The Best Sci-Fi TV Shows

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The much-heralded sci-fi anthology show Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams has arrived on Aussie streaming service Stan. For those who missed the memo, it's based on ten short stories by visionary author Philip K. Dick, the man whose words inspired the cinematic brilliance of Blade Runner, Total Recall, A Scanner Darkly and Minority Report. To celebrate here are ten of the finest sci-fi television shows you should be watching right now.

Star Trek (1966 – 1969)

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Gene Roddenbury’s space opera originally battled to stay on screen after one season but, thanks to a letter-writing campaign from intervening fans, managed to last for three. Captain Kirk (William Shatner) and the crew of the starship Enterprise set phasers to stun and went on its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilisations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.

The original series has lived long and prospered, spawning a cartoon series, numerous feature films, a multitude of spin-offs (Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, Discovery) and a novelty single. Altogether now, “there’s Klingons on the starboard bow!”

Doctor Who (1963 – Present)

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Originally renowned for its wobbly sets, wobbly plastic monsters and even wobblier acting; Doctor Who had generations of kids hiding behind the sofa before the show went on hiatus in 1986 after 26 years on air. Now given a new lease of life after Chris Ecclestone took over the role in 2005, the time-travelling exploits of the rogue Time Lord from the planet of Gallifrey are as popular as ever.

This is thanks largely to the Doctor's powers of regeneration and the incredibly popular incarnation played by David Tennant. The collective Whovian gasps could be heard the world over when it was announced that Jodie Whittaker would become the 13th Doctor.

Black Mirror (2011 – Present)

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Before Black Mirror, Charlie Brooker had made a name for himself writing Brasseye and Nathan Barley with Chris Morris and setting loose zombies onto the Big Brother set in Dead Set. Now he is creator of one of the hottest shows in the world. An acerbic sci-fi anthology show, Brooker focuses on the consequences that future technologies could have in years to come.

Often fusing savage humour with dystopian despair, the first episode featured a UK prime minister blackmailed into having sex with a pig live on television. Once seen, never forgotten.

The Twilight Zone (1959-1964)

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Rod Serling’s hugely influential anthology show mixed its sci-fi with psychological horror, fantasy, suspense and thriller, often concluding with a macabre or unexpected twist. Running for five seasons from 1959 to 1964, boasted the talents of Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson amongst its writers. Serling and his fellow scribes often using the show as a soapbox for the big issues of the day.

Firefly (2002)

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Short lived but much-loved, Firefly is a space western following the ragtag crew of the good ship Serenity as they head out to the fringes of society exploring the frontier of space civilisation. The likeable crew included Nathan Fillion (Castle), Allan Tudyk (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story) and Morena Baccarin (Homelands).

Created by Joss Whedon after the huge success of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, the single series was followed by a movie Serenity in 2005 but proved to be a box-office failure. Despite this, the show has built a huge cult following and a reboot is being vaunted.

Battlestar Galactica (2004 – 2009)

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A gritty, big-budget remake of the classic Glen A. Larson ‘70s production, Battlestar Galactica still pitched the last survivors of the human race against the evil Cylons but got rid of the "robot dog" called Muffit (played by a chimpanzee named Evolution in the original, fact fans).

Starring Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell, the reboot proved to be immensely popular, spinning off three TV movies and a less successful sister series called Caprica.

The X-Files (1993-2016)

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The truth will always be out there for conspiracy theory enthusiast, alien believer and FBI agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny, who recently frocked up again for David Lynch’s return to Twin Peaks). Luckily perennial skeptic Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) is on hand, as his partner, to debunk the supernatural shenanigans the duo witness while fuelling the “will they? won’t they?” sexual tension heating up the screen.

The Prisoner (1967-1968)

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Quirky, odd and frightfully British, The Prisoner is arguably the quintessential sci-fi show of the ‘60s. Star Patrick McGoohan played a former secret agent who is abducted and imprisoned in a mysterious, but seemingly idyllic, coastal village resort, where his captors try to find out why he abruptly resigned from his job.

Menaced by giant roving balls and only known as Number 6, the show, much like its hero’s mantra, “I am not a number, I am a free man!” , is one of the most original ever shown on television. The show was later parodied on The Simpsons though it's likely most viewers had no concept of the original.

Lost (2004 – 2010)

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JJ Abrams calling card follows the survivors of a commercial jet airliner crash, flying between Sydney and Los Angeles, California, on a mysterious tropical island somewhere in the South Pacific Ocean. After six seasons the conclusion lost many viewers, the big reveals failing to deliver what audiences wanted. But as a whole, the show was a brilliant drama, full of winning performances, especially Naveen Andrews, Jorge Garcia and Matthew Fox, that kept viewers guessing to the very end.

The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy (1981)

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Forget the big-budget Hollywood fiasco. If you want to see the definitive adaptation of Douglas Adams’s seminal tome about earthling Arthur Dent’s journey to the “Restaurant At The End Of The Universe”, then the BBC show (in turn based on a radio show of the book) is even better than Vogan poetry. Babel fish, Marvin the paranoid android, the importance of towels in space travel; all are here in a delightfully quirky vision that duly does great service to Adams delightful source material.


David Michael Brown is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in Rolling Stone, Filmink and Empire Magazine where he was senior editor for nine years.


Comments

    The Expanse is amazing imo and really needs to be seen more by sci-fi fans. Brilliantly done.

      Yep, the Expanse is highly recommended.

        Took a few episodes to get into. But by the end I was totally hooked. Not to mention the military/combat suits are the best looking suits of any sci-fi to date in my opinion. The only show that invigorated my need to play pre-release Star Citizen again.

      100% agree. Its honestly the first sci-fi show where I felt like it actually showed what the future could be like. It felt so grounded in reality.

    Pity that half of these shows can't be found on any streaming service

    Loved most of these but I was never able to get in to Battlestar Galactica for some reason, even though the space effects and ships were done so well.

    As for Lost, I watched about 5 episodes, called the plot and walked away.

      I somehow doubt you called the plot for Lost midway through the first season

        He might be referring to the theory that they were all in purgatory/limbo, but since it's an interpretive ending, it's impossible to have 'called' it.

        Actually, heaps of people did. The producers denied it, but most people knew they were dead.
        Even the Simpsons did.

        Sorry, but I did. (It's not hard to figure out)
        I declared, "Ah, Jacobs Ladder" and wasn't wrong.
        And as @matt123 pointed out, I wasn't the only one who guessed it right off the bat, causing the creators to deny their end game and desperately try and confuse the remaining viewers

          Forgive me if I'm wrong (I stopped watching at the start of season 2), but didn't the producers definitively say they weren't in limbo?

          I mean, that was my theory too, but I remember them saying that wasn't it.

            Pretty much.

            The consensus many reached early on was that the passengers were already dead, the specifics of limbo, heaven and hell etc differed from person to person.

            The creators denied it initially because the grand revelation was guessed far too early, afterwards they claimed the passengers were alive at the start but dead at the end.

            Personally I never called the limbo angle, I saw a theme of death, unfinished business and our inability to let go, it reminded me of Jacobs Ladder
            (Which is a huge fave of mine, both on its own and as a massive influence of the Silent Hill series)

            I really don't blame them though, the entire premise relies on the surprise revelation.

      The ending of Lost wasn't "lulz, they were dead / in purgatory all along". People who say this weren't paying attention. That storyline was essentially just a flash forward to when everyone was dead years and years later. They specifically state this in the episode, so it isn't the writers just trying to claim that later.

      Also Battlestar Galactica is phenomenal.

    Having no Babylon 5 on this list is utterly shameful.....

    Odyssey 5 and Threshold are two hugely underappreciated sci fi series that ended to soon.
    If anyone hasn't seen them I really stress that you have to watch both at least once.

    Also next generation > original star trek.... =D

      I feel like I'm about to bring mass downvotes but the only series I could ever sit thru was Enterprise.

    Sliders ?

      John Rhys Davies has often said that Sliders was a massive missed opportunity, and I tend to agree. Great setup, great cast, but they quickly devolved into doing variations on other stories. The Robin Hood episode, the Jurassic Park episode, the Wizard of Oz episode, etc. They never really managed to get an overarching story going.

      Only if you promise to pretend that seasons after 2 don't exist

    The Next Generation definitely needs to be on any list of the best sci-fi TV shows. It could well be THE best. Stargate SG-1 also deserves a place. I also really liked Fringe and think it's worth a watch.

    Does Rick & Morty count as sci-fi? :p

    Not a bad list. I need to find a way to watch "The Prisoner", I've heard good things.

    "Stargate" is definitely a glaring omission, as other posters have mentioned. I also have a soft spot for "Quantum Leap", which doesn't seem to get as much love as other classic sci-fi series, despite its long and successful run.

    Edit: Oops, "Quantum Leap", not "Quantum Break". Though Quantum Break deserves some love, too. Perhaps not for its TV series.

    Last edited 11/10/17 9:57 am

    Babylon 5 and Stargate SG-1 are the two most glaring omissions, but i also have a soft spot for Quantum Leap, Earth 2, Sliders (season 1 &2 only), Space above and beyond, and Odyssey 5.

    A good list, but just a couple of corrections:

    - Eccleston has no E on the end.
    - Hitchhiker's Guide started as a radio series, and the TV series was written concurrently with the second radio series and the first book. Appropriately confusing for a work by Douglas Adams (and John Lloyd).

    Last edited 11/10/17 12:43 pm

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