The Outer Limits: The Mutant

Outer Limits 1963 titles logo originalWhen I watched The Outer Limits as a kid, I loved it.  I think it had the right mix of horror and science fiction in a palatable setting.  Coupled with the philosophy of that brilliant Control Voice, and what more could you ask for?  But lately, upon a revisit that took me years to get to, I’m realizing there are a lot of weak moments in this series.  The biggest issue is, without a doubt, the preview of what’s to come.  It’s been a thorn in my side since The Sixth Sense and it never stops bothering me.  Here we are given an episode that might have offered a real shock when Reese Fowler unmasks for the first time.  Instead, not only is his telepathy given away in the first 5 minutes, but so is his bizarre appearance.  And the thing is, his appearance isn’t just bizarre – it’s awesome!  I love the strangeness of his eyes.  But when you spoil the surprise right off the bat, it takes away so much from an episode that didn’t offer a lot to begin with.  And why not, you ask?  The characters were among the worst in the series so far.  Enter the crew of the USS Rotten Misery…

One dude seems to want to lure Evans into a rain storm and he’s only saved by Julie calling him back.  Oh, maybe the idea was to get him to the cave, but why play cat and mouse?  (To avoid telepathic enemies?  Sure, but maybe don’t do it right before the rain comes!)  Then too much of this episode is spent with Evan and Julie discussing why they broke up.  Do we care?  She’s as flighty as a loon if she makes it a point to say she “did run”.  Not that he deserved her necessarily, but it’s just a whim she seems to base her life on.  Their relationship was as superficial as the pleasantries on the planet.  Evan is supposed to be a psychiatrist, but you didn’t need to be one to detect the tension on the planet.  None of the characters are any better.  We see the same crappy behavior in one form or another with each of them and maybe that’s what happens when we land on a planet with no night but I think it’s more about who these people are.  Take, for instance, when the crew realize rain is coming.  What do they do?  They leave Reese outside.  They all watch him at his gardening starring out the window.  No one thinks to say “hey, dude, come in.  We’re not feeling groovy about the rain, ya know?”  No.  They all stand there watching out the window until Reese gets mutant-rained upon.  “Sorry big guy… Or should that be Big eye?”   Then when one of them opens the door, the other slams it shut.  Frankly one of them should have been holding the door closed and the rest should have been pushing to save their friend if they were any people of character!  I’d say he’s entitled to be mad at them all!  Then they say they will leave for Earth and he has to stay behind because they can’t be in close confines with him.  Um… has anyone measured out the dorms they live in?  News flash: you’re already living it, guys.  You rotten jerks just wanted to leave the odd looking fellow behind like some red-headed stepchild!

Anyway, when the escape plan is hatched, it involves coming up with a word that would not be said on the planet so Evan can get away with a hypnotic suggestion.  “Ground control” came to my mind, but that’s not what this group of geniuses come up with.  “Reese” will be the word because Reese isn’t likely to say his own name.  Here’s the thing, guys: he’s telepathic.  HE doesn’t have to say his name.  Anyone who so much as thinks of him will associate the first with the last name and then they have to start thinking “don’t say his first name” over and over.  Which means he’s going to hear it.  Me?  I’d suggest the word to be something Reese knew I was afraid of so if he heard me thinking it, he’d assume it was my fear controlling me.  Then, as if this isn’t lame enough, Dr. Riner falls backwards which splits the front of his head open (you know… that makes sense…)  and out of the crack in his skull comes the most minute details of their plan.  It wasn’t just “don’t say his first name”, it was start to finish, everything that had happened.  He might as well have been reciting a manifesto!  The monologue ends with the only creepy bit in the episode saying “the horror, the horror”, but that wasn’t quite creepy enough to make up for anything.  By this point, I was pretty wiped and ready to see the episode end.  But not so fast, the villain of the episode gets to shout out this line: “SAY MY NAME!”  The only thing that would have made it funnier is if he came out yelling “WHO’S YOUR DADDY?”

The best bit of the episode for me was the big ant.  I thought it was a Zanti and had this idea that maybe this episode was somehow connecting other episodes.  Could this series fit into a cohesive universe?  Probably not.  It was a nice thought while it lasted…  Mind you, the Zanti wasn’t known for disintegrating its victims.  Maybe it was a Zanti that got caught in the same acid rain that mutated Reese.  I don’t know.  In the end, the crew of the USS Rotten Misery leaves Reese screaming in the dark to die of loneliness.  Nice friends.  I’d say he should have seen that coming but somehow I think the big-eye joke is lost on him.   This episode was definitely a low point in my viewing marathon!    ML

The view from across the pond:

“There is nothing wrong with your television set.”

But I can’t see the screen very clearly. I think it might be a bit too bright in here. Hold on, let me just close the curtains… aaaaarrrrrgggggghhhhhhh!

For the second week in a row, mankind (and one woman because there’s never more than one) is boldly going where no man has gone before, finding a way to survive on a new world. Last week it was the moon, but this time we are a bit further afield, although it feels far closer to home and less alien, with a landscape that seems awfully familiar. Also for the second week in a row we have an extra-terrestrial love drama, with the men fighting over the only woman who has been sent along for the trip. The (un)happy couple this week is Evan and Julie.

“Evan please. Please don’t probe.”

There were supposed to be some children being born on this new colony world, so a lack of probing might just be the issue. Failing to win the one-woman Annex One lottery are Julie’s husband Griff, and googly-eyed Reese. As usual the teaser spoilt things, and we then had to rewatch two minutes of footage after just another ten minutes, but Reese’s big eyes certainly have the shock factor the first time you see them. After that the reality hits that they are very fake. The thing about eyes is they generally move a bit. But Warren Oates does dangerous menace really well, so at least Reese comes across as a powerful and frightening enemy.

Not for the first time, all logic in the way people respond to the threat goes out of the window. This seems to happen when there are multiple writers for an episode. I realise people make bad choices in stressful situations, but using “Reese” as a trigger word to snap out of hypnosis… really? They couldn’t come up with anything better than that? Even more oddly, Riner is then afraid to say Reese’s name, even though they are on their own, so the trigger word can’t be overheard and Riner therefore gives the game away for no reason.

As soon as it becomes apparent that darkness is deadly to Reese, the threat level evaporates to be replaced by a lot of running around between the base and the caves. It’s pretty obvious how he’s going to meet his end, and when the moment came it was rushed and confusing, which didn’t help, although I have to admit my attention levels had probably dropped a bit by then, and I was trying to watch the episode through one half-open eye that was still just about awake.

So I was sat there watching another mediocre episode of The Outer Limits, having suffered through quite a few of those lately, trying to keep my eyes open, when…

wawawawawawawawawa

The Zanti!!!! OK, it wasn’t quite a Zanti, because they have stuck on some mandibles, and disappointingly it just sat on the guy’s chest doing nothing for an improbably long time, but for a moment there the episode had me really excited at what I was watching. Sadly it was a fleeting moment, and we were not treated to the joys of a bit of Zanti stop-motion animation. Oh well. Never mind. Time for bed. I’ll just switch off the lights…. aaaaarrrrrgggggghhhhhhh!

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 Guests

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: The Mutant

  1. scifimike70 says:

    Warren Oates did have a talent for playing intimidating roles, speaking from how I first saw him as Sgt. Hulka in Stripes. Thank you both for your reviews.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. scifimike70 says:

    Given how mutants in SF, especially in The Outer Limits, have been a varied theme, it’s interesting when an episode at a certain point is simply called The Mutant. When Dr. Who in 1972 gave us an ethically crucial story called The Mutants, after having specifically mutated characters in previous stories like Inferno, the story title was best served by helping the audience look passed the obvious mutant stereotypes in SF. So one might expect a show like Outer Limits to have similar success for a story with an exclusively down-to-basics title. But how often can stories with such concisely easy and familiar titles have that good fortune?

    Liked by 1 person

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