The Outer Limits: Don’t Open Till Doomsday

The Outer Limits Don't Open Till DoomsdayI think the most impressive thing about this strange episode is that it tells a story in a somewhat out of order fashion, in a way that was fairly uncommon for the time.  Barring that, it doesn’t have much going on and it’s a very slow-moving episode.  It’s a huge buildup to get to the part that the preview offers us in the first 30 seconds.  (I still think this is a deplorable way to try to keep viewers, but this particular teaser did not spoil the real surprise; it served only to whet the appetite!)

The Control Voice opens with a discussion about evil, and how evil has to be perfect and accurate to succeed.  This is not a story that illustrates a particularly perfect blend of evil.  It features a very weird creature that is one of 9 components that together will destroy the earth and then the universe – because of course it starts with Earth.  All it has to do is get back to its companions.  And it never does.  Earth is saved because evil is dumb.

What more is there to say?  Well, the first note I made to myself while watching this is; why?  I was wondering why anyone would give this gift to another person, let alone newlyweds, but because of the rather odd storytelling style, that information fills in slowly.  Mrs. Mary Kry, the real star of the story, who is utterly fascinating to watch, explains that her father-in-law liked to hurt people and didn’t want his son, Harvey, marrying her.  Her father-in-law was so mean, he ran a scientist out of a job – a definitive sign of evil.  That scientist was the one who identified that aliens had invaded Earth.  Putting our thinking caps on, it’s reasonable to assume that this same man wanted to hurt Harvey’s father for costing him his job and reputation, so he decides to deprive the man of his son. What we don’t know is how he got his hands on one of these aliens but we don’t really need that to enjoy this tale.  This leaves Mrs. Kry to inherit the house where her husband vanished.  But she is so broken up, she becomes a creepy hermit who tries to lure others into the house to give to the weird creature.

“More than a quarter of a century” later, the most miserable newlyweds on earth arrive.  This time, it’s the bride that goes missing.  Her father is looking for her, though, and Mrs Kry has a plan (which entails shattering her own window because she’s nuts).  She lures the great John Hoyt as Emmett Balfour into the house.  He’s another mean man; one who doesn’t mind hurting people to get his own way.  In search of his daughter, he follows her and gets stuck in the nowhere that is the inside of the creature’s domain; it’s own lackluster TARDIS, if you will.  To get out, he has to be willing to help the creature destroy the universe.

In the end, Mrs. Kry once again loses the chance to be with Harvey and she throws the box that contains the pocket dimension.  The creature decides he can’t destroy the world, so he’ll have to settle for destroying himself and the house.  So damned weird. Know what else was so damned weird?  The monster itself.  But I’d argue that the real monsters are the humans: the unseen Mr. Fry, Mr. Balfour, and most of all, Mrs Kry herself, who lures newlyweds to their death; a particularly nasty sort of death too.  The creature just wants to find the others of its kind.  (This doesn’t happen until 2020…)  One other weird thing: Mrs Kry’s habit of licking her hands and tapping her curls.  I wasn’t around in the 1920s to recognize this, contrary to what some coworkers believe of me, but it seems a particularly disgusting habit with no benefit.

Overall, this is one of the weaker episodes of The Outer Limits.  But it told the story of an old woman and her mania.  It just did it in a strange order using a strange creature to accomplish… well, nothing at all really.  However, it did leave me with one nagging question: considering the creature destroys the house and everything else when it dies, where the hell did that scientist get his stationery from?  It still exists, unscathed at the end, with the title in perfect print: Don’t open till doomsday.  Wow… gotta start shopping at that store!    ML

The view from across the pond:

“There is nothing wrong with your television set.”

Well, I won’t be getting too close to it, just in case, especially if a little light starts flashing. Spending a few decades with a monster that resembles a piece of poop with lips and one giant eye doesn’t look very appealing.

Every episode of The Outer Limits so far has been very much in the realms of the alien, an entirely sci-fi series. The same applies to this episode, but not until the last five minutes. Until we get the reveal of what’s going on here, we have a magic box that traps people, with an icky monster inside. This pushes much more towards the supernatural than ever before, with cobwebs everywhere and a monster in a box.

The box is delivered with the note “don’t open till doomsday”, and of course newly-wed Harvey Kry opens it immediately. Who wouldn’t though? It’s human nature. Harvey has just got married, but is snatched away to be a prisoner in the box before he can enjoy his wedding night. Similarly frustrated in his attempts to get jiggy with it is Gard Hayden, who turns up at the same house a quarter of a century later with his underage bride, who is similarly snatched away from him. Up to no good is Harvey’s bride Mary, who has kept the house stuck in the 1920s, like some kind of Charleston flapper Miss Haversham. With apologies to actress Miriam Hopkins, I have to admit I thought it was a man in drag at first, and subsequently couldn’t look at anything other than those doubled up eyebrows.

“We are all just as he left us.”

Well, not quite. I doubt she was going to turn up with two sets of eyebrows on his wedding night. For 45 minutes this episode was a masterpiece of baffling weirdness. I had no clue what was going on, but just sat back and enjoyed all the creepiness. The poop monster was so weird that it was quite scary, and the single moving eye really sold it, and then the idea of being sucked into that box and then trapped alone with a monster was genuinely frightening. The direction was inspired, particularly the moments just before Harvey is captured: the camera pans around the monster inside the box, with the eye looking through in the background.

When we do get an explanation it is over before you get a chance to say, “hold on a minute…”, which was probably a wise move on the part of writer Joseph Stefano. It leaves us with more questions than it answers. The alien is from an antimatter universe, and wants somebody to help him find his friends, so that they can destroy the universe together, but how exactly is any random bloke going to be able to do that for the alien? Then we have the obvious problem that nobody is going to agree to do something that will destroy the universe, even to escape from that box, so the most the alien is ever going to achieve is the kind of escape attempt that Balfour makes. It’s asking for the impossible, and it takes an awfully long time for the alien to realise that.

Then we have the mystery of our Miss Haversham, and her strange accomplice. What exactly does the JP’s wife think she’s doing when she’s pimping out men to Mary? Does she know what’s going on, or does she think that Mary is simply a frustrated cougar who never got to enjoy her wedding night? And if Mary is just looking for any random man to get trapped by the poop monster, in the hope that he will give in to the monster’s demands, surely it’s not all that difficult to get somebody to have a look at the box on any of a thousand different pretexts. She certainly makes heavy weather of getting somebody in the vicinity of the box. The thing’s pretty portable, for a start. We never get to see the moment she finds out what the deal is with the alien, but we do know that Harvey at some point told her he wouldn’t love her if she did what the alien wants. Quite how she thinks getting somebody else to do her dirty work will be any better is a mystery, as if Harvey will emerge from the box and say “well done, I’m OK with that loophole, but by the way goodbye because the universe is about to… BOOM!” To be fair to Stefano, though, he clearly writes Mary as a woman who has more than a few screws loose, so it’s not really reasonable to expect unerring logic from double eyebrow Miss Haversham.

In any case, I’ve probably given far too much thought to the explanation, which is really a tiny part of the episode. Mostly it’s a surreal nightmare of an episode, with an important message. Don’t ignore warnings, and don’t go looking into peepholes. Even on your wedding night, some holes are best left unexplored. But you can’t fight basic human nature. Don’t open till doomsday? Of course that wrapping’s getting stripped right off.

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: ZZZZZ

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.

11 Responses to The Outer Limits: Don’t Open Till Doomsday

  1. scifimike70 says:

    Some holes best left unexplored indeed feels like an important message in reflection of many SF stories. Thank you both for your reviews.

    Liked by 1 person

    • DrAcrossthePond says:

      It’s impossible to read this comment and not roar with laughter…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Carl Rosenberg says:

        I’m afraid I missed the comical aspect of the above comment. In any case, it’s true that many stories which combine science fiction with horror/Gothic convey the message that there are some things that human beings weren’t meant to know, etc., memorably expressed in this passage near the beginning of Lovecraft’s story “The Call of Cthulhu”: “We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.” (I don’t agree with this idea in the real world, but its literary expression is powerful.)

        Liked by 2 people

      • DrAcrossthePond says:

        SFMike’s comment made me giggle.
        Your comment I agree with completely. Lovecraft had a bleak writing style but extremely poetic. ML

        Liked by 1 person

      • Roger Pocock says:

        Mike was probably just thinking back to my silly little wedding night double entendre in the last paragraph of my review 🙂 The idea of places we weren’t supposed to explore was huge in the 60s, because of the early days of space exploration and the idea we could have been meddling in something dangerous for the first time. If you want to go back a little earlier with this, the Journey into Space radio plays from the 50s really capitalise on that.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. scifimike70 says:

    As science-fiction repeatedly warns us, specifically how cosmic evils like the Daleks, Cybermen and Borg were sparked by an overwhelming desire for perfection, it would make enough sense that evil needs to be perfect to ultimately succeed. Whereas the imperfectly and humbled good can triumph by avoiding all those seductions of evil. Several SF dramatizations from our TV and cinema history may seem nostalgic compared to the more profound SF and real-world good-vs-evil battles of today (which we on the Junkyard take to heart with how far we’ve now branched out). So revisiting such an original episode like this from The Outer Limits can make us feel all the wiser.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Carl Rosenberg says:

    “A masterpiece of baffling weirdness” and “a surreal nightmare of an episode” are good descriptions of this episode, which I like in spite of its many illogical aspects. It seems to me a combination of SF and not just horror, but Gothic–the weight of the past (the abandoned, half-crazed bride), oppressive patriarchs, the house with its air of claustrophobia and confinement.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Carl Rosenberg says:

    Many thanks, Roger! I understand now. (I misunderstood since I thought you were referring to something in one of his comments, rather than the review itself.) Speaking of marriage, etc., in these shows, one aspect of these early- to mid-sixties fantasy shows (Twilight Zone, Outer Limits) I find amusing is that in scenes that take place in the bedrooms of married couples, they often had twin beds rather than a double bed. The idea of showing a double bed even in the bedroom of a married couple was apparently still considered risque.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Roger Pocock says:

      There was probably an element of that, yes, but I wonder if it did reflect the reality of more couples having their own beds in those days. I can’t speak for “across the pond” but over here I’m pretty sure separate beds and even bedrooms used to be far more commonplace, for practical reasons really. It isn’t going to prevent the practicality of… ahem, but it does stop the discomfort of somebody stealing the covers or taking up too much of the bed. I realise I’m going off on a massive tangent from the review here, but my wife and I have a double and single bed pushed together, because I’m 6’4″ tall and sharing a double bed was simply never going to work for me. I sleep diagonally across one!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Carl Rosenberg says:

        Understood, Roger—to each their own. I just thought the reason for this portrayal on TV might have been the one I cited. (It didn’t occur to me that actual customs in this regard might have been different then.)

        Liked by 1 person

      • Roger Pocock says:

        You’re probably right about that. My theory might be a contributing factor, but yes there was certainly more prudishness about that kind of thing.

        Liked by 1 person

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