Watching the Doctor being shoved into the Pandorica -- basically an eternal chair/prison -- at the end of "The Pandorica Opens", the penultimate episode of Doctor Who's ebullient fifth season, all I could think about was the chair, and how the designers had gone nuts trying to make it look scary/futuristic/weird.
And that reminded me of all the strange ways in which movie and TV designers have tried to say The Future with that most basic, and in a sense intrinsic, of human actions -- the act of sitting down.
The Standing Chair - 'This Island Earth'
Ruth (Faith Domerge) and Cal (Rex Reason) were amazed to be aboard Exeter's spacecraft on the way to Metaluna -- but they were even more impressed by the way Metalunans sat down! After all, "Our chair technology is light-years ahead of yours!" Well, even if it was Tom Servo that said that (in Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie), it's still true. (These chairs are all the more memorable because it's an alien sitting in one who returns the screen to normal view .. normal view... NORMAL VIEW!!!) Clearly, the Metalunans are super-advanced. After all, who else has the technology to sit, lay down, and stand, all at the same time?
The Standing Chair - 'Toomorrow'
Okay, maybe someone else does. Actually, the Alphans -- the kooky aliens from the 1970 Val Guest film Toomorrow -- are one up on the Metalunans: they can conjure their sit-while-you-stand chairs using the power of their own minds! There's only one problem, though: their civilization is collapsing because they've lost the ability to channel emotion and "heart" through music. Enter a (real-life!) prefab pop band cobbled together by the guy who created the Monkees and the Archies -- featuring a before-she-was-famous Olivia Newton-John! Frankly, if you're an all-powerful alien race, but you need to be saved by a prefab pop band, you really aren't all that hot to begin with. Good thing Earthlings are always around to teach aliens about emotion.
The Captain's Chair - 'Star Trek'
Perhaps the ultimate sci-fi chair. Kirk's command chair from the original series is nothing short of awesome. It's low and wide, allowing Kirk to sit, lounge, and leap into action. It swivels easily, so he can face-to-face with Spock or Uhura. And it has a button to jettison life pods! But in the later movies they replaced it with much less impressive office chairs. No wonder Kirk complained that he missed his old chair in Star Trek V. Still, there he was in Generations, staring wistfully at Captain Harriman's (ugly) command chair. For the new movie, they went back to basics -- low and wide, and beautiful.
Judgment Throne - 'Star Trek: The Next Generation'
The Star Trek franchise included a few more attempts to signify the futuristic through chairs, but I'll only mention one more: Q's judgment throne from "Encounter at Farpoint", the premiere episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Q liked it so much he used it again in the series finale, "All Good Things...", reminding Picard that the jury's still out on the worthiness of the human race. It's an impressive chair all right -- magisterial in a literal sense, designed to impose an air on authority on the puny mortals awaiting your edicts. That intent is fully effected by the chair's most awesome feature: it's the only chair on this list that enters from above.
The Spider Chair - 'The Phantom Menace'
Lucas never stopped trying to show advanced technology by making the inanimate animate, whether it be androids, chess pieces, or even -- in The Phantom Menace -- chairs. The mechno-chair was a mobile, mechanical chair seen in the Trade Federation as a sign of status -- Viceroy Nute Gunray had one that was also kitted out with a holoprojector so he could talk to Darth Sidious. But why would you want a chair that had a videophone built into the seat? That sounds like a bad idea. For that matter, why would you want a chair that could walk away just as you were about to sit in it? It would laugh at you when you fell down. You know it would.
The Chair of the Ancients - 'Stargate SG-1'
The Ancients -- the technologically advanced form of humanity that occupied Earth before we did -- definitely had advanced chair technology. But these are chairs you want to think long and hard about before you sit in them. The more harmless kind operate defensive systems -- all you need is the Ancient gene and you can link with the Ancient weaponry and blow spaceships out of the sky with your brain. Pretty cool, right? But sit in the wrong kind of chair and your brain can be overwhelmed with knowledge, and you're basically out of luck. So there's that. The irony is that the Ancients ascended, transforming themselves into pure energy -- so they don't even need chairs anymore, the lucky bastards.
The Egg Chair - 'The Prisoner'
Haha, you're thinking of Men in Black, but it was the original Prisoner that used Finnish furniture designer Eero Aarnio's 1963 Ball Chair for the first time to create a mood of eerie futuristic abnormality. Number Two's globe chair in "The Arrival" is just the centerpiece of a room filled with the unreal and alien, signaling to Number Six that he's entirely left the realm of the normal -- it's a chilling visual, conveying strangeness to us and to the hero at the same time. Much later, Men in Black used egg chairs to add an element of weirdness to Will Smith's introduction to the secret world of alien control.
The Pandorica - 'Doctor Who'
There are prisons, and then there are prisons. The Pandorica was designed by an alliance of evil races to contain the most dangerous threat to the universe -- a big box of a prison so terrible that it became itself the stuff of legends. And at the center of that box is a big scary chair that straps you into its powerful embrace so that you can't escape -- not even by death! The Pandorica, you see, has a renewing light within it, so you can't get out of jail by the last resort of all prisoners -- the pine box; you just keep existing, and it doesn't look like they even let you have a stack of books (or Doctor Who DVDs) to wile away the millennia.
Davros - 'Doctor Who'
Doctor Who has had even more interesting chairs over its long history. Perhaps the creepiest is Davros's transport unit, a kind of mechanized wheelchair that seems to be as connected to Davros as his creations, the Daleks, are to their own iconic transport units. Shaped like the bottom half of a Dalek, Davros's silhouette presents the half-man, half-monster of the most nightmare-inducing horror. And Davros's chair could do anything -- forward, back, left, right -- well, most anything. But it also had a secret compartment for a hand-held mind-control device. You never know when that will come in handy.
The Keeper's Chair - 'Doctor Who'
Perhaps the most famous chair-as-chair in Doctor Who history is from the Fourth Doctor story "The Keeper of Traken," in which the Keeper exerts the limitless mental force of his own subjects to bind the Traken Union together from the confines of a big purple-upholstered wingback chair. The Doctor is impressed by the Keeper's power -- "I couldn't flit around the universe in an old chair like this" -- and in fact by the Traken solution to universal peace: "Magnificent. It's a pity about that poor chap having to sit for thousands of years in a chair, but it is magnificent."
The Ewok Throne - 'Return of the Jedi'
There are some great chairs in the original Star Wars films -- the Emperor's big gray throne on the Death Star, for example. But none compares to C-3PO's throne when he's installed as a deity by the Ewoks. Not only is it handily assembled from any wood you've got lying about, it's got rungs that easily turn it into a litter. And best of all -- it flies! Provided you have a friendly Jedi knight nearby, of course.
The "For a Little While" Chair - 'Dollhouse'
Ah, let me just sit down in this lovely chair, I'm feeling very tired after working on this list all morning. Ahhh. ... Oh, did I fall asleep? For a little while? Okay. Shall I go now? Okay. La la la, ooh, what a pretty list of chairs! I wonder who made it?