10 More Episodes That Every Sci-Fi Show Must Have

A few weeks ago we posted a feature with a list of stories any self-respecting show just has to make at some point during its run. In your comments, many of you pointed out ones we’d missed – some deliberately, because we were only writing about 10 examples, or some we’d overlooked altogether.

And so, in the interest of being thorough, Jayne Nelson presents another 10 must-haves!

(Oh, and feel free to provide more examples if you’re still seeing clichés we’ve neglected. There are a lot out there.)

11 The Western Episode

With so much sci-fi channelling the old Frontier spirit (space is the final frontier, after all) and using Wild West tropes to tell a story, it’s only natural that many shows include a Western episode. Unless you’re Firefly, of course, in which case you win a special award for keeping it up for an entire season…

Good Cowboy Episode:

Star Trek: The Next Generation “A Fistful Of Datas”

A holodeck malfunction usually signalled entertaining hijinks on this show, but this has to be the best of the bunch – mainly because it’s just so bloody funny. Worf’s son, Alexander, drags his dad onto the holodeck to play Sheriff with him in the ancient town of Deadwood, but thanks to some tech issues, the program fills all the bad guy roles with Data… who is, naturally, rather hard to outwit.

Benefiting from on-location filming and the joy of seeing the cast acting out of character (Troi actually got a new costume and something to do for a change!), “A Fistful Of Datas” runs through every Western cliché you can think of with so much glee we’re amazed the actors didn’t wee themselves laughing. Brilliant.

It even ends up with a shot of the Enterprise flying off into the sunset.

Honourable mention: Red Dwarf‘s “Gunmen Of The Apocalypse” had a whole heap of fun with a very similar concept.

Bad cowboy episode:

Star Trek “Spectre Of The Gun”

Okay, okay, don’t all tell us off at once: we know that this chunk of ’60s silliness is now deemed a classic. However, it’s only a classic because it’s bad. When it was made the budget couldn’t stretch to plonking the characters in the middle of a real-life Western town, and so a studio had to do instead – complete with unconvincing buildings, branches stuck comically into the ground to resemble trees and a backdrop of lurid red which was supposed to resemble an alien planet’s sky but was lit so badly that you could see the shadows from the sets falling onto it.

It’s a terrible Western town, and so “Spectre Of The Gun” ends up being a bad example of a Western episode. Saying that, though, Star Trek did manage to make it work by emphasising that the place was created from the characters’ memories by aliens, which explains its shoddy look. And the general weirdness of the entire affair works in its favour, making it a psychedelic treat, hence the episode’s classic status.

But still… even the fake town the citizens of Red Rock build at the end of Blazing Saddles looks better than this one.

Disappointing cowboy episode:

Doctor Who “A Town Called Mercy”

There are some great things about this episode, including Ben Browder as a sheriff, the Doctor taking over as the new sheriff, and the Doctor telling a cowboy that his horse is gay. But in a show that usually has a lot of fun reinventing TV tropes, too much of “A Town Called Mercy” feels a bit been-there, done that.