I was highly amused by this list of The 10 Most Insane, Child-Warping Moments of ’80s Cartoons, which I found through the Jem mailing list I’m on (shut up). It’s weird because some of the stuff at the “bottom” is far more traumatizing than the stuff at the top. I think they have the numbering backwards.
I’d forgotten about that episode of GI-JOE with Shipwreck’s fake family and the androids that melted and ahhhh that was so messed up! Though I have to say not as creepy as the part in the GI-JOE movie where Cobra Commander was turned into asnake-human beast and kept repeating “I used to be a man…. I used to be a man…” The black GI-JOE nearly punched him out.
Anyway, the Shipwreck episode got me thinking about reused plots because I just watched a Star Trek: TNG episode with a similar story. The one where Riker wakes up 10 years in the future, he’s the captain of the Enterprise, has a son, and is all WTF I don’t remember any of this! And at first he thinks it’s a Romulan plot but then it’s not. I’m pretty sure the GI-JOE ep came first, but I can’t be sure.
Not that this is some major thing, TV shows often recycle plots, and often there are plots that you always see in certain genres of shows. Sitcoms have their own, dramas have their own, and SF shows have their own.
Just off the top of my head, there’s the your life was actually a crazy hallucination plot. Like that episode of TNG where Riker (why is it always Riker?) thinks he’s going crazy and an alien psychiatrist tries to convince him that his whole life on the Enterprise was made up in his head. Someone once informed me that this happened on Buffy, too, while we were watching a Stargate: Atlantis episode where Wier was the one who thought she was crazy.
There’s the time loop plot, where characters keep experiencing the same slice of time over and over, sometimes without realizing it for a while. This happened on TNG, but my favorite one was the Stargate: SG1 episode where Teal’c and Jack were the only ones who saw that the day kept repeating itself, to hilarious results.
The evil counterpart plot, the most famous probably being the classic Star Trek episode where Kirk goes to the evil universe with a bearded Spock. This was later revisited on Deep Space Nine, though less successfully, IMO. There was a good TNG book about it, though. One of the only good episodes of Stargate: SG1‘s ninth season was of this stripe.
The out of phase plot, where characters are invisible and can’t be heard, but they aren’t dead, just shifted slightly off to the side. TNG again (Geordi & Ro), SG-1 again (Daniel), and at least two episodes of Strange Days at Blake Holsey High.
The who the hell is this person we’ve never seen before but was supposedly here the whole time? plot. From what I understand, Buffy’s sister’s entire storyline is this. Same goes for Cam on SG-1. That show also had an episode in the 4th or 5th season where an alien had a pheromone or something that implanted false memories in people to make them think they’d known him all along. Recently, Torchwood had something similar in the ep. “Adam”, though the alien in this case was much more sinister. More sinisterness in an episode of TNG where the whole crew lost their memories and suddenly there was some dude we’d never seen before pretending to be part of the bridge crew.
The bringing people back from the dead in messed up ways plot is usually about fan service. Like the time TNG brought back Tasha Yar as the Enterprise slipped into an alternate dimension, Callisto’s many appearances on Xena after she died, Kira’s boyfriend coming in from the evil dimension on DS9, and Janet & Martouf similarly coming over from another universe on SG-1. Torchwood‘s “They Keep Killing Suzie” isn’t really fan service, though.
Oh, and Character X meets her/his double! I like it best when the double is some random person not related to the character in question but who just happens to look exactly like them. There were several hilarious Xena episodes wherein we discovered two or maybe even three women who were mirror images of Xena (her dad got around a bit, methinks). Jem & the Holograms once met a princess who looked like Kimber (I think a lot of these plots have The Prince & the Pauper as their base). And that awful TNG episode where Riker (again, why always him??) meets himself, a dude who is actually his exact genetic double because of some transporter splicing (they blamed the transporter for every damn thing). I still hate that episode.
ETA: Veejane and Deedop both pointed out variants of the Body Switching plot, the secret/surprise switch and the known switch. Classic Trek has the Kirk swaps with Janice Lester episode, SG-1 had an absolutely hilarious one where, eventually, Teal’c and Jack switched, and Chris Judge showed the real range of his amazing acting. Stargate: Atlantis also had an episode, as well as a very funny episode of Farscape.
Charlie brought up “the living-someone-else’s-life-in-your-head plot – TNG did it with Picard to commemorate a civilisation and Voyager did it for a similar reason with most of the crew who thought they’d been involved in a war that was over centuries before they arrived. I suspect SG-1 have also done that one, experiencing false memories of some kind.”
There are more I can’t think of right now, help me out! Which plots that are mainly the province of SF shows do you see recycled all the time? And, of the different episodes that you’ve seen, which are the best exemplars?