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Star Trek: The Original Series had titles for each episode. (e.g. - “Amok Time,” “Balance of Terror,” “The Doomsday Machine,” and so forth.)

Doctor Who episodes had titles as far back as 1963. (e.g. - “The Daleks,” “Marco Polo,” “An Unearthly Child,” and so forth.)

The original Twilight Zone episodes from 1959 through 1964 had titles for each episode. (e.g. - “It's a Good Life,” “Escape Clause,” “The Fever,” and so forth.)

What was the first sci-fi TV series to feature specific titles for each episode?

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    Your question contains the implicit assumption that before “the first sci-fi TV series to have titles for each episode” there were sci-fi TV series without titles, but you only name example with titles. Is there any reason to assume that there was a time when having titles for each episode was unusual?
    – Holger
    Jan 27 '20 at 14:38
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    I agree with Holger's comment. Titles may be as old as TV series. For example, the Lone Ranger (1949) had episode titles: wikiwand.com/en/List_of_The_Lone_Ranger_episodes
    – Taladris
    Jan 27 '20 at 15:35
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    In fact, the serial films from before the TV era would be where I'd expect this tradition to have started, and TV would just be continuing it...
    – Yakk
    Jan 27 '20 at 16:19
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    @Holger I don't see the OP as assuming there was a time when TV series did not have episode titles. Maybe the very first sci-fi TV shows had episode titles, and maybe they did not.
    – RichS
    Jan 27 '20 at 19:44
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    A fun fact about those old Doctor Who episodes is that originally each individual episode had its own sort of "chapter title", all of which shared a story title. The story "The Daleks" for example had individual episode titles like "The Dead Planet", "The Rescue" and so on. Doctor Who then abandoned this convention and went with just "Part One", "Part Two", and so on, for the individual episodes. Jan 27 '20 at 20:40
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Rocky Jones, Space Ranger (February 1954)

This series aired from February to October 1954, with the first episode airing half a year before the 1954 Flash Gordon series.

Strictly speaking, most named stories consisted of three episodes with a "Chapter 1", "Chapter 2", and "Chapter 3". but there were three single-episode stories, with the first, "Escape Into Space", airing April 27, 1954 - still months before the first Flash Gordon Episode.

enter image description here

YouTube has all the episodes. The title page of the first episode, "Beyond the Curtain of Space, Chapter 1" can be seen here:

enter image description here

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    My family still has the Rocky Jones, Space Ranger uniform that my grandmother made for my dad.
    – Buzz
    Jan 28 '20 at 1:20
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    Not sure why people are still upvoting this one when a newer answer mentions an earlier TV show.
    – user89104
    Jan 28 '20 at 7:21
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    @LincolnMan : This answer contains color.
    – TOOGAM
    Jan 29 '20 at 7:05
  • @LincolnMan: Well. the only earlier show in the other answer that had episode titles shown onscreen was Tales of Tomorrow, which was an anthology series of unrelated stories. Maybe some of the people upvoting this answer don't think that counts (which I find unfair, given that the original question mentions Twilight Zone. another anthology series). Jan 30 '20 at 8:45
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Short answer:

There is evidence that the use of episode titles was normal in science fiction television programs made in the USA as early as 1949. But I note four problems that make assuming that is correct a little uncertain.

Long Answer:

Others have mentioned Flash Gordon (1954) and Rocky Jones, Space Ranger (1954) as the earliest science fiction television programs with separate titles for episodes.

The IMDB list of Flash Gordon (1954) episodes and Wikipedia both list "Flash Gordon and the Planet of Death" as the first episode on October 1, 1954.

According to the IMDB list of Rocky Jones, Space Ranger episodes, the first episode on 10 April 1954 was part of a three episode story and had the title of: "Beyond the Curtain of Space: Chapter 1". But chapter 2 of that story was supposedly on 2 March 1952, which seems out of order. The first single episode story was broadcast on 1 May 1954 with the title of: "Escape into Space".

But the different stories are not listed in chronological order in this list. In the list in Wikipedia the stories seem to be listed in chronological order, but some have different dates. "Beyond the Curtain of Space" first episode is dated to February 23, 1954, and "Escape into Space" is dated to April 27, 1954.

Tales of Tomorrow is an American anthology science fiction series that was performed and broadcast live on ABC from 1951 to 1953. The series covered such stories as Frankenstein, starring Lon Chaney, Jr., 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea starring Thomas Mitchell as Captain Nemo, and many others.

Tales of Tomorrow

The IMDB episode list for Tales of Tomorrow lists the first episode as having the title: "Verdict from Space" and airing on 3 August 1951.

However, the IMDB entry is not absolute proof that the episode title was used back in 1951 so I suppose that some doubt remains.

And Tales of Tomorrow was an anthology series where each and every episode was a totally separate story with different characters and setting, and so some people might claim that an anthology series would be much more likely to have separate episode titles than a series with regular continuing characters.

Tom Corbett: Space Cadet was first broadcast on October 2, 1950. The earliest episode title in the IMDB list is "Trial in Space" 21 July 1951.

Space Patrol was a television series with recurring characters that was broadcast from 1950 to 1955. Wikipedia says that it was first broadcast 5 days a week starting March 9, 1950, while the IMDB episode lists gives the first episode as "Treachery on Mars" 30 December 1950.

Captain Video and his Video Rangers was broadcast between June 27, 1949 and April 1, 1955.

In the IMDB episode list, the earliest episode with a complete date is "Misc. Vid 4; Su Ching Sing" 1 June 1950; the earliest episode with a month and year is "Lazy K Ranch" Apr. 1950; and the earliest episode dated only to a year is "Captain Video Prepares to Visit Regas" dated 1949.

So a quick search among early science fiction television series in the United States of America gives the impression that it was normal and usual for episodes to have titles in the early 1950s and even in 1949.

However, Thee are four problems that add uncertainty:

  1. I noted that the sources do not give episode titles for every single episode of some of those series.

  2. Of course it is impossible to be certain that any episodes actually had titles when they were first broadcast without more research such as going to websites dedicated to specific television series, watching episodes online and noting if they have titles that seem to be original, and so on.

  3. I also note that there might have been some some early American science fiction television programs with or without episode titles that I failed to check on.

  4. I also note that there may have been a number of early science fiction programs produced in other countries in the 1950s and 1940s, with or without episode titles.

Added 01-28-2020. Comment by Klaus AE Mogensen say that episodes of Space Patrol, Tom Corbett, and Captain Video on YouTube don't have episode titles while episodes of Tales of Tomorrow do have titles.

Barrowc's answer shows a image of the title card with episode title of the first episode of The Quatermass Experiment, "Contact Has Been Established", broadcast in the UK on 18 July 1953.

Therefore it seems that the earliest examples known so far of science fiction television programs with individual episode titles are Tales of Tomorrow, an anthology series in the USA in 1951, and The Quatermass Experiment in the UK in 1953.

Some people might claim that Tales of Tomorrow doesn't count because it is an anthology series instead of a series with continuing characters, and other people might claim that The Quatermass Experiment doesn't count because it was a limited series of six episodes. Picky, picky. And there is always the possibility that some earlier science fiction television programs did have individual episode titles.

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  • Tales of Tomorrow is on YouTube, and there are episode titles shown. So that is certainly a correct answer. youtube.com/… Jan 28 '20 at 9:01
  • There are several episodes of Space Patrol on YouTube, but they don't show episode titles. youtube.com/watch?v=AJ5dE9PFl5Y Jan 28 '20 at 9:07
  • Tom Corbett does not appear to have episode titles, either. youtube.com/watch?v=O0a9uqmCrp8 Jan 28 '20 at 9:09
  • Nor does Captain Video and His Video Rangers appear to have episode titles. youtube.com/watch?v=CVtJLBbBqbw Jan 28 '20 at 9:13
  • @KlausÆ.Mogensen That Space Patrol episode you linked to does have an onscreen title, it just doesn't appear until 1 minutes 8 seconds. The show seems to have used titles intermittently, in my answer I linked to an episode from October 1952 that has one, but some episodes from after that don't. I agree that Captain Video and Tom Corbett don't seem to have onscreen episode titles, at least not the ones I've checked on youtube.
    – Hypnosifl
    Jul 31 at 14:02
6

Flash Gordon (1954)

You can see the list of episodes on Wikipedia:

  • S01E01: Flash Gordon and the Planet of Death

  • S01E02: Escape into Time

  • S01E03: The Electro Man

and so on.

I found episode 3 of Captain Video (June 1949) has a name "Code of Honor" on Trakt.tv, but I couldn't confirm its authenticity because other episodes have bizzare names like "episode dated x" or "this actor replaced this" etc.

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    Are you sure that these episode name are contemporaneous?
    – Valorum
    Jan 27 '20 at 8:35
  • contemporaneous : adjective "existing at or occurring in the same period of time" yes I had to check,
    – Criggie
    Jan 27 '20 at 18:10
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    @Criggie - Me am know big words with me big thinkie braaaaaain
    – Valorum
    Jan 28 '20 at 0:21
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The Quatermass Experiment (1953, BBC), "A thriller for television in six parts", had episodes with individual titles.

Here's episode one - "Contact has been Established" - on YouTube -

The title card looks like this:

A black and white image with white cursive text on a grey and black background. The text reads: Episode One, "Contact has been Established"

The episodes were transmitted live and recordings only exist of episodes one and two. There are some details of how the recordings were made here

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    The Paladin Media typo makes Quatermass sound like an incredibly evil scientist; who else would run an "expirement"?
    – RDFozz
    Jan 30 '20 at 15:43
2

The answer by @M.A.Golding notes some uncertainty about whether various early shows had episode titles originally or if the titles were assigned retrospectively, so I thought I'd look for the earliest example of onscreen titles. M. A. Golding's answer references Tales of Tomorrow, many of the episodes have been posted on youtube playlists here, here and here, and the first episode "Verdict From Space" from August 3, 1951 does have an onscreen title, go to 1 minute 3 seconds here:

As for series with regular characters as opposed to anthology series, the earliest I've found is Space Patrol which ran on ABC from 1950-1955. The episode guide here gives titles for all the episodes but the early ones I've found online don't have any onscreen titles, so this is another case where it's possible the titles were chosen retrospectively (though it's also possible the titles were from the original scripts). But by 1952 the episodes did have onscreen titles, earliest one I've found online was the episode "Errand of Mercy" from October 11, 1952, go to 2:33 in this version to see the title:

https://archive.org/details/space-patrol-s-01e-01-low-480x-360p/Space+Patrol+S02E41+Errand+of+mercy+%5BLow%2C+480x360p%5D.mp4

On the other hand, there were no onscreen titles on various earlier episodes I've been able to find online:

Treachery on Mars (December 30, 1950)

The Lost City of the Carnacans (June 30, 1951)

The Deadly Weapon (July 7, 1951)

Uncertain Death (May 3, 1952)

Interplanetary Smugglers (June 28, 1952)

Blackmail at Lake Azure (August 16, 1952)

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