TV’s top 50 sci-fi characters: Mr. Spock, Starbuck and…TOBOR?

Aug. 01, 2012 | 4:43 p.m.
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James T. Kirk, "Star Trek" (1966): A restless seeker and cold-space warrior, an interstellar tomcat and loyal friend, Kirk was an Iowa gambler who was never neutral but always in the zone. William Shatner's character taught us the meaning of warp drive as he chased alien threats and Starfleet miniskirts with reckless hubris. Illogical? Sure, but as Kirk said: "Sometimes a feeling is all we humans have to go on." (CBS)

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Lt. Kara "Starbuck" Thrace, "Battlestar Galactica" (2003): She began as a hard-drinking hot-shot pilot, but Thrace (Katee Sackhoff) became something far more complicated and fascinating over the run of the landmark Syfy series. (Carole Segal / Syfy)

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Capt. Malcolm Reynolds, "Firefly" (2002): As a soldier he fought for a failed independence but now Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) has more practical pursuits -- thievery, smuggling and dodging the Alliance. But in tight spots (or on Unification Day), Reynolds and his crew hear the call to be something else: "Big damn heroes." (Michael Lavine / Fox)

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Capt. Jack Harkness, "Torchwood" (2006): In this adult-themed "Doctor Who" spinoff, Harkness (John Barrowman) leads the secret Torchwood agency with as much swagger as substance. A former time-traveling con man, he's now an immortal hero full of flash, flirtation (for both men and women), confidence, charisma and guile -- which is not always what the Doctor ordered. (BBC America)

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Fox Mulder, "The X-Files" (1993): Obsessed, haunted, pragmatic and quirky, Mulder (David Duchovny) was the ideal man on a mission for a decade of conspiracy, disconnect and tech anxiety. His quest for "the truth" about aliens and the paranormal began with his sister’s abduction -- and the answers absolutely take him "out there" on the Fox series created by Chris Carter. (Mark Seliger / Fox)

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Number 6, "The Prisoner" (1967): Inscrutable faces, slippery perception and long dark riddles that lead to ... where? Patrick McGoohan's Number 6 is an unnamed British agent whose planned career change doesn't go so well: he's exiled to a village (think Orwell's summer getaway or a Kafka version of the Hamptons) and for 17 episodes his eyes show a desperate need to understand the puzzle around him. (ITC)

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Carl Kolchak, "The Night Stalker" (1971): The story is out there, and cranky Carl Kolchak is the newspaperman who wants to believe he'll put it on the front page. In his seersucker suit, Kolchak (Darren McGavin) matched wits with werewolves, mummies, zombies, marrow-sucking aliens and (most frightening of all) a cynical editor. (Handout)

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Logan Cale, "Dark Angel" (2000): Created by James Cameron and Charles Eglee, the series is set after an electromagnetic pulse plunges the U.S. into chaos and economic ruin. Logan Cale (Michael Weatherly) is a crusading cyber-journalist who finds a new mission in Max Guevara (Jessica Alba), a fugitive from a government lab creating assassins. (Jeff Vinnick / For The Times)

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David Vincent, "The Invaders" (1967): In the pre-dawn hours of a foggy Cold War morning, a weary architect named David Vincent pulled off the road to rest his hooded eyes. When he opened them he was staring into a glowing nightmare. The UFO landing was part of a cloaked invasion, but Vincent (the taciturn and intense Roy Thinnes) is made an outsider by his beliefs -- and a target. (Associated Press)

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Martin O'Hara, "My Favorite Martian" (1963): This fish-out-of-water comedy starred Ray Walston as an anthropologist from Mars whose spaceship crash-lands on Earth. A reporter (Bill Bixby) sees the crash and helps the Martian, whose antennae are retractable, pose as his Uncle Martin. Martin’s telepathy, telekinesis and advanced understanding of science get him and his Earthling roommate into trouble, but also help get them out of it. (Warner Bros.)

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Clark Kent, "Smallville" (2001): This long-running series starred Tom Welling as Clark Kent, the boy who would become Superman, and followed a "no tights, no flight" rule for most of its run, instead focusing on the difficulties facing the teenage alien transplanted on Earth. Throughout the series, Clark discovers his true heritage, builds relationships with both Lana Lang and Lois Lane, faces off against Lex Luthor, Major Zod and Darkseid and tries to find the courage to be the superhero he was born to be, all while keeping his identity under wraps. (Michael Courtney / The CW)

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Beldar Conehead, "Saturday Night Live" (1977): So, uh, what's with that head? "We're from France." That was good enough for most of the casually curious back in 1977-79 when Beldar Conehead (Dan Aykroyd) and his brood from the planet Remulak tossed their senso-rings at "Saturday Night Live" viewers. After "Close Encounters" and "Star Wars," that audience felt the power of the farce -- and looking back there's something about Beldar's beer gut and hapless plots that made him the Homer Simpson of the Jimmy Carter era. (Murray Close / Paramount Pictures)

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Dr. Dick Solomon, "3rd Rock from the Sun" (1996): In this zany and clever late-'90s comedy, Dr. Dick Solomon (John Lithgow) leads his crew on a research expedition to Earth, where they disguise themselves as a human family. Though Dick is the High Commander of the crew, in the guise of the oldest family member and a physics professor, he's also the youngest alien, and his childlike antics often land the crew in trouble with real humans, providing plenty of laughs. (NBC)

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Capt. Jean-Luc Picard, "Star Trek: The Next Generation" (1987): You can't "out-Kirk" Kirk. That was the thinking leading up to the launch of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and it was sound. But the notion of an Enterprise captained by a tea-sipping, bald native of France with patrician civility? A bad joke then, it now ranks among TV's most inspired gambles. Patrick Stewart's Picard engaged audiences for seven seasons -- meaning he boldly went to a place that Kirk (with 79 shows) had never been before: triple-digit episodes. (Elliott Marks / Paramount Pictures)

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John Sheridan, "Babylon 5" (1994): In a way, the first season of "Babylon 5" was a preamble building up to the arrival of John J. Sheridan, the man called Starkiller by his foes and eventually viewed as a messiah-like figure by many of the people who saw him as something more than a leader. Brought back from the dead (twice), Sheridan seems anointed by destiny, but he's no saint -- far from it. He can be impatient and has a withering temper. All those layers make Bruce Boxleitner’s captain (and eventual president) a star man with a killer arc. (Handout)

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Capt. Kathryn Janeway, "Star Trek: Voyager" (1995): Starfleet's first female captain to get her own TV show, Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) was also the toughest boss in Gene Roddenberry's sci-fi future since Capt. James T. Kirk (and, like him, an Iowa native). While some couldn't help chattering about her changing hairdos, we think Janeway stands out for her ability to beat back everyone who has crossed Voyager's path, be they Borg, Hirogen or Species 8472. While romance was rare for the woman who put duty first, she had close bonds with friends including Tuvok (Tim Russ), Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) and Chakotay (Robert Beltran), as well as her beloved pots of coffee. (Paramount Pictures)

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Dr. Sam Beckett, "Quantum Leap" (1989): In a time travel experiment gone wrong, Dr. Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula) finds himself awakening in other people's bodies -- their lives, their time period, often even their age and race all a mystery to him. With the help of his holographic pal Al and his odds-calculating gizmo Ziggy, Beckett must decipher what is about to go terribly wrong in the person's life and find a way to make it right. Oh, boy. (UPN)

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John Crichton, "Farscape" (1999): After American astronaut John Crichton (Ben Browder) accidentally flies his space module Farscape-1 through a wormhole to a distant part of the galaxy, he finds himself part of a fugitive crew aboard Moya, a living, sentient spaceship. Although he eventually befriends his fellow travelers (aliens who at first view him as primitive and ignorant) and finds love with Aeryn Sun (Claudia Black), he longs to return to Earth, studies wormhole technology and searches for a way home. (Brian McKenzie / Syfy)

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David Lister, "Red Dwarf" (1988): Lazy, unkempt and reeking of lager, David Lister is going nowhere in life before he signs up for a menial job aboard a mining ship called the Red Dwarf. The gig takes a bit longer than expected though; after a radiation leak, Lister is left in stasis -- for 3 million years. He awakens as the last human (by all appearances) and what follows is some of the U.K.'s most subversive, unsettling and riotously funny cosmic misadventures. (BBC)

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The intrepid scientist: Col. Samantha "Sam" Carter, "Stargate: SG-1" (1997): Astrophysicist, engineer, Gulf War pilot and (according to her boss) a "natural treasure," Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping) has a world-class noggin, and also happens to project a seemingly effortless beauty while sizing up the latest alien tech. She's clumsy with punch lines and boyfriends, but she was a beloved role model for fans of four "Stargate" series. (Syfy)

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Mr. Spock, "Star Trek" (1966): Is Spock the greatest alien in TV history? Our tricorder readings say yes. Sorry Mork, Alf and Worf, the only one who came close was Superman (with four live-action series with 24 years of air-time and countless cartoons). The Vulcan native gets it because he was a pure TV creation and the work of a single actor, Leonard Nimoy, who even in reruns lifted America’s interest in sci-fi and made it look as easy as elevating an eyebrow. Fascinating. (CBS)

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Dana Scully, "The X-Files" (1993): The skeptical, rational, redheaded foil to Fox Mulder, Gillian Anderson's medical doctor proved a dedicated ally to her oddball counterpart. Cool and collected, Scully had very personal encounters with the unknown that left her battling cancer and later giving birth to a child with special abilities. Through it all, her rapport with her partner remained constant despite a sprawling story line that at various points involved alien abductions, shadowy government conspiracies, otherworldly bounty hunters and black gummy substances, clones, shape-shifters and a two-headed monster with a passion for Cher. (Frank Ockenfels / Fox)

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Quinn Mallory, "Sliders" (1995): Physics graduate student Quinn Mallory (Jerry O'Connell) creates a machine that allows him to travel, or "slide," between parallel dimensions. His first experiment proves a success, but on his second attempt, the gateway becomes unstable, sucking Quinn, his best friend, his professor and a passerby through a wormhole to another dimension. He must rely on his brains and traveling companions in his quest to find a way home. (Ron Tom / Fox)

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The Master, "Doctor Who" (1971): A recurring villain in the long-running British time-travel series, the Master (most recently portrayed by John Simm) is a fellow Time Lord and a Professor Moriarty-type villain for the Doctor. Turned mad by looking directly into the vortex of time as a child, the brilliant and power-hungry Master longs to control the universe and destroy the Doctor. He resorts to disguises, cruelty and endless scheming in his attempts to do so. (BBC)

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Dr. Gaius Baltar, "Battlestar Galactica" (2003): The brilliant scientist who narrowly escaped an apocalypse of his own making, the treasonous Gaius Baltar (James Callis) travels a treacherous path from unwitting Cylon accomplice to vice president of (what's left of) the colonies. He then engineers his own ascendancy to president, leading settlers to colonize New Caprica, before ultimately surrendering to Cylon invaders. Adopting the pose of a self-appointed prophet, he maintains an unusual relationship with Number Six (Tricia Helfer). Baltar's limitless capacity for self-preservation made him loathsome, but Callis' performance was masterful -- his villain was a narcissistic chameleon who was as mesmerizing as he was despicable. (Carole Segal / Syfy)

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Diana, "V" (1983): In the original 1983 miniseries and subsequent movie and series, Diana (Jane Badler) is high commander of the Visitors, a genocidal alien race. The Visitors land on Earth offering peace and shared knowledge, but Diana and her lizard-people impose military rule and systematically perform mind control and biological experiments on humans. Diana returns in the 2009 reboot of "V," and she continues to plot and scheme, though this time against the new high commander, her daughter Anna (Morena Baccarin). (Gene Trindl / NBC Universal)

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Dr. Zachary Smith, "Lost in Space" (1965): At the start, Dr. Smith was a true villain. An enemy agent, he sabotaged the Jupiter 2's systems and then (trapped aboard) he was a victim of the navigational misadventure he caused. But as episodes passed a new Smith took shape -- haughty, insincere, bumbling and shrill, he was unlikable but no longer evil. Actor Jonathan Harris was tilting the character; he knew a true menace couldn't last but an irritant was invaluable for a writing team. A mad genius. (Syfy)

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Benjamin Linus, "Lost" (2004): Is he a cold-blooded villain or a visionary with good intentions? It's never quite clear. The enigmatic leader of a group of natives ("the Others") who occupy the island on which Oceanic Flight 815 crashes, Ben (Michael Emerson) is ruthless in pursuit of his mysterious goals (the main one seemingly to protect the island itself). He manipulates and often persecutes the survivors of the crash though later in the series, he becomes their ally. He moves the island and helps several of the survivors escape -- and then return again -- and eventually finds peace as advisor to Hugo (Jorge Garcia). (Mario Perez / ABC)

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David Banner, "The Incredible Hulk" (1978): In this 1970s-80s series, a laboratory experiment gone wrong bombards Dr. David Banner (Bill Bixby) with gamma radiation, causing him to transform into the 7-foot-tall, green-skinned Hulk (Lou Ferrigno) when he gets angry. Pursued by an intrepid reporter, Banner hits the road, assuming false identities, furthering his research and trying to do less damage than good. (CBS / Getty Images)

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Sarah Connor, "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" (2008): In this series set after "Terminator 2: Judgment Day," Sarah Connor (Lena Headey) and her son John (Thomas Dekker), who will eventually become leader of the resistance movement, are on the run, pursued by government agents and a Terminator from the future. Sarah is a devoted mother and decides the only way to protect her son is to destroy Skynet and prevent the rise of the machines. But her plans are complicated by enemies from the past and the future, as well as her own mortality. (Frank Ockenfels / Fox)

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President Laura Roslin, "Battlestar Galactica" (2003): When we meet her, she is the secretary of education and reeling from a cancer diagnosis; she feels like the end of the world is coming. She's right. A mechanical plague called the Cylons descends on humanity and Roslin (Mary McDonnell), suddenly the highest-ranking official, is sworn in as president. The tale that follows -- her triumphs, defeats, tears, love, loss and faith -- showed a soulful and honest leader who would never let her people go quietly into the night. (Justin Stephens / Syfy)

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September/The Observer, "Fringe" (2008): Pale, bald and fedora-wearing, the Observers are present at events the Fringe team encounters. One Observer named September (Michael Cerveris) builds a relationship with Walter Bishop (John Noble) and the Fringe team. He possesses advanced technological knowledge, an alien language, a unique talking style and an understanding of multiple timelines and parallel worlds. The Observers' intentions are mysteriously ominous, but at one point, September defies his orders in an effort to save Walter's son. (Fox)

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The Doctor, "Doctor Who" (1963): The Time Lord first graced the small screen in 1963. Since then, 11 actors (most recently Matt Smith) have portrayed the time-traveling, two-hearted extraterrestrial, each time reincarnating as the same lonely soul but with a new face, wardrobe and set of eccentricities. Certainly a wild card, the Doctor (David Tennant above) is accompanied by an ever-changing slate of companions on a spaceship that rarely lands at its intended target (in space or time). But regardless of the chaos his nomadic life brings, the Doctor can be depended on to defend Earth from alien invaders and, when needed, from itself. (Adrian Rogers / BBC)

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Q, "Star Trek: The Next Generation" (1987): Q (John de Lancie) is an omnipotent alien creature that's part of an extra-dimensional plane of existence known as the Q Continuum. Though he's never been forthcoming about his true motives, he's appeared to several human Starfleet captains to tease, taunt, manipulate and generally irritate them. His actions could often be seen as a threat to the human race, but he's also served as a partner on occasion. (CBS)

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River Tam, "Firefly" (2002): River Tam (Summer Glau) is more than just a teenage fugitive. She's a graceful dancer, a deadly assassin and a brilliant psychic, gifted at everything she tries, but nearly incomprehensible. The mystery of her past and the unpredictability of her actions make her the wild card aboard Serenity. What will she do next? As a fellow crew member says, "Either blow us all up or rub soup in our hair. It's a toss-up." (20th Century Fox)

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Rod Serling, "The Twilight Zone" (1959): Birth records say Rodman E. Serling was born on Christmas Day 1924 in Syracuse, N.Y. -- doesn't that disqualify him from this list? And wasn't "The Twilight Zone" just as often about magic, horror or weird fate? Perhaps, but gray areas were the specialty of a show that pioneered an elevated sort of sci-fi, and its greatest character was the eccentric narrator with a dual citizenship in the real and in the imagined. (The Museum of Television & Radio)

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Cameron Phillips, "Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles" (2008): Sent by future resistance leader John Connor to protect his younger self, Terminator Cameron (Summer Glau) is closer to human than any other cyborg seen previously, capable of mimicking human behavior, eating food and perhaps even feeling emotions like love and jealousy. Young John Connor trusts and relies on Cameron as they work together to try to destroy Skynet. (Adam Taylor / Fox)

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Lt. Cmdr. Data, "Star Trek: The Next Generation" (1987): Who's the strongest, smartest, fastest, sturdiest and most curious crew member in Starfleet history? You don't need a positronic brain to know it's Data, the android made by a 24th century Geppetto. Data's name is his function -- he seeks, ascertains, solves -- but friendship with humans tilts his quest toward human emotion. The brilliant construct (played by Brent Spiner) studies Shakespeare and violin to understand the sound of sadness, but somehow never detects it in his own voice. (Paramount Pictures)

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Number Six, "Battlestar Galactica" (2003): The sexy blond Cylon who manipulates the foolish Gaius Baltar into giving up the information that ends civilization on the planet Caprica, Tricia Helfer's slim seductress (and her signature red dress) took on additional depth as the series evolved, and the various copies of her model played differing roles in the Cylons' quest to eradicate humanity, even as Six’s bond with Baltar grew ever more complex: In the coda that concludes the series, they are the figures present at the dawn of a new doomsday. (Patrick Hoelck / Syfy)

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Col. Steve Austin, "The Six Million Dollar Man" (1974): It was the best $6 million the military-industrial complex ever spent. A nasty crash destroyed the body of red-blooded Air Force officer Steve Austin but, as Oscar Goldman of the Office of Scientific Intelligence told weekly viewers of "The Six Million Dollar Man": "We can rebuild him, we have the technology..." With bionic legs, arms and eye, Austin (Lee Majors) was running with fast company on the show, including Bigfoot, Larry Csonka and (deep sigh) Jaime Sommers. (Handout)

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TOBOR I, "Captain Video and his Video Rangers" (1949): The first robot to appear in a live-action American television show, TOBOR was a big, blocky fellow with a heavy helmet for a head (with his cranium shaped like a tapered bucket, he looked a knight of yore, and the flat piece of metal that covered his torso resembled a wide, shiny apron). His hands were just basic pincers (shaped like horseshoes) but his squared shoulders were strong. They had to be. He had a lot of future he was lugging to the set. (DuMont Television Network)

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Max Headroom, "Max Headroom" (1987): In a dystopian world governed by television networks, journalist Edison Carter (Matt Frewer) crusades against the networks, including his own employer, exposing their unethical practices with the help of his friends and allies. But after Edison gets in a motorcycle accident, his memories are downloaded into a computer, and Max Headroom (named for a clearance sign in the parking garage -- the last thing Edison saw before impact) is created. Max Headroom, with his distinct modulated voice and trademark Ray-Bans, helps Edison and his friends fight corruption. (Handout)

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Hawk, "Buck Rogers in the 25th Century" (1981): How is Buck Roger's birdman buddy on this list with just 11 appearances, all in 1981? There are two reasons. It's not how long you stay on the air, it's how high you fly. And the power of feathered hair can never be discounted. Portrayed with tragic nobility by Thom Christopher, Hawk was one of the rare memorable aliens in the years between "Star Trek" and "Star Trek: The Next Generation." (Silver Screen Collection / Getty Images)

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Kira Nerys, "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" (1993): A victim of the Cardassian occupation of her native Bajor, Kira Nerys struggled to balance her anger at the universe with her duty to Deep Space 9. The Bajoran militia's representative to the Starfleet-controlled station, Kira often clashed with Capt. Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks) but also used her skill in resistance tactics to assist her new allies. Actress Nana Visitor slowly revealed Kira's inner vulnerability over the years, culminating in a fan favorite romance with the equally hard-shelled Odo (Rene Auberjonois). (Michael Grecco / Getty Images)

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Adm. William Adama, "Battlestar Galactica" (2003): Edward James Olmos played the commander of the Galactica as the proverbial strong, silent type, a lifelong military man who experienced devastating loss, including the death of his wife and youngest son. His silence and emotional distance create all kinds of trouble with his surviving son, Apollo (Jamie Bamber), and his daughter-in-spirit, Kara Thrace. Of all of his relationships, though, it's his interactions with Laura Roslin that reveal the most about Adama's guarded interior, his unwavering conviction and his shopworn heart. (Carole Segal / Syfy)

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Walter Skinner, "The X-Files" (1993): In the annals of management history, Fox Mulder would have to be the least appealing employee possible. The consistently insubordinate special agent was the charge of one Walter Skinner, a tough-as-nails boss who was forever frustrated by talk of aliens, conspiracies and cover-ups. Actor Mitch Pileggi did bring a bit of a softer side to the bespectacled bureau man, especially when dealing with the level-headed Dana Scully. More often, though, Skinner could be seen whipping off his glasses and taking someone (usually Mulder) to task for breaking FBI protocol. (Michael Lavine / Fox)

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Bill Maxwell, "The Greatest American Hero" (1981): Military vet, John Wayne fan and world-weary lawman Bill Maxwell is often seething behind his G-Man sunglasses and ready to pop off. Typical line: "Either I get what I want or I get to feed you to my cat, one or the other." But the dedication, regret and lonely heartache hidden beneath the Kevlar is what made Robert Culp's kitten-lover worth watching. (Associated Press)

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Dr. Miguelito Loveless, "The Wild Wild West" (1965): A recurring villain in the 1960s spy western, Dr. Miguelito Quixote Loveless (Michael Dunn, at the 1966 Academy Awards in the photo above) is a brilliant but insane arch-enemy for secret agents James West (Robert Conrad) and Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin). A little person often accompanied by the giant Voltaire (Richard Kiel), Dr. Loveless is known for inventing gadgets and technology far ahead of his time. (Gene Lester / Getty Images)

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Walter Bishop, "Fringe" (2008): Walter Bishop (John Noble) is the archetypal mad scientist in "Fringe." The fragility of his mental health and trapdoor gaps in his memory lend him a quirky, forlorn air of tragedy. (Liane Hentscher / Fox)

Mad scientists and mechanical men, space cowboys and time travelers,  man-monsters and man-eating aliens — clearly this is our kind of crowd. We came up with a list (in no particular order) of 50 essential characters from the sci-fi small screen. Check them out in the gallery above, or better yet, head to the iTunes store and download our Hero Complex Magazine app, which features our Sci-Fi 50 as well as interviews with Joseph Gordon-Levitt (“The Dark Knight Rises” and “Looper”), Jonathan Frakes (“Star Trek: The Next Generation”) and Benedict Cumberbatch (“Sherlock Holmes” and the upcoming “Star Trek” sequel), a story about Ridley Scott (“Alien,” “Prometheus”) and more. The magazine app also features extra behind-the-scenes photos, video and an interactive “Star Trek” quiz.

The invasion from above began on June 27, 1949. On that evening, as America sat down to dinner, a strange new entity whizzed across national airspace: “Captain Video and his Video Rangers,” television’s first live-action science-fiction series, didn’t look like much (the props were clearly wooden, and so was much of the acting) but it was the vanguard of a force that would become the most vivid and varied sector of television drama.

comic con hero complex TVs top 50 sci fi characters: Mr. Spock, Starbuck and...TOBOR?Only a time traveler could have stood on the set of “Captain Video” and predicted a future that would see the likes of SyFy’s “Battlestar Galactica” and its knotty philosophical debates or the sleek “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and its interstellar ethics lessons. Still, there were hints there if you looked hard enough and, well, if you blurred your eyes just a bit.

An early “Captain Video” episode, for instance, gave live-action television its first robot portrayal with the mechanical man TOBOR I. His name in the script had been ROBOT I but, at least according to lore, the costume department bungled the stenciling on his chassis so he greeted the world with a clanging identity crisis. And yes, somewhere in the future, Number 6 and Data bowed their heads in synthetic sympathy.

Television executives viewed sci-fi as overheated, cornball stuff for kids and for years they got what they expected (it was a different story on the bookshelf; the same month “Captain Video” premiered, George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” was published in England). There were exceptions, of course, with the higher ambitions of “Tales of Tomorrow” at the start of the 1950s and “The Twilight Zone” at the decade’s close.

cumberbatch TVs top 50 sci fi characters: Mr. Spock, Starbuck and...TOBOR?

Meet “Trek” villain Benedict Cumberbatch

For years, when writers and actors made a career stop in sci-fi television they hoped audiences might not notice or remember. Some people recall that Ernest Borgnine won an Oscar for “Marty” in 1956 but how many know his television debut came five years earlier on “Captain Video” (he was Norgola, a feckless Martian brute who, um, dresses like Moses). Today, though, sci-fi television is where big names take audacious risks and deliver their most memorable work.

Characters — not special effects — are the reason sci-fi shows possess the most ardent audience in all of scripted television. To give ardent fans one more thing to talk about, we’ve come up with The Sci-Fi 50, a list of characters (in no particular order) that made television sci-fi what it is today. And, yes TOBOR, wherever you are, you made the list because we remember your name, backward and forward.

— Geoff Boucher

Sci-fi 50 list compiled by Geoff Boucher, Noelene Clark, Patrick Kevin Day, Ben Fritz, Elena Howe, Gina McIntyre and Joy Press


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82 Responses to TV’s top 50 sci-fi characters: Mr. Spock, Starbuck and…TOBOR?

  1. Paul says:

    I would have put Cade Foster in the top 50 but its rather cult even below cult status show First Wave..but amazing show none the less

  2. TOBOR68 says:


  3. Suekay says:

    Good list, but I'd have put the rest of SG1 and SGA's Rodney McKay in the list.

  4. @33andme says:

    No Ianto Jones, not a complete list…

  5. @regmizell says:

    So many entries for characters from the new Battlestar: Galactica and Star Trek series kind of crowded out other choices. Kudos for putting in older shows like Night Stalker, but no Blake or Avon from Blake's 7 and no Straker from UFO? You could give a little love to those shows.

  6. Lank Romero says:

    William Katt! Finally you put Dr. Who stuff.

  7. @SteveBrant says:

    You left out George Reeves… from the Adventures of Superman! The episode "Panic in the Sky" is a classic!

  8. banana says:

    Dr. McKay and the EMH definitely needed to be on here. not to mention 7 of 9 too :)

    But McKay for sure…

  9. guest says:

    No G'Kar from B5? A lack of B5 characters in general is sad.

  10. Edohiguma says:

    So, Janeway made it in (one of the shoddiest characters in Trek ever, the woman was made admiral so that she won't get lost again), that Firefly weirdo (from a shoddy show that only got to "cult" status because of rabid fanbois with no life), and Starbuck (who, I admit, until she died was a good character, but after that, jesus, who had that brainfart.)

    Carter makes it in, but no O'Neill, Jackson or Teal'c? This is a ridiculous list. No McCoy? Spock vs McCoy was one of the best things about TOS. Sheridan, but not G'Kar and Mollari? Those two had more character development in one episode than Sheridan had over the seasons he appeared in.

    This list is a complete joke.

    • Lewis says:

      Why do you find it necessary to insult fans of Firefly? It was an extraordinary, character-driven series, with a brilliant mix of drama, pathos and humor, and recognized as such by many of recognized taste. Not only was it well written, and well acted by commited (and otherwise very successful) actors, but it intertwined several complex story arcs. Tragically, only River's and Malcolm Reynolds's really had a chance to be realized.

      You don't have to enjoy it yourself, but that doesn't make it "shoddy." That it gained such a following, and a major motion picture, with just fourteen episodes, is a testament to its quality.

    • sailorstarfairy says:

      Disagree, Janeway had to deal with a situation that NONE of the other captains ever had to face. Being in a totally foreign quadrant of the galaxy, wherein, she must find a away to balance keeping her half Starfleet half Maquis crew from killing each other AND the alien lifeforms that are native to the Delta quadrant, keep her head on straight and NOT fall into the temptation of sleeping with ANY of the crew, AND remain on task to EXPLORE STRANGE NEW WORLDS and SEEK OUT NEW LIFE AND CIVILIZATIONS. She broke a few rules (major ones by Starfleet standards) along the way, no doubt about it, but the woman was trying to get 140 people back home, in a situation that said "It's going to take you at LEAST 90 years to get back home." The same can't be said about Kirk, who would sleep with any woman who crossed his path, and to hell with the consequences. Adding McCoy to the list would be nice admittedly, however being that there are approx 7 other Star Trek characters on a 50 character list, wouldn't be very fair to all the other great Sci-Fi series out there.

      There are two Firefly "weirdos" in the list, you'll have to be a LITTLE more specific. If you're referring to Captain Mal "Tight pants" Reynolds, well, let's just say we'll agree to disagree. The man isn't the most orthodox Captain you'd find in the 'Verse, but he does have honor, which is little said about other Captains on other series. As Mal will tell you, " I ever kill you, you'll be awake. You'll be facing me, and you'll be armed. " He's a pirate, no doubt, but he's an honorable pirate. And since you failed to again specify which "weirdo" I'll also give points of consideration to River Tam, the ballet dancing, physic killing machine. You obviously didn't watch the whole series through (with special attention to the episode "Ariel") nor did you watch the movie. We're talking about a gifted (EXTREMELY) gifted intelligent girl who went to a "school" to learn, and was brainwashed and basically made to be a perfect killing machine, Ala Jack from Mass Effect 2. It's not exactly an "unheard" of plot device, but given the rest of the 'Verse that Joss Whedon created, it's a perfectly plausible event. Again, I'm gonna say that you probably haven't actually watched the entire series and the movie, and thus are basing your criticisms of this list because well, "I could write a better one." Go ahead, that's what the interwebs is for, for everyone to have their own opinion and post it and see what happens. In the mean time, the rest of us will get back to watching our shiney programs. :P

    • Ruby says:

      your ignorant comment clearly shows you don't know crap about the character of Janeway. and spare us the Firefly bashing, please….your jealousy at Joss' success at creating a cult hit is pretty clear too :)

  11. Missing Scorpius from Farscape!

  12. tru says:

    what no han solo… what a jip!

  13. mel says:

    Kind of a lame list. Terminator characters over Fringe characters? Starbuck at #2?


  14. Kate says:

    I agree with many of the characters in the list but hey where are Seven of Nine and EMH from Star Trek: Voyager or Jadzia Dax from Deep Space Nine (one of the most revolutionary female characters in sci-fi, she was the first character in the small screen who shared a same sex kiss) or The Smoking man (best villain ever) and Deep Throat from The X-Files or Lois Lane and Clark Kent from Lois and Clark or Chloe Sullivan from Smallville? I know in a list the options are limited and most of the choices here are really great but the characters above are iconic and should at least get a honorable mention

    • Ruby says:

      Seven isn't that great, sorry. she was overused as it was, thanks to Brannon Braga's fetish with her and his and Berman's asinine assumption that the Star Trek fanbase's biggest demographic was 18-35 year old men. (do some simple research and the majority of Trek fans are WOMEN of all ages….i felt sorry for Jeri Ryan sometimes. the woman has talent and she was often forced in character to make the rest of the crew look like idiots.)

    • william says:

      maybe in scifi, but i'm pretty sure roseanne did the same sex kiss first on her own show

  15. @48GOAT says:

    Summer Glau made it twice, but Jeri Ryan isn't on there? Most epic deep space nerd fantasy?

    • sailorstarfairy says:

      Male masturbation fantasies aren't quite the same thing as having a character with personality profile and actual storylines – which is what the list is for. Even Jeri Ryan will tell you that the whole reason she was hired was to add more "sex appeal" to the show. If you want a list of "hot female sci-fi characters" go check the G4 website :P

  16. @chrisdvanne says:

    Summer Glau appears twice in LA Times 'TV’s top 50 sci-fi characters', once for River Tam in Firefly/Serenity and once for Cameron Philipps in Terminator : The Sarah Connor Chronicles

  17. ccoralacid says:

    some interesting entries but not sure if they were suppose to be in order of greatness-because if so i would certainly rearrange the list-

  18. Macker says:

    Good list…but I wish they had included John Cavil (Dean Stockwell). His diatribe in the Season 4 ep "No Exit" sums his character up quite nicely: the anti-Data!

  19. Jay says:

    Sad that a Eureka character did not make it.

  20. Lieslchen says:

    Jean-Luc Picard wasn't French, he was Belgian!

  21. Karina says:

    What about the original Battlestar Galactica?? Apollo and Starbuck were more solid than the new one (and im a fan of both).

  22. Desertpuma says:

    Any list like this is entirely subjective to those who wrote it. I find many flaws with what is on the list.

  23. john lindauer says:

    here's the real list.

    1. captain kirk.
    2. mr. spock.
    3. the prisoner
    4. dr. who
    5. dr. who
    6. dr. who
    7. dr. who
    8. dr. who
    9. dr. who
    10. dr. who
    11. luke skywalker (star wars christmas special)
    12. r2d2 (star wars christmas special)
    13. chewbaca (star wars christmas special..)
    14-50. dr. who.

  24. Chris says:

    There is an unmistakeable patriarchal bias in this list, when less than 25% (11) of the characters are female. An even split in a historical look-back would not be expected, given the lack of female characters, for the most part, in sci-fi's first thirty years, but noting this, there is an extreme bias. For example, how was Logan the greater character than titular Max in Dark Angel? Where is Uhura, who broke down both a sex and a race barrier? Where is the enigmatic and deep Jadzia Dax, who pushed TV with an on-screen same-sex kiss? Where is Wonder Woman, important for being an early lead superhero? Maybe even Nikita should be here, too.

    Yes, sci-fi has a bias towards men as audience members and men as characters, ignoring the truth of just how big the female TV fandom is, but this list is myopic.

    • Ruby says:

      you make a good point there. plus there are two male characters that don't even belong on this list–Rod Serling (because Twilight Zone is just ridiculous) and Max Headroom (NOT scifi).

  25. Timothy says:

    I would add Jadzia Dax in the list instead of Kira Nerys. No problem with Kira I just think that Jadzia is a more innovative character and it doen't hurt that she's gorgeous.

  26. Lewis says:

    You did NOT leave off Dr. Leonard McCoy and Scotty! How could you? As iconic small-screen figures, they certainly deserve more attention than admirable but less recognizable characters from more recent series. I also give a sentimental vote to all of the other Firefly characters, since it is clearly the best science fiction series ever created.

  27. Chris H says:

    Where's Khaaaaaaaannn?

  28. Anthony says:

    Good list, just some additions: Frank Black (Millennium), Agent Dale Cooper (Twin Peaks), Wonder Woman, Jadzia Dax (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) , Seven of Nine (Star Trek: Voyager), Jack 'O Neil (Stargate SG-1), Tony Stark / Iron-man (Avengers: Earth's mightiest heroes)

  29. Serverland says:

    Where's 7 of 9

  30. Flatmike says:

    Ellen Ripley was missing

  31. Mike says:

    Jadzia Dax

  32. Robert says:

    How about SPACE: 1999 – Martin Landau as Commander John Koenig, or Barry Morse as Professor Victor Bergman… and of course the alien shape-shifter Maya should have been on this list!

  33. Sci-fi Fan says:

    Londo Mollari from B5 should have easily been top.

  34. isea says:

    Paul Atreides

  35. michael says:

    With all due respect, this list shows that TV doesn't do science fiction well.

  36. Forrest says:

    No McCoy or Montgomery Scott? What a sorry list. Too many late models and not enough classics who led the way.

  37. mikke says:

    who made this list Merv Griffin! What about Lorne Greene, Dirk Benedict and Richard Hatch. Not to mention John Colicos who was the only Baltar that I'll ever remember!. Really, Logan from Dark Angel,
    does anybody even remember that show? No Buffy! Come on!

  38. Eric says:

    May the Prophets forgive the authors for leaving the Emissary off of this list.

  39. Paul says:

    No Darth Vader….. seriously? Who wrote this list?

  40. Ruby says:

    first off, two on this list clearly do not belong–Max Headroom (NOT sci-fi) and Rod Serling (Twilight Zone was nonsensical, poorly-written plots labeled as science fiction).

    and as much as i love Trek, Q isn't that great. Uhura, as a character who broke race boundaries, especially given the time period TOS was aired in, would have been a far better choice.

    great representation of Battlestar characters, but we could have skipped Six–she's good but not great, compared to the others chosen from BSG.

    love that Farscape was recognized, but why only Crichton? Aeryn Sun would have been another great addition.

    lastly, Gene Roddenberry's other great creation (Andromeda) was totally passed over. quite a shame. Beka Valentine, Andromeda/Rommie, and Seamus Harper – any of them would have been perfect editions to this list.

  41. jose says:

    battlestar galatica real drama
    maybe star trek not what i want the world to be
    star trek
    babylon 5
    torch wood and dr who
    should be the list

  42. Chris the Trekkie says:

    Don't you just love how Scott Bakula's (Dr. Sam Beckett) picture is of Bakula's character on Enterprise (Jonathan Archer)

  43. Luke says:

    They forgot the Original Battle Stat Gallatica. Lorn Green as Commander Adama. Richard Hatch (not the fat gay guy) as Apolo, Dirk Benadict as Starbuck. Anne Lockart (June Lockhart's,{ Lost in Space} daughter) as Com. Kaine's Warior daughter. Rick Springfield (Jessies girl) as Adama oldest son who gets killed in the first eppisode. THAT WAS BATTLESTAR GALLATICA…

  44. Judith says:

    I was so glad to find John de Lancie here. His "Q" was one of the quirkiest most interesting recurrent characters ever. For current shows, I'd love to the wonderful Misha Collins for his Castiel character on Supernatural.

  45. Saty13 says:

    Can't believe this list doesn't include Seven of Nine (Star Trek Voyager). Ridiculous!
    And how about The Borg — the greatest space villains of all time?

  46. william says:

    worf was never officially on the enterprise-e's crew, he was there because without worf in the next gen movies it wouldn't be the same, but officially he became ds9 crew before the e was completed and stayed there through the series run

  47. Chris says:

    not a good list……SCC realley? Data is listed after Q…..this is realley poor…….so many characters are missing…..

  48. VMJ says:

    I'm glad to see Worf and Kira Nerys make the list, but not Captain Sisko? I'd think Worf would acquiesce his spot to him…

  49. sen says:

    Everyone from Firefly.

  50. Dr Who Rocks says:

    Dr. Who all the way

  51. Corrine says:

    Jadzia Dax and Wonder Woman should be here

  52. KASIII says:

    I vote for Ed Kemmer, Commander Buzz Corey in Space Patrol, with his sidekick, Happy. After all, the show was produced at an L.A. television station! Watched it religiously as a boy.

  53. 9 of 9 says:

    The problem with this list, like so many other such lists, is that it could just as easily be titled "50 Things We Could Find Pictures For."

  54. dlee says:

    Can't believe Avon from Blake's 7 was left out!

  55. Sara Bellum says:

    I consider myself as Sci-Fi literate but you guys are right at questionin Tabor as being one of the top 50. Who in the world slipped that one in?
    Its in the bag.

  56. mgb says:

    Tom Welling as Clark Kent/Superman from Smallville making the list makes my year. He fleshed out the character and made him more believable and "human" to the audience and brought Superman back into the spotlight. I'm not sure this generation would be interested in a new Superman movie had Smallville and Tom Welling's excellent portrayal of him not been done first.

  57. SFreader says:

    Based on immediate thoughts:

    “Missing” SF characters

    Gwen Cooper – Torchwood

    Jadzia Dax – DS9

    Seven of Nine – Voyager

    Susan Ivanova – B5

    G’Kar -B5

    Delenn – B5

    Ambassador Molari – B5

    Mrs. Peel – Avengers

    John Steed – Avengers

    Aeyrn Sun – Farscape

    Vala Mal Doran – Stargate

    Rommie – Andromeda

    Tyr Anasazi – Andromeda

    Trance Gemini – Andromeda

    Rodney McKay – Stargate/Stargate Atlantis

    Dr. Elizabeth Weir – Stargate Atlantis

    Rose Tyler – Dr. Who

    Dr. Melody Pond – Dr. Who

    Will Riker – TNG

    Percy – Starhunter

    Could or should be dropped to make room:

    Sheridan – B5

    Max Headroom

    Assorted robots

    Fox Muldar


    Kira – DS9

    young guy in black glasses

    favourite Martian

    Sarah Connor

    Rod Serling

    Archer – Enterprise

    The Master – Dr. Who


    Malcom Reynolds – Firefly

    The Observer – Fringe

    Q – TNG

    Starbuck – BG

    + a couple of nondescript characters I could not identify

  58. eddy says:

    Why the hell is Spock 25?

  59. Cursor says:

    Sheridan was a great character to be sure, but both Londo and G'Kar had far better arcs and were more capably played. Also, the whole of SG-1 should have been included as a group at the very least. Carter is great, but no O'Neill is just criminal!

    Real glad to see John Crichton though. Would have loved to see Scorpius more however, as I think he is arguably the greatest villain in sci-fi history.

  60. dklp88 says:

    I'm just confused about one thing. Where's The Doctor on this list? You include two characters from the show, so it's not like you forgot about the show, but didn't include the character who carries the show on their back?

  61. Matt says:

    What about Zoidberg…..?

  62. bianconiglio says:

    Love that if I digit on Google "best scifi character on tv" the name Starbuck appears everywhere :)

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