25 outstanding episodes of scifi TV

These are my picks for some truly standout episodes of television science fiction. I really tried to focus on "science fiction", and not the supernatural, which is why there are no episodes of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and not more episodes of "The X-Files" ... Buffy's best episodes really weren't scifi, and the better episodes of "The X-Files" tended to deal with the supernatural.
View:
Log in to copy items to your own lists.
1.
The Twilight Zone (1959 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 9.0/10 X  
On a peaceful suburban street, strange occurrences and mysterious people stoke the residents' paranoia to a disastrous intensity. (51 mins.)
“ Rod Serling summed up the episode:

The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices, to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill, and suspicion can destroy, and the thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own: for the children, and the children yet unborn.
This parable stands as one of the all time greatest works of fiction to warn against the consequences of giving in to fear. ” - Tom-91
 
2.
Battlestar Galactica (2004 TV Series)
Episode: Crossroads: Part 2 (2007)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 9.2/10 X  
Coincidences creates new alliances aboard Galactica. (44 mins.)
“ Spoilers
Forget the return of Kara Thrace (Katee Sackhoff) .... forget the revelation of four of the final five Cylons ... this episode hinges on a bravura performance by Jamie Bamber on the stand during Baltar's trial. As Apollo, he argues about how it is less important to find a scapegoat ... even when everything appears so clear and black & white ... and how it is more important to forgive, learn, and move on. In an era where we seem to be more interested in assigning blame than finding solutions, this episode screams that we, as a people, need to get our priorities in order. People should be forbidden from entering or supporting politics until they have seen this episode. ” - Tom-91
 
3.
Star Trek (1966 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  
The Enterprise encounters two duo-chromatic and mutually belligerent aliens who put the ship in the middle of their old conflict. (50 mins.)
“ Spoilers
Lou Antonio and Frank Gorshin play half black-half white men ... Antonio the terrorist/freedom fighter being pursued across the cosmos by Gorshin, who represents the law. They both take temporary refuge aboard the Enterprise; each trying to earn the sympathy of the crew. After forcing Kirk & Co. to return them to their home world ... a world completely destroyed by war, the lesson is clear: politics don't matter ... curing hatred in all of its forms either must happen ... or face the inevitable alternative. For a series based on subtlety, this was one of the least subtle and timeless episodes of the series. ” - Tom-91
 
4.
Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987 TV Series)
Episode: The Inner Light (1992)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 9.4/10 X  
Picard awakes to find himself living in a small village where he is a well-known member of the community who is suffering from a delusion of being a starship captain. (44 mins.)
“ I've often thought of this as the most "Roddenberryesque" of all the Trek episodes. How do you best learn about someone or some group? ... perhaps the only true way is to live as them and among them. Patrick Stewart is rarely better than in this emotional episode, complete with some of the most memorable music composed for any one episode of scifi TV. ” - Tom-91
 
5.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993 TV Series)
Episode: In the Pale Moonlight (1998)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 9.3/10 X  
To save the Federation in a critical scheme, Sisko comes to realize that he must violate its fundamental principles to do so. (45 mins.)
“ People of good conscience generally embrace the idea of a society of law ... that is no matter what, it is the law that rules people, and never the other way around. However, there is another axiom: The law is not a suicide pact. Perhaps the least idealistic episode in the Trek universe, the honorable Captain Sisko (Avery Brooks) is faced with the choice of following the law or rolling the dice. It is told as a flashback, and shows how sometimes even the most righteous and idealistic are forced to sell off part of their soul in the name of survival. There are many episodes of Trek that end with the hero disgusted with what has happened, but very few that see the hero disgusted with himself, over the messy complexity that reality often presents, and that alternatives are not always an option. ” - Tom-91
 
6.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993 TV Series)
Episode: The Visitor (1995)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 9.1/10 X  
Melanie, an aspiring writer, wants to know why Jake Sisko stopped writing at 40. Jake tells how his father died in an accident and then suddenly reappeared. (45 mins.)
“ Told from the perspective of an older Jake Sisko (Tony Todd) who is facing his own death, we learn about his father's disappearance years before, and the efforts Jake (also played in his usual, younger form by Cirroc Lofton) has gone to in order to bring his father home ... and that there is one final chance left to set things right with an exceptional price. This is consistently ranked among the best episodes of Trek ever produced for its emotional resonance between father and son. ” - Tom-91
 
7.
Battlestar Galactica (2004 TV Series)
Episode: 33 (2004)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.4/10 X  
The crew of Galactica is exhausted after 237 consecutive jumps in intervals of 33 minutes and 132.25 hour without sleep to escape from the Cylons... (44 mins.)
“ The pilot episode of the great series can easily rate as one of the greatest pilot episodes of any series. 130 hours after the end of the miniseries, the audience catches up to the fleet ... on the run, with the Cylons appearing every 33 minutes .... How are they tracking the fleet? Everyone is too tired to answer the question as they barely have enough time to catch a breath before running again ... until an opportunity to end the chase forces an impossibly difficult choice. A great episode presenting a people tired, exhausted, and pushed to the breaking point ... and no one is able to help anyone else who is not otherwise equally at wit's end. ” - Tom-91
 
8.
Battlestar Galactica (2004 TV Series)
Episode: Sometimes a Great Notion (2009)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.8/10 X  
Scouting the planet reveals that there is no life except plants. The destruction occurred about 2,000 years earlier... (44 mins.)
“ Spoilers
One of the single most depressing episodes of television ever produced ... the Galactica has reached Earth ... or what is left of it ... everyone seems to lose faith ... expressed most graphically in the suicide of Dualla (Kandyse McClure) that was written and acted brilliantly from early tears to near emotionless end ... This all followed with Adama's (Edward James Olmos) emotional breakdown and confrontation with Tigh (Michael Hogan). A risky and emotionally deep episode that went to places that were even dark for this dark series. ” - Tom-91
 
9.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993 TV Series)
Episode: The Siege of AR-558 (1998)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.6/10 X  
Capt. Sisko and his away team volunteer to stay with a besieged unit at an isolated outpost. (45 mins.)
“ This episode, where Sisko (Avery Brooks) and his crew help to hold an important communication facility against the Dominion is best remembered for an outstanding line, delivered by Quark (Armin Shimerman):

You know something about Hew-mons, Nephew. They're a wonderful, friendly people, as long as their bellies are full and their holosuites are working. But take away their creature comforts, deprive them of food, sleep, sonic showers, put their lives in jeopardy over an extended period of time and those same friendly, intelligent, wonderful people... will become as nasty and as violent as the most bloodthirsty Klingon. You don't believe me? Look at those faces. Look in their eyes.
... A brilliant, haunting, and sadly undeniable sentiment ... which like the rest of the episode examines the toll of warfare on the human spirit. ” - Tom-91
 
10.
Firefly (2002 TV Series)
Episode: Out of Gas (2002)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 9.5/10 X  
When Serenity's life support system fails, Mal orders the crew off the ship - but he stays behind. (44 mins.)
“ With the Serenity dead in space, flashbacks explain how this most unusual of spaceship crews ever got together. A quirky episode from a quirky show that went far, far before its time ... undoubtedly would have had more episodes on this list if more had been made. ” - Tom-91
 
11.
Doctor Who (2005 TV Series)
Episode: The Doctor Dances (2005)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 9.1/10 X  
The Doctor, Rose and Captain Jack Harkness are still in the hospital with the gas mask-wearing mutants and are having some trouble finding a way out... (45 mins.)
“ The solution to The Empty Child, the Doctor confronts a child killed in the Blitz brought back to life by alien devices. A touching, standout story in the reboot of "Doctor Who". ” - Tom-91
 
12.
Babylon 5 (1994 TV Series)
Episode: Severed Dreams (1996)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 9.7/10 X  
When President Clark escalates his brutal repression of the people of Earth Alliance, Captain Sheridan declares Babylon 5 independent. (45 mins.)
“ Captain Sheridan (Bruce Boxleitner) and his crew must decide to follow an illegal coup by Earth's leadership or stand against them and their fleet. It is a bold episode that serves as a reminder to all men and women of uniform: following illegal orders cannot ever be tolerated, and that sometimes the greatest act of bravery is standing up for what is right no matter what the consequence. If it had been written after 2001, it would have been called "timely". Instead, it should be considered "forward thinking". ” - Tom-91
 
13.
The Twilight Zone (1959 TV Series)
Episode: Eye of the Beholder (1960)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 9.2/10 X  
A young woman lying in a hospital bed, her head wrapped in bandages, awaits the outcome of a surgical procedure performed by the State in a last-ditch attempt to make her look "normal". (51 mins.)
“ What is beauty? While we are always taught that beauty is more than skin deep, it is hard to escape from society's oppressive imposition of standards of external beauty, and the price that is paid when we don't measure up. Rod Serling drives home the idea that society's idea of external beauty is hardly ever close to perfection. M. Night Shyamalan has nothing on this completely unexpected twist ending. ” - Tom-91
 
14.
Doctor Who (2005 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 9.3/10 X  
The Doctor, Mickey and Rose land on a spaceship in the 51st century only to find 18th century Versailles on board, the time of Madame De Pompadour! To find out what's going on the Doctor must enter Versailles and save Madame De Popmpadour but it turns into an emotional roller coaster for the Doctor. (45 mins.)
“ The Doctor is a romantic figure, yet very rarely is involved in romantic entanglements. The Girl in the Fireplace sets up the Doctor in a relationship with none other than Madame de Pompadour ... a relationship that is of course doomed. Sophia Myles and David Tennant have fantastic chemistry in this phenomenal episode. ” - Tom-91
 
15.
Star Trek: The Animated Series (1973 TV Series)
Episode: Yesteryear (1973)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  
After finding himself erased from recent history, Spock must travel back in time to save himself as a youth. (30 mins.)
“ Spoilers

I can't imagine that there were any better animated episodes around in 1973. A great many of the ideas for young Spock in the 2009 "Star Trek" film seem to come from this time travel episode where elder Spock must travel back to Vulcan of his childhood in order to save his own life. Spock is saved by his pet, but when the animal is dying from a mortal wound, young Spock must decide whether or not to euthanize his beloved companion. With all of the maturity in animation today, this episode from nearly 40 years ago was well ahead of its time for Saturday morning kiddie-faire. ” - Tom-91
 
16.
Star Trek (1966 TV Series)
Episode: A Taste of Armageddon (1967)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
Kirk and Spock must save their ship's crew when they are declared all killed in action in a bizarre computer simulated war where the actual deaths must occur to continue. (50 mins.)
“ Back in the 1960s, there was a concern among the establishment that a public that knew the real cost of war might not support it. I've always wondered if this was the reason why there is less coverage of modern wars? In this episode, Kirk & Co. encounter a planet where warfare has not only become an intellectually sterile affair, but a generationally institutionalized event ... rather than destroy everything beautiful about their culture, computers compute the casualties, and people loyally report to centers to be killed ... a society that is so disconnected from the horrors and destruction of war, that there is no reason to stop it. A commentary on the dangers when a people sit safely far away from war that becomes too easy to continue ... a lesson as timely now as ever. ” - Tom-91
 
17.
The Outer Limits (1963 TV Series)
Episode: Demon with a Glass Hand (1964)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 9.0/10 X  
Days ago Trent awoke with no memory of his past. Since then, sinister men have pursued him constantly... (51 mins.)
“ Whether it is "The Twilight Zone" or "The Outer Limits", one of the staples of their sci-fi has been the "the good guy gets screwed in the end" twist ending. Thus is the case in this episode where Robert Culp (later of I Spy and The Greatest American Hero fame) is a time traveler on the run, not knowing why he is running. A doomed love and the fate of the Earth are (quite literally) in his hand(s). ” - Tom-91
 
18.
Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987 TV Series)
Episode: Chain of Command: Part 2 (1992)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.9/10 X  
While the humorless Captain Jellico leads the effort to prevent a Cardassian invasion, Picard is captured and tortured by a ruthless interrogator in an attempt to break him. (44 mins.)
“ The highlight of this two-part episode is the second part, which probably goes as far as showing the dehumanizing effects of torture than any episode of television had before. It is a remarkable contrast to Patrick Stewart's work in The Inner Light, and reintroduces one of the legendary actors of scifi villiany, David Warner, playing Captain Piccard's Cardassian torturer. ” - Tom-91
 
19.
Quantum Leap (1989 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 9.1/10 X  
Still involved in his brother Tom's life, Sam leaps into Vietnam to either save his brother or ensure the success of the team's mission. (60 mins.)
Director: John Cullum
“ The drama of "Quantum Leap" was usually about Dr. Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula) figuring out how to set right a wrong within history. From time to time, he had to figure out which path history was supposed to take ... that never hit quite home as in this episode: as a soldier in his brother's unit in Vietnam, is his job to assure the mission is successful, or save his brother's life? ” - Tom-91
 
20.
Doctor Who (1963 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 9.1/10 X  
The Doctor and his companions are sent to the planet Skaro by the Time Lords to prevent the creation of the Daleks. (45 mins.)
“ This six part serial poses one of those interesting questions that inevitably comes up in time travel fiction: why not go back far enough in time and eliminate your enemy (heck, James Cameron started a whole franchise based on this idea!)? The Doctor is sent back to war torn Skaros to stop the creation of the universe's most feared villains, the Daleks. In the episode that introduced their creator, Davros, the Doctor is forced to contemplate whether it is right to murder when a crime has yet to be committed ... especially when "murder" is closer to "genocide". One of the classic Tom Baker serials. ” - Tom-91
 
21.
Star Trek: Voyager (1995 TV Series)
Episode: Scorpion: Part 1 (1997)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.9/10 X  
About to enter Borg space, Voyager finds a threat so devastating that even the Borg cannot deal with it. (44 mins.)
“ This two-part episode marks both a high point and turning point for the series. On the way home, the Voyager finally enters Borg space. They soon learn that the Borg are not the biggest threat here, and that a highly risky alliance between the Voyager and the Borg may be the only way out of a bad situation, made even worse when Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) is nearly killed, and a distrustful Chakotay (Robert Beltran) must find a way to save the ship from one enemy while preventing it from being overrun by the Borg, led by Seven-of-Nine (Jeri Ryan). A sleepy series got infinitely more interesting with this episode. ” - Tom-91
 
22.
Babylon 5 (1994 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.1/10 X  
In the distant future, a man examines key moments in the history of Earth, starting with the formation of the Interstellar Alliance on Babylon 5. (45 mins.)
“ Amazingly, this episode was more or less thrown together at the last minute after Babylon 5 was rescued for a fifth season, forcing back what was to be the series finale one more year. This show takes place after Sheridan's (Bruce Boxleitner) Interstellar Alliance has overthrown President Clark, and shows the effects from various future dates stretching from five years later to one million years later. It is a surprisingly emotional episode for what structurally ranks just above a clip show. Another sign that this show was far more than just an early pioneer in television CGI. ” - Tom-91
 
23.
Stargate SG-1 (1997 TV Series)
Episode: Heroes: Part 2 (2004)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 9.0/10 X  
The documentarian still a thorn in their side, SGC encounters an unforeseen predicament. With half of SG-13 off-world engaging enemy Jaffa... (44 mins.)
“ A film maker sent to documet the work of the Stargate project (Saul Rubinek) finds himself at odds with almost everyone when he fights to use footage of one of their own dying on an alien planet. For a show that never went too emotionally deep, this episode got pretty close. ” - Tom-91
 
24.
Star Trek: Voyager (1995 TV Series)
Episode: Jetrel (1995)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.2/10 X  
Neelix is diagnosed with a fatal illness by a Haakonian named Ma'Bor Jetrel. This man is the same one who developed a doomsday weapon that destroyed a Talaxian moon and killed Neelix's family. (44 mins.)
“ Neelix (Ethan Phillips) is forced to confront a scientist (James Sloyan) who created a weapon of mass destruction that killed his family during a war that his people lost. The scientist claims that Neelix is dying unless he can help, though he seems to be hiding a lot. A parable for the nuclear bomb, or for any survivor confronting the creator of such a weapon. What really makes this a great episode is the unexpected drama which Ethan Phillips, a brilliant comic actor, puts into his performance opposite Trek veteran Sloyan. The lesson is that in cases of war, it is often overly simplistic to assign blame when war itself is a complex and often chaotic endeavor. ” - Tom-91
 
25.
Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (1993 TV Series)
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 9.3/10 X  
Darvin, a disgraced Klingon spy, travels back in time to alter some events to his likings. The DS9 crew... (45 mins.)
“ Created as a part of "Trek"'s 30th anniversary celebration, this meta-episode was, at the time, an amazing use of technology, especially for the standards of television. Sure, technology has advanced, and this episode is now just a comical meta-testament to the original series, but it is still one heck of a way to acknowledge your roots. ” - Tom-91