5 great geek crossover TV episodes

Feature Juliette Harrisson 7 Dec 2012 - 07:04

Juliette selects five of geek TV's finest crossover episodes, with a little help from Doctor Who, The X-Files, Star Trek and more...

This feature contains spoilers.

A crossover episode is an episode in which characters from one show cross over and appear in a different show. Sometimes a single story is written that crosses over both shows, beginning in an episode of the first show and concluding in the second. Other times, characters may appear in another show independently of their own. The second variety is often more fun, since it doesn’t require too much knowledge of the other show and therefore doesn’t alienate viewers who only watch one of the two. 

Crossovers are, naturally, most common in spin-offs or the parent shows of spin-offs, and that’s where they tend to work best, especially in genre television. This is because, while it’s one thing for viewers of Friends to assume that the series takes place in the same version of New York City as Mad About You, it would be quite another for viewers of Farscape to imagine their favourite characters inhabiting the same universe as, for example, Battlestar Galactica. The rules for how the universe works are so different that crossovers between genre shows usually, though not absolutely always, stay within their own franchise. 

A truly great crossover will work on two levels. For fans of only one show, the episode will offer a clear and self-contained story (no trying to force them to watch the second show with an unresolved cliffhanger) that’s enhanced by the presence of fresh characters. For fans of both, the episode will offer a bit of a shake-up that enriches both sets of characters. That’s a lot to ask and not all of these five episodes manage to hit both criteria – but nonetheless, they are five of the best. 

5. Doctor Who, The Stolen Earth/Journey’s End 

Crossed over: Doctor Who/Torchwood/The Sarah Jane Adventures

Plot crossover? No, the plot is essentially contained within main show Doctor Who’s continuity (though Torchwood fans who missed the season finale might wonder where Owen and Tosh are).

Why crossover? Although Russell T Davies’ final episodes of Doctor Who were the specials produced in 2009, this is really the culmination of his tenure as Doctor Who Head Guy. For his grand finale, he brought back all the (fairly numerous) companions from his four years on the show plus some memorable others and set them against the Daleks (obviously). This included Jack Harkness and Sarah Jane Smith, who came with their own companions from their own spin-off shows (also run by Davies).

Will viewers who stick to one show be confused? The inclusion of not only Harkness and Smith but the people who would, logically, be hanging out with them at the point it all goes pear-shaped adds to the realism of the episode and the sense of the show’s world as a complete one. It may mildly irritate anyone who hasn’t seen Torchwood or The Sarah Jane Adventures and doesn’t know who these extra people are, but it won’t substantially detract from their understanding the episode.

What’s great about it? The two episodes together provide some nice closure on the Russell T Davies years. Jackie and Mickey are back, Harriet Jones, Former Prime Minister sacrifices herself for her country (and everyone else’s countries too) and Rose gets left with a man who was made from the Tenth Doctor (this seems like the perfect solution to the problem of viewers wanting a satisfying end to their love story without the Doctor actually ending up with a wife or girlfriend or Billie Piper coming back, until someone points out that her new boyfriend is also half Donna). The scene where everyone operates the TARDIS together sums up the finale perfectly – self-indulgent, pretty cheesy, but oh-so-much-fun to watch. There is also a more serious point, concerning what travelling with the Doctor does to these people and how many of the people he meets end up dying for him, but although important, that can get somewhat lost in the nostalgia-fest. The main point is that, thanks to the crossovers, viewers get to spend some more time with all these beloved characters before the slate is wiped clean (and we say goodbye to them again, more briefly) in The End of Time.

Will it make me want to watch Torchwood or The Sarah Jane Adventures? If you aren’t watching already, probably not, unless you’ve seen publicity for Torchwood and want to know what happened to Owen and Tosh.

Quotable: ‘The man who abhors violence, never carrying a gun, but this is the truth, Doctor: you take ordinary people and you fashion them into weapons... behold your Children of Time, transformed into murderers. I made the Daleks, Doctor, you made this’ (Davros)


4. The X-Files, X-Cops 

Crossed over: The X-Files/Cops

Plot crossover? I hope not.

Why crossover? Writer Vince Gilligan just really liked Cops.

Will viewers who stick to one show be confused? No – the set-up of Cops is pretty self-explanatory (I have to confess I’ve never seen an episode of Cops in my life, but I don’t think I’m missing anything in terms of following the episode).

What’s great about it? There’s a reason The X-Files appears twice on this list – the set-up of the show is so simple and relatively grounded that The X-Files can easily be crossed over with other shows, and since Mulder and Scully are FBI, they can travel anywhere within the United States and fit right in, which is why mixing up two such different shows actually works. For this episode plausibly to appear to be an episode of Cops, the monster had to be kept very much out of sight and shown by shadow and implication – and, as fans of Jaws are well aware, monsters are usually scarier when you can’t quite see them. It’s also refreshing to get an outsider’s view of Mulder and Scully as we see them through the film crew’s eyes. This episode is fairly light and a welcome change of pace, something much needed after the emotional crescendo of the preceding, seven-year-story-concluding Closure.

Will it make me want to watch Cops? No. Not unless you like that sort of thing, but in that case, you’re probably already watching already.

Quotable: ‘Mulder, have you noticed we’re on television?’ (Scully)

‘I don’t think it’s live television, Scully. She just said bleep!’ (Mulder)


3. Angel, Sanctuary 

Crossed over: Angel/Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Plot crossover? ‘Sanctuary’ is the finale of a four-part story spread over both shows; This Year’s Girl and Who Are You? on Buffy followed by Five by Five and Sanctuary’on Angel. Faith is, of course, in all four episodes, but Sanctuary is the only one of the four to feature regular characters from more than one show, as Buffy turns up in LA, on Faith’s trail.

Why crossover? Angel’s first season included three crossovers, all featuring story threads begun in Buffy and concluded in Angel (though Sanctuary is followed up again in Buffy’s The Yoko Factor) in an attempt to entice viewers over from the parent show. The crossovers also maintain an healthy sense of realism in the series, given that Sunnydale doesn’t seem to be too far from LA, so there are times when you might expect our heroes to contact each other.

Will viewers who stick to one show be confused? Yes, very. Buffy viewers will be less confused – Faith just leaves town and never comes back, which could work as an ending in itself. Angel viewers, however, will have to catch up with Faith’s entire backstory from Buffy season three via the ‘previously on’ in addition to the events of This Year’s Girl and Who Are You? – and they’ll watch Buffy and Angel’s confrontation with no real idea why the two are so tense around each other. But then, there probably aren’t many any Angel fans who don’t also watch Buffy, so it’s a gamble worth taking.

What’s great about it? The whole four-part story is a very satisfying and well-written conclusion to Faith’s character arc, left largely unresolved as Buffy put her into a coma at the end of Buffy season three. But as a crossover, the most satisfying thing about Sanctuary is that Angel finally snaps and calls Buffy out on some of her behaviour. The first crossover (In the Dark) didn’t feature Buffy herself, while the second (I Will Remember You) focused on all the positive things about their relationship, as they spend a single day as a happy (and sexually active) couple before Angel has to go all noble on us and ruin it. But in Sanctuary, Angel snaps and points out some home truths to Buffy, like the fact that their break-up was hard on him too and he doesn’t have the option of hooking up with a sexy soldier to ease the pain. It’s very satisfying. (He goes back on it a bit in The Yoko Factor, but if you just watch Angel, you can ignore that).

Will it make me want to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer? If you’ve stumbled onto Angel without seeing any Buffy, then yes, if for no other reason than to work out what on earth’s going on.

Quotable: ‘A cry for help is when you say “help” in a loud voice’ (Buffy, not sympathising with Faith)

‘You don't know me anymore, so don't come down here with your great new life and expect me to do things your way. Go home.’ (Angel to Buffy)


2. The Simpsons, The Springfield Files 

Crossed over: The Simpsons/The X-Files/In Search Of…

Plot crossover? No.

Why crossover? Why do anything? Because it’s there? Because that gag about Mulder’s ID card was just too juicy to resist? Because this is The Simpsons, and at least 45% of the show runs on parody, and parody is much funnier when you can get the actual actors from the object of the parody involved.

Will viewers who stick to one show be confused? The episode is unlikely to be as funny or endearing if you’ve never seen The X-Files but having said that, the plot makes perfect sense (depending on your definition of ‘makes sense’) on its own.

What’s great about it? The Simpsons is a sitcom, and this episode is very funny. Considering all the crazy things that go on in Springfield, it’s only surprising Mulder and Scully didn’t turn up to investigate sooner. And Leonard Nimoy is in it, parodying a third show, because why parody one alien series when you can parody two? It also explains quite a lot about Mr Burns…

Will it make me want to watch The X-Files? Possibly, if you feel the need to see the genuine article that inspired Mulder’s two-dimensional swimsuit picture on his ID-card.

Quotable: ‘Hello. I'm Leonard Nimoy. The following tale of alien encounters is true. And by true, I mean false. It's all lies. But they're entertaining lies, and in the end, isn't that the real truth? The answer is no’ (Leonard Nimoy)

‘I remember another gentle visitor from the heavens. Who came to earth, and then died, only to be brought back to life again. And his name was: E.T., the extra-terrestrial. I love that little guy’ (Reverend Lovejoy)


1. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Trials and Tribble-ations 

Crossed over: Star Trek/Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

Plot crossover? Not exactly (either episode stands alone without viewers needing to have seen the other), but re-watching ‘The Trouble with Tribbles’ after seeing ‘Trials and Tribble-ations’ does give it a strange added dimension as you think to yourself ‘Sisko and Dax are up there looking for the bomb right now…’

Why crossover? Star Trek has done several crossover episodes over the years and both Deep Space Nine and Voyager did crossovers to celebrate the series’ 30th anniversary in 1996. Although Voyager’s (‘Flashback, in which we saw Tuvok’s earlier Starfleet career under Captain Sulu) was perfectly fine, it was ‘Trials and Tribble-ations’ that has become one of the most fondly remembered crossover episodes of all time.

What’s great about it? Star Trek has done several good crossover episodes (The Next Generation’s Scotty-starring ‘Relics’ stands out in particular). But this is the perfect tribute to Star Trek’s then-30-year history. The use of original footage (together with the same actor playing Darvin) provides a concrete, tangible link, not just with the stories and characters of the original series, but with the series itself. The 30th anniversary is, after all, a real-world celebration, not an in-universe one, so using genuine 1960s clips is a wonderful testament to the original series, while also providing an opportunity to reflect on how much things have changed over three decades. The technical combination of original footage with new is expertly done (though it’s a shame they couldn’t have found a less flirty bit of Kirk-footage for Sisko’s conversation with him…). Oh, and it’s also hilarious.

Will it make me want to watch Star Trek? Hopefully, this episode may have encouraged some younger viewers to seek out the original – although ‘The Trouble with Tribbles’ is undoubtedly one of the dafter episodes of the original series (though far from the daftest) it’s also one of the most fun, being built on a silly but simple premise and full of good humour. Sisko also explains the Bajoran Orbs to the Temporal Investigators, so viewers of the original series tuning in for the tribute won’t be lost either.

Quotable: ‘I’m a Doctor, not an historian’ (Bashir, channelling McCoy)

‘They are Klingons, and it is a long story… We do not discuss it with outsiders’ (Worf, on the Klingons’ appearance – the comedy is all in the delivery)

Honourable mention: It’s only a few seconds long, but Stargate SG-1’s 200th episode, ‘200’ features a very funny crossover with Farscape. The episode is built around resident alien Martin Lloyd’s attempts to come up with a film script based on Stargate Command, and features several short parodies of other classic series, including Star Trek and Gerry Anderson’s Supermarionation shows. It’s thanks to the presence of Ben Browder and Claudia Black that the Farscape parody included might be called a crossover, though only Black is playing her own character. OK, it rubs salt in the wound of Farscape’s cancellation in favour of SG-1, but it’s worth it for Thor-as-Rygel saying ponderously, ‘Yotz!’

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"Harriet Jones, Former Prime Minister...."

Yes, we know who she is.

Is it geek enough to recall that Simon & Simon once showed up in Magnum, and vice versa if I remember correctly. And Magnum once showed up in the Fall Guy.

You forgot Magnum, PI/Murder, She Wrote!

I like the episode, but that publicity pic for The Stolen Earth is awful. Looks very am-dram.

Heaps of awesome Xena and Hercules episodes had great crossovers with one another's shows. Hercules having to fight off Zues in order to allow Xena to give birth to Eve, who was prophecized to bring on the Twilight of the Gods, etc. All those Callisto crossovers and having Autolycus turn up on both with different dynamics with each hero's show. Great stuff!

I second the mention of Magnum/Murder She Wrote - which happened in two separate MSW episodes.

The Tribbles DS9 is a great ep but I also rather liked Voyager's Flashback.

There was an X-Files episode where Mulder & Scully found themselves getting mixed up with the Millennium Group.

Friends and Mad About You had a common character (Phoebe's twin sister Ursula) and there was a brilliant little Friends crossover with Caroline in the City where Caroline, who Joey & Chandler met while waiting for a bus, assumed they were gay adoptive dads because they were looking after Ross's baby together for the day (Chandler also appeared in an ep of CITC).

An episode of the Transformers original series (season 3) featured G.I Joe's Cobra Commander as a guest villain

There are several mini-crossovers between Syfy's three interlinked shows Warehouse 13, Alphas and A Town Called Eureka.

I think the prize for the most bizarre crossover has to be CSI/Two & A Half Men

What about X-Files/Millennium?

What, no Night Man/Manimal?

Yeah, it's representative of the episode's writing and acting. ;)

what? there was a CSI/Two and a Half Men crossover?

Strangely, yes! One episode in TAAHM called Fish In A Drawer and then the story was continued in the CSI episode Two & A Half Deaths

It never came to fruition, but the once-proposed Dr Who/Enterprise crossover could have been fun. Or dreadful. Or combinations thereof.

The Pretender and Profiler did a crossover episode back in the day, with Jarod pretending to be an FBI profiler. Man, that was a long time ago. Now that I think about it, I believe Seventh Heaven/Promised Land did a crossover (or maybe it was Touched By an Angel? I don't remember - my childhood family viewing is all blended together). I do remember though the genius of Steve Urkel from Family Matters showing up on Full House. I think he was one of their cousins...

"Batman" / "Hogan's Heroes". A German officer from 1940's Germany visits a fictional city in the 1960's. Comedy, drama, action, time-travel and wall-climbing. What more could anyone ask for?

The whole list should be nothing but The Stolen Earth/Journey's End.

Murder She Wrote also showed up on Maganum PI once.

sometimes you watch a thing happen, and then just know that it will feature on Cracked some day

Cool, definitely youtubing that one.

I'm sorry, but this list is INCOMPLETE without the Power Rangers In Space/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles crossover.

I remember a bit in Thor where Laufey says to Thor "We know who you are."
Me and my best friend chorused, in the middle of the cinema in loud Dalek voices - "Yes - we know who you are!"

Good grief. I bet you congratulated yourselves on your highly amusing geeky in-joke didn't you? You know what? Nobody else in the theater thought it was remotely funny even, no... ESPECIALLY the Doctor Who fans with half a brain and an ounce of respect for their fellow cinema goers.

Have you never heard of movie etiquette If you'd done that when you were sat near me I would have greeted you hilarious commentary with a punch in the face.

Actually it was twice (kind of) - The Magnum PI episode "Novel Connection" had a guest appearance from Jessica Fletcher and then the Murder She Wrote episode "Magnum on Ice", was shown a few days later, and was the second part of the story.

man i loved those shows, i remember watching them on the CBS (or was it nbc) channel on Telewest... so long ago... Profilers theme tune was great

that was a bit pants to be fair....

I think The X Files crossover with Millennium would be a better choice than X-Cops...

What about Det Sgt John Munch? With appearances in Homicide: Life on the Streets, Law & Order, The Wire, Arrested Development AND The X-Files he's the undisputed crossover king!

The Party Down crew were briefly in an episode of Children's Hospital.

What about the Futurama / Star Trek crossover?


Reboot had an X-Files parody that was brilliant, the best part was that they were able to get Gillian Anderson for the voice work. It worked beautifully!

anyone remember the cross over of Batman and Green Hornet?

"How can you do a spoken word version of a rap song?" "He FOUND a way"

If you're interested in TV crossovers its worth looking up "Tommy Westphall theory" on Google. Mind blowing stuff that, amongst other things, suggests that St Elsewhere, Cheers & Red Dwarf exist in the same fictional universe

Gandalf the white snowman!

How about that Dr Who / Star Wars crossover last series? You know, the one where the Dalek's win election to the Senate and then send the Doctor to Hoth...

While the buffy/angel episodes featured above were certainly the best, there were several more in various episodes in each. Ranging from Angel calling someone and hanging up in s1e01 and Buffy getting the other end of that call in the s05e01 to the same flashback of the old gang of Angel, Darla, Drusillia and Spike told from various perspectives revealing different things each time. The same footage was used pretty well, forcing the viewer to watch it twice Sixth Sense style, the second time with new insight. A conversation between Spike and Angel after Spike killed his first Slayer comes to mind. The first time we thought he was just jealous, the second time we realise that he had a soul and so is disgusted.

Also there were a number of character crossovers between all of the Stargate series' the most notable probably being when the two teams managed to use a Stargate and a Supergate to destroy a Wraith cruiser and an Ori ship at the same time in 2 different galaxies.

Batman/Scooby Doo? I think there are 2 different stories too.

Am I the only one that remembers the Strange Luck crossover with X Files when Chance Harper states that if anything happens to him that they should contact his cousin Fox Mulder?

Get a life Landerson!

That was the same as Buffy/Angel though. Xena first appeared in Hercules.

That was EXCELLENT! Well remembered :) "Federal Agent Fax Modem... Reach for the sky."

They even included the extra Murder She Wrote episode in the relevant Magnum PI boxed set.

...perhaps I have said too much.

OTOH, if it were a Marvel release, you would have had to buy the corresponding season of Murder She Wrote just to get the end of the 2-parter.

Um...how about Munch who has appeared on Homicide, Law and Order AND The X-Files placing Law and order (all of them including L&O UK) Homicide et all in the same creepy universe AS the X-Files?

I kinda enjoyed the Battlestar Galactica(TOS)/Space: 1999 crossover "Battlestar1999" over on youtube. Finally the two classics of the '70s come together.

Sanctimonious douchebag.

There was also a X-Files/Simpsons crossover the other way.
Homer appeared in an X-Files episode where there were some aliens hiding out in a nuclear reactor. Homer showed Mulder where to go.

I can't believe no one mentioned the Quincy & Diagnosis Murder crossover... Nowt more perfect than jack Klugman & DVD sparing over the cause of death.

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