“The Galaxy Being” first launched us into …The Outer Limits! (1963-1964)

As a kid I used to love anthology-format shows, with sci-fi/horror anthologies being my favorites.  Every episode would feature an all-new cast in all-new settings with a promise of new adventures.  It was like being told a different bedtime story every night. While I was a bit too young to catch most of them in first run, I gobbled them up in syndicated reruns.  Among my favorites were the Boris Karloff-narrated “Thriller” (1960-1962),  Rod Serling’s supernatural morality-play masterpiece “The Twilight Zone” (1959-1964), and Serling’s later series “The Night Gallery” (1969-1973) which was more horror/occult-centered.  And of course, there was producer/writers Leslie Stevens’ and Joseph Stefano’s cautionary sci-fi anthology show called…

the-outer-limits

Producer Leslie Stevens would later be known for his work on Glen Larson’s “Battlestar Galactica” (1978-1979) and “Buck Rogers in the 25th Century” (1979-81).  Writer Joseph Stefano is perhaps best known for adapting author Robert Bloch’s novel “Psycho” for its 1960 Alfred Hitchcock directed silver screen incarnation.  Stefano’s eminently quotable screenplay for that film is a masterpiece of screenwriting.  “The Outer Limits” had an impressive talent pool in its first year.  Cinematographer Conrad Hall (“In Cold Blood,” “Cool Hand Luke,” “American Beauty”) would give the series’ first season an eerie, lit-from-beneath, odd-angled, silvery look that was more in line with European arthouse cinema than American television at the time.  Composer Dominic Frontiere would create the first season’s score, which had a unique feeling of both unease and profound awe.  It’s arguably one of the most iconic themes of 1960s television.  Sadly, the 2nd year would see both Hall and Frontiere depart the series, to be replaced with cinematographer Kenneth Peach and composer Harry Lubin, respectively.  The 2nd season’s look was a bit more flat and conventionally shot.  The new main title theme by Lubin was more traditionally ’strange’; using a theremin-vocal combination more often heard in horror/sci-fi films of the 1950s.  Despite the changes, “The Outer Limits” had gems in both seasons, and would go on to be a television classic, eventually resurrected in 1995, with the newer version lasting seven seasons.

But it all started with a remarkable pilot episode, originally titled “Please Stand By.”  “Please Stand By” would star future Oscar-winner Cliff Robertson, foreshadowing appearances by other future big names who would grace the series; Martin Landau, Robert Duvall, Sally Kellerman, William Shatner and Donald Pleasance, to name a few.  That pilot, written and directed by Leslie Stevens, would later become the first broadcast episode of the first season, and would be retitled “The Galaxy Being”

 

*****SPOILERS OF THE OUTER LIMITS! *****

The opening begins with the omniscient “Control Voice” (Vic Perrin) speaking over the sparse titles:

“There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image; make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat: there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to… The Outer Limits.”

We then cut to a small radio station in the SoCal town of Los Feliz, where the station’s engineer Alan Maxwell (Cliff Robertson) is tuning some equipment and receives what appears to a dimensional image in the vague outline of a person within his box-like monitor.  Alan’s long-suffering wife Carol (Jacqueline Scott) and disc jockey brother Gene “Buddy” Maxwell (Lee Phillips) notice the power output of the station dropping significantly due to Alan’s radio experiments, which illicitly use the station’s equipment and power.  Gene begs Carol to fetch Alan so that he remembers to attend his own civic award ceremony later that evening.  Carol calls down to the radio shed, and an absentminded Alan frantically tells her to hurry to the shed right away.

mv5bnzhkmte2ogytn2fkms00zgezltk0zjytntriotjmmdg5zmzjxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtkynzcwmjg40._v1_sy1000_cr0013331000_al_
A pre-Oscar, pre “Charly” Cliff Robertson witnesses the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to…The Outer Limits. 

When a peeved Carol arrives, the oblivious Alan shows her his ‘discovery’; three-dimensional static from outer space, using microwaves.  Alan is fascinated, but Carol is seething with anger; she reminds him of the equipment he’s ‘borrowing’, the energy he’s siphoning (illegally) off the station’s transmitter, and of course, the increasing pile of unpaid bills.  Alan waves it all off, insisting that this (“cold static” as Carol calls it) is “more important”, and that the bills “will be paid.” She insists he put it all away, and get dressed for his own (as yet undefined) ‘civic award’ ceremony.  He assures her he’ll follow her and his brother in the station wagon.  She relents, and leaves.

It’s at that moment when something truly remarkable happens…the ‘static’ solidifies into the steady but ghostly image of a luminous, human-shaped being (William Douglas).  The being has three-fingered hands, bright glowing eyes, but no mouth, nose or ears.  Alan is reeling from shock…the signal is coming from outer space, beyond the constellation Pegasus in the Andromeda galaxy (M-31) some 2.5 million light-years away!

outer1x1
The ‘interview’ segment is arguably the single most interesting act in the episode.

Alan grabs the microphone, still in shock, and asks, “Who are you?” After several moments, he realizes that the being wouldn’t understand his words, of course, so he runs its impulses through a (very handy) computer that somehow turns binary impulses into English.  After a few connections and adjustments comes an eerie, muffled, electronic-sounding reply, “Whooo aaarre yooouuuu?”  After establishing the being’s location via star maps, Alan begins what would be the most historic interview in the history of humanity.  The alien is equally inquisitive, asking why Alan he has “holes” in his face.  Giving the alien a quick rundown of how a nose and mouth work, Alan relates that humans are carbon-cycle beings with a finite existence (“end of being” as Alan describes death).  The alien relates that its people are “nitrogen cycle” life forms, and that they do not ‘die’ in our sense; their ‘electromagnetic waves’ go on for infinity.  It’s these infinite waves of electromagnetism that the being equates with the human concept of god; “God, infinity…same,” it explains to an enraptured Alan.  Realizing he has to leave, Alan asks the alien if it would remain locked at its current power output and frequency until his return in “one twenty-fourth of a rotation of the Earth’s circumference.”   The being explains that it’s very dangerous for it to remain, since extra-galactic contact is forbidden in its society.  “We’re both breaking the rules!” Alan gleefully exclaims, and he promises the alien he’ll return as soon as he can.

Note: Now before you get that look on your face, we all know that real-time communications between Earth and anyone from M-31 would take millions of years in just one direction (assuming the signal was powerful to even reach that far).  I’ve always assumed the communication lag and power output were somehow solved at the alien’s end (via a Star Trek-style subspace gizmo).  At any rate, “The Galaxy Being” is such a fascinating first contact scenario, that I willfully brush any technical nits aside in service of the story.  I also force myself to accept that a radio engineer from 1963 somehow has a Star Trek-style universal translator (decades before Google translate).  Sometimes story’s just gotta story…

mv5bmgvmodninjytmge3zs00mtq2ltkzmdgtzmy2nzrlzmuzy2q5xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtkynzcwmjg40._v1_sy1000_cr0013331000_al_
Gene “Buddy” Maxwell signs off as his relief disc jockey Eddie signs on.  I can’t even imagine a DJ wearing a suit and tie anymore…especially here in SoCal!

Meanwhile, Gene and Carol are leaving together for Alan’s award ceremony just as Gene’s relief disc jockey Eddie Phillips arrives (Burt Metcalf, looking a lot like former Mousketeer Tommy Kirk).  Eddie is an ambitious kid trying to make a name for himself in the ever-so competitive field of SoCal DJs.  After receiving numerous warnings both from Gene, and later from a nearly frantic Alan, Eddie promises he won’t touch the output dial of the station’s transmitter… for now.  Alan lies to Eddie, telling him there are “blown fuses,” and that the transmitter can’t take the power increase.  Eddie, in full mustache-twirling mode, asks Alan just how far the station might reach at full output (hypothetically, of course).  Alan absently replies the station’s transmitter could reach Canada, and maybe other parts of the world.  Eddie then smiles mischievously as Alan leaves for his award ceremony…

mv5bn2vmnjvlmzmtowy4ns00owniltkxnjutzdk5otgwmtdlnwi4xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtkynzcwmjg40._v1_sy1000_cr0013331000_al_
Alan looking appropriately bored, while Carol looks understandably pissed.  After the many times I’ve seen this episode, I still have no idea what the award was for…

We cut to the ceremony for the as-yet-unspecified civic award that Alan gets.  The evening of handshakes and empty flattery are a complete waste of time for the disinterested Alan, who is chomping at the bit to go home and phone E.T. again.  Carol coolly warns him that if he leaves, she leaves…for good.  While that ‘threat’ barely keeps Alan in check, his brother Gene is getting to know his date (Allyson Ames) a little better, taking her back to his convertible where the two of them tune in to the station.  Meanwhile, relief DJ Eddie is peeved that his ‘big debut’ is being deliberately sabotaged with the station’s low power output.  So naturally, being a jerk, Eddie does a Spinal Tap and cranks the output dial up to eleven.  Back in the convertible, Gene and his date notice the sudden boost in the station’s clarity and volume…

mv5bywmxotfhowutm2uzni00mjmxlwexytatngmzotjlntm0ngzjxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtkynzcwmjg40._v1_sy1000_cr0013331000_al_
4-dimensional TV will never catch on.

This sudden boost of power sends a feedback surge to the alien’s point of transmission, somehow causing its entire physical form to be ‘beamed’ across the light years and into the radio shed.  Bursting the boxy monitor’s glass, the “Galaxy Being” is now on Earth, and its radically different ‘nitrogen-cycle’ physiology wreaks unintended havoc all around it, causing lighting-like flashes of high intensity radiation as well as energetic windstorms.  Unable to return without Alan’s help, the being walks out of the shed.

Inside Gene’s convertible, the station’s broadcast suddenly goes dead.  Gene leaps out of the car to warn Alan…

mv5bzwmxymexnjutymyzmy00n2zhlwe3ztgtytlmnwi5mdcyywmxxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtkynzcwmjg40._v1_sy1000_cr0013331000_al_
Gene and his date experience their own ‘first contact.’

We then see the being as it innocently wanders about the town, unintentionally causing wind gusts and flashes of radioactivity in its wake.  The being is as curious about its surroundings as any of us might be if we found ourselves on a different planet in another galaxy.  There is a moment where the alien walks into a local pawn shop and carefully looks through its wares, including musical instruments and a pair of binoculars.  Despite its harmful presence, the being’s natural and understandable curiosity makes it wholly sympathetic.  Without realizing, the creature’s presence burns a storekeeper who tried to shoot it.  Later, the being causes a carful of teenagers to crash when a flurry of cosmic energies are involuntarily discharged from its body.  The alien is hoping to find Alan so that he can complete the connections it needs to leave our realm…

mv5bmwm1owe1mgitmte5zs00y2qzltk4ymqtyty3ymq4mgexogyyxkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtkynzcwmjg40._v1_sy1000_cr0013331000_al_
Carol, probably wishing at that moment that she’d married Gene instead…

Listening to his brother’s car radio, Alan realizes that Eddie ignored his request about not increasing the station’s power (one of the recurring themes of this episode… you break the rules at your own peril).  Desperate to get back, Alan soon realizes that the alien is loose on Earth and needs to return to its own galaxy.  Soon, the police and national guard are mobilized, in a scene vaguely reminiscent of the 1938 radio adaptation of H.G. Wells’ “War of the Worlds.”  Alan manages to find the being (for some reason, it doesn’t seem to need his translator computer anymore) and coaxes it from a safe distance to return to the transmitter shed…

mv5bzwu5nthlymitnjyyns00ywmxlwe3mtutzddkotyxnjm4n2y4xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymtkynzcwmjg40._v1_sy1000_cr0013331000_al_
“Freeze, or I’ll— oops.”

As the Loz Feliz police and national guardsmen surround the shed, Alan tells Carol to go outside and tell them to back off.  Carol sticks her head out the door, and for her trouble, she is accidentally shot by a trigger-happy cop.  I’m guessing Carol will want, and will deserve one hell of a divorce settlement when this is all over.  Alan runs into the shed doorway and pleads with the authorities not to shoot.  They order him to surrender, but he refuses, stating that he needs to help return the creature return to where it came from.

edb3afb5869f7b49e3cef902c705a9a4
Good thing the Galaxy Being takes Blue Shield insurance…

With Carol on the floor of the shed bleeding out, the alien offers to use its body’s natural radioactivity to cauterize her wound, which it does almost without effort (just don’t ask me how or why it didn’t burn her to death like the others).  With a grateful Carol no longer afraid of the benevolent alien, she rises to her feet.  Alan offers to try to return the alien back to Andromeda, but the alien realizes it’s too late; the authorities on its world are now aware that it broke the law, and it will be accordingly sentenced to ‘non-existence.’   Before returning to face its fate, the curious alien steps outside one last time…

Note: the ‘healing touch’ of the alien, while scientifically hand-waved as cauterizing radioactivity, has a certain “E.T/Jesus” feel to it. There is a common religious undercurrent in many first contact scenarios within popular science fiction.  As a non-religious person, I find curious to see the many subconscious connections between finding god and first contact with alien life.  In fact, one of the very first questions Alan asks the being is if it has god in its universe. The search for other life in the universe seems to be as much about finding meaning within ourselves and our own existence as it is about finding other life forms. 

4159708613_fa433ab49a_b
“Don’t make me angry…you wouldn’t like me when I’m angry!”

As the police attempt to use force, the alien retaliates by vaporizing the transmitter tower to the station; a quick reminder and demonstration of the power they are screwing with.  Realizing that humans are not yet ready for the great mysteries of the universe, the alien delivers a quick soliloquy to the assembled guardsmen, police and spectators, telling them to “go to their homes” and “give thought” to what they’ve seen tonight.  Back in the shed, the alien tells Alan that it’s time to go.  They reverse the controls, and the being disappears into ‘electromagnetic waves’ of nonexistence…

“The planet Earth is a speck of dust, remote and alone in the void. There are powers in the universe inscrutable and profound. Fear cannot save us. Rage cannot help us. We must see the stranger in a new light – the light of understanding. And to achieve this, we must begin to understand ourselves, and each other. We now return control of your television set to you, until next week at this same time, when the Control Voice will take you to… The Outer Limits.”

The End.

 

Transmission Power.

Despite a lot of poor science (hey, it was 1963, alright?) and a few necessary hand-waves in storytelling logic, “The Galaxy Being” has a prevalent feeling of awe (“…and mystery.”).  As a kid (and adult) this episode always held a special fascination for me.  Yes, I realized (even then) that the effect of the ‘glowing’ creature was achieved using simple negative photography, but that simple technique vividly brought to life a being whose nature is so very different from ours that even its light-and-dark values are reversed.

outer2blimits2bgalaxy2bbeing

“The Galaxy Being” is not just an impressive pilot episode; it also stands as one of the best of the entire series.  The episode best exemplifies many of the series’ strengths; stylish direction, future-great guest stars, and an overall feeling of “awe and mystery” that more than covers a few gaping plot holes here and there.  Despite some fascinating scripts from solid writers of its time, “The Outer Limits,” wasn’t quite as profound as “The Twilight Zone.”  Its hour-long format also required a lot more padding than Serling’s more shrewdly-constructed half-hour series.  “The Outer Limits” was the younger, flashier brother to Rod Serling’s arguably more adult classic show, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing (see: Star Wars and Star Trek).

 

A few favorites from “The Outer Limits.”

The following episodes are some of my favorites from the series.  This isn’t a ranking, nor is intended to be a definitive listing of the series’ best episodes.  It’s just naming a few episodes that really stand out to me personally.  If I’ve not included any of your favorites I’m apologizing in advance, and I would love to hear which episodes you enjoy in the comments section below.

mv5bzmywmgeyywqtmjblnc00mdnhlthkodytnmq3zdviyzbkzmq2xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvyntk0otm1nzu40._v1_
The Thetan, all dressed up and nowhere to go…

“The Architects of Fear” stars Robert Culp (“I, Spy”) as scientist Allen Leighton, who is selected by lots to be transformed into an alien space creature from the planet “Theta” in order to unify the major powers of Earth in an elaborate hoax.  As he slowly transforms in the creature, he begins to have doubts…especially after learning his wife is pregnant.  Soon, he is fully transformed and readied for flight.  When his rocket (disguised as a Thetan spacecraft) crashes off-target, he is nearly killed by a hunter and taken away.  The final scenes see the dying ‘creature’ recognizing his wife, who felt his presence all along.  She immediately recognizes him, despite his monstrous appearance, as he makes a familiar gesture to her.  Powerful, creepy and very disturbing.  This is arguably one of the best episodes of the series, and Robert Culp does a terrific job of portraying Allen’s descent into madness, as his last threads of humanity slowly unravel.

81ffbwoej6l._ac_sl1500_
Jill Haworth tries to reconnect with her ‘evolved’ beau, David McCallum.

“The Sixth Finger” stars David McCallum (“The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”) as an uneducated Welsh coal miner named Gwyllm Griffith who volunteers to be a human guinea pig for a scientist (Edward Mulhare) wishing to accelerate human evolution to its maximum potential.  Yes, I know evolution doesn’t work like that (evolution is more a combination of random mutation and natural selection), but the episode offers an intriguing glimpse of an ‘evolved’ Gwyllm, who now has a grotesquely enlarged brain, extraordinary psychic/telekinetic capabilities, and a titular ‘sixth finger’ on each hand.  With his sudden evolution comes an insatiable thirst for knowledge, as well as a disdain for the current model of his species, whom he sees as dumb animals by comparison.  He goes on the typical godlike rampage against his townsfolk (“Your ignorance angers me…”), until he is eventually ‘brought back’ through the love for his very patient girlfriend Cathy (Jill Howarth).

outer-limits-nightmare
An Ebonite conducts brutal interrogations of human POWs.

“Nightmare” sees a group of humans representing a United Earth (including a young Martin Sheen) being held as prisoners-of-war on the planet (appropriately named) Ebon, a world shrouded in both darkness (literal and figurative).  The POWs are taken to their breaking points as they begin to doubt each other, with old ethnic prejudices resurfacing (some of it directed at an Asian American POW played by James Shegita), as well as a growing distrust of their commanding officer (Ed Nelson).   The POWs’ detention and torture are revealed to be an elaborate exercise conducted by the human commander in reluctant coordination with the Ebonites, who are appalled by the Earthlings’ deception of their own kind.  The test was designed to see what would happen if humans went to war with the Ebonites, proving that (once again) humanity’s weaknesses are its own worst enemy.   The surreal staging, as well as the Ebonites’ demonic, gargoyle-like appearances, are particularly effective.

outerlimits6
The Zanti Misfits: When Cooties go bad…

As a kid, I had an acute fear of wasps, dragonflies and other large bugs, so “The Zanti Misfits” was pure, high-octane nightmare fuel for me.  The story involves a young criminal (Bruce Dern) and his runaway older lover (Olive Deering) who find their getaway car broken down in a remote desert, which has been cleared by the US government as the landing site for a group of exiled alien criminals from the planet Zanti (the titular misfits).  The planet Zanti’s greater technology means that a hastily set up military command post is powerless to prevent the landing, but they agree to quarantine the landing zone to prevent these misfits from reaching populated areas.  The two desperados throw a wrench into that plan, and before you know it, the human-faced, insect-bodied Zanti misfits are all over the de facto base.  Series’ effects artist Jim Danforth’s stop-motion animation for the creatures only adds to their stroboscopic, fever-dream appearance (they scared the living shit out of me as a kid, I won’t lie).  Eventually, the humans defeat the large, wasp-like creatures (which emit a piercing shriek when they’re killed).  After the carnage, the planet Zanti calls to congratulate the humans on a job well done.  It seems the Zanti government was too evolved to kill their own kind, but they (correctly) assumed that we barbaric humans would be up to the task.  Ouch.  Lesson learned…

thescolding
Simon Oakland (“Psycho” “Kolchak: The Night Stalker”)  looks over his mixed bag of human abductees.

“Second Chance” sees a disillusioned cold war physicist (Don Gordon) taking a lowly job as a ‘pilot’ for a grounded amusement park ride spaceship.  He is accompanied by the ride’s faux flight attendant (Janet DeGore) who is intrigued to learn the full story behind her overqualified coworker.  The passengers corralled for the ride include a bitter old man and his long-suffering wife, as well as a group of high school jocks who are hiding a few secrets of their own.  Into this mix we have an alien (Simon Oakland), whom the group initially believes to be part of the ride’s theatrics, but is, in fact, the genuine article.  The ‘ride’ lifts off with a very realistic force, and it doesn’t take too long for the group to realize they are actually flying in outer space (a point made very clear when one of the ride’s passengers is airlocked).  The alien is looking for volunteers to colonize a planet on a collision course with both his planet and the Earth.  It’s hoped the colonists’ presence will (somehow?) avert the planet’s collision course over time.  Eventually the ride’s ‘captain’ convinces the alien that taking abductees isn’t the answer, and that working with the governments of Earth might yield a ship full of eager volunteer colonists seeking a ’second chance’.  The alien agrees, and the ship is allowed to return to Earth.   As a kid, I loved the amusement park premise of the episode.  Before the COVID pandemic, my wife and I ‘flew’ aboard a simulated Millennium Falcon at Disneyland’s “Galaxy’s Edge” and this episode definitely came to mind…

outer2blimits2b-2bthe2bmutant2b2528462529
Warren Oates’ thyroid is acting up again…

The late Warren Oates (“The Wild Bunch” “Blue Thunder”) steals the show in “The Mutant”, as scientist Reese Fowler.  Fowler, along with his fellow colonists, is living on a perpetually day-lit planet which experiences occasional showers of radioactive particles. Accidentally caught in such a shower, Fowler has mutated into a bug-eyed, hairless, mind-reading monster who can kill with a single touch.  He’s holding his colleagues captive, able to read any stray thoughts of dissent, as he works to cure himself.  Reese doesn’t seem to realize that his own iron grip on the colonists is what causes the fear and resentment he feels all around him.  A visiting scientist with strong ties to one of the colonists upsets Reese’s status quo, and soon the man-turned-monster is lured into a dark cave on the ceaselessly sunny world where he inexplicably dies (of loneliness...?).  Despite the weak ending, the episode is memorable due to the violin-string tension of the cast under the oppressive Oates, who exerts a Trump-on-steroids level of self-important menace.  Superficially, the episode is reminiscent of both The Twilight Zone’s “It’s a Good Life” and the original Star Trek’s “Where No Man Has Gone Before” (that one also featured a mutant with strange eyes…).

Michael Ansara’s uni-browed “Qarlo” is a study in animal cunning.

Season Two kicked off with writer Harlan Ellison’s “The Soldier.” The story begins in a laser-charred battlefield, 1,800 years from now, with two armor-garbed soldiers stalking each other.  A freak energy convergence scatters the two men across time, with Qarlo Clobregnny (Michael Ansara, in a menacing, animalistic performance) arriving in mid-1960s America, while his adversary is stuck between the past and future, slowly emerging into the present (well, 56 years ago, anyway).  The battle-hardened Quarlo eventually finds refuge with a patient, curious linguist named Tom Kagan (Lloyd Nolan) who determines from Qarlo’s bizarre, pidgin-English dialect that he is from the far future.  Kagan eventually earns Qarlo’s grudging trust and he takes the savage brute into his family’s home (!), hoping to learn more about the fate of humanity from Qarlo’s fleeting moments of coherence.  Qarlo’s nemesis eventually materializes in full, and Quarlo leaps into action to protect his newfound “family.”  This episode is infamous for being at the center of a lawsuit leveled against writer/director James Cameron’s “The Terminator” (1984), which it superficially resembles (the future wasteland, laser warfare, the bright-light time travel, etc)  The infamously litigious Ellison eventually settled the suit when Cameron agreed to insert a credit for the writer on video/TV versions of the film.

trent_consuelo_hand
“Pull my finger…”

Another Ellison story, “Demon With a Glass Hand” is a surreal episode taking place in an abandoned, alien-quarantined office building in Los Angeles (the Bradbury building, the same locale used in 1982’s “Blade Runner”).  Trent (a returning Robert Culp) is an amnesiac who discovers that his left hand (which is gloved most of the time) is a computerized, translucent device that is missing three fingers.  The ‘hand’ speaks to Trent, directing him where to find its missing fingers and solve the mystery of his true purpose.  All the while, he is protecting a frightened laundry worker named Consuelo (Arlene Martel), who is in the building with him when the alien “Kyben” arrive through time mirror.  The Kyben have conquered Earth up in the future, and have pursued Trent into the past.  Upon installing his final finger, Trent learns the full truth.  Trent’s thorax contains a gold-copper alloy wire which contains the bulk of the human race, encoded as digital information to be restored over 1,200 years hence; Trent must wait 1,200 years until he can restore the human race.  This episode that feels much closer both in imagination and execution to the best of the first season.  Director Byron Haskin (“War of the Worlds” “Robinson Crusoe on Mars”) does a phenomenal job creating mood.  Best appreciated over multiple viewings.

trapped2bon2ba2brock
The somewhat goofy-looking sand sharks of Mars which stealthily picked off Earth astronauts were arguably another antecedent of “ALIEN.”

“The Invisible Enemy” (written by “Star Trek” writer Jerry Sohl) aired on Halloween of 1964, and the story sees director Byron Haskin returning to more conventional space adventure territory.  A failed mission to Mars is investigated by a larger-scale follow up expedition led by the deadly serious Major Merritt (future “Batman” Adam West) and his crew (including future “Robocop” police captain Robert DoQui).  Merritt’s ‘problem child’ of his crew is the obnoxious, insubordinate but deceptively intelligent Capt. Buckley (Rudy Scolari).  Buckley eventually determines that the ‘invisible enemy’ killing off their party (and the first crew) are a race of ‘sand sharks’ living in the quicksand-like soil of Mars. Yes, the science is utterly preposterous, but as a kid I enjoyed both the mystery and the vicarious exploration of Mars (however inaccurately depicted).  Director Haskin seemed to have an affinity for directing stories involving the red planet.

 

“Try to form your thoughts into word patterns…”

In the words of radio researcher Alan Maxwell, there is a book that perfectly summarizes the original “The Outer Limits” universe “into word patterns.”  First published in 1985 and updated in 1998, “The Outer Limits Companion” by David J. Schow is the single greatest book on the series ever published.  The breakdowns of each episode (and their subtexts) are well thought-out, and the material on the early origins and ongoing legacy of the series is very well-researched.  Sadly, it’s been out of print for awhile, and both eBay and Amazon have it listed for ridiculously high prices (anywhere from $200-$400).

img_6695
“The Galaxy Being” makes a great cover model…

However, if/when there is a vaccine or treatment for COVID19,  and used bookstore browsing ever becomes a normal activity again?  I would highly recommend buying any copy that you can find, in whatever condition.  This is the definitive book on the series, just as Marc Zicree’s “The Twilight Zone Companion” (1983) was for that series.  Here’s hoping it goes back into print (at buyable prices) again someday…

 

The Outer Limits Resurrected (1995-2002).

Debuting on Showtime television in 1995 (which I didn’t subscribe to in those days), “The Outer Limits” was resurrected as a Canadian-American cable coproduction (later broadcasting on the SyFy Network), and like its 1960s predecessor it would draw some name talent into its pool (Beau Bridges, Alyssa Milano, David Hyde-Pierce, Neil Patrick Harris, Leonard Nimoy, Kirsten Dunst and many others).  While it boasted decent production value for mid-1990s TV, it lacked the shadowy, silvery, feature-film moodiness of its predecessor, and even the new music (by A-list feature film composer Hans Zimmer, no less) isn’t quite as memorable as Dominic Frontiere’s sweeping original theme.

the-outer-limits-intro-1995

In fairness, I’ve not yet seen all episodes of the newer series, but I used to watch it off-and-on during the late 1990s and early 2000s. The writing seemed fairly solid, despite an occasional, irritating tendency to add New Age spiritualism into the show.  Late sci-fi author/legend (and enfant terrible) Harlan Ellison would contribute stories, as well as “Star Trek: The Next Generation” writers Melinda Snodgrass and Tracy Torme.  Some of the earlier stories included a few remakes of older episodes (“I, Robot”) and a few ripoffs (“The Sand Kings” is a very similar to the original series’ “Wolf 359”).  But after awhile the newer show would find its niche, lasting for five seasons beyond the lifetime of its predecessor.  While I’m not as personally fond of this version as I am of the classic series, I freely admit that it’s a decent continuation.

 

COVID-Friendly Viewing.

With most of us having to remain at home for our entertainment these days, “The Outer Limits” (the complete original series) and most seasons of the 1995-2002 version (Seasons 1, 3-7) are currently available for COVID-safe home streaming on Prime Video.  The DVD and Blu Ray sets can also be purchased contact-free by mail from Amazon.com (prices vary, depending on copy and format).

To my readers, I once again wish you and all of your loved ones good health and strength during the current coronavirus pandemic.  The current number of COVID-related deaths in the United States are approaching 140,000 as of this writing.  Meanwhile, there’s no vaccine or even effective treatment for COVID-19 as of yet.   Yes, some businesses are reopening, but the overall situation is far from safe.  So for the time being, please continue to practice social safe-distancing as often as you can, wear masks in public, and avoid overly crowded outings as much as possible.

We now return control of the internet back to you…

the-outer-limits
Photos: MGM/UA, IMDb, Showtime, SyFy, Author

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s