to hear from you! See you on Wednesday! (and I’ve got to stop using so many damn exclamation points!)