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Case Number 20734: Small Claims Court

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Pioneers Of Television: Science Fiction

PBS // 2011 // 55 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // February 18th, 2011

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All Rise...

Judge Clark Douglas wrote this review in the future and sent it back via his laptop time machine.

Editor's Note

Our reviews of Pioneers Of Television (published January 23rd, 2008), Pioneers Of Television: Crime Dramas (published March 5th, 2011), Pioneers Of Television: Local Kids' TV (published April 10th, 2011), and Pioneers Of Television: Westerns (published February 19th, 2011) are also available.

The Charge

"At its best, science fiction taught us something about ourselves."

The Case

Of all the recent Pioneers of Television specials that PBS has created, it seems the most attention has been paid to their science fiction installment. Though many of the shows featured struggled in the ratings during their original runs, today they represent some of the most popular and respected classic television programs. Boasting interviews with the likes of William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Martin Landau, and many others, the special takes a look at the following programs over the course of 55 quick minutes:

Star Trek: The Original Series: As you might expect, Gene Roddenberry's legendary sci-fi show receives a pretty generous amount of coverage and an even more generous amount of praise. Mostly, there's a lot of simplistic fawning over how brilliant Roddenberry was (particularly in terms of his willingness to employ social commentary in the show). There's also a good deal of time devoted to the popularity of Kirk and Spock.

Lost in Space: If the special drools over Star Trek, it dismisses Lost in Space as an insignificant bit of silliness. The general consensus is that it was an insubstantial action show early on and a preposterous piece of camp later. Even the praise for Zachary Smith sounds awfully backhanded ("I guess you can go over the top and be popular that way, you know?"). There's also a bit of chuckling over the legendary "Great Vegetable Rebellion" episode.

The Time Tunnel: Some further Irwin Allen swipes, as various folks criticize the producer for re-using monsters on all of his shows for cost-cutting purposes. This segment also spends more time praising Gene Roddenberry for being so boldly forward-thinking in the midst of pressure to make formulaic shows like Allen. Even so, the expensive design work done on The Time Tunnel does get a bit of praise.

The Twilight Zone: After some time spent examining the early days of Rod Serling's career, this segment proceeds to talk about the manner in which Serling perfected the anthology format. Particular attention is paid to "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," "It's a Good Life," "The Invaders," and "Time Enough at Last."

A last-minute montage briefly acknowledges the many significant sci-fi shows this special ignores: The Outer Limits, Doctor Who, Battlestar Galactica, Space: 1999, and others. What a shame a few minutes of the actual special couldn't be devoted to these shows.

The DVD transfer is strong throughout, as the talking head sections look clear and detailed. Most of the archival footage (cropped to anamorphic 1.78:1 for the purposes of this special) looks solid, too. The audio is decent, though the imitation theme songs for many of the shows are awfully distracting. There are no extras included on the disc.

Like the other specials in this series, Pioneers of Television: Science Fiction is just too thin to merit a purchase. Actually, this one is a bit more irritating, as it spends far too much time fawning over Gene Roddenberry and rehashing Star Trek stories we've all heard many times before.

The Verdict


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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 65

Perp Profile

Studio: PBS
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
• English (SDH)
Running Time: 55 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Documentary
• Science Fiction
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• None


• IMDb

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