20 best sci-fi TV shows that aren’t Star Trek

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9. Doctor Who

What is there to say about Doctor Who, really? For the budding acolyte, there’s at least a day’s seminar full of information about deadly angel statues, physics-defying telephone booths, and quasi-robot villains who sure do enjoy screeching all the time.

Then, of course, there’s the eponymous Doctor at the center of it all. Even now, after 26 seasons and 13 incarnations (more on that later), they can’t help but be the main character. Never mind that we still haven’t learned their actual name or how, exactly, a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey can cycle through a dozen or more bodies over the course of a few centuries.

That’s not the sort of science fiction that Doctor Who is after all, though many fans, writers, and showrunners have attempted practical explanations for the situation. At its best, Doctor Who is a wild, joyous, intellectually, and emotionally complex fantasy set in space. Then again, a bit of science here and there never hurt anyone — at least, not the viewers.

The Doctor’s basic deal is that he (or, in the case of the latest Thirteenth Doctor, she) is part of a race of Time Lords. In the original run (1969-1989), the Time Lords are doing just fine, though they’ve become stuffy and xenophobic. Only the Doctor seems to enjoy roaming about the universe, making friends, and eventually more or less adopting the human race.

In the 2005 revival of the series, the Doctor was given a much darker story. In this continuation of events, a war between the Time Lords and the evil, technology-infused Daleks (they look like garbage cans studded with plungers) has wreaked destruction. It appears that the Doctor is the only Time Lord left. Given that we’re now more than a decade out from that first episode, the matter of how alone the Doctor is has gotten pretty complicated.

Throughout all the series, the Doctor is practically always accompanied by at least one companion. This is a person, usually human, who tags along on the Doctor’s adventures. Sometimes, things turn out just fine for the companion. They might even get their own spinoff series, as the incredibly outgoing Jack Harkness did with Torchwood. Or, they could also experience incredibly trauma, be it due to unfriendly aliens or the vagaries of space-time travel. All told, it’s probably safer for us on this side of the television screen.