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10 best sci-fi TV characters ever, ranked

While you may not think of genre storytelling as the most fertile ground for developing fascinating, complex characters, sci-fi TV proves the two don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Over the long history of sci-fi on television, we’ve gotten a number of hugely compelling characters who have grown and changed over the course of seasons and years.

Whether these characters are human, alien, or something else entirely, each one of them has compelled us, and sometimes, they’ve even managed to worm their way into our hearts forever.

10. Kerr Avon (Blake’s 7)

Paul Darrow in Blake's 7.

Perhaps one of the less well-known characters on this list, Kerr Avon was the sardonic computer expert on Blake’s 7, an underrated 1970s sci-fi show about a group of outlaws doing battle against a highly powerful totalitarian state.

Although the show followed a group of rebels, Avon was something like the Han Solo of this group, as he was typically motivated at least in part by self-interest. This could obviously make him a source of frustration for the other members of his crew, but it also made him one of the more compelling characters on an underseen sci-fi gem.

9. Captain Malcolm Reynolds (Firefly)

The cast of Firefly.

Joss Whedon’s legacy in sci-fi is complicated, to say the least, but Captain Malcolm Reynolds undoubtedly ranks among his most fascinating creations. Being a Whedon character, one played by Nathan Fillion, Mal is often sarcastic and quick-witted. But his dedication to his crew, and to keeping them alive, is what keeps the show afloat.

Although Firefly lasted for only a single season, it remains an important touchstone for all sci-fi fans, and that’s in large part because of the distinctive personality Mal is on the show.

8. Eleven (Stranger Things)

Eleven in Stranger Things.

The newest character on this list, Eleven may not seem like she stacks up with the legends she’s among. Although Stranger Things has been far more uneven than many of the series on this list, Eleven has always been its beating heart, a character who starts almost entirely nonverbal and has to learn everything there is to know about the world around her.

At her core, though, Eleven is kind and principled, someone who watches out for their friends and is fiercely loyal. Millie Bobby Brown may now be a widely known star, but her performance as Eleven is what got her there to begin with.

7. G’Kar (Babylon 5)

G'Kar in Babylon 5.

Villains always get the best arcs. G’Kar was initially presented as a villainous character, although the storylines he was involved in were often more comical than insidious. Over the course of the series, though, G’Kar evolves into a savior for his species, an arc that actor Andreas Katsulas tackled with relish.

Because there was so much growth and change for G’Kar over the course of his time on the show, he became a character that many people latched on to, and understandably so.

6. Kara ‘Starbuck’ Thrace (Battlestar Galactica)

starbuck battlestar galactica
Sci-Fi / Sci-Fi

Many, many members of Battlestar Galactica‘s ensemble cast might warrant inclusion on this list, but Starbuck is maybe the most deserving of all. Although it may not seem quite so revolutionary today, Katee Sackhoff’s performance as a brash, cigar-chomping pilot who loves danger more than anything was a revelation when the series first aired.

Even more importantly, Sackhoff made sure that Starbuck always had real dimension. She was a tomboy, but that’s far from the only thing she was.

5. John Locke (Lost)

john locke lost

Another show rife with fascinating, complex characters, Lost‘s defining tragic hero was John Locke. Locke, who was the first to truly understand that the island he had crash-landed on was special, doesn’t live to see his destiny fulfilled, in spite of his faith that he was there for a reason.

Terry O’Quinn’s performance as Locke, an angry, sad man who believes in part because he has to, was incredibly layered and mesmerizing, so much so that he earned both critical praise and an Emmy for his performance (one that he richly deserved).

4. Spock (Star Trek)

The bearded Mr. Spock of the mirror universe in Star Trek's "Mirror, Mirror"

Star Trek is undoubtedly the most dominant franchise in the history of sci-fi TV, and Spock is the series’ signature character. He’s the one any given fan is mostly likely to recognize.

Played expertly by Leonard Nimoy on both the small screen and later in a series of movies, Spock is both alien and not, a being who doesn’t understand humanity’s reliance on emotion, but becomes more and more emotional himself as the series unfolds. Spock laid out a template that many sci-fi characters have followed, and has also become an icon in and of himself.

3. The Doctor (Doctor Who)

David Tennant in Doctor Who.

A brilliant conceit that has made Doctor Who a long-running franchise, the Doctor has been the only constant over the show’s decades of existence. The Doctor is an alias for a centuries-old alien being who regenerates into the form of a number of different people.

Of course, each actor to play the role has added their own quirks and ticks that make their tenures with the show feel distinct. In particular, David Tennant’s Doctor Who continues to be a fan favorite, which is probably why he returned to the role in November, 2023. The Doctor is a character with some constants, but he’s also malleable, which is why he’s had such enduring appeal.

2. Jean-Luc Picard (Star Trek: The Next Generation)

Patrick Stewart in Picard.

Star Trek is the only franchise on this list to merit two inclusions, but there was simply no way to avoid adding the trusty captain of Star Trek: The Next Generation to this list. Patrick Stewart may be one of the best actors to ever grace the entire franchise, and Picard is a highly moral, deeply logical character who proves to be the perfect yin to Captain Kirk’s yang.

Picard’s love of logic, and his skill at diplomacy, don’t necessarily mean that he’s cold. He’s a fascinating, complicated character, and one that fans have loved for decades.

1. Dana Scully (The X Files)

Gillian Anderson in The X-Files.

The skeptic to David Duchovny’s Mulder, Dana Scully was always the slightly more compelling half of one of the most well-known duos in science fiction. Over the course of its many seasons, The X-Files gained a devoted following by combining case-of-the-week procedurals with more ongoing, lore-focused stories.

Scully was always skeptical of all things paranormal, and Gillian Anderson’s performance made us understand why, in spite of everything that she’s witnessed as an investigator, that skepticism was totally warranted.

Editors' Recommendations

Joe Allen
Joe Allen is a freelance writer based in upstate New York focused on movies and TV.
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