Does it bother me that I feel like I already covered this with the Babylon 5 episode Exogenesis? Obviously, I feel this is a weak episode. Now that I think of it, I even made the comment back when we reviewed that B5 episode. Of course, this should have been a great episode where the aliens show us that they are here to do something unexpected: help mankind. The very least they could have done was help those poor unfortunates that have no other recourse in life. Little did we know, we’d instead get a retelling of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Invasion is a great idea but it was 10 years ahead of The Invisibles and for my money, far scarier. Sadly, this is not the Outer Limits at its finest.
The problem is partly with the creatures themselves. Exogenesis’s Vindrizi of B5 look like centipedes or some other horrible arachnid. Now, these creatures look more like a fatter version of those pesky flying pancakes of Star Trek’s Operation: Annihilate. They have to look fatter to accommodate a motor so the legs can move, but they never move fast enough to seem threatening and … their little feet never touch ground because their bellies are too big. Oh well, such is the effects of the 60s! My issue with this is that when Spain is trying to outrun one, it never feels like a threat. Even with a broken foot, I think I can outrun the average turtle. (Then again, even on a motorcycle, I’m not convinced I’ll outrun some arachnids!) However, barring the physical limitation of the time, the idea is no different than the 50’s classic. Invisibles are creatures that are going to take over all levels of government. So very “been there, done that.” I mean 2020 has been proof that this has already happened… So if nothing else, it was ahead of the time in that regard! Again, I leave that to the readers to decide.
Gotta hand it to them though; through the rather lame episode about slow crawling monsters, there are some off-the-wall lines. One that made me laugh was: “she gets so drunk on sad songs!” Our protagonist replies, “who doesn’t?” (Don’t think I do, pal!) Of that same woman, the General (played by Commissioner Gordon …yeah, that dude was from the 60’s Batman!) comments to his assistant: “my wife”. Not even needing a second to think about it, assistant replies, “I control her, general!” Excellent reply! That tells us now who wears the pants in that government! How about Spain? Even he has a great line about his buddy, “he got killed once in some war!” Yeah, that’s about as generic as it comes and … once? And sure, we know he’s trying to hide the truth but it comes off like someone didn’t proofread the script. Like, did he get better? Really? Everyone says things like “I had a bad burrito once” or “I had a car accident once…” Anyone who says “he got killed once” is making you think the person got better! Don’t get me wrong, I’m going on about a small part of the episode. You make up your own mind. Have to leave it to the readers on more than one subject this time. And maybe more if you’re paying attention…
Venting aside, the episode feels like a lesson about greed and how wanting power can break a guy down, ruin his life, get him infested by creepy crawlers. Eventually greed catches up to you, even if it crawls really, really slowly. My own feeling is that there was very little to redeem this episode. Everyone knows that aliens will not come to invade through the government; they just want to be friends. MiL
The view from across the pond:
“There is nothing wrong with your television set.”
…although it does seem to be playing in slow motion. I’ve never seen such a slow-moving alien. For most of the episode the crab monster thing doesn’t move at all, having to be placed where it needs to be by one of the characters. Those scuttling legs don’t actually do anything to help it. Then when it finally does move (presumably on wheels or pulled by a wire) it’s painfully slow, with the writer having to contrive a broken leg for our hero so that he can’t move fast enough to get away. A gentle stroll would have been sufficient. If the budget could have run to a stop motion animation monster for this, similar to the approach used for the Zanti, it could have been very impressive, but there’s no point hankering after that. So it’s not the most successful of Outer Limits aliens, but at least it has its moments of creepiness.
Luckily it doesn’t matter that the sci-fi aspect of this is relatively weak, because the episode functions very strongly on two other levels. Firstly, it’s a very competent spy thriller. You could easily replace the crab monster with any more prosaic form of controlling an individual, and you would have the exact same story with minimal rewriting, working perfectly as a non-sci-fi espionage drama. I’m not a massive fan of the genre, but for what it’s worth this seems to be a good example, and I was genuinely surprised to find out that Spain was a secret agent. Don Gordon put in such a convincing performance when Spain was under cover as a criminal that I never expected that twist. At times the story required a lot of suspension of disbelief; for example when Spain stops the car somewhere random, walks to a phone box on a bridle path of all places, and then there’s somebody watching him from the bushes. That’s some impressive surveillance. There is also a very disjointed moment after the writer has been at pains to show us what a state Spain’s ankle is in, and how it’s impossible for him to even get out of his room without passing out in pain, and then suddenly he goes from being unconscious to driving in the car. It feels like a key scene was left out, or maybe the writer never bothered joining up the dots. Then we have Planetta, one of society’s criminal misfits, who has no trouble memorising an eleven-digit phone number after hearing it once. I don’t even know mine yet, and I’ve had my phone for two years. But I suppose we shouldn’t really be complaining about having to suspend disbelief when watching The Outer Limits.
The other level on which this episode works really well is as a story of homosexual love. It’s really impossible to miss the undercurrents, with the writer pushing things as far as he could for the 60s, and the actors clearly understanding what’s going on here. It’s not so much the shirtless men, but the relationship that forms between Spain and Planetta is a powerful story of love and betrayal.
“I liked you.”
This only works because both actors pitch it just right, pushing things just as far as they could and no further. In contrast, there is one actor in this episode who pushes things way beyond the boundaries of realism:
“Your next class will take place in the morrrrrrrrrrrgue.”
Yes, step forward George Macready as the alien-controlled Governor. I’m not complaining. It’s a magnificently fruity performance and I love that the director embraced it, going full close-up when Macready is hamming up moments like this:
“We were conceived in the nothingness of space.”
A strong metaphor bookends the episode in the opening and closing narration. We go from this…
“You do not know these men. You may have looked at them, but you did not see them. They are newspapers blowing down a gutter on a windy night.”
… to this…
“You do not know these men. You may have looked at them, but you did not see them. They are the wind that blows newspapers down a gutter on a windy night and sweeps the gutter clean.”
… which has to be the most effective use of the narration we’ve ever had. The newspapers are the criminal misfits, and the wind is the secret agents. But bubbling away just under the surface of this episode is the plight of another group of people who “have never joined or been invited to join society”, the society of the 1960s, at least.
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 Bellero Shield
It’s an episode like this that shows how flexible some words can be in science-fiction. Particularly the word ‘invisible’. We may think of The Invisible Man or Predator. But when we think of how a group of people can be called Invisibles without needing a cloaking device, but simply because it’s our own vulnerability to their powers of secrecy and infiltration, then it can make us contemplate how invisibility can work best in the mind. For an Outer Limits’ retelling of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, I too would have expected and preferred something more original. At least we get Don Gordon for a guest star, knowing his unforgettable SF-anthology guest roles for The Twilight Zone where I first saw him.
Thank you both for your reviews.
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Reminds me of the Robert A Heinlein novel The Puppet Masters a little.
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That was a great book. I have that in my basement library, a little worse for wear, having bought it from a used book store, but yes, I agree 100% with your assessment. ML
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