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Modern Prometheans & Night Terrors
- Science Fiction TV Series In Britain and America
by J.C. Hartley
"There was this universe on Saturday" - Edwin Morgan
In his 1973 history of science fiction, Billion Year Spree, the writer Brian Aldiss identifies Frankenstein, Or The Modern Prometheus by Mary Shelley, as the beginning of modern science fiction, concerned, as it is, with the use and misuse of science, and questions of nature and identity, as the creature asks: "Who was I? What was I? Whence did I come?" A precise definition of the genre has always been a problem. As Jan Johnson-Smith points out in American Science Fiction TV (2004), it is not enough to define it as a fiction of future prediction or one concerned with technology and outer space, although clearly that may be part of it. Like the western genre many different kinds of story may be contained within a catchall term. Television has presented many different kinds of science fiction story but they all embrace the genre's common trend, at the heart of their narrative development lies the presentation of worlds imaginable yet sufficiently different from our own to promote a sense of wonder.
In the post-war world of the 1950s and into the 1960s, despite fear of the atomic bomb and the atmosphere of the Cold War, there was also a sense of optimism, purpose and possibility. Science fiction was a truly popular creative genre in both Britain and America, spanning a variety of media, including serious literature and comics; Alex Raymond and Don Moore's Flash Gordon and Phillip Francis Nowlan's Buck Rogers were established characters in America but there were also syndicated newspaper strips in Britain like Steve Dowling, Gordon Boshell and Don Freeman's Garth, and Jeff Hawke by Syd Jordan and Willie Patterson, radio programmes like Charles Chilton's Journey Into Space, and of course cinema and television.
Science fiction appeared in the cinema in numerous second features and in serials, complete with obligatory cliffhangers, in the comic strip adaptations of Flash Gordon (1936), and Buck Rogers (1939). The genre naturally translated to television where the serial format allowed for more time to develop character and narrative.
The first historically significant TV serial was Captain Video And His Video Rangers (1949-55), this along with Space Patrol (1951-2), and Tom Corbett - Space Cadet (1950-2), were successful children's shows fostering an interest in the genre and even arguably laying a foundation for the realities of the coming space programme. Men Into Space (1959-60), can be seen as a deliberate instance of popular culture being utilised to promote state policy; heavily backed with technical support from USAF, the army and navy, and scientific organisations, it came into production on the back of the Soviet Sputnik launch in late 1957 and reads like the original plans for space exploration by the USA, as extrapolated by Werner von Braun, and was only superseded by a more pragmatic reality when the space race became co-opted into the Cold War.
In Britain, science fiction came to prominence with 'Quatermass' in three TV serials, The Quatermass Experiment (1953), Quatermass 2 (1955), and Quatermass And The Pit (1958). Superbly imagined by writer Nigel Kneale and transmitted live with filmed inserts, despite technical limitations these series gripped the public imagination. Intensely dark, Quatermass suggests a bleak approach to the presentation of science fiction, which may correspond to a dystopic strand in British literary science fiction. In the first series, a returning astronaut is found to be infected with an alien lifeform which hideously mutates him; in the second series Britain has been invaded, the government has been taken over and an industrial plant established to house the aliens responsible. In Quatermass And The Pit the postwar bombsites of British cities were brilliantly evoked, in the discovery of a five-million-year-old spacecraft containing a fossilised insectile Martian, possibly responsible for the development of life on Earth and parallel strands within the human race; before a solution can be found a hideous 'cull' takes place, evoking the reality of contemporary race riots, which would not have been lost on British viewers.
Another seminal series on British television followed with A For Andromeda (1961), based on astronomer and writer Fred Hoyle and BBC television producer John Elliot's story about a message from space which allows technicians to build a computer which in turn supplies instructions to genetically recreate its organic equivalent, the beautiful Andromeda of the title, based on a template provided by a female technician the computer has murdered. The story is remarkable in the palpable sense of horror and fear of the 'alien', as well as speculation about computers and genetic chemistry and a very modern approach to conspiracy, and military industrial involvement in politics and state institutions.
As can be seen, early American SF series seem to have concentrated on exploration and the benefits of technology, whereas the British equivalent was of a darker nature, with an emphasis on bad things coming from space. It is the dichotomy of youthful optimism against weary pessimism, possibly this derives from the history of the two nations; America was born in the spirit of adventure, and the flight from oppression to freedom, it is a relatively young country; Britain has become over the centuries a fortress, a fastness that in the 1950s had not long recovered from the threat of an invasion that may have instilled xenophobia as a national mindset. It is a disturbing conjecture that the mood of these 'invasion' scenarios may have been equated not only with the aggressive intentions of wartime enemies but 'economic' invasions such as the government sponsored waves of immigration following the arrival of the so-called 'Windrush generation' from the Caribbean in 1948.
A note on the different production techniques of these early series seems to be appropriate as it bears on both the 'look' of productions, then and in the future, and beyond that, to have established a format or style of storytelling and significant differences in the British and American approach. The BBC output was based around live production up until the early 1960s; video cameras were used in the studio both to transmit programmes and to record them onto tape, in America programmes were pre-shot onto film. Before commercially professional videotape became available in Britain programmes could be tele-recorded onto film but the facility was almost exclusively used to repeat live broadcasts, filmed inserts were used in live broadcasts and for location material beyond what could be achieved in the studio. British TV science fiction was produced on videotape right into the 1980s. The emphasis on live production obviously dictated what could be shown on the screen in Britain and coupled perhaps with the theatrical tradition and budgetary considerations, led to character based drama and exposition, over action and special effects; American productions had a gloss and a cinematic look.
As important as Quatermass was, as drama and as science fiction, it was to be another series with an iconic, occasionally iconoclastic, big-brained scientist as hero that was to grab the imagination of the public and bring in viewers for the BBC. In the early 1960s the BBC was struggling for ratings with its rivals at commercial television; something that had been a success was A For Andromeda and in the time honoured tradition of producers everywhere the corporation looked to repeat the success by revisiting the genre.
Adaptations of short stories were considered; the script department of the BBC under Donald Wilson being directed by Eric Maschwitz, special assistant to the controller of television, to survey literary sources. The early response was that there was a lack of suitable character driven stories. Two staff members, Alice Frick and John Braybon, were charged with tracking down suitable stories and it is in their brief that the often-quoted injunction against 'bug-eyed monsters' occurs, although this aversion is usually credited to Sydney Newman. Newman had been poached from the commercial Associated British Corporation (ABC) to reorganise the BBC's drama output. Newman had been involved in the production of one-off science fiction adaptations on the commercial channel and back in his native Canada; although forever associated with Armchair Theatre and The Wednesday Play, he had also overseen the successful escapism of The Avengers. The problem Newman faced was finding a programme to fill the early evening bridging slot between the sport and the start of the Saturday evening's entertainment proper. What emerged from all the research and script conferences was a time-travelling science fiction serial, with a regular cast, designed to appeal to a broad spectrum of viewers; it was also hoped that the programme could fulfil an educational role, with an early idea to alternate the futuristic storylines with historical ones. Newman recruited the rising star Verity Lambert as producer in order to keep in touch with the younger generation, the proscription against 'bug-eyed monsters' was repeated and Lambert and script editor David Whitaker set about commissioning scripts. One of the writers selected was Terry Nation and the rest, appropriately enough, was history.
In the first story, An Unearthly Child, written by Anthony Coburn and C.E. Webber, two schoolteachers, Ian and Barbara, concerned by the strangeness of Susan, one of their pupils, follow her home only to discover that she appears to lives in a junkyard; she and her 'grandfather' are in fact alien time travellers and in order to preserve the internal logic of that particular timeline, the 'Doctor' kidnaps the two humans in his time machine. The TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space machine), is disguised with a clever 'chameleon circuit' which blends it in with its background environment, this circuit is subsequently broken leaving it showing the characteristic shape of a British police telephone box. They travel into the past where they have an encounter with Palaeolithic tribesmen searching for the secret of fire, almost immediately there is some debate over tampering with the past, the Doctor it seems is on the run from his own people who are dedicated to non interference. It is a fascinating but little debated aspect of the serial that it bears some relation to the Prometheus myth. In classical mythology, Prometheus is the creator of mankind, shaping a man and a woman out of clay, hence Mary Shelley's subtitle for Frankenstein. Prometheus' greatest act as creator and benefactor of mankind was to steal fire from the gods, for which Zeus punished him. That the Doctor is alienated from the philosophy of his own people, by becoming involved in the societies which he visits, and that the first story concerns bringing fire to a primitive race seems no coincidence. The Doctor's continuing offer of aid to mankind and his eventual punishment, by exile on Earth, following The War Games (1969), seems to reinforce his status as a modern Prometheus.
The success of Doctor Who was to be inextricably tied up with Terry Nation's written creation of the daleks, but viewing figures were already rising; from a starting position of 4.4 million for An Unearthly Child, they reached 6.4 million by the end of this first adventure, before the murderous mutant daleks sent the figures into orbit.
The Daleks (1963-4), is set on the planet Skaro, devastated by nuclear war. Apart from hideously mutated monsters, the two remaining intelligent races are the Thals, peaceful Aryan farmers, and the daleks, reptilian mutants who have encased themselves in metal travel machines, powered by static electricity, within their automated city. The Doctor and his companions befriend the peaceful thals, spur them to violent resistance and defeat the daleks, creating television that is both classic and cult in the process. The storyline is basically that of the Eloi and the Morlocks, from H.G. Wells' The Time Machine, as writer and commentator Trevor Wayne has pointed out, and there are elements of the first comic-strip Dan Dare storyline.
The story and the villains captured the public imagination and while there was certainly padding to the plot, scattering of the main characters, journeys and setbacks, which were to dog the advancement of plot throughout the series with its need for cliff-hangers, there was still genuine excitement and thrills. It is easy to satirise wobbly sets and costumes, lapses in continuity and 1960s' attitudes in Doctor Who but nothing quite like this had been seen before, even arguably on the big screen. There was a tremendous desire to suspend disbelief, as audience research reports reveal. When the daleks returned in The Dalek Invasion Of Earth (1964), again written by Terry Nation, the British public's capitulation to the series and the iconic villains was complete.
Set sometime after the year 2164, the doctor and his companions do not at first react to the devastated London they find themselves in, because it is so much like the London of the 1960s, where bombsites remained from the Second World War; relevant because the story imagines a Britain under the rule of Nazism. The destruction of the human race is referred to by the daleks as 'the final solution' and there is even a 'Lord Haw Haw' dalek, broadcasting to the resistance. Viewing figures hit 12.4 million for the climax of the adventure, timed for Boxing Day 1964 and dalek merchandise dominated shops, to the mutual benefit of the BBC and Terry Nation who co-owned the franchise. Some mention must be made of the 'forgotten man' Raymond Cusick who actually designed the creatures and much else of the series' sets and costumes.
The series main rivals were American and of variable quality, the commercial channel in Britain bought in science fiction serials to pit against the Doctor, in the Saturday early evening slot, including Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea (1964-8), the crew of a super submarine encountering ocean-based extraterrestrials; Lost In Space (1965-8), a futuristic Swiss Family Robinson story, as a vehicle for the acting talents of double act Jonathan Harris, as the likeably wicked Dr Zachary Smith and Robby the robot; The Time Tunnel (1966-7), a military sponsored experiment in time travel, and Land Of The Giants (1968-70), humans stranded on an outsized alien world, there had been a similar storyline in Doctor Who: Planet Of Giants (1964). When a serious rival to Doctor Who came along it was shown, between Doctor Who seasons, by the BBC in 1969 when its run had already ended at NBC in America, to little critical acclaim and low viewing figures. Star Trek (1966-9), would have been a footnote in television history, a grown-up heir of Space Patrol and Tom Corbett - Space Cadet, if it had not been syndicated and quickly garnered a cult following among students and the emergent 'alternative generation'. The programme, having been moved around in the schedules to various unpromising broadcast slots, and twice saved by fans to reach three series, was revealed too late and despite low advertising revenue, to be reaching a desirable demographic for advertisers. The latter success of the show in syndication and the massive resulting franchise would seem to bear this out.
Created by Gene Roddenberry, a writer and script editor, Star Trek was conceived, in his own words, as a 'space western', a trans-genre "wagon train to the stars." The original pilot, The Cage (1964), written and produced by its creator, was rejected by NBC for various reasons, one of which was that it was 'too cerebral'. Roddenberry also claimed that the network felt that viewers would not accept the role of the first officer being played by a woman, Majel Barrett, who survived to play the role of Nurse Chapel; however a counter-claim is that NBC were annoyed that Roddenberry had cast his girlfriend, later his wife, in the role. The second pilot, Where No Man Has Gone Before (1966), where the starship Enterprise attempts to break through the energy barrier at the edge of the galaxy, written by Samuel A. Peebles but still produced by Roddenberry, proved acceptable, with an almost entirely new cast but notable for the retention of the character of the alien Mr Spock, whom the network had tried to have removed. The new format with a greater emphasis on action saw the series commissioned to enter production in early 1966. The original pilot was re-edited and shown as the two-parter The Menagerie (1966).
Roddenberry had high hopes for the series and recruited recognised science fiction writers such as Harlan Ellison to add quality to the scripts. What resulted was a mixture of action and adventure, with a message. The ethical and philosophical messages were simplistic enough, self-determination, freedom and the redeeming and liberating power of love, usually alleviated with a smattering of violence. The stories often followed a predictable format with an introductory pre-credits sequence to set the scene. The captain and crew of the Enterprise were sometimes the Prometheans visiting inferior races, often they came up against alien races of unimaginable almost godlike powers, or solitary entities who behaved with a casual cruelty, such as in The Squire Of Gothos (1967), and Who Mourns For Adonais? (1967); in these situations the humans often save themselves by showing compassion or mercy, or proving that despite their warlike past, humanity had progressed and evolved into the earnest do-gooders featured week by week.
Star Trek and Doctor Who differed in several fundamental ways, relative to the earlier discussion of genre; while they are both clearly science fiction, Trek is a space opera and while Doctor Who contains elements of that, with interstellar wars and battle fleets and invasions, it has a cosier more parochial feel, in part due to the production standards, partly through the heavy emphasis on character. The storylines too carry different emphases; Trek may be an analogy of a nation taking its place in the world as a global policeman; Doctor Who could be about the end of empire, with the Doctor pointing out how small and insignificant planet Earth is, an analogy for Britain's place in the new world order.
The two series had different takes on racial and gender politics. Doctor Who dealt little with the actual representation of the racial mix in contemporary Britain; Afro-Caribbean characters were rare but generally sympathetic, as in the character of Toberman in The Tomb Of The Cybermen (1967); this may say more about the representation of ethnic groups on British television as a whole. From the earliest appearance of the daleks however, the series has attacked the keystones of racism, particularly in the representation of the dalek race's hatred of the 'other'. In Rememberance Of The Daleks, writer Ben Aaronovitch equates the emergent racialist nationalism in Britain, in 1963; with the daleks' own take on racial purity. The depiction of women in Doctor Who has been beset with the same shortcomings; despite the early appearance of Sara Kingdom - a top space agent in The Daleks Master Plan (1965-6), female companions, however qualified in their own fields, often tended to be 'screamers' forever needing rescuing; only the 'savage' Leela, in 1976-8, and Ace, 1987-9, really broke the mould and it may be argued that Leela's kick-ass savagery was just an excuse to show an actress in a fur bikini. The fate of the Doctor's female companions on 'retirement', death, marriage or good works, seemed to have more in common with the 19th century novel than 20th century science fiction; to be fair, the Doctor's male companions, although brave and resourceful, could be equally feckless.
Star Trek, on the face of it, seemed more alert to multiculturalism and sexual equality. The Enterprise is as much a melting pot as the United States itself, with crew members drawn from many Earth nations; clearly nations still exist in the 23rd century and their citizens are eager to retain their cultural identity, they sometimes wear national dress in relaxation periods or have cultural artefacts in their cabins. Of course the captain, James T. Kirk, is a WASP with the best characteristics of his origin; one could imagine him as an earnest, two-fisted, small town lawyer, with ambitions in Democratic politics. The saving grace in the characterisation of Kirk is that he is flawed and contradictory; he is often rash and aggressive, yet he can be diplomatic and conciliatory, he contains the best and worst characteristics of his countrymen; the flaws in his character are alleviated by the strengths of his best friends, the 'southern' Doctor McCoy and the Vulcan First Officer, Mr Spock; the shortcomings and rivalries within their natures becoming balanced within his. The crew of the Enterprise are continually engaged in mutual self-affirmation but for all its charm and humour there is much that is stereotypical and trite.
The most visible female character is the beautiful, micro-skirted, African-American communications officer, Uhura, but all too often the actress, Nichelle Nichols, claimed her lines were, "Captain, I'm frightened"; resolved to abandon the role she was encouraged to continue by Dr Martin Luther King who said she was a role model for black children. The actress Whoopi Goldberg, who later played Guinan in Star Trek: The Next Generation, as a tribute both to the series and Nichols' characterisation, recalls seeing the latter on television and alerting her mother, "there's a black lady on television - and she ain't no maid!" The characters of Uhura and Kirk shared television's first interracial kiss in Plato's Stepchildren (1968). Another recurring character, yeoman Janice Rand, articulated the problem of female crewmembers in Miri (1967), where prematurely aged by a mutating disease she complains to the Captain, "I used to try and get you to look at my legs." This could be taken as a reproach to the scriptwriters. Clearly 23rd century attitudes to sex would be more mature but the Captain's cavalier attitude to relationships with female crewmembers speaks more of the 1960s than attempts to imagine a future morality.
Star Trek engaged with America's political situation and the Cold War in its second and third seasons, introducing Kirk's masters the 'United Federation of Planets' and its uneasy truce with the Klingon and Romulan empires, generally seen as representative of the Soviets and the Red Chinese. A Private Little War (1968), broadcast at a time when public opinion was swinging against the war in Vietnam, is seen as an allegory for that conflict, even so far as containing a reference to "the twentieth century brush wars on the Asian continent."
On the planet of Neural the Klingons have been arming villagers against the hill people, with firearms of gradually increasing sophistication in contravention of non-intervention agreements. The Federation's 'prime directive' is for non-intervention in primitive worlds. Drugged by the ambitious wife of the hill people's headman, Kirk loses control of an escalating situation and eventually makes out a case for arming the other side, to preserve the balance of power. With Dr McCoy making out a strong case for non-intervention, the episode could be taken as a classic case of fence sitting; having gathered evidence of the Klingon's culpability, the alternative to civil war on Neural would appear to be war between the superpowers. The episode ends unresolved on a downbeat note. In another second season episode, The Omega Glory (1968), the planet Omega Four is found to contain two warring tribes, the Yangs and the Kohms, revealed to be Yankees and Communists, blasted back to primitivism after nuclear and biological war, in a frankly ludicrous parallel development subplot. The Yangs venerate a crumbling copy of the Constitution of the United States and a tattered Old Glory flag. The episode makes explicit what an escalation of the Cold War could mean, but Kirk's assertion that the precepts of the Constitution must apply to both sides suggests that it is the American way that must be the path for the future.
Both Star Trek and Doctor Who became flagships of popular culture, feeding into it and on it. When popular beat combo The Beatles revealed themselves to be fans, the first Doctor, William Hartnell, in The Executioners, first episode of The Chase (1965), is able to summon up footage of them from The Top Of The Pops television series on his 'time visualiser' in the TARDIS, when Barbara accidentally disrupts the broadcast he complains, "now you've squashed my favourite Beatles." The Doctor's most famous enemies became a byword for insensitive destruction as when the playwright Denis Potter famously attacked the Director General of the BBC, John Birt, and the Chairman of the Board of Governors, Marmaduke Hussey, to wit, "You cannot make a pair of croak-voiced daleks appear benevolent even if you dress one of them in an Armani suit and call the other Marmaduke." In America the power of Star Trek was revealed when the first space shuttle orbiter was named Enterprise in 1976, after a lobbying campaign by fans of the series.
With a plot device whereby the Doctor, revealed in season six to be a Time Lord from Gallifrey, could regenerate, first seen at the end of season four, The Tenth Planet, Doctor Who could last as long as subsequent generations continued to watch. After 30 years the plots seemed to be recycling, becoming increasingly esoteric, and with internal BBC politics shunting the programme around the schedules, and Star Wars (1977), raising viewers' expectations of science fiction, the television series was quietly rested in 1989. The BBC had continued to flirt with the genre with the Terry Nation written, post apocalyptic, Survivors (1975-7) and the cultish and influential Blake's 7 (1978-81), before increasingly turning to comedy formats with the multi-media hit The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, and Red Dwarf, and bought-in American series.
In 1987, Trek returned to TV as Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-94), and was followed by Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993-99), Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001), and the retro 'prequel' to the original series, Star Trek: Enterprise (2001-5). The shows and resulting spinoff movies have been used to build an impressive self-referential inter-textual universe, which recalls Tolkein's Middle-earth, and the Marvel comicbook universe of the 1960s and 1970s under the editorship of Stan Lee. Earnest and more politically correct than their predecessor, for some fans the Star Trek spinoffs don't necessarily deliver the same sense of wonder; to quote Mike Myers' alter-ego, Wayne Campbell, in Wayne's World (1992), "in many ways it's superior but will never be as recognised as the original." Post-Star Trek serial science fiction on American television has continued to bloom with space operas like Babylon 5 (1994-8) and more contemporary paranoid-conspiracy based series like Dark Skies (1996-7) and the science fictional horror series The X-Files (1993-2002).
The dropping of Enterprise and the comparative failure of Firefly, suggests that television space opera may be in decline in the USA, although series continue to appear and the proliferation of channels and opportunities for production and the continuing success of science fiction and fantasy in the cinema suggests the genre is far from dead. Far more interesting is the emergence of the darker and more paranoid strain of TV series, which, by our earlier comparison, would suggest that the American empire has come, in less than 300 years, to the state of angst and self-examination that could be detected in postwar Britain. Series such as Dark Skies and Taken, tap into the same love of conspiracy and belief in a secret history of the world that has made Dan Brown a best-selling author. Depending upon which website you access, between five and 25 million Americans believe themselves to have first-hand experience of alien abduction, recent research suggests such experiences may be related to the waking dream paralysis of the 'night terror' phenomenon, other research has suggested such experiences may be related to repressed memories of infantile sexual abuse, clearly the trend for the darker motif in the science fiction series is serving to channel the neuroses of the zeitgeist.
In Britain meanwhile the flagship science fiction series Doctor Who made a triumphant return in 2005 thanks to writer Russell T. Davies and BBC Wales. Davies might be considered a maverick and controversial talent but has consistently found a way to present 'off the wall' subject matter for a mainstream audience, from his children's series Century Falls (1993), the series that brought him to prominence Queer As Folk (1999), to The Second Coming (2003) with Doctor-to-be Christopher Eccleston, and peak time plaudits for Casanova (2005).
The re-launch of Doctor Who with a big budget and a witty contemporaneity won over long-term enthusiasts and outright sceptics, such as BBC Director-General Michael Grade, who went from declaring that he didn't care if it returned, "as long as I don't have to watch it," to announcing to the Institute of Welsh Affairs in Cardiff that it was his favourite programme which he regularly watched with his son.
Where the old series had lapsed into esoteric self-referential storylines that annoyed hardcore fans and alienated newcomers, the new series reinvented itself at the hands of enthusiastic writers and serious performers. Inevitably, with the long history of the show, scenes would suggest other scenes like favourite guitar riffs but where, in the 1980s, reference would be piled on reference, with this series past storylines surfaced like subliminal echoes. The heavy satire at the expense of reality TV, game-shows and makeovers in Bad Wolf (2005), recalls not only Nigel Kneale's The Year Of The Sex Olympics, but also the sixth Doctor's Vengeance On Varos (1985), the revelation of the emperor dalek in The Parting Of The Ways (2005), recalls the first emperor in The Evil Of The Daleks (1967), and Christopher Eccleston's Doctor failing to join two wires that will activate a machine to destroy the daleks at the expense of mankind, recalls Tom Baker's qualms at the genocide of the mutant Kaleds in Genesis Of The Daleks (1975).
The treatment of racial and gender issues was in stark contrast to the past, not only was there a regular non-white character in the person of Mickey, companion Rose's on/off boyfriend but the writers were confident enough to make him the victim of occasional slapstick and the frequent butt of the Doctor's jokes while emphasising his weakness, his courage and his loyalty. Rose herself was the perfect companion, a revelation in the hands of actress Billie Piper, sassy, baffled, scared without hysterics and believable in her relationships with Mickey and mother Jacqui. The introduction of an understated but clearly bisexual character in Captain Jack was the icing on an increasingly postmodern cake. The news that Captain Jack's character will star in the anagrammatically spun-off post-watershed adventure series 'Torchwood' suggests the desire by writer Russell T. Davies to use science fiction to explore more adult themes.
While the science fiction TV series is clearly healthy in the USA, and excitingly back in the spotlight in Britain, it is clear that what is presented lags some lightyears behind the literary equivalent in engaging not only with contemporary issues but also with the speculative future. American series wheel around paranoia and the war on terror, the new Doctor Who for all its glory has engaged again with those staples of British TV drama, the Second World War, The Empty Child (2005), classic heritage, The Unquiet Dead (2005) and the gritty soap Father's Day (2005), albeit in a postmodern way; maybe the medium is suffering from genre fatigue. Quatermass, Doctor Who and Star Trek, clattered onto the scene in the 1960s, television drama has consistently broken many moulds since, from the work of Denis Potter to that of David Lynch and beyond, perhaps the next step for TV science fiction is just around the corner.
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