The Outer Limits: Moonstone

Outer Limits 1963 titles logo originalGood God, it’s that dude from Buck Rogers!  Tim O’Connor plays Major Flint Anderson but the moment I saw him in that preview scene I was flabbergasted.  Was Buck around too?  Really what blew my mind is that after the better part of 40 minutes, I realized that opening scene hadn’t happened yet and all I could think was: it was a terrible mistake that this show ever put those preview scenes into the episode.  It was so evident that the “rescue ship” would never arrive because they spoiled that within the first 2 minutes.  “There is no rescue ship,” should have been a great line that would have sent chills down the viewers spine, but instead we are left with a feeling of: “no kidding!”

Moonstone is not a bad episode.  In fact, it makes a point that I was just discussing with my wife recently: it uses fiction to demonstrate reality.  Allegory is a powerful tool, both in literature and television.  This story is about the conflict between two paradigms: the military and science.  General Stocker asks Dr Diana Brice to marry him but she can’t get it out of her head that he’s a military man and the military is about violence and war and a scientist is just not from that same world so therefore the two can’t possibly marry!   Coupled with Anderson’s attitude about some past offense, Stocker is really having a bad day.  His girlfriend is reluctant to marry him and his second in command is undermining him.  On top of that, he thinks the most mysterious thing in the universe is a woman scientist!  Along comes a friendly moonstone and changes the way everyone thinks.  The creature – one of the most enjoyable looking creatures in The Outer Limits, wonderfully surreal and alien – offers a veritable treasure trove of scientific data if the humans will just help it picked up by their own kind.  The humans try to help but when the “tyrants” arrive, they destroy the friendly sphere.  Anderson and Diane both realize that sometimes you have no real choice and make the only one available to you and realize that’s what Stocker had gone through in the past.  All sins are forgiven and everyone lives happily ever after… but with a lot of cleanup work after the Tyrants leave.  (And who knows, maybe Stocker realizes that there are more unusual things than a woman scientist!)

A good lesson, but a bit long in the tooth, leaving me with a few important questions.  When Dr. Mendl is attacked while putting away the tapes of data they accumulated, did the tapes get destroyed?  The loss of the data would be a massive blow considering they were also about to lose an alien ally too.  When he’s first attacked, the tapes are in his hands, but after the explosion, they are gone.  They don’t appear to be destroyed or missing; did Mendl get them into the safe in time?   But the bigger question on my mind was when the humans decided they were going to fight to save the creature from the tyrants… all I could think of was my baby nephew saying in a high pitched voice: “why bother??”   See, it’s not that I’m against saving the aliens!  Oh no, no, quite the contrary.  I’m all for it.  But the premise that started the humans on that path was that the moonstone had almost no energy left; they were dying.  So had the humans succeeded, their new friends were bound to die anyway.  In a way, I would have preferred that because it would have demonstrated humanity’s ability to overcome impossible odds.  As it is, there was nothing to stop the tyrants from coming back to wipe out the humans on principle alone!  “Aiding and abetting fugitives!”  But I guess that would have impacted the lesson, huh?  Stocker would not have gotten the girl and Anderson would not have forgiven his earlier actions.  The idea was as weak as creating hardware with an exposed back that could electrocute a person to death if touched!  (Oh, yeah… that almost happened..!)

The creature understands why it must be sacrificed and says a great line: “to destroy evil, you must survive it.”  There’s wisdom in that.  If it destroys you, you can’t very well live to fight another day.  Perhaps one day we’ll find the tyrant moonstone people and wipe them out.  Or maybe one day there will be a bigger mystery, like children scientists who are also female – you never know!  (It really makes me wonder if the writers were so stupefied that women were actually sentient that they had to put lines like that in the episode.  To think, this was just in the 1960’s – it wasn’t that long ago!)    Whatever the future holds, there are lessons to be learned out there and sometimes a show comes along to give them to us so we don’t have to go through the pain of the actual events to learn and grow.  The real question is: will we heed those warnings or will we write them off as fiction… until that sorrowful day when it’s no longer fiction, and becomes an all-too-terrible reality?   Like the moonstone, my eyes are open and I’m ready to learn…  ML

The view from across the pond:

“There is nothing wrong with your television set.”

That’s true, but you might want to take a close look at any footballs you’ve got kicking around. They might just look right back at you. I loved the effect for the Grippians, and I have no idea how they managed to pull off such a convincing effect in the early 60s. Presumably they must have filmed the creatures in water and then somehow overlaid that onto the sphere. Whatever they did, it’s mightily impressive, but more importantly they are alien creatures that are truly alien, and that’s actually remarkably rare in sci-fi, even to this day. Most aliens still look like actors dressed up in costumes, but the Grippians are pleasingly aquatic. If anyone wants to look for inspiration for an alien design from nature, then the oceans are a good place to look. There’s some weird stuff down there.

The visual treat doesn’t end there, because the moon landscape is also a great effort, even with a functioning quicksand trap. I love these episodes of sci-fi that pre-date the moon landing, because they always imagine the moon as a much more interesting place than what people saw on their television screens in 1969. I’m not sure the writers thought through the date this was supposed to be happening, though. The references to the Korean War and the ages of the astronauts place the episode somewhere close to the time it was made, and yet there is a base on the moon. Mind you, it doesn’t really matter, because the depressing truth is that setting this a hundred years into the future probably wouldn’t have been enough. What a time of hope for the future the 60s was, almost to the point of delusion, sadly.

“In Man’s conquest of space, his own moon must be the first to surrender. From there he will step his way across the heavens to the edge of infinity.”

I loved the tension between the General and the Major, due to their Korean War history. Having been great friends with a Korean War veteran myself, I have some understanding of the mental baggage some of those men had to carry with them, and when Stocker says in frustration “he won’t forget that”, he’s asking for the impossible. The parallel between his war decision and the situation he faces again works really well, as does the u-turn in the attitude of Diana, when she actually experiences a no-win emergency situation first hand. It might seem a bit of an abrupt change of heart, but there is a world of difference between moralising about something that affected somebody else, and actually living a situation like that yourself. So it makes perfect sense to me that she goes from asking Stocker to do whatever it takes, to asking him to give in to the enemy demands, in the blink of an eye. That’s just human nature.

There were some problems with this episode, and they were familiar problems for The Outer Limits. There wasn’t enough plot to sustain 50 minutes, so we ended up with padding like slow tracking shots around a room. The teaser once again spoilered things far too much. Once you get to about the 27 minute mark and know the friendly Grippians are dictating their knowledge and there are enemies from the same planet coming after them, at that point the teaser is placed entirely in context and you now know exactly what’s going to happen. Thoroughly spoilt! This was also not a particularly realistic portrayal of what life on a moon base might be like. I’m pretty sure when the time eventually comes, nobody’s going to be taking alcohol in a hip flask to the moon. Then again, who needs realism. Looking back on the 1960s hopes of an imminent and rapidly developing future in outer space is a window into a lost world of optimism. One day, perhaps the human race will dream those dreams again.

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 Mutant

About Roger Pocock

Author of windowsintohistory.wordpress.com Co-writer on junkyard.blog Editor of frontiersmenhistorian.info
This entry was posted in Entertainment, Reviews, Science Fiction, Television, The Outer Limits and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Outer Limits: Moonstone

  1. scifimike70 says:

    Conflicts between paradigms are what sci-fi can make great allegories with. Fans may have their issues with how political it gets these days in certain shows. But The Outer Limits can remind us how visually effective sci-fi could be as a cloak for social and political issues like swallowing pills with water. Maybe most fans just miss the old days when such allegorical sci-fi like Outer Limits, Twilight Zone, Star Trek and Dr. Who could be most refreshing. Fans like myself who were born after the 60s, who enjoyed that decade’s sci-fi in the flexibility of syndication, and in the midst of what the 70s made great waves with thanks to Star Wars and Close Encounters, would therefore learn to recognize and appreciate the down-to-basics allegories even more.

    Of course, several aspects of all the sci-fi we grew up with may now seem dated. Even though it’s still quite easy for the most resonating sci-fi classics to hold up best. The particular depths which Outer Limits was aiming at enabled us to find more comfort in questioning everything instead of facing any ultimate answers. Most politically charged sci-fi and drama today might make us feel more deprived in that regard. So Outer Limits reminds us all to swallow the pills with water.

    Thank you both for your reviews.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. scifimike70 says:

    In addition to Tim O’Connor, Moonstone also had Hari Rhodes who would later become famous to sci-fi fans as MacDonald in Conquest Of The Planet Of The Apes.

    Liked by 1 person

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