10 Episodes That Every Sci-Fi Show* Must Have

Television is surprisingly formulaic; even the most original of shows find themselves using certain dramatic tropes that have been tried and tested by other series over the years. Jayne Nelson has rounded up some of the best examples of TV tropes that you’ll know as soon as you see them. Oh, and to be fair, there are also bad examples.

(*If they last long enough)

Can you think of any more? Let us know in the comments…


1 The Christmas Episode

Merry Christmas from A Town Called Eureka

Christmas episodes are a tough sell. First you have to look at your show and figure out if it’s the kind of tale that needs a Christmas theme; after all, there’s not much in the way of “Ho ho ho-ing” in the new Battlestar Galactica or Game Of Thrones (though Space: Above And Beyond managed it by making Christmas really, really grim…). Then you have to consider whether your characters give a damn about Christmas or not – those workaholic agents from The X-Files weren’t that big on it, for example, even though they did get the odd rather out-of-place Yuletide adventure over the years.

And finally, you have to consider whether you can actually pull off a Christmas episode when your show is filmed somewhere hot and sunny. Buffy’s “Amends”, for example, filled an entire Californian street with foam masquerading as snow to solve this little issue, but it wasn’t very convincing. Honestly, the human race can build a Large Hadron Collider and find proof of “God particles” but we still can’t make convincing fake snow? We fail as a species.

And, of course, because we’re talking telefantasy, you need to give Christmas that sci-fi or supernatural twist. Luckily, Christmas is all flying sledges, a fat man who can fit down chimneys, a worldwide 24-hour delivery service, Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, animals that can talk at midnight, magic stars and a mass psychosis that makes people believe other people will eat Brussel sprouts… so Christmas pretty much made for telefantasy. Or horror, in the case of the sprouts.

Dean gives Sam porno mags for Christmas. That's what big brothers are for


Good Santa: Supernatural “A Very Supernatural Christmas”

The sickest Christmas episode of any show ever, Jeremy Carver’s tale of seasonal misery has a deranged pagan Santa Claus throwing innocent people into his sack and squeezing them up chimneys, breaking bones and skulls in the process. Delicious! We even get to see Santa watching porn in one scene – truly, this is the most festive TV episode of all time.

And despite all the gore, blood and fingernail-pulling (ouch!), the episode ends with Sam and Dean Winchester raising an eggnog toast to the world and exchanging Crimbo gifts. Perfect.

Honourable mention: The Twilight Zone, “Night Of The Meek” focuses on a department store Santa hitting bad times.

London on Christmas Day. Except the trees all have leaves. Er...

Bad example: Doctor Who “The Runaway Bride”

A decent episode in many respects, but this story is a prime example of the danger of filming a story set in the bleak midwinter when you don’t have the resources to film somewhere actually cold.

The lengthy motorway chase in “The Runaway Bride” may actually convince foreign audiences that British trees keep their leaves all year round and the sun never stops shining. Tennant and Tate are visibly blinking in the sunlight at one point. Short of taking everybody to Iceland for filming, however, there wasn’t much the BBC could do about it… but it does let down th episodee. You could easily write out all the Christmassy elements and set the show in July without changing the story much (about the only thing that would be a shame to lose is the Christmas star recast as a death star) which in itself says something about “The Runaway Bride”’s failings as a festive outing.