Saturday April 19, 2014

Geek Wars: Best. Scifi. Ever.


View from the Cheap Seats is kind of an extension of the newsroom. Whenever our three regular reporters, Calvin Daniels, Thom Barker and Randy Brenzen are in the building together, it is frequently a site of heated debate. This week: What is the greatest science fiction TV series of all time?

Dr. Who

When a television show has even a remote connection to science fiction, or fantasy I am drawn to them.

Arrow became an immediate favourite when it launched last year.

Ditto the excellent series Defiance.

This year I am loving Sleepy Hollow, and the newest take on Dracula is rich in thematics, and Almost Human is a surprise hit in my books.

And I look ahead with some hope to the January debuts of Helix and Bitten.

None of the aforementioned series are contenders for the best of speculative fiction television, even as they collectively speak to a golden age for the genre on the home screen.

To make it to the best of genre discussion you generally need to look to longevity, although that does not ensure quality either as Buffy the Vampire Slayer exemplifies.

And sometimes fate deals great sci-fi a bad hand. Firefly was great in its one season, and deserved more time to grow. But it launched well before the current interest in the genre and was chopped.

If Firefly were to launch today with the current strength of the general fan base I am confident it would be pencilled in to a network schedule for years.

So which series is the best?

In North America we tend to gravitate toward Star Trek. The franchise went through five series through the years, the best being Next Generation, with Jean Luc Picard at the helm. It was great TV with episodes ranging from societal reflection themes, to the humourous, with most being well worth an hour of your TV time.

But Trekkers have to take second place in this case.

The 50-year run of Dr. Who, marked recently by a special 50th-year show which had a TV special seeing a limited theatrical release in 3D, which grossed millions in its first weekend, is easily the king of this list.

The series had a long initial run, went off air, only to be reborn in 2005 with Christopher Eccleston as Who. He had a one-season run before passing the torch to David Tennant who became an instant iconic version of the good Doctor.

This Christmas Peter Capaldi will take on the mantle of the title role, the 12th man to play Dr. Who.

Through all the decades, all the faces, Dr. Who has continued to tell stories which are full of hope and mirth, and excitement, and in the process has earned being recognized as the best of the genre, at least by me.

-Calvin Daniels

Star Trek

When the topic of greatest science fiction TV series of all time came up, I thought, ‘piece of cake, Star Trek,’ right?

In the true spirit of geekiness, however, that glorious penchant for over-thinking things and flogging the dead horse of minutiae to the molecular level, I had to re-evaluate that gut reaction. What does greatest mean? If I evaluate shows objectively, I might come up with a very different answer than what my favourites are.

Also, what constitutes science fiction? When I go through the list of the most obvious, I have to admit, I probably can’t even call myself a scifi fan. Aside from Star Trek and Next Generation, I never really followed any of the other series in that franchise. And I have never even seen an episode of Battlestar Galactica, Stargate, Babylon 5, Torchwood, Farscape, Andromeda, Firefly or any of the others that trip of the tongue of true aficionados of the genre.

Way, way, way back in the day, I got into Red Dwarf and Dr. Who, for a time—which is why we are doing this topic, because Calvin really wants to opine about why Dr. Who is the finest—but I never really kept up with it. I am afraid I simply cannot do a reasonable comparative analysis of scifi series.

If I go a little further afield, however, there are some series I loved, that don’t immediately leap to mind when you say scifi, The X-Files and The Twilight Zone for example. Among these, which you might call second-tier scifi, my favourite was Quantum Leap. Like Star Trek, the original series, however, I don’t know if Quantum Leap was empirically good, or if it’s like Kraft Dinner, cheesy and no matter how bad, sometimes you just have to have some because of the fond childhood memories it evokes.

If I really wanted to stretch the genre, I would include series such as Numbers and Criminal Minds, which are ultimately not technically scifi, but they are fiction in which science is prominently and not necessarily very accurately portrayed.

My favourite of current offerings is Grimm, which is very interesting and extremely well done, but whether it can be wedged into the category and called the greatest of all time is probably a stretch.

Ultimately, after all those gyrations, I’m going to have to go with my gut. Great television transcends genre and that was Gene Roddenberry’s vision, to boldly go, if you will excuse the split infinitive, where no TV show had gone before.

Also, while, individually, other shows may have run longer, or have been of better intrinsic quality, the sheer breadth of the Star Trek phenomenon in spawning spin-off series, great movies and its sheer impact on pop culture, it is, I submit the greatest of all-time.

-Thom Barker



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