The Real History of Science Fiction: Sci-Fi Superstars in Upcoming BBC Show


Set to premiere in the US on 19th April, BBC America has announced that it’s making a show so exciting that we may have to consider demanding license fee refunds if it doesn’t come over here in some form too. The Real History of Science Fiction is a look into the themes and ideas that have inspired countless sci-fi stories on page and screen, featuring a stellar and intergalactically diverse cast of “experts”. Trekkie or Whovian, you’re definitely not going to want to miss this.

Published yesterday, the official press release provides an episode break-down, as well as short bios for the series’ impressive list of guest stars, including the likes of Neil Gaiman, William Shatner, Nathan Fillion, David Tennant, Karen Gillan, Ursula K. Le Guin, Steven Moffat, Christopher Lloyd, Brian Aldiss, Anthony Daniels, John Landis and Gale Ann Hurd (list by no means exhaustive). The series, which already has its own website full of interesting sci-fi trivia, is described as a delve, 

“into the real history of science fiction with filmmakers, writers, actors and graphic artists looking back on their experiences and on how their obsession and imagination has taken them into the unknown.”

Themed around “Robots”, “Space”, “Invasion” and “Time”, each of the four episodes will be narrated by Doctor Who’s and Sherlock’s Mark Gatiss, who is no stranger to these kind of niche documentary series: as anyone who’s seen his History of Horror, Horror Europa, or M.R. James: Ghost Writer programmes will know, he’s often at his best when indulging his inner fanboy in this way. According to the press release, Gatiss will seek to explain “why science fiction is not merely a genre… for its audience it’s a portal to a multi-verse – one that is all too easy to get lost in.” 

Gatiss isn’t the only one to have got lost in a genre fiction portal, however: the show’s Executive Producer, Michael Poole, seems to share his fascination with the dark, fantastic and futuristic, having worked on Gatiss’s previous documentaries as well as on several other nerd-relevant programmes such as Comics Britannia, Baker Street Babylon: The Bizarre Afterlife of Sherlock Holmes and Hollywood’s Master of Myth: Joseph Campbell – The Force Behind Star Wars. Ben Southwell (Top Gear, Timeshift) will act as producer.

The full episode synopses and premiere dates are listed below:


What if our creations turn against us?  The idea of creating life has fascinated society since the earliest days of science fiction. The first installment of the four-part series, Robots transports viewers from the first steps of Frankenstein’s monster to the threat provided by the Terminator and the world of Cyberspace. Find out how Rutger Hauer created one of the greatest speeches in all of science fiction for Blade Runner. Discover from Kenny Baker the challenge of acting in Star Wars while inside the body of R2D2, and learn how Anthony Daniels was drawn to the role of C-3PO by concept art modeled closely on the robot from the silent classic Metropolis. Douglas Trumbull (2001: A Space OdysseyBlade Runner) discusses how he managed to create a whole new approach to robot design. The creators of the original Robocop describe how its hidden depths have given it enduring appeal and William Gibson reveals the origins of his seminal novel Neuromancer. From HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey to the Cylons of the reimagined Battlestar Galactica and the world of The Matrix, this is a journey that asks – what does it mean to be human?

Episode 1 premieres Saturday, April 19, 10:00pm ET


What if we could explore the vastness of Space? Science fiction has always fed upon our need to explore – to wonder what is out there.  Space journeys from Jules Verne’s earliest ideas about attempts to leave our planet, to the Star Wars far away galaxy through to Nichelle Nichols revealing how her groundbreaking role as Lt. Uhura in Star Trek led to her participation in the recruitment of NASA’s astronauts. It explores the deep sea inspiration for Avatar, finds out why Ursula K Le Guin wrote The Left Hand of Darkness and discovers how Stanley Kubrick was able to make 2001: A Space Odyssey seem so believable. In addition, the program looks at the way Dune and The Mars Trilogy embraced the challenge of world building and discusses the appeal of the beaten up ‘dirty space’ of Dark Star and Firefly.  From the horrifying scenes of Alien, to the epic spectacle of Star Wars, this is a journey to the stars and the alien encounters that await us there.

Episode 2 premieres Saturday, April 26, 10:00pm ET


What if aliens landed on Earth? Much of science fiction explores the moment of first contact – what will people do when the aliens land? From H. G. Wells’ pioneering The War of the Worlds to Independence DayMen in Black and District 9Invasion deals with our fears of alien invasions of earth. David Tennant explains the appeal of Doctor Who’s Daleks and Cybermen while John Carpenter and Chris Carter explore the rich appeal of the paranoia fuelled by hidden aliens with The Thing and The X-Files. It also asks, what if the monsters were our own creation? With the aid of rarely seen animation tests, Phil Tippett takes us behind the scenes in the creation of the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park.  But not all invasions are hostile. Peter Coyote and Richard Dreyfuss discuss the creation of Spielberg’s spellbinding classics E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. There is more than one kind of invasion.

Episode 3 premieres Saturday, May 3, 10:00pm ET


What if we could travel not just through space, but through time itself? If you could travel through time, would you change the past or the future? What if you found it couldn’t be changed? What price does the time traveller – and the people they are closest to – pay? This is a journey from H. G. Wells The Time Machine through ideas like The Grandfather Paradox and The Butterfly Effect to the professional time traveller that is the ever popularDoctor Who. Steven Moffat, David Tennant, Karen Gillan and Neil Gaiman offer a unique perspective on the Doctor. Edward James Olmos reveals the hidden meaning of the language he created for the vision of the future that is Blade Runner. Bob Gale and Christopher Lloyd take us behind the scenes of Back to the Future, while Ed Solomon describes the joy of solving a time travel conundrum for Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. But what would be the physical and emotional cost to the time traveller? Audrey Niffenegger explains what inspired her novel The Time Traveller’s Wife. And what if someone from the future tried to travel back in time to warn us? Would we believe them? From the apocalyptic tones of 12 Monkeys to the drama of Quantum Leap and the comedy of Groundhog Day, time travel is a subject that has been irresistible to the creators of every type of science fiction.

Episode 4 premiere TBC.

At present, there’s no news on a UK air date. The series has, however, been produced collaboratively with BBC Two, so it’s not unlikely that updates will follow soon. Watch this space for news, or follow BBC America on Twitter.

Sources: The Mary Sue | BBC America | The Real History of Science Fiction

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