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Sci-Fi TV

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Fifty years ago, on June 27, 1949, the DuMont Network declared, "Let there be Captain Video." The program's prop budget totaled $25 per week, but that was enough for an opticon scillometer, an atomic rifle, a trisonic compensator and a cosmic ray vibrator. Science fiction television was born. In the decades that followed, Star Trek cleared the path, Star Trek: The Next Generation paved the road and The X-Files added shoulders. A few newcomers, such as Blade Squad, which featured futuristic police wearing in-line skates, could be as painful on the eyeballs as phaser burn. Others, such as Matt Groening's Futurama, keep hope alive.



In the 22nd century, Captain Video hawks plastic decoder rings.

TOM CORBETT, SPACE CADET (1950-55) In the 24th century, Tom listens to his crew bicker as he saves civilizations.

SPACE PATROL (1950-55)

In the 30th century, Commander Buzz Corry uses his brainograph to reform evildoers.

BUCK ROGERS (1950-51)

In the 25th century, Buck defends Earth from his base behind Niagara Falls.


In the 22nd century, Rod battles a copyright infringement lawsuit by the producers of Toni Corbett.

FLASH GORDON (1953-54)

In the 23rd century, Flash battles villains who have thick German accents.


In the 21st century, Rocky wages an oddly familiar cold war.


ten best shows

(1) THE TWILIGHT ZONE (1959-64) When something weird happens, what tune do you hum? Best episode: Burgess Meredith as a postapocalyptic bookworm in "Time Enough at Last."


An unwavering moral code, a Shakespearean star and effects that enhance, not replace, great stories. Best episode: The Enterprise blows up before the first commercial in "Cause and Effect."

(3) THE PRISONER (1967-68) So stylish and cynical you hardly notice that the best effect is an overinflated condom. Best episode: The double mindfuck in "The Schizoid Man."

(4) STAR TREK (1966-69)

The original space Western is rootin' tootin' fun. Best episode: Joan Collins plays in traffic in "The City on the Edge of Forever."

(5) DR. WHO (1963-89)

An eccentric gadabout traverses time and space in a phone booth. Best episode: The doctor has a chance to prevent the creation of his deadliest foes in "Genesis of the Daleks."

(6) COLD LAZARUS (1996)

In this trippy miniseries by Dennis Potter, scientists 400 years in the future plumb the memory of a cryogenically frozen head.

(7) THE X-FILES (1993- )

But has it overstayed its welcome? Best episode: Peter Boyle as a sad-sack psychic in "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose."

(8) MAX HEADROOM (1987-88)

Too clever for its own good.

(9) V: THE MINISERIES (1983) Ragtag rebels take on gerbil-eating aliens.

(10) QUARK (1978)

Buck Henry's attempt to do for sci-fi what Get Smart did for spies. The travels of an intergalactic garbage scow with a crew that includes a smart houseplant and the ex-Doublemint twins.


ten worst shows

(1) LOST IN SPACE (1965-68)

In its first year, this show was dreary, juvenile, mirthless and insufferable.

Then it got bad.

(2) IT'S ABOUT TIME (1966-67)

From the fertile imagination of Sherwood (Gilligan's Island) Schwartz comes the story of two astronauts stranded in prehistoric times.

(3) WILD PALMS (1993)

This miniseries begins with a rhinoceros in an empty swimming pool and ends . .. well, if you ever meet someone who sat through it, they can tell you how it ends.

(4) GALACTICA 1980 (1980)

Adding a cool year to the title is the last gasp of a dying show. It didn't work for Knight Rider 2000 or seaQuest 2032, and it didn't work here.


"Beedeebeedeebeedee, show sucks, Altck!"

(6) SMALL WONDER (1985-89) Precocious daughter is actually an android. Wacky! The worst in a long line of My Favorite Martian rip-offs.

(7) THE STARLOST (1973-74)

An Amish man discovers his hometown is part of an interstellar Noah's Ark.

(8) MERCY POINT (1998)

ER meets Deep Space Nine. Audience meets coma.

(9) WOOPS! (1992)

A comedy about a nuclear holocaust that kills everyone on Earth except a yuppie, a homeless man, a black activist, a curvy airhead, a radical feminist and a nice Jewish boy.

(10) BAYWATCH NIGHTS (1995-97)

Too many purloined X-Files plots, too few buxom babes running on the beach in slow motion.


TRANSPORTER (Star Trek) You can get there from here.

K-9 (Dr. Who)

Loyal, user-friendly portable computer bundled with its own ray gun.

OMNI (Voyagers)

Time-traveling device tells you when it's OK to change history.

STUN GUN (Space: 1999)

No mess, no permanent damage and you can ask questions later.

TOM SERVO AND CROW T. ROBOT (Mystery Science Theater 3000)

Snarky drinking buddies with a fondness for pranks and pop culture.


Millions of miles from home, you and your heroic crew encounter ...

• a dangerous asteroid belt.

• a never-before-seen physical or temporal anomaly.

• an unexplained power surge that threatens to blow your ship apart.

• a distress signal from a planet long thought dead.

• an unmanned spacecraft that destroys everything in its path.

An investigation leads you to the surface of an alien world where ...

• an evil government rules with an iron fist.

• a primitive people live in the aftermath of a global war.

• incorrigible prisoners are deposited to fend for themselves.

• everyone is a little too cheerful.

• the entire population has vanished into thin air.

• everything is exactly like it is on Earth, yet .. . somehow ... different.

You and your crew meet ...

• a seductive woman who turns out to be an android.

• a crusty old-timer who deals in spare parts and information and is missing a leg, arm or eye.

• the planet's sole inhabitant, who guards an ancient secret.

• your evil twin.

He, she or they reveal ...

• a secret society with many odd and amusing rituals.

• a computer that became self-aware and has gone insane.

• a weapon of mass destruction that must not fall into the wrong hands.

• a zoo filled with ... humans!

are forced to battle ...

• emotionless killer cyborgs.

• a being who can control weak human minds.

• attractive people who turn out to be monsters in disguise.

• an automatic defense system fighting long-concluded war.

• an eerily calm, faintly homosexual computer

Just when things seem hopeless, you and your crew ..

• overwhelm the computer by feeding it data that do not compute.

• discover that the evil aliens have a fatal reaction to the common cold.

• teach the planet's inhabitants the importance of personal freedom.

• resolve everything with stock footage of a large explosion.

Safely back on your ship, you and your weary crew ...

• look forward to some peace and quiet for a change!

• come to grips with your realization that nothing is at it seems.

• wish there could have been another way.


Commander Buzz Corry cat his sidekick Cadet Happy anchored Space Patrol, which premiered in 1950. Here the patrol carefully zaps a plywood hatch.

Space Patrol introduced babes to the genre: The evil Tonga (Nina Bara fixes her sonic ray pistol on Carol Karly le (Virginia Hewitt). Tonga later turned to good

Tom Corbett, Space Cadet, starring Frankie Thomas, completes the trifecta of early space operas. Astro the Venusion (right) became sci-fi TV's first alien character.

Disclaimer: These citations are created on-the-fly using primitive parsing techniques. You should double-check all citations. Send feedback to

  • APA 6th ed.: Radosh, Daniel (July 1999). Sci-Fi TV. Playboy .
  • MLA 7th ed.: Radosh, Daniel. "Sci-Fi TV." Playboy [add city] July 1999. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Radosh, Daniel. "Sci-Fi TV." Playboy, edition, sec., July 1999
  • Turabian: Radosh, Daniel. "Sci-Fi TV." Playboy, July 1999, section, edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Sci-Fi TV | url= | work=Playboy | pages= | date=July 1999 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=20 July 2024 }}</ref>
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