Is Britain Too Meek For Sci-Fi TV?

Illustration for article titled Is Britain Too Meek For Sci-Fi TV?

As Torchwood finishes its acclaimed Children of Earth miniseries, one British critic declares that its success is an aberration for a country that has consistently failed to produce any good science fiction television whatsoever. And yes, he's including Doctor Who.

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Admittedly, Patrick West may shoot himself and/or his argument in the foot with his first example of quality American SFTV:

[W]hereas the US has given us Flash Gordon, The Twilight Zone, many incarnations of Star Trek, The X-Files, Quantum Leap, Futurama and, more recently, a re-vamped Battlestar Galactica, Britain's principal contribution to the field can be summed up in two words: Dr Who. Granted, The Quatermass Experiment was popular back in the 1950s, and The Hitchiker's Guide to The Galaxy was superb - but the latter was sci-fi parody, and inadvertently betrayed our timidity when it came to taking this genre seriously. It was also perhaps even an unconscious admission that our previous attempts to do so had been execrable... Perhaps we like to think [Who] was good because the Americans liked it. We Brits always seem to think that Americans liking something is a seal of approval. Monty Python's Flying Circus, The Office, etc. [Who] remains correctly categorised as a ‘cult programme'. And as everyone knows, ‘cult programme' is euphemism for ‘shit programme'.

Them's more than a few fighting words - not least because I can't agree with any argument that disses Blake's Seven while holding Quantum Leap up as an ideal of good science fiction - but there's a certain ring of truth to it, nonetheless... For all of British TV's genre successes, whether they're Primeval, Being Human or even Jekyll, there's always something weirdly... apologetic about them. It's not just a question of budget and ill-conceived special effects - although, yes, that as well - but almost as if they can't quite conjure up enough abandon to let themselves not be slightly embarrassed and/or arch about the whole thing.

What do you think? Is British SFTV lacking behind American shows? And if so, why?

British TV's sci-fi inferiority complex [Spiked]

DISCUSSION

rhys1882
rhys1882

I have pretty consistently disliked almost all British productions, sci-fi or otherwise, because of the crappy production value of almost everything made there. Included in my concept of "production value" is the most infuriatingly common problem I have with British shows, the fact that I cannot hear what they are saying. I don't understand at what point the British TV producers got together and made the decision that everyone in shows should speak in a "naturalistic" way, but it drives me crazy. Yes, I understand that in the real world people generally speak in a rather mumbly, rambling, low-toned manner, with relatively poor diction and annunciation. This isn't a problem when you are physically present for the conversation, a few feet away from it, and actively involved. It is a big f-ing problem when you are sitting on the other side of a TV, having to crank up the volume and rewind the show every 5 minutes to understand the joke. Boggles my mind considering Britain is the homeland of brilliant theater, where the performers learn to properly annunciate and project their voices. I guess the problem is that British theater actors don't go into TV, they go into movies. Some of the best hollywood actors come from Britain, yet the TV stuff is absolute crap.