Did JMS Ruin Television SF?

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Babylon 5 has been credited with many things before, but ruining science fiction television wasn't one of them... until British television writer Jonathan Wright started thinking about Torchwood's new season.

Writing for the Guardian newspaper, Wright bemoans the fact that Torchwood's third season is a five-part storyline instead of individual episodes:

I'm sorry, but what's so bad about five not-so-epic-but-nevertheless-carefully-crafted-individual stories shown over five weeks –or possibly even six if you need to re-jig the schedules because of a major sporting event? How did telly get so complicated?

Personally, I blame J Michael Straczynski. Back in the early 1990s, Straczynski, or JMS as fans know him, created Babylon 5. When it was first shown on Channel 4, it looked like a science-fiction series about a space station. The CGI was a bit shonky, but it passed the time.

Inexorably, though, it became clear that JMS, a control freak who wrote 92 of the show's 110 episodes himself, had an overarching vision. It involved a portentous brew of big themes – politics, destiny, war, peace, love. If you tried to start watching Babylon 5 with series three, you were left hopelessly confused.


B5 set a trend that was followed by Buffy, Battlestar Galactica and even Doctor Who, Wright argues, and soon continuing storyarcs ruled television and made it increasingly difficult for viewers to drop in and out of the show. I have to admit, I tend to like the larger storyarcs of shows like Lost and Fringe, but maybe that's my comic book background coming into play - shows without larger, ongoing, story threads seem weightless and brittle by comparison. Has the slow disappearance of the individual episode destroyed sci-fi TV for you?

Torchwood has succumbed to the story arc craze [Guardian.co.uk]