Okay, I admit I’m cheating on this list. If there’s more than one intriguing female in a show I lumped them all together, so no one show gets more than one listing. This is for my sanity, and also because it seems to me like many of the scifi TV shows that had one really interesting woman often had more, thanks to the sophistication and talent of the writers and other creative staff who helped bring the characters to life.
I should also note that the numbers are for organizational purposes only. Really, numerical ratings are so subjective I didn’t feel comfortable putting them in; and I love Diana from “V” and Dana Scully from “The X-Files” for completely different reasons, so it also felt a bit forced to try and identify one as unequivocally better than another.
And one more thing: I am aware that some of these shows don’t fall within the rubric of true scifi. But they’re shows that many of us love, and ones that influenced scifi shows, and are often lumped in by the ignorant masses, so I’m including them anyway. Complaints (and I know you have some), please log them with email@example.com.
1. Diana, “V” (Jane Badler): The queen lizard from the 1983 miniseries and the 1984-1985 TV series is one of the best scifi villains ever. In the 10 hours worth of miniseries that launched “V,” the leader of the Visitors was a formidable adversary with a great deal of scientific knowledge and some depth. In the series, her soap-opera-like antics were the only reason some fans continued to tune in.
2. Starbuck, Six, Eight, “Battlestar Galactica” (Katie Sackhoff, Tricia Helfer, Grace Park): The re-imagined series from 2004-2009 managed to create some truly exciting characters with complicated stories. And playing a Cylon must have been an actor’s dream, given that there were several different iterations with varying personalities. Six and Eight, as agents of the Cylons living with humans, were fascinating and complex. And Starbuck had some rather unladylike traits, but she always provided a thrilling ride
3. Dana Scully, “The X-Files” (Gillian Anderson): We could hardly avoid adding Scully, given how very influential “The X-Files” has been since it first aired in 1991. Besides, we loved watching her relationship with Mulder develop, as she saw and experienced things that couldn’t be explained by science. We enjoyed watching her deal with monsters and criminals and conspirators and Mulder’s past and her own; she did it with grace under pressure and a lot of class.
4. Xena and Gabrielle, “Xena: Warrior Princess,” (Lucy Lawless): We loved watching Xena kick butt across ancient Greece from 1995-2001, and we also loved the relationship between Xena and her sidekick Gabrielle, who developed into a great hero herself. It was rather liberating to see a show with not one, but two, strong and interesting female protagonists, who didn’t need a man around except maybe for romantic and comedic relief. Talk about girl power; Xena had it in spades, and the ambiguity of the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle just made things more interesting.
5. Buffy, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (Sarah Michelle Gellar): I’m going to make a huge confession now, and that is: I wasn’t a big fan of Buffy (1997-2003). I had nothing against her, really, and I love some of Joss Whedon’s other work, but the show just isn’t one of my favorites. Nevertheless, she’s been hugely influential, and she and the other female characters of the series (especially Willow) without question belong on this list. Her adventures, her romances (Angel! Spike!), her teen angst—it all adds up to a fascinating run and some very well thought-out scifi characters.
6. Uhura, “Star Trek” (Nichelle Nichols): Okay, it was the 60s (1966-1969), and she was wearing a short mini-skirt, and her role as communications officer might not have been as big as it was had she appeared, say, in the 1990s. Heck, she didn’t have a first name until the 2009 film. Nevertheless, Uhura was a pioneer. She was a smart, underused heroine. She got to kiss Captain Kirk (one of the first interracial kisses on TV). She got some action. She was on the Enterprise. She was cool and still is.
7. Delenn, Susan Ivanova, Talia Winter, “Babylon 5” (Mira Furlan, Claudia Christian, Andrea Thompson): The women of Babylon 5 made the show, as far as I’m concerned. The show went downhill after the fourth season when Lt. Commander Ivanova, whose sarcastic sense of humor hid her discomfort with love, left B5. Talia, whose complicated relationship with Ivanova developed into a romantic one (possibly, anyway) during the first few seasons, was a Psi Corps sleeper agent. On B5 she learned about the dark side of the Psi Corps--and then experienced it firsthand. Delenn remains one of the most pivotal characters of the show; as the ambassador from the plane Minbar, she becomes a catalyst for change in the relations between humans and aliens. These three characters provided much of the heart and soul of the series, and helped make Babylon 5 the place to be from 1994-1999.
8. Zoe Washburn, Kaylee Frye, Inara Serra, River Tam, “Firefly” (Gina Torres, Jewel Staite, Morena Baccarin, Summer Glau): All the characters on “Firefly” were great, so we almost feel bad about singling out just the women--but what women! Doesn’t it say something that several of these actresses have gone on to create other amazing scifi TV women (I’m thinking specifically of Baccarin in “V” and Glau in “Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles” and “Dollhouse”)? These women were very different in personality, but part of the team. And each was charming and wonderful in her own way.
9. Jaime Sommers, “The Bionic Woman” (Lindsay Wagner): Talk about a strong woman. Bionics-enhanced Jaime caught bad guys and generally saved the world from 1976-1978. Although some will say the show doesn’t exactly stand the test of time, the idea of Jaime Sommers certainly has. Let’s face it, back in the ‘70s we needed Jaime to show us what an action heroine looked like.
10. Rose Tyler, Donna Noble, Martha Jones, Sarah Jane Smith, “Doctor Who” (Billie Piper, Catherine Tate, Freema Agyeman, Elisabeth Sladen): You’ve got to have a certain sense of adventure to be a companion to the Doctor, and the modern ones (from the “Doctor Who” revival that’s aired since 2005) have all been spot-on. Rose set the tone, and it was an excellent one. My personal favorite is Donna, because she was the first to really roll her eyes at all the adulation the doctor got from his previous hangers-on. But the Doctor’s latest female companions have all definitely been amazing characters, in their various ways, and we love it.
11. Seven of Nine, “Star Trek: Voyager” (Jeri Ryan): Seven is another one of my not-favorites, only because she was so obviously brought in during the run of the series (1995-2001) to sex it up (it worked) and because her catsuit seemed to become the focus of the show. Despite perhaps less-than-pure motives in bring her in, however, the character Seven of Nine was extremely interesting because of her backstory and her subsequent relationship with the crew of Voyager. She’s one hard-to-forget Borg.
12. Dale Arden, “Flash Gordon” (Jean Rogers, Carol Hughes, Irene Champlin, Diane Pershing, Melody Anderson, Gina Holden): Yes, she’s a product of her times, and has been throughout the different versions of the Flash movies and TV shows. But she’s always been a capable and independent fellow adventurer for Flash, and there’s a reason she’s considered the prototype for a whole slew of scifi heroines, such as Leia and Padme in the “Star Wars” series.
13. Kira Nerys, Jadzia Dax, “Deep Space Nine” (Nana Visitor, Terry Farrell): For my money “Deep Space Nine” (1993-1999) is absolutely the “Star Trek” version with the most fascinating females. Maybe in this, as in other things, it took a cue from “Babylon 5”? The Bajoran-Cardassian conflict would not have been nearly so interesting without Kira’s aggressive take on things. As for Jadzia--she’s the woman who won Worf’s heart and was strong enough to hang out with Klingons, which is in itself a major accomplishment.
14. Aeryn Sun, “Farscape” (Claudia Black): She started out as a soldier, but eventually evolved into someone warm-fuzzier. This character, of the Sebacean race, is another warrior with depth, and a woman who discovers her past and finds herself during the course of the series (1999-2003).
15. Gwen Cooper, Toshiko Sato, “Torchwood” (Eve Myles, Naoko Mori): The women of Torchwood are well-versed in kicking alien butt, but also have their softer side. Gwen breaks the mold of Torchwood operatives to actually have a life outside of Torchwood, even though her life is very much tied up with Torchwood. And Tosh’s unrequited love for Owen Harper (as well as her subsequent death) makes her a rather tragic figure, but not at all one-dimensional. And here we also give honorable mention to Martha Jones, (Freema Agyeman) who appeared on “Torchwood” for several episodes, and for Ianto Jones’ ex-girlfriend Lisa, who got turned into a Cyberman.
Naturally, not everyone is going to agree with this list. So I invite you to nominate your own favorite scifi TV heroines, and send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.