The Best Uses of Steampunk on Television

The Victorian Age has long since declared victory over the brains of many science fiction lovers. An alternate history, in which the British Empire was accompanied by fantastical steam-powered technology has captured people's imaginations. Steampunk rules, just as Britannia once did. Just look at the profusion of steampunk costumes at any science fiction convention.

And we've seen the influence of steampunk on television, which has embraced all things brassy and steam-powered, along with the hand-crafted aesthetic of Victorian technology. Many of our favorite television shows have featured gorgeous sets, props and costumes infused with a cogs-and-velvet loveliness. Here are some of the greatest steampunk features on television.

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Firefly/Serenity
Joss Whedon's "space Western" included a lot of Wild West trappings — which is already 19th Century — but also sort of nodded at a Victorian aesthetic sometimes, especially when we glimpsed how the Other Half lived. We saw sumptuous outfits, and glimpsed lots of handcrafted technology here and there. There's also the fact that the Serenity's engine room is sort of a boiler room, and it runs on a big turbine.

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Warehouse 13
This is sort of an obvious one, with all the old-fashioned tech the agents carry around all the time, like Farnsworths (named for Philo Farnsworth) and Teslas (named for Nikola Tesla, obviously). But there are nice little steampunk touches everywhereArtie's computer has the little old-fashioned keyboard, and brass fittings over it, which steampunk artist Richard Nagy designed, originally for his girlfriend. At one point, they turn an old Bell and Howell spectrascope into a holographic projector. Plus H.G. Wells' raygun, and all of her other cool Victorian tech that's turned up lately. And goggles! For season three, the Collector Detector has provided a whole slew of vintage and steampunk props for the show.

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The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.
As the L.A. Weekly points out, this show was one of the earliest televised instances of steampunk, with its rocket car that breathes fire, and its "mobile battle wagon," that's part steam locomotive and part wagon. There's also a plot-driving "mystical orb" that is all brassy and fancy-looking.


The Best Uses of Steampunk on Television

Legend
This short-lived UPN series was all about weird tech in the old West, with Richard Dean Anderson as a dime novelist impersonating his famous swashbuckling hero, and John de Lancie as his sidekick. They travel around the old West making scientific discoveries and fighting evil, and riding in what looks like a steampunkish car. Steampunk car! Curse you, UPN!

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The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne
This show from 2000 was based on the idea that Jules Verne was a real adventurer, who really had all the adventures he wrote about in his books. And it had absolutely fantastic concept design, including the airship Aurora — just look at our gallery of concept art by artist Meinert Hansen, at left.

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Doctor Who and Torchwood
When Fox and the BBC tried to bring back Doctor Who in 1996, they gave the show a total steampunk makeover, giving the Doctor a nice Victorian-style TARDIS console to go with his new costume — and the sets were designed by Richard Hudolin, who later worked on Battlestar Galactica and Caprica. Just look at those cool displays and knobs — it's one of the more elegant TARDIS sets the show ever had, and sort of recalls the wooden TARDIS from Tom Baker's era. And since the show came back, it's given us a few great examples of Victorian high technology, including the observatory in "Tooth and Claw." And the clockwork robots from "The Girl in the Fireplace" are very steampunk-y. Meanwhile, Torchwood has given us some flashbacks to the Torchwood Institute's Victorian days, in which they had all manner of wonderful devices.

Castle
In episode 3.04, "Punked," Castle and his cop friend visit a steampunk club in New York City, as seen in the clip at left. And Castle himself puts on the most amazing steampunk outfit ever seen, in pretty much any medium.

The Best Uses of Steampunk on Television

Wild Wild West
Ignore the movie version — the 1960s television show is often cited as a major influence on steampunk, with tons of weird technology in the old West. Just check out the steam-powered "juggernaut" at left. This show featured a nearly endless assortment of gadgets and toys, including a blowtorch disguised as a cigar, a train full of traps and hidden geegaws, an early cyborg, an early flamethrower, and more.

Sanctuary
This Canadian webseries-turned-Syfy-show has featured a lot of steampunk, including some flashbacks to the Edwardian era where we've gotten to see an old-fashioned doomsday device. Also, check out Watson's exoskeleton breathing apparatus in the clip at left.

Additional reporting by Natalie Baaklini and Mandy Curtis.