Posts Tagged ‘TV’

h1

Missing SF on late night TV

February 23, 2009

I was looking at the titles on my DVD shelf the other day and it occured to me that the first time I’d seen a number of the classics of SF cinema was on late night TV.

Remember the time when there were a lot of independant local or regional stations? Before the cable networks started to form in the late 80’s and the rise of the specialty channels in the 90’s? Twenty years ago and for a couple of decades before that, it wasn’t unusual for stations, especially those that weren’t network affiliates, to try to add movies as late-night programming to keep people watching a little longer, and some of them were savvy enough to figure out that geeks were likely to be up, or would stay up to watch the SF movies that just weren’t being shown during primetime.

As a teenager in the greater Vancouver area in the mid-late 80’s, I was lucky enough to get KSTW out of Seattle, which had “Sci Fi Friday”. (cue the receding multi-coloured graphics in the background and a strange, beating, almost videogamish bassline beneath the announcer’s voiceover) Every Friday at midnight (the girls in my junior high weren’t into guys who read or watched SF, or guys who read, for that matter, so yeah, I was home Friday nights) I’d flick on my little 13-inch Zenith and tune in to be schooled in science fiction and fantasy cinema. “Sci Fi Friday” introduced me to the great stuff like “Alien”, “Blade Runner” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”. And for all of the good, there was much, much more of the bad: “Robot Monster”, “Tobor the Great” and “Invasion of the Star Creatures” (What, you don’t remember this early 60’s piece of crap about a plot by alien amazon women commanding giant carrot monsters that gets foiled by two Abbot & Costello-wannabes? I don’t blame you. It’s not worth remembering. It’s kinda unfortunate that it’s stuck in my head.) to name just a few. But even the garbage had its purpose, if not for a few laughs at its expense, then to illustrate how the genre could go wrong and how these mistakes would be repeated in later years.

Sadly, that was the end of the late-night TV SF cinema era. It wasn’t long before infomercials took hold, completely wiping-out programming in favour of desparate grasps at cash, in part motivated by the formation of cable networks that didn’t want to leave room for something that wasn’t exactly the same in every station in every region aimed at the broadest possible audience/lowest common denominator.

During the 90’s, the idea of late-night SF cinema was given a satirical resurrection through “Mystery Science Theatre 3000”. The show, where Joel and his robot companions would heckle old SF movies, shorts and commericals, gained cult status and even got its own movie into national theatres – a re-release of “This Island Earth” with the MST3K treatment. But while the show (through DVDs and websites with its old recordings) and its imitators still have fans, it’s faded from pop culture consciousness.

These days, if you want to dig up old SF (the good or the bad), there are plenty of sites around the web, and of course there are movie rooms at cons. But it’s just not the same.

Watching these films at a con with other fans is cool, without a doubt. It’s especially conducive to giving one that sucks the MST3K treatment. But con-viewing doesn’t give the same feel of watching on your own TV in your own room, or basement.

And sure, there are SF specialty channels now – the Sci Fi Channel in the US and Space in Canada (I’m not sure about the situation in other parts of the world), but, speaking at least about Space, they just don’t do the job. Space’s programming is primarily TV show-based, even later into the evening. Despite it’s genre focus, late-night programming in recent years is primarily infomercials. And while the channel does run movies during the weekend in specified time slots, they tend to be films from the past 10 years. You certainly wouldn’t see anything from the 50’s or 60’s. Most of the films tend to be reruns of the same stable of movies they’ve been showing for years now, unlike the old late night SF features that had so much old material to draw from they rarely, if ever, repeated themselves.

As for the internet, how many movie sites, especially ones specializing in old SF movies, are out there on the net? Probably quite a few, I’m guessing. Where would a new SF fan, young and just trying to figure out the genre(s) start? For that matter, where would an older fan start when looking to dredge up old memories? It’s like walking into a mall full of restaurants when you’re looking for a snack. Too many options. Sure it’s good to have a choice, but there’s something to be said for the old late-weekend-night single or double feature format where you could get a steady, reliable diet of the stuff without having an overload of selections.

Sure you never knew from week to week whether the movie would be good or bad (unless you gave any credibility to the number of stars the movie was given in your tv guide’s synopsis – if you even read your tv guide). but that was part of the fun. Hell, not checking the tv guide at all and being surprised with the title of what they were serving up on a particular Friday was part of the fun too. You never knew what you were going to get (no, leave the Forrest Gump jokes alone).

The timing was part of the appeal too. Online, you can view these flicks anytime. But was just something that felt right about sitting back at the end of the day in a dark room with the blue flicker of the TV, a can of coke (maybe a beer swiped from dad’s beer fridge) and a bowl of pretzels or popcorn, clicking over to the independant channel at midnight and letting the show start. The late night viewing set you apart from everyone else watching “LA Law” or whatever during primetime. Appropriate, since as an SF fan you were probably a little apart anyway. When the flick was over you could step out onto the back deck in the chill night air for a minute and look and the stars and dream. Late night was the geek’s time. It was your time. And it was cool.

Late night TV SF movies brought all of these elements together. And it’s too bad it’s gone.

Advertisements
h1

The top 10 things we’re looking forward to in 2009 – harrysaxon

January 9, 2009

Please click through to see this post on harrysaxon.com.

Sorry for the inconvenience!

h1

Top 5 bad martian invasions from film & TV we’d rather forget

October 29, 2008

As a little warm-up for tomorrow’s online challenge, Blog Like It’s The War Of The Worlds, here are some examples of the worst the planet Mars has thrown at us, through film and TV.

5. Mars Attacks
This spoof of classic alien invasion movies had it all: a big budget, decent (for its time) special effects, an all-star cast (including some members who actually had talent), and a solid PR campaign. All it was missing was laughs. It tried so damn hard – too hard (and yeah, I know it wasn’t taking itself seriously, and it wasn’t supposed to), and every funny opportunity fell flat. This flick also loses points for paying homage to “Attack of the Killer Tomatos” with the use of terrible music at the end to defeat the Martians by causing their heads to explode. It was different, and only slightly bearable, the first time around when it was done on ‘Tomatos, but the annoyance factor was way too high this time.

4. Spaced Invaders
On Hallowe’en night, a Martian scout craft, part of a massive battle fleet preparing to engage another alien enemy, goes astray and crashes on Earth. The befuddled, big-headed, half-sized warriors emerge, meet a little girl, and… a really bad movie ensues. I know this was a kid’s film, and so a heavy dose of cuteness and cheezy humour goes with the territory, but most of the time it didn’t work. Didn’t help that the guy voicing the Martian pilot was clearly trying his best to do a Nicholson impression and couldn’t pull it off to save his life. The movie had one redeeming virtue in the form of this line from the Earthling heroine: “They’re not evil, they’re just stupid.” Yup. Kinda like the people who put this flick together, and, admittedly, those of us who actually watched it (even if I only saw it on the TV movie channel!).

3. War of the Worlds – the TV series
How many seasons was this bastardized sequel to George Pal’s enjoyable 1950’s reimagining of HG Well’s classic allowed to run? 2?!? Shows you what SF fans and audiences in general were willing to put up with at the end of the 80’s during the desert period of TV science fiction when “Star Trek – The Next Generation” was pretty much the only thing on. This damn thing shouldn’t have lasted more than 2 episodes. I mean, come-on, full-sized Martians killing people, crawling inside them and running around in the meatbags to do their dirty work? Wouldn’t it be enough to take over a transmitter, send a signal home and call for reinforcements for another open attack? And why was it that the general public on the show – set in the same world as Pal’s film, with the invasion firmly in its past – have completely forgotten about said 50’s near-annihilation of the human species? Then there was the standard “scary” reveal when the Martian three-fingered hand would come ripping out of the meatbag’s chest to snag a new victim, in what was a truly pathetic rip-off of the chestburster from “Alien”. Oh, and let’s not forget how it all started: some sort of terrorist attack or criminal heist or something targetting an allegedly secret government warehouse causes a bunch of 40-gallon drums to get knocked over, releasing supposedly dead Martians who proceed to wake up, kill some people, then steal one of their flying war machines, power it up, and go sailing out the door and into – well, wherever it was they went to find some victims to make into meatbags, instead of doing the smart thing like going home to get reinforcements. So Martians that were most definitely dead at the end of the 50’s invasion are now suddenly spry and ready for action? This wasn’t “War of the Worlds” – it was “The Princess Bride”! They weren’t dead – they were “only mostly dead. And mostly dead is slightly alive.” Mostly dead, but all bad.

2. Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
What can I say about this ultimate stinker that hasn’t already been said, except that I pity the older generation of SF fans and general movie-goers who might have actually suffered through this in the theatre. Seeing late one night on TV (I think it was “Sci-Fi Friday” on KSTW before it was taken over by one of the new networks) was bad enough. The presence of a pre-Trek Leonard Nimoy is probably testament to young actors willing to do anything for screen time.

1. Invaders from Mars – the 80’s remake
This mightily steaming pile of cinematic excressence defeats even “Santa Claus Conquers the Martians” for the not-remotely-coveted number one spot on this list because not only was it bad all over the place, it was an insult to the competant 1953 Cold War infiltration/subversion paranoia movie that inspired it!

 

On another note…
Remember to join in the fun tomorrow, Thursday, October 30th – the 70th anniversary of Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds” broadcast by taking part in our online challenge: Blog Like It’s The War Of The Worlds. Come to Not A Planet Anymore and let us know you’re in – then, if you’ve got a blog, start blogging as though the Martians were really invading. If you let us know what your blog’s address is, we’ll add a link to our list of participants so others can click over to your site to read about what’s happening in your part of the world. Don’t have a blog of your own? No problem, just leave comments on any of our Blog Like It’s The War Of The Worlds posts here on Not A Planet Anymore, or any of the other participants’ sites, and we’ll count you in too. Let us know in the comments section how you’re faring as the Martian tripods wreak havoc. Then, on Hallowe’en, as a special treat, we’ll post highlights from all of the participants. Join us tomorrow for Blog Like It’s The War Of The Worlds!

h1

What form of media makes the most effective SF gateway?

October 21, 2008

Further to the last post to slam into Not A Planet Anymore, I got to wondering about the larger question: what form of media (books, TV, movies. video games) makes the most effective SF gateway? What’t the most effective way to introduce a non-fan to SF, or for a mainstream to stumble into SF on their own? What’s the media that’s most likely to hook their interest and encourage them to pursue SF further?

I think, first of all, we need to be clear that when we’re talking about the most effective gateway, I mean for adults. WIth kids there’s a different way of thinking at work that I suspect makes it easier for them to get drawn into something a lot faster.

But getting back to the question of the most effective of the four major incarnations of SF culture… I think there are a couple that we can knock out of contention right off the bat.

The first: movies. SF movies, be they monster summer blockbusters or quiet, late-in-the-year thought pieces, certainly attract the biggest audience of mainstreamers – and of mainstreamers who deliberately seek this SF out – but I think in large part these are one-off circumstances. A mainstream movie-goer is quite likely to see many SF flicks over the course of their lifetime, but probably not because they’re specifically seeking out SF; they’re probably more attracted to the size of the film, or the action or comedy elements, etc. I doubt mainstream movie-goers demonstrate any loyalty to the specific genre of SF films. And I don’t believe they actually make the connection that whatever good qualities they’re picking up from the SF film they enjoyed can be found in SF books or TV or games. In fact, I’m fairly confident in saying that you could probably pick 10-20 people randomly from a lineup in front of a theatre for an SF film and ask them “Are you a sci-fi/fantasy fan?” or “Do you think after watching this movie you’ll be an SF fan?” or “Do you think after watching this movie you’ll want to explore other forms of SF entertainment like sci-fi books or TV shows or massive multi-player online fantasy role-playing video games?” the answer would probably, in most cases, be a flat “No.” (likely accompanied by derisive laughter and choice epithets) Sure, in some cases you might get a mainstream movie-goer who likes an SF movie so much that when he or she is passing through a book store they might pick-up a movie tie-in novel, and from there might get into other SF, or who might stay on a channel one night that was running an unrelated SF TV show, but I think those people are in the minority. And I certainly don’t think a movie would inspire hordes of them to start playing video games. No, I think that while movies may bring SF notoriety, they don’t ultimately increase the adult fanbase significantly and thus are not the most effective gateway.

In a similar light, (and I realize I’m stepping out on thin ice here ’cause I’m not a gamer) I don’t think video games are the most effective gateway media either. I’m kind of curious how many adult, non-SF fans suddenly pick up gaming, follow it loyally, then branch out into other areas of SF culture. I doubt it’s many. I suspect your average mainstream adult who gets into gaming is likely picking up a system and game as a one-off or limited interest sort of thing – they want to play a cool-looking game based on their favourite sport when the real games aren’t on the tube; or, and this is probably more likely, they’re picking up a platform for their kids, and while buying games for the kids to go with the system, they pick up a copy of Madden Football or Gretzky Hockey or something for themselves and play it once in a while. I would expect that the amount of time required for a lot of games these days is probably a disincentive for an adult with no previous grounding in SF to follow it religiously, much less to branch out into other areas of SF culture. As for those who do stick with it, the question remains of how much of a gateway does it really become for them? Do they just stick with one type of game, and thus have more of a door to a short, empty corridor, or do they really get interested enough to follow other SF avenues – the true gateway to the SF universe? Would it really get them to start watching BSG if they hadn’t before, or inspire them to read the classics by Clarke and Bradbury (or even media tie-in novels that might lead them to weightier fare)? I’m not so sure. Again, as with movies, there probably are a few mainstreamers who get the light switched on by video games and explore other avenues of SF, but I suspect they’re very much in the minority. For that reason, I don’t think gaming is necessarily the most effective SF gateway.

That leaves us with books and TV – two very strong contenders. But as they said in “Highlander” (the first movie, that is – not the idiot sequels or the sappy TV show): There can be only one.

Books should be the most effective gateway to SF. In my opinion, they are certainly the best gateway. The massive selection of SF books out there, the shallow and the deep, the new and the old, with the multitude of specialty genres, guarantees there is a story for everyone if they can only find it. Discovering a great story that hits home for a person is pretty much guaranteed to get them to seek out more books by the same author, then similar books by other authors, followed by experimentation. This seeds a deeply-rooted love of SF that easily promotes the other forms of the culture because it intrinsically carries respect of the subject matter (as long as it’s treated well and to the reader’s tastes). Someone who enjoys SF novels and short stories will have no qualms about watching an SF TV show or movie, and might make the time to play a video game or even buy a system and enjoy many games. The fact that even the dumbest book requires you to use some imagination (and, in the case of intelligent books, requires you to use your analytical skills and ability to understand metaphor) indicates that books are an active medium, they insist that you make some effort which, I think, in turn encourages a person to be active in seeking out more that they will enjoy, thus increasing their chances of exploring SF movies, TV and gaming.

But books do require you to think (at least on some level), and your average mainstreamer who could potentially become an SF fan may not initially want to invest the time and effort on a book in a genre he/she has no experience with. And buying an SF book (substitute checking one out at the library, if you wish) would require a mainstreamer to go into a part of the bookstore/library where they might encounter someone who appears to be a refugee from his mother’s basement, and the thought of having to deal with this nerdy stereotype might keep them away. Or, even worse for an image concious mainstreamer, they might go into the SF section of the store/library and someone might see them and think they were a geek pursuing less-than-popularly-acceptable reading material (gasp!). The fear of being labeled as having the SF cooties by other mainstreamers might keep potential down-the-road fans away from the chance to experiment with SF. And then there’s the problem of the rate of recreational reading in our societies today. One of the panelists at the Canadian SF panel at the recent VCon I attended pointed out (and I haven’t had time to check these figures, so feel free to take them with whatever size of salt grain you feel necessary) that only 1 in 4 Canadians are recreational readers, while a mere 1 in 7 Americans are. This is deeply unsettling in countries with education systems that aspire to ensure universal literacy. And yet, not surprising given the variety of different forms of entertainment out there (like the other major types of SF culture!) and the heavy demands on personal time from work and, in some cases, family and/or education. If the public isn’t battering down the doors of our bookstores and libraries, it’s hard to make the case that books are the most effective gateway to SF for mainstreamers.

And then there’s television. This is a feast or famine form of media, where there are times with few, if any, SF shows, and other times (like now) where it’s hard to turn on the tube on any given night and not be able to find something (and that’s just taking into account the modern/current shows, never mind the reruns available on all manner of specialty channels). During the good times there’s a lot of mediocre and poor fare, but you also get your works of inspiration like the new “Battlestar Galactica”, the new “Doctor Who”, or (looking back a couple of years) “Firefly”, or “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, or “Babylon 5”. And the pattern of lean times and SF gluttony on TV is cyclical enough that there aren’t more than a few bad years before SF shows start to pop up here and there, followed by copycats and franchises and a few more originals, and pretty soon there’s a good selection again to entice new fans. And the shows that are good, are generally REALLY GOOD (so good that they might even draw the grudging appreciation of mainstream critics). But even the bad and mediocre shows can draw loyal followings. Unless a show is heavy on necessary backstory, it’s usually possible for a mainstreamer flipping through the channels to come across SF, catch a moment that interests them and then stay for the rest of the episode and perhaps follow the rest of the season. From there it’s a short hop to seeing SF movies (which they’re probably doing anyway) and allowing themselves to check out a title or two in the SF section of a bookstore or give some consideration to a video game they see advertised on TV or in a mall. Moreover, once a person becomes a fan of a certain show, they’re more likely to pay attention to other, similar shows, giving SF a good chance at gaining a foothold in their entertainment preferences. TV is also a safe gateway for mainstreamers – no-one else needs to see them geeking-out to BSG or The Doctor, or, heaven forbid: Trek. This allows them to be privately and gently, but none-the-less heavily (given the long-term investment of time following a show through a season) immersed in SF over time, eventually allowing the former mainstreamer to come out of the closet to some extent as a fan and begin experimenting with other forms of SF. In this way, television is an excellent medium for existing SF fans to expose and acclimatize friends and family to their passion and eventually get those others interested in it as well. And, ultimately, television is in pretty much every home in Western cultures, offering plenty of easy, cheap opportunities to get into SF.

TV does have its drawbacks though. The really good SF shows do tend to require consistent following to be aquainted with crucial backstory and to develop bonds with characters (BSG or B5, for example, would be difficult to pick up in the middle of their gigantic and complex story arcs). Another problem, as seen with “Firefly”, is that networks are far less patient with SF shows that they “don’t get” or that are suffering in the ratings, or (and this is most definitely not the case with “Firefly”) are poor quality, and are more likely to cancel them before they’ve had a chance to develop. In this respect, a potential fan could get interested in a show, only to have it yanked from the air before he/she was able to get into it enough to want to branch out to other SF. The other problem with network execs (or should I say, an other of many problems with network execs) is the current trend to create SF shows, and then, in mortal fear of the SF cooties and losiing suspicious mainstream audiences, backpedal for all their worth and publicly declare that the shows are NOT SF, but rather political dramas that just happen to be set in space (this line has been used with BSG), or dramatic stories with occasional uncommon or supernatural elements (“Lost” has been given this treatment). These cheesy cop-outs serve to drive away mainstreamers who may watch and enjoy these programs, but get negative stereotypes of SF reinforced and thus don’t bother to accept SF as intelligent and worthwhile entertainment and fail to expand their horizons.

But for all of that, I think, sadly (because -and I will state it again – I think books are the best gateway), that TV has the slight edge. Because of the larger audience potential and the ease of encouraging private acceptance and further exploration, TV is ultimately the most effective SF gateway.

Your thoughts?

h1

The best SF gateway TV show

October 18, 2008

What’s the best SF television show to encourage someone in the cultural mainstream to become a genre fan? What show has the magic combination of character development, interesting plot line(s), and, most importantly, easy accessibility (you might argue that sensawunda is another key element, but I’d count that as a sub-branch of plot – and an optional one) in sufficiently compelling quantities that make it the perfect gateway show to entice a person into becoming an SF fan?

Certainly, as geeks, we all have our favourites that we would like mainstreamers to adopt because of character and plot. But accessibility is the crucial factor here for a gateway experience – if your show has too many SF tropes that are unfamiliar to mainstreamers or ones that are too frequently stereotyped, or if your show even looks too weird, then mainstreamers will be driven off, fearing, as an old editorial in On Spec so brialliantly put it: “the SF cooties”. Also in terms of accessibility, a mainstreamer must be able to tune into pretty much any episode and be able to get into it despite their lack of backstory/previous episode experience.

With those ground rules in mind, what SF series (ongoing series, new series, and old series in active reruns all count – old series that are not currently being aired do not count) would make good gateway experiences and which ones wouldn’t?

Here’s my take:

Anything Star Trek is immediately disqualified. To the mainstream mind, Trek = nerd. No matter how good some of the episodes may have been in some of the series, the amount of scorn the franchise suffers in the minds of mainstreamers is about as high as a pile of Tribbles in a quatrotriticalene silo. The fact that some out there on the net may be chomping at the bit to correct my spelling (admittedly probably inaccurrate) of quatrotriticalene only adds weight to the argument. The dialogue in any given Trek is also heavily freighted with self-referential jargon, guaranteed to lose the interest of a mainstreamer in about a half-second. Let’s not even get into the shadow of The Shat.

“Reaper” is also off the list of potentials. It’s funny as hell and one of my favourites right now, but despite the presence of various supernatural baddies, I don’t think the mainstream audience would really be stimulated by it to take up other SF shows or start reading fantasy novels. They’d be more likely to enjoy it as a one-off.

Similarly, “Chuck” and “My Own Worst Enemy” are probably out too. I think mainstreamers would probably view them as shows with a spy bent, and perhaps tacitly acknowledge any sci-fi flourishes, but wouldn’t be driven by them to pursue SF any further.

I think “Heroes” is also unlikely to create any new fans. Putting aside the continuous downward spiral of the plot’s quality, at best “Heroes” probably resurrects some fondness for the superhero sub-genre, but I doubt it’s enough to get people out buying the latest Frank Miller or Alan Moore comic or tracking down old editions of George R. R. Martin’s “Wildcards” anthologies.

“The Sarah Connor Chronicles”? Maybe. Not a high degree of likelihood, but maybe. The big action and disfunctional family drama components might draw them in, and these might make the obvious sci-fi elements represented by the various Terminators more palatable. Would it be enough to inspire mainstreamers to crack open a Harlan Ellison collection, or hunt-down stories involving robots or time travel? I’m not totally convinced, but I’ll allow that it’s possible.

“Battlestar Galactica” is another maybe. Certainly it has the highest calibre of characterization and plot. But the accessibility is pretty iffy. The show has a gigantic story arc that could easily lose someone lacking sufficient backstory – despite the recaps at the top of each episode. The setting is aboard starships, but, aside from occasional exterior cutaways and the occasional battles, most of the story takes place within the confines of the vessels, and thus could be anywhere, making the sets reasonably accessible. The Cylons in their cybrid forms are easy to accept, and the traditional centurion models offer enough overt sci-fi menace to remind the audience that this is an SF show. BSG is one of my all-time favourite shows, so it certainly pains me to not say definitely that “this is the gateway show!”, but the weight of the backstory makes me think this would be a tough one to use as a gateway experience. You’d certainly have to pick the right episode.

The other possibility on my list is the new “Doctor Who” (somewhere, harrysaxon is cheering – it’s his personal mission to make every human being on Earth a fan of The Doctor – which, in fact, could be the plot of an episode of DW – whoa). The plots are consistently entertaining and the characters have enough depth to be worth watching. Accessibility with this show is a bit of a see-saw: David Tenannt certainly makes The Doctor a character you want to watch, and the various Companions are excellent vantage points for the perspectives of the audience – they’re just as confused as we are by all the strangeness going on from episode to episode. But it’s the over-the-top weirdness of some of the far-future or alien settings or the surreal TARDIS itself that might lose a mainstreamer. Again, “Doctor Who” is like BSG, you’d have to find the right episode for it to be effective as a gateway experience.

I have to confess, if I could break the rules and nominate a show that’s no longer on-air, I’d have to say that “The Twilight Zone” was probably the best SF gateway show ever. Different episodes featured different subject matter (from the disturbingly near-normal to the far-out) with different actors, written by different authors. It was a showcase of SF variety that had something for pretty much anyone, and if an episode was good enough, not only could a mainstreamer get hooked on the series, they might also be motivated to check out other SF shows or, hopefully, books. Ah, the good old days!

Harrysaxon’s been chomping at the bit to weigh-in on this topic, so he’ll take it from here.

Harrysaxon’s take:

“I agree with much of what bloginhood has to say about the topic – and certainly wholeheartedly endorse Doctor Who as a gateway show. The new series, of course, not the old, which is so thick with bad effects and complex backstory that even a lot of North American sci-fi lovers view it as somewhat esoteric. But the new series has added a great deal of the human element; the arc of Russell T. Davies’s tenure is less about the Doctor, and more about his first companion of the new series, Rose Tyler, a sympathetic Cockney from a working-class background who clicked instantly with fans in the UK. The personal drama – detractors may say soap opera elements – that Rose and her family brought to the series made it much more accessible to a wide-scale audience. The references and characters from the original series are there for the hardcore fans, but it’s immediately accessible for new fans as well. But most important, this is a show which can conjure powerfully emotional scenarios that make even the most macho of dedicated viewers feel a little thickness at the back of the throat. I’d personally recommend starting at the beginning, with S1E1 “Rose”; however, the one-off S3 episode “Blink”, in which the Doctor plays a peripheral role, may be a better introduction for those not sure they’re ready to commit to the full arc of the series. I’ve certainly used it to hook at least two people immediately, one of them hard enough to travel to the UK last summer to see David Tennant play Hamlet on stage.

But that’s just my addition to bloginhood’s nomination. My nomination is somewhat less obscure, as it is a pop culture phenomenon; Lost. Now, when Lost moved from the realm of a scripted Survivor-like experience in the first season firmly into the realm of science fiction with the second series, it turned a lot of viewers off (as well as ending its Emmy success, as they cannot abide science fiction for some reason). But that came as a surprise to viewers, hooked on an experience of watching a bunch of people try to find food and shelter and cope with a threatening group of outsiders on the island. Anyone coming into the series at this point, prepared with the foreknoweldge that it is a science fiction series, shouldn’t be as taken aback by the appearance of underground bunkers protecting electromagnetic anomalies as the early adopters.

Just to get it out of the way, some may call it up for debate that Lost is science-fiction at all; certainly there have always been elements of the supernatural creeping around the edges as well. But at this late date, I’m willing to accept the creators’ word that the remaining mysteries will ultimately have scientifically plausible explanations, albiet involving fictional technologies. I’m choosing to avoid spoilers, but the most recent major cliffhanger we were left with, as impossible as it seemed, was familiar ground for people acquainted with Doctor Who’s futuristic technologies which have plausible scientific backing.

But the reason I think it makes a great gateway is because the sci-fi stuff isn’t all up in your face. The major focus of the show is action and drama, with a heavy dose of romance and tragedy. It’s not a science fiction show with strong dramatic elements; it’s more a drama with strong science fiction elements. If you can get hooked on the personal stories of Jack, Kate, Locke, Charlie, Hurley et al., then you may find that the scientific mysteries surrounding characters such as Desmond begin to draw you in as much as wondering whether Kate will decide to hook up with Jack or Sawyer. It’s a good show, too; it lacks the strong dialogue and bold characters of my favourite shows, most of which have appeared on HBO, but it’s still compelling. Well, except for that 8 episode mini-arc that opened season 3. That was a bump in the road towards what looks to be one of the most compelling series finales of all time.”

But we want to hear from you: what TV shows do you think would make the best SF gateways?