The Decline and Fall of Space Science Fiction

The 2000’s have been dominated by superhero action films and, recently, TV shows. Ever since the first X-Men film with Hugh Jackman was released, superheroes have been more popular than ever. Yes, there have been superhero movies and TV shows based on comic books almost since the invention of television. The first Christopher Reeve Superman film is probably one of the best ever. But I would argue that more and more people are accepting superhero films and television shows now; and not just as mindless fantasy but as quality action worthy of praise, awards and deeper analysis. I doubt there are many actors who could have pulled off Deadpool as well as Ryan Reynolds, for example.

So while superheroes have been around for ages, they’re just getting more popular, with at least another 20 (and possibly 64) comic book superhero films set to release by 2020. While I’m quite excited by these — and the continued rise of geek and nerd culture into popularity and acceptance — I miss a different type of geek/nerd mainstay — science fiction television.

I would argue that the greatest period of science fiction on television was from 1991 to 2005. Throughout the 90s, the best Star Trek shows were on; season 4 of TNG started in 1991, which is when it really began getting really good. My favourite of the franchise, Deep Space Nine, debuted in 1993, then Voyager two years later (okay, I admit, Voyager didn’t necessarily have a lot going for it…)

During that same period, some of the best sci-fi shows aired, which for the minute I’m only going to limit to shows that take place partially or wholly in space, such as Stargate: SG-1 , Babylon 5, FarscapeBattlestar Galactica and, perhaps the greatest of them all, Firefly. Throw in some of the lesser space-opera shows like Andromeda, Space: Above and Beyond, Earth 2 and Space Precinct, and the 1990s were the heyday of televised space sci-fi.


It of course gets better when you throw in shows that had sci-fi elements like aliens or unsolved mysteries or dimensional realities but didn’t take place in space. I’m thinking of shows like the ground-breaking X-Files, Millenium, Sliders and the tail end of Quantum Leap. You could even, potentially, include the fantastic Bruce Campbell shows The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr, the comedy 3rd Rock From the Sun and the animated Futurama if you really wanted to stretch the definition of sci-fi.

Since the end of Star Trek: Enterprise in 2005, though, there have been fewer and fewer space-based sci-fi shows (with BSG the notable exception, as it continued into 2009). Looking at a television guide today, it seems the only show dealing at all with space ships is Doctor Who. There was a terrible SyFy miniseries called Ascension on in 2014, and season 1 of The Expanse, which recently aired, but very little else in the way of space sci-fi.

The sci-fi shows of the latter 2000’s and early 2010’s are admittedly earth-bound. I quite enjoyed the quirky Eureka and Warehouse 13, am coming to see why Supernatural is so long-running and have heard intriguing reviews of Fringe and Sanctuary, but space fare they are not. Don’t get me wrong, sci-fi that takes place only with an earthbound humanity can be fantastic, as X-Files proved and Orphan Black has shown recently. Like any good sci-fi, they can tell deeper, more cerebral (and potentially moral) stories than an average action/thriller/drama/comedy of the same length. It of course doesn’t mean they will, but they could.

I just miss the old days of space. With the recent news of an inflatable habitat being delivered to the International Space Station — possibly paving the way for human colonisation of Mars — the return of the Space X rocket to the ocean floor and new information about black holessupernovae radiation and mini-supernovae, space is big in the news. It’s time television got back to showing that.

I do love the superhero genre, but I also love other aspects of sci-fi. I want there to be more of it all around. With scientists all around the world saying they were inspired by Star Trek as kids, and with the kids growing up in the 90s now being the leaders in various industries, it’s time to again bring that sort of awe and wonder back to the small screen. I miss seeing aliens on a regular basis on my television screen.

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