The 8 Best Science Fiction TV Shows That Came out of the 1960's
Setting the Stage for the Golden Age
The 1960's was truly a historical and pioneering period for the world, for entertainment, and for science fiction. Much changed in ten short years. It was a somber and serious time for many, a time in which an individual would understand the severity of fantastical war and espionage plots. These were days when people wanted their minds preoccupied with fictional tales instead of reality; everyone in the family could also do with a hearty laugh, and entertainers tried to give that to the families.
The decade gave rise to the hippie movement, originating in America. In 1961, the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the very first human to leave our atmosphere and travel into outer space. In 1963, civil rights activist Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his famous speech "I Have a Dream" in Washington, DC. The very same year President John F. Kenndey was shot and killed in Dallas, Texas. Later in 1968, King was also assassinated in the town of Memphis, Tennessee, about one year before American astronauts Neil Armstrong and "Buzz" Aldrin first stepped on the earth's moon.
In the 1960's, the science fiction genre evolved and expanded. This decade produced some of the finest and most classic works of sci-fi. These included books such as A Canticle for Leibowitz (1960) written by Walter M. Miller and which has some right to be known as the first post-apocalyptic sci-fi novel; comics like Journey into Mystery (1962); movies such as 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) and Planet of the Apes (also 1968); and TV series like The Invaders (1967-68) and The Outer Limits (1963-65).
The 1960's was most likely the pinnacle in the careers of both Gerry Anderson and Irwin Allen.
Gerry Anderson was a TV producer/director/writer in Great Britain. He specialized in puppet shows which were filmed in what was dubbed "SUPERMARIONATION," since the puppets were marionettes. Perhaps the most acclaimed of Gerry Anderson's productions was Thunderbirds (1964-66), a show which prompted two feature films on the characters of the series: Thunderbirds Are Go (1966) and Thunderbird 6 (1968). The Thunderbirds series influenced Peter Jackson, director of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies.
The first Thunderbirds film featured aliens, but the series not so much. But Gerry Anderson did create several sci-fi series including Fireball XL5 (1962-63) and UFO (1970-73). However, here we consider his marionette masterpiece Captain Scarlet as one of the top 8 sci-fi shows of the sixties.
Similar to Anderson in some respects, Irwin Allen was also a screen producer/director/writer. In the 1960's, Allen shifted his attention from directing and producing Hollywood feature films to directing and producing TV shows for the audience in their homes. Like Anderson, he went on to produce other TV shows after the sixties including Swiss Family Robinson (1975-76) and Code Red (1981-82).
But during the 1960's, Allen created and produced four science fiction series: Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1964-68), Lost in Space (1965-68), The Time Tunnel (1966-67), and Land of the Giants (1968-1970). Two of his series made it on this top 8 list.
Well, I think that's enough of an intro. The following group of series was chosen due to the influence, original popularity, and current following of these sixties TV shows. Their order is associated with how they have been rated. These are the best. They are rated from the least of the best to the very best of the best, with #1 being the least and #8 the best.
#1 - Ultraman
The original Japanese series Ultraman aired from 1966 to 1967, lasting 40 episodes. The series was created by Eiji Tsuburaya, a producer and special effects expert who worked on at least nine Godzilla films including the 1954 original. He was also the special effects director for films such as Rodan! The Flying Monster (1956), The Mysterians (1957), and Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964).
In the story, the alien character Ultraman comes to earth in his vessel while chasing some creature in another craft. This chase carries on over a lake where Hayata, a member of the Science Patrol, happens to be located. Hayata takes flight in his Patrol vehicle, and he accidentally crashes into one of the spherical spacecraft. Hayata is dead. It is Ultraman's ship that he has crashed into, and the good-natured alien extremely regrets the incident.
It is Ultraman's ship that he has crashed into, and the alien extremely regrets the incident. In reparation, Ultraman makes Hayata his human host who will transform into Ultraman when needed. In this way, Hayata is able to live, and Ultraman saves the world from malicious alien intruders on countless occasions. But Hayata never reveals his unique capability and powers to the Space Patrol or any other friends.
The show was a big hit in Japan as well as elsewhere. Monster suits from past Japanese movies were slightly altered and reused for some of the monsters in this series. Also, the sound for the monster Ghidorah was used as the phone ringtone at the Science Patrol's headquarters. Ultraman has had many sequels, spin-offs, and reboots. The latest Ultraman film was Kiyotaka Taguchi and William Winckler's Ultraman X the Movie (2016).
#2 - Jonny Quest
From the directors of The Jetsons (1962-63) and The Flintstones (1960-66), William Hanna and Joseph Barbera, came Jonny Quest which ran from 1964 to 1965. Like Ultraman, it was mainly geared toward the youth audience. It is a special kind of science fiction; no unearthly aliens are ever encountered, but Dr. Benton Quest, Jonny's father, is a scientist who is constantly studying, inventing, traveling, and defeating villains who have used science abominably.
Don Messick, who worked extensively with Hanna and Barbera and who voiced original canine characters like Scooby-Doo, Astro, and Muttley, was the voice of Benton Quest for most of the series. He was also the voice of Godzooky in the animated Godzilla series which ran from 1978 to 1981. When Messick was not acting as Quest, John Stephenson supplied the voice for the doctor. Stephenson, though best known as a voice actor, also appeared as a guest star in 1960's live action series such as Bonanza (1959-73), Hogan's Heroes (1965-71), and The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (1964-68). Jonny was played by Tim Matheson, an actor/director/producer who is still a fairly prominent figure in Hollywood today.
Featuring mummies, invisible one-eyed monsters, giant robots, and yetis, Jonny Quest was an adventurous sci-fi series. As you will find with most sci-fi TV shows from the sixties, Jonny got his own comic book series. The show was eventually revamped as another series in the nineties.
#3 - Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons
Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons originally aired only from 1967 to 1968. Given the fact that the show had such a brief run, it is interesting that it continues to have a lasting legacy and following to this day. It was Gerry Anderson's fifth marionette series which he produced. Sylvia Anderson, who was Gerry's wife for two decades, was a producer, screenwriter, voice actress, and costume designer. She worked frequently with her husband on many of the TV and film projects. She was the co-creator of Captain Scarlet; plus, she supplied the voices for several characters throughout the show. The show was rebooted as an animated TV show in 2005 under Gerry Anderson's supervision.
The premise of the show revolves mainly around the hero Captain Scarlet, an agent for the organization Spectrum, the main base of which is situated among the clouds high in the sky. This "Skybase" is somewhat similar to the helicarrier in Marvel's The Avengers (2012). It is an aerial station from which strategic plans are dictated and aircraft can be launched. Spectrum's major task during the series is to fight and try to prevent the Mysterons (a race of Martian aliens) from causing destruction and mass panic on earth.
This ongoing "war of nerves" as the Mysterons often put it, was brought on by a mistake of the earth men that was made in a split second. Captain Black, one of Scarlet's fellow agents at Spectrum, was assigned to go along on a mission to Mars. While on the planet, the humans discover an alien base. As they observe the Martian structure, something moves, some sort of mechanical device that fixes its focus on the earth men's vehicle. In a sudden moment of fear, Captain Black gives the order to fire upon the base, leaving it completely leveled for a time.
It turns out that that the Mysteron device they saw was not at all hostile in nature. It was no weapon; it was for observation and not destruction. Thus, the powerful Mysterons feel that earth has unleashed an unprovoked attack on them, and they obviously retaliate. The first step they take is to take control of Captain Black's body, slightly changing his physical appearance. For the rest of the series, Captain Scarlet and the other members of Spectrum travel the world attempting to thwart the doings of the Mysterons and their earthling agent Captain Black.
#4 - Lost in Space
No sci-fi tribute is truly complete without the mention of the classic Lost in Space series. It was the second sci-fi show Irwin Allen created, lasting three seasons, running from 1965 to 1968. Most likely influenced by Johann David Wyss's book The Swiss Family Robinson or even the Disney film which had recently been released in 1960, Allen's plot revolves around an American family named Robinson, a pioneering clan of five members headed for a planet to colonize in the system of Alpha Centauri.
Along for the ride are Major Donald West, Doctor Zachary Smith, and an environmental control robot. Each week the Robinsons and company face aliens both of the friendly and not so friendly sort. The saucer-shaped Jupiter 2, escape pod, laser weapons, androids, cloned cyborgs, repulsive creatures, and such make it an amazing contribution to science fiction.
It was also a competitor with Star Trek. The series inspired Hanna and Barbera to produce a Lost in Space cartoon for television in 1973. The original series was remade into a feature film in 1998, a movie in which many of the original show's cast made cameo appearances. An all-new rebooted Lost in Space series is also to be released in 2018.
Many fans of the original Lost in Space believe the series heavily influenced George Lucas' creation of Star Wars in the decade following the show's cancellation. For instance, swords whose blades carry a high electric current are used in several episodes of the first season. Some say these inspired the famous lightsabers wielded by the Jedi and Sith. John Williams, who composed the themes for Lost in Space, went on to compose the epic scores for Star Wars.
#5 - Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea
This was Irwin Allen's very first TV series venture as well as his longest running show. It ran from 1964 to 1968 for a total of 110 episodes full of espionage, assassins, brainwashed friends, mad scientists, giant monsters from the depths, extraterrestrial invasions, and even an incident where aliens from the planet Centaur take Commander Morton to Venus.
Based on Allen's 1961 feature film of the same title, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea started off as a mainly scientific research/espionage-themed show. And similar concepts were carried on through the rest of the series. However, in the sixth episode of the first season, "The Sky Is Falling," Admiral Nelson and Captain Crane have their very first alien encounter via a UFO that submerges under the ocean. So, from very early on in the series, science and science fiction were important to the overall plot of the show.
Onboard the atomic submarine Seaview, Nelson, Crane, and the crew save the world as well as each other countless times. Like Allen's other sci-fi series, Voyage had a comic series as well as novels based on its theme. Guest stars included huge Hollywood figures including Vincent Price, Leslie Nielson, Patrick Wayne, George Takei, James Darren, Michael Dunn, Robert Duvall, Torin Thatcher, and others. A few more popular guest stars of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea are discussed in the article whose link is found below.
#6 - The Twilight Zone
A man once said, "Every writer is a frustrated actor who recites his lines in the hidden auditorium of his skull." This man was Rod Serling, a short story author, screenwriter, and TV producer. Serling was the "creator of The Twilight Zone" as well as the host. He wrote over 90 episodes of The Twilight Zone. He wrote the original script for the feature film Planet of the Apes (1968), starring Charleton Heston. Serling also devised the story for Irwin Allen's 1976 TV movie Time Travelers. Interestingly enough, music from Allen's Lost in Space series was used for the Planet of the Apes proposal reel as seen here.
The Twilight Zone ran from 1959 to 1964, winning several awards and nominations. Each episode was telling a different story and had completely different characters. Anyone who has watched a few episodes of the show can usually define it bluntly as "weird" and "something that really makes you think about concepts such as humanity, morals, and survival." Numerous episodes take place in some future time, on another planet, or include aliens, space exploration, or intelligent man-made machines with emotions. The show was rebooted twice and it was also the basis for Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), which Steven Spielberg had a big role in making.
#7 - Doctor Who
Doctor Who is a British sci-fi series which was first aired in 1963, and ever since then it has been a worldwide hit. The Doctor is a seemingly awkward individual, a creature from a planet called Gallifrey. He is a Time Lord exiled from his home planet, traveling through spacetime in the TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimension In Space), a craft disguised as an English telephone police box from the 20th century. The Doctor is able to regenerate, a capability invented to carry on the story in 1966 when the health of actor William Hartnell, who was portraying the first Doctor, was quickly declining.
Doctor Who ran for decades, has been revamped, and is still as popular as ever before. There have also been quite a few series spin-offs and TV movies based on Doctor Who. Over a dozen people have played the Doctor over the span of years. Like his fellow Time Lords, Doctor Who can change gender. The 13th Doctor is to be female and portrayed by actress Jodie Whittaker. The Doctor will continue to battle the Daleks, Cybermen, and others far into the future.
#8 - Star Trek:TOS
Star Trek, now referred to as Star Trek: The Original Series, first aired from 1966 to 1969. This franchise has become as popular as Star Wars. George Lucas, creator of Star Wars has even said, "Star Trek softened up the entertainment arena so that Star Wars could come along and stand on its shoulders."
Conceived by Gene Roddenberry, the original show featured William Shatner as Commander James T. Kirk, Leonard Nimoy as Spock, and DeForest Kelley as Dr. Leonard "Bones" McCoy. Shatner and Nimoy had each guest starred in The Twilight Zone as well as The Outer Limits prior to starring in Star Trek.
Captain Kirk and the crew of the USS Enterprise were on a five-year mission in space which only ended up lasting three years on TV. Who would have thought back in the sixties that this show would prompt another six TV shows including The Animated Series (1973-75) and Star Trek: Discovery which is to be aired on September 24 of this year? There are over a dozen Star Trek feature films, the first being released in 1979, the latest being released in 2016. J.J. Abrams, the man who rebooted the Star Trek film franchise in 2009, went on to direct Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2015. Obviously, Star Trek has become a very influential show.
© 2017 John Tuttle