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)
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)
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)
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)
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.
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.