When we think of vintage sci-fi on TV, it’s fairly easy to conjure up mental images of technicolour space babes, cheesy dialogue, and low production values. Before we dismiss it entirely though, we need to remember that series like Star Trek: The Original Series and Doctor Who have an ongoing legacy for a reason. While those were the truly stand-out shows of their time, it’s worth a look at these lesser-known and vaguely familiar series, which have themes and styles still depicted in the shows we love today. Below, my top 5 recommendations for fans of contemporary sci-fi looking to journey to the past (not literally, but if you figure it out, let me know!).
5. Misfits of Science (1985)
Oozing with delightful mid-80s cheese, this series follows a group of super-powered oddballs on a variety of zany adventures (example? A group of senior citizens eat irradiated hamburgers, get superpowers). Featuring a shrinking man, a rock star who could shoot lightning from his hands, and a telekinetic teenager whose personality is somewhat reminiscent of X-men‘s Jubilee, Misfits of Science offered cartoonish, lighthearted fare. Lasting only one season, the show was, unfortunately, unable to battle the competition that was Dallas (presumably, due to something to do with JR).
Recommended for Fans of: Heroes, Misfits, The 4400
4. The Twilight Zone (1959)
Okay, this may seem as obvious a choice as Star Trek: TOS or the early years of Doctor Who, but it’s easier to be familiar with the iconic tropes of this show, from the theme music to the very phrase “Twilight Zone”, than with its actual content. While the show is well-known for its paranormal and horror themes, the show also features a great variety of sci-fi plots and episodes, making it required viewing for any sci-fi fan. In the Twilight Zone, the truth is out there, and it’s even weirder than you think.
Recommended for Fans of: The X-Files, The Outer Limits, Dark Skies
3. Lost in Space (1965)
An o.g. space opera, this show was originally called the Space Family Robinson, for good reason. A family (plus robot and stragglers) marooned in space try to complete their mission to colonize a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri. In the meantime, they have planet-hopping adventures, all while trying to keep it together and stop fighting with each other. After the competition in the ratings made the show change to a less-serious format (it was up against Batman), it was found lacking in the strength of some of the other, more serious science fiction shows of the time. Even so, it offered its own unique investigation into adventure, human power dynamics, and the longing for home.
Recommended for Fans of: Battlestar Galactica, any of the Star Trek series, Babylon 5
2. The Invaders (1967)
An architect learns of an alien invasion where the aliens have taken human form. You know the drill: nobody believes him. Traveling around trying to thwart the aliens and uncover the conspiracy, the show easily portrays the all-too-familiar themes of Cold War hysteria and paranoia. Also tapping into the overall atmosphere of spy-adventure shows, The Invaders offers a fantastic aesthetic experience (vintage clothing/hairstyle lovers will find it quite swoon-worthy) and has an unexpected grit and edginess that sets it apart from other invasion-themed series of the era.
Recommended for Fans of: Torchwood, The X-Files, Invasion, Falling Skies
1. The Time Tunnel (1966)
Two scientists working on a big government project to prove time travel jump into a portal and get stuck hurtling through time. Back in Arizona (home to so many fictional and real-life science experiments), the rest of their team struggles to bring them home. In the meantime, the two get to meet Lincoln, Machiavelli, and other historical BAMFs. While sometimes campy and historically inaccurate, the show balanced the sense of fun and seriousness needed for any worthwhile time travel yarn.
Recommended for Fans of: Doctor Who, Sliders, Quantum Leap