It’s the era of TV binge watching, and that means a lot of people are discovering the greats of TV science fiction for the very first time.
Stargate fandom has been growing by leaps and bounds every year, as newcomers discover the adventures of Jack O’Neill, John Sheppard, Everett Young, and their teams on streaming services like Prime Video, Hulu, Pluto TV, and (starting this week!) airing weeknights on Comet.
But once you’ve watched all 214 episodes of Stargate SG-1 (and don’t forget the two follow-up movies to finish the story), 100 episodes of Stargate Atlantis, and 40 hours of Stargate Universe … what should you watch next? What are some other well-written shows from the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s that showcase the same quality acting, world-building, and heart?
What are the fan favorites?
Well I for one have been hooked on great TV sci-fi since the late 1970s — but I’m guessing you might not be looking for the greats like Buck Rogers in the 25th Century or the original Battlestar Galactica just yet. So let’s keep this list a bit more recent. We’re also going to exclude current shows that are still in production, or that recently wrapped up (with one exception). (But we’d love to hear your favorites in the comments below!)
Ready for your next binge? In no particular order, here are ten great sci-fi shows you should watch if you loved Stargate!
The Star Trek Franchise
Let’s stipulate right off the bat that you should watch the Star Trek franchise. If you are reading this list you probably know this already, so we won’t even count it towards our ten recommendations. But where to begin with such a sprawling franchise?
You can’t do much better than starting with the original 1966 series with Kirk and Spock, but if ’60s storytelling isn’t for you then start with Star Trek: The Next Generation. It takes a while to get going, but by Season Three the show really found its voice and became one of the greatest shows of all time.
With the crews of the Enterprise, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager you’ll find a lot in common with the magic of Stargate: adventure, humor, a team of people who each contribute their skills and who rely on each other, and a mythology that grows year over year. Three of these shows (TNG, DS9, and Voyager) were made during the ’90s and occasionally intersect with one another, adding up to a whopping 21 seasons of great entertainment.
Star Trek is an expansive franchise, with numerous shows that are sometimes tonally very different. There is live action and animation, 13 movies, and a contemporary take with multiple series currently in production and on the drawing board for Paramount+.
After they worked on the Stargate franchise for 11 years writers Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie took up the reins of their own show for Syfy: Dark Matter ran for three seasons, after the pilot story was first published as a comic. This is the story of the crew of the Raza, who wake up on board the ship in the first episode with no memories of who they are.
The crew take on names in order of their awakening: First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth. Soon they discover that they are renegades and criminals, and each one must grapple with their own past as they make their way in the universe.
Dark Matter is a space-based action-adventure show with the same fun, humor, and drama that Mallozzi and Mullie brought to some of Stargate‘s best episodes. Unfortunately it leaves off on a cliffhanger — Syfy cancelled the show three years into a 5-year storyline.
One of the most critically acclaimed science fiction series of the modern era pairs well with Stargate: Ronald D. Moore’s reimagining of Battlestar Galactica actually aired on Friday nights right after SG-1 and Atlantis, as part of SCI FI Channel’s epic “SCI FI Friday” line-up.
Moore took the classic 1978 series created by Glen A. Larson and turned it from a campy family adventure to a hardcore drama, with well-drawn characters and visual effects that put viewers right into the cockpit of a Colonial Viper. This is the story of a ragtag, fugitive fleet that is fleeing the robotic Cylons after the downfall of their civilization. Fleet Commander William Adama (Edward James Olmos) and civilian President Laura Roslin (Mary McDonnell) must navigate inner turmoil and treachery as the last survivors of humanity seek refuge with a legendary, long-lost colony: Earth.
If you’ve always heard good things about BSG, now is a great time to binge the whole series. Start with the 2003 mini-series, which sets up the first of four seasons.
One of SCI FI’s very first shots at original scripted drama was the frelling bonkers Farscape, from the mind of Rockne S. O’Bannon and the production talents of The Jim Henson Company. Yep, Farscape has puppets — but puppets like you have never seen them before, from Pilot (the heart and soul of the living ship, Moya) to the deposed Dominar Rygel XVI, to the many creatures and villains that Moya’s crew encounter in their journeys.
Filmed in Australia for the Nine Network, Farscape stars Ben Browder and Claudia Black — who would later join the cast of Stargate SG-1 (as Colonel Cameron Mitchell and the thief Vala Mal Doran, respectively). Their roles on Farscape are veeery different: John Crichton is an astronaut from Earth who is out to prove his theories about wormholes when he gets sucked into one and flung to the far side of the galaxy. And Aeryn Sun is a buttoned up officer and pilot for the jack-booted Peacekeepers, who finds herself ostracized from everyone and everything she has ever known.
Moya’s so-called “crew” are a bunch of misfits, and the living ship herself is used by the Peacekeepers as a prisoner transport. After Crichton arrives in the first episode they break free from their shackles, and are chased across the galaxy by the space police.
Farscape is a fantastic show. Every episode is shot through with humor, action, and emotion. From the end of the first season the writers embraced more serialized storytelling (with lots of episodic adventures along the way, like Stargate), but were also highly experimental. The show ran for four seasons — plus a wrap-up mini-series event, The Peacekeeper Wars.
The Canadian drama Travelers hails from (in my humble opinion) one of the greatest science fiction creatives of this generation: Brad Wright, who wrote and produced the 1990s reboot of The Outer Limits before co-creating Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis, and Stargate Universe. After Stargate he assembled a room of talented young writers to create a high-concept time travel show for Netflix and Canada’s Showcase.
Travelers stars Eric McCormack (Will & Grace) as Grant MacLaren (a.k.a. Traveler 3468), who leads a team of secret operatives whose conscious minds have been sent back in time to the present day. With knowledge of how the timeline will unfold they attempt to make corrections to history, hoping to avert a cataclysm that left their own world a post-apocalyptic wasteland.
Expect lots of familiar faces from the Stargate family here, including recurring roles for Patrick Gilmore (“Dale Volker”), Jennifer Spence (“Lisa Park”), and Amanda Tapping (“Samantha Carter”) — who also directs. Travelers ran for three short but sweet seasons, with a satisfying ending that leaves the door open for more.
Before Battlestar Galactica, before LOST, before pretty much anyone was doing long-form, serialized storytelling on television — there was Babylon 5. Created by J. Michael Straczynski, B5 is an ambitious, galaxy-spanning space opera.
Babylon 5 is the fifth in a line of space stations built by humans to be neutral ground between the various races and factions of the galaxy, from the ancient and powerful Minbari to the even more ancient and enigmatic Vorlons, from the power-hungry Centauri to the proud warrior race of the Narn. Managing the station’s day-to-day operations is just the beginning for Captains Jeffrey Sinclair and John Sheridan. A war is coming … and Babylon 5 is our last, best hope for peace.
This is a quintessentially 90s show, made on a syndication budget and with some of the first computer-generated special effects in television. (Look for the new remastered edition on HBO Max.) Not only does the show beautifully mix drama, action, and humor. Not only does it feature some of most compelling and three-dimensional characters in the genre. But B5 weaves together a series of narratives — both galactic and interpersonal — with astonishing foresight (some things set up in Season One aren’t paid off until Season Five!) and one satisfying conclusion after another.
That’s because the series is the brain child of a single creator, and after the show got up and running Straczynski incredibly took most of the writing duties on his own shoulders. He is credited with 92 of the show’s 110 episodes. Consider those five seasons like a book — with a beginning, middle, and end that (really!) were determined from the beginning. Then add the series of TV movies made for TNT, with In the Beginning serving as a fitting recap after Season Four. (Avoid watching it first! It includes many character revelations that were slowly teased out over four years.)
If you want to keep living in the B5 universe there are also a handful of failed spin-offs, including Crusade (cancelled after half a season) and Legend of the Rangers (which didn’t make it past its slightly odd pilot movie). Finally, The Lost Tales was a straight-to-DVD project meant to be the first of an anthology, made with a shoestring budget and not a lot of studio support. (It’s also worth noting that JMS himself is currently trying to reboot the original show for The CW.)
A more recent space adventure show from Syfy Channel, Killjoys is another Canadian joint — this time from creator Michelle Lovretta. Killjoys are space bounty hunters, and this ship is home to Dutch (Hannah John-Kamen), her sidekick Johnny Jaqobis (Aaron Ashmore), and his brother D’avin (Luke Macfarlane) — who is the newcomer to the bunch. They punch the clock for the Reclamation Apprehension Coalition, a guild that flies in the planetary system known as the Quad.
Over the course of the show’s five seasons, of course, things get much, much more complicated than just taking jobs and track down bounties. Dutch has a secret and complicated history — daughter, royal, assassin, and a personal connection to a creepy other world and a character who ends up being one of the show’s main antagonists.
Killjoys is whip-smart, with great characters in a world that is dirty and lived-in. There is great atmosphere here as well as humor, sibling love (and rivalry), and lots of gunfire. It’s highly entertaining, and one of those rare occasions when Syfy let a show reach the end of its story.
The Doctor gets a pass from our “Not currently in production” rule because the show has been running for so long. The classic series debuted in 1963, moving from black-and-white to color TV and airing until 1989. In that time seven different actors played the lead role. A 1996 movie with Paul McGann failed to relaunch the franchise for an American audience, but then in 2005 along came writer and producer Russell T. Davies. He successfully launched the modern series — continuing on from the original, with Christopher Eccleston (The Leftovers) as the Ninth Doctor.
Doctor Who follows a rogue Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey, known only as “The Doctor.” Usually with one or more human companions along for the ride, he travels time and space in the TARDIS (that’s his ship disguised as an old London police box) looking for adventure and spectacle. Along the way they often get into trouble, and usually end up helping those in dire need. Viewers of the modern series are slowly let in on (some of) the Doctor’s secrets, the part he has played in a larger galactic conflict, and the various hostile forces still out there.
This is one of the greatest of all time, predating Star Trek and setting what contemporary, serialized science fiction could be. If you are a completionist, then by all means start with the old BBC serials from the ’60s. Others should start with 2005’s relaunched “Season One,” which stars Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor and Billie Piper as Rose Tyler. The new show takes about a year to fully find itself, and when David Tennant joins the show viewers are in for one hell of a ride.
It’s hard to believe it has been more than 20 years since Joss Whedon’s space western wooed us, broke our hearts, brought those hearts back to life with the follow-up movie Serenity, and then stomped on them one last time for good measure. (Browncoats, you know the scene I’m talking about.) By now Firefly is legendary in the annuls of science fiction, not only because brain-dead FOX executives cancelled it after a dozen or so episodes but because Firefly somehow managed to be great right off the starting blocks.
Captain Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion, Castle) is a veteran who came out on the losing side of a war for independence against the Alliance. Now he and his war friend Zoe Washburne (Gina Torres) lead the ragtag crew and passengers of the Serenity — find a crew, find a job, keep flying. Mal is fiercely loyal and deeply complex, the sort who pretends to be a cut-throat smuggler but can never manage to stray far from his moral code. Every character is already fully formed from the show’s first frame, not entirely what they seem, with enough depth to run ten seasons.
But Firefly was a hard show to market, and sometimes hard for viewers to follow. A western-themed space adventure show with a ship full of n’er-do-wells was unlike anything network viewers had seen at the time. But for those who get Firefly, it gets its hooks in you fast with witty dialogue, irreverent humor, and characters with limitless potential.
There is one short season and a movie to enjoy here, but you’re bound to miss some things on first viewing. So plan to come back to Firefly again and again.
Like a lot of Stargate fans I have a soft spot for Amanda Tapping, who played Samantha Carter on the show. We followed her character through ten years of SG-1, plus two movies and another year on Stargate Atlantis. But when Amanda was ready to step out of the Stargate nest as a leading actor, director, and executive producer — boy, did she soar.
Sanctuary started out as a short-form and highly experimental Web series before it evolved into a full-fledged fantasy drama on Syfy. Another product of Canada, it was created by Stargate SG-1 writer Damian Kindler and featured Helen Magnus (Tapping) and her team. A 157-year-old expert in the study of abnormals, Magnus lead her team in keeping unusual beings safe from the normal world.
Years before The Mandalorian was shooting on virtual sets, Sanctuary was one of the first shows to utilize computer-generated graphics for its every-day sets. It filmed on partial sets and large green-screens, with CG filling in the backdrops and atmosphere of the world. This is more fantasy than science fiction, with plenty of Stargate faces turning up over the show’s 4-year run. It’s definitely worth a watch.
Based on the books by James S. A. Corey (a pen name for a writing team who ended up working on the TV show), The Expanse is a complex and serious piece of hard science fiction. It is the near future, and humankind has spread out into the solar system — with diverse cultures evolving on Earth and its moon, Mars, and various colonies from Ceres Station to the asteroid Eros to the scientific research facility on Ganymede.
The working class who have helped to build all of this industry and expansion are the Belters, who live in the asteroid belt on the outer edge of the system. Over many generations Belters have come to resent the “Inners,” and are seeking a way to establish their own independent society — some by peaceful means, and others through ruthless acts of terrorism.
The Expanse has been hailed for its smart drama and its scientific accuracy (especially the physics of zero gravity). What might it actually look like if humans had drives capable of traversing the distance between the planets? Probably something like this. From the vantage point of the accidental crew of the Rocinante, the show chronicles the politics of interplanetary conflict and the threat of a alien form of life from beyond our system.
The Expanse aired for three seasons before Syfy prematurely cancelled it — but it was quickly picked up by Amazon, where it streamed on Prime Video for another three seasons. Six of the nine books have been adapted, and while the show has a satisfying conclusion hope remains that more of the story will be told in the future. This is science fiction at its best.
What are your favorite non-Stargate sci-fi shows? What would you recommend to someone who is watching for the very first time? Put it in the comments below!