Holy Rosetta Stone, Batman!
One of my oldest friends often questions me on where it all began. He tries to figure out if my love of science fiction influenced who I became or if I was on this path and found science fiction. Like finding the center of a tootsie pop, the world may never know. But one possible early influence for me was The Invisible Enemy. When I was a very little boy, I was in the basement with my grandmother while she was doing laundry. On a TV right outside the laundry room, The Outer Limits was on… and it ignited my imagination like a match in a room full of TNT. After watching this very scary episode… well, at least to a young child… my grandmothers basement transformed into Mars, and heaven forbid you stepped on the rug. What made it more fun was that there was a couch on the far wall and strangely, there was a light switch that changed the basement green. (Ok, not exactly Mars, but I can blame my grandfather… if he were blamable for anything; the man was a hero to me even then!) After my sister was born, this danger zone still existed and we would also pretend the basement was the surface of the planet; we’d climb over everything to avoid being eaten by the creatures that lived under the sand. This episode may very well hold a key to why I love science fiction.
Holy Genre Mashup, Batman!
I’m giving this episode a bit of credit where it’s probably not deserved, but this particular story is a mashup of Batman, Star Trek and Doctor Who. It stars Adam West, probably best known for the title role in the 1960’s Batman. It also stars Rudy Solari; he was Salish, Miramanee’s love interest until Captain Kirk showed up, in The Paradise Syndrome. (Damn it Jim, she would probably still be alive if you didn’t steal her away from Salish, you blackguard!) And if you’re wondering about the Doctor Who connection, look no further than the Drashigs which spring up from the sand in Carnival of Monsters. I’d go a step further to say there’s even a hint of the Macra in their long, clawed appendages from The Macra Terror. Three very influential series from my childhood converge in The Outer Limits. One last, less well known mashup exists as well. In It! Terror from Beyond Space, one of the things space travelers take with them into the great unknown is a bazooka. Obviously! What, you don’t think there’s a bazooka on the ISS? Think again! This episode ups the ante by making the weapon “nuclear tipped.” Again, obviously!! (I’m not on the board of the ISS, but I’m certain they have nuclear tipped bazooka’s up there… what happens if The Green Slime attacks?!?!)
Holy Senseless Sunday, Batman!
Yeah, there’s a lot here that fails epically on the sense-scale. Every scene on Earth is total filler and serves little purpose other than to take us away from the more exciting space stuff. For instance, General Winston makes a great comment about the time differential between the communication from Earth and Mars. There’s a 3.5 minute delay with every conversation, which means “they’re on their own” if anything goes wrong. But, General, it’s not like when you have your kid upstairs on the baby monitor! Yeah, you can run up at the first sign that the kid is in trouble from monsters under the crib but even if your communications with the mission were instantaneous, it’s not like you’d be able to do anything about it! What are you going to do, run up the stairs to Mars? “Say where you are!” Again, why? It’s not like he’s going to say “I’m on the corner of 5th and Lex!” He’s going to say “I’m 100 paces from Macra-Drashig death!” Meanwhile Colonel Danvers claims the computer gives advice with the “felicity of an elephant”. Um… what? Are elephants particularly happy when giving information to people? How many elephant are you talking to; none of the ones I talk to are very happy chappies! Bucklely (Solari) comes to a conclusion about their mysterious attacker too: “any enemy that draws blood is not invisible!” Um… yeah, I’m not sure that’s how that works, Buckley. I’m pretty sure The Invisible Man was about a maniac who killed people and he was, actually, you know… invisible. What was the logic behind that thought exactly? And when Major Batman was trapped on the stone in the sea of sand, the Drashig seems to have forgotten that his mom was a Macra, which we’d been shown repeatedly up until that point: it had arms, but forgot to use them! He could have just reached out to grab his lunch!
Holy Bat-Sand-Shark Repellant Spray, Batman!
To really wrap up this wacky episode, Buckely (really playing the part of Robin at this point) picks up the nuclear tipped bazooka and shoots the Macra-Drashig. This does two things: wakes up the whole family of creatures all of whom come out for a dose of radiation and sends the remaining crewmen home with leukemia after being exposed to the blast. If only he had the Bat Sand Shark Repellent Spray. I’m sure Buckley could have done a weird backflip from the spaceship to hand it to Major Bruce Wayne…
Holy Confusion, Batman!
Contrary to all that goes wonky with this episode, it’s a favorite of mine. I utterly loved the thrill of being on this strange, alien world with unseen creatures lurking below the sand. I loved how idiotically happy Buckley was when he found the creature (probably still in the early phase of dating Miramanee…) and how Adam West annunciates everything. Most of all, I loved playing the game with my little sister that the rug in my grandparents basement held such menace. It’s a ridiculous episode and I love everything about it. ML
The view from across the pond:
Somehow between the first and second seasons of The Outer Limits the impulse to tell interesting and inventive stories seems to have been lost. This is our clearest example yet of derivative pulp sci-fi. I’m always a bit wary about complaining that something is lacking originality when it was made in the 60s, because things that seem like old ideas today might have felt a lot newer then, but I’m pretty sure a group of chisel-jawed astronauts encountering monstrous aliens wasn’t pushing the boat out in terms of creativity, even in 1964. I don’t suppose it was even much of a new idea when the BBC was doing the same thing with the Journey into Space radio series a decade earlier. But leaving aside the question of originality, what’s missing in most of the second season episodes so far, and especially in this one, is much of an attempt to make the viewer think. The first season was food for the brain. This is an entertaining diversion.
It is entertaining, though. Sometimes it’s entertaining for the wrong reasons. Seeing an astronaut on Mars lifting up his visor, or touching things with bare hands, is amusingly naïve. Weren’t they feeling a bit chilly or… suffocating? Even sillier is the spinning-tape, flashy lights computer, who decides from the M1 recordings that a ghost killed the crew, and later makes the astonishing leap of logic that “no-one saw the enemy, i.e. invisible.” I didn’t see the postman when he put some letters through my letterbox today. I guess he must be invisible too then. You have to wonder why everyone doesn’t stop taking any notice of the thing, but then everyone involved here is just a bit stupid. Something I’ve noticed when I watch this kind of story made in the US compared to in the UK: a British 60s show would show the astronauts communicating with nerdy boffins back home, probably wearing lab coats or at the very least tweed jackets. In the US the astronauts are being guided by soldiers. I’m not sure how much that reflects real life, but man these soldier boys are idiots. Gen Winston, who appears to have a post-it note stuck to his lapel, doesn’t seem to have much authority over the astronauts, who do nothing but disobey his orders. On Mars, Chuck has a whole crew who ignore everything he says. The story relies on everyone doing the wrong thing, all the time. The funniest example of that is when Chuck escapes from the sand monster by climbing onto a very small rock. Leaving aside the fact that the monster could easily reach him there, Chuck decides his best course of action is to stay on the rock while the ship blasts off. What’s that all about? He’s happy to live on a small rock forever? Not even worth trying to make a run for it? If you’re facing certain death, you might as well have a go. That thought doesn’t occur to General Stupid either, who orders Buckley to leave without him. Luckily Buckley ignores his commanding officers in the same way that they all do, and decides to create a distraction, and then Chuck throws the sand monster something with blood on it, like a bone thrown for a dog. It’s best not to think too hard about how an alien monster would know to go after the smell of human blood, having just encountered humans for the first time ever.
But I have to admit I really enjoyed this episode. Every so often it’s good to switch off the brain and just enjoy watching people trying to escape the monsters. The set design is impressive, and shooting it in darkness helps to sell it as a Martian landscape. Although it’s hard to visualise the crab claws and the shark head as being part of the same creature, and we never get to see the whole thing, the monster design is great fun, and it’s kept unseen for long enough to build up the tension, mystery and fear factor. What it isn’t, though, is an “invisible enemy”. What is it with sci-fi shows using that episode title for anything other than invisible enemies? Only the crazy computer thinks it’s invisible.
One fleeting moment did make perfect sense, though. What do humans do when they find one, solitary flower on Mars, perhaps the last flower on the planet? Cut it down. Maybe they deserved to be eaten. RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Outer Limits: Wolf 359