Continuing with our Halloween themed Thursdays, I wanted to mention another classic television series. Now you may be thinking, “isn’t this a bit like The Twilight Zone?” and the answer is yes. Both are anthologies; that is, shows without a recurring cast or theme. Both make you think. Both are heavy on the science fiction. Both have been resurrected to varying degrees of success. Sit quietly and allow me to control all that you see and read…
So the six degrees we’ve already covered with the actors last week; many of the same people turn up: William Shatner shows us he has Cold Hands, Warm Heart, Leonard Nimoy works on The Production and Decay of Strange Particles and has to defend a robot in I, Robot (yes, that is based on Asimov’s story). Martin Sheen, looking exactly like his son Charlie, has a Nightmare. David McCullum has two magnificent stories; in one he deals with the awkwardness of The Sixth Finger while later he investigates The Form of Things Unknown. Martin Landau, of Space: 1999 fame, becomes The Man Who was Never Born. Adam West investigates The Invisible Enemy. But it’s Robert Culp with the most awe inspiring stories with the absolutely terrifying Corpus Earthling, the winning episode that I already covered in Demon With a Glass Hand and the inspiration for Alan Moores The Watchmen, The Architects of Fear. This last one even gets mentioned in the graphic novel at the end of Moore’s classic. It’s on the TV when Silk Specter goes to visit her mom! And did you know, The Terminator was the work of Harlan Ellison who sued for not getting credit for having come up with the story first? Yup, check out Soldier, the original Terminator!
But there is an even more unexpected link to Doctor Who than actors who we can connect back with minimal effort. See, in Upton Park, London, there’s a wonderful shop called The Who Shop. I was there a couple years back and it’s a great place to visit and for me, hard to leave! At the back of the shop is a TARDIS which leads to a museum that a shop worker will take people through. But when I was there, we arrived at a thing, they don’t know… but I did. I explained what it was to them. Allow me to introduce you to one of The Zanti Misfits. These stop motion nightmares were the subject of an utterly creepy episode.
And that’s the thing: The Outer Limits was much heavier on the monsters than its counterpart. Whereas The Twilight Zone spent time hitting us with allegorical stories, the Outer Limits gave us the plot of what we’d be thinking about through the use of The Control Voice. Every episode opened with the marvelously disturbing “There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. WE are controlling the transmission!” Once the weeks’ episode started, the control voice hit us with an idea, and the story would commence. For instance, from The Form of Things Unknown: “There is a fear that is unlike all other fears. It has a special, clammy chill, a deadly gift for inspiring deeper, darker dread. It is the fear of unentered rooms, of bends in lonely roads. It is the fear of the phone call in the middle of the night, of the stranger you recognize, perhaps from a nightmare. It is the fear of the unexpected, the unfamiliar. It is the fear of the unknown.” Yeah… if that doesn’t intrigue you, I don’t know what will.
The biggest reason I found The Outer Limits more appealing that “the Zone” was because percentage-wise, they had more successful episodes. The Zone had 156 episodes but only the same 20-30 are shown every year, because those were the best of them. The Outer Limits had only 48 episodes and nearly all (nearly), were successes. So why go through this when I just talked about The Twilight Zone a week ago? Because it’s the month of Halloween and if you need a classic series to binge to put you in the mood, to get you jumpy and ready for Halloween, this is a great start. It’s scary enough to put you behind the sofa, and not a drop of blood need be spilled. You’ll see many ideas that are right out of Doctor Who, or perhaps that’s the other way around. (This series ran from 1963-1965; you do the math!) And if you sit down now, and binge all of them, you’ll cover exactly two days… who needs sleep?
I now return control of your internet connection to you, until next week, at the same time when the Control Voice will take you to… Six Degrees of Who. ML
My first intro to the Outer Limits (which was only in the last decade) was the original OL episode: Behold Eck which dealt with a ‘Flatlander’ (as Carl Sagan may have termed) named Eck who of course is virtually flat because it originates from a physically 2-dimensional universe. Given the quite intriguing notion of literally flat beings from a literally flat universe, it was a thoughtful story which naturally addressed how reactionary humans can be to the unknown. So Eck for its own wisdom chooses its human friends wisely as they help it return safely home. I thought it was a proper OL intro for me and it was just before I saw Demon With A Glass Hand.
Given how OL and Dr. Who both debuted in 1963, with the first few seasons of Dr. Who which coincided with the classic OL) mixing alien monsters with period-piece dramas, OL clearly was more attuned to the monster-of-the-week for SF audiences, while Dalekmania was exclusively appealing to the first Whovians, with more chilling monsters populating the Whoniverse during Troughton’s era, particularly the Cybermen.
OL was more down-to-basics for its time and, like the Twilight Zone, put its own signature on a traditional SF genre that began in the 50s with The Day The Earth Stood Still, The Thing From Another World, It Came From Outer Space and This Island Earth. Both TZ and OL addressed common issues of perspective and so both made audiences think. Anthologies can center on morality tales and the OL’s main morality was how alien encounters could tell us all something about ourselves. In Eck’s case, it was clearly an intelligent and friendly individual, making that episode’s villainy come from humans who were driven by fear and misunderstanding. With the specific episodes that involved human characters who consequently experience dangerous or horrific mutations, speaking from how Dr. Who in that tradition earned my fandom starting with Planet Of Evil’s Prof. Sorenson/Anti-man, it was the merging of ‘human’ and ‘monster’ that for obvious reasons really brought OL more into focus. After all, that’s what made the Cybermen arguably scarier than the Daleks.
David McCallum was the most distinctive acting talent on OL which certainly influenced his SF popularity via his mark on Sapphire & Steel. Other OL guest talents would also later find their iconic SF stardom like Shatner, Nimoy and Doohan with Star Trek and Martin Landau for Space 1999 and The X-Files: Fight The Future. So like the TZ, OL both attracted great acting talents and motivated them onto more greatness. It was a series that succeeded for giving us smart SF stories that didn’t necessarily require massive scopes, even if some stories, like The Galaxy Being with Cliff Robertson, emphasized on how easily widespread the human fears of otherworldly entities can be, enough to make the actual dangers and villainy depend naturally on perspective. In the 60s it was in league with the TZ, Dr. Who, Star Trek and The Prisoner as an SF-television course-changer. So thanks for reviewing the OL for us because Halloween spirits can draw in more OL fans. 🎃
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