The Outer Limits was a show that was usually way ahead of its time. It came up with some really fantastic ideas but often failed on the execution. Sometimes that’s the result of the time it was made: special effects were often questionable and things we’d do on tv today could not effectively be shown back then. Take Behold: Eck! for instance, which offers us a very interesting idea with some very uninteresting characters. Peter Lind Hayes plays Dr. James Stone-Face. He’s got as much charisma as the average hemorrhoid. He’s introduced to us as a “brilliant” but absent-minded professor. His assistant Mrs. Dunn Being Single seems to really admire Dr. Stone… so much so that at the end of the story, she lets the old lecherous creep wrap his arm around her and never let go. Meanwhile Parley Baer (who names their kid Parley?) plays Dr. Stone’s brother Bernard as if he’s overacting an episode of Leave It To Beaver. (Now I see why: he was a regular on The Andy Griffith Show.) The idea is that James Stone accidentally discovers a two dimensional monster by wearing glasses made of “meteoric quartz”. The monster then causes some destruction and everyone wants to destroy it and will stop at nothing, including the destruction of the world, to kill it. The whole idea seems ludicrous to me. Make contact with an intelligent creature from Flatland? I say, accept a bit of destruction!
The clever bit is that the creature, Eck, is interesting conceptually in that it is two dimensional. And it’s capable of ripping its own eye out to give one to Stone to work on to make glasses so it can get home again through a rift in the sky above a city. Amazingly, the concept sounds like one that would never be on television for sheer gruesomeness but it works amazingly well. That’s the thing about Behold, Eck! It’s a great idea, with an amazingly great alien lifeform but the execution is downright painful. Let me give you some examples. As “woke” has been a topic of discussion lately, I’d say this episode is fast asleep. Dr. Stone goes to see his brother and compliments the secretary with “has anyone ever told you that without glasses, you’re beautiful?” Ouch. Basically, if you’re out of focus, you’re pretty! Smack in the face much? Stone also refers to Eck throughout the episode as “he”. Why? I mean, really “it” was probably the more accurate pronoun, but Stone is determined to call it “he”. I counted 6 limbs too, so I don’t think Stone was misidentifying anything. Then again, Stone’s cloak and dagger attire basically paints him as an oaf, so maybe it’s not such a surprise.
The relationship between the brothers is utterly dysfunctional too. I kept thinking that words might have solved the problem. Words like, “listen Brother, if I can’t solve this in 8 hours, we’re dead anyway, so just hang out until this time tomorrow and then you can hunt the creature all you want!” The brother doesn’t have to believe the story, he just has to assume his own brother is not a moron. “Were you in earnest?” Who is this ‘earnest’ of which you speak? The language of the episode is a bit dated too but it’s not just the phrases that throw me off. There’s a moment where the camera lingers on a legal contract and it’s the easiest thing in the world. What happened to the days when a legal, binding contract could be a page and not a novel the size of War and Peace? “Great Scott!”
There are worse offenders though, believe it or not. Like having the detective make the connection that fire is a thing Eck fears. First off, how many creatures like fire and step into it willingly? Just because it got clear of an exploding car, doesn’t prove much. It means it had a brain, not that it was actively afraid of fire! But the worst thing is the race against time that Dr. Jim Stone has to perform to make a pair of glasses for Eck. 8 hours!! That’s hardly enough time. “So tell me, Eck, where were you born and what was your childhood like? Tea? Game of Chess? Go to the cinema and see Gone with the Wind?” “Um, no, didn’t you say it will take a long time to make the glasses?” “Yes, it will… at least 4, maybe 5 minutes. Don’t tell the script editor, it has to look like a real race!” And then the worst offender is that Eck said anything from our world that goes through the rift “he” came out of could destroy the universe… what about the glasses Stone made? You know, the ones he needs to use to see his way back to his own plane? Guess the world ended and we’re in a simulation after all!
No, no, no! This is a good concept, executed appallingly. I wanted to smack each character upside their respective heads watching this travesty. Not to mention, I picked up those glasses at Christmas time and now see Snowmen every time I look at a light. Need I worry that they will come to hurt me because I can see them? Look, I still have a very deep love of The Outer Limits, but sometimes, the memory of a thing should be enough. Going back can often really hurt a treasured memory! ML
The view from across the pond:
“It’s very interesting. Very interesting.”
That’s an odd reaction for a man whose business has just been trashed, but I think that says something important about our hero of the week, Dr James Stone. He has an inquiring mind. That makes sense of his open-minded reaction to an alien visitor, when most other people want to destroy it. One of those other people is his brother, who is, let’s face it, a complete imbecile. The interactions between the two brothers really bring the episode to life, particularly the blistering row they have towards the end of the episode:
“He doesn’t want the disaster to happen. He’s trying to prevent it. And this is the thing you want to destroy.”
It’s hard to ignore that this is a straight-up remake of The Galaxy Being, with an intelligent man trying to make peaceful contact with a benign alien, while the big men in uniforms turn up with guns because they are close-minded xenophobes. The frustrating thing with this is that nobody shifts from the position they take about Eck one little bit. There is no flicker of doubt, and that feels bleak and hopeless. What is the future of humanity, when people think like this?
“How does it feel to be a murderer?”
“We destroyed a monster.”
Most conflicts in history have involved people dehumanising their enemies. It makes the killing easier. So we have elements of The Galaxy Being repeated, but sadly no repeat of an incredibly impressive visual effect for the alien. Instead, we have what looks like a child’s chalk drawing superimposed on the screen. The childishness of it is emphasised when we see the Eck-shaped hole he makes in a wall, which incidentally doesn’t match his body shape. The arms are far too long and thin. I have read that this episode was supposed to be a comedy, but as nothing remotely funny happens it’s hard to give it a free pass on those grounds. Whatever the intention, the end result is definitely not a comedy episode. It’s a serious drama with a few silly bits. Eck’s powered-up form is a bit more impressive, with the vague suggestion of veins showing, but the more I looked at him the more I felt like I was looking at some Christmas lights. It doesn’t matter how carefully you arrange them to put them in the loft (that’s attic, to our friends across the pond) after Christmas, the next year they always come back down in a huge knot. They come down looking like Eck. It’s one of the great mysteries of the universe. Maybe Eck’s to blame.
The idea of a two-dimensional being bugs me. I realise it’s a sci-fi idea that goes right back to the 19th Century, and might even be backed up by science. Then again, so are a lot of silly things, in theory. The one time I have to agree with Bernard is when he says, “hypothetically anything is possible.” To my very literal mind, if something has “no depth”, then it doesn’t exist. Now if I force my mind to go into silly hypothetical science mode, I can just about conceive of some other dimension existing where that’s not actually true, but Eck isn’t in some other dimension. He’s crossed over into ours, and without depth he’s not here, volcanic spectacles or no volcanic spectacles. And then he pops his eye out and it turns 3D – what’s that all about? I can’t fault the surrealism of that moment, but surely all logic goes out of the window at that point. And I think in the end that sums up the problem with this episode. If there were a lot more of those kinds of surreal moments then I think this would have been a very different article. I think I would have called it a surrealist masterpiece. But it’s a one-off. The writer never really settles down into one thing or another. He doesn’t take his subject matter seriously enough, but at the same time this is certainly not a comedy. It falls between many stalls. For example, it could have been scary, but it isn’t, apart from one moment, and that’s the news report showing a tower block sheared off at the 19th floor. Nowadays that hits a bit close to home as an idea, but an alien being who can slice through anything could have been the basis for a terrifying episode.
Behold Eck! could have been a horror. It isn’t. Behold Eck! could have been an inspired piece of surrealism. It isn’t. Behold Eck! could have been a comedy. It isn’t. Behold… nothing. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Outer Limits: Expanding Human
Behold Eck! was the first from the classic Outer Limits that I saw and rewardingly so in one certain way. Namely the fascination about flatlanders, which I first learned about from an episode of Carl Sagan’s COSMOS. The first sci-fi story of a flatland universe that I ever saw was the Star Trek TNG’s “The Loss”. So what was most fascinating was seeing how the OL could visually create such a being with mid-60s TV effects.
As an episode that may in obvious ways seem like a retelling of The Galaxy Being, I don’t think that much about it, given how similar this kind of sci-fi drama has been throughout the years. But it’s a most interesting way to tell it when the alien being is from a universe much different than ours, for the best opportunity to make the alien so visually different rather than just somebody in a costume or a puppet. The specifics of a flatlander can make those visuals easy enough and its uniqueness in that respect makes its safe return home as rewarding as E.T.’s and Starman’s. Fans may not mind a repeatable sci-fi drama if it’s traditionally enjoyable enough.
Robert Johnson who was the voice of Eck was best known from Mission Impossible (the TV series) as the behind-the-scenes voice who gave the agents their assignments. The casting for actors who provide voice-only roles for aliens, robots and computers for sci-fi are always interesting and that reached a pinnacle in Doctor Who with Michael Sheen’s voice as ‘House’ in The Doctor’s Wife.
Thank you both for your reviews.
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>>the news report showing a tower block sheared off at the 19th floor<< How can a 2-dimensional being only about 2 meters in size neatly slice off the entire top of a skyscraper?
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