Six Degrees of Who: Demon with a Glass Hand

demonWe are coming down to the last 15% of Doctor Who stories and one of those tedious monstrosities is coming, Four to Doomsday.  In that review, I talked about regurgitated ideas, specifically in The Ark (1966) and Ark in Space (1974) that show up in Four to Doomsday; namely surrounding saving the human race in microscopic format.  Well, our Six Degrees of Who articles often discuss thematic links with other series.  I usually like to find an actor or two that cross over, but in this case, the thematic ties are strong enough that I’ll ignore that element and jump straight in.

Back in 1963, a science fiction series began that electrified viewers.  It had an opening that caught our attention and locked us in for the entire episode.  No, I’m not talking about Doctor Who.  I’m talking about The Outer Limits.  It was an anthology series, featuring some of the biggest names in acting before they were big names.  Martin Landau, Martin Sheen (looking exactly like Charlie), William Shatner, Adam West, Robert Duvall, Donald Pleasence. The list goes on!   The story would open, the television would go wonky, and a voice would take over:

There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. 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. 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.

And with that, we’d launch into an hour of captivating television.  The stories were written by some great writers of science fiction, but there are two that are written by the immortal Harlan Ellison.  One is the precursor to Terminator called Soldier.  The other is perhaps the best of the mere 48 episodes: Demon with a Glass Hand. 

WARNING: The problem with reviewing an episode that is 54 years old is that spoiler warnings shouldn’t be necessary.  This is a spoiler warning anyway!  If you have not seen the episode, watch it, then come back.  You will not be disappointed.  If spoilers don’t bother you, have at it…

 There is not a bad episode of the Outer Limits if Robert Culp is the guest star.  He worked on The Architects of Fear, Corpus Earthling and Demon with a Glass Hand, easily the top three episodes of the entire series.  But Demon was special.

Demon opens with a mystery as Robert Culp’s voice introduces us to Trent, a man in search of meaning during the Earth/Kyben war.  “I was born 10 days ago.  A full grown man, born ten days ago…”  The mystery is set.  And then more mystery is heaped on: he has a glass hand with a computer built into it.  He is searching for his missing fingers.   If he completes the hand, it will reveal information to him.  He needs it to find out who he is.  He has to find three of those fingers as the thumb and pinky are intact.  The Kyben also want that hand.  They have sealed off an office complex and trapped Trent within.  They want to know what happened to all the humans in the future.  You see, like the Daleks, the Kyben have chased Trent through time, through the use of a “time mirror”.  They tell him that the earth of the future has been conquered, but all of humanity has gone missing.  Every man, woman and child… missing.  And they are all dying of a mysterious disease.  They believe Trent knows what happened.

As he gathers the fingers the truth is revealed.  When the Kyben attacked and could not be defeated, humans released a virus that would kill all intelligent life for 200 years.  The only way to survive was for all of humanity to go back in time 1000 years in hiding.  Hiding digitally on a wire, contained in the chest of a robot.  Trent is that robot, and must protect that wire through the centuries and 200 years after their invasion before they can reclaim their planet.  The control voice ends the episode: “Like the Eternal Man of Babylonian legend, like Gilgamesh, one thousand plus two hundred years stretches before Trent. Without love. Without friendship. Alone; neither man nor machine, Waiting. Waiting for the day he will be called to free the humans who gave him mobility. Movement, but not life.”

Like the aforementioned Doctor Who episodes, the human race was reduced to microscopic size and preserved.  Unlike Doctor Who, the hero is alone.  The story is exciting and well written, but it is not happy.  Doctor Who is often happy, hopeful.  It’s what we love about it.  But the strong thematic link that Doctor Who has speculated on many times is fascinating: could we be reduced and saved?  The Urbankans, like Monarch, were on the same page in Four to Doomsday.  Perhaps there is something to the idea of digitizing us to bring us back one day, free from harm.  To think: by encoding our minds digitally, we might live for hundreds of years beyond our physical life!  It’s almost like writing all your fondest memories on a blog…  ML

PS: Roger got me thinking that I should find 6 degrees in the connections to Doctor Who and that came quickly.  Robert Culp starred in this story, written by Harlan Ellison who was a creative consultant on Babylon 5.  Neil Gaiman wrote the season 5 story Day of the Dead for Babylon 5.  As we all know, he also wrote The Doctor’s Wife and Nightmare in Silver.  So, there we go… under 6 degrees, and we’re already back to Doctor Who!

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1 Response to Six Degrees of Who: Demon with a Glass Hand

  1. Mike Basil says:

    It’s very curious that you should mention The Outer Limits: Demon With A Glass Hand because, in my own alternate-reality ways of thinking, it would have made an intriguingly alternate basis for the character of Dr. Who (and that’s no by no means excluding the regeneration phenomenon). It’s an honorable homage to Harlan Ellison who’s now passed to share reviews on what was considerably the most acclaimed OL classic. Because OL was flexible enough with alien monsters of the week, or occasionally varied SF plots and dilemmas. But Demon With A Glass Hand was something that looked so specifically inventive for its time. Even The Twilight Zone didn’t have anything as unique for the 60s. In the obvious mix for anthology shows between improving on basic familiarity and the impact of something we could so originally enjoy, I think there are few SF shows including Dr. Who, Star Trek The Prisoner and The X-Files that have just as rarely come so profoundly close.

    Because Demon With A Glass Hand had a realistic message without it necessarily being a familiar one, even with a quite identifiable female character who has openly suffered abuse from men, and so it was agreeably easier to see it as groundbreaking SF for the 60s. Those glory SF days, even with successful revivals from Dr. Who to X-Files and Lost In Space, may be mostly memories, yet still earn vital reviews like ours to remind this generation of what’s always worth looking back on.

    So thanks very much for including this within the View from the Junkyard.

    Liked by 1 person

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