Sci-fi fans are spoiled for choice: How can they keep up?
It’s official: geeks have inherited the Earth. The evidence is undeniable — five Star Trek spin-offs in production, six Star Wars shows heading our way, as well as a megabucks Lord of the Rings prequel series. What a time it is to be a sci-fi and fantasy fan.
If you’d told the younger version of me that cult TV would be mainstream by 2022, I’d have considered the conversation a holodeck illusion. Back in the 1980s and 90s, my fandom remained out of sight and below ground. A small Star Trek club in the basement of the sixth-form college where shy misfits would watch episodes in silence. A comic shop in the subterranean level of Manchester’s Corn Exchange. Doctor Who Magazine read in secret while peers traded copies of Shoot or Match.
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It was a fear borne of embarrassment and shame. At the age of seven, I’d halted my own birthday party in order to watch Colin Baker’s debut as the Doctor in The Twin Dilemma. We had no video recorder back then, so I had to catch the episode when it was broadcast. Following the experience, friends were suddenly as absent as that VCR. A harsh lesson was learned and, from that moment on, I kept dreams of Time Lords and the United Federation of Planets to myself.
Little did I know that other teenagers were obsessing to the same degree. And that some of these devotees would one day go on to secure jobs in television or at movie studios, where they’d regenerate Doctor Who, make millions out of Marvel superheroes and fill their streaming platforms with starships.
What they realised was that people who’d loved these characters while young hadn’t necessarily outgrown their passions and were still willing to shell out for DVDs, books, even action figures. So, naturally, they’d also want to pay to watch new episodes.
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And with this new souped-up Star Trek looking as slick and sounding as smart as anything ordinarily considered to be ‘prestige’ TV, it also manages to snare newbies. A win-win for US streamer Paramount+, then, which is now offering something close to new instalments of Star Trek each week for the rest of the year.
You can see it playing out almost like a relay race, with the baton passed from Discovery to Picard to Strange New Worlds to Prodigy to Lower Decks. By keeping the output constant, viewers don’t get an opportunity to let their subscriptions lapse, so the dollars keep flooding in. The utopian future envisaged by Gene Roddenberry may not have a need for money but the same cannot be said for the company that owns the brand.
So, yes, there is a sense of cynicism about this sci-fi resurgence. But I’ve also, at times, felt something akin to envy on behalf of my teenaged self. It’s the instant availability of all this content that would have left the younger me green-eyed – entire back catalogues of shows, as much online speculation as you can read, digital comics downloaded direct to a tablet… all accessed in seconds.
Do kids realise that it used to cost £10 to buy just two episodes of TNG on VHS? That one of the few ways to find casting information or episode reviews was to buy TV Zone magazine each month? Do modern fans know how sacrosanct Wednesday evenings on BBC2 at 6pm were? Or how, as a young child, your knowledge of images from Return of the Jedi was entirely dependent on which stickers you had in a Panini album?
And cosplay! A concept wasted on a 44-year-old man who’d look ridiculous in a bowtie and fez, but something that would have been embraced by eight-year-old me playing on his own in a Tardis play tent with its inflatable light.
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Not long after Doctor Who returned in 2005, there were sell-out Proms events featuring music, aliens and kids in costume waving their sonic screwdrivers at the Royal Albert Hall.
What did I get in the 80s? The Sixth Doctor in his migraine-inducing overcoat and BBC1 boss Michael Grade plotting to axe the show to which I’d stayed loyal.
But is my (admittedly irrational) jealousy of modern fandom justified? After all, any teenager trying to steep themselves in sci-fi doesn’t exactly have an easy ride. Yes, they can journey back to black-and-white Tardis trips on Britbox or forward to explore the life of a young Boba Fett on Disney+. But there’s a real danger of them feeling overawed.
Because let’s face it: life was much simpler when there were just three Star Wars films to enjoy and Captain Kirk was the sole captain of the USS Enterprise. I imagine that encountering these universes for the first time in 2022 could be a bewildering experience, the most common question asked surely being, “Where do I start?”
Even someone like me, who reviews TV for living and feels a tractor-beam-like pull towards any kind of space opera, has reached the conclusion that it’s impossible to keep up. Yes, I still assiduously watch every filmed hour of Star Trek and Doctor Who, but I’m horribly out of sync with phase four of the MCU. And all these new iterations of Star Wars? I’m afraid they’ve slipped through my fingers like so much Tatooine sand.
Terrific things are no doubt happening in these universes, but these are parties to which I’ve turned down an invite. And that’s OK. Just because it’s out there doesn’t mean it has to be consumed immediately. As a child, I read Target novelisations of Doctor Who stories, never knowing if I’d ever get to see these adventures on TV.
And many Enterprise voyages remained photos in my dog-eared Compendium book until such time as BBC2 got around to repeating them. Yet I loved the journey. And the ongoing nature of this mission of exploration.
So, yes, this is a boom time for nerds. And sci-fi may be prized by streaming companies hoping to keep customers on board their ship. The advice, though, from this old-school Trek fan? Enjoy the moment, be proud and go boldly. But at your own pace.
The finale of The Book of Boba Fett is streaming on Disney+ from 9 February. Season two of Star Trek: Picard will launch on Prime Video worldwide on Friday, 4 March.
Watch the trailer for Picard S2