Strong Female Protagonists In Fantasy and Sci-Fi TV

When the subject of strong female protagonists in fantasy/sci-fi TV shows comes up, women such as Sarah Jane Smith (Doctor Who), Doctor Beverly Crusher and Counselor Deanna Troi (Star Trek: TNG), Buffy Summers, Agent Dana Scully (The X-Files), and Zoe Washburne, River Tam, Inara Serra, and Kaylee Frye (Firefly) stand out far above the rest, in my opinion.

Article by Stephen Cleath

In more recent years, these ranks have grown to include leading ladies from more shows, such as Fringe, Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD, Orphan Black, and The Walking Dead. In their own inimitable fashion, these women kick butt, take names (sometimes), and make their worlds safe for the general population, regardless of the price they have to pay. In recognition of them, I wrote a short overview of each show and the female characters therein, with the simple purpose of introducing them to people who may not follow these shows as passionately/obsessively as I do.

Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD

This show is one of my favorites, given the way it expands on and incorporates elements and details from assorted Marvel comic books, weaving them together with a specialized team of SHIELD agents. Agents Melinda May, Daisy Johnson/Quake (formerly Skye), Jemma Simmons, and Elena Rodriguez/Yo-Yo bring a wide range of female role models to the show. For example, Agent May is the heart of the team, steady and focused on keeping the mission’s objective in sight, no matter how outlandish the situation gets. Daisy has become the glue that unites the team, in part due to her training under Agent May, her willingness to question the team’s orders when things become suspicious, her Inhuman powers (see season two for details), and her every-man perspective on the life of an agent for a super-secret organization.

Jemma Simmons is the team’s resident scientist and medical expert, always trying to examine problems logically through the lens of scientific fact and established precedent; I always enjoy a character like hers, who’s a voice of well-grounded reason, even when facing off against super-powered villains.

Finally, Yo-Yo is a valued member of the team, due to her Inhuman ability, her empathy and compassion for others, and her unwavering loyalty to making the world safe from Hydra, assorted super-villains, killer artificial intelligences, and much more. This show keeps batting 1.000, in my opinion, for all the Marvel geeky details and twists that are constantly thrown in. Just what a super-Marvel fanboy/fangirl needs!


FBI Agent Olivia Dunham
FBI Agent Olivia Dunham / Credit: Fox Broadcasting Company

This science-fiction gone wild show focuses on FBI Agent Olivia Dunham, who gets embroiled in an extraordinary case when an airplane full of passengers die gruesome deaths. This case leads her to a mad scientist of sorts named Dr. Walter Bishop, who has been a resident of a mental hospital for 20+ years, and his estranged son Peter, whom she coerces into getting his father released from the mental hospital to help her solve this case.

The qualities that I like about Olivia’s character include her ability to endure/overcome many struggles life has thrown at her, her self-reliance and lone wolf mentality, her empathy and compassion that keep her from becoming a true cynic, and her open mind to the endless variety of fringe science cases that bend the world’s natural laws. I would go into greater detail about what I like about Olivia, but that would spoil the show for you. GO WATCH IT, NOW!

Orphan Black

Orphan Black
Credit: BBC America

This BBC America show has been a favorite of mine for a while, thanks to the talented performances of Tatiana Maslany in portraying multiple characters. The main character she plays is Sarah Manning, introduced as a street-smart woman who is trying to leave her psychotic drug dealer ex behind. She returns to Toronto to get her daughter, but when she arrives on the platform, she encounters a woman that looks exactly like her. This mysterious woman walks past Sarah in a dreamlike state and directly into the path of a train.

After a moment of shock, Sarah grabs the woman’s purse to take over her life, and begins a crazy adventure involving a number of clone “sisters” trying to survive against the mysterious company that created them. Through it all, Sarah shows deep reserves of inner strength, resilience, ingenuity, and more, as she works with her family of clone sisters and allies to uncover the mysteries surrounding their origin. Watching Maslany handle such diverse personalities as Sarah, the hippie scientist Cosima, the uptight suburban housewife Allison, the unpredictable Helena, the calculating & ice-cold Rachel, and many others is an awesome spectacle to see, especially when the clones begin switching places. I highly recommend this show, if you’re ever in a mood for binge watching five seasons of a show in one sitting!

The Walking Dead

Carol in "The Walking Dead"
Carol / Credit: AMC
Maggie in "The Walking Dead"
Maggie / Credit: AMC

Ordinarily, I would not go anywhere near a show or movie in the zombie section of the science-fiction/dystopian genre, but this compelling show has a really great ensemble of characters to follow. Some of my favorite kick-ass characters in TWD are Carol, Maggie, Michonne, and Sasha. Carol’s story is an inspiring one as she transitions from being a victim of an abusive husband to a true survivor and dedicated protector of their group. Maggie’s story arc takes her to a leadership role next to Rick after she’s introduced in season two, and she plays a major role in keeping the group united on the central goal of surviving the walkers, cannibals, and other human bands who try to destroy them.

Michonne is one of the best characters, IMO, ever since she appeared next to Andrea in the woods with a katana and a pair of disarmed walkers. She’s a woman of few words and decisive actions, just the sort of leader needed in any group! Lastly, there’s Sasha, who joins the group at the prison in season three. From the beginning of her character’s story arc, she’s been a fierce and passionate fighter in defense of the group from The Governor, the inhabitants of Terminus, the Saviors, and the roaming herds of undead that they have to fight past. Each of these women bring so much to the group, it’s no wonder they’ve survived this long in a dystopian world.

Michonne in "The Walking Dead"
Michonne / Credit: AMC
Sasha in "The Walking Dead"
Sasha / Credit: AMC

These are just a few of my favorite female protagonists, but there are many other shows with awesome women headlining the cast that I might have forgotten or overlooked. Please comment below with female character leads in current fantasy or science-fiction shows, I’d like to hear feedback from you all! I hope you enjoyed this brief look at these particular shows and characters.

Featured image credit: ABC Studios

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