The Great I, Science Sci Fi TV Survey

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Ben Kolb and Adrian Giordani – April 2010

A couple of months ago the I, Science team were ‘geeking’ out in the pub, arguing over the respective merits of Babylon 5 and Deep Space Nine and whether the reimagining of Battlestar Galactica s the best science fiction series ever? After much debate and before the situation became violent, we decided to take it to the people and put up a survey on the I, Science website (http://www.union.ic.ac.uk/media/iscience/) and this is the result. Have a look and tell us what you think via i.science@imperial.ac.uk or tweet us at @I_science_mag.

TEN: Babylon 5
A groundbreaking and thought provoking show, Babylon 5, in my opinion represents the greatest sci-fi series to come out of the US. The faultless and complex over-arching storyline is seamlessly woven into five seasons and four TV movies. The show’s focal point is the Babylon 5 space station where intergalactic diplomacy, politics and conflicts unravel.

B5 included larger than life characters, believable future governments and technologies (humans are one of the youngest space faring races) and a rich selection of alien races and mythologies. The ‘cool’ CGI ships (for its time) and space action made it a Sci-Fi spectacle. The multi-award winning television series was created, produced and written by J. Michael Straczynski and Christopher Franke’s musical score greatly enhanced the visuals.  Even though it’s at number 10 in the list, I dare you to watch the show and make up your own mind about where it belongs!

 

NINE: The Twilight Zone

 

First broadcast in the late 1950’s, The Twilight Zone is the oldest series to make it into the Top 10 and an early example of using TV science fiction for social commentary. The series was not solely Sci-Fi but combined elements of fantasy and horror to keep audiences on the edge of their seats. Look out for a revival in 2010 narrated by none other than Jude Law.

 

 

 

EIGHT: Star Trek: The Next Generation

 

Spanning seven  seasons and four  movies, TNG is the longest running Star Trek series and its success led to Deep Space Nine and Voyager. With the benefit of improved make-up and special effects TNG brought us the comedic Ferengi, , revelations about the devious Romulans and most importantly the introduction of the relentless Borg. TNG gained mainstream popularity thanks to a great cast and improved writing after the first season  and it paved the way for  highly successful careers for many of the actors; Patrick Stewart, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner and Michael Dorn.  TNG will remain one of the most revolutionary sci-fi series of the last few decades. The show also greatly expanded and enriched the lore of the Star Trek universe.

 

SEVEN: Lost

 

Whether you love it or hate it, Lost has certainly had a big cultural impact. Lost was event TV; the pilot episode was network ABC’s most expensive ever and the first season was a critical and commercial success. Fans have been intrigued, confused, angry and confused again by the twists and turns in the plot. As the series heads towards its final episodes and hopefully some kind of answers, let’s hope we aren’t all left wondering: what was the point?!

 

SIX: Heroes

 

Probably even less Sci-Fi than Lost (Chandra Suresh’s book is not yet a set text for genetics students), Heroes was another big commercial success that gripped audiences from the get-go. After an impressive first season the later seasons partially suffered because of the 2007 US writers’ strike but largely due to a lack of the first season’s focus and pace. The series now appears to have limped to an end with no talk of a return.

 

FIVE: Battlestar Galactica (reimagining)

 

Fifth?! What the frak?! I hear you cry. BSG is arguably the most successful and best  of recent TV reboots. The reimagining lasted for four  seasons, included two  TV movies and an introductory miniseries. Battlestar’s success lies in its combination of action packed episodes, relevant social commentary and of course, super-hot Cylon: Six played by Tricia Helfer. Despite lasting for four seasons, ratings were never very high and this lack of viewership may have influenced its position in this countdown or maybe our editor’s a Cylon. Controversially, fans of the 1970s version dislike the reimagining of the new show.

 

FOUR: Futurama

 

This poll is a timely reminder that Futurama is coming back (to the US at least) in June 2010. Thankfully, the original cast has been retained for what was one of the sharpest and funniest series on TV. Although some episodes were hit or miss the series benefited from great writing and a wealth of hilarious characters whose adventures were tragically under-appreciated the first time round. In no other series can you enjoy a kleptomaniac, alcoholic robot; a crustacean doctor severely lacking in medical knowledge and a hot cyclopic mutant. What more could you want?!

 

FOUR: Firefly

 

Despite only lasting fourteen episodes and a feature film, Firefly has a special place in the hearts of many science fiction fans. When first broadcast in the US, episodes of Joss Whedon’s brainchild were screened out of order and allegedly there was plenty of tension between Whedon and the network, Fox. But, the series did find its audience on DVD. Through a successful merging of genres, a great ensemble cast and Whedon’s characteristic dialogue Firefly has managed a respectable joint fourth position.

 

THREE: Quantum Leap

 

Perhaps a surprise entry at No. 3, it’s the ever-young Scott Bakula and his Quantum Leap.  The series is of course a lesson to all scientists who want to mess around with time travel, as an experiment gone “caca” leaves Bakula’s Sam stuck ‘leaping’ through time. Thanks to a hologram of best friend Al (Dean Stockwell), Sam is not completely alone wherever he ends up. Each week viewers were treated to great chemistry between the two leads, occasional glimpses of historical figures and were  left wondering if the next leap would take Sam home.The series finale had Sam meeting an implied God!

 

TWO: Red Dwarf

 

‘Smeg’ – Red Dwarf undoubtedly represents the ‘Best of British’ sci-fi and comedy, having gained a cult following over the years. Rob Grant and Doug Naylor’s team-up created a superb show lasting for eight seasons with a big-budget film never quite materialising. The comical interactions between Lister, Rimmer, the Cat and Kryten on Red Dwarf and Starbug created unforgettable TV moments and sci-fi phrases. Personally, I think season’s three to six demonstrate the show’s peak in character development, humour and storylines.

 

 

ONE: The X-Files

So here it is, number one, The X-Files. A series that until Stargate SG-1 was the longest running science fiction series in US broadcasting history! The series was a massive success and has had a big influence on popular culture. If you watch it again now, some of the effects may look a bit ‘ropey’ but you’ll be just as terrified and intrigued as you were the first time round. Part of its success lies in the paranoid story-lines of untrustworthy governments and corporations, but a lot of it is the on-screen chemistry between the two leads: Mulder and Scully. That wasn’t enough for Richard Dawkins though who compared the triumph of Mulder’s paranormal theories over Scully’s rational ones to a cop show where the black suspect is always guilty, while the white suspect gets away scot-free.. Chill out Richard, it’s just a TV show!

 

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