The Outer Limits: The Human Factor

Outer Limits 1963 titles logo originalStardate 1312.4, Gary Mitchell, long term friend to Captain James “R” Kirk, and Dr. Elizabeth Dahner have an incident at the edge of galactic space.  Dahner and Mitchell both develop heightened ESP and telekinetic powers.  What we didn’t know is that on Stardate 1312.1, Dr. Dahner was on Starfleet’s newest social media app, 23 and the NCC, checking on her ancestry.  She discovers that her great, great grandmother’s name was Ingrid Hamilton, nee Larkin, and she too had some ESPer ability, brought on by a machine that kicked off some strong emotion using avocados to create the first non-Vulcan mind mind!

OK, maybe I’m just having fun with Sally Kellerman since just three years after this story, she plays Dahner in Star Trek and both feature some little bit with mind reading and ESP.  The truth is, The Human Factor is far more Freaky Friday with a touch of Scrooge.  The idea is tried and tested, but it often works better in comedy where two guys of drastically different personalities find themselves in each other’s bodies.   They live through some funny story and they both benefit by the end.  It’s effectively a chance to walk a mile in another person’s shoes.  This takes the comedic trope and adds guilt to it.  Now the ghost of Marley shows up and starts randomly pointing at our Freaky Friday recipient and he’s determined to blow up the entire mountain because the ghost “lives there”.  As soon as Major Brothers ends up in the body of Dr. Hamilton, he hatches a plan to get a nuke and blow up the mountain and if that means the real Hamilton gets locked away, so be it.  All good dramatic ideas.  Sadly, the monster of the week was just a frozen image of a dead guy that Brothers allowed to be left behind after falling to his death.  That’s why Brothers is so torn apart inside, and why the Marley’s ghost starts popping up.  I was hoping he actually knew about something living on the mountain and the truth would come out.  Sadly, no.  It’s just a guilt ridden maniac in the body of a well respected doctor and he’s going to milk that for all its worth.

Depressingly, when the story started and Brothers was raving about the thing on the mountain, I had high hopes for a bit of Lovecraftian horror nearby At the Mountains of Madness.  Alas, no such luck.  The entire story can be summed up like the name of the base: the total abandonment of better understanding.  My issues with this come from expecting better having seen so many body-swap movies and shows done to far better effect.  In fairness, this is 1964, so maybe I should be kind but I wanted a thought provoking science fiction story and, at best, we get a mildly clever ending.  I’ll come to that.   This ends up being a weird mix of drama and love story and it comes off as a pale version of both.  The love story is between Larkin (Kellerman) and the older Dr. Hamilton.  During a mind meld that looks like an X-ray of two avocados, Hamilton finds out Larkin loves him.  Immediately we know how she’s going to know it’s him when he goes “freaky Friday” with Brothers.  I could live with that if the rest of the story was better executed.

Doctor Hamilton is a doctor.  They are typically smart people.  Surely he realizes quickly that telling the guards, who already think Brothers has lost it, that he is in fact “Hamilton in Brothers’ body” won’t go well.  When he then spouts all the necessary facts of his life in front of the real Brothers (in Hamilton’s body), he’s basically given Brothers enough information to sell the lie and get away with murder, and he intends to do a lot of murder!  The rest of the story features Kellerman trying to help rescue Hamilton (in Brothers’ body) out of his cell so he can stop Brothers (in Hamilton’s body).  Lord, never expected this to be so hard to write about…   In the end, the best thing that happens is that Brothers (in Hamilton’s body) shoots Hamilton (in Brothers’ body) just before the mind swap happens again leading to the conclusion that Brothers shot himself… quite literally.   But that payoff scarcely warrants the 50 minutes.

I really wanted more of a meaty thought piece. O.B.I.T. is hardly a favorite of mine, but it did get my creative juices flowing.  This mildly interested me and left me thinking about the lesson.  Were we to take away that love really can conquer all?  Or unaddressed guilt can eat us alive?  OK, I’ll talk about what I’m guilty of so I don’t nuke mountains.  I’ll hope my wife loves me enough that when I find myself trapped in the body of our cat, she knows its me because the body of me now sits on the window sill meowing and randomly flailing my arm around while my cat types up articles for a blog.  I have a better chance of not letting guilt eat me alive…

And even though I’m about to sound superficial, (blame the mind experiment with my cat) I was shocked by Kellerman’s appearance.  Kellerman was a beautiful woman and in Where No Man Has Gone Before, I was enamored with her beauty.   It’s amazing how much a hairstyle, a ridiculous coat and a cigarette can change her appearance.  I was flabbergasted that this was the same woman!  It’s mostly that dreadful hairstyle but the cigarette was the nail in the coffin.  Still, she is the best part of the episode and she spends the first half calling to get a replacement for herself because Hamilton now knows she loves him.  The irony is that in the end, it’s that love that saves him so he learns the value of love.  Not a bad lesson, but a really painful way to get there.  I trust he and Larkin move and eventually have kids… eventually Dr. Dahner gets the report and puts in for time off to find her roots, but alas, Kirk happens and… well, thank goodness we got to the bottom of that, huh?

Brothers sums the episode up as he rolls his r’s like a Sylvester McCoy fanboy with “round the rugged rock the ragged rascal ran”.  He says this no fewer than 3 times to prove that he’s not insane, because insane people can’t say that.  Bet you didn’t know that!  Just to be sure, by the time this episode was over, I was saying it over and over again…  ML

The view from across the pond:

“There is nothing wrong with your television set.”

Yes there is. I’m supposed to be watching an episode of The Outer Limits, and instead it’s showing me Freaky Friday. Actually, that’s deeply unfair. Freaky Friday is miles better than this. To keep the movie references going, you know that scene in Mr Bean’s Holiday when he is struggling to stay awake while he’s driving, and ends up using matchsticks to prop his eyelids open? That’s how I felt watching The Human Factor.

It seemed promising at first, with a monster living in an… isthmus, was it? I should have paid more attention in Geography. If you’re playing a drinking game of Outer Limits Bingo then one category you will probably have is magic invisible waves. I think we’ve had some variety of those in every episode. Our magic waves this week are brainwaves, which get combined together for the mind swapping. The screen graphic for the two brains aligning is actually quite good, a simple but effective visual shorthand. Actually, I wouldn’t say this is a bad episode as such. It’s extremely competent in what it does. It’s well acted, and the romance subplot works well enough. I’ve seen comments from other fans who don’t think it works because Ingrid has the choice of dozens of soldier boys and chooses the old man, which ignores the likely reason for that: all the soldier boys are dull as ditch water while Hamilton… well, he has all the great qualities that Ingrid describes. What he doesn’t have is any interest in her, but she initially walks away too quickly. Once the cat’s out of the bag, it can start thought processes whirring away. Sometimes love has to grow steadily like a flower, rather than burst into life like fireworks. What Ingrid needs is staying power, and I think eventually she realises that.

There were other good things. The ghost was well done and quite creepy, although not especially memorable, but I thought it was clever how he points a finger accusingly at Major Brothers all the time, playing on his guilt at losing a man. The setting was suitably bleak, and very well done, considering that creating a snowy location in a studio is notoriously difficult to do realistically. Black and white helps of course. But the very best bit of the episode for my money was the moment Major Brothers takes his hat off to reveal that his hair underneath is exactly the same shape as his hat.

So no, not a bad episode as such, but avoiding being bad isn’t the same thing as being good. It was a competent execution of an unambitious script. We had a body swap, a romance, and a haunting, which was pretty much left up to our interpretation, but was likely all in the Major’s head, a “creation of his own guilt-ridden mind”. That was it. You might be thinking that sounds like enough, but it’s not. Every episode of The Outer Limits so far has delved into deep thematic territory, with something important to say. Sometimes more than one episode has been trying to say the same thing in different ways, but always there has been something to say. If you want to argue that there’s some kind of a deeper theme going on here, some kind of a metaphorical reflection on contemporary life or the human condition, then you are pretty much going to have to make something up and then twist the episode to fit your theory. There’s little here beyond spectacle and human drama. It’s just another meddling scientist (check! down a shot) using magic waves (check! down a shot) and a very large computer (you get the idea) to tinker with people’s brains, while a man suffers with a guilt complex and only escapes from the ghost of his past by death. The more I type the more I think it sounds like it should be a great episode, but I do think this is a series that needs to make the viewers think. Instead, it made me snore.

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: Corpus Earthling

About Roger Pocock

Co-writer on Author of Editor of
This entry was posted in Entertainment, Reviews, Science Fiction, Television, The Outer Limits and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Outer Limits: The Human Factor

  1. scifimike70 says:

    The body-exchanging SF-drama, aside from how popular Freaky Friday was, may not always be a most creatively successful endeavor in television episodes. Given Star Trek’s Turnabout Intruder and Red Dwarf’s Bodyswap, it serves as a filler episode at best. But for The Outer Limits, it can at least be taken seriously enough to agreeably not be a particularly bad episode. I can presumably prefer The Human Factor’s take on body-exchanging to Gilligan’s Island: The Friendly Physician.

    Thank you both for your reviews.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. scifimike70 says:

    In further reference to whether body-exchanging works better in SF-dramas or comedies, it would always depend on how far the creative powers that be can go with it. For me, The X-Files: Lazarus qualified as a pinnacle for TV episodes.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

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

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s