Tomorrow’s Worlds tells the story of science fiction in four episodes, each of which covers a particular theme: first Space, then Invasion, Robots and Time. It was partly funded by BBC America, and was produced alongside a sister series for the American market, which was called The Real History of Science Fiction. I didn’t like that title very much.
The basic idea was to explore the history of science fiction for a mainstream audience, reminding viewers of films, TV series and books that they might have loved but subsequently forgotten, and also pointing out the historical roots and associations of popular phenomena such as Star Wars, Dune and 2001.
From the beginning I was curious why the BBC wanted a historian to present the show, rather than, say, somebody who had been in Doctor Who. It turned out that they were keen to emphasise the historical angle, and to dispel the idea that science fiction is the province of a nerdy minority. I thought that was a terrific idea.
Perhaps more than any other popular genre, I think, science fiction has reflected the political and social anxieties of the last 150 years, from The War of the Worlds and The Time Machine to Invasion of the Body Snatchers and District 9. Indeed, when you think about some of the writers who have tackled science-fiction themes – Verne, Wells, Huxley, Orwell, Wyndham, Golding, Burgess, Lessing, Amis, Bradbury, Aldiss, Ishiguro, and so on – it’s hard to deny its place at the centre of our collective imagination.
The producers were John Das and Ben Southwell, and the researcher was Chloe Penman. Mike Robinson was on cameras, with Simon Pinkerton on sound, and the executive producer was Mike Poole for BBC Bristol.
The show’s subtitle was ‘The Unearthly History of Science Fiction’. It certainly felt pretty unearthly when, the night before we filmed at the Eden Project, Ben forced us to have dinner at a Brewer’s Fayre.