Sci-fi fans, perhaps more than TV viewers of any other genre, tend to be heavily invested in the continuity of their shows and want see the sagas have a proper end. Perhaps they should just be happy that some shows get any finales at all. Many series, like Lost in Space, have ended their runs without bothering to give loyal viewers a satisfying and rewarding conclusion. Some shows, like the original Star Trek, Doctor Who and Farscape, got a chance to rectify their lack of endings in later movies and episodes. Other great shows, like Nowhere Man, didn’t last long enough to reach a proper end. But other shows either had an opportunity to end properly and botched it or had no opportunity at all. Here are seven of the most infamous examples.
7) Red Dwarf Red Dwarf managed to balance sci-fi, humor and even a little drama over the course of eight series (that’s the British version of what Americans call seasons) as it told the story of the last human, Lister, a schlub caught in suspended animation for a million years and stranded in space on the huge mining ship that the show is named after. He is joined in his travels by the hologram of his dead, super-annoying roommate Rimmer; the humanoid Cat, who was descended from Lister’s pet cat and shares the species’ self-involved personality traits; the fussy maintenance droid Kryten; the somewhat dim computer avatar Holly; and Lister’s intelligent ex-girlfriend Kristine Kochanski. The group manages to lose the Red Dwarf for a couple of series, and uncovers a surprise when they relocate it – nanobots have reconstructed the long-dead crew, who throw our heroes in the brig for dereliction of duty. The finale of the story sees a rust virus consuming the ship. Everyone escapes except for Rimmer, who by this point in the series is back to being alive. About to die again as the ship burns, Rimmer is encountered by Death – and promptly knees him in the balls before fleeing. While hilarious, it was unfortunately the end of the series, with “The End” even being teased on screen before the audience is told “The Smeg is it!”
It was a poor decision to avoid wrapping the show up properly, and it felt like the creators just ran out of episodes. An alternate ending in which the crew defeated the virus and took back control of the ship was filmed; it’s a more fitting end but isn’t very funny. The worst part is that creator Doug Naylor spent about a decade trying to find funding for a Red Dwarf feature film, which wasn’t necessarily going to continue on from the last episode. When he finally gave up and decided to make a new series of episodes like fans had wanted all along, the BBC told him to get lost. There are murmurs of a whopping two new episodes being made in 2009 for the digital channel Dave, but we’ll believe it when we see it.
6) Highlander: The Series It’s a Wonderful Life-style episodes are a groan-inducing staple of TV-Land, but it’s even more insulting when an epic TV series like Highlander ends on a lazy note by full-on aping this clich?. The last season of Highlander was pretty much phoned in anyways, with fewer episodes and scant appearances by the main character, Duncan MacLeod, who spent what little screentime he had in Season 6 moping around after accidentally beheading his prot?g? Richie Ryan and just about giving up the immortals’ ever-going battle to the last. The villainous immortal of the final two episodes was the show’s typical generic evil immortal-of-the-week who had a grudge against Duncan. And Duncan actually loses his head to the bad guy, sort of. His old, dead pal Fitz, charmingly played by Roger Daltrey of The Who, quickly stops time and whisks Duncan away to an alternate future where he sees what life would have bee like if he never existed. Of course, all of his friends are in peril and bad immortals are running rampant over the world.
While it was cool to see some characters long-written off the series appear in the alternate timeline, the whole affair was pretty lame. It ended with Duncan regaining his will to fight, chopping off the villain’s head, and walking off into the mist. Since the beginning, Highlander: The Series teased viewers with the possibility of seeing Duncan fight until there was “only one” and he gained all the powers of the immortals. But it never happened, not even in the two follow-up movies. Highlander: Endgame was a better ending but pissed off many fans by killing off original Highlander Connor MacLeod (played by Christopher Lambert). And Highlander: The Source was a very sour endnote to the saga that is best forgotten. 5) Sapphire & Steel
This British series about two mysterious beings assigned to repair holes in time was a spooky and imaginative tour-de-force. The serious Steel (David McCallum) and the more sociable and beautiful Sapphire (Joanna Lumley) fought ghosts and other creatures whose presence was triggered by anachronisms. Like many British shows, Sapphire & Steel produced much fewer episodes over a span of years than most American programs, but that’s what happens when you rely on taxes to fund television.
The series ended on a cliffhanger with the two main characters trapped for all time in an outer space caf? by their enemies, and with many unanswered questions. Plenty of shows have made the mistake of ending on a cliffhanger and then being canceled, but this appears to have been a case of the actors wanting to move onto bigger things. It’s a sin it was never resolved on-screen, although a series of audio plays have continued Sapphire and Steel’s adventures with different actors, including Steel played by David Warner.
When the WB Network made the sucky choice to cancel Buffy the Vampire spin-off Angel after its fifth season, creator Joss Whedon was bitter. Firefly had just gotten canceled after being shat on repeatedly by Fox, so Whedon–who had been sure Angel was going to get at least a sixth season–was in a bad mood. Admittedly, he had time to wrap up the story, but he did so in the most depressing way possible. The vampire Angel and his team on a mission to assassinate the Earth-bound leaders of Wolfram & Hart, the demonic law firm that pretty much was an accurate depiction of an actual law firm. Angel & Co. succeed, but not without killing off fan-favorite Wesley, who had also been repeatedly shat on throughout both angel and Buffy.
The series ends with a cliffhanger, where Angel and the good guys facing off against an army of demons, as well as a dragon. Yes, as many critics point out, the ending fit the theme of Angel’s never-ending battle against evil and quest for redemption. But leaving the main characters to an almost certainly hideous fate was pretty damned rough on fans after watching the already super-depressing episodes of season 5.
3) Star Trek: Enterprise
Star Trek-prequel series Enterprise started off cursed by the same legacy of lameness left by Star Trek: Voyager. For a show that was supposed to capture that amazement and danger of the human race’s first voyages into deep space, Enterprise failed terribly, full of the same bland scripts and aliens who looked just like human with latex bumps on their noses that we had seen in Star Trek since the worst episodes of The Next Generation. This began to change in Enterprise‘s fourth season under the direction of new showrunner Manny Coto. Enterprise realized some of the excitement and zaniness of the original series and began to connect in with Kirk’s adventures through the appearance of the likes of green Orion slave girls and the mirror universe. But the upturn in quality had come too late, for the show had already been canned.
The promise of what could have been in Enterprise Season 5 will always haunt Trek fans. The two-part “Demons” and “Terra Prime” episodes could have served as a decent finale to the series, as they dealt with humans overcoming the worst in themselves as they prepared to embark on a new frontier. But then executive producers Rick Berman and Brannon Braga, by this point completely exhausted on the franchise, had to throw an awful finale out there that was condescendingly more about Commander Riker from The Next Generation looking back on the events of Enterprise, including the pointless and gratuitous death of Engineer Trip Tucker. Berman and Braga called it a “love letter to the fans,” but it was more like a big F-U.
2) Quantum Leap
You never knew where scientist Sam Beckett was going to end up in any given episode of Quantum Leap, but each episode expressed hope that his next leap would be the leap home. I hate to tell you this, but it didn’t happen in the final episode. In fact, the last episode ended with an ominous line of text telling you the time-traveling scientist NEVER made it home. In the finale, Sam finds himself in a Pennsylvania mining town, but he hasn’t leapt into another person – he’s himself. He finds a bar that seems to be populated by people he has helped throughout time who seem to have become leapers themselves, and a bartender who may or may not be God. The big revelation from the bartender is that Sam is making himself leap because he likes helping people, although Sam doesn’t want to accept that. He passes up on an opportunity for a sabbatical in order for a chance to save his buddy Al’s first marriage.
The truth is that this episode was filmed before the series got canceled (reportedly due to creator Donald Bellisario refusing to bend to NBC’s demands for more leaps into famous people) and the text at the end about Sam never leaping home was added posthaste. Regardless, the episode was oveall good and did offer a glimpse into the mystery behind the leaps; the answer to why Sam never got home is there if you look hard enough. But most people wanted to see the hero get home at the end, and on that count the episode was sure to disappoint.
1) The X-Files
With a show as long-running and as epic as The X-Files, it’s a tragedy when it ends anticlimactically. The last episode, the two-part “The Truth,” did one good thing – it finally brought back David Duchovny as Fox Mulder, who had been sorely missed while the show devolved into melodrama and began to collapse under the weight of its own mythology during the final two seasons. All the exciting conspiracies and mysteries brought up over the years didn’t get a satisfying conclusion. Mulder was put on trial, which is a lame and clich?d way to end a series (ask Jerry Seinfeld). Mulder escaped, reunited with Scully, seemed to develop an ability to talk to the dead, and encountered the Cigarette-Smoking Man one last time to finally learn the big TRUTH – that aliens were gonna invade on December 22, 2012. Wow, any nerd who had watched enough episodes of In Search Of… could have told you that the last day of the Mayan calendar was your most likely day of doom.
It also meant Mulder and Scully were pretty much left in limbo, as the X-Files had been closed and the end of the world was a decade away. But hey, they would have plenty of time to snuggle. Creator Chris Carter said that the success of the 2008 X-Files movie would likely mean that a third movie in 2012 that would finally conclude the X-Files in a way that everyone saw fit – with Mulder and Scully faced with an alien invasion. As the second movie spent about three hours in theaters, though, the future is once again bleak.
Robert Bricken is one of the original co-founders of the site formerly known as Topless Robot, and its first editor-in-chief, serving from 2008-12. He brought the site to prominence with “nerd news, humor and self-loathing” as its motto, raising it from total internet obscurity to a readership in the millions, with help from his savage “FAQ” movie reviews and Fan Fiction Fridays. Under his tenure Topless Robot was covered by Gawker, Wired, Defamer, New York magazine, ABC News, and others, and his articles have been praised by Roger Ebert, Avengers actor Clark Gregg, comedian and The Daily Show correspondent John Hodgman, the stars of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and Rifftrax, and others. He is currently the managing editor of io9.com. Despite decades as both an amateur and professional nerd, he continues to be completely unprepared for either the zombie apocalypse or the robot uprising.