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My ten favorite genre tv episodes

July 1, 2014
Standing in the Way from Once More with Feeling is amazing to watch.

“Standing in the Way” from Once More with Feeling. It’s worth watching the entire episode just for this one sequence.

I was walking past the living room the other day when I saw Diane watching the Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode Once More with Feeling. That’s the famous musical episode from the sixth season. Diane recently got to see Hinton Battle (they actor who played Sweet in the episode) on Broadway in Wicked so that might have been one of the reasons she was watching it. I stopped to watch a bit of the episode with her and mentioned to her that it was easily on my list of ten best genre TV episodes of all time. It was at this point where she mentioned that she had never thought of making such a list and this made me realize I really hadn’t either which is why you are now reading this article.

I’ll note that the list is really twelve episodes as I include two honorable mentions at the end. They are not in any particular order except for the final entry which I will discuss there. Here is my list of top ten genre TV episodes and, if others want to post their own, I would love to see them.

1) Star Trek – Where No Man has Gone Before. Yeah, I know, why not City on the Edge of Forever? Well, to be honest, it really boils down to how often I have revisited the various episodes of the original series and this one wins hands down. I think the appeal for me could be best be summed up by an old work colleague in that I am somewhat obsessed with the definition of humanity and what it is that we collectively agree makes us human. This episode really kind of goes at the heart of the issue in that uniquely Star Trek way. I have also seen it a lot as it is my first “go to” episode to introduce new people to Star Trek which I think is yet another statement about my perspective of the quality of the story.

2) Battlestar Galactica – Downloaded. This is of course from the new series. I was really blown away by this episode which gives us our first glimpse into the Cylon culture, specifically from their point of view. This is one of the few episodes on the list I have not seen a bunch of times. I know I watched it a second time back when it first aired because I was so impressed and writing about it here makes me want to do so again. I was honestly surprised when I first heard that this lost the Hugo award for that year to a Doctor Who episode. That was until I realized the disparity in the relative size of the two series’ fan bases. While I love Doctor Who, I still really think that Downloaded should easily have won.

3) Doctor Who – The Parting of the Ways. Speaking of Doctor Who… One of the principle selection methods I used for my list was what had a clearly memorable emotional impact on me as a viewer. I tend to be somewhat disconnected from what I watch as I always have the “it’s just a story” filter going pretty strongly in the back of my head. I could tell you stories about eating dinner while watching the Walking Dead and not realizing how odd this behavior was until my friend Vince Rotolo at the B-moviecast brought it up. Anyway, the impact of this episode was as much contextual as theatrical. The return of Doctor Who pretty much made 2005 for me (yeah, pathetic, I know) but, here was probably my all-time favorite genre series back from the dead with a vengeance. Not only The Doctor but, his arch nemesis the Daleks were back as well. I’ll never forget the preview for this episode where the Emporer Dalek describes himself as the god of the Daleks to be hailed by a chorus of them screaming “Worship him! Worship him!” It sent a little chill up my spine in that here I thought it would be impossible to make the Daleks any more evil than they already were but, making them religious fanatics really did the trick. Plus, we get the whole resolution to the Bad Wolf story line with a regeneration that I didn’t see coming to top it all off.

4) The Twilight Zone – Eye of the Beholder. Most people will remember this episode for the shock ending where the ugly people are the norm. However, what I really like about the episode and that I think makes it hold up so well is the background dictatorial society that is gradually hinted at as the story unfolds. The state only gives three chances at plastic surgery to “normalize” deformed individuals. If unsuccessful, the “ugly” misfits are sent off to “camps” to be removed from the otherwise perfectly uniform society. The episode even ends with a speech by the “great leader” droning on about how the superiority of their culture is only maintained by their “glorious uniformity”. Scary stuff that tragically still resonates today.

5) The Outer Limits – O.B.I.T. In this classic Outer Limits episode we see a new surveillance machine being tested on a military base. The bases morale has collapse and a senator has come to investigate why. Mini spoiler alert here so stop reading if you haven’t seen it yet but, the idea of an alien invasion facilitated by our inability to avoid spying on one another struck me at the time and still does today as creepily way too plausible.

6) The Prisoner – Fall Out. Easily the most controversial entry on the list as The Prisoner is sort of an edge series as far as genre content goes. Also, this series finale episode is very much a love/hate affair based upon how much one is into surrealism as translated to the television medium. This was David Lynch style television 23 years before Twin Peaks so, it was way ahead of its time. The entire series is only 18 episodes to begin with so, it’s a short journey to this trippy piece of television. I remember the first time I saw this episode feeling like I had just come out of my first viewing of Eraserhead. Ever since I have never been able to listen to the song All You Need is Love without being reminded of this episode which tragically continues to plague my viewings of Yellow Submarine to this day.

7) Babylon 5 – Severed Dreams. Babylon 5 is a great series that a surprisingly large number of genre TV fans seem to be unaware of. It was the first serious genre attempt at telling one large story over the course of five seasons. Over the first couple of seasons things start to come apart for the Earth Alliance and this episode was the tipping point in which we would learn where the Babylon station loyalties would ultimately lie. Today the episode would best be described with the statement “shit just got real”. On top of this, we are lead into the maelstrom with an amazing monologue made by station Commander John Sheridan basically calling out the EA on becoming a tyranny.

8) Farscape – The Peacekeeper Wars. As readers of this blog know I only recently went through the entire Farscape series so, I have only seen this one once. This three hour made for TV movie might be considered a bit of a cheat here but it did act as the series finale so I’m sticking with it. Besides any television that makes me shed a few tears (when Aeryn and John announce the name of their son) more than deserves to be on this list. I know with absolute certainty that I’ll be revisiting this episode again in the future.

9) In the Flesh – Episode 1.3. Again, another one I have seen only once due to the recent nature of the show. I really can’t thank my friend Roger Domian enough for turning me on to this series. It’s about British society recovering from a five years earlier zombie apocalypse as told through the eyes of a small rural town. It came as no surprise to me when the series one finale came with a warning about adult content but, what was surprising was the nature of that content. It wasn’t violence or gore but, ideas instead. This show covered some pretty daring material in a very in your face sort of manner and didn’t really bother to pull any punches along the way either. This is great stuff that was reminiscent to me of the older series Alien Nation in that it was able to take on these issues because of the fantastic nature of the environment.

10) Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Once More with Feeling. This is the one that I mentioned earlier would easily be at the top of my list. I’m not a huge Buffy fan but there is a lot to like about this musical episode of the series. First , it was just a good musical and I still have one of the tunes on my Ipod to this day. The music actually helped advance the plot and, furthermore, actually makes some major advances in a couple of story arcs. The music wasn’t forced in that it was the result of a demon being summoned who made people perform until they burned. The singing also had the side effect of forcing people to reveal major secrets that they otherwise would have kept to themselves so, a number of character arcs got hammered as well. Once More is really television showing you what it is capable of in the hands of a talented producer, director and cast. This really is TV at its finest.

Also, like I promised above, I’ll throw in two honorable mentions that didn’t quite make the cut. The first is another Twilight Zone episode called It’s a Good Life based upon the short story of the same name that is a fixture in the Science Fiction Hall of Fame volume one. The adaptation is actually quite faithful to the story, too. It’s about a child who is born with insanely superhuman powers. The story runs with the far more plausible thesis that instead of being a superhero, young Anthony is instead a self-centered monster with precious little regard for the inferior humans who surround him. The story is a positively chilling one as we watch what the local townsfolk have degenerated into in order to survive. Second is the classic Doctor Who story Genesis of the Daleks. While it is to some extent a retelling of the Frankenstein story, it is a very good one that actually puts the Doctor into one of those rare moments where he doesn’t necessarily know the right course of action. Given that, like most Americans, my first exposure to the series started with the first Tom Baker season this episode really drove home what the show could do when it dove head first into political territory.  Enemy of the World might be an equally good or better political Doctor Who story but, this was my first which is why it still stands out for me to this day.

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