Remember that scene in Doctor Who’s The Visitation when the Doctor was like, “we’re going to search for the Terileptil”, and Adric was like, “you know where it is?” and the Doctor sarcastically said, “Yes, that’s why we’re searching!” Well, this episode might be 20 years older than that classic, but it has at least as much to laugh at. I mean, I couldn’t get it out of my head: this episode could easily be remade as a comedy! In fact, if I’m a movie producer watching this for the first time, I’m thinking: “let’s Hollywood the hell out of this… as a comedy!” How can I compare thee to a summer comedy? Let me count the ways….
First off, I watched it in the summer, so there’s that! Then, Henderson James is a man with an inverted name. I work with a guy with a name like that and people call him by his last name all the time. I actually correct them because I feel bad; it just seems rude to me! I wondered what made them come up with that name! But when we saw the car pull up with the license plate, H James, all I could think is someone saw that and came up with a name. I could almost hear the dialogue. “What will we call the guy?” “Well, we can use the car on set but it has an odd license plate; maybe we can come up with a name that ends with James?” “I know, Henderson! It’s a common first name!” “No, its not!” “Yes it is…” “No., really, it’s not.” “Sure it is!” etc. Not only does he have an inverted name, he’s also an Auton. I’ve never seen such an unexpressive actor in my life. I actually think his face was sculpted in plastic! Sure, great casting for a guy who gets duplicated to hunt a monster but wow; was I supposed to care about his fate? Then there’s the plot, where they have to hunt the “megasoid”. (Let’s not even get into the spelling that uses an s, where a z should so clearly go!) “It’s always thinking of killing. Unless… it’s in the reproductive phase!” The minute Henderson leaves his wife at home in search of the creature, the camera should have panned to the odd looking bird and had him raise his eyebrows to the audience, and run to Mrs. Henderson James. Like, duh, there’s one woman in the episode and the bird is looking for… well, a “bird”. (Don’t worry, just because I was born in the 70’s, I don’t actually ever call women “birds” but I know the expression and it fit with the pun!) No, sorry, we’re nowhere near done! When Henderson is getting his act together at the start of the episode, he has to call a duplication agency to get in touch with an old doctor he knew. The doctor doesn’t work there anymore … but the agency gives away his private address! Privacy laws much? And what, they had that on hand? That doctor lives in the laboratory of unused toys, too, because the place is so thick with webs you wonder why the old man stays there. Then there’s the line that I loved. Henderson has to go in search of the Megasoid, creating a duplicate of himself to help track the beast – clearly not a one man job! “There’s just one place it can hide!” Thanks, Adric! So do you really need help searching for it??? It’s like looking for the thing you put in the fridge and hiring the whole family to scour the house, knowing it can only be in the fridge! May God, man!
I’m not done! The revolver with the space age attachments is still just a revolver. The Duplicate Man never thinks to change his clothes. The Megasoid has the most hilarious voice; terribly incongruous with the creature we see. I had to laugh at that. And the first act ends with such an overly dramatic musical cue just for Henderson walking out the door, that I nearly lost my drink! Best of all, when Henderson-the-duplicate calls his wife, he does so on a video phone (with a rotary base, of course), so when Henderson-prime comes in the room, he asks his wife who is on the phone. Take note, she’s STILL ON with him and even looking at the picture! Did Prime not learn how video screens worked? Couldn’t he have just looked? Or perhaps the actor really was an auton, which would explain why he couldn’t bend over!! (To be clear to readers who don’t know Doctor Who history, an Auton is a creature made entirely of plastic!)
Now look, in the end I think the episode does a good job at two things. It felt like the most forward thinking episode I’d seen in a long time. Not accurate, but forward thinking. Every far-future episode we’ve seen has had all sorts of space age stuff going on with rocket ships and moon bases. This posits an Earth very much like ours now but with starship captains living on Earth and some future tech merged with the normal life we know it. I was actually impressed by it. I was also impressed with the idea that we don’t always know how much time we have and to make the most of it while we can. I would have loved a deeper debate about the nature of the clone, because I think there was a lot of untapped potential and it would have taken tons for me to be as impressed as I was by that Doctor Who episode of Matt Smith’s era, The Rebel Flesh, but I’d have liked for them to try a bit harder! And I do think the episode dropped the ball on actually having anyone to care about. I think I felt worse for the Megasoid than the humans. He seemed to be a genuinely nice chap. Oh, but I felt terrible for the actor in that horrible suit. I can only hope they filmed him in the dead of winter, but I suspect it was roasting in that costume!
No, The Duplicate Man is not an episode you want to use to introduce people to The Outer Limits… unless you’re a producer looking for a new idea. Then I suspect you can have a field day pulling this apart and making one damned good comedy out of it. Just, for God’s sake, give the creature the courtesy of being spelled with a z. ML
The view from across the pond:
Sam Eagle from the Muppet Show has developed some odd behavioural patterns in this episode of The Outer Limits. OK, it’s a megasoid, who just happens to bear an unfortunate resemblance to a muppet. It has been held captive, kept behind bars since 2011 (what will that distant future of the human race hold for us?) and after 14 years it has finally escaped, thanks to a bungling gardener. What should an escaped prisoner do after so long in captivity? The world is its oyster. It can go anywhere and do anything, but the most pressing concern is to find somewhere to have its many children (!) so what does the megasoid do? It goes to a museum, finds the exhibit marked megasoid, and pretends to be stuffed. OK. That left me with some doubts about this episode. I wanted to see a story about an imwarf or a puudly instead, for a start.
Well, we’re not far off 2025 now, so what do we have to look forward to? The flat(ish) screen attached to the telephone for video calling wasn’t a bad guess, but it looks like retro dial phones will be making a comeback, as will the need to hold a phone receiver in your hand while making video calls. Some developments over the years must have passed me by, because I don’t remember the alien species being brought back to Earth in the 1980s and 90s, or the cloning of human beings.
The future never arrives as quickly as sci-fi writers think it will, does it. We should have hover boards and be living on the moon by now. But forget about all that, and the weird muppet-a-like, because the people of 2025 have recognised the psychological implications of cloning, and have virtually banned the practice, and that idea is at the heart of this story. Instead of calling the police, or employing some tough guys to track down the megasoid, Henderson James decides that the best thing to do would be to make an illegal clone of himself, and send him off on a muppet hunt. The problem is that clones very quickly start to recover the memories of the… shall we say clonee? Henderson #2 wants Henderson’s wife.
That allows for an interesting focus on a relationship that isn’t entirely broken, but is stuttering. The Jameses are an example of a marriage where there is still love, but it isn’t quite the same as it used to be. The excitement has faded, and Henderson doesn’t call Laura “princess” any more. He has lived his life trying to provide her with everything she could ever want, and remembers with pride the moment when he realised he would be able to fund a beautiful countryside house for her to live in. But that’s all just stuff. He has forgotten how to show her that he values her and loves her. Then into Laura’s life crashes a previous version of Henderson, a man who still calls her “princess”. Importantly, she loves them both, the man she fell in love with and the man he has become. Henderson #1 learns something from this. His broken relationship needs to be fixed, and can be fixed. As for Henderson #2, his is a tragic story of a man who has to find out who he is, only to realise that his life is a lie. Who is he, and what is his place in the world? Unfortunately, it’s all over before it has really begun for him. The writer takes the easy get-out, and we never have to face the most challenging question of all: how do both Hendersons move on from this. Where do they fit? It would have been fascinating to see Henderson #1 having to take responsibility for his actions, but instead he gets a tidy ending. The clone, and the alien he imprisoned, are dead. He can move on with his life and repair his faltering marriage. Good for him, but I’m not sure he earned his happy ending.
The moral of the story? Be kind to muppets? No, I think this is all about what happens when a person is forced to confront the person they used to be. So maybe we should think about who we were in the past, and tackle an uncomfortable question. Was that person worse than us… or better? RP
Read next in the Junkyard… The Outer Limits: Counterweight