Sci-Fi TV Series 1950–1970s
Few Sci-Fi TV series have ever had anything to do with science; most are Sci-Fi only in setting. But as Mr. Vonnegut pointed out, this is generally true of the Sci-Fi genre. Most of those of the 50s and 60s were just dumb family viewing. However, many explored the social issues of the times, and a few really took a stab at the natural or scientific aspects of Sci-Fi.
The social aspects of these series was perhaps significant. It is central to the Sci-Fi genre to explore strange situations, to ask "what if" questions. So in Sci-Fi media, different social arrangements is often explored: for example, different political systems, and such ideas as racial an sexual equality.
Besides listing the basic Sci-Fi props of vehicles, weapons, robots and other gadgets, I'll discuss why series worked or failed, and why I personally appreciate them, or not. I'll try to collect parables, although most of this pap defies deep analysis.
I've only seen U.S., British and one German series of this time (although I've heard of Japanese and Russian ones.)
In the 1950s U.S., many children's serials-for-TV were aired with Sci-Fi settings, all of the hero pilot genre, but the first real Sci-Fi show for grown-ups was Out There, which aired stories by several of the big 1950s Sci-Fi authors, followed by another purely Sci-Fi anthology show Tales of Tomorrow. These were before my time, but I remember vividly (still with some dread) its successor, the Twilight Zone, which was too scary for me. Thereafter, the three networks struggled with a flurry of poorly conceived and hopelessly hobbled Sci-Fi series, until Star Trek aired in '68, which blew all the others out of the water. Always popular, it was killed for dubious reasons, despite a public outcry.
Thereafter, very little Sci-Fi happened on U.S. TV until the end of the ’70s, no new space shows appearing in the States until Battlestar Galactica in ’78. But that wasn't great either and didn't last long, so the ’70s and '80s remained very spotty Sci-Fi-wise until a renewed interest in the '90s gave rise to a another flurry of space fiction shows, dominated by Star Trek spin-offs.
Just why the networks decided Sci-Fi wasn't good enough for the U.S. public, I can't fathom. It's amazing that even the success of Star Wars in 1977 didn't open the network exec's eyes. They are not ruled by good business sense or common sense or logic. Stupidity remains the prime suspect. Also, I always say, the people most susceptible to ads and fads are advertisers and marketers.
Great Britain took up the Sci-Fi slack in the early '70s, especially with the wonderful (and ongoing) Dr. Who series. But they also turned out awful stinkers.
This is before my time, and I've never seen an episode.
Aired stories by several of the big 1950s Sci-Fi authors: Heinlein, Bradbury and Sturgeon.
One reads that its success was doomed by a very poor time slot: Sunday afternoons.
Tales of Tomorrow
|Creators||Theodore Sturgeon, Mort Abrahamson|
This is before my time. I've only seen public-domian copies.
The acting is very good, live stage plays for TV. Some themes are old monster shows redone, such as Frankenstein. Other themes form the basis for later Sci-Fi and horror shows. Lovely old electric organ theme music.
1963–4 National Interest Pictures (UK)
|Producers||Roberta Leigh, Arthur Provis|
This was a marionette show, the brainchild of the prolific Roberta Leigh. It followed the better known U.S. show of the same name, and the U.K. marionette show Fireball XL-5 of the Andersons. Leigh had previously worked with the Andersons on TV puppet shows.
The show's curious electronic music, it seems, is also Leigh's invention. The story is, she put some gadgets together from parts she bought herself.
Time frame: 2100.
Primary space vehicle, "Galasphere 347", is driven by "meson power". They go really fast, but not faster than light—so a trip to Pluto still requires months. The captain always switches to robot control for landing: the same scene of a robot walking to strange percussive electronic music always follows (no other scenes involve this particular robot.) When exploring planets, the crew rides "hover jets". Alien species appear in different sorts of ships, but none is a boring rocket.
These galaspheres consist of a torus with a middle axial section; the inside has various compartments, one of which is a "freezer" which they enter for extended trips. The crew wears space suits outside the craft, in space and on planets with no atmosphere.
Aliens: most action takes place in our solar system (unfortunately consistently referred to as "our galaxy"). The crew consists of a Martian and a Venusian as well as a captain. These seem to be just people with funny voices. They meet (intelligent, not always nice) life forms on each other planet, as well as one from another star. An annoying talking parrot (a "gammadictum") from Mars is a repeat character. Some planets have intelligent plants.
Various weapons, often dreamed up by "Professor Haggarty".
Robots are common, sometimes being treated as persons, sometimes as servants. (In one episode they revolt.)
World Space Patrol is a sort of scientific military thing. Rules the "galaxy" (by which they mean solar system).
Character development is relentless (one is always hungry, one is very precise, one talks too much...) At least they thought about it. The dialog is silly and badly dated, but often deals with grown-up interpersonal issues. The mood is supposed to be work-a-day: a running joke is how much leave the crew should get versus what they really get. A couple of woman characters are pretty and sensible in their subordinate positions. Another running gag is that women talk too much.
The themes are mostly simple adventure in various places in space, while saving the "galaxy" (solar system) from bad guys. And while the hero aspect is very pronounced, the story lines aren't usually simple hero-villain.
This series is different from many contemporaries, in that at least some scientific facts are somewhat accurately applied, and some imagination was evident in its aliens and gadgets.
Science Fiction Theatre
|Producers||Ivan Tors, Maurice Ziv|
This is before my time. I have seen only a few public domain episodes.
The episodes are introduced in science documentary format, with host Truman Bradley giving science and history background for the theme, joined sometimes by real scientists, followed by a story portrayed by actors. Bradley emphasizes that the story is fictional.
The science-babble and gee-whiz stuff gets a little thick. As silly as some of the dialog is, it is clear that real scientists were consulted—on occasion.
Established actors such as: Basil Rathbone, Vincent Price, new actors such as DeForest Kelley ("Bones" of Star Trek).
Sci-Fi themes, for example: inheritance of memory, space flight, moon landing, flight to Jupiter and Mars, alien abduction, Egypt's pyramids built by levitation, time travel, etc.
"Science has a hard time separating fact from fiction…of course our story is fiction, but it might offer a possible explanation."
The Twilight Zone
Twilight Zone wasn't a Sci-Fi series per se. Rather, it was a collection of short stories, tales of the supernatural, unnatural or plain weird. Many episodes had Sci-Fi themes—the distinction between "weird" and "Sci-Fi" being blurred, of course, in the setting of deepest darkest Twilight Zone.
Besides varying in setting, the episodes vary greatly in production quality. Most are wonderful in some way, by being really scary or weird stories, or by fantastic acting, or by simply excellent, classy execution. I love the late 50s feeling.
Don't expect glorious special effects or mind-bending science. With few exceptions, these are stage plays of short stories, made with a very small budget—which was expended mostly on great actors.
Several other TV shows of the late '50s and early '60s were anthologies of stories of the strange or unnatural. Some purely Sci-Fi ones are listed here, but some such as Alcoa Presents: One Step Beyond (1959–61) treated only supernatural topics.
Serling was far more interested in psychological and social aspects of Sci-Fi—the few times when aliens are depicted, they are deliberately ridiculous (or else, they're people). Androids (never by that name) appear in several episodes, but they too are just adorned people.
In a half dozen or so episodes, a flying saucer familiar from Forbidden Planet appears, (once showing its real dimensions: about 7' across). The one future car is just the one from that same movie. And yes “Robby” the robot of that movie gets his chops in too, in a couple of episodes (his head is replaced in one). In "The Little People", a classic rocket ship with fins is depicted.
Perhaps the most famous episode is "To Serve Man". I remember this vividly, because when the alien appeared, it was too much for my five-year-old bravery: I went to the bathroom at the far side of the house, turned the water on, and plugged my ears. Here, the brief view of a flying saucer is instead a Harryhausen animation, a clip from Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. The aliens’ makeup jobs are the most ambitious ever used in the series, and it is ultimately—a black comedy.
Besides space travel, aliens, particle beam weapons, various episodes treat:
- time loops
- time travel (more often accidental than scientific)
- alternate realities
- alternate universes (crossing into)
- parallel universes
- various alien visitors
- suspended animation
- robots and androids
- flying saucers
- particle beam weapons ("Two").
- invisible walls.
- post-holocaust world
- earth doomed by natural catastrophe
- child with godlike abilities to transform things
- mental telepathy
- suspended animation
- flat-screen TV(!)
Star Trek drew very heavily from TZ: Each of Kirk (William Shatner), Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Scotty (James Doohan), Sulu (George Takei), and many familiar extras and guest stars, and many of the situations explored in its several generations. Besides, some of the mood music of TZ was very thinly re-worked for Star Trek.
Lost in Space? Dr. Smith (Johnathan Harris) plays significant roles in several episodes, Will Robinson (Billy Mumy) showed his natural talent in a couple of very serious and scary episodes.
Bewitched? Samantha (Elizabeth Montgomery), (the 1st) Darren (Dick York), Endora (Agnes Moorhead), and Larry (David White) were each the star of a TZ episode.
(By the way, Serling himself refers to Twilight Zone as "TZ".)
How about the '60s Batman's Alfred (Alan Napier), and Chief O'Hara (Stafford Repp)—and first Catwoman (Julie Newmar) as the Devil—with cute horns!
Famous old movie stars: Ed Wynn, Burgess Merideth, James Whitmore,
Buddy Ebsen, Buster Keaton, Mickey Rooney, Estelle Winwood, Lee Marvin,
Gary Merrill, Cedric Hardwicke, Gladys Cooper,
Joan Blondell, William Demarest, Sterling Holloway, Jackie Cooper;
Famous new movie/TV stars: Charles Bronson, Anne Francis, Jack Klugman, Dennis Weaver, Carol Burnett, Robert Redford, Roddy McDowall, Robert Duvall, Martin Landau, Patrick Macnee, Cloris Leachman, Doug McClure, William Windom, Keenan Wynn, Burt Reynolds, Richard Kiel, Donald Pleasance, Telly Savalas, Richard Basehart, Robert Lansing, Mariette Hartley, Michael Constantine, George Lindsey, Morgan Brittany; gobs more
Famous guest stars: Don Rickles, Jonathan Winters
Familiar supporting actors: an absolute parade
Get a load of Nancy Kulp—Jane Hathaway of The Beverly Hillbillys, playing a far more serious character than really belongs in a comedy. But there's also Raymond Bailey, who played Mr. Drysdale.
This is a list of episodes that involve some sort of Sci-Fi theme. (Of course, the gray area is very broad, as broad as the Twilight Zone!)
- "Time Enough at Last" Burgess Meredith
- "Third from the Sun" Fritz Weaver, Edward Andrews, Joe Maross, Denise Alexander, Lori March
- "And When the Sky Was Opened", Rod Taylor, James Hutton, Charles Aidman
- "I shot an Arrow into the Air" Dewey Martin, Edward Binns
- "Elegy" Cecil Kellaway, Jeff Morrow, Don Dubbins, Kevin Hagen
- "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" Claude Atkins, Garrett Atwater, Jack Weston
- "People Are Alike All Over" Roddy McDowall, Susan Oliver, Paul Comi, Byron Morrow
- "The Mighty Casey" Abraham Sofaer, Jack Warden, Robert Sorrels
- "The Rip Van Winkle Caper" Simon Oakland, Oscar Beregi, Jr., Lew Gallo, John Mitchum
- "The Invaders" Agnes Moorhead
- "The Prime Mover" Buddy Ebsen
- "A Hundred Yards over the Rim" Cliff Robertson, John Crawford, Evans Evans, John Astin
- "Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up?" John Hoyt, Jean Willes, Jack Elam
- "The Obsolete Man" Burgess Meredeth, Fritz Weaver
- "Mr. Dingle, the Strong" Don Rickles, Burgess Meredeth
- "The Lateness of the Hour" Inger Stevens, John Hoyt, Irene Tedrow
- "Eye of the Beholder" Maxine Stuart, William D. Gordon, Jennifer Howard
- "Two" Elizabeth Montgomery, Charles Bronson
- "Death Ship" Jack Klugman, Ross Martin, Fredrick Beir
- "The Midnight Sun" Lois Nettleton, Betty Garde, Tom Reese
- "It's a Good Life" Billy Mumy, Cloris Leachman
- "Once upon a Time" Buster Keaton, Stanley Adams, Jesse White
- "To Serve Man" Lloyd Bochner, Richard Kiel, Susan Cummings
- "No Time Like the Past" Dana Andrews, Malcom Atterbury
- "Parallel" Steve Forrest, Jacquelin Scott
- "On Thursday We Leave for Home" James Whitmore, Tim O'Connor, James Broderick, Paul Langton
- "The Fugitive" James Pat O'Malley, Nancy Kulp
- "The Little People" Claude Aikins, Joe Maross
- "Hocus-Pocus and Frisby" Andy Devine, Howard McNear, Dabbs Greer
- "The Trade Ins" Joseph Schildkraut, Alma Platt, Noah Keen, Theodore Marcuse
- "The Gift" Nico Minardos, Paul Mazursky, Vito Scotti, Geoffey Horne, Edmund Vargas
- "I Sing the Body Electric" David White, Veronica Cartwright, Josephine Hutchinson
- "Uncle Simon" Cedric Hardwicke, Constance Ford, Ian Wolfe, (part of) Robby the Robot
- "Probe 7, Over and Out" Richard Basehart, Antoinette Bower
- "The Long Morrow" Robert Lansing, Mariette Hartley
- "Number 12 Looks Just Like You" Collin Wilcox, Suzy Parker, Richard Long, Pam Austin
- "Black Leather Jackets" Lee Kinsolving, Shelley Fabares, Denver Pyle, Michael Conrad
- "From Agnes -- with Love" Wally Cox, Raymond Bailey
- "Stopover in a Quiet Town" Barry Nelson, Nancy Malone
- "The Fear" Peter Mark Richman, Hazel Court
"It's been said that science fiction and fantasy are two different things: science fiction—the improbable made possible, fantasy— the impossible made probable. What would you have if you put these two different things together…"
My Favorite Martian
|Ray Walston||as Uncle Martin|
|Bill Bixby||as Tim O'Hara|
|Creator||John L. Greene|
|Producer||Jack Chertok Television|
A martian anthropologist (named Exigus 12½) is surveying Earth, when his space ship is hit by a U.S. X-15 space plane, and he has to crash. A reporter, Tim, finds him and takes him home, and proceeds to pass him off as his uncle Martin, supposedly until the ship can be fixed.
It's a sitcom, most of the humor arising from the pretense about uncle Martin's nature.
Martin can raise little antennas at the back of his head, go invisible, levitate things remotely with his finger, rearrange molecules (to make a thing turn into another), travel in time, etc. So many standard Sci-Fi situations are covered, comedically.
The Outer Limits
Like its predecessor The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits was an anthology of short story plots, but in contrast its episodes were of decidedly Sci-Fi content.
The monsters were usually intended to be scary—some were good enough to reappear in later Sci-Fi shows, notably, the horta of Star Trek began here as a giant microbe.
Also the actors Shatner, Nimoy, Doohan and Whitney of Star Trek all played in The Outer Limits episodes.
Although the sets and special effects are often very cheesy, they're much more elaborate than anything in Twilight Zone, or any other series of the period.
While the acting in many episodes is very good, and the mood really is very creepy, often far too much sciencebabble is provided as explanation. And the "control voice" narrator, which even at the time seemed straining for eeriness, really is a distraction—a sophomoric answer to Serling's episodic remarks.
One of my favorite episodes was "Behold Eck!", about a two-dimensional alien and an optician(!) who makes lenses that allow him to see it—partly because I know of no other Sci-Fi discussion of 2D beings, and partly because I never saw an optician portrayed as a hero genius.
Also check out: "The Invisible Enemy", about the scariness of travel to Mars, with Adam West (Batman), Bob DoQui (the first portrayal of a black astronaut, to the best of my knowledge), and also Ted Knight of The Mary Tyler Moore Show.
This longest-running of the Sci-Fi series is more than I can discuss in any detail. I've seen only a fraction of the episodes. I'll talk about why it works.
Vehicle: the "Tardis" is a time machine, but more than that, so much more. And just for fun, on the outside it's appearance is "stuck" as an old British police telephone booth, but it's much much bigger on the inside than then outside.
The Doctor's weapons: only his genius! (And a bunch of other gadgets.)
Aliens, androids, robots, entities, etc. made weekly appearances. Notably, the homicidal robot "Daleks" (particularly scary as their scariness was left to the viewer), were a recurring menace.
The show isn't so much based on a premise, as a person: the Doctor himself is the main draw, a sort off cross between an understated super-hero and a mad scientist, whose purpose of course is ever to save the universe. In the Tardis, he can go anywhere, and to any time he likes, for any adventure imagination would allow. He has some limitations: for example, he's not exactly immortal—but if he gets killed, or his actor gets bored or laid off, he switches bodies.
It's just fun.
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea
|Richard Basehart||as Admiral Harrison Nelson|
|David Hedison |
|as Captain Lee Crane|
|Robert Dowdell||as Lt. Commander Chip Morton|
|Terry Becker||as Chief Sharkey|
|Del Monroe||as Kowalski|
|Paul Trinka||as Seaman Patterson|
|Richard Bull||as Doc|
|Owner||20th Century Fox|
Date: 1970s (! the future—only 2 years away when the series ended)
Ship: nuclear powered super-submarine Seaview, with very
cool flukes, very roomy inside.
Shuttle: nuclear powered Flying Sub
Weapons: The subs both sported lasers, and could "electrify" their hulls.
Lots of sea monsters, aliens, ghosts, etc. visit. Time-travel is a recurring theme.
The series is based on the rather silly and confused film by the same name, an attempt at undersea Sci-Fi, that mooshed up space themes (Van Allen belts) with the secret agent theme (a secret submarine), and the always-popular salvation of the world (using nukes).
While the mood of the episodes remained darkly and militarily serious, they quickly devolved into a weekly monster show, with many episodes centered around some guy in a scary rubber suit shaking the submarine model around in a swimming pool—too pathetic for anyone over twelve.
Lost in Space
|Filmed||20th Century Fox Television|
|Johnathan Harris||as Dr. Zachary Smith|
|Billy Mumy||as Will Robinson|
|June Lockhart||as Maureen Robinson|
|Guy Williams||as Professor John Robinson|
|Angela Cartwright||as Penny Robinson|
|Martha Kristen||as Judy Robinson|
|Mark Goddard||as Major Don West|
Mission: From United States to scout out Alpha Centauri with a view toward colonization. Mission glitch: an evil stowaway saboteur.
Vehicle: Jupiter 2. A basic flying saucer, nuclear powered. Looks (and sounds) cool in flight, but crashes great deal, and in later episodes just sits. Questions of gravitation and light speed are never raised.
Robot: “The Robot”, by the same Robert Kinoshita who created “Robby” for Forbidden Planet (which sibling comes to visit in at least one episode). Too good a character to lose, the initially sinister robot stays on to the end.
Weapons: laser pistols and "rifles". (Now that I think of it, why does a laser need to be rifled?)
It started out as a rather creepy space opera with a deadly robot, but lightened by a “Swiss Family Robinson” motif. The family wandered through space, meeting danger everywhere, constantly thwarted and exposed by betrayals of saboteur-cum-coward Smith, incomprehensibly tolerating him. (Well, without him they wouldn't have been "lost", which would have left them merely "in space".)
The over-the-top Dr. Smith completely up-stages the rest of the cast from the start. By the third season, it was all Smith, the boy, and his robot— the rest became familial backdrop. The younger sister had a few cute episodes of her own, while the older sister, perhaps in need of no further development, got none; the second-in-command was forever peeved at being so completely written out.
It worked for a while as cute children's entertainment. The series suffered throughout from confusion about its audience, and overall in plot and tone. The scary robot became the lad’s funny puppy, and the young lad had softened the evil doctor's hard heart, rendering him a greedy cowardly boob of uncertain gender affinity. By the end, Mom and Dad were no longer watching: it was just for kids; the Jupiter 2 was grounded, and the increasingly silly aliens had to come to visit.
The writers never showed any interest whatever in the science aspect of Sci-Fi, which bugged a portion of the young adults who formed the apparent target audience.
This was too confused a show to draw coherent parables from—the
principles were just understood American family values.
Maybe one: Fruits can't be trusted in space, either. But they're good with kids.
The Time Tunnel
|Robert Colbert||as Dr. Doug Phillips|
|James Darran||as Dr. Tony Newman|
|Lee Meriweather||as Dr. Ann MacGregor|
|Whit Bissell||as Lt. General Heywood Kirk|
|Creator, Producer||Irwin Allen|
|Owner||20th Century Fox|
Date: 1968 (slightly in the future)
Besides the prop of the tunnel itself, there isn't much here in the way of special effects. A few scenes made for the pilot are flashed in every episode, but nothing ever comes of them.
The main Sci-Fi premise is that of time travel, but its narrowness doomed the show to a limited future.
So the two main guys are forever popping around famous historical periods, hiding their true identities, being caught by authorities or bad guys, escaping, trying to get back to the present and on the way generally messing with history. A couple of times they pop into the future and mess with aliens. The psychological hook is the lost-child sensation—this is all I remember of it.
Beside this, it had the super-secret government mega-project angle, with a U.S. Senator pushing them to prove the expensive technology, and thus getting them into all their troubles. This, along with the door to something else, predates the modern series Stargate.
Both male leads are alphas (maybe one a capital alpha and the other a cute lowercase alpha). They each occasionally get girls, only to regretfully leave 'em in the past!
If there is a parable to be drawn from this, it might be:
If only the gummit would give us lots more money and keep their hands out of it, we could fix the past, and make it all hunky-dory!
1968–69 Paramount Television
|Created by||Gene Roddenberry|
|William Shatner||as Captain James T. Kirk|
|Leonard Nimoy||as Commander Spock|
|DeForest Kelley||as Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy|
|James Doohan||as Lt. Commander Montgomery "Scotty" Scott|
|Nichelle Nicols||as Lt. Uhura|
|George Takei||as Lt. Hiraku Sulu|
|Walter Koenig||as Ensign Pavel Chekov|
|Majel Barrett-Roddenberry||as Nurse Christine Chapel (and as "Number One" in the pilot episode)|
|Grace Lee Whitney||as Yeoman Janice Rand|
Premise: The United Federation of Planets maintains a fleet of faster-than-light starships, "To seek out new life and new civilizations". But "Star Fleet" is a military outfit, and also protects the Federation from aggressive groups. The main setting is one of those starships.
Vehicle: A proper starship, the U.S.S. Enterprise, carrying a crew of hundreds, cruising at speeds faster than light by means of warp drive, which used antimatter as fuel, and engines that somehow involve trilithium. Various alien cultures have their own starships with different capabilities. Sometimes, stranger vehicles appear.
Other transportation: the transporter, which conveniently disintegrates things on one end, and re-integrates them on the other (usually). Various space shuttles, also capable of warp speed over short distances.
Weapons: radiation-beam phasers, could be set to stun or kill or just make the enemy disappear in a glow, were used both as hand weapons and as part of the starship arsenal. The Enterprise also fires explosive photon torpedo. Alien groups have their own kinds of weapons.
Shields: The Enterprise could raise defensive shields to defend itself to some extent from most weaponry. The shields drew a lot of energy when they were up, and precluded the use of the transporter.
Computer: a semi-intelligent device, built into the Enterprise, usually interacted with vocally. Sometimes represented as arrays of large boxes, recognizable as such to viewers in the 60s. Data could be transported by hand on tapes, but these were depicted by solid little blocks of colored plastic (they get points for not being immediately outdated).
Other gadgets: various sensors and scanners, hand-held tricorders with a battery of sensing equipment, hand-held communicators for inter-personal talk and for contacting space ships.
Robots: appear rarely, and usually in the form of androids.
Aliens: almost as many species as there are episodes. Most common are "Vulcans" (Spock is a Vulcan). Klingons, Romulans, Tellurites, Andorians appear in many episodes. Occasionally they're like monsters, but usually they're latex-makeup humanoids. In many episodes, they are crucially non-humanoid however, and often only "take human form".
Star Trek is the archetype of Sci-Fi TV. So much is said about it, and almost everybody knows what it's about, so I'll confine myself to personal observations.
At least five spin-off series followed in the '90s and 2000s, and at the time of this writing, a dozen films of the Star Trek franchise.
Why it worked:
A layered cast chemistry: The choleric, playboy captain Kirk, the cool strange first officer Spock, and the seriocomic medical officer McCoy. The beautiful exotic communications officer Uhura, the excitable first engineer Scotty, and the super-competent but boyish navigators Sulu and Chekov. Some other characters appeared a few times, notably Nurse Chapel (who had played "Number One" in the pilot, to be written out as too sexually progressive), and Yeoman Rand, a super-cute understudy to Kirk (who perhaps leaned too far the other way).
A future world: The notion of a starship was better developed in this show than ever before (or in fact, since); with this as a means of visiting distant places in space lending show a plausibility that hadn't existed before. (Kids who learned the planets of the solar system knew how limited the possibilities were in our vicinity.) Previous Sci-Fi shows had space ships somehow wandering into planets all over the place, often accidentally, or else, planets wandering to us.
Exploration of social ideas: the crew is racially and sexually mixed (especially with Uhura holding an important position.) This drew some criticism, and probably speeded the demise of the series, but it certainly interested people.
Flexibility: The premise placed the crew so that many Sci-Fi themes seemed natural: besides aliens etc., time travel etc., and all manner of strange encounters.
A relatively well thought-out fictional world, including good reasons for their being in space (so often a dizzy afterthought in Sci-Fi)
The mission to seek out new life was the underlying reason for their being there, and although the episodes often strayed from that mission, the excuse was always there.
Likewise, the elaborate but relatively sensible starship sets, with features such as the automatic sliding doors, the transporter, and rather comfortable-looking environment lent credibility to the world.
I think Star Trek was still going strong to the end—it was killed by corporate shortsightedness. One plausible idea is that space fantasy had been rendered passée by the moon landings, which were happening at the same time—and themselves got some anti-science political backlash. But there is plenty of evidence that viewer interest was still strong. Looking back at it, the writing was still strong too, and there was plenty of material to explore. On the other hand, it was killed at the top of its game—not the worst way to go.
My perspective on it was, they moved the time slot to 10 PM, which was usually after my bed time. But I remember being dismayed by episodes with a more romantic or sexual nature, which were also beyond me at the time. This would seem to be another failure of the executives to comprehend their audience.
Parables. This show was chock-full of parables, including ones about:
race relations (usually played out by alien relations)
sex relations (some progressive, some not so much)
treatment of developing societies,
the imperative of curiosity,
reason vs. emotion,
military bravery, decorum and duty,
In contradiction to the parables told in most other space Sci-Fi shows, in Star Trek, we do belong out there, and the aliens are no more scary than we are (largely because they're caricatures of ourselves).
A particularly important principle repeatedly stated in the show is the Prime Directive: That no "pre-warp" culture may be exposed to the existence of extra-planetary civilizations or their technologies, to avoid altering the culture's natural development. It is an interesting idea in itself, but importantly serves to explain why we haven't yet encountered aliens, if they're all zipping around in starships as depicted in the show.
As alpha male and well-known playboy, Kirk regularly got the (often alien) girl, but owing presumably to the greater alphabet of the cast, both Spock and McCoy occasionally scored, and even Scotty and Chekov got girls once each. (Sulu not.) Very interestingly, Uhura had a couple of anti-romantic scenes, once flirting musically with cold Spock, and once (unwillingly?) kissing Kirk.
1966–67 Bavaria Atelier GmbH, by order of WDR
|Dietmar Schönherr||as Major Cliff McLane|
|Eva Pflug||as Tamara Jagellovsk|
|Claus Holm||as Hasso Sigbjörnson|
|Charlotte Kerr||as Lydia van Dyke|
|Wolfgang Völz||as Mario de Monti|
|Ursula Lillig||as Helga Legrelle|
|Friedrich Georg Beckhaus||as Atan Shubashi|
|Friedrich Joloff||as Oberst Hynrik Villa|
|Benno Sterzenbach||as General Wamsler|
|Idea by||Rolf Honold|
|Directors||Theo Mezger, Michael Braun|
|Producers||Hans Gottschalk, Helmut Krapp, Oliver Storz|
|Author||W.G. Larsen: a pseudonym for the directors and producers|
Premise: Humanity on Earth lives at the bottom of the ocean, to protect against increased solar activity. Otherwise, people have colonized many planets, moons, and planetesimals. There are no more nation-states.
Mission: to protect Earth from alien threats, as part of the Galaktischer Sicherheitsdienst (GSD).
Aliens: F.R.O.G.S. “Feindliche Raumschiffe ohne galaktische Seriennummer“ (hostile space ships without galactic serial numbers) Slender, shimmering light-beings, humanoid in shape.
Vehicles: Raumkreuzer Orion VII and VIII, basically flying saucers, with interesting thorn-like details. Take off from an ocean whirlpool, travel faster than light (“Hyperspace”). Also “Lancets”, which are smaller saucers with a semi-spherical top covered with clear plastic bubbles, and usually used as escape vehicles.
FROGS ships are dart-like, flying in tight formation, but frequently making instantaneous shifts in position.
Weapons: “Lichtwerfer“ (light-thrower), a sort of laser gun (to which FROGS are immune). “Overkill”, a sort of super-bomb; useful for blowing up planetoids.
Very cool futuristic décor, making much use of clear plastic, with a preference to rounded forms. An object that is in fact a clothes iron is the centerpiece of one of the control panels.
Computer: “Electronic brain”, of whom one asks pressing questions.
Robots: “Alpha Android” a floating submarine-like object, not very android at all, which often makes a mess of things.
McLane is forever breaking orders so as to save the Earth. He gets no end of grief from General Wamsler and other upper-echelons, but he is clearly going to get all the girls.
Oberst Villa speculates as to the motives of the FROGS, but is later captured and brainwashed by them.
|Roy Thinnes||as David Vincent|
Premise: UFO sightings and alien abductions stories are of real extraterrestrials from a dying planet (in another galaxy) are infiltrating society to make the world their own. There is some explanation that their spacecraft have limitations, so they can only arrive in small numbers.
Vehicles: a flying saucer, modelled after famous UFO photos, shaped rather like a lady's hat, with flashing lights and eerie sounds. In some episodes, the outside glows purple and orange as though fluorescing in black light. Inside, well they look like any other Sci-Fi gadgets of the era.
Aliens: almost always appear disguised (imperfectly) as humans. (Their pinkie fingers stick out at odd angles.) When killed they glow red and burn up.
Alien equipment: installations all over, have lots of strange devices, including mind-reading chairs, spinning crystals for mind control.
It's a paranoid nightmare, where the good guys who know the truth are few and far between (and called "Believers"), while everybody else thinks they're kooks, or else…is one of "them". A direct forerunner of The X-Files.
The writing isn't bad, and the actors are some of the best of the time.
I had almost forgotten the creepy foghorn theme music.
The prettiest guy is the good guy. The next-prettiest guy…better check his pinkie.
"They" never say "they"'re sorry.
"They" are in fact out to get you, and "they" may be from outer space, and it is highly likely "they"'re commies too.
Land of the Giants
|Creator, Producer||Irwin Allen|
|Owner||20th Century Fox Television|
Premise: A fast airplane (an almost spaceship) encounters a space storm and somehow ends up on another planet (an alternate Earth?) whose people are many times bigger (supposedly 12 times, but the ratio changes from one scene to the next.)
These "giants" are often not nice, and have a vaguely totalitarian government, but otherwise, it's just the U.S. of the '60s, scaled up.
Of course, this was a very shaky and narrow idea from the start. The writers didn't know where to go with it (neither would I). It didn't grab me as a child, and still doesn't.
|Creators||Gerry and Sylvia Anderson|
|Producer||Century 21 Pictures, Ltd.|
|Edward Bishop||as Cmdr. Straker|
|Dolores Mantez||as Lt. Nina Barry|
|Michael Billington||as Col. Paul Foster|
|Ayshea Brough||as Lt. Ayesha Johnson|
|George Sewell||as Col. Alec E. Freeman|
A super-secret armed force, SHADO, Supreme Headquarters Alien Defense Organization, on land, at sea, and on the moon, battle to protect Earth from alien invasion. The main headquarters is conveniently located beneath a film studio, thus explaining all the fancy cars and outfits required by the beautiful combatants.
Vehicles: A submarine with a rocket aircraft mounted on its nose, A space station, a moon base that launches rockets that are essentially fighter jets that launch missiles from their noses, various tractor-crawlers on the moon and on earth.
The UFOs (being pronounced "yufoes" rather than spelled out), despite traveling at the speed of light to Earth, are flimsy, dizzy affairs, that readily disintegrate in the atmosphere, or blow up when targeted by interceptors. But they can hide longer underwater (hence the underwater scenes.)
Aliens: mostly show up in wave after wave of UFOs. I don't think their origin is ever discussed. They are basically humanoid—most of their appearance (skin coloration, weird eyes) is explained as effects from the equipment they use for space travel. They are here to harvest human body organs, and to carry out this harvesting, heroically sacrifice themselves, dozens at a time. (It may be that the bodies altogether are those of human abductees.)
The Andersons were famous for their marionette series Thunderbirds, were given a bigger budget on this one. In their own light, the models and special effects really are lovely. The show could be said to revolve about these models (and variety of colorful sets and sexy futuristic fashions.) But while the toys were very much fun, and much better props than in concurrent adventure shows, there is a discordance between their colorfulness and the very serious tone of the show. Somehow the toys are quite concrete, while the story line is terribly vague.
Despite the apparent targeting of younger viewers, many subthemes were of adult nature, and involved marital or sexual relations and drug abuse.
The glittery, colorful, skin-tight fashions went well with the decor and toy space ships, very much in the direction of the marionettes of the Andersons' children's shows. The women look outright Barbie-like. The fashions, overstated early '70s styles, looked kind of silly even to me at the time, and are now ridiculously dated. The theme music was very solidly '60s spy show stuff, already dated by the time the show aired.
While the alien invasion is the overriding fixation of all episodes, the nature and origin of the aliens remains a mystery throughout, so really the main question remains unexplored, and while many standard fantasy themes are played out (besides alien abduction, identity swapping, time travel, etc.) they are all made to revolve about the alien invasion.
Somehow the central cast never really gelled either, sort of a main guy and everybody else. This series too exhibits confusion as to its audience. It was too sexy for family viewing, too cute for young adults, too serious for kids.
Children's show about time travel. Never saw it.
|Creators||Gerry and Sylvia Anderson`|
|Martin Landau||as Commander John Koenig|
|Barbara Bain||as Doctor Helena Russell|
This was a follow-up to UFO, using the props from the lunar scenes, but with an unrelated plot—or rather, sans the plot of UFO.
Premise: nuclear waste carelessly piled on the far side of the moon explodes, sending the moon careening into deep space, along with a populated base. Then they meet lots of interesting space folks. Uh…right.
The premise was so flimsy, there was no fear of losing logical cohesion, and so what transpired was—just whatever, kind of in space. Make it dark and atemporal, maybe nobody will notice. It was like Lost in Space, less any cuteness whatever, with sets from UFO less the action imperative, with fashionable psychedelia, less any guidance from imagination or science or common sense.
This series was unwatchable, even by a teenager in desperate need of Sci-Fi.
The Six Million Dollar Man
|Plot||Martin Caidin's novel Cyborg|
|Lee Majors||as Steve Austin|
Steve Austin is a former astronaut who is saved from death after a crash by receipt of bionic implants (in the sum of six million dollars), incidentally providing him super strength and speed and senses. But the irony is, he hates it, and just wishes he were just a normal awe-inspiring, sexy astronaut again.
Sort of to pay it off, or for love of country, or something, he works for a super-secret government spy organization to do good and combat evil, and gets into most of the usual super-spy and Sci-Fi messes.
Lowest common denominator stuff, solidly popular.
Spin-off: The Bionic Woman
The Bionic Woman
|Lindsay Wagner||as Jaime Sommers|
See: The Six Million Dollar Man for most details, except: Sommers is female, and was a top tennis star nearly killed in a skydiving accident.
This is more or less a spy show, with the superhero element.
The pickins were slim in the '70s. New ideas were regarded passée.
17 episodes (two of them 2-part)
1980 as "Galactica 1980"
|Creator||Glenn A. Larson|
|Lorne Greene||as Cmdr. Adama|
|Jonathan Harris||as Capt. Adama|
Date: (unclear: they finally find Earth, but it's in the 1960s. so either space colonization had happened long ago and been forgotten, or some time-travel occurred.)
Robots: malevolent civilization of Cylons.
Vehicles: starships, especially Battlestar Galactica
The Cylons mount a sneak attack on human space colonies, meaning to wipe out the human race. A few humans escape in star ships, lead by Battlestar Galactica, in search of the lost planet Earth. The Cylons give chase, and episode after episode, they are shot down in identical scenes by the fighter pilots of the Galactica!—who then get the girls!
In temperment and diction, the Cylons are the Daleks of Dr. Who. The battles were the same romantic resetting of WWII air battles presented in Star Wars.
No new ground was broken in Galactica, in new science or social ideas, in special effects, or even in style. It was formulaic entertainment.
My story about this show: in my gigantic men's dorm at Texas Tech, there was a TV room for the less-well-to-do's. We all heard about Galactica, and filled the room for the pilot, hoping that on that night there would be no football (which had unquestionable priority at TTU). The pilot wasn't bad, but kind of stupid. No one spoke as we filed out of the room (none of us knew one another). The second episode half-filled the room. It was really stupid. The third episode I watched with a couple other guys. Somebody came in and changed the channel to sports. Nobody objected. I doubt anybody watched any further episodes—just too embarrassing.
Years later I watched a few episodes elsewhere, and was impressed at how far the silliness had been taken. It was only about these two cute guys zooming off to blow up the robots' ships. And then I heard the voice of Jonathan Harris, as "Lucifer", the smart robot—in a gut-wrenching twist of TV irony, Dr. Smith had returned, bumbling and conniving as ever, as his nemesis, a robot.
Unwatchable waste of time.
The enemy are a bunch of soulless machines, bent on destruction.
"All in a days' work, ma'am!"
Mork & Mindy
|Robin Williams||as Mork from Ork|
|Pam Dawber||as Mindy McConnell|
|Jonathan Winters||as Mearth|
Spin-off of Happy Days.
Setting: contemporary Boulder CO., sometimes planet Ork.
Spaceship: egg-shaped capsule, exited by cracking open.
Aliens: Robin Williams was reportedly the only alien who auditioned for the role. Orkans are "the white bread of the universe". But Jonathan Winters also works wonderfully as the alien child who grows young. To wrap up each episode, Mork reports back to planet Ork to superior Orson.
More genuine Sci-Fi happened in this comedy show than in many of the action Sci-Fi shows. Space travel, levitation—no problemo. Time loops—whenever you need one, need one, need one…
Fonzie: "Don't men date women on your planet"?
Mork: "Hard to tell, parts are interchangeable."
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
|Simon Jones||as Arthur Dent|
|David Dixon||as Ford Prefect|
|Mark Wing-Davey||as Zaphod Beeblebrox|
|Sandra Dickinson||as Trillian|
|Peter Jones||voice of the guide|
|Stephen Moore||voice of Marvin|
|Martin Benson||Vogon Captain (Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz)|
|Michael Cule||Vogon Guard|
|Aubrey Morris||B Arc Captain|
Setting: England, deep space, various planets, various spacecraft, various hyperspacy whatzits, and the Restaurent at the End of the Universe.
Spaceships: Vogon constructor, "infinite improbability drive" starship "Heart of Gold", black space ship, B Ark.
In all scenes besides Earth, everybody but Dent and Trillian are aliens.
Marvin the manically depressed robot, the insufferable doors of "Heart of Gold", the computer of "Heart of Gold", all have personalities.