“There is nothing wrong with your television …” Outer Limits, Season One

After finishing my rewatch of the original Twilight Zone, I figured I’d rewatch the 1960s Outer Limits eventually. As it has several episodes involving alien visitors on Earth, I thought rewatching while I was working on Alien Visitors would be the perfect time. The show comes off better than the last time I caught any of it, but definitely no match for the Twilight Zone.

The brainchild of Joseph Stefano, Outer Limits was conceived as SF where TZ skewed more to fantasy. Like so much that shows up on TV, it was compromised child: ABC was dubious a serious SF anthology would fly so Stefano committed to providing a monster in every show. That worked fine when there was an alien but in The Human Factor it’s one character’s hallucination about a frozen corpse (he’s cracking in the belief he was responsible for the man’s death). Well, it worked sort of fine when there was an alien: in giving them nonhuman faces the show routinely wound up with what looked like grotesque masks, with no ability to move or show expressions other than eyes and lips. Vulcans looked a lot more convincing.

What does leap out at me rewatching is that they managed a wide variety of stories within the given range. We have political thriller (The Hundred Days of the Dragon), a grim story of POW torture (Nightmare, the source of the above photo — if anything it feels more believable these days), the paranoid of O.B.I.T. (even more relevant as surveillance has almost caught up with the show), comedy (Controlled Experiment), human drama (The Bellero Shield and the excellent Feasibility Study), and the weirdly poetical, arty tales of Don’t Open Till Doomsday, The Guests and The Form of Things Unknown (an unsuccessful backdoor pilot).

Outer Limits also suffers from a sense of how serious they are — not kid stuff like Tom Corbett Space Cadet, they’re doing high drama in an SF format! Despite which the best episodes are really good. Fun and Games has a bored alien race kidnap two humans — a runaway wife and a weaselly gambler — to compete against a couple from a barbarian planet (this looks like an unacknowledged swipe of Fredric Brown’s Arena). The reason? The aliens will have fun. The incentive: if the humans lose, or refuse to play, Earth dies within five years. It works as both an adventure and a character story. A Feasibility Study has aliens abduct a small town as a test case to see how easily we can be enslaved; if the humans resist, they’ll be infected by a monstrous, deforming disease. In the end, the town chooses infection to show the aliens we can’t be broken. It’s intensely moving.

Some episodes that aren’t great still have great performances. In The Mice, convict Henry Silva is part of an experimental exchange with an alien planet, via teleporter. Silva’s turn as a guy constantly figuring the angles makes the whole episode worthwhile.

The season has a number of clunkers though. The pop-eyed evil mutant of The Mutant, the easily defeated flowers of Specimen: Unknown, the hamfisted throw-lots-of-stuff-in-the-blender plot of Tourist Attraction. Some episodes have an interesting concept that isn’t developed enough: In Zanti Misfits, the Zanti ship their convicts to Earth, confident we’ll be intolerant enough to do their dirty work and kill the prisoners; too much gets handwaved to really work.

That’s one of several episodes I may reference in Alien Visitors. As I mentioned in my post on ET Pied Pipers, The Special One has an alien scheming to use human children against humanity, but it’s uninspired. Fun and Games is an example of an abduction by aliens that doesn’t fit what we now think of as a “UFO abduction.”

I’ll tackle the second season, which is conveniently only half the length of S1, soon enough.

#SFWApro. Rights to all images remain with current holder.

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