Top 10 SciFi Television Shows, Pt 3

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:

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 NemesisStar 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.

Doctor Who:

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.

DALEKS!

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!)

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The Doctor Is In: A Brief History of Doctor Who, Pt 1

As many probably know by now, I am obsessed with the BBC tv scifi Doctor Who.  I honestly believe it is the best scifi television show ever. Period. And I mean that to include both the original run that began in 1963 and the new revival that began in 2005.  (And yes, Star Trek is a very close second.)

Doctor Who began in 1963 in England as a family educational television show with the characters traveling backwards in time in order to teach children about different points of history.  However, the writers quickly added in the alien plotlines, which became the more famous and important elements of the show, beginning with the second serial: The Daleks.

The basic run-down is this: The Doctor is an alien from a species called the Time Lords (and Gallifreyans, as they come from the planet Gallifrey), who possess ships known as TARDISes (Time and Relative Dimensions in Space), that allow them to travel anywhere in space and time.  The Doctor is a bit of a rebel among his species and stole his particular TARDIS to travel without the restrictions placed on him by the leaders of the Time Lords.  The Doctor, who has a strong affection and curiosity for humans, always has at least one human companion with him as he travels around (also sometimes having aliens and robots along as companions as well).

It was not until the first actor to play the Doctor, William Hartnell, became ill and decided to leave the show, that the writers came up with an ingenious way to switch actors while leaving the series continuity and mythology alone: they decided that as the Time Lords have a special ability to heal themselves when dying or gravely injured, a process called regeneration which results in changing into a different body/face each time.  Each time the Doctor regenerates, his is played by a different actor, and even his personality changes to some extent or another, but he is still essentially the same person.

Here is a brief explanation of Doctors 1-5:

The First Doctor: played by William Hartnell (1963-1966)

Hartnell’s Doctor was cantankerous, bossy, and occasionally ruthless, though the character was softened slightly and made more paternal in later episodes.  He was accompanied by his granddaughter, Susan, who is generally considered to be Gallifreyan and able to regenerate, though it is never explicitly stated in the show.  In the second Hartnell serial, we are introduced to the Daleks, a completely non-humanoid alien species who had been mutated by war and were thus fixated on war and the extermination of any species that was not them.  The Daleks became the Doctor’s most dangerous enemy, who return again and again throughout the series no matter how many times the Doctor believes he has defeated them once and for all.

The Second Doctor: played by Patrick Troughton (1966-1969)

Troughton’s Doctor was a little more light and comical, though he retained the same passionate desire to fight evil and oppression (perhaps the most identifying character trait of the Doctor throughout the series).  He did, however, have a darker side that showed up on several occasions, when he manipulated his friends and those around him to influence the outcome and “for the greater good.”  It is during the first serial with Troughton’s Doctor that we are introduced to the Cybermen the Doctor’s second most famous and dangerous recurring enemy.  The Cybermen were originally a humanoid species who became to modify their bodies to become mechanical for survival, until eventually everything but their brains was machine, and they lost all emotion and began a mission to convert everyone else.  (For the Trekkies out there, yes, this could easily be the inspiration for the Borg.)

The Third Doctor: played by Jon Pertwee (1970-1974)

Jon Pertwee was originally intended to bring his comedic experience to the character.  However, Pertwee decided to play the character as a the straight man, and though there were some comedic touches, he kept his Doctor serious.  Pertwee also made the Doctor more action-oriented as he liked to ride various vehicles in the show, including a motorcycle, hovercraft, and the Doctor’s vintage roadster “Bessie.”  In 1973 the show celebrated the 10-year anniversary with a special called “The Three Doctors” the first of several specials that would show several incarnations of the Doctor working together.  Hartnell and Troughton returned to reprise their roles for this special.  Also, during Pertwee’s run as the Doctor, we meet The Master he is also a Time Lord, conceived as being like Moriarty to the Doctor’s Sherlock Holmes, he is equal in intelligence and power, but evil (like the Daleks and the Cybermen, he is a recurring enemy throughout the series).

The Fourth Doctor: Tom Baker (1974-1981)

Tom Baker was quite a bit younger than the first 4 to play the Doctor.  He is also STILL the actor who has portrayed the Doctor for the longest time (7 years), and arguably the most popular and best-remembered incarnation of the Doctor (though both David Tennant and Matt Smith have been giving him a run for his money in the last couple years). (Baker was my favorite until Tennant came along. I’m sorry, Tom Baker!)  Baker’s Doctor was shown to be caring and passionate at time while cold and aloof other times a conscious choice on Baker’s part to highlight the Doctor’s status as alien and essentially non-human.  During Baker’s stint, the writers began introducing much more humorous storylines, which Baker played up with wonderful eccentricity.

The Fifth Doctor: played by Peter Davison (1981-1984)

To counteract the enormous popularity of Baker’s Doctor, the writers and casting directors made many changes for the Fifth Doctor.  First, Davison was much younger than the first 4 portrayals of the Doctor.  Davison gave the Doctor something of an aristocratic air, in opposition to Baker’s more eccentric portrayal.  The writers also made this incarnation of the Doctor much more human in behavior, with vulnerabilities that were highlighted and played up in a number of episodes.  He also tended to only react to situations, rather than being proactive as Baker’s Doctor often was.  (Davison is my brother’s favorite incarnation, as well as David Tennant’s favorite.  Tennant even did a special short for a fundraiser in which his version of the Doctor meets Davison’s Doctor, and tells him “you were my Doctor.”)

I had originally intended to give a run-down of all the Doctors here, but it has become so long that I’ve decided to split this post into two.  So please come back on Friday to learn about Doctors 6-11.

In the meantime, for those Doctor Who fans out there: which Doctor is your favorite?  And why?

Side Note: all images come from the History of Doctor Who wikipedia page.