SciFi Standard Bearers

SciFi Standard Bearers

Televised science fiction has been enjoying something of a resurgence these last few years, with some people wondering if we’re entering into a kind of ‘Golden Age’ of scifi.

Maybe!

People my age, who were born in the 1970s and 1980s, once thought that the latter half of the 1980s and the entirety of the 1990s was that Golden Age, because of the number of science fiction shows on free-to-air TV at the time.  Shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation and its spin-offs, Quantum LeapThe X-Files, Space: Above and Beyond, Farscape, Babylon 5 and it’s spin-off Crusade, Stargate SG-1Earth: Final Conflict, SlidersSeaQuest DSV, and more.

Honestly, it was pretty amazing.  Even in Australia, where we still don’t get a lot of scifi content on free-to-air and have to wait for those shows to arrive on DVD (or at that time, video cassette), we could still catch two or three shows a week – The X-FilesFarscapeSeaQuest DSVBuffy the Vampire Slayer and Space: Above and Beyond.  All while waiting for the latest Star Trek or Babylon 5 episode to arrive on video.

With that amount of content, you’d expect some duds, but most of the science fiction and, what eventually came to be known as ‘genre shows’ (thanks to Buffy) were pretty good.

Then it all stopped.  We had the odd ‘sputter’ with the amazing Battlestar Galactica reboot, and we had CharmedAngelV, and the Stargate spin-offs for a while, but suddenly genre series seemed to all but disappear from our screens.  Until recently.

Now, over the last few years, all sorts of incredible, not easily definable television shows have captivated science fiction and fantasy fans, as well as mainstream audiences alike – The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Vikings, the revamped Doctor Who, Westworld, Ash vs The Evil Dead, Supergirl, Flash, Arrow, The Strain, Legion, Once Upon A Time, Grimm, Agents of SHIELD, The Exorcist, The Expanse, Dark Matter, Killjoys and soon, the brand new Star Trek: Discovery.

There are so many ‘genre’ shows airing right now that it’s actually difficult to keep track of them!  But, how many are traditional science fiction?  Scifi set in space, on a starship, zooming about all over the place?

Very few, actually.

I don’t think anyone really knows why.  At one point it might have been an issue of cost, because science fiction shows have never been cheap, but with Game of Thrones costing a whopping six million dollars per episode, that’s probably not a consideration any more.

It might be because, as Commander Jeffrey Sinclair from Babylon 5 would say, “Nothing is the same anymore.”  We’re not watching television in the same ways as we used to.  We’re streaming shows and we’re watching them on multiple platforms.  Also, we’re getting, on average, half as many episodes per season as we once used to.

People are time poor in the 21st Century, and on top of that the old studio system doesn’t hold as much sway as it once did.  Plus, many of us are paying for our content and because of that we’re expecting something special.  We want ‘event’ television, but event television that tells an intimate tale.

Science fiction is definitely event television, but it hasn’t always done the intimate bit very well.

Thankfully, that is changing and we’re starting to see more traditional scifi again.

Right now, there are three standard bearers for science fiction television.

The Expanse, Killjoys, and Dark Matter.

All three take place on a larger canvas, telling bigger stories, but focus episode to episode on the lives of a few characters, taking us deep into their worlds.

With The Expanse, we’re following a crew of four, learning about them and their relationships episode to episode.

With Killjoys, we’re following a crew of three people, unravelling the mystery of their lives.

With Dark Matter we’re following what was a crew of six (but that fluctuated in Season 2) as they try to remember who they are – and on discovering that, try to fight against who they were and become better people.

In just two seasons, for each of these shows, we have learned more about their main characters than we did most of the characters on any of the old Star Trek shows.

These new series are showing the way for modern science fiction, and it’s exciting.

I haven’t seen The Expanse yet, because it hasn’t aired on television or been made available to us on DVD or BluRay, for reasons that are just stupid, but I am a fan of the books and follow all of the news on the show and it looks amazing.

Killjoys and Dark Matter, however, I can comment on, and both are outstanding.

Killjoys took me four episodes to get into, but by episode five of Season One I was hooked and I’ve been in love with the show ever since.  What hooked me?  The characters.  Dutch, Johnny and D’avin.

Dark Matter grabbed me straight away and has kept me wanting more season to season.  What grabbed me?  In particular Two (Portia), Three (Marcus), Five (Emily), Six (Kal) and the Android.

All of the other stuff in both shows is just icing on the cake.

As well as the intimate story lines mentioned above, those shows have something else in common – they have strong female leads, they don’t shy away from issues of sexuality and gender, and they show us a multicultural future where light and dark dance around the edges of what are very ‘grey’ realities.  I love Star Trek‘s utopia like future, but I get that today’s audiences want some sort of discourse on just how screwed up we all are.  They want to it see it reflected and mirrored on television, and they want to see our heroes fighting, and at times submitting, to that.

Rather than break these shows down in any detail, I encourage you to watch them if you haven’t – and to continue to support them if you already enjoy them.

If you want to know more about these three excellent series, you can visit their official websites here: The Expanse, Killjoys, and Dark Matter.

As someone who hopes to see an old favourite, Space: 1999, rebooted, there are lessons that can be learned from these new shows about how to structure a series and most especially about what a modern audience wants.  Intimacy.  Inclusion.  An exploration of modern issues.

Space: 1999 was already doing some of that back in the 1970s, with a very multicultural crew on Moonbase Alpha, and any reboot of it would no doubt be able to tackle that and other things that are important to us now, and in very creative and intimate ways.  I can imagine a transgender crew member, and with a character like Maya an episode or two or five focused on inclusion and the occasional bigotry that can come with not understanding something or someone.

More and more, as I dissect both of these more traditional science fiction shows and compare them with other genre offerings, I see a place for Space: 1999 in modern television (obviously with a few changes), and get more and more excited about the possibility.

Moonbase Alpha was a microcosm of Earth, and it’s philosophical ‘bent’ was all about us (in the 1970s) asking “who am I?”  “Why am I here?”  Where am I going?”  Things many of these genre series are debating right now in their own unique and dramatic ways.

I hope that this renaissance of science fiction that we are enjoying right now continues for some time, and I hope that a new Space: 1999 becomes a part of that.

I first wanted the show to get a reboot in the 80s.  Then again in the early 2000s.  But now, looking at the world as it is, and looking at what genre television has become, I feel NOW is the time.  It would have been too soon a couple of decades ago.

As far as I know, ITV still own the rights to the television series.

Hopefully they realise the potential of Space: 1999, and give it the new life it deserves.

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The Unexpected Joy of Podcasts

Science Fiction Classics

Have you ever been SUPER late to “the party?”

I have been.  On two occasions.

I still can’t believe I was so moronic.

The first was with Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  All of my friends were constantly talking up this apparently amazing TV show about a beautiful blonde cheerleader who kicked vampire ass on a regular basis.  I thought they were mad.  How could a show about a vampire killing cheerleader be quality TV?!  And when I learned she was in love with a vampire on top of all of that, all I could think was “no, no, no, no, NO!”

Holy crap was I wrong.  I came to Buffy half way through it’s second season and never looked back.

The second time I was late to the party was with Podcasts.

I didn’t want to listen to people rabbit on about the things I loved, in case it somehow ruined that thing for me.

I’m a huge science fiction fan, and I’ll watch a bad sci-fi movie or TV episode over pretty much everything else, but the thought of listening to other fans dissect the movies and shows I loved gave me a headache.  I felt that way thanks to the comments sections on various sci-fi news sites.  There was a time, years ago, when you could read some really insightful stuff in those sections.  Comments that validated how you felt, and comments that challenged you to rethink your opinion… and then they became a haven for negative people spouting negative crap that would often cause a ‘flame’ war.

I feared Podcasting would give those negative voices even more of a platform.

Again, I was wrong.  Sometimes you come across the odd negative naysayer and the odd obnoxious panel member, but they seem to be an exception to the norm.

In the last few weeks I’ve become addicted to a whole bunch of Podcasts and I’m really enjoying the experience.

I have a long drive to and from work everyday and I can spend up to three hours in my car depending on traffic.  While I’m happy to listen to music, and sometimes just get lost in my own thoughts, I recently decided to try out Podcasts and have not looked back.  For me, it’s like having a car full of good friends chatting to me about my favourite things.

There are courses you can do via Podcast, there are meditations, there are discussion panels about your favourite movies, and in particular discussion panels on your favourite shows.

I thought I’d share one particular Podcast I recently listened to and loved, and list two ongoing ones that are excellent.  If you’re a sci-fi fan who has never given Podcasts a shot, these ones are some you may want to check out.

Eagle on Platform

First up, the single episode I listened to recently.

Autopilot by Scott Johnson and Tom Merritt.  This dynamic duo watch and comment on the pilot episodes of multiple television shows across the decades and its chock full of awesome.

These guys are HILARIOUS, and many of their insights are both thought provoking and entertaining.

In season three, episode nine of their series, they take a look at “Breakaway”, the pilot episode of Space: 1999.

Check it out here.

Babylon 5 Season 1 Cast Photo

The Audio Guide to Babylon 5 has fast become one of my favourite Podcasts.  Sitting down with Chip, Erika and Shannon is like being wrapped up in a warm B5 and sci-fi geek hug that always makes me smile.  That hour and a bit of my trip into work everyday flies by when these guys are on my list.

I crammed three years’ worth of their Podcasts into four weeks and never once felt bored.  They’re excellent.

If you’re a fan of Babylon 5, this series is a must.

Check the guys out here.

There are multiple ways to interact with Chip, Shannon and Erika, and they’ve created a very active fan community.

Star Trek Through The Years

The last Podcast I’ll mention is Shuttle Pod.

There are, obviously, thousands more, but these three really stood out to me.  Excellent production values, insightful commentary, interesting personalities, humour, and warm ‘feels’ everywhere.

Shuttle Pod is a production of one of my favourite Star Trek news sites, TrekMovie.com.  They discuss everything from the movies, to the shows, and the characters.  Their recent look at the Trek films has been both entertaining and informative.

Check them out here.

If you’ve never given Podcasts a go, now is the time.  Most of us will have a few days off over Easter, and there are worse ways to spend a holiday.

If you’re an old hand at Podcasts and love science fiction, but have never given these Podcasts a try, look them up and have a listen.

I’m thinking of doing a tour through the Space: 1999 episodes as a Podcast, but I’m literally the only Space: 1999 fan that I know!

If I can ever conscript someone to join me, or find a really interesting way to do it solo, they’ll feature here.

That’s it for now.

If you’re an Easter celebrating person, Happy Easter, and eat chocolate and prosper.

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