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November 26 2010

6 staples of sci-fi and fantasy television. The Whedonverse goes 6 for 6.

That was fun. And how true. It's amazing that in the 'verse, Firefly might jump to mind first as most "sci-fi", but non of those staples were ever a part of its short episode run.
For time loop: "Surprisingly, Steven Moffat, the structure king and current showrunner for Doctor Who, has yet to use this one."

Eh... I'm thinking that the recent season ending episode dances so close to this line, it sure seems like Moffat has "time loop" covered.
"...Firefly might jump to mind first as most "sci-fi", but non of those staples were ever a part of its short episode run."

Too true. And I think the Fireflyverse could have successfully exploited at least these three:

The Body Swap: in a variation on the trope, River's messed up psychic brain could have let her become someone else or better yet, several someone elses. Maybe while they were unconscious... I wonder if it would be better for her to be the crew or some enemies... maybe both?

Dream: I would have liked to have seen an episode where they all end up having weird dreams due to some sort of iffy food stuffs. I'd like to have seen Zoe wrestling with PTSD for one.

Doppelganger/double/duplicate: I figure there could definitely be clones of people running around. Those Alliance people probably have everyone's DNA for study or something. Or maybe they want it for the ever popular organ harvesting shtick. I can see the Tam's maybe growing a couple of clones in case their children got sick.
It's just amazing that in our 8 years of explaining how "realistic" Firefly was, we say things like "there's no aliens!" When really, it seems there's more ways to make the show grounded in real-science, like "there's no evil twins, there aren't loopy loop mummy hands, no alternate reality where everyone's shrimp"!
One of the most intriguing articles I've seen in a while. It would have been interesting to see if the six would be employed in "Firefly," but maybe even more interesting to see a sci-fi series that would be the exception in that it would be among the best without ever using any of them (in a world where it ran more than a half-season).
Well, i've never really stressed the realistic aspect of 'Firefly' personally cos that claim has issues (and because realism ain't all that IMO) but it's definitely aiming for realism. I can't really think of any standard sci-fi tropes that 'Firefly' used, nevermind just those 6 (though the opening 10 minutes of 'Serenity' have a couple of "dream" variants).

The "Rashomon episode" is probably one they could do easily without compromising the universe but that's more very common in sci-fi than a sci-fi trope (you see it in non-genre stuff too).

Eh... I'm thinking that the recent season ending episode dances so close to this line, it sure seems like Moffat has "time loop" covered.

Hmm, ish. It's a time loop but only just in their sense i.e. we see the same events more than once from a different perspective BUT their examples are when it loops over and over again and the looping is part of the challenge of the episode, that's not true of 'The Big Bang'. I love it though, people complained at the time that it doesn't make sense but that's exactly the point, it's the first paradoxical time-travel story i've seen that doesn't back away from the paradox - as you'd expect from Who it bounds up to it with puppy-like enthusiasm and then licks its face ;).

Some cracking episodes mentioned in there. Surprised 'The Inner Light' didn't get a nod from Next Gen, one of my favourite "dream" episodes. And 'Normal Again' of course.
I'm surprised at the lack of:

1. The mind-reading episode
Somebody finds they can hear thoughts and comedy ensues but oh-no they will surely go insane! AKA Earshot

2. The asylum episode
Your fantastic reality is actually so insane it's almost certainly insane, but wait it's a trick! Or is it.... AKA Normal Again

They've definitely both been in Charmed, can't think of where else off the top of my head but I'm sure there are more.
Yeah, now that you mention it, the mind-reading episode really should have been on there.

Deep Space Nine had a quite stellar "asylum episode", Far Beyond the Stars.

Like the time-loop, the alternative reality (Friends) and dream-episodes (Bones) can occur in non-genre stuff too.
The fact that we can't instantly think of 5+ examples surely means the mind-reading episode is less common (less a staple) and so less "deserving" than the ones on there ? It may well be on a "7 Staples of Sci-fi" list though. Asylum episodes are a variant on the dream episode (as they define it) rather than a separate category. 'Smallville' also did an asylum ep BTW which wasn't bad (or not by the standards of 'Smallville' anyway ;).

And where have you seen a non-genre time-loop episode the Groosalugg (genuinely curious) ? Having characters repeat a portion of time over and over pretty much makes something genre by definition IMO (as does alternate reality - you can have alternate paths through reality like Russ from 'Friends' but can you really have actual separate realities that characters move between without it, again, becoming genre by default ?).
Another less common, but nevertheless trope-y, genre convention is explaining Jack the Ripper. Star Trek did it, Babylon 5 did it, and Buffy did it (albeit briefly, in the canonical origin comic). It just seems to be one of those mysteries genre writers can't help but tackle.
I'm pretty sure Scrubs did a time-loop episode, though I don't know if you'd class that as non-genre.

ER did one but that turned out to be a dream episode (or did it?).

[ edited by Leaf on 2010-11-28 00:46 ]
They didn't mention the Enterprise episode with Dr. Flox's hallucinations. I thought that was a good "dream type" episode. Maybe I'm the only one.
A little surprised that "Doppelgandland" wasn't listed in the "Doppelganger" part of the article, but aside from that, interesting article.
Variations on this theme can feature a single character from an alternate universe getting through to ours and meeting their opposite, as in SG-1’s Point Of View or Buffy’s Doppelgangland...

Ahem ;).
That's a really cool list, with some great examples. I'd add the all-powerful god-like character (usually bad). (Q in Star Trek, The trickster in Supernatural, I'm sure there had to have been one in Buffy.) Although maybe that one didn't appear in as many shows.

We can definitely add examples on to the list. (I haven't seen Fringe - yet - but I hear they do some great stuff with alternate reality. And I have been watching through Supernatural, and so far they've done body swapping (Swap Meat), time loops (Mystery Spot), Alternate Dimensions (What Is and What Should Never Be), The Double (Skin, any episode with shapeshifters), The Dream Episode (Dream a Little Dream of Me). They've even sort of done ascension, although not in the strictest sense, but characters have gone to both heaven and hell (only in Supernatural we've actually seen some of them there.)

I also wonder if Firefly had continued (sigh) would we have gotten any of these conventions? I think we might have seen a few (like Dream episodes), but I think Firefly is a bit more grounded in reality to do some of them.
Yeah, too grounded for it to be reality that's looping/alternate/etc. but in general, given River's state (being both damaged and psychic) they could probably do some variant on all of them so long as they present it as just how events are perceived to be by her (e.g. a bodyswap one where River thinks she's in someone else's body because her psychic ability goes haywire or a time-loop which is actually her brain working through all the permutations of a scenario, tweaking variables etc. before deciding on a course of action - possibly in the blink of an eye which also gives us another sci-fi trope, the "year in a day" idea from e.g. 'The Inner Light').

I'm pretty sure Scrubs did a time-loop episode, though I don't know if you'd class that as non-genre.

I haven't seen it but Google suggests it was more an alternate timeline episode (assuming you mean 'My Butterfly' Leaf ?), like e.g. 'Sliding Doors' (or the excellent Next Gen episode 'Tapestry').

'Scrubs' could be borderline genre anyway but for me it comes down to whether the characters were aware of the different timelines (not just in a meta "winking at the viewer" type of way either but actually within the episode). If so then i'd say it's genre because showing we the viewers the same events going in different directions due to characters' actions is a narrative device whereas showing the characters experiencing those different directions within the episode is a narrative in itself, it's saying that they accept that such things are possible in their universe and to me that makes it a genre reality.

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