I’ve been a fan of The Outer Limits for a long time. I am also a fan of The Twilight Zone, but my preference is usually The Outer Limits because I feel that percentage-wise, it has a greater number of strong episodes. But there is one episode of The Outer Limits that puts me to sleep. Bill and Ted’s Body Snatcher Adventure in the Village. Was that not the name? Sorry… I mean The Hundred Days of the Dragon. I may have gotten confused because it was basically The Invasion of the Body Snatchers with a President named Bill and his VP named Ted in the Village of The Prisoner. I’ll explain it all. Excellent!!
Let me tell you something to start with: one of the best things about both shows I mentioned above is the opening narration. In the case of the Zone, Rod Serling sets the stage explaining what’s going on. In The Outer Limits, the control voice philosophizes and gives the audience an idea to think about that will come to life through the episode. Not so here with Bill and Ted! Instead, we get a Serling-esque description about what’s happening. Wrong show guys! Where’s my daily dose of philosophy? This is the first thing I noticed that went wrong and it doesn’t stop there.
Somewhere south of the Mongolian border and north of the Tropic of Cancer, in that part of the world we call the Orient, a slumbering giant has shaken itself to wakefulness. Passed over in most histories as a nation forgotten by time, its close-packed millions in the short span of twenty years have been stirred to a fury by one man: Li-Chin Sung. A benevolent despot in his homeland, Sung stands as an irresponsible threat to peace in the eyes of the rest of the world. William Lyons Selby, candidate for the presidency of the United States, predicted by every poll, survey, and primary to be a certain winner in the forthcoming election.
So let’s just go with the idea: a chemical that can make your skin so pliable, that your face can be shaped. Doctor Swayze (…that’s a Ghost reference… clay? No? Come on, try to keep up!) needs to demonstrate to the leader Li-Chin Sung how this works. Thankfully, this doctor has a minor in sculpting! He deforms the hell out of his operatives face, just to show how a jello mold can reshape the person by pressing it to their malleable head. But there are problems with this – very basic problems. (For one, if the Corona Virus was around the dialogue would have been quite different! “I want to show you how this works, grand high exalted mystic ruler, but I specifically tell all my patients not to touch their faces…”) More pertinently: how did they get the jello mold of the guys face? Let me paint this clearly: I have a picture of Roger, but I don’t have a mold of his face to use to shape my own… or even a mound of Play Doh! It’s not like most political candidates have a face mask made is it? Maybe to keep them looking young for the cameras? So that’s a massive problem, and it’s done for the two political candidates – Pres, and vice pres!
So the best scene in the episode is the very disturbing moment where the imposter Selby bolts into the room of the real Selby. It’s a really creepy moment, made more frightening by the close scrutiny they both silently give one another. Gnarly! But the moment the swap is done and imposter Selby shoots and kills the real one, it all falls apart. We have this little thing that Sherlock Holmes liked to talk about; these days we call them forensics. There would be an immediate investigation. The “foot on the chest” to push off the bad guy might have explained the positioning, but the thump on the head that knocked him out should be noticed. How do we explain that? What about the dental records? Sure, that gets addressed later, but a presidential assassin probably would be examined closely … before cremating the body. And what of the gun? Surely the police would need that for evidence. Wouldn’t the better story have been that he somehow knocked it out of the “bad guys” hand? Let’s face it, the moment it’s looked into at all, the fact that the real Selby never had a gun will come out. Sure, 1963, before Kennedy’s assassination, so maybe things were looser… but I’m not convinced.
I seriously expected #6 to pop out of a shrubbery at some point. The technology is exactly what #2 would have used to break him. In fact, if we go back to The Schizoid Man, this might explain a lot! But while The Prisoner had its own series of issues none stood out so horribly to me as this episode’s litany of mistakes. Like, watch when Selby is shaking hands goodnight before his attack: he has a full set of fingers. Where’s that missing ring finger? Probably grew back. Maybe I lost count… nanobots? I dunno! And Ted is surprised that Bill shot a snake, saying it was his second hit in 20 years. But the snake was about 2 feet away, on the ground. It shouldn’t have been a shock. Rather than say “Oh, Ted, that freaked me out! I can’t be out here shooting this close to my election!”, Brainy McImposter says “I’ve had enough hunting!” Didn’t they just get outside 12 seconds earlier? And is Ted actually so deaf that he couldn’t hear the rattlesnake?
Goodness me! I had nothing good to say at all. But you can’t blame me. Watch as Selby watches TV or when he’s finally found out that he’s a Chinese spy: he squints in a way that I took to be showing his true Asian origins. But that is grossly racist because it’s not like Asian people are choosing to keep their eyes closed. It’s a physical trait called an epicanthal fold where the skin fold of the upper eyelid covers the inner corner of the eye. Showing him squinting was ridiculous and cringe-worthy. And when Ted does catch him doing it, instead of saying “Ted, I’m totally knackered!” he changes the subject and reopens his eyes wide. Good lord. So much for being ahead of its time!
I’m glad the plot was foiled. I would have preferred actual pod people to poorly thought-out plans from the Mongolian Border. I would also like more philosophy to bookend my stories. And maybe a bit more thought when writing them wouldn’t hurt either.
To Theodore Pearson not even so monstrous a crime as the assassination of William Lyons Selby justifies an act of war, because there is no war as we know it, only annihilation. A great American has been killed in the service of his country. Now it is the job of those who continue to serve to carry on guarding our freedom with dignity and unrelenting vigilance.
At least the next one stars Robert Culp, so that promises to be a good one! Rock on! ML
The view from across the pond:
“There is nothing wrong with your television set.”
Yes there is. Somebody’s face just went all squishy on there. Still, when you’ve got kids you can’t help but end up enjoying playing with play doh. It’s just so mouldable.
So yes, it’s another bit of silly science, with a man given an injection that turns his skin into something like plastic for a couple of minutes, allowing his appearance to be changed. If the plastic surgery industry got their hands on that they would have a field day. It’s quicker than botox, that’s for sure. As ideas go it’s completely and utterly ridiculous, but as I said last week I don’t mind a bit of unrealistic science in the name of a good story. The question is… is this a good story?
Well, it’s a very 1960s story, that’s for sure, betraying a nation’s fear of rival world powers. When Fake Selby says “now we’ve won the battle, let’s win the war,” I was momentarily confused, because at that point he has achieved his aim to become President, so what’s the war? We later learn that the enemy has plans to replace other key individuals: media chiefs, big businessmen, politicians. So the war is about getting control of the whole country and then presumably either turning it into a puppet state or destroying it. The episode asks “what if?”. What if there were a technology in future that could allow an individual to be replaced by a duplicate? It’s actually quite a scary thought, but I don’t think it will happen by turning somebody’s skin into play doh. Seeing a man’s face being squished by somebody’s thumbs was quite a disturbing image though. I don’t think I will forget that in a hurry.
What this episode does have to say, though, is that a man’s identity is about more than his appearance. As well-trained as Fake Selby has been, he can’t fool his family and friends for long. He makes little mistakes, such as suddenly having a perfect aim with a gun, but more importantly his daughter just feels that it’s not her dad:
“Suddenly I don’t love him any more.”
And yet this episode never really held my attention. Apart from the face squishing, it was ultimately just a fairly standard political thriller, and in the end those really aren’t my cup of tea. The start and end of the episode, with the substitution and the discovery of the substitution, were exciting, but between those two points the episode meandered along predictably, and really had little to say thematically. It never really made me think.
The episode came close to being a triumph of style over substance, helped by the fabulous music with more than a hint of the Oriental to it: really menacing, and it reminded me a little of the music to The Tomb of the Cybermen, from Doctor Who. It helped the episode to inspire a little frisson of fear, but most of all the episode inspired me to go and make something out of play doh. Maybe I’ll have a go at the President’s face…
I guess it’s not quite as easy as it looks.
We now return control of your computer, until the next time we visit the outer limits of the Junkyard… RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Outer Limits: The Architects of Fear