Freya Robertson is a lifelong fan of science fiction and fantasy, as well as a dedicated gamer. She has a deep and abiding fascination for the history and archaeology of the middle ages and spent many hours as a teenager writing out notecards detailing the battles of the Wars of the Roses, or moping around museums looking at ancient skeletons, bits of rusted iron and broken pots. Freya lives in the glorious country of New Zealand Aotearoa, where the countryside was made to inspire fantasy writers and filmmakers, and where they brew the best coffee in the world. She is the author of the colection Augur and of the new novel Heartwood. You can find her online at her website as well as on Twitter as @EpicFreya and on Facebook.
by Freya Robertson
I totally blame my dad for turning me into a geek. When I was young, in the seventies and early eighties, he watched every cheesy television show on TV. You name it, Dad watched it, to the exasperation of my mother, who rarely got to see the documentaries and news shows she preferred. No, I was raised on a diet of Mork & Mindy, The A-Team, Tom Baker’s Doctor Who, Star Trek, The Waltons, Thunderbirds…I watched a lot of TV.
Here are ten more of the best-and worst-shows that turned me into the nerdy girl I am today.
Actually, although this series is now seen as cheesy, I loved Lynda Carter, who certainly portrayed a more realistic Wonder Woman than blonde Cathy Lee Crosby in the movie. Although Carter had a fairly revealing outfit, it was nice for me growing up in a time of male superheroes to see one a female one for a change. Apparently the famous spin that transformed Diana Prince into Wonder Woman was a later addition, as originally she just spun her magic lasso around. I’d quite like to have seen that.
This immediately makes me think of Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century. I’ve just discovered that Mel Blanc voiced Duck Dodgers, and he was also the voice of Twiki in Buck Rogers. I never knew that! Also, apparently this show used many of the props, effects shots and costumes from Battlestar Galactica. I can’t remember many of the episodes, but as a kid I liked the humorous slant to Gerard’s portrayal of Buck. It was still pretty naff though.
I think I made some sort of model based on this show for a school science project. It involved a lot of tinfoil. And probably looked more realistic than some of the sets. But anyway, my abiding memory is of Maya the Metamorph, and the wonderful way she used to change into monsters and other lifeforms, a useful plot device for getting the crew out of dangerous situations.
My abiding memory of this show is how every piece of Banner’s clothing split when he turned into the Hulk except his pants, which just seemed to go a little ragged at the bottom. But seriously, anything with gamma radiation or radioactive spiders has to be a goer.
I loved the way that Dirk Benedict, who plays Starbuck, reacts to the Cylon walking past him in the opening sequence of The A-Team. That’s the kind of nerdy in-joke we all like. Again I can’t remember much about the episodes now (it was 35 years ago, folks) but I loved Star Wars and this was something else set in space, so I watched it.
This show aired a bit later than most of the others I’ve mentioned so I don’t know if it can officially be called cheesy, but I loved it so it made the list. As writers, we’re encouraged to develop characters our readers can grow to love (and if we’re GRRM, then kill them off), but Quantum Leap turned that on its head by having Beckett leap to a different person and a different time every episode. But somehow it still worked, maybe just because of the magic that is Scott Bakula.
I have a special story about Blake’s 7. When I was eight, we had to write a story at school and divide it into chapters. I wrote one about Blake’s 7 – my first ever sci-fi! And the first chapter ended, “Blake and Jenna looked at each other.” A friend laughed when she read it and said, “What does that mean?” and I got all indignant and said, “Well you have to end a chapter with a cliffhanger.” Not a bad insight for an eight-year-old. Blake’s 7 had the traditional cardboard sets and shiny foil costumes, but I liked Blake and had a thing for Avon. I can vaguely remember a daft ending with a Dynasty-style culling of all the characters, but the show gets the spot in spite of that.
This was a game show in which celebrities and members of the public travelled to the planet Arg and completed puzzles. I remember it mainly for Uncle the Aspidistra plant and the Vortex, a game projected onto a background that made it look like the players were in space. This game held the same sort of magic for me that I got when taken as a kid to see Santa. We went into a room, sat in Santa’s sleigh, watched the reindeer flying, then got off and hey presto! We were in the North Pole. If the characters in the show failed to solve the puzzles, they ended up standing next to a signpost in the middle of space, trying to hitch a lift.
Actually I remember the film with Michael York and Jenny Agutter more than the series, although I’m sure I watched it. But I really liked the idea behind the show-that people only live until they’re thirty and then they’re vaporised, and the hand clock reminded everyone how long they had left to live. The moment where they meet Peter Ustinov-the first old man they’ve ever seen-and bring him back to the city stayed with me long after the film had ended.
Even though I’ve listed these shows in a random order, this one has to be the cheesiest of them all. David McCallum is masterfully stern and grim, and I think my dad only watched it for Joanna Lumley. But it set in place my lifelong fascination with time and how it can be controlled, travelled and manipulated, a theme that I return to often in my stories. I’ve just finished Sunstone, the sequel to Heartwood, and that is very timey-wimey. So I suppose I should say thanks to Sapphire & Steel for starting me off on that track.