My Top Ten Most Iconic Moments in Science Fiction and Fantasy

Last week, SFX celebrated its 250th issue with a bumper edition publishing their 250 greatest moments in scifi, fantasy and horror, as voted by readers. Of course, this is the internet, and if there’s something the internet cannot abide, it’s publishing subjective opinion as objective fact, especially when SFX’s subjective opinion is just wrong, dammit.

While it’s true there are some truly iconic cultural landmarks in SF/F and horror – Luke and Vader, the chestburster, ‘My name is Inigo Montoya…’ – getting nerds to agree on anything is like trying to get moles in a bucket to get along. (Seriously, do not put two moles in a bucket. Talk about nightmare fuel.) So instead of adding my voice to the angry chorus debating SFX’s top ten, I decided to stay true to the spirit of SF/F fandom and enthuse about the things that make my own heart beat faster: my own personal top ten iconic moments in SF/F.*

* I’m not including horror in my list, because a) I think horror is too broad a category to bundle in with SF/F for this subject, and b) I’m a cowardy cowardy custard and I don’t like horror because it’s scary.

10. Mass Effect 3: Mordin Solus’ final moments

MORDIN: Would have liked to run tests on the seashells.

There are a hell of a lot of moments from especially the final game of the Mass Effect trilogy which deserve a mention, but I only have room for one. That one has to be the last actions of Salarian scientist Mordin Solus.

Throughout ME2 and 3, Mordin and his storyline posed the player some genuinely difficult moral quandaries. Hundreds of years before the events of the trilogy, the Krogan race was infected with a genetic weapon developed by the Salarians at the behest of the galaxy-governing Citadel Council, throttling their population by reducing the probability of viable pregnancies. This left the previously emergent race dwindling toward extinction. A number of years before the events of the trilogy, it was discovered that the Krogans were developing a resistance to the genophage. Mordin Solus was part of a team which developed a new variant of the genophage, which was then deployed.

Although participating in the redevelopment of the genophage essentially amounted to collaboration in genocide, Mordin counters with the argument that without a means of controlling the Krogan, a galaxy-wide war would have been inevitable, resulting in the deaths of billions. A perfect utilitarian, Mordin believes in the greatest good for the greatest number, and that only the ends, rather than the means, matter.

However, after spending time among the crew of the Normandy, particularly with Urdnot Wrex, and seeing the effect of the genophage upon the Krogan firsthand, when it comes to the crunch, Mordin changes his mind. When it transpires that the genophage cure can be released to the whole of the Krogan home world, but that it’s a mission no one can come back from, Mordin volunteers.

In the end, Mordin goes out as he lived – calmly trying to do the right thing, while singing Gilbert and Sullivan. He wasn’t an obviously heroic figure, but that doesn’t change the heroism of his life and death.

9. The Fellowship of the Ring: meeting Strider

Strider sits in a corner, smoking a pipe, with his hood up, shadowing his eyes.

Compared to most of the other scenes on my list, this one might come across as a bit underwhelming. It’s not a climactic battle or a tragic death scene, but I had to include it, not only because what’s a list of SF/F without the Lord of the Rings trilogy, but also because it’s one of the moments that I still remember from my first ever reading.

At last, Frodo spoke with hesitation. ‘I believed that you were a friend before the letter came,’ he said, ‘or at least I wished to. You have frightened me several times tonight, but never in the way that servants of the Enemy would, or so I imagine. I think one of his spies would – well, seem fairer and feel fouler, if you understand.’

‘I see,’ laughed Strider. ‘I look foul and feel fair. Is that it? All that is gold does not glitter, not all those who wander are lost.

When we meet Aragorn for the very first time, he goes by the name Strider. A grubby-looking Ranger who sits in dark corner with his hood up, only the gleam of his eyes visible as he silently watches our heroes – classic bad guy intro. Which, of course, is exactly what Tolkien intended. As Frodo explains, although Strider has all the outward appearances of someone to be avoided, he’s not evil.

For interest, contrast his introduction with his appearance once crowned.

On the throne sat a mail-clad man, a great sword was laid across his knees, but he wore no helm. As they drew near he rose. And then they knew him, changed as he was, so high and glad of face, kingly, lord of Men, dark-haired with eyes of grey.

The change that Aragorn undergoes throughout the trilogy is precisely why our first meeting with him is such an iconic moment. We are introduced to him as, at worst, a dangerous man, and at best a scruffy drifter with a broken, useless sword. Yet before our eyes he becomes an archetypal hero figure, shining and kingly by the end of the story.

This is what he truly was, from the very first moment in the Prancing Pony, under a skin of doubt and sorrow and cynicism. He was always gold, even when he didn’t glitter.

8. Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace: the Duel of the Fates

Darth Maul wields a double-ended, red lightsaber.

What used to be called ‘the new trilogy’ was my generation’s iteration of the Star Wars franchise. The old trilogy was a beloved part of cinematic canon, but the anticipation and the spectacle belonged to the new films. I saw Star Wars Episode 1 in cinema in 1999, and the ending broke my little ten year-old heart. I moped for weeks afterwards. Years later, it can still recall a twinge of sorrow.

I’m talking about, of course, the death of Qui-Gon Jinn.

The battle on Naboo between Qui-Gon, baby Obi-Wan Kenobi and Darth Maul was one of the first times I can remember feeling genuine, nail-biting, edge-of-seat anxiety over a film. As befitting a story about fantastic zen warrior monks, the fight is beautifully choreographed. It’s a prime example of real Jedi fighting, something the viewer at this point is unfamiliar with (remember, in 1999, Luke, Yoda and old Obi-Wan were as far as Jedis went).

7. Pokémon Red/Blue: the first morning

Everyone who has played and loved the Pokémon games remembers their first time – I know I do. For me, it was Pokémon Blue on my best friend’s Gameboy Colour, and my starter was Charmander. (I got my Charmander all the way to Charizard before I had to go home that day.) Waking up in Pallet Town on the morning of the beginning of your Pokémon adventure is comparable for me to getting your letter from Hogwarts. I’m pretty sure the Pallet Town music is imprinted on my soul.

6. A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones: the Battle of the Blackwater

An enormous green explosion destroys ships in a bay.

Trying to think of a favourite moment from either the A Song of Ice and Fire books or the Game of Thrones television show is like being told I can only have one biscuit from the selection pack. I went for the Battle of the Blackwater because, although it’s stretching the definition of ‘moment’ rather, I can’t pick just one character on which to focus – this battle affects a lot of them.

In the climax of the season, Stannis Baratheon’s fleet is outside the capital, and the Lannisters within the city walls cope (or don’t) in their own ways. Cersei drinks and lays some truth on Sansa; Sansa has some seriously great interiority; Joffrey is a little shit, as usual; Tyrion steps into the breach and leads the counter-attack. In the show, there’s that SFX budget-blowing wildfire explosion, destroying Stannis’ ships with green fire. In the face of that fire, the Hound finally says ‘fuck the king’ and peaces out, but not before going to see Sansa one last time.

5. Doctor Who: Davros

Davros, a hideous, eyeless half-dalek creature, points a metal hand upwards.

Something now from my favourite episode of my favourite series of new Doctor Who. ‘The Stolen Earth’ and ‘Journey’s End’ together make an epic finale to season four, to Donna’s time on the show, and also to showrunner Russell T. Davies’ whole tenure on New Who.

In this climactic scene, Davros, creator of the Daleks and of the Reality Bomb, a device that will shortly wipe the entirety of reality out of existence, demonstrates the Doctor’s ostensible corruption of his human companions.

DAVROS: The man who abhors violence, never carrying a gun. But this is the truth, Doctor: you take ordinary people and you fashion them into weapons. Behold your children of time, transformed into murderers. I made the Daleks, Doctor; you made this.

Donna, having been fused via Metacrisis with the Tenth Doctor, is now half human, half Time Lord and total utter genius (literally). Her actions and those of her half human, half Time Lord Tenth Doctor clone result in the destruction of the entire Dalek race created by Davros. As Davros’ ship explodes around him, he names the Doctor (something that had been hinted at throughout the series) the ‘Destroyer of Worlds’.

This scene is taken up to eleven by Julian Bleach, the voice of Davros. He sends shivers down my spine.

4. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: ‘I open at the close’

Harry's hand reaches through his mother's ghostly, intangible one.

Here’s another example of a trans-media moment where I have a clear favourite version. While it left me cold in the cinema, Harry walking to meet Lord Voldemort in the Forbidden Forest, where he will be killed, was pitch perfect in the original book.

Harry, realising he’s had the Resurrection Stone all along, summons the ghostly figures of his mother, father, godfather Sirius Black, and Remus Lupin. He speaks to them, and they remain with him as he walks to his certain death.

This scene functions as a quiet moment in a dark and haunted book. By this point, Harry has spent seven years trying to save the wizarding world while staying alive, and the final year has been his bleakest time, on the run, witnessing wartime horrors and the deaths of many of his friends. The reader, too, knows that the series will end with this book. This scene is Harry’s farewell, and it emphasises the theme that has been running through the entire series: love endures, and bears us up, and makes us better than we would have otherwise been.

The fact that Harry doesn’t actually stay dead cannot diminish the power of this scene. This moment is the heart of the final book, and perhaps the series as a whole.

A chilly breeze that seemed to emanate from the heart of the forest lifted the hair at Harry’s brow. He knew that they would not tell him to go, that it would have to be his decision.

“You’ll stay with me?’

“Until the very end,” said James.

“They won’t be able to see you?” asked Harry.

“We are part of you,” said Sirius. “Invisible to anyone else.”

Harry looked at his mother.

“Stay close to me,” he said quietly.

3. Doctor Who: the companions fly the TARDIS

The Tenth Doctor, Donna, Martha Jones, Jack Harkness, Jackie Tyler, Mickey, Sarah-Jane Smith, the Metacrisis Doctor, and Rose Tyler stand around the TARDIS console, flying her.

So I couldn’t just leave it at one scene from my favourite New Who episode. Immediately following Davros’ dramatic death, the Tenth Doctor, his Metacrisis-created clone, and Donna – in Doctor Donna form – harness the Earth to the TARDIS, and sets the collection of past and present companions to flying them both home.

This triumphant scene was one of showrunner Russell T. Davies’ many grand farewells, as he left the show after this season and its five subsequent specials. It’s a final joyful moment, celebrating Doctor Who and its history. After returning the Earth to its proper place in the universe, we say goodbye to each companion as they return, optimistic, to their futures.

From this moment on, the episode turns dark, but this scene remains in my memory as an instant of light towards the end of the Tenth Doctor’s often-grim tenure.

2. Serenity: Reapers vs. the Alliance

Two fleets of spaceships, one shiny and neat, the other ragged, face one another across the backdrop of a planet's orbit.

The film Serenity served as a dramatic end punctuation to Joss Whedon’s cult hit television series Firefly, cancelled by Fox after one season. This moment was the climax of the film, as Captain Malcolm Reynolds and his crew, having discovered the awful secret at the heart of the plot, stop running from the amoral Alliance Operative that’s been chasing them across space and take the fight to the Alliance.

Chiwetel Ejiofor as the Operative makes this moment. It’s infinitely satisfying to see the previously unflappable antagonist – already responsible for the death of one series regular – finally crack and show panic.

1. Pacific Rim: ‘For my family!’

At the edge of space, Gipsy Danger cuts through Otachi, a flying kaiju, with a sword jutting from its wrist.

Like a lot of the things in my list, it broke my heart to have to pick just one moment from this film. I saw Pacific Rim on K-Day and fell hard.

Mako Mori is the real star of Pacific Rim. Enigmatic and intriguing from her first introduction, her backstory unfolds alongside her current arc to reveal the tragic loss of her parents in a kaiju attack on Tokyo when she was a small child. Her first real mission as co-pilot of Gipsy Danger with Raleigh, our narrator, is to chase and destroy the kaiju Otachi as it rampages through Hong Kong.

Kaiju/Jaeger battles in Pacific Rim are impossible to take your eyes off, and this one is no exception. The neon colours of future Hong Kong, Gipsy’s lights, and Otachi’s biolumiscence make this fight visually gripping. When Otachi then unfolds its wings, it’s completely refiguring the parameters of the fight, creating a thunderous ‘HOLY SHIT’ moment.

Just as all looks lost for Mako and Raleigh, Mako reveals a new addition to Gipsy’s arsenal: a motherfucking sword. Mako cuts Otachi in half, finally enacting revenge for her lost parents. It was without question the coolest moment in the coolest film I think I’ve ever seen.

And that, readers, is why it’s my number one most iconic moment in science fiction or fantasy.

What do you think? Genre fiction in whatever medium is all about following your joy, whether it’s spaceships or knights in armour or steam-powered automatons or talking rabbits. What are your favourite moments?

1 thought on “My Top Ten Most Iconic Moments in Science Fiction and Fantasy

  1. On Monday the 27th of December 1999, in the early hours of the morning, in the departure lounge of Gatwick Airport, I turned on my translucent purple GameBoy Color and began to play Pokémon Red Version for the first time. The Charmander I chose that day was lost to a corrupt save, but I shall forever remember him, who introduced me to the world of Pokémon.

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