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Best One-Hour Sci-Fi (and Fantasy) TV Episodes Ever Made

John on October 3, 2009 at 11:42 pm

John’s capricious rules for this list:

  • As with my beautiful stars of sci-fi list, this list covers fantasy/horror as well.
  • I’m only considering one hour shows. That means no twilight zone, Night Gallery, Tales from the Crypt, etc.
  • No two-parters. Why? Because two-parters aren’t one hour shows. It’s cheating! There has to be a separate list for those.
  • I’m not a fan of Babylon 5 or Firefly (though I liked the movie). Sorry.
  • I’ve never seen a complete episode of Farscape, Stargate SG-1 or the new Battlestar Galactica. Nothing against them, I hear all three are great. But there’s only so many hours in a day. I’ll catch up on DVD eventually.

Anyway, with those caveats here’s my list:

  • Doctor Who – Blink -  I love this show (the latest incarnation). I’ve seen every episode plus the specials. Most are very good. But this one episode is truly outstanding. I’ve watched it 3 times and made copies for friends. The script is funny, scary and clever sometimes all at the same time. I didn’t want to try and put these in order, but this definitely gets my vote for the single best hour of sci-fi ever produced. Here’s a bit of the intro:
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  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer – The Body – They did a lot of experimentation on Buffy. Most of it was interesting if not entirely successful. For instance, I thought the musical episode was ambitious but not very good. This episode however, which deals with Buffy and Dawn’s reaction to the death of their mother, is a masterpiece of writing, direction, editing and acting. Again, if I had to put these in order, this would be #2:
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  • Star Trek – City on the Edge of Forever – It’s easy to write this off as an obvious choice, but having seen it again just last year, it really is the high point of the original series (though the show has a lot of close seconds). Some of the acting (Bones) is a little over-the-top, the sets are about as cheap as they could possibly be, but the writing is amazing.
  • Outer Limits – Demon with a Glass Hand – This 2nd season episode was written by Harlan Ellison who also wrote City on the Edge of Forever. Again, it’s the details in the writing that turn an average man vs. alien romp into something much more real and believable. Robert Culp in one of his early starring roles.
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  • The X-Files – Bad Blood – This episode starts with a murder committed by Mulder and ends with a surprise. I won’t spoil it but this episode is very funny as well as tense. I loved Tooms and the Flukeman, but I think this is probably the high point of the series.
  • The Avengers – From Venus with Love – The 1967 season of the Avengers was the first one in color and the third year of Steed and Mrs. Peel. By the third year, the show had fallen into a pattern which was comfortable and charming. This episode stands out. It’s clever and involves some cutting edge sci-fi ideas of the day (lasers!).
  • Star Trek – Doomsday Machine – This is the Star Trek equivalent of an action movie. These are the classic characters as we all remember them. Kirk is risking his life and issuing orders, Scotty is racing against time to fix the transporters. He never says “I need more time, Captain” but he comes really close. Plus we all remember the music from this episode. Think about that. This is music written for a TV show 40+ years ago and every adult male above 30 can hum it. That’s pretty astounding. (This clip is the enhanced version. I know it’s heresy but I like it)
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  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Hush – Haven’t seen this in a while but I remember thinking it was great at the time. The look of “the gentlemen” was heavily borrowed from “the strangers” in Dark City, but if you can forgive the plagiarism it’s a great, creepy ride. What’s scarier than screaming? Screaming without making a sound.
  • Star Trek TNG – Clues – I had to look up the name. This is the episode where the crew begin to piece together that something has happened to them. They’ve lost several hours. Data’s story isn’t adding up. Eventually they discover that Data had done this to protect them from a very powerful and private alien species. The episode ends with them agreeing to try again to forget what happened.
  • Xena – A Day in the Life – I liked this show. It was formulaic but fun. This is probably the best of the comedy episodes. Don’t remember all the details, there was a giant I think, I do remember the title and thinking it was a lot of fun.
  • The Prisoner – Fall Out – The final episode of this classic show. Number six escapes the Village.
  • Space 1999 – Dragon’s Domain – I love a good monster and this episode has a really cool one. The graveyard of ships is also classic. I used to have a Space 1999 lunchbox in 5th grade. It had the monster from this episode on the front. (Here it is. Wow, shoud have saved it. They go for $140 now.)
  • Buck Rogers – Space Vampire – Okay, I know this show was pretty cheesy in general. Honestly, there are a lot of Star Trek TOS episodes better than anything produced by this show. That said, there are two episodes I still remember. The first was the one with Hawk and Hawk’s woman. Per the rules for this list that doesn’t count because it was a two-parter. The other is this one. The vampire had a real Nosferatu look (I think it was called a Voron?) and Erin Grey was really, really attractive. I got to meet Erin at a collector’s show a few years ago. I’m pretty sure I creeped her out, but I’ll save that story for another day.

The more I’ve thought about this, the more impossible it seems. There were so many good episodes of Star Trek, for instance. There are also a bunch of shows I watched, some for more than a season, which aren’t all that memorable.

What are your favorites? Remember the rules. No half hour shows or two-parters. And I’m not looking for series, I want individual episodes. What did I forget? Can’t remember the name…just describe it.

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