SFX.co.uk’s editor takes stock of how small screen sci-fi is shaping up so far this year
Believe it or not, even though the next SFX Weekender is seven months away, we’ve already started making preliminary plans for the 2012 SFX Awards – how the voting will work, whether we keep the same categories or have some new ones, who might receive the SFX honorary awards, that kind of thing. In the process, we can’t help speculating on who or what might win the reader voted categories. And since we’ve now just passed the half year mark for 2011, it seems as good a time as any to see how the year’s been going so far. Though as most of the big movies are still yet to be released, let’s concentrate on TV.
The good news is that 2011 already seems to be shaping up as a fantastic year for TV sci-fi and fantasy. Game Of Thrones burst onto our screens and redefined how small screen fantasy should be made, leaving poor Camelot looking slightly old fashioned and predictable. Thrones also gave us a whole bunch of candidates for best actor – Sean Bean, Peter Dinklage, Charles Dance – and best actress – Lena Headey, Michelle Fairley, Emelia Clarke and the amazingly mature Maisie Williams as the young Arya Stark – and if we had a category for best production design it would win that hands down. To be fair on Camelot , while its two leads were hideously miscast ( how wet?) it did boast a brilliantly twisted Merlin in Joseph Fiennes, and Gawain always looked great in fight scenes, flinging his two swords about simultaneously.
The general channel-hopping public may be falling slightly out of love with Doctor Who , but Steven Moffat’s brave, uncompromising, pay-attention approach to the show was actually winning new fans among the sci-fi hard core. Consequently Who forums netwide went into meltdown arguing about whether this was a GOOD THING or a BAD THING. Few denied, though, the first half of the series delivered two absolute classics (Gaiman’s charmingly whimsical “The Doctor’s Wife” and Moffat’s ballsy “A Good Man Goes To War”) so who cares if your Auntie Mable doesn’t understand it any more? On the other hand, Who also gave us the nonsensical “The Curse Of The Bored Looking Pirates” – the worst episode of Moffat Who so far, and a contender for worst episode of the year if Sanctuary didn’t have that award in the bag. Which episode specifically? Take your pick, frankly. The show had an truly extraordinary run of naff, cheap fillers, culminating in (shudder) a clips episode featuring a leftover Zarbi from ’60s Who .
Many long-running shows were benefiting from an upswing in quality. Primeval and Smallville ended on fan-pleasing highs while The Vampire Diaries was successfully consolidating a winning formula. Being Human was back for jawdroppingly audacious third series, which boasted an almost complete set of four and five star episodes, climaxing with a two-parter of exquisite intensity. Shame the US series was so bland, and eemed to miss the point that it’s the chemistry between the main characters that’s the heart of the show, not the vampire mythology. Becoming Human , on the other hand, was immense fun. More, please (though with the lack of any news on the subject that’s looking increasingly unlikely, sadly).
The BBC gave us Outcasts , then immediately took it away from us again after audiences fell to three blokes in Glasgow who’d lost their remote controls and couldn’t switch over. Rather irritatingly, after kicking off the series with a set of trailers that seemed to scream, “This will be DULL ”, and then launching with a dreary pilot episode that appeared to confirm those fears, the show slowly improved episode-by-episode and ended with a cracking cliffhanger. Typical.
Over the next few pages the SFX team has nominated its favourite moments of small screen sci-fi so far in 2011 (in no particular order, and sometimes for unashamedly tenuous reasons). What would you add to the list?
1 April Killed By Pterosaurs
Primeval “Episode Five”
We were just glad to see the back of April and her unconvincing ditzy librarian shtick to be honest. Be honest – it made you like the pterosaurs just that little bit more.
2 Bonnie goes postal
The Vampire Diaries “The Last Dance”
Bonnie unleashes her full Wiccan fury on Klaus in a spectacular and gripping set piece that had us convinced she’d killed herself in the process. Well, for a couple of minutes anyway, until Damon did that giveaway, knowing eyebrow thing. And anybody else agree that when Klaus was wandering around disguised as Alaric, he was more interesting than when the real Klaus arrived on the scene?
Doctor Who “Day Of The Moon”
In fact, the whole disorientating opening of “The Day Of The Moon” was a sublime piece of Moffat script prestidigitation, as Canton Delaware appears to be hunting down and killing the Doctor’s companions. It also contains that brilliant piece of physical comedy when Matt Smith fell against the invisible TARDIS. But the highlight (which we suspect may be too silly for some to handle but got a huge laugh and a cheer at the preview screening), is River’s dive into the TARDIS swimming pool.
4 Equine Decapitation
Game Of Thrones “The Wolf And The Lion”
What? What just happened? He didn’t… Oh my god, he did. Wonder how many people rewound and rewatched that bit just because they couldn’t quite believe what they’d seen?
5 Rush Rush
Let’s be honest, Rush was by far the best thing about Stargate Universe . So, two Rushes – twice the fun. Simple maths.
6 History Repeating
Being Human “Though The Heavens Fall”
Having just had an unexpected snack, Herrick (who’s spent the season so far as a amnesiac, doddering basketcase) slowly returns to his old, evil self. Chilling. The musical choice for the scene – The Propellorheads and Shirley Bassey’s “History Repeating” – is downright inspired.
7 Pleased To Meet You
Doctor Who “The Doctor’s Wife”
Okay, we’ll own up. We’re not choosing just one moment from an episode that’s a giant, glistening disco ball of Who goodness. Hell, just seeing the words, “by Neil Gaiman” appear out of the time vortex was a great moment. But yeah, by the time Idris tells the Doctor, “It’s so very, very nice to meet you,” we all had lumps in our throats. So it’s here representing the episode as a whole.
8 Tyrian’s Trial
Game Of Thrones “A Golden Crown”
Six months ago, who would have believed that the year’s breakout telefantasy character would have been a self-serving, sex-obsessed dwarf? But Tyrion Lannester has proven to immensely popular, which is no mean feat considering Peter Dinklage’s dodgy accent (somewhere between Eddie Izzard and your alcoholic uncle). Aw, that’s mean, we know. Dinklage is incredible in the role, and his attempts to survive the kangaroo court set up by Lysa at the Eyrie formed his greatest moment on the show so far.
9 Ice Ice Baby
Camelot “Lady Of The Lake”
If only Camelot had had more moments like this instead of endless muddy fights. It felt so authentically mythical it sent shivers down your spine and was a clever inversion of the Lady Of The Lake myth. In his attempts to secure Arthur a f**k-off sword, he pisses off the daughter of the swordsmith, who nicks the weapon and makes off with it in a boat. Merlin draws on all his reserves of power to freeze the lake, but the girl falls out of the boat and under the ice. Merlin tells none of this to his mates back at Camelot, instead spin doctoring the Lady Of The Lake story. And the really nice touch is that he names the sword after the girl – Excalibur (though, to be honest, that’s a rubbish name for a girl…)
10 Lester Vs The Navy
Primeval “Episode Two”
Any Lester moment in Primeval is a great moment as far as we’re concerned, and he was at his most acerbic in this episode. Miffed at the Navy coming in and taking over when one of their subs vanishes through a underwater anomaly, he resorts to his best weapon: sarcasm. “I hope your people know what they’re doing,” says the admiral. “I hope yours do too,” grumbles Lester. His later response to the Admiral’s “there’s no problem that can’t be solved with a nuke” is a peach: “I’ve got Dr Strangelove on Blu-ray if that helps.” And he gets the last laugh when his team saves the day and the Prime Minister calls demanding explanations from the Admiral. Lester's never looked so gloriously smug.
11 Silence In The Bathroom
Doctor Who “The Impossible Astronaut”
Just a great piece of tea time horror. But when are we going to see these guy surrounded by books, so we can caption the picture, “Silence In The Library”?
12 Off With His Head
Game Of Thrones “Baelor”
Joffrey! What a git! Tricking Ned into making a confession, then chopping his head off anyway. Now that’s how to end an episode!
13 Cartoon Time
Fringe “Lysergic Acid Diethylamide”
With the show becoming unashamedly weirder and weirder by the week (you could certainly never accuse it of crass audience chasing) it was only a matter of time before Fringe did a cartoon episode. To be honest, the CG rotoscoping looked a bit freaky at times, and the ’toon Peter looked nothing like Peter, but it was still a blast seeing the animated versions of Leonard Nimoy and John Noble. Meanwhile, in the real world, an out-of-his-skull Broyles starts hallucinating Disney birds flying ’round Walter’s lab. Lunacy at its finest.
14 New Arrivals
Outcasts, “Episode Eight”
Yep. Shocker. Bet you never thought we’d include this since SFX has a reputation for bashing this show. In fact we only ever completely blasted the first episode, and we stand by that review: it was a terrible pilot – slow, confusing and totally failing to introduce this “world” to the viewers – that actively drove viewers away and basically sealed the show’s fate. But it did improve. Slowly at first, but then there was a huge leap in quality with the final two episodes. By the time that massive, mysterious ship loomed ominously over the horizon for the cliffhanger we almost wished the BBC hadn’t cancelled the show.
15 Opening Montage
Doctor Who “A Good Man Goes To War”
“A Good Man Goes To War” features another of those trademark, virtuoso Moffat montages, as the Doctor (unseen for the entire sequence but imbuing each scene with his presence) assembles an army to rescue Amy. Hey, you’ve got to love a Florence Nightingale Sontaran. It also introduced us to Victorian Silurian adventurer Madam Vastra and her lesbian lover Jenny, immediately spawning campaigns across the internet for them to get their own series.
16 Imperial March
Chuck “Chuck Versus The Last Details”
Just go here , watch it, and you’ll see why we’ve included it.
17 Mitchell Staked
Being Human “Wolf-Shaped Bullet”
Toby Whithouse is evil. Not for killing off Mitchell, but for toying with us, like a cat teasing a mouse before pouncing on it. We all kinda guessed Mitchell’s time was up; not only because of news stories about Aidan Turner flying off the New Zealand to film The Hobbit , but also because that was where the story seemed to be inexorably heading. But in that long last scene, first it looks like he is going to die, then it looks like he’s saved, and then wham! George, his best friend drives a stake through his heart, because, sniff, he loves him. If you were on Twitter that night following the #bringhuman conversation that night you’ll know that fans must have worn out the “o” buttons on their keyboards, typing, “Nooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!”
18 With Wings
The picture pretty much says it all…
Spoiler warning: The last page episode of Supernatural and Smallville shows not screened in the UK yet
19 Misha Meta Tweeting
Supernatural “The French Mistake”
“The French Mistake” was a brilliant high-concept episode all round, with the Winchesters winding up in a parallel world where they are mistaken for two actors named Jared and Jensen, who star in a TV series called Supernatural , which is about two brothers who hunt monsters for a living. In this “real world” show, their co-star, Misha Collins, kept tweeting things to his “Mishamigos” (aka fans) on Twitter – which was very funny in itself. But then the line between fantasy and reality blurred even further. Because the real Misha Collins actually tweeted what the imaginary Misha Collins tweeted during the episode. It was like a demolition team had been brought in to drive a wrecking ball through a fourth wall within a fourth wall within a fourth wall. Or something.
Most of Smallville ’s finale was, frankly, a bit dull (Lex scene excepted). But in the last 10 minutes or so it finally delivers - big time. Okay, it’s a shame we never get the money shot of Tom Welling in full Superman costume (we have to make do with extreme close-ups to hide its ill-fitting, hand-me-down origins and dodgy CG shots), but how many of you were, ahem, welling up when Lois looked out of the plane window to see Superman in action for the first time? And then we get that brilliant little epilogue, leaping forward to 2018, with Lex as president, Perry “Great Ceasar’s ghost”-ing all over the place and Welling doing a great Christopher Reeve impression. Underpinning it all is John Williams’ Superman music. It may be mushy, but it’s gloriously mushy.
21 Lex Twist Again
Although it was utterly, utterly irrelevant in terms of the plot of the final ever episode of Smallville , Lex’s reappearance remains an electrifying scene with some cracking dialogue. “You and I... we will both be great men. Because of each other. We have a destiny together, Clark... only on different sides.”