SFs Serial Guest Stars

The Top 10 telefantasy actors we love to see putting in a special appearance, by our special guest star Jayne Nelson

Some actors can’t seem to get enough of sci-fi TV, and even if they’ve never landed themselves a regular gig on a show, their faces become so familiar, they almost feel like honorary members of the sci-fi family. Here we celebrate those serial science fiction guest stars who can raise the standard of an episode just by putting in an appearance.

NOTE: You may notice there aren’t as many women as there are men on this list. We tried. We looked everywhere. We found a few potentials – Emanuelle Vaugier, Teryl Rothery, Lucy Lawless, Christina Cox – but weren’t sure they justified full entries due to quantity or quality of guest-star roles (and including them for the sake of it would be positive discrimination and we don’t want to open that can of worms). Did we miss anybody obvious? Or is this just a sad reflection of the way the acting industry works: men are able to build up careers as character actors, but women, who are sadly often judged by their looks more than their abilities, come and go? Tell us what you think in the comments...

First up…

Bubbling under

Those that didn’t quite make it into the Top 10, but who deserve a mention for their services to telefantasy…

Tony Todd

The booming-voiced Candyman’s TV guest spots include The Event , Chuck , Masters Of Horror , Stargate SG-1 , Charmed , Andromeda , Smallville , Angel , Babylon 5 , Star Trek: The Next Generation , Star Trek Voyager , Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Xena, Warrior Princess . So he certainly has quantity on his side, but be honest – how many of those roles can you actually recall? He mainly gets cast in parts in which require being either tall or growly, or both. Which doesn’t exactly stretch him much. He was fun in Chuck , though…

Brian Thompson

Best known as The X-Files ’ alien bounty hunter, Thompson’s small screen sci-fi CV also includes Alien Nation , Superboy , Hercules The Legendary Journeys , Kindred The Embraced , Star Trek: Deep Space Nine , Buffy The Vampire Slayer , Seven Days , Crusade , Birds Of Prey , Charmed , Star Trek: Enterprise and Chuck . Doesn't make the Top 10 because although it’s always great spotting him in a show, he doesn’t usually do much other than glower and grunt.

James Marsters

Yeah, yeah, we know he wasn’t a guest star on Buffy and Angel , but since then he’s embraced the guest star gavotte with gusto: Smallville , Caprica , Torchwood .

Steve Railsback

First hit the SFX radar as alien abductee Duane Barry in two episodes of The X-Files , and has since made memorable guest appearances in Charmed and Supernatural among others.

Steven McHattie

If you’ve never seen Canadian zombie flick Pontypool you really need to. McHattie is brilliant as a shock jock in that, but it’s a movie, so it doesn’t really count here. On TV he’s graced such shows as Haven , The Listener , Reaper , The 4400 , Mutant X and Star Trek: Enterprise with his not inconsiderable presence.

Emanuelle Vaugier

You might not know the name but chances are you’ll have seen her in Lost Girl (where she was clearly having a whale of a time playing the Morrigan), or Supernatural , or Masters Of Horror , or Painkiller Jane , or Andromeda , or Smallville (Dr Helen Bryce), or Charmed , or The Outer Limits , or Seven Days , or First Wave , or Highlander . Things made in Canada, usually.

Terry O’Quinn

Sure we know him better now as Locke from Lost , but before that he was earning his stripes on the guest star circuit: Alias , Masters Of Science Fiction , The X-Files , Earth II , Tales From The Crypt , Star Trek: The Next Generation , The Twilight Zone .

Teryl Rothery

Stargate SG-1 ’s petite medic didn’t turn her back on small screen sci-fi after the producers killed off Janet Fraiser. You may have seen her since in Supernatural , Kyle XY , Smallville or Caprica .

Tony Amendola

Simply a great, great character actor, Amendola appears in so much telefantsy simply by dint of the fact he makes so many film and TV appearances. By law of averages, some have to be telefantasy: She-Wolf Of London , Space Rangers , Raven , Space: Above And Beyond , Kindred: Te Embraced , Lois And Clark , Poltergeist: The Legacy , Crusade , Star Trek: Voyager , The X-Files , Angel , Charmed , Alias , Stargate SG-1 , Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles .

Lucy Lawless

She’s never quite rediscovered that Xena high, but we still get a thrill seeing her in things like The X-Files , Battlestar Galactica , Spartacus Blood And Sand and No Ordinary Family (she also had a cameo as a punk in Spider-Man 2 , dontchaknow?)

Vaughn Armstrong

A special mention for a man who has appeared as 12 different characters across every Trek show except the original. He’s also cropped up in Babylon 5 and Quantum Leap .

David Collings

Serial sci-fi guest stars are thinner on the ground in the UK, mainly because we produce fewer sci-fi shows, but if any Brit thesps can stake a claim in this list it’s Collings who managed to complete the Doctor Who / Blake’s Seven / Sapphire And Steel hat trick. He was Silver in Sapphire And Steel , if that jogs your memory.

Alex Price

He’s still young, so he hasn’t built up much of a sci-fi CV yet, but he’s going great guns already having clocked up memorable appearances in Being Human , Doctor Who and Merlin in the past couple of years.

Terry Walsh

Another honorary mention for one of classic Who ’s stunt guys (he often doubled for Jon Pertwee) who’d occasionally find himself getting a bona fide bit part, usually as a guard, often in the background, with maybe one or two lines at his artistic peak.

Now on with the Top 10…

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10. FELICIA DAY

We’ll start out by admitting that Felicia Day doesn’t have the longest CV when it comes to genre guest star roles – an oversight we’d like to see worked on, thank you (do you hear us, casting agents?) – but it’s the quality of the roles she chooses that counts.

Not only is she the driving force behind and star of The Guild (see above), which makes her our hero from the off, she’s also Joss Whedon’s favourite go-to girl when it comes to casting slightly nerdy, awkward-yet-hot characters. First pinging our radar in Buffy ’s final year as Potential Slayer Vi (who was so sweet we wanted to give her an affectionate noogie), she’s since turned up to break our hearts in Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog , kicked ass in two episodes of Dollhouse and has snagged a minor role in The Avengers (as Agent Abigail Brand).

See how Joss Whedon loves her? So should everybody else. Day’s a breath of fresh air whenever she’s on screen. We would say she brightens your Day, but we’re above such clunky pun-making and wouldn’t dare lower ourselves.

TV shows: Buffy The Vampire Slayer , Century City , Dollhouse , Dragon Age: Redemption , Eureka
Webseries: The Guild , Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog
Movies: The Avengers

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9. CLANCY BROWN

With a career stretching back to the start of the ’80s, Clancy Brown has had a lot of time to amass an impressive range of genre roles – beginning with the cult Peter Weller movie The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai right up to his latest IMDB-listed project, voice-work on the new Thundercats TV series.

You probably know him best as The Kurgan in the original Highlander movie, while fans of Carnivale will remember him as the demonic preacher Brother Justin, who was so deliciously evil he could have scared the bejeesus out of Jesus. From this you may gather that Brown has made a point of playing baddies – it’s probably something to do with the gravitas he brings to any role, always good news if you’re a villain.

TV shows: Tales From The Crypt , Earth 2 , The Outer Limits , Enterprise , Carnivale , Lost , Medium , voicework on more cartoons than we have time to list here
Movies: The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The Eighth Dimension , Pet Sematary II , Starship Troopers , A Nightmare On Elm Street (2010), Cowboys & Aliens

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8. ZELJKO IVANEK

All the actors and actresses on our list are masters of their craft – naturally, or we wouldn’t have singled them out. But we must doff our caps to Mr Ivanek, who we suspect could be the best thesp of the bunch. He’s been around for donkey’s years but we’ll never forget where we saw him first: in The X-Files episode “Roland” in 1994, playing the eponymous autism sufferer. It was a performance of such sensitivity and (necessary, given the context of the story) downright creepiness that we still can’t figure out how he didn’t get an Emmy nomination (except... wait... it’s a sci-fi show. That’ll explain it.)

Since then Ivanek has been popping up all over the shop, most recently putting that long-nurtured creepiness to good use as The Magister in True Blood (see clip above), dying a spectacular death in Lost , going all Sylar in Heroes and taking one of the lead roles in The Event . Weirdly, a lot of his characters seem to die – a shame, because we’d like him to stick around.

TV shows: The X-Files , Millennium , The Twilight Zone , Lost , Heroes , True Blood , The Event
Movies: The Manchurian Candidate

By the way, if you fancy checking out a montage of Ivanek’s best roles (he doesn’t limit himself to sci-fi), watch this – but be warned about the choice of music...

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7. SEBASTIAN ROCHÉ

If you’re one of those unfortunate souls still mourning the cancellation of the excellent Odyssey 5 (“It ended in 2003 – move on!” “Shan’t!”) then you’ll know exactly why Sebastian Roché has made this list. As the hedonistic, live-for-today-because-the-world-is-blowing-up-in-five-years Kurt Mendel, he made a hell of an impact just by being wonderfully, dangerously naughty. And it’s a skill he’s been applying to many of his guest-star roles, particularly in his recent stints on Fringe and Supernatural .

Fringe saw him playing alien shapeshifter Thomas Jerome Newton (named after David Bowie’s Man Who Fell To Earth ), a supposedly subservient creation who developed enough sass and self-awareness to give his boss, Fauxlivia, a hard time . Meanwhile, the latest season of Supernatural was kind enough to give Roché a recurring role as sex-crazed angel named Balthazar, a celestial entity who really hates Celine Dion. He rocked both roles – which coincidentally aired at the same time, so you’d watch him one week on Fringe and the next on Supernatural – and we can’t wait to find out what he’ll be up to next.

TV shows: Roar , Merlin , Odyssey 5 , Earthsea , Charmed , Alias , Fringe , Supernatural
Movies: Beowulf , The Blood Of Pegasus , The Adventures Of Tintin: The Secret Of The Unicorn

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6. KEVIN DURAND

Even if his face doesn’t ring any bells, we’d bet you dollars to doughnuts that you’ve seen Kevin Durand in more than one role without even knowing it. He’s not afraid to wear prosthetics, you see – he’s fearless when it comes to layers of latex. This is the guy who spent an entire year on Dark Angel as Joshua, a man with the face of a dog. He wore a terrifying fat-suit in the Wolverine movie, rendering him almost unrecognisable. Recent teen flick I Am Number Four saw him play a nasty Mogadorian with so much relish it was as though he’d forgotten he looked like a large, tattooed egg.

But he can do so much without the makeup: he was great as the angel Gabriel in the otherwise dire Legion , menaced beautifully as a soldier in Lost and did his best with a pantomime-villain, underwritten role as Goa’uld Zipacna in Stargate SG-1 . He seems to be cast as bad guys a fair bit, but that’s probably just because of his size (a whopping 6ft 6in!): he’s actually got a pair of twinkly eyes and a friendly grin which need to be utilised more often. Anyone who remembers Joshua will know that he can play loveable whether he’s covered in fake skin or not; let’s hope we see him play a big damn hero soon...

TV shows: The Outer Limits , Stargate SG-1 , Dark Angel , Taken , Dead Like Me , Tarzan , The Collector , Andromeda , Threshold , The Dead Zone , Lost
Movies: The Butterfly Effect , Scooby Doo 2 , Legion , X-Men Origins: Wolverine , I Am Number Four

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5. CCH POUNDER

Fans of Warehouse 13 will recognise CCH Pounder (full name Carol Christine Hilaria, in case you’re wondering about all the initials) as Mrs Frederic, the sometimes-scary Big Boss running the whole artifact-hunting shindig. As a semi-regular character who turns up to look stern while wearing uncomfortable-looking woolly suits, she lends gravitas to a show that would otherwise sink beneath its own silliness.

Pounder’s made a career out of playing authority figures like this, from an FBI Agent helping to track down Scully’s kidnapper in The X-Files episode “Duane Barry” to, believe it or not, Queen Moat in Avatar (she’ll be turning up in Avatar 2 , as well). With an imposing presence and a natural air of authority, it’s not surprising that’s she’s had recurring roles on non-genre shows such as ER or Law & Order: SVU – but she loves a bit of sci-fi while she’s at it. If you’ve heard her commentaries on Warehouse 13 , by the way, your ears are probably still ringing from her ground-shaking laugh. Another reason to love her!

TV shows: Quantum Leap , The X-Files , Tales From The Crypt , Millennium , The Outer Limits , Warehouse 13
Movies: Robocop 3 , Avatar

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4. CALLUM KEITH RENNIE

Due South fans know and love him as the guy who replaced David Marciano’s Ray Vecchio to play, um, another Ray Vecchio, but there’s a lot more to Rennie than being bestest pals with a Mountie. He’s turned up in just about every show you could possibly think of that films in Canada, from Battlestar Galactica (in which he terrorised Starbuck as kidnappy-happy Cylon Leoben) to Supernatural (in which he was killed by a nasty forest monster) to The X-Files (in which he’s played a grand total of three different characters).

The most notable thing about Rennie is that he’s just so edgy and intense, and so he always seems to play troubled characters – evil ex-boyfriends ( The Dead Zone ), nasty kidnappers ( The X-Files: I Want To Believe ) or – if we leave the realm of sci-fi for a moment, out-of-control rock stars (alongside David Duchovny on Californication , possibly one of the best guest-star arcs on any show in recent years).

It looks as though we’ll next see him in new series Alphas , but until then you should check out his film back-catalogue: we’d recommend watching him trying to roast a little girl alive in Case 39 (don’t worry, Renee Zellweger stops him) or planning his last night on Earth in the excellent apocalyptic indie flick Last Night from 1998.

TV shows: The X-Files , The Outer Limits , Forever Knight , Highlander (two episodes as different characters), Dark Angel , Mutant X , The Dead Zone , Tru Calling , Battlestar Galactica , Kingdom Hospital , Supernatural , Smallville , Bionic Woman , Tin Man , Flashforward , Alphas
Movies: Last Night , eXistenZ , Paycheck , The Butterfly Effect , Painkiller Jane , Blade: Trinity , The X-Files: I Want To Believe , Case 39

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3. PETER WINGFIELD

Mr Wingfield has bounced all over the place during his career, seemingly happy to take on any role, any time, any place – usually Vancouver. They vary in quality – Stonehenge Apocalypse , anyone? – and he’s even been known to slum it on British telly (how do you go from 24 to Holby City , anyway? Isn’t it like crossing from one universe into another?).

But Wingfield has made our list for two fine reasons that have almost nothing to do with his impressive workload: his role as Methos in Highlander: The Series , and a guest-star turn on The Dead Zone that still makes us break into a sweat just by thinking about it.

Methos, as any Highlander fan can tell you, was a bit-part character who became the best thing in the entire show – an Immortal whose epic background (he was Death, you know!) made him more interesting than that MacLeod guy who was supposed to be the star. The Dead Zone episode “Cabin Pressure”, meanwhile, has to rate as one of the show’s best-ever, helped in no small part by Wingfield playing the stiff-upper-lipped pilot of a plane doomed to crash unless psychic Johnny Smith could prevent it happening.

Both were superb performances, as are most of Wingfield’s guest-star stints. His is a face we see time and again, both in genre shows and outside them: it’s like he’s part of the family.

TV shows: The Sentinel , Highlander , Strange World , The Outer Limits , First Wave , Stargate SG-1 , The Dead Zone , John Doe , Andromeda , Kingdom Hospital , Smallville , The Collector , Charmed , Medium , Caprica , Sanctuary
Movies: Highlander: Endgame , X-Men 2 , Catwoman , Highlander: The Source , The Last Sin Eater , Riverworld , Stonehenge Apocalypse

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2. ALAN DALE

To us, he’s forever known as Alan “It’s Jim off of Neighbours !” Dale, and yet our fond memories of his work on Australia’s finest soap opera haven’t affected this New Zealander’s career in the slightest. One minute he’s being all smarmy on Torchwood and the next he’s chatting away to Indiana bloody Jones in Crystal Skull – surely he has the most adventurous agent in the world. And yet he never seems to take on a duff role, and so we’re wondering if his agent is, in fact, the Devil, and they’ve sold their soul to him for the cream of the acting crop.

The thing is, soap-opera origins aside, Dale is always good. Which is why he keeps getting so much work. From playing the nefarious Charles Widmore on Lost to the sinister “Toothpick Man” on The X-Files (they sure don’t name characters like that any more), Dale never lets you down, always (well, usually) summoning up a pitch-perfect accent, too. There’s something comforting about his presence on a show, as though the fact he’s in it has leant it some weight. He’s not limited himself to sci-fi, either, which stints on everything from from 24 to The West Wing and Entourage .

Dale’s come a long way since his time on Ramsey Street. Each time we see him breathing the same air as Harrison Ford or being diabolical on a desert island, it’s like seeing your Uncle Jim shaking hands with the Queen. The guy done good!

TV shows: Space: Above And Beyond , The Lost World , The Lone Gunmen , The X-Files , Torchwood , Lost
Movies: Star Trek: Nemesis , Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull

Watch him discussing working in America in this fun little clip:

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1. MARK SHEPPARD

What is there left to say about the man who nabs the high point in our esteemed Top 10? We doubt we have to introduce him to you – if you’ve watched any sci-fi TV in the last 20-odd years, you’ll know him, and if you don’t you’ve been watching it with your eyes closed.

From the fire-starting loony who made rooms burst into flame with a click of his fingers in The X-Files episode “Fire” in 1993, to the FBI agent who joined forces with the Doctor a few weeks ago in “The Impossible Astronaut” and “Day Of The Moon”, Sheppard has been (and we mean this in all politeness) “putting it about a bit”.

He’s bloody good, you see. He does sarcasm and sneering like nobody else (see: Crowley on Supernatural ; Badger in Firefly ). He can play Americans left, right and centre despite being defiantly Lahndan. He can exude authority in a courtroom (see: Romo Lampkin, one of the best things about Battlestar Galactica ) and he can scare the willies out of us as a twisted killer (his three episodes of Medium ).

Give him a role, he’ll rock it. He is the greatest guest-star working today for a reason. And to top it off, he reads SFX ! (Although that had nothing to do with him topping this list. Honest.)

TV shows: The X-Files , Sliders , Star Trek: Voyager , The Invisible Man , Charmed , Firefly , Jake 2.0 , Medium , Bionic Woman , The Middleman , Battlestar Galactica , Dollhouse , Chuck , Warehouse 13 , Doctor Who , Supernatural
Movies: Mysterious Island *

*Speaking of Sheppard’s forthcoming project Mysterious Island – which he has also directed – he shares the role of Captain Nemo with his father, William Morgan Sheppard, in the same way that his dad played the older version of him in Doctor Who recently. Sheppard Sr is no slouch himself when it comes to guest starring in sci-fi shows and films, having popped up over the years in (deep breath): The New Avengers , Star Trek (2009), Charmed , Doctor Who , Hawk The Slayer , The Day Of The Triffids , Star Trek: The Next Generation , Star Trek VI , seaQuest , Quantum Leap , Babylon 5 , American Gothic , Voyager , Kingdom Hospital , Alias , The Prestige and Transformers . See that awe over there? We’re in it.