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What are some of the best British sci-fi shows?

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asked Dec 1, 2015 in Movies/TV by anonymous
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British sci fi has indeed a long history, starting with Welles and long before. The concept of exploring mysteries and alternate ideas is part of the British psyche, and so it is no surprise that some of the best sci fi storytelling is from that island.


But tethered to that is also the production history of British TV. Since the leading British station BBC is a governmental institution, money for productions was always scarce. That meant writers had to be innovative, with character driven plots that would excuse or limit the use of sets and locations. 


The result was shows that by modern standards -- and even by the standards of the day -- were of poor production values yet of high story telling quality. This made the shows more than watchable -- it made them cultural icons. Here are a few that remain strong to this day.


  • Quatermass -- One of the earliest sci fi shows that lay the groundwork for what was to come. The subjects are often of highly complex scientific mysteries that only get stranger with each passing episode. Space exploration is the main subject, however mostly from the point of view of Professor Bernard Quatermass and his team. Hence episodes take place usually in laboratories or specific single locations. The show pulls no punches: no character is safe from dying, not even Quatermass. He was 'rebooted' in 2005 and plans for more serials are in the works.


Media: TV serial, radio plays, novels, newspaper syndication, motion picture
Notable serials or episodes: Quatermass And The Pit, Quatermass


  • Doctor Who -- Without doubt the most popular one. While its 2005 reboot became a global phenomenon, one should not forget that its origins lie in the 60s. Inspired by Quatermass, Doctor Who took a more action-packed approach to sci fi, introducing regular villains and alien races. In this way Doctor Who closed the gap between the science-grounded Quatermass and the cheesy movie theater serials. The modern reboot remains connected to the older episodes narratively -- but with updated visuals -- maintains the spirit of the original show.


Media: TV serials, TV series, TV movie, radio plays, novels, comic books, computer games, motion picture
Notable serials or episodes: Genesis of the Daleks, Tomb of the Cybermen, The Empty Child, Blink


  • Blake's 7 -- While Doctor Who was more for the kiddies, Blake's 7 took the adult approach, telling stories of a renegade alien ship and its human crew in a dark distopian future. Here too cardboard sets and rubber aliens existed along complex characters, but the resolutions were a lot bleaker and less happy-ending-y. So much in fact that by the end of the series practically the entire original crew had either left the story or been killed off -- including the eponymous Blake.


Media: TV series, TV movie, radio plays, novels, comic books
Notable serials or episodes: Series 1, The Way Back


  • Red Dwarf -- No list can go without this brilliant parody of sci fi, sci fi tropes, society and everything in between. Whatever Quatermass, Doctor Who or Blake's 7 took too seriously, this show made fun of, while at the same time staying true to the sci fi elements it parodied. Nobody was safe from being parodied: society, politics, food, not even God. 


Media: TV series, TV movie, radio plays, novels, comic books, etc
Notable episodes: Polymorph, The Inquisitor, Quarantine


  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy -- Actually this should go at the top. There would be no Red Dwarf without tHGttG. Originally a radio play, it spun into a bestselling series of novels, the TV show and a movie and has influenced society like few other shows before it.


Media: TV series, radio plays, novels, comic books, web sites, towels
Notable episodes: So Long and Thanks for all the Fish


  • Day Of The Triffids -- Walking, semi-conscious plants take over the world, after most humans became blind? Only the British would think of this potentially cheesy concept. But the execution of the story both in its original novel and later TV serial forms is a testament to British sci fi genius. 


Media: original novel, TV serials, motion picture


Honorable Mentions: 


  • Primeval -- Time-traveling dinosaurs from the past, the future and alternate realities, oh my.
  • UFO -- The ultimate alien infiltration show.
  • The Prisoner -- Where is he? What is he? What's with the giant white balloons chasing people? Please ignore the reboot. 
  • Sapphire and Steel -- Ghosts and spirits? No, ripples in time. It's the past (or the future) invading the present.
  • The Tripods -- Giant tripods have taken over the world. Now what?
  • Doomwatch
  • Adam Adamant Lives
  • Moonbase 3
  • Doomwatch
  • Star Cops
  • Space Island One
  • The Omega Factor
answered Dec 2, 2015 by AlecCorday (5,810 points)
edited Dec 27, 2015 by AlecCorday
+1 vote

Another excellent British science fiction show is Black Mirror, which has so far aired two series of seven episodes. This is an anthology show, like The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits, so each episode is self-contained. The stories explore the effect of technology on modern society.


The episodes are now available streaming on Netflix, and the service has commissioned a new series of 12 more episodes that will be available at some point in the near future.


Another interesting British show was Survivors, which originally aired from 1975 to 1977 and was later remade in 2008-10. This was a post-apocalyptic show that explored the aftermath of a plague that wipes out virtually everyone on the planet.


Two similar series that have been seen on British TV were The Changes (1975), which is based on a series of books by Peter Dickinson about a mysterious event that causes people to rebel against technology, and The Last Train (1999), about the survivors of a meteor impact that destroys most of the civilized world.







answered Dec 4, 2015 by Mark Wink (13,830 points)

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