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Science Fiction: Greatest TV Shows Part III

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Part I (Dramas):

Part II (Comedies):

What are the top 10 SCIENCE FICTION shows of all time? Why do this? Why not? Procrastination is a helluva drug.

Before starting, the criteria I use, because I am a masochist and love writing stuff everyone ignore in order to argue with the premise.

1. The show must be complete, and have lasted at least one full season. In other words, no matter how much you like The Expanse or Stranger Things they are just not eligible. This also means no miniseries (not a "season") and not beloved shows that have been cancelled prior to airing a full season. That means you, Firefly. Please note, however, pace no. 5, below, that if a show has been around forever (with "forever" being defined as at least 10 years) in multiple incarnations (Doctor Who) or multiple series (Star Trek), it is eligible.

2. It must be in English. There is, in fact, a surprising amount of good, non-English science fiction TV out there. But you have to narrow the field somewhat. This is the El Ministerio del Tiempo corollary. This does allow shows from the UK and Canada on this particular list. I'm relaxing this criteria only because I feel I am sufficiently informed about these shows- although I am sure someone will point out something I missed. Probably from Australia.

3. It must be a drama, or a dramedy (mainly a drama). This is not because you can’t have a science fiction comedy- I just don’t want to cross the streams. This is the Futurama/MST3k paradox.

5. The show will be judged from all episodes holistically, but sticking the landing matters. Most importantly, if a sci-fi show constitutes a whole “canon,” or "shared universe," then the various shows will get lumped together as one. If, on the other hand, a show has been rebooted (BSG, Lost in Space), then the reboots count separately. Call this the Star Trek Rule.

6. Unlike the other top 10 lists, science fiction is about ideas- and often (but not always) the future. Which means that shows will be given a slight nudge for being ahead of their time- or, if you prefer, they will not be docked because the special effects could not keep pace with the ideas. This is the Inviolable Law of the BBC Using a Telephone as a Spaceship.

7. If the show is on my other top 10 list, then it is ineligible. In other words, I don't have to make the call on "Is Buffy sci fi?"

9. I have to have watched the show. Are the entirety of the Stargate shows good? Perhaps! I just don't know because I haven't seen them.

10. No animation. Everything from Futurama to Cowboy Bebop could be on this list, but including animation (and, especially, anime) would make this too unwieldy.

11. Science fiction should be given as wide as possible of a definition; if in doubt, it should be science fiction. However, shows like Game of Thrones are probably better as "fantasy" so I'll leave it at that. You can apply your own definition.

Now, without any further warning, and remembering that this is not an ordered list, here are the top 10 in my opinion.

1. Star Trek (collected series). One of two absolute must inclusions. By the way, while making absolute determinations, be aware that TOS is the greatest of all Star Treks. You’re welcome.

2. Doctor Who (incl. Torchwood). Whether you only love the old stuff, or are an unabashed nu-Who fan, this is the other absolute must inclusion on this list.

3. The Prisoner. Orwellian and perfect in every way.

4. Blake’s 7. Long before anti-hero and grimdark was even a glimmer in modern discourse, a show taught us that character death, losing, and rooting for a slimeball like Avon could be a winning formula. That ending, though. I still hear the blaster fire.

5. Twilight Zone (1959 original). On the plus side, so very many good stories. On the minus side ... probably at least 85% responsible for the career of M. Night Shyamalan.

6. Battle Star Galactica (2004 reboot) (incl. Caprica, webisodes, and tv movies). People can endlessly debate whether or not the ending of BSG “stuck the landing.” What no one can reasonably disagree with is that for many years, BSG was a shining example of how to do science fiction right, with the gravitas it demanded. It's like ... remember when Syfy used to have good science fiction?

7. Babylon 5 (incl. tv movies and Crusader). Sure, the issues with some of the CGI remain. Some of the scripts haven’t aged well (JMS earnestness). And the first season, needing to balance the “monster of the week” with the overall arc, can be a struggle for people that are more used to modern TV to get through. But this was the series that was clearly ahead of its time, even if it is dated now. If you can get on its wavelength, it is more rewarding than almost any other show on this list.

8. Fringe. The first season looked to be a run-of-the mill sci-fi procedural and X-Files ripoff. But then it got weird ... and good.

9. X-Files. There's a lot to dislike about the show now. After Muldur left, it just kind of meandered. The mythology ... that ended up going nowhere. But for a certain period of time, there was nothing more thrilling and, at times, subversive than the best one-shot X-Files episodes.

10. Legion. "Unreliable narrators are the best narrators." Nabokov, probably.


Honorable Mentions:
Life on Mars / Ashes to Ashes (two series, BBC)
Mr. Robot
Orphan Black
Lost
Farscape
Various CW series that are complete, like the 100 and Arrow
Sense8

So, what obvious show (shows) did I miss?
 
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Cadence

Legend
Supporter
It's been years since I saw it, but I never thought of the Prisoner as being science fiction... hm. I guess my definition is narrower than I thought.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
It's been years since I saw it, but I never thought of the Prisoner as being science fiction... hm. I guess my definition is narrower than I thought.

FlashyFoolishFallowdeer-max-1mb.gif
 

payn

Hero
Not in any particular order

Dr Who
The Outer limits (new and old)
Twilight Zone
Babylon 5
Star Trek DS9
Star Trek TOS
Star Trek TNG
Counterpart
Farscape
Battlestar Galactica 2004
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter

Yes, the ball seemed more than a a bit out there. :) But the rest didn't seem in the ball park of Star Trek, or Dark Angel, or Firefly, or even Brisco County to me. If they had communicators or phasers or... then it would have jumped out more to me.

I'm trying to think what hi-tech there is in James Bond or Get Smart. Are there any of those you would call sci-fi?

Is Firefly more sci-fi or more western. What if we got rid of the space ship and made it a dirigible on one planet? If we get rid of everything except one sci-fi piece, what would the voted for sci-fi vs. western be?
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Not in any particular order

Dr Who
The Outer limits (new and old)
Twilight Zone
Babylon 5
Star Trek DS9
Star Trek TOS
Star Trek TNG
Counterpart
Farscape
Battlestar Galactica 2004

I haven't seen Counterpart- have to add that to my freekin' yuge list of shows to watch when I get the time.

You can put all the Star Trek shows into one if'n you want.
 

Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Yes, the ball seemed more than a a bit out there. :) But the rest didn't seem in the ball park of Star Trek, or Dark Angel, or Firefly, or even Brisco County to me. If they had communicators or phasers or... then it would have jumped out more to me.

I'm trying to think what hi-tech there is in James Bond or Get Smart. Are there any of those you would call sci-fi?

Is Firefly more sci-fi or more western. What if we got rid of the space ship and made it a dirigible on one planet? If we get rid of everything except one sci-fi piece, what would the voted for sci-fi vs. western be?

Weirdly, I got dinged for "gatekeeping" (or other nonsense) for pointing out that Firefly was a western in space (which I assumed was both common knowledge, in the same way that Whedon specifically modeled it after the "Lost Cause"), but I personally have a fairly expansive view of science fiction.

Of course, the trouble with an expansive view of science fiction is you get to the situation where it becomes difficult to define genres- what about fantasy? Magical realism? Thrillers (or espionage) that used technology we don't currently have but are set in our time (like James Bond, sometimes, or Mission Impossible all the time)? Alternate history?

Since I don't have the answers, I'll let other people choose what they think it and isn't science fiction.
 


Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
I would put Space:1999 on the eligible shows? Stargate still has series running, except so does Star Trek.

Space:1999 is good, but for me it is an honorable mention. The reason I didn’t list Stargate is because, believe it or not, I’ve never watched it. I didn’t start when it started, and at this point there are too many series and episodes and I just can’t imagine trying to catch up.
 


MarkB

Legend
I'll give an honourable mention to a BBC series called Star Cops. It was from the era of classic Doctor Who and Blake's Seven, and its ropey budget shows in practically every shot, but it was way ahead of its time as a hard SF show set in Earth orbit that took orbital physics and spacecraft design every bit as seriously as The Expanse, and while a lot of its concepts seem quaint by modern standards they were pretty forward-looking at the time.

It includes things like an Alexa-style digital assistant in a pocket-sized device, computerised network surveillance to detect terrorist threats through keyword searches, terrorist attacks delivered through hacking of commercial systems, and identification - and misidentification - through DNA traces. All from a series produced in the 1980s.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
Space:1999 is good, but for me it is an honorable mention. The reason I didn’t list Stargate is because, believe it or not, I’ve never watched it. I didn’t start when it started, and at this point there are too many series and episodes and I just can’t imagine trying to catch up.
I think 1st season is right up there with some of the best sci-fi. Similar to the suggestion by @MarkB Max Headroom also deserves a mention as well, if just for the hacking incident where: "The video ended with a pair of exposed buttocks being spanked with a flyswatter before normal programming resumed. The culprits were never caught or identified." All of your picks are good though!
 

Richards

Legend
Yes, the ball seemed more than a a bit out there. :) But the rest didn't seem in the ball park of Star Trek, or Dark Angel, or Firefly, or even Brisco County to me. If they had communicators or phasers or... then it would have jumped out more to me.
Well, besides Rover, various episodes of The Prisoner involved mind-swapping technology, viewscreens that allowed you to watch people's dreams, and a computer that could "beam" knowledge directly into your head (granting you the equivalent of a college-level course in several minutes).

Johnathan
 


Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Doctor Who (excluding Torchwood)
The Avengers (John Steed version)
Sapphire and Steel
Tomorrow People (Thames Television)
Battlestar Galactica (Original) By Your Command
Man from Atlantis
Blakes 7
Lexx - had no interest when it was first on, but caught a 3am episode one day and got hooked in.
Automan
Knight Rider
Seaquest voyages through Inner Space
Logans Run
Dollhouse
Misfits
Stingray (is Supermarionation animation?)
Person of Interest
 
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Snarf Zagyg

Notorious Liquefactionist
Doctor Who (excluding Torchwood)
The Avengers (John Steed version)
Sapphire and Steel
Tomorrow People (Thames Television)
Battlestar Galactica (Original) By Your Command
Man from Atlantis
Blakes 7
Lexx - had no interest when it was first on, but caught a 3am episode one day and got hooked in.
Automan
Knight Rider
Seaquest voyages through Inner Space
Logans Run
Dollhouse
Misfits
Stingray (is Supermarionation animation?)
Person of Interest

Some comments-
The Avengers ... not a bad choice, not sure I'd include it.
Sapphire & Steel- haven't seen it since it was first airing, so my recollections aren't very good.
BSG Original- Um... some great ideas, but the continual re-use of the same footage for the space battles in every episode began to get annoying.
Dollhouse- Considered it, but it's a little too ... Louie/Cosby for me ... in light of recent revelations. I really enjoyed it when it originally aired.
Person of Interest- D'oh! Should have been in my honorable mentions!


....Automan? Really? Do you want to go into more detail on that one? I am ... confuddled by that choice.
 


MattW

Explorer
How can you forget the Gerry Anderson puppets? Thunderbirds was much more convincing than Space: 1999.

Best non-American SF shows (that have not yet been mentioned)
1. Hitchhhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
2. Red Dwarf
3. Survivors (1970's version)
4. Max Headroom
5. Orphan Black
6. Black Mirror
7. Dirk Gently (the British one, starring Steven Mangan)
8. Humans
9. Primeval
10. The Sarah Jane Adventures
 

Ryujin

Hero
Doctor Who (excluding Torchwood)
The Avengers (John Steed version)
Sapphire and Steel
Tomorrow People (Thames Television)
Battlestar Galactica (Original) By Your Command
Man from Atlantis
Blakes 7
Lexx - had no interest when it was first on, but caught a 3am episode one day and got hooked in.
Automan
Knight Rider
Seaquest voyages through Inner Space
Logans Run
Dollhouse
Misfits
Stingray (is Supermarionation animation?)
Person of Interest
Good to see someone remember "Stingray." I just finished re-re-rewatching the original "Captain Scarlet" and was wondering if I go to "Stingray" or "Thunderbirds" next. amazing how many of the model effects, sound effects, etc. made it into "UFO" and, later, "Space 1999." Captain Blue and Ed Straker, of "UFO", were played by the same actor; Ed Bishop. (The live action "Thunderbirds" movie makes me shudder.)
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
My list in no particular order

1. X-files
2. Twilight Zone
3. Dr. Who
4. The Outer Limits
5. Star Trek(TOS, Next Gen and DS9)
6. Battlestar Galactica(Old and New. If you can twofer, so can I.)
7. Knight Rider
8. Stargate SG-1
9. Quantum Leap
10. Babylon 5


I'm throwing the Six Million Dollar man into honorable mentions. I didn't have an ending, but 99 episodes and 6 TV movies makes it stand out. Fringe is going in the honorable mentions, because while it started out great, the last season wasn't very good. Black Mirror also makes the honorable mentions list.
 

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