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20 TV Sci-Fi Gamechangers

It could be an unexpected plot twist. A character suddenly turning Dark Side. An alternate reality intersecting with our own. Game-changers are everywhere, so we thought we’d pick out some of the best – and worst – of those show-shaking moments...

FRINGE

The Twin Dilemma

“There’s More Than One Of Everything” is the title of Fringe ’s first season finale and boy, ain’t that the truth. The show that spent most of its premiere year trying to either out-gross The X-Files or dazzle us with science had also been sowing seeds along the way, letting us know that somewhere out there was another universe that kept intersecting with ours, but it wasn’t until the final few moments of this episode that we finally got to see what all the fuss was about.

This spectacular pan-out from one of the windows of the still-standing World Trade Center, bathed in JJ Abrams’ now trademark lens flare, is every inch what sci-fi is made of: impossible, beautiful and thought-provoking. It also signalled a brave new change of direction for the show, bringing Earth’s parallel twin even closer and paving the way for season three’s jaw-dropping, weekly world-swapping masterpiece.

Watch it here .

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SUPERNATURAL

Here Be Angels...

Fie! Fie on anyone who thinks Supernatural still churns out monster-of-the-week standalones which rip-off a different horror movie every episode! Okay, so there was a fair bit of that when the show started out, but over its first three seasons Supernatural slowly began to unravel an arc plot to end all arc plots – literally, considering how it was heading towards the Apocalypse – and consequently raised its game so high only astronauts can see it now.

The first episode of season four was the clincher. “Lazarus Rising” saw a dead Dean waking up, clawing his way out of his coffin and discovering that the creature that pulled him out of Hell and brought him back to life was an angel. And what a masterstroke it was from the show’s writers: with the massively popular angel Castiel on the Winchesters’ side, demons trying to free Lucifer (the most famous angel of all) from his cage in Hell and other angels up in Heaven throwing all sorts of spanners into the works, season four of Supernatural turned out to be the show’s best. The angels gave the show a kick up the rear it hadn’t even realised it needed, sparking off a new sense of purpose on a cosmic scale that’s driven it ever since.

Watch it here.

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STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE

The Little Ship That Could

One of the biggest criticisms of Deep Space Nine when it started out was that it didn’t embody the “boldly going” philosophy we’d all come to know and love in our Trek s. After all, it’s hard to “boldly go” anywhere in a stationary space station, even one with a wormhole parked right next door. Shuttles, while useful, always had a tendency to crash, and they only held a few people anyway. Where’s the adventure? Where’s the wanderlust?

With this in mind, the decision to introduce the USS Defiant at the start of season three was a masterstroke. Not only did she live up to her name, gamely defending the station and kicking alien ass all over the shop, she was also instrumental in making the Dominion war seem far more urgent by taking the battle to them for once. A shot of adrenaline in the arm of an already fine show, the Defiant was everything Deep Space Nine needed to go (quite literally) stellar..

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BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER

You’re Dating A Dead Guy!

Oh, it’s a cliche these days all right: teenage girl falls for ageless vampire, it’s True Love but he could turn at any moment, blah blah bleeding blah. But back when Buffy The Vampire Slayer was young and fresh, delighting us every week with its sass and the way it turned convention on its head, the revelation that – gasp! – the dark, broody guy Buffy had just fallen for was a vampire was pretty damn astonishing... not least to the Slayer herself, as seen in the episode “Angel” .

This unlikely and unexpected coupling was also the catalyst for many more game-changers to come, from the immense Buffy/Angel love story that was the cornerstone of the first three seasons, to Angel becoming Angelus and killing everyone in sight, to him buggering off to LA to get his own series. Not bad for a character who wasn’t even a series regular at first – David Boreanaz didn’t even make the main cast list until season two. Andrew Lloyd Webber was right: love changes everything.

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STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION

Borg To Be Wild

We’re not saying that Next Generation was crap before the Borg. Oh no. We’d never dream of it. It was doin’ its thing, hitting all its marks, getting through the day... and then Q popped up and threw the USS Enterprise halfway across the universe so humanity could meet the Borg and say howdy.

But was it game-changing? Not really; just interesting. The Borg looked great, were scary, had a great line in pseudo-techno S&M costuming and seemed unstoppable. However, it wasn’t until the infamous season three finale/season four opener “The Best Of Both Worlds Parts 1 & 2” that the cube-living critters finally came into their own.

This was when The Next Generation actually became DRAMA, not sci-fi. The cliffhanger, which had Picard’s Borgified face staring into the camera and telling us that “resistance is futile,” was without a doubt the best cliffhanger since Star Trek began in 1966 (and yes, we’re even counting the end of Wrath Of Khan ). From here onwards, The Next Generation proved it could shock us and thrill us in equal measure – and resistance to its charms was, indeed, futile.

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FARSCAPE

Seeing Double

We don’t have tell you that Farscape was in a class of its own when it came to bonkers storylines and plot twists that made pretzels look flat by comparison; Hell, this show is legendarily insane. But nothing it did was more cuckoo-crazy than splitting its lead character into two – a sci-fi staple, we’ve all seen it done – and then leaving him that way for a good chunk of a season . Reset button? What reset button?

Having two John Crichtons was an amazing idea that unleashed a ton of possibilities, not least the somewhat radical concept of splitting the entire cast into two teams who each went off and had adventures with their own Johns. And you know that will-they, won’t-they chemistry between Crichton and Aeryn? This ended up being a fantastic way of seeing what would happen if they did indeed get together, but after Aeryn’s John clone died, everything went back to square one once Crichton was singular again. Ow, the pain! The angst! Genius.

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DOCTOR WHO

Reincarnation-if-ication

Is the fact that a Time Lord can regenerate into another body the best idea in the history of television? Look at it this way: if nobody had thought of it back when William Hartnell wanted to hang up the TARDIS key and leave the show, we wouldn’t be talking about Doctor Who today.

Not so much a “game-changer” as a “history-maker”.

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BABYLON 5

Deal With The Devil

Ambassador Londo Mollari may have had a hugely impressive head of hair but he really wasn’t big on the brainpower when it came to forming alliances. When the mysterious Mr Morden arrived on Babylon 5 (and we bet it actually said “The Mysterious Mr Morden” on his luggage, too) Londo found himself striking a deal with him to help advance his career and keep the Narn race subjugated.

Cue: planetary warfare, a hideous Narn defeat and a hell of a lot of trouble with the sinister Shadows, who were working with Mr Morden all along. Poor Londo lived to regret his deal... but holy crap, did it make for great telly or what?

You could also argue that the end of the Shadow War was a bit of a game changer too, as the show didn’t seem to know what to do for last season and a half without it…

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BATTLESTAR GALACTICA

All Along The Watchtower

We’d already had Cylon revelations galore amidst the course of Battlestar Galactica ’s first three seasons but nothing hit us harder than the year three finale, “Crossroads”, which teased us mercilessly as to the identities of the final five Cylons before generously allowing us to find out who four of them were. And it was done so cleverly, too, with the four in question drawn together by the sound of a Bob Dylan song and then standing, shocked, staring at each other as the realisation sinks in...

Yes, after this life would never be the same for Colonel Tigh, Tyrol, Anders and that woman who worked with the President we’d not really paid much attention to before. We got to see life through a Cylon’s eyes for the rest of the show and the fact the audience knew such a Big Secret and the remainder of the crew didn’t made BSG a delicious treat.

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DARK ANGEL

Freak-A-Palooza

The first season of Dark Angel was just that: dark. It told the story of the genetically engineered Max – remember Jessica Alba before she went blonde? – and her struggles to remain out of the clutches of the evil corporation that created her in a dystopian, really rather nasty Seattle.

Season two, however... Well, let’s just say that things changed. After a raid on said evil corporation’s headquarters, a ton of other transgenics (that’s a posh word for freaks”) were released into society and Dark Angel was suddenly less about angsty hide-and-seek among the slums and more about whether freaks were people too. Nowhere was this more evident than in the character of Joshua (Kevin Durand), a half-human, half-dog who almost stole the entire season away from Max and made Dark Angel a totally different show. Freaky....

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HIGHLANDER: THE SERIES

Off With His Head!

When it comes to shaking up a show, you can’t really do better than have its main character slice the head off his loyal sidekick. That’s what happened five years into Highlander: The Series , at the end of the episode “Archangel” , when a vision-tormented Duncan MacLeod accidentally beheads his best buddy Richie. Whoops.

After this, Highlander was never quite the same, as Duncan was understandably rather upset over what he’d done, Richie was gone (well, for a while) and fans were a bit pissed off, to be honest. Still, nothing worth losing your head over. [Beheading is 5 mins into the video above.]

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LOST

Flash what?

For three season, we’d been enjoying the flashbacks in Lost as they filled in the sordid, dark and ugly secrets of the main character’s pre-island lives. Then suddenly, at the end of season three, with the two-part “Through The Looking Glass” the flashback seemed a bit odd… it didn’t makes sense… it didn’t… Oh hang on, this isn’t the past, this is the future. What? Eh? And some of the characters are off the island, and Jack wants to go back to the Island and Locke’s dead and… your head starts to hurt.

From this point on, Lost went from a bit weird to downright bats-arse, with time travel, teleporting and vanishing islands. And at least 50% of it was never, ever explained.

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LOIS & CLARK

She Knows Your Name

Game-changers don’t always have to be for the better. Take Lois & Clark (or The New Adventures Of Superman if you prefer). You have the eternal, much-loved, trusted dynamic of Lois Lane and Clark Kent dancing around each other with Superman in the background, then you go and ruin it all by having Lois find out his secret identity.

Not that there isn’t fun to be had in Teri Hatcher’s Lois wondering how the hell she let a pair of glasses fool her for so long (hear hear!), but after she discovered Clark’s secret in the show’s third season, everything went downhill. A proposal, a wedding (or two), married life... none of it was as thrilling as the days when Clark had to make up an excuse so he could nip out and rescue a kitten from a tree.

Watch it here.

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RED DWARF

A Sinking Ship

Shows can’t be good forever: fact. Even the best series starts to buckle under its own weight eventually, and when it looks as though it’s in danger of collapsing a reboot is often the only alternative. But sadly they don’t always work, as was the case with the final year of the once-wonderful Red Dwarf .

It might have seemed like a good idea at the time to have the entire crew of the Dwarf reconstructed by nanobots so that our heroes could interact with them again, but by doing so something magical had been lost. Once curry-loving lone rangers exploring our galaxy, now our beloved Lister, Rimmer, Kryten and Cat... well, weren’t. And Red Dwarf was never the same again.

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THE X-FILES

Agent Evil

Game-changing can sometimes take the form of something as simple as a female actress needing some time off to have a baby. When Gillian Anderson found herself with-sprog in season two of The X-Files , it seemed the perfect time to kidnap her alter-ego and, in Scully’s absence, team up Agent Mulder with a nice fellow named Alex Krycek.

Course, we all know what happened next: Krycek turned out to be a double-agent for the Bad Guys and tried to kill Mulder, a theme which recurred over and again through the rest of the series. Meanwhile, Scully was returned – bereft of child, but with an alien implant in her neck and a nasty dose of cancer. Ouch. Still, it formed a lovely arc plot, and The X-Files did pretty well out of it.

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STARGATE SG-1

There But For The Grace Of God

Stargate ’s first season had its ups and downs – mostly downs, if we’re honest – but there was clearly a lot of potential in this spin-off from the blockbuster movie, not least because it had such a great cast and such a brilliant concept. However, it wasn’t until “There But For The Grace Of God” that we suddenly got to see where things could go – and the answer was “to hell in a handbasket”.

The episode sent Daniel Jackson into parallel universe via a magic mirror... uh, multidimensional quantum device, where he encountered an Earth vastly different from our own (Carter’s wearing a long blonde wig, for starters). As fun as it was to explore skewed versions of our heroes, the fact that this Earth was under attack by the Goa’uld and was clearly doomed meant that the same thing could happen in our own universe, and thus when Daniel returned he brought with him an escalated urgency that gave Stargate SG-1 a fabulous season finale. From then on, the show really went for it. [NB: the clip above is a long clip, but the first few minutes tell you everything you need to know!]

STOP PRESS!  Speaking of Stargate , SGU has recently been going through a handful of game-changing developments in the lead up to its mid-season finale, but none more so than the discovery of the Destiny’s bridge and the ability to alter the ship’s course. It’s gamechanging from Lost In Space into Star Trek .

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SEAQUEST DSV

Future Quest Engaged!

Show not getting the ratings you want? Lead actor getting a bit antsy and making noises about leaving? Street cred dead in the water (pun intended) because you’re seen as a kids’ show?

We recommend changing your name to seaQuest 2032 , having your lead cast kidnapped by aliens and thrown ten years into the future, darkening the tone of the series as much as you can get away with and replacing that old guy from Jaws with sci-fi’s best hardnut, Michael Ironside.

The result? You last exactly one season. Poop. Still, you actually weren’t bad before the end... Shame about the bloody dolphin still being in the credits, though.

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ANGEL

Lawyering Up

Angel , Angel , Angel ... Now here’s a show that took the idea of “game-changing” and decided to make it its vocation. How many times did the writers pull the rug from under our feet? How many twists and turns did this show go through? From co-stars dying off with no warning (RIP Doyle) to headquarters being abandoned (or blown up) to vampiric baby mommas turning up out of the blue, Angel did it all and our jaws got so fed up of dropping that we just rested them on the floor before each episode to save time.

But the biggest change – and surely its most controversial one – was giving Angel and co command of evil law firm Wolfram & Hart in its final season. Suddenly our heroes were working for the enemy: hell, they were employing the enemy, too, and everything that had gone before had been undone in one way or another. Throw in Spike, business suits and the odd death along the way and season five of Angel had its game changed beyond all recognition.

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HEROES

Is That It?

An accidental game-changer, this one: the finalé of Heroes ’ magnificent first season, which promised so much and delivered so little. We’re hard-pressed to think of any other show which managed to stuff things up quite so spectacularly. After all, we’d spent an entire year heading towards this point, expecting the destruction of New York thanks to all those paintings left behind by that guy who’s now Sir Lancelot in Merlin , knowing there was no way to prevent the inevitable...

...and what did we get instead? Nathan picking up his brother and flying off with him. Er... was that it? Really? On second thoughts, we dunno about “game-changing”; this is more “game for a laugh”. And for Heroes, it was downhill all the way from here…

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EUREKA

Everything changes, and it’s not changing back

Eureka has dabbled in time travel before, but for the season four premiere the show dived into the wibbly wobbly paradox pool headfirst with Carter, Lupo, Allison, Deacon and Fargo travelling back to 1947 before returning to the present to find a drastically altered, timeline. In the new timeline Jo never dated Zane, Kevin is no longer autistic, Henry is married to Grace and Jack and Tess are still together – big changes which have remained in place for the first half of season four with no reset button in sight.

Oh, and before we leave, one show beloved of SFX is going to have a mother of a gamechanging episode in the couple of few weeks… and it won’t be obvious why until the very last scene.

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