Saturday, 4 July 2015

Top Ten Classic Science Fiction Series

Last year, I listed my top ten science fiction shows, including a couple of classic shows that in my opinion stood the test of time. While compiling that list, I discarded quite a few classic science fiction shows that I enjoyed as a kid in the late 1960’s and 1970’s.

The reason these shows were cast away was that they were actually almost embarrassing to watch as an adult all these years later. At the time, in my evolving mind, I thoroughly enjoyed them and I have to say that without them, none of the shows of today would exist.

I think they deserve praise because there were some episodes that I really enjoyed, even watching them again all of those years later.

Star Trek, Dr Who and Space 1999 made my original list, so these will not be mentioned again.

Let’s dive in shall we?

10. Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea was initially a film and it spawned the series of the same name. The series was set on board a nuclear submarine called Seaview and recounted the adventures of the intrepid crew who encountered all manner of evil sea monsters and even aliens. The stories started off with espionage but gradually introduced weirder elements.

The plots were relatively straightforward and the good guys usually won in the end. Nevertheless, along the way,  the submarine usually suffered, mostly due to monsters roaming around the vessel, somehow finding the control room and ripping out wires and cables, resulting the submarine hitting the bottom of the sea.

You would have thought that if the captain had stationed a couple of guards outside the control room, life would have been so much easier for the crew.

9. The Invisible Man

I loved the novel of the same name by H.G.Wells and the whole concept of invisibility fascinates me. The series of the same name from the 1970s was very entertaining, if a little simplified, and it starred David McCallum, famous from another cult 1960’s show The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

At the time, I loved the special effects. These days they look a little dated.

Sadly the series didn’t last very long, which is a shame. In my opinion, there was a lot of scope for storylines.

8. Blake’s 7

Blake’s 7 is the story of a group of galactic rebels battling against a totalitarian state, led by, as the name suggests, a man called Blake. And it was British, produced by the Terry Nation, the man who invented the Daleks.

Although the special effects are quite tacky, I liked the story and the struggle of this group of renegades against the mighty Terran Federation.

The group often cross swords with the evil Servalan, a ruthless power-hungry woman.

To be honest, I haven’t watched any repeats of the series since the late 1970’s. Perhaps I shouldn’t so that I don’t ruin my memories of it.

7. Land of the Giants

Land of the Giants was the story of the survivors of a crashed ship that was caught in a weird anomaly and whisked off to a planet inhabited by giants. The survivors were known as little people and had to deal with colossal insects, cats and, worst of all, terrible plotlines.

I thought the show was hilarious – even as a kid. Each episode had roughly the same plot, with a few minor variations;

One or more of the little people are captured by a giant with an ulterior motive. The remaining little people rescue them.

That’s basically it.

The show was perfect for a young child like I was at the time, but when I watched the show again in the 1990’s that initial innocent magic was lost. I did see one of the giant telephones when I visited Universal Studios in Los Angeles and it was very impressive. That’s why I’ve popped the show in at number 7.

And the funniest thing about the show?

It was set in 1983!!!

6. Planet of the Apes

I loved the original Planet of the Apes films. I even read the books as a small child (Conquest of the Planet of the Apes was my favourite).  It’s no surprise that the TV series that followed the movies would be on the list of my favourite classic science fiction series.

The concept is wonderful. Based on the original film, two astronauts crash land on Earth 2000 years in the future, having encountered a time portal of some kind in space. In the meantime, a huge cataclysm has occurred on Earth, resulting in intelligent apes becoming the dominant species.

In the series, I loved the main bad guy, a gorilla called Urko wo pursued the astronauts and Galen, the chimp played by Roddy McDowell in their quest to find a solution to their predicament.

Sadly, the series was cancelled prematurely (do not rant, Dave!!!).

5. The Time Tunnel

Of all the science fiction concepts out there, time travel intrigues me most of all. Unfortunately, science fiction writers don’t always consider the potential paradoxes associated with travelling to the past, or indeed, the future.

The Time Tunnel, while very interesting and enjoyable, used to infuriate me because of the plot holes. Basically, the show was the story of two scientists trapped in time and unable to be returned to their own time period. Every week, they were dumped into a past period, for example in the city of Jericho before the walls came down. Miraculously, wherever they landed and in whichever country, the people always spoke English and refused to ask why they had weird clothes – the SAME clothes, I should add.

And they certainly interfered with past events with little regard for the consequences of their actions. It seemed okay though because their observers from the future, the team who were trying to retrieve them, didn’t suffer any after effects, like popping out of esixtence.

Plot holes aside, I actually thought it was a very good series, one that I would have liked to have written an episode for.

4. The Six Million Dollar Man

Whenever I ran in the local park I became the Steve Austin, the bionic man. The theme tune to the show would run through my head as I imagined chasing cars and using my bionic arm to punch holes in walls and beat up bad guys – just like the clip above where he encounters Bigfoot.

Yes – I was a huge fan of this show. It was perfect for a twelve year old geek with a huge and active imagination.

I loved the show so much that when Lee Majors turned up later as The Fall Guy I refused to watch it because I didn’t want to imagine Steve Austin as anybody else.

Looking back at the show now, it seems dated, particularly the slow motion portrayal of Steve’s super speed.

I can forgive that though. Lee Majors will always be Steve Austin – don’t believe anything else.

3. Lost in Space

Lost in Space was so bad it was brilliant. By far the best character was Dr Zachary Smith, a cowardly man who thought only about himself. To me he was the star of the show and his verbal duals with the Robot were highly amusing.

To be honest, if it wasn’t for these two characters, I wouldn’t have watched the show. They kept it fresh and interesting (the others were kind of boring really).

Again, with my imagination, I would have loved to have penned an episode or two of the show as some of the episodes weren’t that good. Nevertheless, the best episodes were brilliant and always had Dr Smith at the heart of them – hence this lofty position.

As an aside, the recent film based on the series was not very good, apart from the revamped theme by the band Apollo 440:

2. The Incredible Hulk

The Hulk is my favourite Marvel character and I am delighted that he is the star of the two recent Avengers movies. Of course, before that, he was portrayed by Lou Ferrigno in this wonderful TV series.

I have watched a few episodes recently and while a little dated, I still looked forward to the parts where David Banner, played brilliantly by Bill Bixby, would evolve into the violent green monster and smash things to pieces.

One of the best things about the show was David’s struggle to find a cure for his condition, something that was perfectly captured in the closing credits of each episode with the solitary and very sad piano music:

1. UFO

Of all the classic science fiction series, only three made it into my all-time Top 10. UFO very nearly did.

The reason it didn’t was that it was quite dated. Supposedly set in 1980, it seemed like a weird version of the 1960’s.

That’s my only criticism. UFO was an intelligent and slightly disturbing series about a secret organisation called SHADO, that protected the Earth from mysterious aliens. The function of SHADO was to keep the existence of these aliens secret while at the same time trying to work out what their hostile goals were.

The aliens were humanoid but quite scary. Their skin was green because they breathed a green liquid.

There was enough to appeal to both kids and adults. I loved the Interceptors and had a model of my own, which fired a missile and gave me hours of fun. I have seen the odd repeat as an adult and if you ignore the obvious 1960’s influence, the stories are genuinely good and menacing. Even the end credits were spooky:

This is a prime candidate for a modern reboot.

And finally …

Over to you, dear reader:

Have you seen any of these classic shows? 

Are there any shows that I missed that might be worth investigating?


Elephant's Child said...

I remember - and really enjoyed Blake's Seven. I think I would watch at least one episode if ever I came across it again...
You featuring Lost in Space is a serendipitious moment. On Friday we went to our interactive Science Museum where there was a robot which said 'Danger Will Robinson' on command. Can you remember the robot's name? Did it have one?

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi EC,

I think they should probably remake Blake's 7 with a modern outlook.

I don't think the robot had a name to be honest.

I might be wrong though.




Jackie K said...

I loved Land of the Lost because I was obsessed with dinosaurs. And The Bionic Man and The Bionic Woman. And The Incredible Hulk was a family favourite. "Don't make me angry, Mr McGee. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry." It was amazing how many 'B' surnames they came up with for his weekly surname alias. And how Lou Ferrigno was clearly so much bigger than Bill Bixby yet he somehow wore the same size jeans at waist and hip and upper leg. It's funny how naive so many of these shows seem now, only 40 years ago and yet in some ways a very different world.
But I agree with you, they were lots of fun and laid the way for all the shows and movies that followed.

But how could you miss out The Twilight Zone??

River said...

I have seen bits of some of these, they're from years when I was too busy to watch much TV. I remember Land of the Giants, but didn't watch for long because, as you said, it was always the same story, different characters, theme.
Planet of the Apes was a favourite and I now own the movies, but not the TV series. Six Million Dollar Man was popular with my kids, I was interested in all the bionic stuff that made him so special and wondered when that might happen in real life.
Lost in Space was watched every week, also the Incredible Hulk.
The others I don't know anything about.

Pandora Behr said...

I remember most of these shows with some fondness. Lost in Space in particular.



Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Jackie,

I used to watch The Twilight Zone but I kind of regarded it as bordering on horror because it was genuinely quite scary.

Ah - The Bionic Woman. I had a minor crush on Lindsay Wagner to be honest. She recently turned up as a character in Warehouse 13 actually.




Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi River,

Have you seen the new Planet of the Apes films? If not, I think you would like them.




Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Pand,

Lost in Space was a must see every Friday afternoon after school when I was a young wee innocent boy.

I might catch up as lots of the episodes are on You Tube.




JahTeh said...

I watched Blake's 7 until he was knocked off and I wouldn't watch it now, too dated. I've done that with shows I loved and believe me, you can't go back. Not strictly SF was the the spook show 'Kolchak', you might call it the original 'Supernatural' and the special effects are so bad. UFO was great only because it was the only space show we had for a while. SeaQuest DSV was a better version of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. A lot of those show were a variant of Enid Blyton's 'The Far away Tree' and that book gave me nightmares for years so Time Tunnel and Land of the Giants were not favourites. The Bionic Man and Bionic Woman, great but jumped the shark with The Bionic Dog.
The Original Battlestar Gallactica I still watch, it had humour and colour.

River said...

Planet of the Apes, I have: Rise of the Planet of the Apes; Planet of the Apes; Beneath the Planet of the Apes; Escape From the Planet of the Apes; Conquest of the Planet of the Apes; Battle for the Planet of the Apes; Behind the Planet of the Apes, which is the behind the scenes stuff showing the make-up sessions and filming.
Is there anything else that I haven't got?

I'm very far behind on my Warehouse 13 watching. I'm going to have to buy the rest and start watching from episode one.

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi JT,

I don't recall Kolchak but I do remember SeaQuest DSV. I also read the that series of books by Enid Blyton as a small child - I liked them (but I am weird in that way).

I also remember the Bionic Dog turning up (I think in the Bionic Woman).

Yes - that was a low point.




Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi River,

That's quite a collection. The only thing missing are the new films, I think.

Warehouse 13 has finished now (and it had a proper ending too). I enjoyed it; it was quirky and fun.




Vince said...

What was the one about the 2 children who used to pass through a hole in the fence and time travel ?

Used to love that

Plastic Mancunian said...

Hi Vince,

I don't remember such a programme. What year are we talking about?