Congratulations! The world’s northern hemisphere just survived one record-breaking heatwave, but it was only the first volley in a campaign cooked up by the sun to kill us all. Forecasts anticipate another one soon, so get ready to sweat — and after you turn up the A/C you might as well learn about sci-fi’s worst heatwaves. Remember: Forewarned is forearmed!
1) The Night of Big Heat
It’s the middle of November on a remote Scottish island, yet temperatures have exceeded 90 degrees and are still climbing. In the heat, televisions are exploding, gas tanks are also exploding, and the island’s sheep are literally steamed to death in fogs of humidity. Luckily, Christopher Lee is on the case as Dr. Vernon Stone.
He concludes a species of alien jellyfish that like it hot and clammy are terraforming the Earth into their own personal shvitz. Dr. Hanson, a scientist, believes it’s a good idea to blow up the invading sun monsters with dynamite (no dice), but luckily, it starts to rain and the aliens die in the surge. (Fun fact: The Night of Big Heat was amazingly re-titled Island of the Burning Damned for its U.S. release.)
2) “Learning Curve,” Star Trek: Voyager
In the first season finale of Voyager, the ship’s bio-neural gel packs become infected with a virus from the bacterial cultures Neelix used to make macaroni and cheese. Janeway decides to heat up the ship to staggering levels, killing the virus, but making things pretty gross and sticky in the interim. ( This is also the infamous episode where B’Elanna Torres commands, “Get the cheese to Sickbay.”)
Crushingly, the cheese virus is only the episode’s B-story, so we spend most of the episode watching Tuvok train Starfleet’s take on the cast of Police Academy before he learns a lesson about being less “rigid.” Tuvok thought he was teaching the Maquis, but the Maquis were teaching Tuvok all along…
The year is 2016. The setting: post-apocalyptic Germany. Global temperatures have risen by 10°C, making travel during daylight hours a death sentence. The film follows a trio of survivors in a Volvo heading to the mountains, where, rumour has it, water can be found. Predictably, they meet some desert cannibals. This Swiss film from 2011 is enjoyably grim — and currently on Netflix — if you want to take a look.
4) “Child’s Play,” Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense
A family awakens to find themselves trapped inside their own sweltering home, and the temperature is increasingly precipitously. Unable to escape, they slowly begin to realise all their belongings bare the logo of the same, mysterious company — and now this bubbling green ooze is seeping through the front door.
This episode of the British antholgy TV series Hammer House plays out like a feature-length episode of The Twilight Zone, and the twist is simply stunning. Spoiler warning for the wary: The family is a technologically advanced set of dolls, inside a dollhouse, on an alien spaceship. The alien brother of the girl who owns the dollhouse stuck the whole thing inside an oven just to be a dick, then turned it on. The ooze is actually green hard candy the alien accidentally dropped inside with them.
5) “The Midnight Sun,” The Twilight Zone
In this Twilight Zone episode written by Rod Serling, Lois Nettleton plays the last bastion of a tenement building whose occupants have either already died of heatstroke or fled to “Toronto” Grapes of Wrath-style, where it’s rumoured to be cooler. It seems the sun has been thrown from its rotational axis and hurtling toward the sun. Doomed, Nettleton spends her dying days painting pictures of the sun, until she’s violently accosted by a shirtless scavenger wearing a seersucker jacket.
When the thermometers explode and her paintings begin to melt, it seems the Earth is finally kaput — but it was all a dream. The Earth has actually come off its axis and is hurtling away from the sun — dooming the planet to perpetual cold and darkness.
6) “42,” Doctor Who
OK so this one was a bit more of a literal heatwave. Sunshine meets Jason X in this Doctor Who episode from future showrunner Chris Chibnall, in which The Doctor, Martha, and the crew of a mining ship find things hotting up (sorry) when a living sun harvested by the ship seeks vengeance by infecting people and turning them into sweaty, heat-intensive killers. Said infected people then go about shouting “BURN WITH ME” as they incinerate the crew with the sun’s energy.
If that wasn’t literal enough, the ship is also slowly plummeting into the Sun, so The Doctor and friends have 42 minutes — hence the title — to save themselves before they’re melted to death.
7) “The ‘I Married An Alien’ Syndrome,” Men in Black: The Animated Series
Aliens called The Blastula increase the Earth’s temperature in preparation for takeover in this episode of Men in Black: The Animated Series. These plans are complicated after one of the Blastula marries an Earth woman. Luckily, Agents Jay and Kay destroy the aliens’ sunspot generator and get a new recurring antagonist for the series in the deal.
8) The Day the Earth Caught Fire
Earth suffers a global heatwave after the U.S. and the Soviets detonate nuclear bombs simultaneously, altering the Earth’s rotation by 11 degrees. After some serious brainstorming, it’s decided the best way to get Earth back on track is blowing up more bombs in Siberia. Amidst the global drought and pestilence, stars Janet Munro and Edward Judd somehow manage to enjoy a “meet-cute” storyline before the film’s ambiguous finale. No matter the weather, happiness is where you find it.