My original intent with this article was to list the top science fiction events of the year. But a few problems quickly arose:
1. I didn’t read any science fiction novels or stories that were published in 2010; still going old school for the moment.
2. I refuse to consider fantasy or the superhero genres to be part of the hallowed skiffy universe –which really reduces the number of eligible products to review this year. On the other hand, this exclusion releases me from having to be exposed to the flood of vampire nonsense that the dumb kids are all about these days.
3. I can’t think of a single skiffy feature film from 2010 that wasn’t disappointing. The best mainstream film I saw all year was part 1 of Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows. But, according to my rule of excluding fantasy offerings, I can’t really consider it. That leaves Inception as, frankly, the most enjoyable and mature skiffy film of the year. And, to be blunt, I thought Inception was kinda stupid. So where does that leave me?
4. It leaves me with TV shows, that’s where.
So what were the top skiffy TV moments of 2010? Let’s start from the bottom and move on upward, shall we?
5. Season 2 of Stargate: Universe. Sadly, SGU has now been cancelled, so there will not be a season 3. The show has been a hard sell to us hardcore Stargate fans; and, to be honest, it doesn’t really fill me with much anticipatory joy the way that both Stargate: SG-1 and Stargate: Atlantis did. But complex, mature characters like Dr Nicholas Rush (Robert Carlyle) are hard to find on TV these days. So when they do show up, I tend to cherish them.
4. The continuing quality of The Sarah Jane Adventures. The Dr Who spin-off is ostensibly meant for kids, but resembles more the classic Dr Who of the 1970s and 80s —in a good way! The SJA stories are well written, internally consistent, never rely on the deus ex machina endings in which the new Who seems to revel, and, most surprisingly, features excellent acting from its youthful cast. In particular, the character of Clyde Langer continues to grow from the convenient sidekick of the supposedly more interesting alien son of the titular star, to a truly believable and heroic figure for whom I cannot help but cheer in every episode. It’s nice to see that excellent young adult skiffy programming exists somewhere in the Anglosphere.
3. The successful transition from David Tennant to Matt Smith as the new Doctor Who. Count me among those who rank Tennant as the best ever Doctor, even better than the legendary Tom Baker. I was none too pleased to hear of his departure. The brilliance of the BBC approach was to reduce his final episodes into a series of extended specials, culminating with The End of Time, which, while not particularly spectacular in the narrative department, nonetheless allowed Tenant to give us a marvelous performance as a dying hero who really doesn’t want to die.
Matt Smith has disappointed many Tennant fans, but not me. I find his version of the most important character in TV skiffy history to be refreshingly vulnerable and hesitant. More importantly, the stories in which he has found himself are darker, more textured and foreboding than any since the re-birth of Dr Who five years ago.
2. The redemption of Sanctuary. I keep meaning to write a review of this very Canadian show, but haven’t got around to it yet. In short, the first season was disappointing and puerile. The second season picked up steam and started to develop a fascinating new mythology and back story, despite some annoying casting choices. The third season, which began in the Fall of 2010, has been nothing short of fantastic. The beauty of Sanctuary is its unabashed camp, its love for classic figures of literature (Jekyll & Hyde, Sherlock Holmes, the Invisible Man) and history (Nicola Tesla, Jack the Ripper), its free exploration of an evolving interior universe, and a sense of visual style that is refreshingly fantastical.
1. By far the best TV science fiction show this year has been Fringe. As with Sanctuary, I keep meaning to write a review for this site, but haven’t yet got around to it. Where do I start? Fringe is more than just an updated X-Files. It has feature film quality acting in the form of John Noble and Joshua Jackson, a different kind of compelling and vulnerable heroine in Anna Torv, crazy cross-marketing stunts with characters inexplicably showing up at real life sporting events and such, and a bloody exciting story arc that continues to grow in depth and complexity with every sign of a rational and well planned conclusion to come. My only fear, of course, is that declining ratings may spell the cancellation of Fringe before it can fulfill its promise.
I must admit, when contemplating the year in science fiction, my thoughts keep returning to 2009. The 3rd season of Torchwood, told as a five part miniseries called “Children of Earth“, remains, for me, the most awe-inspiring televised skffy experience of the last few years. Here’s hoping 2011 can bring a product of comparable value.