Ever since the return of Doctor Who, UK TV has gone to warp-drive on sci-fi. Quality shows keep materialising, they include Primevil, Misfits, Being Human, Torchwood & The Sarah Jane Adventures.
British Sci-fi is back while American Sci-fi is going into hibernation. American TV Networks have sought to buy the rights to all of these shows if not playing the original UK versions. Those they copy are with limited success and to listen to the critics at the expense of what made the originals worth watching. America cant get Sci-fi right at the moment, and Britain it seems can’t fail.
What is behind the UK’s success in Sci-fi? Well clearly it’s originality but that originality isn’t just in telling new stories. British Sci-fi breaks all the conventions. We’ve basically chavved-up Sci-fi, we’ve married sci-fi concepts to things the diametic opposite to what we’ve come to expect. A bunch of chavs on a rough estate doing community service getting superpowers? The domestic lives of Vampires? The smartest and most powerful man in the universe getting slapped by mums and acting a total idiot? British sci-fi writers have basically rewrote the rules and opened up sci-fi to a much bigger audience. British Sci-fi is about having a laugh, serious social commentary is an optional sidedish.
British sci-fi is based in the now, not an inconcievable future, it’s about real people, not legandary giants, even those giants are designed to be relatable and flawed. British sci fi doesnt feel compelled to explain everything or create some complicated drivel to make something more believable. It also knows how to live on much tighter budgets which clearly have driven them to stronger storytelling and more memorable dialogue.
British Sci-fi to some extant has reached into the past to rexplore ideas which seemed redundant. a rabid cat that turns people into Zombies? So cheesy, yet it made for one of the best episodes of Misfits. American sci-fi tries to be too credible, it has forgot that sci-fi is about the impossible and the absurd. Sci-fi needs a wild imagination, one could argue the demise of Star Trek and the dismay at the star Wars prequels was due to a loss in the obscure and too much of a drive to seem credible.
British Sci-fi hasn’t ignored it’s past either. It is famed for being overwhemingly dystopian, and all our new sci-fis carry on that tradition in some form or another. Despite some decent efforts with Battlestar Galatica and V American sci-fi is consistantly optimistic, clean and self rightous. It clearly got boring.
What also stands out is that while everyone is riding on the back of the success of Doctor Who, all of our sci-fis stand out on their own merits, they are significantly different from one another. Hardcore scifi fans tend to get lost in the world of their favorite sci-fi and dont like the concepts of another sci-fi treading in the same realms. British sci-fis dont really let a person get that involved and they certainly don’t close you off to enjoying other fantasy worlds. That is largly due to their narratives being left open to the viewer to enjoy on their terms rather than trying to get them to subscribe to a bigger picture and blasting you with exact intentions of the writers. Basically British Sci-fis dont do the “I learned something today” speeches.
Thats the other important side to British sci-fi. You won’t find many ‘the moral of the story’ moments. If there was one and you have to be told that you clearly weren’t listening! but our sci-fi spends more time questioning morality in dark and open ended ways. It hasnt got the time to tell you that humans are great unless its the Doctor but we normally end up letting him down.
All of this comes down to one thing really. Our writers are lost in the characters and the chase. What matters is a good story and not ‘proper’ sci-fi as Terry Pratchett would point out. What they are doing really is taking drama comedy and soap conventions and thinking how to inject a bit of sci-fi. It’s sci-fi in rather normal circumstances crossed with a celebration of classic sci-fi. It’s what makes them so good and noteworthy. Any sci-fi fan wishes more non sci-fi fans could see what they see, and British writers have done that brilliantly by taking all obsticles people see to enjoying sci-fi out. I seem to forget the obsticle to me becoming a major Trekkie was always the techno babble, because I now understand it I think why can’t anyone tolerate it for the sake of getting to these amazing stories. Clearly most people dont make the effort, and People like Russel T Davies were wise to see that a good sci-fi doesn’t have to be about the science.
There’s a great sense of pride to be had for British TV reclaiming Sci-fi on our own terms. We are reshaping the genre on a global scale and it has welcomed more viewers into the world of sci-fi since Star Wars and Back to the Future. Sci-fi is no longer the property of a geeky elite who think you should be assimilated, it has become something that can be attached to anything and has the flexibility to make something halirious and different. Sci-fi is now something that can be the side-dish to a show, where comedy or domestic life comes first. Sci fi no longer fears having to tick certain boxes. Best of all scifi is no seen as an element that can make something more fun.
How britsh scifi manages to be so bloody fun and downright halirious but dystopian at the same time is a testament to how brilliant our writers are. Long may they continue.