Back in the day, British television used to be the home of the grim sci-fi. The grungy sci-fi. Oh, you can knock the flimsy sets and the rubber outfits, but old school British sci-fi would stone cold kill a bitch right in front of you. Just to see if you'd flinch. Blake's 7 was full of delicious moral ambiguity, Quatermass dared suppose that the human race were all just little shits one step away from wholesale genocide and Martian law.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond, you had Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, whose first idea in any situation was to bare his manly chest for all to see. You had Battlestar Galactica with a fluffy robot dog - nothing like the cold, metal and wholly soulless K9, I shall have you know. Star Trek, as good as it was, was utopian and happy. Regardless of the quality of the show, American television liked upbeat stuff.
But now that's all changed. America is exporting sci-fi that's not only grim, but good. It started a while ago, too. We've been getting dark sci-fi for years now. Hell, the remake of Battlestar Galactica - the show with the fluffy robot dog, for God's sake - is now as depressing and morose as dark sci-fi can get. People die by the millions! Planets wasted! Humanity a flickering, dying ember in the darkness! An implacable enemy that walks among us! Even the upbeat stuff they're making - Heroes, for example - is full of the grim stuff. Conspiracy and moral ambiguity and the like.
Britain is sadly lagging behind in the sci-fi race. Somehow we lost our way as a proud, sci-fi producing nation. We're down to... well, very little indeed. ITV's given us one thing of note, Primeval, which takes the geeky ideal of a team of monster-hunting academics and somehow manages to not do very well with it. Still, it's miles ahead of the BBC's offerings. We've got Doctor Who, which has shamed its forerunners and become a ridiculous pantomime sham, full of gurning faces and villains who are on a "10 BAD PUN 20 LAUGH 30 GOTO 10" loop. Not to mention ham-fisted social commentary with the subtlety of a brick to the face and atrocious writing that makes people fawn over the "good" episodes, even though they'd only be rated average if the bad episodes didn't exist. (But if the bad episodes didn't exist, we'd have two episodes a season.)
Don't even get me started on Torchwood, which somehow has missed the fact that, no, Americans didn't invent gritty sci-fi and even if they had you're doing all wrong anyway. It's embarrassing to watch, like a student film that tries to act like a Hollywood blockbuster and takes itself seriously despite a tiny budget. Sci-fi isn't interesting to watch because you've got weirdy aliens flopping about killing people and there's some kind of mystery to it all, why not. That's not it at all. Sci-fi is no different to any other genre, insofar as it's the human interaction and the characterisation that drives the audience to care and to keep with it. Torchwood's cast is all flat and dull, their motivation either "sex" or "sex", much like how Doctor Who has a cast with the much more PG motivation of "love".
So while Britain's always been a bit shy about getting involved in producing television shows which aren't "sitcom", "soap" or "gritty true crime drama", at least it got stuck in with some serious... seriousness back in the day. It made sci-fi that distanced itself from the old raygun serials of yesteryear. But now it's just making shit, basically, and the production giant that is the American entertainment industry has swooped in on what was once Britain's territory. I suppose we're lucky, in a way, that anything besides a never-ending cavalcade of "police drama", "hospital drama", "amateur detective drama", "even more fucking police drama" and "people who work with the police but who aren't actually the police drama".
Wait, no it's not, because what little we get is basically crapped upon us from on high by worthless, know-nothing morons who believe that producing a good sci-fi show basically involves taking some of the more worn-out clichés from American stuff and wearing them out even more.
I can only hope that the new generation of writers (of which I am a part) can do something to change this and improve matters, bringing the British tradition of dark sci-fi back to our screens and ending the reign of the camp Time Lord and his legion of monsters-of-the-week. Well, I mean if we all don't just bugger off to America where we'll be appreciated rather than chastised for not writing more bloody police drama.