Search SFE    Search EoF

  Omit cross-reference entries  


Entry updated 8 July 2024. Tagged: Theme, TV.


The first section of this entry is roughly as it appeared in the 1993 second edition of the encyclopedia, with some added links to new third-edition entries for television sf within its scope. The second section, taking up the tale from the 1990s, offers a contrasting view. The third section briefly covers animated series.

1. The first thing to understand about televised sf is that it has never been commercially successful (relative to the top programmes) on US television, and seldom on UK television. Advertisers in the USA seek new programmes that are likely to end up in the year's top 20; these are the programmes that get the top advertising and the big budgets. It has been reported that the only US sf television programme ever to enter the top-20 category was the tabloid-style documentary drama programme Project UFO (1978-1979), which exploited widespread Paranoia already much sensationalized by the popular press, and had little to do with true sf. Because producers know that sf does not normally pull that sort of audience, it tends to be regarded as filler material, with neither budgets, writers nor actors being top-drawer. Every now and then someone with power tries to break the hoodoo, as Steven Spielberg did with his anthology-series Amazing Stories (1985-1987), spending a lot of money and getting good writers and (especially) good directors, but that too disappointed, in terms of both quality and commercial success.

To concentrate for a moment on artistic rather than commercial success (though they are linked), we note that for a while everyone thought the turning point would come in about 1978, when sf in the Cinema had made an enormous breakthrough, especially with Star Wars (1977), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and Superman (1978). US television may have had its chance then, but blew it, partly through the lowest-common-denominator populism of Glen A Larson, who created the infantile Battlestar Galactica (1978-1979), its successor Galactica: 1980 (1980) and the only fractionally better Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (1979-1981). US television has failed consistently with sf adventure (the various Star Trek series being, along with The Wild, Wild West, the main exceptions, and then only partially so) and Superhero adventure (like The Incredible Hulk [1977-1982] and Wonder Woman [1974-1979]; see Wonder Woman Film/TV); has had limited success with sf anthology series (such as Out There [1951-1952], The Outer Limits [1963-1965] and The Twilight Zone [1959-1964]); and has done quite nicely with borderline-sf sitcoms (examples being My Favorite Martian [1963-1966] and Mork & Mindy [1978-1982]).

Outsiders would argue that much of the problem of US television rests in the advertisers, who have a vested interest in reaching as wide an audience as possible, and therefore tend to veto (especially in programmes aimed at younger viewers) anything remotely controversial that might upset a section of the potential audience. It would seem to follow that UK commercial television should have just as bad a record, for the same reasons, but this is not entirely true, as witness The Avengers (1961-1969), The Prisoner (1967-1968) and the original Max Headroom (1985), all originated by UK commercial channels. Nonetheless, most classic sf television in the UK has come from the BBC – including the first three Quatermass serials, Doctor Who, Blake's 7, Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Red Dwarf (1988-current) – and the BBC operates quite independently from advertising income, though it is open to, and occasionally suffers from, other pressures towards conformity, including ratings.

The other main reason why sf has failed on television in the USA, and to a large degree in the UK, is the almost invariable assumption that it is stuff for the kids. It is difficult to know if adult sf would succeed on television; few people have ever tried. The first sf series to appear on US television, Captain Video (1949-1956), was primarily aimed at children, and it is arguable that the situation, over four decades later, has not changed.

Captain Video, which began in 1949, was a series made on a very small budget and transmitted live every night. This situation ensured that sets and special effects were primitive (scenes involving special effects were pre-filmed and then inserted, usually clumsily, into the show, by cutting to a television camera that was pointing directly into the lens of a movie projector), but its popularity with young viewers quickly produced a host of imitations, like Buck Rogers (1950-1951), Tom Corbett: Space Cadet (1950-1955), Space Patrol (1950-1955), Superman (1953-1957), Captain Midnight (1954-1956) and Commando Cody: Sky Marshal of the Universe (1953), first shown in cinemas and aired by NBC in 1955. While the later series were more expensively produced and were pre-recorded on film, they all followed in the tradition of the movie and Radio serials of the 1930s-1940s rather than that of written sf. Science had little part in any of these productions, with the exception of Tom Corbett, which had Willy Ley as scientific adviser, but it was prominent in one of the first "adult" sf series on US television, Out of This World (1952), which was a mixture of sf and science fact, with guest scientists interrupting the story to discuss scientific points with the narrator. This nonsensational approach to sf was continued in Science Fiction Theater (1955-1957), in which the host, Truman Bradley, and the show's various writers did their best (presumably unconsciously) to ensure that no trace of any Sense of Wonder remained in the stories. Nearer to written sf was Tales of Tomorrow (1951-1956), one of the earliest sf anthology series, which featured stories adapted from sf books and magazines but, like the early children's serials, was handicapped by being transmitted live.

The first major UK sf event on television (apart from Nigel Kneale's 1949 television adaptation of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four [1949]) was the BBC serial The Quatermass Experiment (1953), a horror/sf mixture which was at the time considered suitable only for adults, though today it would probably seem no more disturbing than the children's serial Doctor Who (1963-1989). Even by the early 1950s the fundamental differences between US and UK television had been established; instead of having to produce self-contained programme "packages" that would be attractive to sponsors, the BBC producers had editorial freedom. One result was that the most popular format for BBC drama (apart from individual plays) became the serial, usually in six to ten episodes, whereby the writers could build up atmosphere and concentrate on character development; in the USA, by contrast, the trend was towards long-running series whose episodes were self-contained. (The lack of commercial interruptions was itself an advantage in the pacing of the BBC programmes, which did not have their rhythm broken by false climaxes and cliff-hangers designed to entice the viewer to stay tuned during the ads.) With the arrival of commercial television in the UK (the first channel in 1955, the second in 1982), US-style programming was also introduced (though the UK commercial-break pattern is much less intrusive), but the serial format still remains popular on all channels of UK television.

BBC TV's first productions of sf for children also took the form of serials, one of the earliest being The Lost Planet (1954). Its sequel, Return to the Lost Planet (1955), came in the year that saw the first of the Quatermass sequels, Quatermass II (1955).

1956-1958 were sparse years. In the USA most of the juvenile series had ended, with the exception of Superman (already the steady erosion of the boundaries between children's and adult programmes on US television had begun) and the sober and dull Science Fiction Theater, both of which lasted until 1957. From then until 1959 sf on television was practically nonexistent. The situation was little different in the UK, though in 1958 there was the third and best of the Quatermass serials: Quatermass and the Pit (1958-1959).

In the USA World of Giants had one brief season in 1959, but the most important new US series that year for sf fans was The Twilight Zone (1959-1964), an anthology series created by Rod Serling as a mixture of fantasy and sf stories, more of the former than the latter. Another US series of some importance that began in 1959 was the generally realistic Spacesuit Film production Men into Space (1959-1960). The 1960s saw an increase of sf-related series in both countries: the BBC serial A for Andromeda (1961) was unusual in that it was cowritten by a scientist, Fred Hoyle. In 1961 The Avengers (1961-1969; followed by The New Avengers [1976-1977]) began, though at that time it was called Police Surgeon and did not feature any of the sf or fantasy gimmicks that were to dominate this enjoyably bizarre and imaginative show in later years. Another UK series, Out of This World (1962) – not to be confused with the earlier US series of the same name – tried to repeat the success of The Twilight Zone by adopting a similar format, with episodes based on the stories of many well known sf writers. It lasted only one short season. Two 1960s US animated series still fondly remembered were Hanna-Barbera Productions' The Flintstones (1960-1966) – an amusingly unhistorical Prehistoric SF romp, and its futuristic successor The Jetsons (1962-1963) – replete with sf Clichés like flying cars and Food Pills.

The most remarkable of all sf phenomena on television began in 1963: the splendid BBC series Doctor Who (1963-1989), which was aimed at children but came to attract adults as well. It had many serialized stories run consecutively, each normally lasting for at least four episodes. Producers, writers and cast changed many times, but Doctor Who ran for 26 years before going into suspended animation – and was spectacularly revived in 2005 (see below).

In the USA another series inspired by The Twilight Zone began in 1963. The Outer Limits (1963-1965) was more sf-oriented than Serling's series and also took itself rather less seriously; though inventive and entertaining, it could hardly be described as adult sf. The same year saw the first of many comedy sf series, My Favorite Martian (1963-1966), a relatively sophisticated sitcom that proved popular with audiences. Less successful, though in some ways superior, was My Living Doll (1964-1965), an sf comedy about a Robot woman that ran for only one season.

It was also in 1964 in the USA that Irwin Allen, the Glen Larson of the 1960s, produced the first of his sf action/adventure series for television, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1964-1968). His lowest-possible-common-denominator approach to the genre has influenced the style and quality of US television sf ever since. The same year saw the debut of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964-1968), a by-product of the craze for James Bond movies (see Ian Fleming) but incorporating many sf devices and plot situations. This was better, and better still was The Wild, Wild West (1965-1969) which featured two secret agents, equipped with various anachronistic devices, pitted against Mad Scientists in the nineteenth-century West. Another Irwin Allen series, Lost in Space (1965-1968), was more obviously aimed at children than Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, though that made little difference in quality or plausibility.

In the UK, 1965 saw the debut of the adult sf series Out of the Unknown (1965-1971), an anthology show that presented adaptations of the work of sf writers including (among many others) Isaac Asimov, Clifford D Simak and J G Ballard; from this practice it derived an authority not often visible in televised sf, which is normally written by professional television screenwriters. The standard of the adaptations varied and the small budgets were a handicap (another major difference between US and UK television is that the former is usually produced on much larger budgets), but overall it was superior to most sf series before or since. This view was not shared by the BBC itself, however; after a couple of seasons it was turned into a series about the supernatural.

Also from the UK came Thunderbirds (1965-1966), a series that used sophisticated puppets and clever special effects. Produced by Gerry Anderson, it proved very popular with children on both sides of the Atlantic. Anderson had pioneered the use of puppetry for children's sf with Supercar (1961-1962) and Fireball Xl5 (1962-1963). Anderson's SuperMarionation puppet programmes are fun, but are really for quite young children.

In 1966 began Time Tunnel (1966-1967), another Irwin Allen production, but it was not as popular as his other series. The important new US series of 1966 was Star Trek, whose ever-swelling following (largely garnered during re-runs) has become legendary. Aimed primarily at adolescents, it featured the work of several established sf writers in the first two seasons, though their scripts were usually rewritten by the show's resident writers. Aside from Jerome Bixby, no well known sf names appeared in any of the credits for the final season, which may account in part for the plunge in quality.

The Invaders (1967-1968) was another US series of the late 1960s but, as based on a single plot gimmick that had to be repeated each episode, it lasted only two seasons. More interesting, and equally reliant on evoking total Paranoia, was The Prisoner (1967-1968), a Kafka-esque UK series created by actor Patrick McGoohan (1928-2009), who also starred. But at the time it was popular neither with the UK company that produced it (ITC) nor with the public, and it came to a premature end, although its supporters continue to argue passionately that it was the finest sf ever to appear on the small screen, and it has been rescreened more successfully since. In the USA Irwin Allen launched yet another series, Land of the Giants (1968-1970), but the vogue for his type of programme was coming to an end. Also fairly short-lived was The Immortal (1969-1971), based on The Immortals (fixup 1962) by James E Gunn, who also produced a novelization, The Immortal (1970).

In the UK Gerry Anderson switched from puppets to live actors in his new children's series UFO (1970-1973). A UK series with more serious intentions was Doomwatch (1970-1972), which exploited popular anxiety about the dangers of scientific research; one of the creators of the series was the scientist Kit Pedler.

Rod Serling began another anthology series with Rod Serling's Night Gallery (1970-1972), but it was less sf-oriented than The Twilight Zone and proved less successful as well. Then, in 1973, came the series which had the greatest influence on US sf television in the 1970s, The Six Million Dollar Man (1973-1978), which, though basically a live Comic strip rather similar to the 1950s Superman series for children, was successfully cloned; there were several near-duplications of the formula.

The UK children's serial The Tomorrow People (1973-1979) began on commercial television in 1973, and at times approached the level of Doctor Who. The BBC in the same year attempted a more adult series with Moonbase 3 (1973), a nonsensational serial set on the Moon, but it was not a success. That year the awful Generation-Starship programme The Starlost (1973) came from Canada (see Harlan Ellison). The following year in the USA saw two further short-lived series, Planet of the Apes (1974), based on the popular 1968 movie covered in the same entry, and (much better) Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-1975), a quasi-anthology series primarily about the supernatural, which included a few sf episodes.

In 1975 Gerry Anderson, after the failure of UFO, created a pale UK imitation of Star Trek with Space: 1999 (1975-1978). Surprisingly, it enjoyed some success in the USA, but only briefly, and it ended after two seasons. The series represents a nadir in the quality of scientific thought in televised sf. A more typically UK series of the same year was Survivors (1975-1977), created by Terry Nation, a Post-Holocaust series in the UK manner established by John Wyndham and John Christopher.

One of the first of the many Six Million Dollar Man imitations was The Invisible Man (1975-1976), but it did not prove as popular as expected, despite some ingenious special effects and the use of David McCallum, the star of The Man from U.N.C.L.E. It returned the following season with a different actor in the lead role and a new title: Gemini Man (1976), neither of which saved the series from being cancelled. Yet another short-lived series was The Fantastic Journey (1977) which utilized the Star Trek formula without spaceship or other planets (different cultures being encountered via "time zones" on a lost island in the Bermuda Triangle).

Wonder Woman (1974-1979) (see Wonder Woman Film/TV), derived from the superheroine comic strip of the same title, had made her debut in 1974; she was followed by The Bionic Woman (1976-1978), a spin-off from Six Million Dollar Man. In 1977 the comic-book style trend was continued – but with none of the verve of the best comics – with The Man from Atlantis (1977-1978), Logan's Run (1977-1978) and The Incredible Hulk (1977-1982). But while fantasy- and sf-related series were proliferating in the USA, mostly in a vain attempt to capture the charisma of the various Superhero comics, UK television was producing only the gloomy, Orwellian serial 1990 (1977-1978) and, of course, the never-ending and still sprightly Doctor Who. It was not until 1978 that UK television made a comparatively formidable entry into the world of Space Opera with Terry Nation's series Blake's 7 (1978-1981), which also began in Orwellian vein. While proficiently produced, and disarmingly cynical, it was still too close to the Star Trek formula.

In the 1970s such anxiety-ridden UK series as Doomwatch, Survivors and 1990 reflected the fears of a society that seemed to find itself on the brink of something unpleasant, whereas, whatever fears may have been preying on the US mass-consciousness, the apparent reaction to them was (and is) to plunge wholeheartedly into a second childhood, not only with television, but also in the Cinema, as with the Star Wars films and Superman.

In Japan the 1970s saw the live-action series Himitsu Sentai Gorenger (1975-1977; vt Five Rangers; vt Star Rangers; vt Secret Battleteam Five-Ranger), first in the long-running Super Sentai sequence, a major Superhero franchise in the Tokusatsu genre that has enjoyed huge commercial success.

The 1980s in the USA saw increasing infantilism in sf series. Short-lived movie spin-offs included Blue Thunder (1984), Starman (1986-1987) and Alien Nation (1989-1990), and a spin-off from a television miniseries, Something Is Out There (1989). Ray Bradbury's stories barely survived the miniseries The Martian Chronicles (1980), although they did rather better in Ray Bradbury Theater (1985-1986; 1988-1992). A US series based on a UK original, Max Headroom (1987-1988), looked promising for a time but deteriorated rapidly. So did the big-budget sf series of the decade (whose budget shrank with each succeeding segment), "V" (1983-1985). This was an object lesson in the corrupting influence of the US television system, for it worsened practically minute by minute. In the first part of the first miniseries, this story of alien invasion (for "aliens" read "Nazis") was interesting; by the end it was pure pabulum.

Until the end of the decade, the most interesting US experiments in sf were probably the uneven anthology series Twilight Zone (second series 1985-1986) and Amazing Stories (1985-1987), but in both cases glutinous sentiment hovered too closely overhead. Then things perked up a little, with the romantic and sometimes very imaginative Beauty and the Beast (1987-1990) – which may have been helped by the input of sf writer George R R Martin – and the Time-Travel series Quantum Leap (1989-1993), which was sometimes amusing and certainly infinitely better than the earlier Voyagers (1982-1983) on a similar theme. The end of the decade also saw the vigorous but silly War of the Worlds (1988-1990). But for many the most exciting development was Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994), which surprisingly enough was made for syndication (a demonstration of the effects of cable, and of the consequently reduced market sway of the old networks like NBC, home of the first series). Once viewers recovered from their sorrow at the absence of the geriatric Kirk, Spock, Scottie, Bones, etc., most agreed that it was rather better than its famous original.

In the UK the 1980s were ushered in with the fourth (and slightly old-fashioned) Quatermass serial, Quatermass (1979), no longer from the BBC. The BBC was having a semi-success with Blake's 7, the prisoners-on-the-run-pursued-by-the-evil-empire series mentioned above; it also successfully serialized John Wyndham's 1951 novel with The Day of the Triffids (1981). By casting cult-figures from earlier sf series, David McCallum (Man From U.N.C.L.E, Invisible Man) and Joanna Lumley (New Avengers), commercial television signalled high hopes with the time-police series Sapphire and Steel (1979-1982); in the event it was incomprehensible, but atmospheric and fun for Surrealism fans. The big UK sf theme of the 1980s was anarchic comedy, with two big successes from the BBC, The Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1981), based on a cult BBC Radio programme, and Red Dwarf (1988-current), and one failure from the commercial side, Nigel Kneale's disappointing Kinvig (1981). The 1980s also saw the so-so Star Cops (1987) and the Doctor of Doctor Who repeatedly changing his persona but somehow losing the plot; from the viewpoint of the 1980s, the 1970s had been this show's peak decade. A notable BBC borderline-sf series addressing contemporary issues of nuclear waste and Pollution was Edge of Darkness (1985).

The pressures towards conformity and formula, especially in the USA but also in the UK, have meant that televised sf, in a history spanning well over 40 years, has never approached the intellectual excitement of the best written sf, or indeed the best sf in the cinema. Because televised sf cleaves to the expected, we are seldom surprised by it: we seldom feel any sense of wonder or even stimulation. At best we are amused by the occasional adroit variation on a familiar theme, or by bits of rather good acting. Televised sf is a cultural scandal; it is, on average, so much worse than it could be or needs to be. But there seems no way to combat the entropic forces that make it that way. The television industry is something of a "closed shop", with its own well established writers and producers – one reason why it has generally proven inhospitable to sf writers – and it is difficult to influence from the outside. Until this is done, the standard of televised sf will not improve.

Good references on televised sf are hard to come by, and the subject is surprisingly difficult to research, since television is more ephemeral than cinema and is not nearly as well documented. The most up-to-date book on the subject is The Encyclopedia of TV Science Fiction (1990) by Roger Fulton, which is descriptive rather than critical, and good on UK sf, rather poor on US sf. A slightly amateurish monthly US magazine with useful episode synopses (but much vital information, including production companies, omitted) is Epi-Log, whose #1 was Summer 1990, published by William E Anchors Jr from Tennessee. Also useful is Science Fiction, Horror & Fantasy Film & Television Credits (1983) by Harris M Lentz, which has a supplement (1989) through 1987.

This encyclopedia includes a number of made-for-tv movies which we treat as if they were actual movies. Some have been good – like The Night that Panicked America (1975) and The Lathe of Heaven (1980) – but most have not. We also include one entry on what, so far as we can trace, was the only television series about sf, the eccentric Canadian talk show Prisoners of Gravity (1990-1993). The entries for television serials and series in this encyclopedia, formerly listed here at great length, may now be found through the media menu of the online version. Some further television series are mentioned in passing in film entries and elsewhere, but not normally with full production data. [PN/JB]

2. The 1990s and 2000s give the lie to the pessimism of the above. Though science fiction continued to feature heavily in children's entertainment, the former decade saw a proliferation of successful, critically acclaimed sf shows (albeit not always ones that would satisfy a purist of the genre) and the latter is widely acknowledged as the decade in which television as a whole came of age as an artistic medium. The harbinger of this transformation was the success of Star Trek: The Next Generation, which even more than its parent show (or the movies featuring that show's cast, which preceded and coincided with The Next Generation's run), can be credited with revitalizing the Star Trek franchise and cementing its status as an sf icon. The Next Generation not only normalized the concept of a successful, long-running science fiction series aimed at an adult audience, but, through both its own longevity and its large number of spin-offs – Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993-1999); Star Trek: Voyager (1995-2001); Star Trek: Enterprise (2001-2005) – created a baseline of what sf television (mainly, though not exclusively, in the US) looked like – space-set, optimistic, episodic, and featuring a Federation-like central government and a Starfleet-like military and exploration force – that the sf series of the 1990s and 2000s wasted little time in exploding.

The two most important sf series of the 1990s are Babylon 5 (1993-1998) and The X-Files (1993-2002). The former, though never a ratings success, defied many of the comforting conventions of the Star Trek model (as well as loosening its stranglehold on Fandom) and was one of the earliest and most comprehensive examples of serialized storytelling in the television medium, which has since become an industry standard. The latter was the first science fiction series to gain widespread popular and critical acceptance and even acclaim, launching a fascination with conspiracy theories (see Paranoia; Secret Masters) and UFOs that occupied American culture for the better part of the decade (and was put to rest, perhaps, only by the emergence of a more concrete, more immediate threat in the form of global terrorism following the 9/11 attacks). This fascination was capitalized upon by the medium as a whole, sometimes in the form of outright imitation as in Dark Skies (1996-1997), The Visitor (1997-1998), First Wave (1998-2001), Roswell (1999-2002) and the miniseries Taken (2002) – all of which commingle Alien visitations with government conspiracies – and sometimes simply through the introduction of science-fictional elements into otherwise mundane settings, as in the popular and successful sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun (1996-2001). The X-Files also capitalized on the proliferation of the internet during the 1990s, and the seeping of terms like Cyberspace and Virtual Reality into popular discourse; other series of the decade – VR.5 (1995), Harsh Realm (1999) (see The X-Files) – did the same.

In addition, the late 1990s were characterized by a proliferation of non-Star Trek space-set shows, such as Farscape (1999-2003), Lexx (1997-2002), Space: Above and Beyond (1995-1996; vt Space 2063), and Stargate SG-1 (1997-2007). Many of these found their home on The Sci Fi Channel (launched 1992, renamed Syfy 2009), as did Earth-set shows like Sliders (1995-2000), Jake 2.0 (2003-2004) and Eureka (2006-2012). In addition, the channel has produced miniseries – of which the most notable were well-received adaptations of Frank Herbert's Dune (fixup 1965) as Frank Herbert's Dune (2000) and Children of Dune (1976) as Frank Herbert's Children of Dune (2003) – and television movies. Towards the end of the 1990s, and increasingly during the 2000s, the channel's support for niche-friendly fare like Farscape and critically acclaimed but low-rated shows like Battlestar Galactica (2003-2009) or Caprica (2009-2011) was mingled with, and eventually superseded by, a palpable disdain for core sf formats like space or other futuristic settings, and the prioritization of lightweight, low-continuity fare like Eureka and Warehouse 13 (2009-2014). In the 2000s the channel's focus shifted towards the supernatural, an emphasis that is often expressed through a wide range of reality shows that purport to hunt for the paranormal, and share air time with professional wrestling. It has by now become a commonplace of fandom that Syfy has no interest in Sci Fi. Certainly an adult series like Netflix's Sense8 (2015-2018) is hard to imagine failing to transgress Syfy's attention span.

Other factors, however, contributed to the decline of space-set sf television in the 2000s, and chief among these are the two series that define the science-fictional television of the decade, Lost (2004-2010) and Battlestar Galactica. The latter explodes not only the last vestiges of the Star Trek template but the conventions of Space Opera, which had informed much of the non-Star Trek space-set sf of the 1990s. Galactica's grim tone, mundane settings (which at times deliberately recalled the present day), lack of Aliens, and avoidance of adventure storytelling won over both critics and fans so completely that though the decade's early years saw some attempts at space opera – Firefly (2002-2003), Andromeda (2000-2005), Stargate: Atlantis (2004-2009) – the mode had been retired by the end of the 2000s. Even the next instalment of the joky, lighthearted Stargate franchise, Stargate: Universe (2009-2011), tried to ape Galactica's look and feel. Lost, meanwhile, was one of the biggest, most enduring television success stories of the 2000s, a cultural phenomenon that reshaped the entire medium, making large casts, serialized storytelling, drawn-out mysteries, and fantastic elements de rigueur in any aspirant to its throne. Though only nominally science-fictional, Lost helped to normalize the convention that sf should be Earth-based and set in the present, forgoing worldbuilding for the investigation of a hidden truth that underlies the known world – as exemplified by its imitators, of which "V" (2009-2011), FlashForward (2009-2010), and The Event (2010-2011) are but a few recent instances.

The 1990s represented a long period of dormancy for sf in UK television, with small numbers of exceptions like the later seasons of Red Dwarf (1988-current), Cold Lazarus (1996), The Uninvited (1997), and Ultraviolet (1998). It was only in 2005 that this period of dormancy came to an end with the relaunch of Doctor Who. After its cancellation in 1989, the show was briefly revived in a 1996 television movie, but it was Russell T Davies's soapy, emotional revamp of the series – heavily influenced by Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003) – that not only rekindled the British public's affection for the show but made it into an international sensation. Despite spawning two spin-off series, The Sarah Jane Adventures (2007-2011) and Torchwood (2006-2011), Doctor Who has not presaged a new golden age of British televised sf – the genre television of the decade has veered more towards the fantastic and the supernatural-tinged. However, efforts like Primeval (2007-current), with Dinosaurs, Outcasts (2011) by David Farr, with Colonization of Other Worlds, and Misfits (2009-current), with Superheroes and the anthology series Black Mirror (2011-2019) may indicate that a true renaissance is at hand.

Twenty-first century Hugo winners in the category of dramatic presentation (short form), a useful if not entirely reliable measure of popularity with the sf audience, include one episode of the rebooted Battlestar Galactica (2003-2009); six episodes of Doctor Who (1963-current); Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Blog (2008); one episode of Jessica Jones (2015-2019); and four episodes of The Good Place (2016-2020). [AN]

3. Very few animated television series have been cited above; notable exceptions from the 1960s are The Flintstones and The Jetsons. Of earlier importance are the occasionally sf-themed Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies shorts discussed in the entry for Warner Bros. Cartoons, and the regular sf segments of The Bullwinkle Show (1959-1964; vt Rocky and His Friends; vt The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show). Below there appears a chronological list, divided by decade, of animated series from the twentieth century which receive full entries in this encyclopedia – several of them based on popular Comics franchises from DC Comics and Marvel Comics and some being early Japanese Anime often based on Manga:

The 1960s. The Flintstones (1960-1966); Popeye the Sailor (1960-1963) (see Popeye); The Jetsons (1962-1963); Mister E from Tau Ceti (1963); Milton the Monster (1965-1968); The Wonder 3 (1965-1966; vt W3; vt The Amazing 3); The New Adventures of Superman (1966-1969; vt The Superman/Aquaman Hour; vt The Batman/Superman Hour); Space Ghost (1966-1968; vt Space Ghost and Dino Boy); Birdman and the Galaxy Trio (1967-1969); The Herculoids (1967; vt Zandor); Professor Balthazar (1967-1978; original title Profesor Baltazar); Spider-Man (1967-1970; 1981-1982); Cyborg 009 (1968); Fantastic Voyage (1968-1970); The Clangers (1969-1970; 1971-1972; 1974).

The 1970s. Casshan (1973-1974); Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973-1974); Super Friends (1973-1974); Valley of the Dinosaurs (1974); Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle (1976-1978); The All-New Super Friends Hour (1977-1978; vt Super Friends II); The Batman/Tarzan Adventure Hour (1977-1978) (see also Batman); Battle of the Planets (1978-1980); Future Boy Conan (1978; vt Conan, The Boy in Future); Galaxy Express 999 (1978-1981); Space Pirate Captain Harlock (1978-1979); Mobile Suit Gundam (1979-1980); Tarzan and the Super 7 (1979-1980).

The 1980s. The Tarzan/Lone Ranger Adventure Hour (1980-1982); Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends (1981-1983); Urusei Yatsura (1981-1986); Super Dimensional Fortress Macross (1982-1983); Delta Space Mission (1983); Galactic Patrol Lensman (1984-1985); Meitantei Holmes (1984-1985; vt Sherlock Hound, 2010 UK); Dirty Pair (1985); Dream Dimension Hunter Fandora (1985-1986); Dream Hunter REM (1985-1992; vt New Dream Hunter Rem); Iczer One (1985-1987); Ai City (1986; vt Love City); Defenders of the Earth (1986-1987); Dominion Tank Police (1988-1989); Dragon Ball (1986-1989); Galaxy High (1986); Hades Project Zeorymer (1988-1990); Inhumanoids (1986); M.D. Geist (1986; 1996; vt M.D. Geist I: Most Dangerous Soldier); Bubblegum Crisis (1987-1991); Treasure Island in Outer Space (1987; original title L'isola del tesoro; vt Space Island); Twilight Q (1987); Mobile Police Patlabor (1988-1989); Angel Cop (1989-1994); Baoh (1989); Dragon Ball Z (1989-1996); The Enemy's the Pirates! (1989; original title Teki wa Kaizoku: Neko no Kyōen; vt The Enemy's the Pirates!: The Cat's Banquet; vt Galactic Pirates; vt Galactic Pirates Cat's Feast); The Simpsons (1989-current).

The 1990s. AD Police Files (1990); CyberCity Oedo 808 (1990-1991); Darkwing Duck (1991-1992); Detonator Orgun (1991-1992); All Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku (1992-1993); Green Legend Ran (1992-1993; vt The Green Legend); Oz (1992); Sailor Moon (1992-1997); Video Girl Ai (1992); Animaniacs (1993-1998; vt Steven Spielberg Presents Animaniacs); Battle Angel (1993); Duckman (1994-1997); The Tick (1994-1996); Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego? (1994-1999); Armitage III (1995); Earthworm Jim (1995-1996); El Hazard The Magnificent World (1995-1996); Freakazoid! (1995-1997; vt Steven Spielberg Presents Freakazoid!); A Piece of Phantasmagoria (1995); Pinky & The Brain (1995-1998); What a Cartoon! (1995-1997; vt The What a Cartoon! Show; vt World Premiere Toons); Dexter's Laboratory (1996-2003); Project G.e.e.K.e.R. (1996); Special Duty Combat Unit Shinesman (1996); Superman: The Animated Series (1996-2000) (see also Superman); Revolutionary Girl Utena (1997); Blue Submarine No. 6 (1998-2000); Cowboy Bebop (1998-1999); Invasion America (1998); Outlaw Star (1998); The Powerpuff Girls (1998-2005); Rex the Runt (1998-2001); Serial Experiments Lain (1998); Trigun (1998); Yokohama Kaidashi Kikō (1998); Big O (1999-2000, 2003); Courage the Cowardly Dog (1999-2002); Cybersix (1999; vt Cyber Six); Dai-Guard (1999-2000); Futurama (1999-2003; 2010-2013; 2023-current); Sherlock Holmes in the 22nd Century (1999-2001). [DRL]

During the twentieth century, sf animation on western television was relatively infrequent and not always good; but Futurama (1999-2003; 2010-2013; 2023-current) seems to have been a watershed. Notable shows of the new century such as Samurai Jack (2001-2004; 2017), Invader Zim (2001-2002, 2006) and The Venture Bros (2003-2020) followed, and a genuine boom began in the second decade of the new century with the creation of Adventure Time (2007; 2010-2018; 2020-2021), Gravity Falls (2012-2016), Steven Universe (2013-2020), Rick & Morty (2013-current) and BoJack Horseman (2014-2020). All these have deservedly been highly praised. Non-sf television animation in the wider realm of Fantastika has also flourished, with such Fantasies as Star vs the Forces of Evil (2015-2019) and Over the Garden Wall (2014) being of particular merit, whilst the series Avatar: The Last Airbender (2002-2008) and its sequel The Legend of Korra (2012-2014) have proven influential and are highly praised.

There now follows a chronological list, divided by half-decade, of all twenty-first-century animated series which are given full entries in this encyclopedia:

From 2000 to 2004. FLCL (2000-2001); NieA Under 7 (2000); Alien Nine (2001-2002); Boogiepop Phantom (2001); Hare+Guu (2001); Hellsing (2001-2002); Invader Zim (2001-2002, 2006); Justice League (2001-2006; vt Justice League Unlimited); Puni Puni Poemy (2001); Samurai Jack (2001-2004; 2017); Sweat Punch (2001-2002; 2007; vt Deep Imagination); X (2001-2002; vt X/1999); Avatar: The Last Airbender (2002-2008); Chobits (2002); Clone High (2002-2003); Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex (2002-2005); The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy (2003-2008); Haibane Renmei (2002); Kim Possible (2002-2007); Yukikaze (2002-2005; original title Sentō Yōsei Yukikaze; vt Battle Fairy Yukikaze); Kino's Journey (2003); My Life as a Teenage Robot (2003-2007); Planetes (2003-2004); Texhnolyze (2003); The Venture Bros (2003-2020); Atomic Betty (2004-2008; vt Atomic Betty: Mission Earth); Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends (2004-2009); Kimagure Robot (2004; vt The Capricious Robot); Sweet Valerian (2004).

From 2005 to 2010. Ben 10 (2005-2008; vt Classic Ben 10); Noein: To Your Other Self (2005-2006); Robotboy (2005-2008); Ergo Proxy (2006); The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (2006-2009); Adventure Time (2007; 2010-2018; 2020-2021); Genius Party (2007; 2008); GR: Giant Robo (2007) (see Giant Robo); Gurren Lagann (2007); Phineas and Ferb (2007-2015); Superjail (2007-2014); Batman: The Brave and the Bold (2008-2011); Kaiba (2008); The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack (2008-2010); Archer (2009-2023); Eden of the East (2009); Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (2009-2010); Mee's Forest (2009-2010); The Tatami Galaxy (2010).

From 2010 to 2014. Regular Show (2010-2017); Robotomy (2010-2011); Squid Girl (2010-2014); Sym-Bionic Titan (2010-2011); The Amazing World of Gumball (2011-2019); Don't Hug Me I'm Scared (2011-2016; 2022); Fractale (2011); Kyousougiga (2011; 2012; 2013); Nichijou (2011; vt Nichijou: My Ordinary Life); Penguindrum (2011); Steins;Gate (2011); Tiger & Bunny (2011); Accel World (2012); From the New World (2012-2013); Gravity Falls (2012-2016); Humanity Has Declined (2012); The Legend of Korra (2012-2014); Psycho-Pass (2012-2013); Attack on Titan (2013-current); Dead Hand (2013-2016); Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet (2013); Golan the Insatiable (2013-2015); Kill La Kill (2013-2014); Rick & Morty (2013-current); RWBY (2013-current); Steven Universe (2013-2020); Wander over Yonder (2013-2016); Alice in Borderland (2014-2015); BoJack Horseman (2014-2020); Knights of Sidonia (2014-current); Mao Mao: Heroes of Pure Heart (2014; 2017; 2019-current); Over the Garden Wall (2014); Parasyte -the maxim- (2014-2015); Space Dandy (2014); Star Wars Rebels (2014-2017) – the latest animation series from the Star Wars franchise.

From 2015 to 2019. Concrete Revolutio (2015-2016); Danger and Eggs (2015-2017); One Punch Man (2015); School-Live! (2015); Star vs the Forces of Evil (2015-2019); Twelve Forever (2015; 2019); Yuri Kuma Arashi (2015); Bubuki Buranki (2016); Camp Camp (2016-2019); Flip Flappers (2016); Infinity Train (2016; 2019-2021); Lazor Wulf (2016; 2019-current); Mob Psycho 100 (2016-2019); My Hero Academia (2016-current); OK K.O.! Let's Be Heroes (2016-2019); Planetarian: The Reverie of a Little Planet (2016); Re:Zero – Starting Life in Another World (2016-2021); Space Patrol Luluco (2016); Voltron: Legendary Defender (2016-2018); ACCA (2017); Big Hero 6: The Series (2017-2021) (see Big Hero 6); Big Mouth (2017-current); DuckTales (2017-current); Girls' Last Tour (2017); Interviews with Monster Girls (2017); Kemono Friends (2017-current); Land of the Lustrous (2017); Little Witch Academia (2017); Made in Abyss (2017); Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid (2017-current); Mysticons (2017-2018); Princess Principal (2017); The Saga of Tanya the Evil (2017); Cells at Work! (2018); Craig of the Creek (2018-current); Disenchantment (2018-current); Final Space (2018-2021); Hilda (2018-current); The Hollow (2018-2020); Human Kind Of (2018); Milo Murphy's Law (2018-2019); Planet With (2018); Pop Team Epic (2018-2019); Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai (2018); Release the Spyce (2018); She-Ra and the Princesses of Power (2018-2020); SSSS.Gridman (2018); Summer Camp Island (2018-2023); Violet Evergarden (2018); Zombie Land Saga (2018); Alien News Desk (2019); Amphibia (2019-2022); Ascendance of a Bookworm (2019-2022); Astra Lost in Space (2019); Beastars (2019-current); Boogiepop and Others (2019); Carmen Sandiego (2019-2021); Cleopatra in Space (2019-2021); DC Super Hero Girls (2019-current); Dr Stone (2019); gen:LOCK (2019-current); Granbelm (2019); Green Eggs and Ham (2019); Harley Quinn (2019-current); Hazbin Hotel (2019); Helluva Boss (2019-current); Kemurikusa (2019); Love, Death and Robots (2019); Primal (2019-2022; vt Genndy Tartakovsky's Primal); The Promised Neverland (2019-2021); SparkShorts (2019-2021); Tuca and Bertie (2019); Undone (2019; 2022).

From 2020. Akudama Drive (2020); Animaniacs (2020-2023) reboot; BNA: Brand New Animal (2020); Close Enough (2020-current); Deca-Dence (2020); Dorohedoro (2020); The Fungies! (2020-current); Glitch Techs (2020); Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! (2020); Kid Cosmic (2020-2022); Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts (2020); The Midnight Gospel (2020); My Next Life as a Villainess: All Routes Lead to Doom! (2020); Nippon Chinbotsu 2020 (2020; vt Japan Sinks 2020) (see Nippon Chinbotsu); Onyx Equinox (2020-current); The Owl House (2020-2023); Smiling Friends (2020; 2023-current); Solar Opposites (2020); Star Trek: Lower Decks (2020-current); Talentless Nana (2020); 86 (2021-2022; vt 86 EIGHTY-SIX); Arcane (2021-current; vt Arcane: League of Legends); Cells at Work! Code Black (2021); Centaurworld (2021); City of Ghosts (2021); Dogs in Space (2021-current); Eden (2021); Elliot from Earth (2021-current); The Ghost and Molly McGee (2021-current); Heaven's Design Team (2021); Inside Job (2021-current); Invincible (2021-current); Jellystone! (2021-current); Murder Drones (2021-current); Otherside Picnic (2021); Shadows House (2021); Short Circuit (2020-2021); Sonny Boy (2021); SSSS.Dynazenon (2021); Star Trek: Prodigy (2021-current); Takt Op. Destiny (2021; vt Tákt: Op.); Trese (2021-current); Vivy: Fluorite Eye's Song (2021); Wonder Egg Priority (2021); Yasuke (2021); Baymax (2022) (see Big Hero 6); Chainsaw Man (2022); The Cuphead Show! (2022-current); Cyberpunk: Edgerunners (2022); Dead End: Paranormal Park (2022); Lycoris Recoil (2022); Miss Kuroitsu from the Monster Development Department (2022); The Little Lies We All Tell (2022); Mobile Suit Gundam: The Witch from Mercury (2022); The Orbital Children (2022; vt Extraterrestrial Boys and Girls); Pantheon (2022-current); Sabikui Bisco (2022; vt Rust-Eater Bisco); Spy X Family (2022); Yurei Deco (2022); Adventure Time: Fionna and Cake (2023); Agent Elvis (2023-current); The Amazing Digital Circus (2023-current); Bullbuster (2023); Kizazi Moto: Generation Fire (2023); Krapopolis (2023); Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur (2023-current); Mulligan (2023); My Adventures with Superman (2023-current); My Dad the Bounty Hunter (2023); Nier: Automata Ver1.1a (2023); Ōoku: The Inner Chambers (2023); Otaku Elf (2023); Pluto (2023); Scavenger's Reign (2023); Shy (2023); Strange Planet (2023); Tearmoon Empire (2023); Technoroid Overmind (2023); Undead Girl Murder Farce (2023); Unicorn: Warriors Eternal (2023); Carol and the End of the World (2024); Mars Machines (2024); The Second Best Hospital in the Galaxy (2024); X-Men '97 (2024-current).

Online animated series such as Camp Camp, gen:LOCK, Planetarian and RWBY, plus OVAs or Original Video Animations such as Ai City, are included in the above listing since the distinction between these and television in the classic broadcast or the later cable sense has become increasingly irrelevant. [SP/DRL]

see also: Japan.

further reading


previous versions of this entry

This website uses cookies.  More information here. Accept Cookies