The Unbearably Patronising BBC History of Science Fiction…

I know I shouldn’t have been disappointed by the BBC documentary about science fiction, Tomorrow’s Worlds: The Unearthly History of Science Fiction, presented by Dominic Sandbrook and broadcast recently on BBC2 here in Britain. I should have realised that it would be a glib overview of the genre for those millions of viewers whose knowledge of SF goes no further than Star Trek, Star Wars, and Dr Who; I should have known that it would be skewed towards the visual, concentrating on film and television. But I was disappointed by the programme: how it told me nothing I didn’t already know; how it was padded with clips from movies and TV programmes I’d seen a hundred times before. I was also disappointed by the talking heads they inserted between these clips. We had a few big name SF authors saying their bit, Ursula K. Le Guin, William Gibson and Kim Stanley Robinson… but they’re not on for long, and not allowed to say much of relevance before the hapless viewer is subjected to another out-of-context film clip. Then there are the other talking heads, John Landis and John Carpenter among others, who contribute nothing to the discussion and do so at tedious length. And – god help us – we’re even treated to the views of an actor who was inside a robot in a Star Wars film.

But why am I complaining? What did I expect from a programme about SF aired at 9.45 on a Saturday night?

Well, I had hoped for something along the lines of Alan Yentob’s excellent Imagine series mainly about writers and artists, which isn’t afraid to let its subjects speak, and which doesn’t patronise its viewers with a plethora of film clips.

But then we’re talking about SF here, aren’t we, which the BBC has always regarded as little more than throwaway entertainment for children.



Filed under News

3 responses to “The Unbearably Patronising BBC History of Science Fiction…

  1. Quite so. The problem is that the programme does not take SF seriously as genre with its own history (Dominic Sandbrook reduces it to a reaction of technological change). I have done fairly detailed blog on the first two programmes, and am working on the third (it would seem that no-one involved in the programme has read Rossum’s Universal Robots, or watched Metropolis, at least in its restored form). See recent posts at

  2. I think the problem is, that as usual, the programme is looking at Science Fiction from the outside, like it’s a curious thing that needs to be analysed and looked at as a curiousity. And as everyone involved in SFF knows, you won’t get a good understanding if you don’t immerse yourself, you have to live it to understand it.

    All mainstream looks at SFF is usually done in a way that makes it look as the people doing it has done about a week of basic research. There is no deoth, no soul. Basically, no respect. And until SFF is seen as having the same value as litfic/contemporary drama I think that is the way it will continue to be.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s