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Science fiction on television

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Michelle Jahn
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« on: September 20, 2010, 01:23:41 pm »

British television science fiction

The first known piece of television science fiction anywhere in the world was produced by the BBC on February 11, 1938. The piece was a thirty-five-minute adaptation of a section of the play R.U.R..[2]

In the summer of 1953, BBC staff writer Nigel Kneale created The Quatermass Experiment, leading to further Quatermass serials and feature film adaptations from Hammer. Unlike the US practice, British SF on television was mainly broadcast live until the early 1960s, and then mainly on videotape until the 1980s.

In the 1960s, Britain's independent television network, ITV, influenced by Canadian producer Sydney Newman produced the science-fiction serials Pathfinders In Space (1960) and its sequel Pathfinders to Venus (1961).

In 1961, the BBC produced A for Andromeda about a supercomputer artificial intelligence created from instructions received from an alien transmission.

In 1963, the BBC began production of the longest-running science-fiction television series ever, Doctor Who, about a time travelling alien called the Doctor. It lasted for twenty-six seasons in its original form, and has been revived twice, training a generation of writers, producers, and actors. Doctor Who to British television is like Star Trek to the American audience, both rivals of the longest Sci-fi show on television. Although Doctor Who started first, it has been riddled with cancellations, which means that Star Trek has more episodes.[citation needed]

Gerry Anderson was keen on making science fiction for the independent companies. He wanted to make live-action series but did not have the money, so used puppetry instead. His science fiction shows such as Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons and Stingray became successful and are still well-known to this day. Later he was allowed to develop live-action shows like UFO, then Space: 1999.

Doctor Who alumni had moved on to produce their own genre programmes, such as Doomwatch, Survivors, and Blake's 7.

In the 1970s, ITV began to produce youth-oriented genre programmes, such as Timeslip (1970–71), The Tomorrow People (1973–79) and Children of the Stones (1977), as well as shows aimed at a wider audience such as the time-travel drama Sapphire & Steel (1979–82). The BBC responded with the 1975 adaptation of The Changes, which featured the quest of a teenage girl, Nicky Gore, to discover the cause of the shift back to the pre-industrial and pre-technological age, and bring it to an end.

In the 1980s, the BBC adapted novels such as The Day of the Triffids, The Invisible Man and Child of the Vodyanoi (adapted as The Nightmare Man), also beginning an adaptation of The White Mountains novels, under the name The Tripods. The BBC's Edge of Darkness was a popular and cultural hit. Later, Star Cops ran for nine episodes before being cancelled, despite critical approval. The BBC also aired science fiction comedy series such as The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams and Red Dwarf. Doctor Who was finally cancelled in 1989, although it was revived as a 1996 television movie (intended as the start of a new series), and in 2005 as a television series.

In the 1990s, Russell T Davies began working in the BBC children's department. His first sci-fi serial was Dark Season; two years later he wrote Century Falls. The BBC also produced the action adventure series Bugs, and co-produced Invasion: Earth with the US Sci Fi Channel. Davies was finally able to revive Doctor Who in 2005, with some financing from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Since then, the show has spun off two series: Torchwood and The Sarah Jane Adventures.

Other 21st century British science fiction shows have included the time travel drama Life on Mars on the BBC and Eleventh Hour and Primeval on ITV. As we reached the end of the first decade of the 21st Century, the UK showed that they could still produce good science fiction for television with shows such as Misfits, a show about a series a group of misfit teenagers who get superpowers and Paradox, a crime series in which events from the future are downloaded from a satellite in space.

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