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Rose Tinted Sci-Fi

So I was rewatching a chunk of Babylon 5 recently, and it struck me how dated the special effects now are; back in the day, Babylon 5 won awards for its starship battles. I shrugged and thought “Ah, but it’s been around since the mid-nineties, I shouldn’t be so harsh”. And then something else, perhaps a clumsy piece of dialogue or poorly realised plot point came up, and immediately, I began to raise the same excuse. It’s at this point, I realised that really old shows (such as, say, 1960’s Doctor Who) have become bullet-proof in the eyes of the fans.

The past, they say, is another country, and by extension, one that’s pretty hard to get to. Unless of course, you’re a geek. We obsessive types love our nostalgia, and the constant reliving of things we enjoyed in our childhoods is part of what it is to be a geek. So we give the old stuff a bit of a free pass.2

The Myrka. It looked rubbish back then. It looks rubbish now. Let’s not pretend it’s age that has made it rubbish, it’s a pantomime horse covered in gunge; it’s totally bobbins.

A show that gets to a level of popularity and notoriety, it becomes a ‘classic’1, and all the flaws that caused it problems when it was new now become funny little quirks of its age3. This is a problem, however. Because in forgiving the flaws, we take something away from the experience.

Take Blake’s 7, for example. Great show, ground breaking. Wonderful ideas, interesting acting, top stuff. Also a show I remember watching from when I was small, so watching it again is like giving sticky sweets to my inner child. However, the production quality dips as the show progresses. It’s a real shame, and you can chart the collapse of show against its mismanagement. Should I give it a free pass then, because it’s old? Or should I get angry because a great idea with an amazing cast got fumbled? By forgiving it for its flaws, I also run the risk of ignoring its depth. I may, for example, decide that an episode which only has two sets was done for budget reasons, rather than the creative challenge.

A good story can be told in any way it needs to. Quality is nice, a super huge budget is lovely, but without a solid story, it will fail. Is the Tom Baker story Ark in Space any less of a great tale about humanity and survival because the monsters are made out of bubble wrap? Does it’s pacing, which was designed for the audience of the time, make it less valid than it is today? Of course not. Let’s enjoy things for what they are and forget terms like nostalgia; good is good, regardless of age.

1: Classic has been long over used, of course,I blame Coca-Cola myself. It’s really just a way of saying ‘old, but don’t let that put you off’. However, because it has the word ‘class’ in it, we assume to also means high quality, as if everything made back in the day is somehow better than now. If that was true, I’d be writing this on my ‘Classic’ BBC Micro Model B computer, or perhaps a ZX81. I’m not, there’s a good reason for that.

2: Which also explains the obsession with time travel.

3: If you don’t get a following though, you’re screwed. Poor Andromeda. Forever judged as Hercules in space. It has a small following, but not enough to give it sort of passionate armour that comes with nostalgia.

Categories: Rants, TV
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