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Another Look into the Black Mirror

A look back on a Sci-Fi classic America almost missed out on…

Dystopian and Orwellian futures are nothing new to British science fiction. If you follow the news, you might even learn that fiction has given way to fact in some pretty spooky ways. It has become increasingly more difficult to remain private and hide from the beast with a billion electronic eyes. And, of course, there’s no denying how much our own daily lives have been changed by the influx of technology.

Charlie Brooker explored the horrific ramifications of too much tech in his anthology series Black Mirror. Utilizing contemporary notions of everyday technology and media, and his trademark satirical style, Brooker challenged the world we live in today. Bold and innovative, the series was taken up by countries all over the world including Australia, Sweden, Hungary and China.

Despite the popularity of the series, however, it has only recently made its way to the United States, and is currently only viewable on Audience Network . That being said, if you’re living in the States, this might just be your first time hearing about this ground-breaking, sci-fi series. With a new series being strongly hinted at, it’s never been a better time to get acquainted with this darkly brilliant drama.

In a nutshell…

Black Mirror has been likened to The Twilight Zone in terms of its anthology format and the shocking twists that always leave the viewer hungry for more. There is no continuity between the episodes in terms of plot or character and the only thing shared is a certain sense of dread.

blackmirror2The series looks at technology…or rather, the ease it allows, not as a luxury but a drug. In a world where children in elementary school are walking around with pocket-sized personal computers, it’s hard not to imagine the unforeseen consequences of all this technology. These are the consequences explored in each episode.

Journeying through the Black Mirror…

When you first start watching Black Mirror, it might feel like something you’ve heard and seen before. Ostensibly, it might feel like another ageist attack on the millennial geeks and their fanatical adherence to smartphones and social media, until you get deeper into it. That’s when you realize Black Mirror isn’t so much a cautionary tale but a call for human beings to remember their humanity.

blackmirror3Episodes explore various aspects of the technological infrastructure that has become our daily lives. How easy it is for people to lynch and crucify one another in digital arenas and use their tech until it filters every piece of human speech into ironic and meaningless sound bites. How monstrous it must seem that the idealized image of a person is the pinnacle of our engagement with them as an individual. Indeed, what is there left of humanity when all of our discourse and interaction is filtered into nothing more than baseless apps and acts?

However, it’s not the users or the technology itself that Brooker is holding accountable – it’s the companies and corporations. It’s the syndicates and the businesses that see the users as nothing more than notches in a binary bedpost, a statistic for business. The ones who cheapen our ostensibly passionate arguments and discussions by trivializing them through the use of apps and tech – things that invite the user to unknowingly and mentally punch out.

Black Mirror is a journey into the bleak and darkest recess left in the absence of humanity…

A much-needed return…

There have been rumblings of Black Mirror‘s return and Brooker is certainly ready to re-enter the ring. No doubt, he will find plenty to work with in light of recent events in the world of surveillance. While the series might come off as cynical, the message is more of a hopeful call to humanity.

Technology is everywhere – there’s no getting away from it. We are closer than we ever were before because of it and, as a result, our dealings – be they kind or spiteful – have far-reaching and more intimate ramifications than we realize.

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The Road(s) Not Taken

Have you ever sat down and watched your favourite science fiction drama or fantasy televisions series, and gotten so caught up in the narrative, that you actually find yourself loving these characters?

I think it’s a reasonably accurate statement to say that those who invest in scifi do so wholeheartedly; they attach themselves emotionally with their protagonists (and sometimes antagonists), and we decide, as fans, that we instantly know how their stories should go, how the characters should develop…

It’s probably partly where some writers get their start; we start gazing towards the end of the story… And we find our own plots for the characters to follow…

If you check out my review for Doctor Who Series 7 The Angels Take Manhattan, I’ve been pretty vocal about how I believe the story for The Girl Who Waited and The Last Centurion should have ended… but I’m not Steven Moffat, so it’s not actually my decision… but what if it were…

Dear reader, I’m starting today with a brand new series of articles entitled, cunningly enough… The Road(s) Not Taken in reference to what ways over the years, some of my favourite science fiction or fantasy dramas have taken me on a different journey to the one I envisioned (except Farscape… who could ever predict THAT?!) and I’d like you to get involved… is there anything you’d like to have seen go down a different route? We’ve got a comment box so show me what you got!

I’m starting this week with my other favourite series – the aforementioned…

Doctor Who

Specials: The Waters of Mars/The End of Time Parts 1 & 2

I’ve been pondering something for a while so I thought I’d throw it out into the public domain as an idea…

See, whilst watching The Waters of Mars, one of the Doctor Who special episodes, and the last before David Tennant’s swan song, I remember vividly the ending of that episode.

Adelaide alive. The Timelord Victorious.

I remember him turning around and swaggering back to his TARDIS; confident, arrogant, frightening. I recall Adelaide’s look of shock and horror at what this man had become; she walked back to her house, and then she pulled out her gun, and behind closed doors, killed herself.

Ten fell to his knees, unable to prevent it, the Ood calling him, and suddenly he realised just how far he had gone…

Now stop.

Rewind the clock – because when Adelaide pulled out that gun, not for a second, did I think she was going to commit suicide – this thought literally ran through my brain fully formed because how brilliant would it be if Adelaide, one of the most strong-willed companions yet, would be the cause of Perfect Ten’s death because she was going to shoot him!

This was her way of stopping the man who could change time at a whim; not a poetical death to say that Ten can’t control everything, but a way of showing that he has done wrong.

And the beauty behind this rather crucial thought is that it doesn’t change ANY of the action that follows in The End of Time Parts 1 and 2 – it only changes the Doctor’s motivation – he would straight off be fighting his coming regeneration, but he’d still go to the OodSphere (maybe less of the knocking around and avoiding meeting them behaviour!), and then he’d find out the Master was back, and then he’d find out about the Immortality Gate…

Suddenly Perfect Ten has a potential remedy for his coming regeneration; much like the Master wants to use it to fix his health problems, Ten can use it to repair his body and stop the regeneration!

You’ve now got two Timelords after the same thing, but also every single moment from The End of Time still takes place, but when you reach that crucial moment with the four knocks, Ten is choosing to make his condition worse with the radiation blast rather than cure himself – you’ve got Wilf banging on the glass begging him to help himself.

Does that make Ten’s sacrifice all the more heroic? Does it make Adelaide too much of a villain? Have I come up with absolute baloney? I’m not saying this is better that RTD’s version, in fact maybe it’s too dark for a companion, even a one off, to be the cause of the Doctor’s regeneration…!

Discuss!

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The MCM London Comic Con

The MCM London Comic Con is just around the corner and we’ve been given a heads up of what all you can expect this year.

What’s On At October’s Comic Con?

MCM Expo London Comic Con returns to ExCel London on 26-28 October and we’re bringing a brilliant line-up of special guests, games, sci-fi, comics, anime and cosplay content to entertain the show’s 60,000 plus visitors. Here are the first announcements for Britain’s biggest popular culture festival!

SPECIAL GUESTS

•    Doctor Who’s Matt Smith will be attending the Friday of the show to mark the launch of the Doctor Who Series 7: Part 1 DVD. Matt will be hosting a panel alongside Doctor Who executive produce Caroline Skinner, as well as signing copies of the new DVD.

•    Jeffrey Demunn and Andrew Rothenburg, stars of hit zombie apocalypse series The Walking Dead. Jeffrey plays Dale Horvath, the moral centre of the small community of survivors, while Andrew plays taciturn mechanic Jim.

•    Tony Amendola and Roger Cross from hot new Canadian sci-fi police show Continuum. Tony and Roger both play leading members of Liber8, a future terrorist group, who have escaped through time to present day Vancouver.

•    Tony Amendola is also at the show for fantasy drama Once Upon At Time, alongside fellow cast member Keegan Connor Tracy. Keegan plays The Blue Fairy in the fairytale-inspired show, while Tony takes on the role of Geppetto.

•    We welcome back A Town Called Eureka creator, writer and executive producer Jaime Paglia. He is joined by Colin Ferguson and Tembi Locke, who play Sheriff Jack Carter and Dr. Grace Monroe in the popular sci-fi show.

•    Film, TV, anime and videogame voice actor Ali Hillis, who stars as central character Lightning in Final Fantasy XIII and its sequel Final Fantasy XIII-2.

•    Videogame voice actor Courtenay Taylor, best known for playing Jack/Subject Zero in Mass Effect 2 and Ada Wong in the upcoming Resident Evil 6.

•    Top voice talent Liam O’Brien, whose many roles include Jushiro Ukitake in Bleach; Gaara in Naruto; War in Darksiders and Vincent Law in Ergo Proxy.

VIDEOGAMES

•    Nintendo will be giving comic con visitors the opportunity to try out their revolutionary new Wii U console ahead of its public release later this year.

•    Ubisoft will be bringing the much-anticipated Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation, first person shooter Far Cry 3 and Wii U survival horror game ZombiU.

•    Visitors to the Capcom stand will have the chance to get hands-on with Lost Planet 3 and DmC Devil May Cry, the latest in the hit beat-em-up franchise.

•    Namco Bandai will be hosting a Tekken Tag Tournament 2 contest, as well as previewing the gorgeous-looking Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch.

•    Iconic games characters Agent 47 and Lara Croft both return as Square Enix shows off Hitman: Absolution and their upcoming Tomb Raider reboot.

•    2K Games will be bringing sci-fi turn-based strategy game XCOM: Enemy Unknown and acclaimed role-playing shooter sequel Borderlands 2.

•    THQ will be demoing their upcoming role-playing game South Park: The Stick of Truth, written by the cartoon’s creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

•    Gamespot UK are back with their dedicated games stage; hosting panels and presentations, and giving show visitors sneak peeks at the hottest new titles.

ANIME, COMICS, COSPLAY & OTHER ATTRACTIONS

•    Best-selling British sci-fi author Peter Hamilton is making a welcome comic con return to celebrate the launch of his latest novel, Great North Road.

•    For the first time, comic con will play host to VidFestUK zone – a celebration of all things online video – with guests including Simon’s Cat and Eddsworld.

•    Our Comic Village shows off the talents of some of the UK’s top comic artists and writers, including Gary Erskine; Rufus Dayglo; Emma Vieceli; John McCrea; Al Davison; Lee Townsend and many others – for the full list of creators announced so far, see www.londonexpo.com/comicvillage

•    October’s show sees a revamped JapanEx area, with the addition of food stalls giving visitors a literal as well as metaphorical taste of Japanese culture.

•    Letraset is hosting a Manga Alley Art Competition, giving artistically-inclined visitors of all ages the chance to win over £120 worth of Letraset products.

•    London Comic Con is easily the UK’s largest cosplay event and the centrepiece of this October’s show is the EuroCosplay Championship Finals, which sees contestants from more than 20 nations competing for the cosplay crown.

•    The MCM Expo also boasts the Totally Cosplay zone, hosting workshops, a photography area and its own stage for panels and performances.

…AND GET THE T-SHIRT TOO!

•    Genki Gear’s exclusive ‘Invasion of the Cute’ official MCM London Comic Con T-shirt is available for pre-order until 25 October from www.genkigear.com

 

Tickets for MCM London Comic Con on 26-28 October are available at www.londonexpo.com/faq/tickets

You can find more about the event at www.londonexpo.com ; on Twitter at www.twitter.com/mcmexpo ; on Facebook at www.facebook.com/mcmexpo  and on YouTube at www.youtube.com/mcmexpo

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Why Stargate Universe Failed

A few years ago, I wrote an article entitled ‘Why Stargate Universe Is Destined To Flop‘.  I was right, it did.  But not for the reasons I predicted.

Stargate Universe was actually a pretty decent show.  I’d go so far to say a very good show.  I didn’t think it would be.  I predicted it being a slightly darker Atlantis, when it actual fact, it was much, much darker.

Therein lay part of the problem.

Stargate Universe was simply too dark for the Stargate franchise.  SG-1 and Atlantis were quirky shows, full of humour and heroic characters who saved the day.  Universe told the story of humans; flawed, emotional humans put in a situation where they were, genuinely, stranded on the other side of the universe.  In some ways, it had a lot of what Star Trek: Voyager should have had.  Harry Kim would have been an infinitely better character had he been more like Eli Wallace.  But that just didn’t fit in the Stargate realm.  Stargate was never so much an exploration of humanity as a good old, exciting adventure.  Three years ago, I predicted Universe was destined to fail for similar reasons as Atlantis: inevitable cross-overs, miraculous escapes and dull characters.

Yes, Universe had cross-overs (handled much more sensitively and intelligently, I felt) and the odd miraculous escape, and some people did indeed find the characters dull (but more because they were too realistic and emotional than their compatriots on previous shows).  Instead of being formulaic and predictable for the franchise, Universe simply went too far in the opposite direction.

One of the criticisms levelled at SGU was that not enough happened.  “The pacing was tedious and the plot-lines too uneventful.”  Similar criticisms were levelled at Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, and both shows share a certain propensity for thoughtful plot arcs that span many episodes, along with character development that is multi-faceted and can carry developments for several characters each week rather than “This is a Teyla episode” or “This is a Carter episode.”  The truth is that, again, this was not the type of story-telling Stargate had ever promoted in the past.  Deep Space Nine is surely the least well-known Star Trek today.  Upon further inspection, it’s probably the best in many ways.  Yet it took four years to really flourish.  Universe never had that chance, in an evermore ruthless television world.  Nor did it have the same core audience blessed upon Star Trek to keep the endeavour sustainable, even if it was less popular.

The show was said to be too depressing, and again, in comparison to its predecessors, it was!  Could one pick a more opposed character to O’Neill and Sheppard than Colonel Young?  Young was far more Kurt Russell’s Jack O’Neil than Richard Dean Anderson’s Jack O’Neill, and even then Young’s weaknesses were more explicitly exposed than Kurt Russell’s in the film.  Young was a great character, as was Jack O’Neill.  The problem was that within the same franchise, the two were so diametrically opposed that it was difficult to reconcile that difference for an established audience demographic.  Fans of the first two shows enjoyed the humour and the pacing and the brilliant silliness that comes with SG-1 and Atlantis, whereas new viewers were put off by the Stargate which suggested silly sci-fi.  The viewers that did enjoy the show were either those who happened to come across it, or those few SG-1 and Atlantis fans who held an appreciation for both types of show – such as myself.

Criticisms were inevitably drawn for the show being too akin to nu-Battlestar Galactica, but aside from the darker ambience of the show, political in-fighting and the ‘one ship against many’ factor, it doesn’t seem to hold much weight as a comparison.  Universe was completely devoid of the religious undertones, the mythological sub-plots and the Perhaps it was simply too soon after Battlestar for a show that was, I suppose, a bit similar, to air.

I became a fan of Stargate Universe.  I recently re-watched the finale, and smiled along with Eli as he stared into the racing cosmos.  It had been fun, it had been worth the adventure, even if this was the end.  Stargate Universe, had it launched outside the Stargate universe as it were, may have done better.  It would have needed better advertising, and probably to be carried on a channel like Showtime, but it could have succeeded.  Yet, without Stargate preceding it, it would probably never have been made in any form.  The name ‘Stargate‘ ultimately proved to be both its inception and its demise, and while there was a certain inevitability that the show would not enjoy the sustained longevity of SG-1, I’m glad to came to be, albeit briefly.

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What next for Sci-Fi?

It’s September 2012.  Over the last twelve years, I’ve lost count of how many sci-fi shows have flopped and been cancelled; how many sci-fi movies have proved to be massive disappointments.

Is the future bleak?

I don’t think so.

Yes, we’ve got endless remakes on the cards.  Reboots of Spider-Man and Total Recall are on their way, and most of the highly-anticipated films are sequels.  But, while a lot of Hollywood focuses on massive profit margins and established brand names, there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic.

Cloud Atlas, for one, is on its way.  The Wachowskis are back, with an adaptation of David Mitchell’s 2004 novel, boasting a cast that would melt diamonds.  Hanks, Berry, Broadbent, Weaving, Grant, Sarandon… they’re all there.  The film premiered last week at the Toronto International Film Festival, receiving a 10-minute standing ovation.  It’s also the most expensive independent movie of all-time.  It’s out October 26th.

Noah is being put together by Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan & The Fountain).  It’s not sci-fi (unless your individual stance on religious is particularly abstract), but since The Fountain is one of my favourite films, I can’t wait for this.  It’s starring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Hopkins and Emma Watson, so that bodes well.  Slated for release in March 2014.

The Gate is a short-film, shown below, that’s also just been picked up for feature-length production with the same director.  Could be good, might lose everything good about it on the way, but it’s worth looking out for.

Life of Pi is another one based on a book, this time written by Yann Martel.  Director Ang Lee is bringing it to the big screen, starring Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan and Tobey Maguire.  Not strictly sci-fi again, it’s about a young man surviving at sea, but it’s coming out in 3D and it looks – quite frankly – remarkable.  It’s out November, and the trailer’s below.

Futhermore, Brian Singer’s working on ‘H+‘, Tom Cruise is working on Oblivion.  There’s actually quite a lot on the cards at the moment.

Not to mention The Hobbit.  Peter Jackson just makes me tingle with the way everything is put together in this trailer.

And to round off, The Host.  Now, before you all crucify me, I know it’s based on a book by Stephanie Meyer (who did Twilight…) but I have it on good authority that he’s much better than that literary monstrosity. (Disclaimer: it’s not her authority.  She hasn’t noticed the Cold War’s ended.  Probably because she hasn’t heard of it.)

A nice spoiler-free teaser trailer, for this one, is below.

There’s also some pretty decent stuff coming out on TV.

Revolution, one of the many JJ Abrams projects underway, premieres next week (although it has been streaming online legally for US residents).  There’ve been a few who have been comparing it to Jeremiah, and they may have a point, but I wouldn’t write this one off just yet. Trailer attached.

So, no reason to get totally depressed just yet.

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Top 5 Characters Most Likely to Rob You

Which dirty sci-fi characters would mud-wrestle you for a wad of cash, if needs demanded it?  Sci-fi is full of duplicitous, scheming criminal masterminds, but just who would make the top 5?  Let’s find out.

1. Jayne Cobb (Firefly)

If you ain’t paying him to talk pretty, then he’s probably figuring out some clumsy way of betraying you, and running off with all your cash.

This guy’s more financially-driven than a Ferengi, and would shoot his own mother for some cash.

A classic ruffian, Firefly shows Jayne being turned to Mal’s side with the promise of some extra cash (and a private room!), before going on to betray Mal for some even more cash.  The result of which, of course, is leaving Jayne hanging out of the back-end of the ship as it breaks atmosphere, scaring him senseless.

If Jayne’s on your team, keep one eye on him.  Preferably two.  He’ll have hopped off to Persephone and bought his own ship if you’ve got any money left lying around before you can say, “I just left it in my bunk…”

2. Nicholas Rush (Stargate: Universe)

Stand between this guy, and some scientific knowledge, and you’re in serious trouble.  This is the last man you’d want to be tossing a coin with for the last space on a lifeboat.  Rush is one of sci-fi’s great schemers, and you’ll never quite know what he’s really up to.  Beautifully portrayed by Robert Carlyle, Rush remained an enigma for much of the series, before being partially redeemed towards the end.

Plus, he’s a tough bugger to get rid of.  Just ask Colonel Young, who left him bleeding out on a barren rock planet.  Still couldn’t get rid shot of him.

Meet Rush in a dark alleyway, and he’d probably point at a shiny object, smack you in the stomach, and then run off with all your cash.  Cunning.

3. Ronald Sandoval (Earth: Final Conflict)

If he’d murder a police commander’s wife just to marginally sway the odds of him become a Companion Protector in the Taelons’ favour, just imagine what he’d do if he you really pissed him off.

Although his character became diluted in later seasons, but the beautiful nuances of Sandoval’s character were apparent in the early days.  Perhaps beautiful is an overly endearing term, considering he had his own wife incarcerated in a mental institution so that he could focus on his job of protecting the Taelons.

Basically, if Zo’or wanted your cash, Sandoval would swing in with a battalion of Volunteers and thoroughly trash you, and everything around you, to make off with your wallet.

And knowing him, he’d probably keep half the cash for himself.

Oh, you conniving little wretch.

4. Garak (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine)

As Senator Vreenak discovered to his peril, if Garak wants you dead, you’re dead.

The most lethal tailor in sci-fi history, Garak’s bubbly personality masked a much, much darker side explored in episodes such as Empok Nor.

He’d have your credit card, and you wouldn’t even know it were missing.  And if you discovered it were missing, or that he’d replaced it with “A FAAAKE“, then you’d be popped off Tony Soprano-style within seconds.

No one does insidious quite like the Cardassians, and no one does Cardassian quite like Garak.

Hats off to the finest tailor in the Alpha Quadrant.

Make sure you tip.

5. Gaius Baltar (Battlestar Galactica)

Let’s face it, if you can help annihilate most of your own species, you can probably stoop to petty thieving.

This more-than-slightly deranged scientist shouldn’t be left alone with himself, let alone all your hard-earned wonga.

He’s sneak in when you’re not looking, pinch your American Express, before skulking off and conniving some way of having your house flattened by some Cylon Raiders.  To be fair, he’d probably accidentally organise the last part.  But the rest would be all him.

To give him some credit, he did perfect the ‘misunderstood genius’ look before Robert Carlyle stole it off him.

Honorable mention: Gollum (The Lord of the Rings; more fantasy than sci-fi, which is the main reason for his exclusion, but if he goes that mad over One Ring, imagine what he’d do at the local jewellers.  Or your family valuables.  A terrifying prospect.)

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Top 7 Tips for Creating New Sci-Fi in 2012

Sci-Fi has changed. Over the past fifty years, the topics and settings that capture the imaginations of viewers and readers everywhere have shifted. Where Star Trek once captivated millions, now the going boldly through outer space routine appears to have been worn out.

The transformation has led modern science fiction series to feature elements of futuristic technologies and discoveries, but set in modern day. Take Falling Skies, probably about as genuinely sci-fi in terms of aliens as you can get on mainstream television today, yet still set in a world we can recognise and understand. Why is that? Do we connect more readily with characters in situations we can easily imagine ourselves put into? Are we simply bored with space travel as a concept on television? Or has society simply changed?

The amount of patience we hold for new television is dropping. Whereas decades ago, one bad episode of a TV series didn’t do too much harm, nowadays it can lose you a million viewers the next week – and you may never get them back. We are cynical, as shows like Firefly have shown that even the best series can be cancelled within the next month, leaving you disappointed and with no satisfactory resolution to the storyline. Networks view shows as a game of numbers: bad ratings = cancellation. But what they perhaps do not realise is that flippant, trigger-happy cancellations damage network reputation; and, compounded, will make viewers ever-more hesitant and cautious when it comes to embracing a new show.

So how can budding and aspiring writers of science-fiction in all its forms create a new show that will captivate and draw in a new generation of fans?

1. Have a core principle.

Star Trek excelled when exploring the galaxy and the human condition. Those were Roddenberry’s core values. He used elements of science fiction to tell us about ourselves in ways we didn’t imagine possible. He explored race at a time when it remained taboo on television, going so far as to feature the first on-screen interracial kiss.

Similarly, Earth: Final Conflict was at its strongest in the first season, and most captivating when the real dilemmas of the series pilot – ‘Decision’ – were being explored. Who killed William Boone’s wife? Why were the Taelons on Earth? How could he discover the truth whilst maintaining his double agent status? It may seem simple, but suddenly you have a real human condition being explored here. Love, revenge, deception.

Gene Roddenberry sure had a knack of enticing set-ups, and there’s plenty to be learned from them. Earth: Final Conflict was set just a few years ahead of the present, and so remains a more marketable concept for today’s television audiences. This in itself is fine, so long as the core principle of your story and premise remains strong and carries through the continuing plot arc.

2. Don’t dumb anything down for networks/publishers etc.

Despite strong evidence to the contrary, human beings aren’t stupid. More crucially, science fiction readers are most definitely not stupid. The best plotlines lead the viewer or reader along, without being heavy-handed about it. No one likes to be patronised. “Oh, look, murder is ethically tough. You can learn from that folks.” No sh*t, Sherlock.

Instead, take Deep Space Nine‘s ‘In The Pale Moonlight’ where Sisko must weigh up whether the murder of a Romulan senator, and subsequent tricking of the Romulan Empire, is an acceptable price for saving billions of lives. Can murder ever be justified? And when you ordered it, how would you reconcile that in your own mind?

‘In The Pale Moonlight’ is a classic because it doesn’t shy away from difficult questions. It doesn’t preach, and it doesn’t dumb down the argument in order for you understand it. Crucially, it doesn’t tell you what the right answer is. It doesn’t have a happy ending, only an ambiguous one. That – along with Avery Brooks’ stellar performance – is why it is regarded as a genuine classic.

3. Don’t pick your cast based on sex appeal.

Americans look the same.

At least on television they do. There seems to be a belief amongst television executives that people won’t watch your show if the cast aren’t ‘sexy’ enough. Thus we appear to have been confronted by this genetically engineered super-race of attractive cast members who don’t look particularly distinctive. When I think of Fringe, which I haven’t watched in some time, the first thing I conjure up in my mind is the image of John Noble. Why? Not because he’s God’s gift to acting, but because he’s over sixty and on the regular cast of a mainstream sci-fi show. That tells you quite a lot.

In short, don’t do this:

It doesn’t work.

And I’m actually going to give Stargate Universe some praise here.  Robert Carlyle stood out due to fine performance and the fact he wasn’t turned into just another American on television. He was allowed to remain Scottish.  Eli Wallace was a character that springs to mind because he was fat, and depicted positively.  As for the military guy?  Not Colonel Young – another actor picked for acting capability, not how he looked and the results were very positive – but the second in command.  Lieutenant… I just had to Google that.  His name was Matthew Scott.  And he looks like every supposedly hunky American on television.  Just another clone.

Diversity and distinctiveness is good. It helps the viewer remember characters, names and plots and increases your chances of them coming back the next week.

4. Have a strong lead character.
Again, I hark back to William Boone in Earth: Final Conflict.  The show began its decline as soon as Robert Leeshock appeared on the scene.  As capable as I’m sure Mr. Leeshock is, the character he played had no where near the gravitas or appeal of Boone.  The entire premise of the show revolving around Boone’s morale dilemma vanished, and with it did a lot of the strength of the series.

Pick a main character who will hold the audience’s interest.  In this day and age, they don’t have to be the William Shatner-esque hunk, brave, heroic and charismatic.  It’s okay to have someone darker, like Dexter.  You can still explore so much, and most importantly, you’re more likely to tap into plot lines and character interactions that aren’t overused or maybe have never even been seen before!  Why?  Because a uniquely crafted main character can guide the progress of the entire show, and unique characters create unique interactions.

Sci-Fi in 2012 is allowed to be dark.  Star Trek has intertwined the concept of sci-fi and a hopeful outlook for the future where humans succeed for all the morally right reasons.  That’s all very well, and believe me, I have no problem with it.  But you are allowed a different interpretation.  After all, it’s your story.

5. Tell a good story.
There is nothing more important than storytelling.  I was furious recently when someone told me they were doing a theatre performance based on practical aesthetics.  The script – which I had read – was full of plot holes that you could fly an Imperial Star Destroyer through.  When I suggested that some of these holes be patched up, I got told, “We don’t worry about the story.  It’s about character and place through practical aesthetics.”  This is nonsense.  All you’ll have is a well-acted, bad script.

On the internet, content is king.  In television drama, story is king.  Stories have to interest, inspire and challenge.  Yes, acting is important, but plenty of classic science fiction was hardly  ever going to win any Oscar performances for Best Actor.

That said, in 2012, back up your challenging, interesting story with fine acting, and you’re onto a real winner.  That’s what television audiences expect today.  They expect a fine performance from at least some of the cast each week.  Get a good cast, and write a story each week that really takes the viewer surprise, and stays within the confines of reality of the show, and you can’t go too far wrong.

6. Special effects aren’t the be-all and end-all.
There’s nothing more frustrating than a special effects-fest without real ‘meat’ or substance.  Spielberg’s War of the Worldscould have been so much more, despite the magnificent special effects work, if a little more time was spent on the storyline.

Special effects are, nonetheless, an integral part of science-fiction.  It’s how we travel from the present into the future, and is one of the primary methods of making that future believable.Use them with style.  My favourite moment for this is a simple one: in Firefly’s pilot, Serenity (the episode, of course, not the film), the ship comes down to land in the Eavesdown Docks.

I can’t find a video, so a picture of the shot I’m talking about is below.

The effects shot here lasts only a second or two maximum, but features a ton of ships flying overhead with accompanying sound effects.  For barely any cost, the shot gives the illusion of a busy spaceport, when in fact it’s a relatively cheap set.  Clever use of effects like this can be subtle and effective.  They can be cheap, and they don’t have to be in your face.  And what’s more, finding ways to incorporate them will encourage some innovative thinking on the part of the director, and create camera angles and shots that you may not otherwise have enjoyed.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with a huge special effects showdown from time to time, and if you can make them look good, fire away.  But never let them distract from the core principle I talked about in Point 1.  Telling a story, and asking questions, is the reason you’re here.  Not to watch gargantuan dinosaurs eat spaceships in the middle of a fire nebula.

7. “It’s okay to leave them to die.”
Any story has a finite lifespan.  Finish it naturally, before the network finishes you.  Don’t drag on too long, don’t get boring.

Set a plan from the start of the story you want to tell, work out how long it will take, and then stick to it.  Planned series are always better than series made up off the cuff.  24 Season 7 benefitted from the Writers’ Strike in that they could plan an entire season before filming started.

Suddenly, the quality of the show bounced back from the dire Season 6 that struggled as the writers ran out of ideas.