When I was collecting The Outer Limits on VHS way back in the early days of mankind, they were being released roughly 6 at a time. When the batch came out with The Production and Decay of Strange Particles, the youthful science fiction fan that I was, decided to save this one for last. The title was cool and the story had Leonard Nimoy. This was going to be the best! Oh boy was I wrong back then! Over 20 years have gone by since I last watched this episode and I assumed my feelings would have changed. They haven’t. The Production and Decay of Strange Particles stands as a shining example of The Outer Limits at its worst! Why?
Roger, would you care to answer? Mike, why would I do that for your half of the review? Roger, to illustrate a point! Mike, do you mean you need my help to do that? Roger, of course not. Mike, why do you keep saying my name? Roger, because isn’t that how people talk? Mike, of course not? Roger, where’s Paul? Mike where’s Laurel? Laurel, where’s Marshall? Laurel? Laurel… If, dear reader, you’re not picking up what I’m putting down, allow me to explain. Written by Leslie Stevens, one expects good things, considering the very first episode, The Galaxy Being was written by him and that was an instant classic. Unfortunately he also gave us The Borderland and Controlled Experiment. Did no one notice how many times people say one another’s names? The sheer volume of the episode given over to people just saying a name is astronomical. The worst was watching Marshall walk down a hall repeating his wife’s name. This story also features the Note of Ever-Increasing Volume for the better part of the story. Dum… Dumm. Dummm. Dummmm. Duummm. Duuuuummmmm (multiplied by 75)… It was probably done to make us long for the cast calling out to each other, because I was begging for someone to ask for anyone else just to stop the sound! I wanted Rudy Solari to ask for Miramanee most of all! Nimoy’s role in this story lasts about 90 seconds and he never behaves logically. And like 85% of all Outer Limits episodes, it’s to tell us that science can lead to bad things. This is clearly a running theme of Stevens’ considering his aforementioned episodes are also dire warnings of the evil of science. Maybe that’s what happened with the writing of the episode: science went bad! Let’s face it, even in the end when there’s a “time reversal effect” that undoes all the damage, it doesn’t return Marshall and Laurel to where they were. It must only have effected the one mile radius… except all the wind was sucked back too, so that doesn’t work out too well as theories go.
Speaking of inane theories, Marshall says that “something from another dimension invading our time/space continuum” is the cause of this dreadful story. Creatures of blue light take over the scientists and inhabit their suits. They are very threatening as they wander about the base holding claw-suited hands like they are trying to find their way out of a blind maze. Menacing in the same way as dandelions. Which is to say, not at all. Not to mention, the nuclear facility takes visitors as Marshall’s wife Laurel and their friends stop by for sandwiches and coffee. That happens! The most redeeming part of the episode is that Laurel ultimately saves the day by asking her husband to think through the problem and solve it: “you’ve got powers of the mind… use them!” A good message indeed, but I would have settled for that and saved myself 50 additional minutes.
It took me a while to realize what bothered me so much too. Almost exactly 6 years after this aired, Doctor Who did the same thing except roughly 1000x better. I admit I didn’t make the connection right away and even struggled to figure out what it was while watching it this time around. I even looked at all the Tom Baker story titles, trying to figure out what episode it was reminding me of. I put my phone down in dismay and within moments, it came to me! It wasn’t a Tom Baker story at all but a Jon Pertwee one. Inferno gives us a nuclear reactor going critical and creatures that emerge as a result. They make more of themselves by taking a healthy human and forcibly infecting them. The idea of creatures eeking in from another universe is done to far better effect in what may have been Pertwee’s best story. How could I have missed the similarities before? I’ll tell you how! That was so well done while The Production and Decay of Strange Particles ends up as a very pale comparison. They are almost unrecognizable! And it’s not that this didn’t have potential, because Inferno is proof that there was plenty of potential here! Sadly this had no acting chops and dreadful production qualities. There are moments where all that happens is the radiation suited people just mill about with arcs of electricity zapping over them. Arndis, one of the women visiting the nuclear reactor for tea and scones, as one does, develops a bout of the faints, but then drives off in a car on her own, because, why not. And who wrote this? Stevens? Did he really ever in his life know someone named “Arndis”? Am I just so cloistered that this name has never cropped up in all my interactions with people?
You know what: make it stop. It’s a terrible thing when one goes back to a series one loved in youth only to find so many of the episodes leave me reeling! At least this episode didn’t do that terrible preview thing; it was an actual prelude instead, which is the way all of the stories should have been structured. But no, I’m done with this one for ever more. I’m going to go watch clips from Inferno to remind myself how this should be done. At least I’ll feel better after that! ML
The view from across the pond:
“There is nothing wrong with your television set.”
Well, it’s gone awfully dark… no, now it’s bright… dark, bright, dark, bright. This is a bit of a noisy and flashy episode to say the least. It’s all very impressive visually, but not one to start watching if you’ve got a headache. Maybe if you’re prone to migraines you might want to watch it with dark glasses on, or maybe not at all, because you wouldn’t be missing much apart from one very interesting performance…
The storyline this week is very simple if you scratch the surface. A nuclear experiment goes wrong, some kind of alien matter emerges and takes control, things get worse and worse until the guy in charge finds a way to reverse it. That gets padded out to 50 minutes with interminable technobabble speeches about what’s happening. I didn’t understand a word of it, and I’m pretty sure that’s because it was just a load of meaningless, vaguely science-sounding words strung together. I’m no scientist, but I’m betting anyone who actually understands this stuff would probably be watching with their head in their hands. Frankly, I don’t care if it makes any sense to anyone or not, because either way a science lecture doesn’t make for riveting entertainment.
It does have its scary moments. When we get to the evacuation with the sirens sounding, that’s frightening stuff. The sheer power expressed by the constant flashing lights is awe-inspiring, if a little wearing. And the nuclear explosion with that horrible howling sound might just be a load of stock footage, but it retains the power to shock when inserted into a drama.
This episode could have been saved with a bit less technobabble and a bit more character stuff. People’s lives are on the line, and it’s important to make the viewers care about the characters, but none of them make much of an impression apart from Marshall, and he makes almost entirely the wrong kind of impression. The rest of them are forgettable, apart from a glorious but frustratingly brief appearance from Leonard Nimoy.
So the episode largely hangs on the performance of George Macready. You might recall that I described his performance in The Invisibles as “magnificently fruity”. You might also remember this immortal line:
“Your next class will take place in the morrrrrrrrrrrgue.”
He’s at it again here, but fruitier than ever.
“It’ll burn us! Burn us!”
Let’s be fair and say his performance is variable. In his quieter moments he’s actually really, really impressive, and does a great job of selling the fear factor and gives us a realistic portrayal of a man having a breakdown in exceptional circumstances, and being raised back up to greatness by his wife (even if that does involve cobbling together a gadget from whatever’s lying around, like the A Team working in their garage). But when he has a dramatic line to deliver… well, theatrical doesn’t even begin to describe it. It’s a HUGE performance. All credit to Macready, nobody will forget him after watching this episode. If he wasn’t so over-the-top in The Invisibles I might have suggested it was a clever decision when faced with this particular script, because it does actually provide some entertainment value in an episode that is otherwise just flashy lights and boring cod science, but in the end I suspect it’s just an actor having as much fun as he can with a very silly script. I can’t blame him for that. This might have been an episode full of flashing lights, but in the end it was the outrageous performance of George Macready that really brightened my day.
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 Chameleon