Top 25 worst sci-fi and fantasy TV shows ever

16. Manimal (1983)

Lets get the good out of the way first, shall we; Stan Winstons Creature Workshop effects are well, its Stan Winston, that name alone is the standard of quality on practical effects and has been for years. The rest of the show did we mention the effects are pretty, at least in the pilot? Doctor Jonathan Chase has the ability to change into an animal at will and to be very, very English. Hes well read, genteel, likes three-piece suits, is trained in multiple killing arts and along with best friend Ty Earl (black, funny, wasted on this material) assists the police in investigating crimes related to Art, Spies, Animals, Being Dreadfully English or whatever the scriptwriters had thrown at the wall that week.

Unfortunately, the show had no idea what it was supposed to be doing. If it was a detective show it was played so much for laughs that the interesting premise collapsed. If it was a romantic comedy then the romance and the comedy were both largely absent. And if it was a fantasy show then it never had the courage of its convictions. Lets not forget, this is the TV show that doesnt just have an episode called "High Stakes", set in the world of horse racing and gambling, but felt it had to mention the phrase "high stakes" in the dialogue of that same episode. Three times. Manimal was a bad, bad show and not even nice little touches like an unusually subtle crossover with Automan (also dreadful) could save it.

15. Mercy Point (1999)

ER meet Babylon 5. As a one-line pitch it sounds like a no-brainer. Thats got to make a good series, right? After all, there were some great episodes of Trek (various incarnations) dealing with sci-fi diseases and body horror. But there was also Voyagers "Threshold" where Janeway and Paris evolve into giants newts and have baby newts. Mercy Point, sadly, looked like it gained most of inspiration from "Threshold".

Trite, obvious and cheesy, the medical issues were depressingly mundane (the pilot featured a "recapitation" and a computer virus that attacks humans) and the regular characters ham-fistedly carved from purest clich (yes, theres an android nurse struggling with burgeoning emotions). There was nothing in this show that hadnt been covered dozens of times before - and infinitely better - in various medical episodes of Trek and Babylon 5. An utterly pointless, shoddily by-the-numbers, cheap-looking, missed-by-no-one mild irritation in SF history.

14. Painkiller Jane (2007)

Painkiller Jane tells of a DEA agent (Jane) who discovers a secret agency that hunts genetically super-powered people and "disarms" them by putting a nano-computer chip in their brain. Shes forced to join them, and after being thrown 40 stories off a building on the first mission, finds out that she can heal from any injury very quickly. But, jeez. This show throws such horrible clichs and shoves flashbacks for the goldfish-brained so hard into your head that you start to wish you could recover from the mental injury being inflicted on you as easily.

This may sound like a decent concept to start with, but you soon feel the lack of human empathy; the show has a very one-dimensional idea that the freaks are bad, and must be stopped, whereas shows such as Heroes tackled such questions of "difference" with a lot more thought and depth. And when we say Heroes tackled something with a lot more thought and depth, you kind of get an idea of how bad Painkiller Jane must have been. To top it all off, each episode gets the ears bleeding with intro music that sounds like someones scratching a synthesiser along a chalkboard. Luckily, the pain was killed after one season.

13. Shazam! (1974-6)

Shazam! And the budgets gone This was an embarrassingly cheap kiddie fare shown as half of The Shazam/Isis Hour. It tells of Billy Batson, who goes around the country in a Winnebago with his mentor called Mentor. Scriptwriter may have run out of coffee at that point. By saying "Shazam!", Billy can turn into Captain Marvel and beat evil doers. Okay, thats a straight lift from the DC comics, but in the comics, that was cool and fun (if you were under 11). But the show just seems boring and pointless, as there are never any villains to beat, just thugs and criminals that need to be scared by his ill-fitting cape before the cops come and do all the rest.

At times it feels like the producers spent all their money on the one costume, so they had to make do. Alas, it feels like its trying its very best to achieve the '60s Batman vibe, but never quite got there due to such a lack of wit or style that Batman managed to boast. Combine that with FX that couldnt trick the blind (seriously, for the flying scenes Captain Marvel would lie on a plank with a fan blowing at him and a sky projected onto a cloth behind him), this show just screams of cheapness, and lacks any of the charm to allow it. Believe us, this isn't just us gnarly old journos taking the mick out of a show made in simpler times; even kids back in the '70s knew this was utter crud and switched over to the Banana Splits instead.

12. Sheena, Queen Of The Jungle (2000-2002)

Based on the comic book character Sheena, Queen of the Jungle, which had already enjoyed a popular TV show back in the '50s, the 2000 version was an attempt to update the character to the 21st century. Well, it tried, but mostly it was game show beauty and Playboy model Gena Lee Nolin running around in a skimpy animal skin dress while protecting the jungle from a series of crap bad guys who threatened the jungle in increasingly tenuous ways. There were some blokes in it too.

For some reason this update decided to look for inspiration from Manimal (never a good idea) by giving Sheena the ability to morph into any jungle creature just by staring into its eyes. She could also transform into a jungle beast woman called the Darakna by rubbing herself in mud. No, really. Still, at least when she was an animal we were spared Nolins attempts as acting. Honestly, she was often out-acted by her own costume. The show got two seasons, totalling 35 episodes, before disappearing off into the jungle and dying like the sick elephant that it was.

11. Space Precinct (1994-5)

Ive no doubt that Gerry Anderson is a genius with a number of hit telly shows under his belt like Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and Space: 1999. Unfortunately Space Precinct is not one of them. "NYPD Blue in space" is how Anderson described it, jumping on the popularity of the US cop show that launched the year previous. Sadly its more like PC Plod in space. Space Precinct featured episodes that ran the full spectrum of tone and quality - within a single episode. One moment the comedy relief alien cops Orrin and Romek would be playing rock, paper, scissors, and stone to decide who will climb into a big bin to rescue a hairy monkey thats being a nuisance, then cut back to the main story where our clean-cut handsome leads Brogan (Ted Shackleton) and Haldane (Rob Youngblood) are tracking a serial killer and interrogating a prostitute.

The show was a maelstrom of ambition versus budget. Anderson was aiming for Blade Runner every week (it even had flying cop cars) but the sheer number of FX and models and cityscapes and skylines that the scripts demanded were too much for the tech teams to maintain a quality threshold. You could try and enjoy Space Precinct, but it was hard. The suspension of disbelief required was high for even the most hardcore sci-fi fan, even in the mid-'90s when telly sci-fi was sparse. Im sure I wasnt the only one who watched the adventures of Officer Brogan thinking: he lives on a space station, the police station is another separate space station and his routine patrol is on the planet belowthats one hell of a commute to work.

10. TimeCop (1997)

Well, least it has Jean-Claude Van Damn it, where'd he go? It's pretty much everything youd expect from a spin-off series of the action film TimeCop (not exactly the greatest movie ever, itself). No Van Damme (most likely they couldn't afford him, but it's possible even the muscles from Brussels had a quality threshold), bland characters, forgettable bad guys, dire scripts, and rationed FX.

The fact that you probably didn't even know there was a TimeCop series says it all, really.

9. Logans Run (1977-8)

Another TV series version of a hit sci-fi film, the small screen Logans Run unlike TimeCop at least has some impressive credentials on the writing side. Former Trek writer DC Fontana was the script editor, and she brought a number of Star Trek scribes along with her, including the legendary Harlan Ellison (The City On The Edge Of Forever). But it was a bit like getting the London Symphony Orchestra and then getting them to play on dustbin lids and bits of hosepipe.

Forget the film. The producers seemed to. Okay, there was lip service to the films themes in the pilot, set in a futuristic city where everyone is culled at the age of 30. Policemen called Sandmen hunt down runners people who try to evade the cull. But then a Sandman called Logan starts to question the system and goes on the run himself, with some love interest and doddery android. After that, from episode two onwards, the whole concept changes to "three dull characters drive around the desert in a converted hovercraft encountering plots Gene Roddenberry thought were a bit too rubbish for Star Trek." You get aliens, robots, time travel, dream analysers all the stock storylines of every episodic sci-fi spaceship series just without the spaceship. Tedious.

8. TekWar (1994-6)

New Wave retro sci-fi soap TekWar is unintentionally funny, but not even in the so bad its good category. Based on the books "written" by William Shatter (thats presumably written in the sense of "met the writers for lunch a couple of times") TekWar started life as four TV movies before spawning a 22-episode TV series of ever-diminishing returns. The premise had Walter Bascom, CEO of Security Firm Cosmos, hiring wrongly-convicted cop Jake Cardigan (great name - every show should have a hero named after knitwear) to help hunt down Tec Lords. Tec, yeses, is a kind of future drug, and not a typo for Trek. Any similarities between the words in this franchises title and the words in any existing franchises title, living or dead, are purely coincidental. Probably.

The '80s hair and clothing is already dated by the time the show was made (in the '90s, youll note). The theme tune is incomprehensible aural diarrhoea, coupled with an opening sequence which tries to do abusive things to your eyeballs. Actors pause with "futuristic" props, angling them toward the camera while the scene waits for the audience to look at it. Carved from purest cheese, TekWar fails at serious drama, characterisation, visual effects, believability, and ultimately at television. In its defence, the books were pretty bad too. Basic turf-polishing rules apply.

7. The Starlost (1973)

Devised by Harlan Ellison in the '70s, this show didnt have a bad original premise, and hell, with Ellison behind it, it should have been good. Set aboard a huge colony spaceship called The Ark, which had suffered some sort of cataclysm years before, the show featured the descendants of the original crew and colonists, who didnt even know that they were aboard a ship. Gradually they discovered more about their artificial world and the different communities within it. Unfortunately the series experienced a number of production difficulties, management compromises, technology failures, and budget cuts that effectively killed it before it even aired. The cast made a valiant effort with the material they had, but nothing could save this show.

From a possibly great show, with names such as Ben Bova and Douglas Trumbull involved, The Starlost was turned into a cheap, dumbed-down, by-the-numbers show by TV executives. Harlan Ellison won a Writers Guild of America award for the original pilot script; unfortunately the original pilot script was never filmed as it was written, and Ellison is still, to this day, bitter about what became of the show. Ben Bova has also been very vocal about how disgruntled he was with his time on the show, even going so far as to publish a novel depicting a scientist taken on as a science adviser for a terrible science fiction series, which drew on his memories of working on The Starlost.

Dave Golder
Freelance Writer

Dave is a TV and film journalist who specializes in the science fiction and fantasy genres. He's written books about film posters and post-apocalypses, alongside writing for SFX Magazine for many years.