The Five Best Science Fiction Series of the 1960s

1. Star Trek (1966-69) – Gene Roddenberry’s brainchild is certainly the most successful series in the history of sci fi television, spawning five spin-off TV shows (don’t forget the animated one) and three film series…thus far. That’s pretty good for a TV show that wasn’t a big hit when it first aired. But Trek earns its spot at No. 1 because of the rich futuristic world created by Roddenberry. He may not have originated some of the innovative concepts (e.g., teleportation, a federation of planets), but he wove them together to create a believable future of hope and humanity. And, despite William Shatner’s occasional forays into the hammy side of acting, the cast helped create immensely likable characters that carried some of the weaker episodes.

2. The Outer Limits (1963-65) – Leslie Stevens and Joseph Stefano (who wrote the screenplay for Psycho) were the creative talents behind the best sci fi anthology of the 1960s (maybe of all time). The concept was that each show would stay within the confines of the science fiction genre and feature a “bear”—Stefano’s nickname for a scary monster. The scripts weren’t as consistently strong as The Twilight Zone and the show’s budget often worked against some of the high-end concepts. But when The Outer Limits was good, it was very good—with several classic episodes like “Demon With a Glass Hand”, “Soldier” (both penned by Harlan Ellison), “The Inheritors”, “The Zanti Misfits”, “The Architects of Fear”, and “Z-z-z-z-z”.

3. The Invaders (1966-67) – Larry Cohen (It’s Alive) is credited for creating this series, but it bears a strong resemblance to executive producer Quinn Martin’s earlier hit The Fugitive. The premise of The Invaders is simple: architect David Vincent (Roy Thinnes) learns that aliens are planning to take over the Earth, but no one will believe him. He travels from place to place trying to thwart the aliens and convince people to believe him. It doesn’t help that the aliens glow orange and disappear when they die, thus destroying all evidence (in some episodes, aliens commit suicide to avoid capture). The first season of 17 episodes contains most of the series’ high points. In season 2, Vincent linked up with a group of other alien fighters called “The Believers” and the show faltered a little. But at the top of its game in episodes like “The Mutant” and “The Organization”, The Invaders was quite good.

4. Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1964-68) – Television critics harped on Irwin Allen’s series for its “monster of the week” approach, but that criticism actually applies only to the last two years of the show. During its first two years, Admiral Nelson (Richard Basehart) and the crew of the submarine Seaview battled enemy spies and natural disasters as well as outer space aliens and monstrous denizens of the deep. Even when things got a little silly (e.g., an evil puppeteer), the always reliable Basehart was on hand to lend credibility to the proceedings.

5. Doctor Who (1963-1989, 2005- ) – The longest-running sci fi series in the history of television has evolved from a low-budget serial directed at kids to a sophisticated series aimed at a broad audience. The Doctor is a Time Lord, who travels through time in a machine called the TARDIS (an acronym for Time and Relative Dimensions in Space). When William Hartnell, the actor who originated the role of Doctor Who, decided in leave in 1966, the writers came up with an ingenious revelation: as a time lord, Doctor Who could “regenerate” himself when near death…thus paving the way for the character to be played by another actor. (Note: Peter Cushing played Who in two theatrical films.)

Honorable mentions: The Jetsons, Jonny Quest, My Favorite Martian, Lost in Space, and Stingray.