Taking a break

Today anyway and only from the generations of war thing – not because I have lost interest at all but because I am doing the accounts this week and it’s not much fun and any distractions are welcomed but dangerous.

John Birmingham has two blogs at the Brisbane Times and The Geek is by far the most fun. His recent item on Dr Who is worthy of posting in it’s entirety:

Who’s the master of cool sci-fi (not a question)
November 13, 2009

Have you ever noticed that when a bunch of geeks gather around the campfire to nut out once and for all the important question of what was the coolest science fiction TV series ever, that the actual coolest science fiction TV series ever almost never gets a look in. Why is there no lovin’ for Dr. Who?

Stargate SG1 is always pushing to the front of the line blowing everybody out of the way, goosing Star Trek, snorting in derision at the original BSG and Space 1999 (with good reason, admittedly). But where does it get off calling itself the longest-running sci-fi series on TV. That would be the Doctor you’re gazzumping there Jack. He first appeared on our screens back in 1963… and he’s still here. Not just in syndication and repeats either.

Sure the effects were crap in the early days. Okay, they were crap right up until cheap CGI and more generous production budgets meant the most recent series didn’t have to build their aliens out of old garbage bins and lengths of rubber hose. But go back and look at some of those original Star Trek episodes and hang your head in shame American sci-fi TV producers. I mean, tribbles, come on, really?

So great is the show’s longevity of course that eleven actors have cycled through the lead role, and God knows how many supporting cast have been there with the Doc, twisting their ankles, getting captured, occasionally getting killed, and generally raising the question of why he bothers with traveling companions anyway since they just get in the way or cause cliffhangers every 22 minutes. But putting that aside, which other serious, sci-fi or mainstream, can claim to have survived a change in lead actor so regularly, or even once.

Much as I liked Ben Browder’s character on Farscape for instance, he was really just Jack O’Neill lite in the later SG1 series.

And where most TV shows get weaker as they get older, Dr. Who has arguably grown stronger with the years. Partly this is a function of great writers and producers coming to the latest series of in a spirit of paying homage to a much loved show from their childhood, partly it’s to do with increased production values, and partly the Doc has hung around for so long he couldn’t help but benefit from the improved aesthetics of the medium as it matured. Bottom line however, it has improved while other series, particularly some big-budget American shows (yes Lost, I’m looking at you, and your mate Heroes) have all but sputtered out creatively after a couple of good early years.

So let the word go forth from this time and this place that I have settled this debate once and for all. Dr. Who is the coolest TV sci-fi series ever made.

While Stingray is my first memory of ANY TV series, it is also my first memory of a science-fiction show, followed closely by Forbidden Planet: both had me squinting at the screen through my fingers from an early age…three perhaps…? But it was Dr Who that sits still at the top of the heap: I was terrified by the Abominable Snowmen, Cybermen and Daleks (the Big 3 – all the rest, including the over-rated Master are Tier Two scaries) but refused to miss my weekly doses of terror. I still recall almost crapping myself when I was 7 or 8: running around the shadowy passages of Dad’s squash club, I turned a corner and ran smack into an oversized badminton shuttle. Obviously it must have been some sort of promo item but it was as tall as me and it definitely looked like a Dalek. I was adios amigo and refused to go back there for weeks.

I lost interest during the latter part of the Tom Baker years – possibly because the Beeb was starting to chew through the Doctors and some of them were pretty silly; or equally possibly because teenage boys develop other interests. I had a brief resurgence of interest when the US-made movie came out in the 90s (had Eric Roberts in it?) and then that was it until 2005. The new series had come out but I’d dissed it believing that it would just be a shoddy rip-off of the 60s and 70s classics. On my return from CLAW 1 in Salisbury, we were spending the weekend with friends in Rotorua; Dr Who just happened to be on during dinner (Bad Wolf, I think the episode was) and I became interested very quickly.

Although I have lapped up Season 2-4, I have still to see most of Season 1 (too cheap to pay full price and waiting for the box set price to drop). JB is correct: Dr Who IS the most enduring science fiction show around; yes, there are those that are older but NONE that have been develped and evolved so consistently over four decades and into a fifth. Thunderbirds is as enduring but is a year younger and has not evolved from the original series – still a bit hit with young kids today though.

While I was a big fan of all the other Gerry Anderson series, nowadays there have more of a cult fascination appeal (apart from Thunderbirds) than serious interest. UFO was the centre of my known universe when I was 10 and 11 but now it seems vaguely pretentious and overdone -still very cools toys though – and, yes, I too was going to build my own Moonbase (on the Moon, of course) and use my secret organisation defend the world from the Aliens. Still might but if so I really do need to pull my finger out…

If I was to have my Top Five science fiction series they would be:

  • Thunderbirds. Everything EXCEPT Jonathan Frakes’ miserable 2004 movie.
  • Bablylon 5. Up until the end of Series 4 – after the two big storylines were dealt to, Series 5 seemed a bit anticlimatic.
  • Dr Who. Everything from the very first episode to the Series 5 teaser episodes.
  • New Captain Scarlet. Please, please do more with this: the animation is great, and it builds upon the gritty dark side of the original series.
  • Firefly. The whole series + Serenity. A great concept that just didn’t quite get the support it needed although Serenity did really tie-off the original storyline so they would have needed a new one for further series.

I enjoy Star Trek in chunks but actually prefer the books, especially William Shatner’s first trilogy. Voyager and TNG were great once they figured out that violence was OK; Deep Space Nine was like Star Trek does Mallrats and just boring; but I do have a bit of a soft spot for Enterprise possibly because they can not use the transporter or time travel to get themselves out of narly situations. I do have the Star Trek Borg and Animated Series sets though and and do rate them quite highly.

I’m also a big BSG (both series) fan but in terms of a top five, the original is a bit campy now, and the rethink version is just a little too complex and intertwined to be enduring for me.

Farscape, Andromeda, Stargate? Whatever…just light relief.

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