10 Best SCI-FI TV Shows of All Time1 of 12
Now this is a numbing prospect. Take all of the science-fiction shows ever, and determine a top ten? Who wants that kind of fan umbrage on their head? We do!
With the prospect of a possible new Star Trek series, a definite new Star Wars animated series (though we'd argue that's fantasy with scifi trappings - probably a whole different article), and scifi hitting the mainstream more often than ever, it was time to revisit this countdown.
Granted, we'll miss some favorites of some devoted fans (you, in the back, with the Misfits of Science shirt on, we're talking to you!). But, as it is, we're going to make an honest effort to determine what's the best.
Know this: this list leans in the direction of science fiction rather than fantasy, and we're confining it to live-action.
This list is republished from 2011 with minor updates
Quantum Leap: 1989-1993, 5 Seasons, NBC2 of 12Edging out Adventures of Superman (our mental list is miles deep), Quantum Leap operated on a great premise. You had one scientist leaping into body after body across time, and his only companion was the holographic representation of a computer back home that only he could see.
That's pretty high-concept sci-fi for TV, but it worked. Beautifully.
Much of the credit goes to series leads Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell, both of whom played drama and comedy in perfect pitch the whole time.
Firefly: 2002, 1 Season, Fox3 of 12Joss Whedon had already thrown down the gauntlet on genre programming with Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel. Fox gave him a chance to do a new vision of science fiction, and Whedon ran with it.
Unfortunately, Fox ran in the opposite direction, abandoning the show as it hit its stride.
Firefly posited a future universe that echoed today's political landscape but felt like a classic western. From the spare theme song to the presence of neither aliens nor sound in space, Firefly was about the details.
Farscape: 1999-2003, 4 Seasons, Syfy4 of 12Probably the item on this list to invite the most debate, but that's too bad. Farscape crammed more into an episode than some shows do in an entire season.
Yes, there were puppets. But there were also wiseass heroes, operatic villains, many discussions about physics, loves among tragedy, deaths, and, well, a whole lot of fun.
Ben Browder's next-gen Buck Rogers was the glue, and the rest was gravy.
The X-Files: 1993-2002, 9 Seasons, Fox5 of 12One of the longest-running shows of its kind (certainly on American network television), The X-Files was groundbreaking because it married the familiar TV formula of the police procedural (our heroes are FBI!) with the fantastic (and they chase aliens!).
Built solidly on the chemistry of leads David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson, the show featured many great done-in-ones parked against a heady backdrop of conspiracy and alien abduction.
Yes, it went on too long. That's probably because no one wanted it to leave.
The Prisoner: 1967-1968, 1 Season, ITV6 of 12The spiritual follow up to Patrick McGoohan's Danger Man (Secret Agent in the States), The Prisoner went way beyond the concept of former spy washes up on mysterious island. George Markstein and McGoohan put together a number of ideas that resulted in the highly allegorical tale of the former agent trapped in a mysterious village. While many of the trappings were obviously sci-fi, much of the density of the show came from its thought provoking ruminations on social constructs and the will of the individual.
And of course, it's got maybe the best ending ever.
Lost: 2004-2010, 6 Seasons, ABC7 of 12Complain all you want about the finale, we're here to tell you something: not all questions ever need to be answered and no one owes you anything.
Part of the majesty of Lost was that it did dare to raise questions and challenge assumptions in an age where TV is seemingly ruled by a vast armada of reality TV.
Lost was unreality TV, charging headlong into time travel, alternate realities, smoke monsters and more with abandon. Not every viewer may have been totally satisfied, but one can hardly dispute the totality of vision and the flair with which the creators, cast, and crew pulled it off.
Plus, polar bears.
The Outer Limits/The Twilight Zone (tie!): Limits: 1963-1965, 2 Seasons, ABC; Zone: 1959-1964, 5 Seasons, CBS8 of 12This slot has to be a tie. Zone came first and ran longer, but had a lot more emphasis on fantasy in its run. Limits included a lot more science fiction in its short life, but didn't have the staying power of Zone. Nevertheless, they're both testaments to the possible excellence of anthology programming.
Limits ended up providing us with the seed for Terminator in Harlan Ellison's Soldier. And we love Zone for nothing so much as To Serve Man, adapted by Rod Serling from Damon Knight's story.
That's what classic means, folks.
Battlestar Galactica: 2003 intro mini-series, 2004-2009 series, 4 Seasons, SyFy9 of 12Updating the lovable 1978 cheeseball in a ferocious manner, BSG defied expectations with a remake light-years beyond the ambition of the original. It was a series bold enough to ask you to sympathize with identity-stealing villains, then ballsy enough to ask you to identify with terrorists and religious fanatics during a time of real-life war.
There was grousing about the last few minutes of the series finale, but let's consider the 110 minutes or so that came before that: some of the most intelligent and breathless action you'll ever see on TV.
BSG goes down a classic, period.
Star Trek Original Series: 1966-1969, 3 Seasons, NBC10 of 12What can you really say here? Star Trek is Star Trek, a cultural phenomenon that bridges generations, survives and thrives in reinterpretation, and invites reinvention.
Yeah, so, the science isn't perfect. But what is? How about Leonard Nimoy's Spock? How about the energy and bluster of a pre-everything-I-do-is-intentionally-hammy William Shatner? How about every fit of pique thrown by DeForest Kelley?
Star Trek is a cultural giant. We're still lining up to see Star Trek movies.
Exploration plus the human spirit divided by dilemma and action. It's an equation that still works, 44 years later and counting.
Doctor Who 1963-1989/2005-Present, 32 Seasons, BBC One/BBC HD11 of 12Fiendishly clever by incorporating the means to recast the lead into the very premise of the show, Doctor Who remains the longest-running science fiction program in, well, any kind of history. In fact, it celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this year.
Eleven actors have played The Doctor (with a twelfth on the way soon), all different incarnations of the same man thanks to the Time Lord's ability to regenerate. The shows over time have spanned virtually any kind of tale that can be told within science-fiction – and beyond.
There's action, humor and a fair amount of wrenching drama (don't believe me? Witness the end of David Tennant's remarkable run).
Granted, the good Doctor left the air for a time in the '90s, but it's safe to say that he's made more than a firm comeback.
At 30+ seasons and counting, Doctor Who must be the top sci-fi show ever.
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