In one sense, I couldn’t really care less whether the sf I enjoy on TV is homegrown or not. It’s not like I’ve got vast reserves of unused time that I long to sink into watching more TV or anything; and those windows of opportunity that I do manage to fit a spot of TV into are quite satisfactorily filled by quality output, SFnal or otherwise, from various parts of the world.
However, there’s undeniably a bit of me that craves some polished UK sf to get my teeth into. Britain can, after all, make some sort of a claim to be the homeland of modern sf, fantasy and horror, what with Frankenstein, Dracula, Lord of the Rings etc. Would be shame if we can’t make a decent stab at adapting those genres to the greatest mass entertainment medium ever invented.
So, what have I been watching? First, what I haven’t been watching. I only ever saw a little bit of Being Human – an episode here or there of the first season, I think – and was appropriately impressed. Good stuff, which knew pretty much exactly what it wanted to be and duly delivered with commendable verve. I’ve also heard invariably good, sometimes great, things about Misfits, which I haven’t watched at all. Don’t know quite how that oversight came about, but there you are. And I entirely missed Outcasts, because I … well, to be honest I didn’t even know it was on until the series was halfway over. I think I was on holiday or something when it started. Critical feedback leads me to suspect I didn’t miss too much.
Stuff I have been paying attention to this year is mostly the more high profile offerings.
Doctor Who has been a bit hit and miss for me this year, which seems to be a not uncommon reaction. Still like Matt Smith as the Doctor, at least when he’s given a good script to work with. Still in love with the anything-is-possible, genre-bending aesthetic of the plots and mood. Still think, when it works, it works quite brilliantly (Neil Gaiman, obviously). But when it doesn’t work, it really doesn’t work, fumbling the ball in a way few, if any, comparably high-profile US series would ever do.
I’ve got at least one foot in the camp of those who reckon the show’s gone a bit too convoluted and dark this season. I would defy even a Nobel laureate to come up with an explanation I could get my head around of the contorted timelines in which the Doctor, Amy and River Song have been entangled. I’m not saying such an explanation doesn’t exist, in principle, just that I suspect it’s far too elaborate for me to grasp without more application of brain power than I think the question deserves, or is entirely appropriate to early evening family viewing. That said, I quite enjoyed the season finale, despite the fact that I’m still not sure it made a lick of sense.
Torchwood: Miracle Day … now what can I say … well, maybe …
That’s a bit unfair. It had its moments, and there were glimmers of some good stuff peeping through – occasionally really good stuff. Not enough to carry ten episodes, though. Maybe seven? Maybe only five. I had high hopes for this series – I would really like a Torchwood I could be an unreserved cheerleader for – but I fear this outing may have killed off this particular corner of the Doctor Who franchise for a while. If you’re going to go the co-production route, I suspect anything but instant success spells trouble.
Primeval, ITV’s attempt at biggish budget sf entertainment, got a similar co-production makeover this year. It didn’t over-reach itself, stayed on pretty familiar territory plot- and cast-wise, and all in all was … fine, I thought. Not quite as much straightforward fun as it used to be, maybe. I find it more consistent than either Dr. Who or TW – you kind of know what you’re going to get with Primeval, and though it rarely hits exhilarating heights, it also rarely delivers a real clunker of an episode. And consistency really, really matters in serial TV: it’s one thing the best US series nail that often seems elusive when us Brits go after it.
Anyway, Primeval’s not going to revolutionize British sf TV or anything, but I’ve always found it a diverting way to pass an hour or so. Some vaguely promising hints of what’s to come, as well: apparently we’re to get a spin-off, Primeval: New World, which sounds potentially interesting.
And then, there’s the programme that actually prompted this post in the first place: Fades. I might have missed the Misfits bandwagon, but I got in at the start for this new BBC 3 fantasy horror series and on the basis of what I’ve seen so far, I’d advise those who can to join me.
Audience-wise, it’s shooting for a youthful demographic, but it does it with plenty of style, a smart script, good acting and some resolutely unpleasant horror elements. (All stuff that, I can’t help but think, Torchwood could really have done with a bit more of). There are one or two aspects to it that seem slightly off – I’m a bit puzzled, for example, by the decision to make what seems to be the only significant non-white character a comedy sidekick – but all in all, it’s very promising stuff, two episodes in. It’s coming from roughly the same place, creatively-speaking, as Being Human and Misfits, and that is clearly one corner of the sf programming world that us Brits are getting right.
So there is stuff to celebrate when it comes to homegrown sf TV, it’s just that it’s not necessarily in the high-profile places an old codger like me naturally expects to find it …