You know the story. You can even predict how it’ll turn out because you’ve seen it done so many times before. This is sci-fi junk food for the brain. It doesn’t stretch your intellect or your imagination, but it feels good to zone out to a story like this. What follows is some of the best (or worst) of the tried and true (or tired and trodden) science fiction staples.
The one where there’s a mysterious infection. Star Trek and Stargate are particularly guilty of this plot where a mystery infection quickly sweeps through the entire ship and the doctor must hurry to find a cure before the clock runs out.
The one where they go back in time. Ah, the time travel episodes. Whether it’s Farscape, Star Trek or Stargate, there has been many a time travel episode, usually with the heroes having to figure out a way to get home while trying not to “change history.”
The one where they go to a parallel/alternate universe. Maybe even more common than the time travel episodes are the parallel universe episodes. Again, Star Trek and Stargate are particularly guilty of this, although even Buffy has ventured into this territory. These alternate universe stories often give the actors a chance to show their range.
The one where our hero is captured and the bad guy tries to convince him that he is back home, when really he isn’t. In V, Diana pretended to be Julie, and tried to convince Mike that it was years after the Visitor occupation. In Stargate, the Goaul’d recreated an entire level of Stargate Command. Apparently in sci-fi, this is how our enemies like to get information from us.
The one where they have to save the primitive culture. Stargate and Star Trek have done this story more times than I can count. Sometimes the primitive people don’t want to be saved, and other times it conflicts with the Prime Directive, but it’s pretty much the same overused plot.
The one where the holodeck breaks. You would think they would have a full-time holodeck engineer, given the amount of time that the holodeck breaks down on Star Trek. And why is the safety override always the first to go? Although kudos to Voyager for turning a truly overdone science fiction plot into a masterpiece with Bridge of Chaotica.
The one where the hero spends years living an alternate life. I’m mostly thinking of Captain Picard in the Inner Light, but we’ve also seen this in DS9 with Chief O’Brien and even Farscape has pulled out this tired plot.
The one where our heroes go on leave, but something always has to happen. When will our heroes ever be able to take a day off? We’ve seen it on Stargate, Star Trek – does anyone ever actually have fun on Risa? Even seaQuest couldn’t resist this science fiction plot.
The one where they join fight club. Another overused sci-fi staple. If I wanted to watch a fight, I would watch a decent boxing match. Even so, Angel, Charmed, Babylon 5 and Battlestar Galactica are all guilty of this science fiction plotline.
The one where they turn into old people. Ah, another science fiction staple that has been used many times in Star Trek, Stargate and even Farscape.
The one where they turn into kids. Another one that Stargate and Star Trek are fond of is turning our heroes into kids. I have to admit though, that the kids in these episodes tend to do some pretty good impressions of the main cast.
The one where our hero is in an insane asylum. Star Trek, Stargate, even Buffy, has played around with this storyline with varying degrees of success. The problem is that we already know the characters aren’t insane so why should we take it seriously?
The one where they switch bodies. This can be a pretty entertaining one actually. Both Buffy and Stargate have had fun with these storylines. Like the one where they turn into kids, it’s cool to see the actors doing impressions of each other.
The one where the day keeps repeating itself. This theme can actually be more tried and true versus tired and trodden, if handled well such as in the Stargate season four episode Window of Opportunity.
The episode where they don’t take themselves too seriously. These are the fun episodes. The Wormhole Xtreme episodes, the ‘getting turned into a puppet’ episodes, the musical episodes. It can also be where writers take a chance. Break the mold – like what X-Files did when they crossed over with COPS. In truth, this is what we need more of.