There’s no escaping it; we live in an era of the reboot – or revamp or reimagining or whatever you want to call it. There was a time in the late 90s when such a concept was something to bawk at, a shameless cash-in of an established format to make a quick buck based on nostalgia (I’m looking at you Charlie’s Angels) but these days making a good reboot or successfully revisiting a group of characters otherwise lost to history has in itself become something of an art form.
The science fiction genre, perhaps more than any other, lends itself well to the idea of a reboot or revisitation since the setting itself is often taken out of context of the time of its production. Take Miami Vice for instance; the series has become embedded in to the 80s section of pop culture because it fully embraced its own time. The 2006 movie/reboot tried to take a similar formula but put it in a 21st century setting but because it couldn’t capture its time like the original did it just became generic. Sci-fi reboots work differently however. Instead of putting an older concept in the present, they instead bring a previously established future concept to the present which is something that is much easier to do.
Take Battlestar Galactica for instance. While there is still a lot of love for the original series it has to be said that even in 1978 it was nothing new. It was a classic tale of the struggle between good versus evil revolving around what was essentially a western-style wagon trail drama. You can argue it makes the show more timeless but in the same breath you have to admit that it falls in to a distinct shade of beige compared to other similar stories. The 2003 reboot on the other hand was very much a story of its time featuring the idea of the enemy within our own ranks and the racism/paranoia that comes from that; an obvious allegory to what was happening, and is still happening, regarding western views on the relationship between terrorism and Islam. By embracing facets of its time yet still staying largely true to its sci-fi formula, BSG2003 was a hugely successful reboot and stole away many loyal fans of the original.
So if reboot is no longer such a dirty word, what else is out there that could do with being revisited? It’s true that a lot of reboots come about because it’s a cash-in on something already established but there are a lot of sci-fi shows out there that came and went in what felt like the blink of an eye. What about those? Could we bring back those even though their pop culture footprint isn’t as large as say Star Trek? Here are five obscure sci-fi shows that I felt either had a lot of promise but didn’t deliver or alternatively did deliver but just didn’t get the spotlight they deserved.
Now, the way I define “obscure” is that in 2016 very few people are talking about it. You may read this list, see something and go “I remember that, that’s not obscure!” but while it made an impact in your life at some point it didn’t really stick around in the wider scheme of things. Take Joss Whedon’s Firefly for example; by all accounts the show was doomed before filming even began and yet over ten years later people are still talking about it. The internet is full of memes, quotes, clips, gifs and new merchandise all the time. Despite the fact there’s very little of the show available it continues to make a big impact in popular culture. ALL of these shows have a much greater run time than Firefly but just don’t make the same impression.
So now that’s out of the way.
Here are five obscure sci-fi shows that definitely deserve to make a comeback.
– – – – –
War of the Worlds: The Series
It’s the late 1980s and the world has now recovered from a great calamity that befell it in 1953. What was the calamity – the invasion of the Martians and their devastating war machines. The trouble is that in the course of the reconstruction mankind has somehow forgotten about the alien invasion save for a few people who either saw them first hand back in the 50s or believe what is essentially a theory about an alien invasion which is how the general public view it. In the years after 1953 all trace of the aliens was hurriedly covered up by the world’s governments and in the US the alien remnants were placed in to a series of pits. Now however, a terrorist group has unintentionally irradiated a number of the aliens as they lay in one of the dumpsites thus bringing them back to life and who then utilise their technology to possess the bodies of the terrorists in order to continue their plans for world domination. Only a team of unorthodox scientists know who they really are and can stop them.
There’s little point in me retelling the story of H.G. Welles’ epic. It is the defining alien invasion story that essentially gave rise to the genre (there were some earlier but less successful attempts such as Voltaire’s Micromégas in 1752). For me personally there is a specific reason why it is still considered such a scary story and that is that unlike nearly all other alien invasion stories since, War of the Worlds is the only one where the human race survives almost by accident. Look at any number of other alien invasion stories and somehow the dashing, roguish heroes always find a way to save the day but in War of the Worlds the people of Earth essentially surrender to their inevitable fate only to have the aliens fall sick from germs and die on what is the eve of their victory.
That is a genuinely terrifying prospect.
Getting back to this show. The thinking behind this American/Canadian collaboration was both genius and absurd. On the one hand, taking one of the most iconic movies of all time namely the 1953 War of the Worlds movie (interestingly, this itself could be considered a reboot of the book!) and creating a series around its aftermath is a good one. Having the population forget about what was effectively the most devastating time in recent human history is just ridiculous however. Firstly, huge numbers of people in the 1950s witnessed these war machines and survived so why would they suddenly forget? Secondly, there were recordings of them made actually in the movie the most important of which being the reporter who makes his recording for the future. It makes no sense! It would be like trying to convince people World War II didn’t happen despite the encyclopaedic evidence.
The series itself was essentially a conspiracy show in the same elk as The X-Files with government and alien conspiracies aplenty. The show ran from 1988 to 1990 and at the time was considered somewhat risqué for TV since it featured a substantial amount of gore concerning the possessed humans who were dying from the radiation that had reanimated the aliens in the first place. The pilot episode featured a cameo by one of the Martian’s flying war machines from the movie but after that the series settled down in to shady basements, laboratories, etc.
So why then have I put this series in the list? Well, while I can’t buy this particular show’s premise I do like the idea of a cover up of H.G. Welles’ original story. Imagine a series set in a world where a group of researchers in the present day discover that the First World War (bear in mind this would be an alternate reality and would have taken place in 1898 when the book was published) was not between nations but between Earth and the Martians. It would be far easier to cover up that invasion rather than the 1953 movie version. You could keep the idea of the resurrected aliens, their need to constantly replace the bodies they possess and the enemy within and impending second invasion premises. It would also allow the opportunity to play with exploring this alternate world which would have been shaped by this alien invasion. There would be just so much you could do with it which this show failed to properly run with and that’s why I think this concept deserves some new attention.
The Girl from Tomorrow
In the year 3000, mankind has evolved beyond its primitive and violent tendencies and exists in a state of true utopia. One of the keys to achieving such a state was the invention of the Transducer, a device that affords humans telekinetic, healing and if necessary defensive powers. Now, the people of the year 3000 are beginning to explore their history through the use of a time machine known as the Time Capsule and in particular a catastrophic event in the year 2500 that brought humanity to the brink of extinction. However, one such exploration has the unfortunate side effect of bringing a warlord known as Silverthorn from 2500 to 3000. In the ensuing struggle, Silverthorn is forced back in time but not before he takes a young girl hostage named Alana. They arrive in the early 1990s where Silverthorn uses his knowledge of the future to build a financial empire while Alana befriends a brother and sister who help her track him and the Time Capsule down and hopefully get home to the future.
I remember seeing this Australian children’s show on BBC1 when I was barely 8 years old and I stumbled upon it again recently on that glorious view to nostalgia known as YouTube quite recently. Given the fact that it very obviously was intended for children I was amazed at how well woven the story was and frankly how dark it got especially in its second season that had a number of episodes set in the apocalyptic 2500s. The 1990s segments are very early 90s and will be familiar to people who remember other Aussie kids and teen shows such as Heartbreak High… pause for shudder. The year 3000 segments are very TV-ish with glitzy, high contrast graphics and lots of white sets. These have a certain charm for people like me who like retro sci-fi but I can understand why it would put a lot of new viewers off it. Honestly, sometimes it feels like you need to wear sunglasses.
There are several reasons why I remember this fondly and as such have included it in this list. Firstly, it is in some respects a reversed telling of H.G. Welles’ The Time Machine with the traveller being in the perfect future (minus the monsters obviously) and passing through the new dark age to the present. Secondly, it is very traditional sci-fi with a good moral message/warning that things will have to get worse before we learn from our mistakes and then build a better future.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, while it was a kid’s show it didn’t treat kids like idiots. This was part of a golden age of children’s drama that properly dealt with the issues of adolescence as well as present mature storytelling but toned down enough for younger audiences. Note that I said toned down not dumbed down as a lot of children’s TV is these days.
There has been a recent explosion of traditionally family or children’s stories getting a modern update or being aimed at a more mature audience. I think The Girl from Tomorrow would be well worth a retelling although I would prefer to keep it aimed at younger audiences for they should have the chance to enjoy this as much as we did back in the 90s but without resorting to using their own Time Capsule.
Meet the officers of the 88th precinct of the Demeter City Police Department. They’re just like most police forces on Earth except of course they’re not on Earth. In fact, their precinct is a space station orbiting one of the most multi-cultural and indeed multi-species planets in the galaxy. Just like the people on the planet they police, the 88th precinct is made up of members of several species as well as humans including the telepathic Tarns and the sometimes tough-looking Creons. The 88th has all the problems of a regular police precinct but with the added difficulties of dealing with many different aliens and their associated cultures, technologies and of course crimes. Leading the fight against crime in Demeter City is the captain of the 88th, the no-nonsense Creon Captain Podley and his streetwise second-in-command, Lieutenant Patrick Brogan formerly of the NYPD.
The story of how the late, great Gerry Anderson got his dream of a TV show about a space police force in to syndication is a long one that started over ten years before the first episode aired. In the mid-1980s, gritty cop shows were all the rage and his idea was to take the format of shows like NYPD Blue and put it in a space setting complete with aliens. His concept came to early fruition with the production of a pilot for a show called Space Police in 1986 which starred long-time Anderson stalwart, Shane Rimmer (the voice of Scott Tracey from the original Thunderbirds), in the lead role playing a burnt-out cop in a futuristic city where crime by various alien gangs is rife. Like previous non-puppet Anderson shows such as UFO and Space 1999, the pilot featured real actors mixed in with extensive model work and animatronics. The pilot failed to get picked up but Anderson remained undeterred and worked on the project in to the 90s until TV stations in the US and UK agreed to purchase a revised version known as Space Precinct.
Space Precinct had a lot going for it. It was Gerry Anderson’s most ambitious and expensive television project up to that point and was set to showcase just what his production company could do. It was also easily merchandisable with toy, book and magazine lines following hot on the trail of the first few episodes airing which usually meant that a show would continue on as long as it made money. To that end it was heavily marketed and managed to secure the all-important 6pm slot in the UK which had served other sci-fi shows such as Battlestar Galactica and all the Star Trek series bar Enterprise so well.
So why only one season then?
Space Precinct suffered from a noticeable lack of direction in what it was supposed to be. It was pitched as a police drama set in space but that wasn’t always true and at times it drifted well in to established science fiction territory with one of the most well-known episodes involving a time travelling cyborg – what…didn’t you ever see the similar episode of CSI: New York? Then at other times the show regressed back to stories about theft, extortion and murder which when the previous episode was about an alien invasion suddenly felt underwhelming. The annoying thing was that there were a number of episodes where it walked the line between crime drama and sci-fi really well exploring its full potential but therein lay the show’s next problem.
Many audiences didn’t know if the show was aimed at their demographic or not. Adults were put off by the children’s show presentation but parents were cautious about letting their children watch it because of some of the themes mentioned above. Also, some of the aliens were downright scary for the younger audiences with the aforementioned cyborg looking like a horror version of Robocop. Space Precinct proved to be one of those awkward shows that just didn’t seem to fit in any particular audience group but did develop a small but loyal following nonetheless.
A distinct lack of repeats in either the US or UK is somewhat telling of the impact this show made but that shouldn’t put people off. Like I said there were times when the show really shined and these were usually when it stayed true to its police drama genesis but with science fiction twists. A reboot that stayed within this remit and perhaps aimed squarely at the 18-35 age bracket has the potential for some great TV and of course provide a soapbox to stand on and make social commentary.
While humanity is always looking to the stars, our immediate future lays under the ocean. Land based resources are becoming increasingly scarce forcing the colonisation and widespread mining of the Earth’s oceans. To protect the new world below the ocean’s surface from criminals, evil corporations and rogue nations a number of countries band together to create the United Earth Oceans (UEO) organisation and their flagship is the awe-inspiring submarine SeaQuest. Part warship, part laboratory – the SeaQuest is the beacon of hope in the Earth’s oceans…and beyond.
With the benefit of hindsight, SeaQuest was an absolute mess of a show and it’s a real shame. At a time when Star Trek The Next Generation had appealed to an audience so much larger than expected and the subsequent saturation of space-y shows as a result, SeaQuest promised to not only buck the trend of sci-fi seemingly having to be in space but also offered to include a fair degree of science fact. It was supposed to be both entertaining and educational with stories revolving around real scientific scenarios and to that end the writers worked closely with the Ballard Institute even getting Bob Ballard himself, the man who found the Titanic wreck, giving brief presentations over the closing credits explaining the realities of whatever had happened in this week’s episode.
Some would say that the producers of SeaQuest worked too closely with the institute in its creation. The first season of the show began to wander too far in to the science fact arena for some people with audiences complaining that they felt like they were watching a dramatized version of the National Geographic channel and consequently the action was a little lacking. It was also quite preachy at times making an effort to point out the dangers of pollution and the need for protecting endangered species which I am not saying isn’t important but it shouldn’t be rammed down your throat on a Saturday afternoon.
Recognising this, the producers effectively reinvented the show for the second series by dropping a number of the cast and replacing them while featuring more stories with a traditional science fiction setting. The result was SeaQuest getting transported back in time to the Cuban Missile Crisis and then being teleported by aliens to another planet where the submarine is (apparently) destroyed. In essence, SeaQuest season 2 was Star Trek at sea and the fan reaction was extremely negative but it was nothing compared to how lead actor Roy Scheider, of Jaws fame, responded to the new show. He hated the new concept with a fiery passion essentially claiming it was a dumbed down version of the show to the point where he demanded to be released from his contract.
The producers realised they messed up but didn’t want to give up on SeaQuest just yet and so they responded with yet another reinvention of the format. Enter SeaQuest 2032 complete with a new captain played delightfully by Michael Ironside who was and still is more used to playing villains. The “new” series seemed to finally hit the nail on the head with all the gimmicky sci-fi stuff of season 2 quietly forgotten about as the SeaQuest crew fought to reclaim the oceans from a brutal corporation and its private military. It was darker, grittier and more clearly defined than before with Ironisde giving his very best to make it work but sadly it was already too late. Interest had fallen off to the point where to keep it going would only be whipping a dead horse which was a shame.
Give us a new SeaQuest 2032 show. With the world being far more conscious of the environment and the effect humans have on our planet the mood is ready for this show.
Space Above And Beyond
In 2063, mankind has been united by first a devastating war with a race of human-built robots known as Silicates and secondly by the promise of exploring space using faster-than-light travel. Countries and their militaries still exist but they work together in relative harmony. Convinced the universe was empty of similar life to humanity, human colonies spring up all over the galaxy but one such colony gets attacked and a race of beings known by the nickname Chigs threatens to erase humanity from the galactic equation in a this-galaxy-ain’t-big-enough-for-the-both-of-us sort of way. Enter our heroes; the men and women of the US Marine Corps’ 58th Squadron known as the “Wild Cards”. Whether they are flying their SA-43 Hammerhead Endo/Exo-Atmospheric Attack Jets or down in the alien mud with their rifles they battle their way through combat and conspiracy to unravel this deep and fascinating universe.
I’ve talked about how a show’s success really depends on the time of its release. This show from the same people who brought The X-Files had everything going for it except for being out at a time that wouldn’t properly accept it. You see, this show would have been swallowed up by audiences in the post-9/11 world just like Battlestar Galactica 2003 was. In fact, this show was essentially a prototype for the new BSG since it shared many similar premises – it’s dark and gritty, it takes place on an aircraft carrier in space, the main characters are fighter pilots (and soldiers), humanity aren’t as great as we’d like and the enemy walks among them. The more you list the comparisons the more obvious it becomes but Space, or SAAB as fans liked to call it, lived in that frankly cosy decade where the threat of nuclear annihilation by the Soviet Union had passed and 9/11 hadn’t happened yet. The 1990s was really the decade where optimistic and colourful sci-fi flourished and as such there was little room for a more realistic take on what a future war with aliens might be like.
You can make a case for saying that the apparently more successful Babylon 5 was a gritty war drama at times (quick fact; the SAAB DVD menu screen features a bizarre cameo from the B5 space station even though it doesn’t appear in the show) but Babylon 5 embraced its campy side as well. SAAB was always meant to be a cold, hard sci-fi drama that was to be taken seriously. Another problem it had was that a lot of the marketing centred around the fact that it involved a lot of the writing and producing team that made The X-Files which was hugely successful at the time. The consequence of this was that SAAB felt like it lived in that show’s shadow and couldn’t really shake it off. Throw in really lousy scheduling decisions in the US and UK and you have a formula for certain cancellation.
The story of SAAB is a real shame because despite a shaky first few episodes it really blossomed in to the type of serious sci-fi a lot of fans still become hooked to. The writing was solid and the story really came together by the end. The characters were well defined but more importantly consistent and having them in the US Marine Corps was a brilliant idea since it made them more real and they could embrace all that gung-ho stuff. Had they been in the United Earth Space Navy or something it wouldn’t have had the same impact. There just seemed to be a conspiracy to make sure it failed to catch on beyond its one and only season.
I would be open to a full-blown reboot but honestly I would rather revisit some of these characters in a story set 20 years later perhaps involving a flashback to explain what happened after the last episode (I won’t spoil it for you). If you haven’t seen it but enjoyed BSG2003, The X-Files, Lost and possibly Band of Brothers then this is a must-see and well worth a return.
– – – – –
What shows do you think are overdue for a reboot? Let us know in the comments below.