That the British know how to put on a wedding is probably a given, but they produce great sci-fi and fantasy television as well. Of course, the latest Dr. Who season is out and tearing up the airwaves, but let us reflect on what that means in terms of longevity of a concept and the numerous doctors, story lines and specials it involves. Still, for those who love Dr. Who, you need to start looking a bit further at the current crop of TV shows coming out of the old country. (For the record, I write this as a bi-partisan Australian who is just thankful for some of the high quality stories coming out of both nations, respectively).
What is it that I love about British TV Sci-Fi:
1. Grungy production values – British Sci Fi has a matte finish where US has gloss. The SFX budgets are obviously smaller so you don’t get the explosions or epic space scenes. Instead, you get plots that have to be more focused on relationships and plot lines. I am not sure what it is, but the finish of the show always looks a bit darker and realistic. Maybe this is because there are less sets and more on-site scenes, but from this Australian perspective the final look and feel of a British show is very different from an American one (even when we talk Stargate Universe or Battlestar Galactica, which I believe borrow heavily from the look of British Sc-Fi).
2. Commitment to the local – These shows so often engage with the local. From characters to locations, the extraordinary and fantastical is often set in very ordinary locations. Maybe it is the tradition of soap operas like East Enders that have writers and producers committed to setting these things strongly in an urban context, but look at the recent success of Misfits which is set beautifully in working class, modern day London. Or, the more recent contemporary versions of Sherlock Holmes.
3. Moral Ambiguity – In British Sci-Fi and Fantasy the exploration of ideas and moral conflict is always at the forefront. This is clear in the clever way Being Human explores the challenges facing vampires and werewolves who just want to live a normal life. They chase down plot lines that explore class structure and disadvantage (Misfits) and they throw us in the deep end around the value of life and whose is more important (Outcasts). I’m not suggesting these are not traits held by other sci-fi and fantasy productions; the Brits, however, do it with a grittiness and style that allows it to resonate more strongly.
To really get a feel for what I am talking about, you should take a look at some of the following shows I’ve come to really enjoy in recent years.
[Read the rest of Dan Donahoo’s excellent and controversial article, published on Monday. Please leave any comments you may have on the original.]