TV - US Science Fiction

Science Fiction

Steve Taylor-Bryant asks and answers a simple question. Or does he?...

I was asked a question yesterday (OK, I talk to myself) I gave a three word answer. The question was “Do you like U.S. Science fiction?” my response was “yes I do”

Then I couldn't sleep. I couldn't get it out of my head that my answer wasn't genuine. Not a lie, you understand, but not an accurate thought out complete answer. So if you will allow I am going to write my musings here and see if an accurate response can be found.

Proper decent well made science fiction is not a new concept, the first popular well followed serial Sci Fi show was Captain Video in 1949. Lots of good shows Stateside followed until the real boom in the 1960s. As a country was gripped with the excitement of an actual space race with the U.S.S.R and we got closer to a human being setting foot on our moon, their nation was ecstatic for shows like Lost In Space.

The globally successful Star Trek started and over the course of 50 years has led to The Next Generation, Deep Space 9, Voyager and Enterprise, all of which accounted for the interest in continuing with Sci Fi as an entertainment format. Seaquest DSV with its ultra intelligent dolphin brought environmental issues to the foreground of television and gave viewers an awareness of problems we face as a race on our own planet today, Babylon 5 launched with the first properly written multi level story arc and Quantum Leap showed you could do Sci Fi as a different story each week so as not to lose people who couldn't commit the time to a season.

When we hit the 1990s the X Files came into our viewing world like a tornado, tapping in to everyone's fear of the unknown and the unexplained from the very start. Along with my Modern History tutor at school, X Files excited a now lifelong obsession with the conspiracy theory idea, whilst being as entertaining as any other well made detective drama, which helped crossover to non science fiction followers. It even got my mum watching, she of the "period drama is king" persuasion.

Buffy and Angel helped the hybrid that is Sci Fi horror gain momentum with shows like Ghost Whisperer and Medium to follow. The long running highly successful movie spin off of Stargate SG-1 brought MacGyver into space, and the reboot of Battlestar Galactica was watched by millions and I finally stopped thinking of it as The A Team in space due to the Dirk Benedict confusion I suffered as a child. When we compare this to great well written and produced Sci Fi from our own great shores we see a slightly different pattern. Yes in the 60s we as a nation were also gripped by space fever happening around the world, we looked on in envy at the U.S and my dad pretended he was Neil Armstrong.

We countered the U.S. with our own quality. Nigel Kneale's The Quatermass Experiment and its spin offs, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons got young children loving a so far untapped genre. We had Space 1999 and the birth of the Doctor Who phenomenon.  We had a slight lull in the 70s but hit back in the 80s with the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, The Day of the Triffids, The Tripods, which was one of my favourite shows growing up, and the creation of Sci Fi comedy began at the end of the decade with Red Dwarf. Then... nothing... a huge vacuum, the BBC after a long running dispute cancelled Doctor Who and we as a country produced, well nothing.

Russell T Davies rebooted the Doctor Who franchise in 2005 then Torchwood and the Sarah Jane Adventures followed but that's about it.

So do I like U.S science fiction shows? I have to say yes purely because without them we wouldn't have science fiction television.

Doctor Who's viewing figures are up there with our treasured soap operas and the risk the BBC took was a fantastic one and Messrs Davies and Moffat more recently have not let us down, but where is the risk being taken elsewhere? Where is the support of the fantastic writing talent pool we have in this country? The Americans do fail occasionally, although I will fight to death to support Firefly as there's nothing wrong with the occasional cheesy romp, but they are at least willing to fail. Take Doctor Who and the spin off's away and where is the production of new shows? Where are the reboots of Blake's 7 and the Quatermass tales?

So for now I am off to watch the SyFy channel and enjoy the fare the US has to offer whilst I hope the companies in this country don't wait until I am too old to take the risk to entertain me here.

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