Anyone who has ever had a bad fever knows the discomfort of being cold and the struggle to keep warm. There’s a big difference between being out in the winter and being cold versus having a bad fever. When you’re cold, you just get a blanket, or a jacket and you can get warm within minutes. But when you have one of those fevers that gets right in to the core of your soul, even 10 pounds of blankets can still have you shivering underneath them like a coffee drinking chihuahua! It’s a dreadful feeling. Strangely, it might be why I love this episode. Cold Hands, Warm Heart introduces us to Colonel Jeff Barton, an astronaut returned from a trip to Venus, as he experiences a fever worse than any I’d ever had. I think the fact that I could relate to Jeff was what really got me invested in the story. I’ve been there. Somehow, being reminded of a very real event in dramatic terms just resonated with me. (To be clear, I’ve had a bad fever, not that I’ve been to Venus!)
That’s not to say the episode is perfect. For instance, how comical is it watching William Shatner’s face contort as he overacts his way into Hamville. Or how about the security guard the gets on the phone and says “get me security?” (I so wanted to have someone call his other line!) Then there’s Barton’s wife. For me, it was the moment Jeff sets himself on fire that I had that a-ha moment. This woman is a bad seed, I thought!! Her first husband was turned into an alien and her second almost becomes one! This is a woman that brings bad luck to her men. Oh, we’re so busy watching Robert Culp in The Architects of Fear that we may have forgotten that his wife was played by Geraldine Brooks too and we recall the trouble she goes through. And what about Commodore Mendez from Star Trek’s The Menagerie? Yeah, you knew Mike looked familiar didn’t you? And speaking of Star Trek, I loved that Jim… I mean Jeff… who talks to his wife about “new worlds, new life”. Considering this was all for Project Vulcan, it’s only apt that there would be some kind of Trek connection!
I found a lot to enjoy about this episode. The lack of a preview was nice; I much preferred the prelude to the preview. A scene of what’s to come is just a weak way to lure me into the story, but a prologue is something I can get behind. Also, I liked the slow progression of Jeff’s change. It starts with him raising the temperature, then drinking boiling coffee like it’s ice coffee. Before long, he’s in a sauna cooking himself and developing webbed hands. And all of this can be attributed to losing contact with base for 8 minutes on a trip to Venus. A lot can happen in 8 minutes, not the least of which is making contact with aliens. The strange little puppet-alien is actually a victory in my book. It’s completely obvious that it’s propelled by a series of strings, but the unusual appearance of this creature is astounding. It has a tremendously strange look and I loved the thing from the first time I’d seen it. Interestingly, I remembered that creature perfectly but I’d forgotten how the story ended.
Unlike oft-compared Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits was not against giving people a happily ever after. Jeff’s wife puts up a good argument and forces his commanding officer to keep trying to find a cure and in the end, she succeeds. She never loses hope! (Probably the result of what happened to her first husband; that’s my guess!) Seriously, that simple concept caps an episode that I had already admired. Jeff was looking for knowledge and never lost the love of his wife even as he was changing into a monster The Control Voice reminds us that “knowledge is never wasted, nor is love.” Jeff succeeds in his endeavors and the colonization of Mars can happen, and none of that would have been possible without his wife. Maybe she’s not such a bad seed after all! ML
The view from across the pond:
Jeff Barton goes off on holiday to a hot place, and when he comes home he feels cold all the time. It reminded me of my trips to Egypt. You do get acclimatised to the higher temperatures, and when you come home our summer weather feels much colder than usual. I remember at one point sitting in the car on a warm day with the heating running, so maybe Barton’s behaviour isn’t so weird… until he starts getting webbed fingers. And the difference is that Barton has been somewhere a bit hotter and a bit further away than Egypt. He’s been to Venus.
I realised watching this episode that I had reached the 15 minute mark and there was still no story apart from a man feeling cold all the time; not exactly scintillating stuff. Then the episode sprang into life when the Venusian appeared on screen. I must admit my first reaction was to laugh, because it looks like a pineapple-headed muppet, but when we get to see it in close-up it’s actually quite creepy. The alien coming up to the window of a spaceship reminded me of the cliffhanger ending to the first episode of The Sensorites (Doctor Who). It worked well there, and it works well here. It’s the idea of being trapped in a metal box with something trying to get in that’s so frightening, and of course that also brings to mind William Shatner’s gloriously OTT performance in The Twilight Zone, with the monster on the wing of the plane. He seemed to have carved himself out a niche as a man who flies around being beset by peeping tom monsters.
There is very little story here to stretch to the 50 minute running time, so I must admit this episode did try my patience (and my ability to remain awake), but Shatner in full ham mode is always fun. It’s a big, melodramatic performance, but I think that’s the only thing to do to bring a script like this to life, so I can’t complain about Shatner’s choices. If he hadn’t gone so big with it, I think I probably would have fallen asleep, with nearly an hour of a sci-fi story that consists of nothing more thought-provoking than this: man comes home from space, feels cold, and starts to mutate. That really is the entirety of the plot. We never find out what the point of it all was. It could have been an accidental mutation. It could have been deliberate. If it’s the latter, we have no idea what the motivations of the Venusian might be. Does it want to stop humans from going out into space again? Does it want to alter Barton’s DNA so he is capable of adapting to Venusian life? Is it just trying to say hello? Who knows?
There was only one flicker of cleverness in the entire episode, and that was the moment Barton was isolated and saw his wife through a port hole. It called back to the scene where he described her as his favourite planet, and also recalled the scene with the Venusian looking through the spaceship window. Roles were reversed. Barton was now the monster, looking through the window at a human. Maybe, like Ann, the Venusian just wanted to be loved. It was looking at William Shatner, after all.
One final thing to mention. As somebody who values a well-cooked meal, I was dismayed to see a good steak dropped on the floor in this episode. What a waste. But this is an episode that wastes good things, never quite able to rise above a pedestrian script. It’s a waste of a good monster, and a waste of a good Shatner. Luckily, he had somewhere else to boldly go, very soon.
“Hey watch it, that’s hot.”
“It’s lukewarm to me.”
In the end, that’s probably the word that best describes this episode. Lukewarm. Or maybe under-cooked. Let’s hope there’s something better on the menu next week. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Outer Limits: Behold Eck!