Baby | Child | Family
in a Science Fiction Television Series
It is often said that our children are our future. The genre of Science Fiction, by its very nature, looks to the future. So what view of childhood is provided for by this forward-looking genre? Why is the future full of annoying child geniuses and children with super powers? And why is this entry called 'Raising a child in a science fiction television series' and not 'Raising Children'?
Raising A Child
Although today in the western world the nuclear family has an average of 2.4 children, in science fiction this is no longer the case. Despite an infinite number of life-supporting planets a short journey away, most families of the future only have one child.
Boxey in Battlestar Galactica is an only child. So too are Jake Sisko from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Naomi Wildman in Star Trek: Voyager and both Worf's son Alexander and Wesley Crusher in Star Trek: The Next Generation.
In Doctor Who too most companions have no siblings, including Susan, Nyssa, Ace, Rose, Donna, River and Amy. Although co-workers, husbands and wives, mothers and daughters and members of UNIT have all travelled in the TARDIS as companions, siblings never have1.
There are, of course, exceptions. There were three young Robinsons in Lost In Space: Judy, Penny and Will. In DS9, the O'Briens have two children, Molly and Kirayoshi.
Despite this, often only one family with children are allowed at any one time on a spaceship, and usually this family unit consists of only one child. Of course, on the occasions when there are more than one family on a ship, galactic fleet, colony or space station, a school is required.
In the future, as now, nothing is more important to a child's prospects than school. After all, they have so much techno-babble to learn. Nothing emphasises the importance of school more than Red Dwarf. In 'Dimension Jump' it is revealed that the reason why Arnold Rimmer and 'Ace' Rimmer, his equivalent from a parallel universe, are so different from each other is because of which school year they were in.
Perhaps to avoid this sort of problem, in many science fiction series children of all ages, species and abilities attend the same school and classroom, with a one-size-computer-monitor-suits-all approach to teaching. This can be seen in The Next Generation but is most noticeable in Deep Space Nine, when the space station's sole teacher is Keiko O'Brien. In the original Battlestar Galactica, Bridge Officer Lieutenant Athena similarly teaches many of the surviving colonial children, including Boxey, while Captain Troy and Lieutenant Dillon perform the same role in Galactica: 1980. Obviously warriors, people trained to shoot first, ask questions later, make the best teachers. It might be a good idea just to ensure that you always put your hands right up, nice and slowly, if you have a question...
That said, this form of education should not be underrated. In Battlestar Galactica episode 'The Young Lords', a group of feral children successfully defeat a Cylon outpost by composing and reciting terrible poetry2.
No more teachers' dirty looks...?
Science fiction television informs us that nothing is more dangerous in the known universe than the local school, which is often the first place aliens invade. In The Demon Headmaster, the headmaster is revealed to have secret hypnotic powers. Similarly in The Sarah Jane Adventures, Luke Smith is set a science project at school in which the Slitheen plan to destroy the Earth in 'Revenge of the Slitheen'.
Schools aren't even safe in Doctor Who. Coal Hill School, the place where Susan is first seen in the very first episode, is revealed to be a Dalek base where children are converted into battle computers in 'Remembrance of the Daleks'. Later in 'School Reunion' the headmaster is really an alien who plans to use the students in his school to give him ultimate power.
Even when aliens never set foot within the school itself, humans often brainwash their children with alien propaganda. In The Tripods, human teachers encourage children to 'give thanks to the Tripods' and look forward to their 'Capping Day', when every 5 July children over 17 are 'capped' by having a chip implanted in their heads that suppresses all creativity, curiosity and rebellion.
If despite a good education your child remains a bit thick, do not despair! Seven of Nine becomes the head of a bonny, bouncing Borg brood, consisting of twins Azan and Rebi, girl Mezoti and teenage boy Icheb. As former Borg drones, all have computer chip implants that provide them with useful knowledge and information.
Of course, this technological approach does not suit everyone, and fortunately there is a natural alternative. Why not follow DS9's Julian Bashir's parents' approach and genetically re-engineer them to turn them into a genius? Be warned: a possible side effect of having a child genius is being annoyed.
Annoying Child Geniuses
Nothing epitomises children in science fiction television series more than the phenomenon of the child genius. These, usually unlikeable and annoying characters were introduced presumably to increase the appeal of the series to younger viewers who it is often believed like seeing children get one over on the adults.
The big question is what exactly makes a child genius? In The Sarah Jane Adventures the characters of Maria Jackson and Rani Chandra are both clever, resourceful and frequently save the day, but by doing so they are following in the footsteps of their mentor Sarah Jane herself. To be considered a genius, you must be cleverer and more capable than your peers, not merely emulate them. Another frequent characteristic of child geniuses is that although their intelligence is highly developed, they find it difficult to fit in, especially around members of the opposite sex.
Bona fide child geniuses include:
|Will Robinson3||Lost In Space||A child prodigy in electronics.|
|Doctor Zee4||Galactica: 1980||Looks like the Milky Bar Kid, scientific advisor to Commander Adama and the Council of the Twelve. He invents devices including a UFO and invisible flying motorbikes.|
|Adric||Doctor Who||Has a gold star for mathematical excellence.|
|Hieronymus Fox||Buck Rogers in the 25th Century||President of an entire planet due to his intelligence.|
|Wesley Crusher5||Star Trek: The Next Generation||Frequently saves the ship, creates sentient nanite life and when he finally is let into Starfleet Academy, is assigned to elite Nova Squadron. The Traveller also insists he is a genius.|
|Lucas Wolenczak||SeaQuest DSV||Invented a translator to enable humans and dolphins to speak to each other, presumably including the phrase 'So Long, and Thanks for all the Fish'.|
|River Tam||Firefly||Sent to an exclusive Government school only for the most intelligent, but secretly experimented on.|
|Luke Smith||The Sarah Jane Adventures||Created as a human archetype, Luke is super-intelligent and has a photographic memory.|
One recurring theme is that the child geniuses are more often than not white males. Black males in popular television science fiction do get to be highly artistic and creative, including talented author Jake Sisko from DS9 and The Sarah Jane Adventures' comic artist Clyde Langer. Fortunately Hieronymus Fox is a returning male black child genius character from Buck Rogers, first seen in episode 'Cosmic Wiz Kid'.
True child geniuses in television science fiction all lack social skills. Will Robinson's closest friends are a robot and mad scientist, however as there are no children his own age where he is lost in space, that should be forgiven. Similarly, Luke frequently has problems fitting in with other children his apparent age, because although he looks like a standard 13-year-old boy, he has the life experience of a baby.
Doctor Zee does not really get on with other children his own age due to his cerebral intellect, although the character of Wellington in Galactica: 1980 also shows traits of being an annoying genius. Adric is still widely considered to be the most annoying character in Doctor Who and frequently argued with Nyssa and Tegan in the TARDIS. Dr Heironymus Fox's attempt at organising a New Year's surprise is interpreted as a threatening assassination attempt against Buck Rogers.
Though at first glance Wesley Crusher is merely a bit awkward and often shy around girls, the truth is that he endangers the Enterprise as often as he saves it. He gets himself sentenced to death on his first away mission in the episode 'Justice', forcing Picard to break the Prime Directive, and his actions in Starfleet Academy causes the death of a cadet named Joshua Albert.
Science fiction television contains very few female child geniuses. Women geniuses, certainly, such as Voyager's Seven of Nine. Two of Doctor Who's most memorable companions, Zoe and Time Lady Romana, are more than a match for the Doctor. Like their younger male equivalent, women geniuses do not have fully-developed social skills, often coming across as cold and uncaring.
Despite these women, very few young girls in science fiction television programmes seem to make it as geniuses, with one of the few exceptions being River Tam. This may well be because of the traditional woman's role in television.
What are little girls made of?
In the past, women in science fiction were principally the love interest. Consequently, females tended to be obviously adults over the age of 18. There were exceptions to this rule, however these tended to be very young children, such as Starla in Galactica: 1980 and Naomi Wildman in Voyager. In the rare cases when a teenage girl under 18 was required, older adult actresses were often cast6. Examples from the Doctor Who universe include 16-year-old Susan, who attends Coal Hill School, being played by 23-year-old Carol Ann Ford. 25-year-old Sophie Aldred played teenage Ace and Anjli Mohindra was 18 when she first played 15-year-old Rani Chandra in The Sarah Jane Adventures.
Fortunately television continues to evolve, with character-driven drama replacing the 'monster-of-the-week' television format of the past. With an increasingly open approach to audience demographics, television executives are encouraged to ensure that both male and female viewers find their programmes appealing. Consequently we would expect to see a wider range of roles available for actors and actresses of all ages rather than pigeon-hole all characters into the stereotyped categories of the past.
Another important factor influencing how children are portrayed is the age group of the target audience. Fiction written to get children's attention traditionally have heroes who are children, seen in programmes such as The Tomorrow People, or The Tripods. The plucky, brave, resourceful child lives in an environment where adults are either hostile, incompetent or simply missing. Fiction written for adults, on the other hand, often conversely portrays children as delinquents or even creatures possessed by aliens, although possession is often a feature of children's television also.
Pets and Hobbies
Of course childhood cannot be all about school, and children need to have hobbies and pets. Boxey in Battlestar Galactica had a robotic daggit, a robotic dog famously played by a chimpanzee. Similarly, Luke Smith took K-9 mark IV with him to Oxford University in The Sarah Jane Adventures. If you can't have a robotic dog, why not do what Will Robinson from Lost In Space did and make do with a robot? After all, any decent plastic pal that's fun to be with is more than capable of warning if there is any danger around.
Having a pen pal and communicating with someone from a different planet is another good activity, and is seen in such series as Chocky and The Next Generation episode 'Pen Pals', in which Data befriends a young alien girl named Sarjenka.
Hobbies can become too overwhelming. The character of Whizz Kid in Doctor Who becomes obsessed with The Psychic Circus and collecting their merchandise to the detriment of developing his social skills.
Sport and getting out into the great outdoors is a good way for children to escape the dangers and doldrums of daily life. In Galactica: 1980, a group of children spend their time 'roughing-it' by camping under canvas. They also enjoy sport, and in the episode 'Spaceball' play baseball, winning the championships despite a lack of familiarity with the game.
Everyone knows that if you trap a number of young, highly energetic children indoors over a wet weekend, you have created a recipe for destruction. Many alien races in science fiction have taken this one step further, by enhanced their children's inherent demolishing ability in order to fashion their offspring into weapons.
Examples include the former Borg drone Icheb in Voyager. He had been genetically-engineered by his parents in order to wage germ-warfare against the Borg when assimilated. Star Trek: Enterprise features left-over genetically-engineered embryos from the Eugenics Wars known as Augments, who were bred for violence and war. In The Sarah Jane Adventures the character of Sky was bred by her Fleshkind mother to be a weapon against the Metalkind, capable of unleashing an electromagnetic pulse that would destroy both her and any Metalkind nearby.
Of course it is not only family members who turn children into weapons. In Firefly, the character of River7 Tam was experimented on and turned into a super-assassin by the corrupt Alliance government. Voyager's Seven of Nine had been assimilated as a child when she was known as Annika Hansen. In Dune, religious order the Bene Gesserit sisterhood try to breed a super-human known as the Kwisatz Haderach. In Blake's 7's first episode, the corrupt Federation brainwashes children in order to be able to bring about charges of child molestation against popular freedom fighter Roj Blake in order to discredit him.
Pesky aliens are always trying out new ways to use human children as tools of destruction. Children In Star Trek episode 'And the Children Shall Lead', an alien creature known as the Gorgan uses a colony's children to attempt to take over the Enterprise, having caused the adults to commit suicide.
In Doctor Who, the popular character of Ace is also revealed to be a weapon. Ace is revealed to be a 'Wolf of Fenric', a descendant of cursed Vikings programmed to unleash Fenric, an ancient evil, and it is this influence which has caused her obsession with carrying explosives. In the last episode in which she appears, 'Survival', she begins to transform into a feline predator, gaining the eye of the tiger. She is not the only child to be possessed by alien influences in Doctor Who. In 'Remembrance of the Daleks' the Renegade Daleks not only transform a young girl into a battle-computer, but also give her an ability to zap people too.
More recently, a young Melody Pond was kidnapped shortly after birth by Madame Kavarian in order to be brainwashed into killing the Doctor. In Doctor Who episode 'The Doctor's Daughter', a sample of the Doctor's DNA is used to create a fully-grown female generated anomaly named Jenny who was designed to be a soldier in a war against the Hath.
Fortunately children can be beneficial too. In the Star Trek - The Original Series episode 'Friday's Child' a child brings peace to the war-torn planet. In Voyager, the birth of Q's son, Q Junior, brings peace, at least temporarily, to the Q civil war.
The Worst Baby Sitter in the Galaxy
Torchwood's Captain Jack Harkness is by far the worst baby sitter in science fiction, and one of the greatest known menaces to children. As a child he lost his brother, Gray, in an alien invasion, and consequently Gray spent much of his life tortured by sadistic aliens. In 1965 he sacrificed 12 children to another alien species known as the 4-5-6 and defeats them by killing his own grandson, Stephen. In the episode 'Small Worlds' he sacrifices a young girl named Jasmine Pierce to fairies.
All of this goes to show that if you need someone to look after your children, do not ask Captain Jack.
Gotta Make Way for the Homo Superior
Just how do you raise children with super powers, especially if you have no powers yourself? That is a question that often occurs in the Star Trek universe, with Captain Kirk especially having to play the intergalactic baby sitter.
In episode 'Charlie X', Kirk looks after Charlie, a teenager who combines a bad temper with dangerous powers. Soon after he meets Miri in an episode entitled 'Miri'. She is a young girl who has contracted a disease caused by an anti-aging experiment. She does not have any super-powers in the same way that Charlie had, other than extreme longevity, being over 300 years old. In 'The Corbomite Manoeuvre' the crew encounter a ship from a powerful alien race called the First Federation. The captain of this vessel, the Fesarius, resembles a child. All this goes to show that appearances are deceptive. In Star Trek episode 'The Squire of Gothos', the Squire himself, despite looking like a fully-grown human, is an all-powerful child.
Although fans have speculated on whether or not the character who called himself 'The Squire of Gothos' was a member of the Q Continuum, there is no doubt with the Q child encountered by the Voyager crew, who was not only the son of Q, but also played by Q actor John de Lancie's son Keegan de Lancie. Q Junior, Captain Janeway's godson, is a bit of a brat. He causes wars, removes Neelix's voice and Seven's clothes and generally abuses his abilities. He is threatened with severe punishment; being turned into an amoeba or a human, although it is revealed that the source of his misbehaviour was a desire to attract his father's attention.
I am your Father
It seems that having a strong father-figure is necessary for raising a child with super powers, and the best way to keep the child in check is to spout paternal words of guidance. The young Clark Kent in Superboy, Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman and Smallville had Jonathan Clark to look to for guidance and advice. In Heroes, the character of Noah Bennet, after spending his days working for a morally questionable company, ensures he saves plenty of quality time for his cheerleader daughter Claire. Galactica 1980's 'super scouts' also get to spend time with father figures Dylan and Troy.
But what happens when you do not get to spend time with your father? In Dune, Alia is born after her father Leto Atriedes has been killed. Lacking a father figure in her life, she turns to the memories of her grandfather, Baron Vladimir Harkonnen, eventually becoming possessed by him and an Abomination in Children of Dune.
Children Should Be Seen and Not Heard From Ever Again
Another danger faced by children in science fiction television series, especially ones who do not have their parents as stars of the show, is disappearance. In the original Battlestar Galactica, Boxey was adopted by Apollo and was a central character. When Battlestar Galactica was remade, Boxey did not have an adopted parent, and promptly vanished after the pilot episode. This happened to the character of Lucy Lane, Lois Lane's younger sister, in Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman. She appears in the pilot episode, where it is revealed that she lives with her sister, but after appearing in two more episodes promptly vanishes, never to appear again...
Mind the Gap - Mundanes and Saps?
Of course, tension between children lucky enough to be gifted with special abilities and those left behind does seem to arise. In The Tomorrow People, some children develop special psychic abilities, becoming 'Homo superior' and are distrusted by the 'Saps', as they nickname Homo sapiens without telepathic abilities. Similar distrust occurs in Babylon 5 between telepaths and those the telepaths call 'mundanes', however the sacrifice of Simon, a telepathic child, at Sheridan's investiture as President of the Galaxy has lasting repercussions.
Dark Side of Childhood
Sadly, not all threats to a happy childhood in the future are extra-terrestrial in origin. In The Sarah Jane Adventures story 'The Curse of Clyde Langer', Clyde discovers the very real issue of homelessness, experienced by innocent victim Ellie.
A Positive Note
Of course, if you are a child, there is a lot of positive news. Programmes such as Halfway Across the Galaxy and Turn Left and 3rd Rock from the Sun tell us that the younger you are, the more likely you are to be in charge or hold a position of power. Which leads us to ponder why it is that so many television science fiction programmes' titles are giving directions. Someone really should write a Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy...
My Family (and Other Animals)
So, your child has survived school, made friends and is finally over 168, you can now finally relax, safe in the knowledge that you don't have to have anything to do with them anymore, right? Wrong. Interstellar invasion and galactic war are nothing in comparison to a modest family squabble.
Next time we will learn what to do when you learn your son has been having sex with your girlfriend and cut off his own tenkas, how to cope with having a famous father, an overbearing mother or you appear to have just killed your brother. (Naturally we will also discuss that social faux pas most families experience now and then, how to behave when your child has travelled back in time from an alternative future in order to kill themselves as a baby...)