Friday, April 1, 2011


Production Order: 01
Broadcast Order: 01
Original Airdate: 3/26/1995
Starring: Beau Bridges, Lloyd Bridges, Dylan Bridges.
Written by Melinda Snodgrass, based on the novella by George R. R. Martin.
Directed by Stuart Gillard.

Simon Kress (Bridges) is an obsessed scientist who sacrifices his family and his life to propagate a species of—brace yourself—ant-like Martian life forms.

JS: Talk about under-promising and over-delivering! It's no wonder the new Outer Limits went on to last seven seasons and 154 episodes. They kicked things off with their own take on "The Zanti Misfits." And just like that episode, there's no disclaimer indicating that none were harmed in the making of the episode.

PE: My first question would have to be: "why was this series so dismissed by the original OL crowd?" Not once during the initial series was I so enthralled by such a smorgasbord of evil delights. Yellow puddles of fright formed around my feet yet I found myself so entranced by and drawn into the drama that I could not rise from my bean bag chair to clean myself. I've read Martin's original story and it was a little too highfalutin' for my tastes (too many of those big sci-fi words) but Snodgrass seems to have found that middle ground between genius and stupidity. I'm in awe.

JS: This episode brings together three generations of Bridges; the always hilarious Lloyd, his grandson Dylan, and his other son Beau. Seeing them all together reminds me what an amazing talent Jeff is.

PE: Actually, John, if you squint, Lloyd is Jeff! Take Beau's silly pony tail and Lloyd's persnicketyness and you've got Bad Blake. Maggie Gyllenhall makes a rare uncredited appearance as one of the sand kings.

JS: It's not hard to believe that Beau was nominated for an Emmy for his performance. Not since Tony Randall in The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao has a single actor portrayed so many varied roles. From the way he tears apart a head of lettuce, makes himself up to look like Fu Manchu, and auditions for the Val Kilmer role in the TV movie on the making of Oliver Stone's The Doors, he's at the top of his form. Yet none of that prepares us for his performance as a sand sculpture.

PE: I'm sorry, I'm still thinking about Maggie Gyllenhall. That's Val Kilmer? Looks like Gyllenhall.

JS: I really enjoyed the Martian death-match. These guys are far more realistic than the inarticulate Zanti puppets of years past. And the sand towers are pretty cool (when they don't look like Beau Bridges). If you look closely, you can even see the little Anti-Misfits scaling the walls of the sand-skyscrapers in the closing shot.

PE: Old-OL fans are so fucking uptight. Get a life, ferchrissakes, I says. This series blows away that dinosaur. And it's in color!!! I thought, given that Projects Limited had $47 per episode to spend on spfx, they did an admirable job of making tumbleweeds and frogs scary. This incarnation of OL obviously had quite a bit more to blow on their little creatures and Land of the Lost sets. I'm really looking forward to discovering new territories and reaching out to new OL fans (especially ones who can appreciate my wit).

JS: The episode falls short of perfection in that it's lacking an OL-babe, but future episodes will rectify that. Alyssa Milano here we come!

PE: Actually, John, if the subsequent stories are just as compelling, I don't need babes. I really do appreciate David J. Schow for changing his views on this show and urging us to cover it after all. Kudos to you, DJS! I'm looking forward to the next 14 months!!!



David J. Schow on "Sandkings":

From The Outer Limits Companion, Copyright © David J. Schow, 1986, 1998.  All Rights Reserved.  Used by permission and by special arrangement with the author. 

Coming soon:

Next Up...

You didn't think we were serious, did you? A very happy April 1st to you all!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Special Thetan Ray Blasts!

It's time for the We Are Controlling Transmission honor roll recognizing our own little band of Zanti Misfits.

The following artists put aside their work, deadlines, crossword puzzles, and pottery to help make WACT the definitive statement on The Outer Limits, for which we are extremely grateful.

Larry Blamire
Matthew R. Bradley
Wayne Carter
Matthew J. Dewan
Peter Farris
Christa Faust 
Jeffrey Frentzen
Gary Gerani
David Holcomb
Mark Holcomb
David Horne
William Lenihan III
Steve Mitchell
John Kenneth Muir
Mark Philips
Larry Rapchak
Ted C. Rypel
Tom Weaver
The Cult of Flat Zanti

We also have to thank the hundreds of readers who made a point to stop by the site every day. When you take on a project like this, it's a huge inspiration to know that there are people anxiously awaiting that next post you're working on.

Last, and definitely not least, we all bow down before the master of the WACT treehouse, David J. Schow. DJS shepherded this nuttiness from the very beginning. Without his dedication and regular contributions (both in the posts you saw and his tremendous behind the scenes efforts), WACT would not have been anywhere near the success it turned out to be. So thanks again, David.

We hope that our small contribution to the legacy of The Outer Limits will continue to attract new fans and instigate further discussion for years to come.

Your Misfit Hosts,

John Scoleri & Peter Enfantino

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Ted C. Rypel Presents: An Interview with Joseph Stefano

By popular demand, we bring you Ted Rypel's interview with Joseph Stefano from TOLAIR!

Special Thanks to Ted Rypel for sharing this with the WACT family.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

The Outer Limits - The Wrap-Up

Here we are, at the end of our 49 episode journey. Unlike Season One, it wasn't easy coming up with a "Top Ten" list for Season Two. In fact, we're taking advantage of the fact that it was essentially a half-season, and narrowing it down to our top 5 picks. (Any more and we may just have to pick from the tripe. -PE)

Our Season 2 Top Five Lists

Peter's Picks:
  1. The Inheritors
  2. Cry of Silence
  3. Expanding Human
  4. Soldier
  5. The Invisible Enemy (and see! I did have to scrape the bottom-PE)
John's Picks:
  1. Soldier
  2. Demon With A Glass Hand
  3. The Inheritors
  4. Cry of Silence
  5. The Invisible Enemy

Season 2 Best Actor

Peter's Pick: Steve Ihnat "The Inheritors"

John's Pick: Lloyd Nolan "Soldier"

Season 2 Best Actress

Peter's Pick: None

John's Pick: Arlene Martel "Demon With A Glass Hand"

Season 2 Best Babe 

Peter and John's Pick: Marriana Hill

Season 2 Best Bear

Peter and John's Pick: The Sand Sharks "The Invisible Enemy"

Our Picks for the Best of The Outer Limits

Top 10 Outer Limits episodes

Peter's Picks:

  1. The Man Who Was Never Born
  2. Architects of Fear
  3. Corpus Earthling
  4. The Inheritors
  5. The Sixth Finger
  6. The Special One
  7. The Zanti Misfits
  8. The Forms of Things Unknown
  9. It Crawled Out of the Woodwork
  10. The Hundred Days of the Dragon

John's Picks:
  1. Soldier
  2. Corpus Earthling
  3. Demon With a Glass Hand
  4. The Architects of Fear
  5. Tourist Attraction
  6. The Zanti Misfits
  7. The Man who Was Never Born
  8. The Sixth Finger
  9. Inheritors
  10. The Invisibles

Best Actor

Peter's Pick: Robert Culp "Architects of Fear"

John's Pick: Lloyd Nolan "Soldier"

Best Actress 

Peter's Pick: Salome Jens "Corpus Earthling"
John's Pick: Vera Miles "The Forms of Things Unknown"

Best Babe 

Peter and John's Pick: Mariana Hill

Best Bear

Peter and John's Pick: The Zanti Misfits (was there any doubt?)

We've pleased to report that we've had more than 50,000 hits on the site since we started.

Your Top Ten Visited Episodes are:

  1. Architects of Fear
  2. The Galaxy Being
  3. The Invisibles
  4. It Crawled Out of the Woodwork
  5. Demon with a Glass Hand
  6. Behold! Eck
  7. Soldier
  8. The Invisible Enemy
  9. The Forms of Things Unknown
  10. The Inheritors 

We look forward to hearing your picks, so bring on the comments!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Creating the Original OUTER LIMITS Trading Cards

Gary Gerani chats with 1964 Topps writer/editor Len Brown…


It’s amazing.  To this day, there are still some fans who mistake the colorful, ‘50s-flavored storylines written for the 1964 OUTER LIMITS bubblegum cards for the actual teleplays (“You mean there wasn’t a ‘Jelly Creature”?).  This unforgettable 50-subject product was an outrageous, delightful hybrid of colorized bears from the TV series (the actual name of this set is MONSTERS FROM OUTER LIMITS) matched with far-out original stories on the backs by a certain fellow named Len Brown. 

The original '64 box and wrap: Chill Charlie (never actually used in the TV show) became MFOL's front man.
Serial buff, comics fan, rockabilly rebel (with a radio show to prove it), Len Brown is like a beloved big brother to me.  As Creative Director of the Topps Chewing Gum Company, he hired Yours Truly back in 1972 as an “idea man,” and even helped me sell FANTASTIC TELEVISION to Crown a few years after that.  But in ’64, he was best known for his involvement with Wally Wood’s T.H.U.N.D.E.R AGENTS comics, and as the guy who wrote the copy for Topps’ infamous MARS ATTACKS! cards two years earlier.  Getting THE OUTER LIMITS set off to a typically disrespectful start, Topps didn’t even want to be associated with another “space invader” product (MARS had been controversial without being commercial), so it released MONSTERS FROM OUTER LIMITS under the alternate company name “Bubbles Inc.”  Nothing personal, OL!

Anyway.  I reconnected with Len recently – he now lives in Dripping Springs, Texas – and he offered to polish up his “rusty” brain for some MFOL-related questions, just for this blog.  So, here goes…

GG: Len, it’s funny to be discussing THE OUTER LIMITS with you after all these years.

LB: Seems like yesterday, almost.

GG: Len and I used to have rather spirited “STAR TREK vs. OUTER LIMITS” battles in the Topps office.

LB: Well I have to admit, the original STAR TREK with William Shatner hasn’t aged very well.

GG: Neither has Shatner.  He’s beginning to look more and more like Jabba the Hutt every day.  Let’s talk about the birth and development of MFOL.  Licensing was very different back in the early ‘60s.  Although OL was a United Artists TV show for ABC, I’ll bet a smaller outfit handled the merchandising.

LB: That’s right.  I forget the name of the company who handled the whole thing.  There were two partners who represented the property, and they had a small licensing company in Hollywood.  I went out there (Topps was based in Brooklyn at the time) and met with Al Schmittman.  I forget the partner’s name.  I seem to recall it was Schmittman who also introduced me to Mary Tyler Moore on the set of THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, as he was showing me around the lot.  I believe we had already done some business with A.S. when he told us about THE OUTER LIMITS.

GG: Who was it at Topps that decided OL was a strong enough property for the company?  Were you and (Senior Creative Developer) Woody Gelman pushing to do the show BEFORE it even went on the air?

LB: The thing that got Woody and I interested was that Schmittman promised a different monster in every episode.  Since we had success with monsters in the past (FUNNY MONSTERS, UNIVERSAL MONSTERS), we were very interested in securing a license for THE OUTER LIMITS.  The show was not on the air and I believe I flew to California to look at the photos they could supply us with.  They had very little color photography, so I believe we accepted their black and white stills and had them painted.  United Artists had even less.  I think we used every picture they had.

Here's a page from Topps' long-defunct archives; cards from all series were literally pasted into loose-leaf books.
GG: Who came up with the idea to do the set in “color”?

LB: I don’t know who or why we came up with the idea of colorizing the photos, except there was a general feeling that kids would enjoy full color cards more than they would black and white pictures.

GG: I’m assuming veteran Topps art director Ben Solomon was involved.

LB: As you know, Ben always liked to have his re-toucher go over photos to improve the quality for reproduction.  In the case of OUTER LIMITS, I guess that would have been Ray Hammond.

GG: I remember Ray – a grouchy-looking guy who was actually very nice.  And for the record, both Ben Solomon and Woody Gelman used to work on the old Fleischer POPEYE and SUPERMAN cartoons of the 1940s.  Often in a meeting, I’d notice Ben doing a Popeye doodle when he got bored.

LB: That’s right.  They both worked on those cartoons.  They even got credit.

GG: Back to OUTER LIMITS…  Let’s talk about the text.

LB: I seem to think we originally thought we could automatically adapt the actual storylines from the TV series, but before we went to press, we were told that the writers of the scripts would want a piece of the action, which Topps couldn’t afford.  So that’s why we came up with those ludicrous stories to describe the front of the cards.

GG: Listen, they have their own special charm!  My favorite is “The Brainless Glob,” your version of Joe Stefano’s “Don’t Open Till Doomsday.”  When I showed Joe the card, he joked that he preferred your storyline to his own.

LB: My God, how embarrassing for us.  This is the screenwriter of PSYCHO, and we re-wrote his story in such a ridiculous way.

GG: Did you write the entire set, or did Woody pitch in?

LB: Woody might have read a few of the card backs, but I pretty much had the freedom to write ‘em all.  Of course, we had to send the copy to California for approval, and since they wouldn’t let us use the stuff from the TV series in story form, they just quickly approved the silly stuff I wrote, without any changes.

GG: How did the set sell?

LB: When we first tested OUTER LIMITS in stores, it only sold fair.  But I seem to recall that ultimately, it was looked back as a successful item.  Initial orders seemed slow, but one day Woody came in looking very happy, and he said that the item had sold about 13,000 cases.  Anything over 10,000 in the early ‘60s was considered a nice hit.  So we never regretted having issued OUTER LIMITS cards.

GG: You’re a huge sci-fi fan.  What were your favorite episodes of the show itself?

LB: I remember really loving “The Galaxy Being.”  That was Cliff Robertson, wasn’t it?  Always a fan of his.  One of my favorite OUTER LIMITS episodes was the Adam Link one (I, ROBOT).  It had previously been adapted for comics by EC in the 1950s, and there was nothing I loved more than WEIRD SCIENCE and WEIRD FANTASY comics back then.  In fact, I still do.  I was buying the hardcover reprints and was heartbroken when they stopped in the middle of reprinting the books.  I understand they are still hoping to continue someday…

GG: You and I used to have all kinds of fun OUTER LIMITS debates back in the ‘70s, when I was writing about the series.  I remember walking into my office and seeing a black and white photo of all the creatures from the kiddie show, SIGMUND AND THE SEA MONSTERS, sitting on my desk.  Written below this photo, in grease pencil, was the description “OUTER LIMITS MONSTERS.”

LB: God, I forgot about that.

GG: You also said the Zanti Misfits had “Sterling Holloway faces.”

LB: I don’t remember equating the Zanti Misfits to Sterling Holloway, but I trust I did.  I know you really liked that episode.  To me, it was just “talking ants” and I didn’t care for it.

GG: Not a problem.  We used to spar over the “talking rocks” episode (“Corpus Earthling”), as well.  I even stayed over your house in Piscataway NJ one weekend, so I could watch that particular show during a telecast on Channel 48 from Philadelphia.

LB:  I remember.  We also used to watch Jack Benny reruns on Channel 29.

GG: Absolutely!  They hadn’t shown them on NY TV for years.  And I couldn’t pull in the Philly stations from Brooklyn, not without a parabolic antenna.  This is all wonderful memory lane stuff for me, Len.  Thanks so much for the look-back.

LB: My pleasure, Mr. G.  Yes, they were the good old days.  The ‘60s were especially sweet.  Elvis was still alive and recording #1 hits.  And I was in my 20s…  Ahhh!  Hope some of these memories helped…


There were two additional, officially licensed OUTER LIMITS trading card sets that appeared decades later.  I edited/wrote one of these for Comic Images in the mid-‘90s.  This set provided all the unit photography (b/w and color) from the original TV series, a Season One Episode Guide at last, along with a handful of Topps ’64 reprints… complete with my explanation of the altered storylines.  

(click cards to enlarge)
A few years after this set hit the market, Rittenhouse jumped in with their own incarnation.  They focused on a half-dozen or so episodes with fan-friendly actors; frame grabs and autographs (Shatner, Nimoy, etc.) were the selling points this time around.  But to most pop historians, it’s the 1964 Bubbles Inc./Topps version that resonates to this day.  They were indeed a significant part of the original OUTER LIMITS experience, and I for one was delighted to collect them as a kid – bogus storylines and all.

The Birth of "Fantastic Television"

By Gary Gerani

A number of fans have asked about the “origin” of my trade paperback FANTASTIC TELEVISION, which was published back in 1977 by Harmony Books (a division of Crown Publishing).  The earliest inspiration for FT started a full ten years earlier.  Like most horror movie fans of the 1960s, I cherished Forry’s FAMOUS MONSTERS mag and the occasional issue of Calvin Beck’s CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN; these commercial publications kept our interest in fantasy cinema going during the cold years and provided, on occasion, some worthwhile coverage and criticism.
But it wasn’t until 1967 and Carlos Clarens’ AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF THE HORROR FILMS that everything in this specialized field seemed to evolve.  This was the first honest-to-God BOOK about my favorite, mostly mistreated movie genre, putting the entire horror-science fiction-fantasy thing in perspective with intelligence and taste, while legitimatizing “cinefantastique” as a popular art form.  So there I was, sitting on the floor with my 19” portable b/w TV on the rolling cart behind me, nose buried in Clarens’ groundbreaking work (a hardcover edition, purchased at 34th street’s Bookmasters), held by his smart words and cool photos.  And sure enough, there was that life-changing statement staring right at me, in the foreword on page xv: “This rapport between spectator and spectacle is nonexistent in viewing television and, not gainsaying the relative excellence of THE OUTER LIMITS, THE ELEVENTH HOUR, or THE TWILIGHT ZONE, for this reason the mapping of that already considerable territory belongs elsewhere.”

Somehow, in some way, I knew then and there that I was destined to become “the mapper.”

In my late teens and early twenties, I wrote quite a bit for magazines, newspapers, fanzines, whatever venue happened to be available.  One of my regular haunts was THE MONSTER TIMES, a bi-weekly tabloid published by Brill and Waldstein, who had designed FM in its later years.  My first job for TMT was impersonating the Creature from the Black Lagoon in a fictional “autobiography” for their Issue #6 cover story.  When STAR TREK’s syndicated revival hit big, I proposed a “special TV sci-fi issue” that would enable them to jump on the TREK bandwagon without paying a cent to Paramount, since other shows would be overviewed as well.  First and foremost in my thoughts was THE OUTER LIMITS, which I felt was ready for a major pop cultural re-evaluation, the show being a darker, “thinking man’s” ST – and with outrageously photogenic creatures that appealed to profit-minded publishers.  “Yeah!  Yeah!  Space monsters!” I can remember Larry Brill wailing.  Yep, that’s what they were.  And they sure helped me sell a number of OL articles back in the day.

So, a rough – VERY rough – prototype of FANTASTIC TELEVISION was born in 1973:

A few years later I used the above publication to convince Crown I could deliver a quality book on the same subject.  I called it FANTASTIC TELEVISION, which was an outgrowth of an earlier title I’d been toying with, THE FANTASTIC ON TELEVISION.  Crown was also anxious to profit from STAR TREK’s syndie resurgence, and that photograph/artifact collection of mine was pretty darned impressive.  So, after a meeting arranged by my great friend Len Brown (who had just co-edited a Maxfield Parrish poster book for Harmony), we quickly made a deal.  Eureka!  Then again, as that tired old cliché goes, watch out what you wish for…  

In no time, I became totally overwhelmed by this massive, seemingly endless project.  Dealing with all the photos and a dozen or essays was bad enough, but those lousy episode guides!  It was murder getting all that information, a hell of my own making.  Sometimes I’d have to travel to obscure cities to pull credits off the screen during local telecasts.  Harmony eventually brought Paul H. Schulman in to help me get the project finished – Paul was a psychiatrist-in-training, which puts the entire experience in perspective.  I remember getting very, very annoyed when the promised color section was pulled at the last minute, and I was never nuts about designer Ken Sansone’s nonstop silhouetting.  Still, my original concept for the book was pretty much followed: I wanted a SCREEN WORLD-like approach to the episode listings, with at least three small photos within TV tube shapes across the upper portion of the page.  “Fine Tuning,” “The Full Picture,” the TV-movies and Kid Stuff sections, all were almost exactly as I planned them in a rough prototype I submitted on Day One.

Ultimately, FANTASTIC TELEVISION fared well for me at the bookstores and with most mainstream critics.  It did, of course, have the built-in advantage of being the first tome on this colorful subject, which at least made it novel.  Guess I’ll always be touched when a fan tells me how much he enjoyed tearing through a dog-eared copy way back when.  Lord, that’s exactly how I felt about Clarens’ book: a very special, uniquely personal relationship that’s kind of hard to explain.  Guess FT was mostly a case of me saying, “Stand up and be counted, true believers.  We love these fantastic shows, and they’ve been ignored and misjudged for far too long.  Let’s REVEL in all aspects of them, together!”

Yes, Virginia, there IS (or was) a hardcover edition of FANTASTIC TELEVISION.  They were pretty rare, but did get into the marketplace.
The book bounced around for a number of years, then resurfaced in England during the early ‘90s with this fanciful cover (front and back).  Pretty wild. 

Will FANTASTIC TELEVISION ever return?  A few years ago I would have said, “no way!,” but now…  My publishing company Fantastic Press (I’m partnered with IDW) was actually created to capture the original FT essence, but with a 21st Century edge, providing a series of brand new trade paperbacks dealing with films, television, and the popular arts.  Perhaps, coming full circle, I’ll re-visit the very specific genre that got me started in the book business 35 years ago.  TOP 100 FANTASTIC TELEVISION SHOWS?  Why the hell not!
Steve Chorney’s cover for TOP 100 SCI-FI MOVIES, from Fantastic Press, available in bookstores and on the web in late April/early May.

It's not over yet!


Okay, perhaps just a little bit longer. Far be it for us to leave any OL stones unturned. 

We've got a special Gary Gerani double-header on tap for today. 

First up, at 8am, discover the origins of Gary's oft-discussed seminal work, Fantastic Television!

Then be sure to check back at 2pm this afternoon for his much anticipated write-up on the classic Topps Monsters of the Outer Limits trading cards.

We'll be back with our Series wrap-up article tomorrow!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Spotlight on "The Probe" and a Eulogy

by Ted Rypel

Last Will and Testament
So it falls to me to be the last one out the door.  Turn out the laser lights, flatline the sine wave—the party’s over.  Here on the WACT blog, I get to do the final episode Spotlight—more like a footlight, a waning ember.  Due to circumstances for which I have only myself to blame, I must be the out-of-Control Voice to convey the bad news: 

O.B.I.T.  And not the good first-season kind.

If you haven’t yet been to Mark and David Holcomb’s insightful, pioneering “OUTER LIMITS GUIDE website, please do yourself a favor and head there directly.  Their long-standing site offers splendid essays on only their consensus favorite episodes.  But these are essential to a well-rounded sampling of the show’s best analyses.  In the “Critical Guide to OL” section, their mission statement, Mark and David issue the following challenge:  

“What, after all, is there to say about ‘The Probe’?”

“The Probe”
Well, Holcomb Brothers, in truth—touche:  there’s not much to say of a salutary nature.  Can we say that the story reads like Saturday morning juvie-SF fare?  That the props and backdrop flats look pasted together with gaffer’s tape and ready to bequeath to the LAND OF THE GIANTS set?  That the overall impression of the episode is like that daydream of your junior-high chemistry set come to life, manned by puppet people?

All those observations may apply.  And they’re not salutary, to be sure.  But even more somber is the fact that, however poor an episode it was, whatever insult it added to the injured covenant of artful SF/fantasy the show had once promised, it was still the Last Episode of THE OUTER LIMITS.  There would be no more.  Like that once precious pet that had to be put down because it was beyond recovery (maybe in this case, hit by a car driven by a network nabob), you had to mourn it in its sad, degenerative last stage of existence.  It would never again amaze you with its acrobatic capering.  It could only lie there—a drag on your emotional life, where once upon a time it had enhanced that life.

Now, there was something all wrong, something unjust, about seeing it on its last legs…

“The Probe” kicks off with a model plane flying through a staged hurricane—humorously engaging stuff that at least seems to promise dynamic movement, interesting direction.  But then Peggy Ann Garner’s Mandy stands carefree under a stack of heavy crates in a bucking plane—uh-oh.  The plane goes down in a fuming fog that supplies its own eerie noises (shades of Luminos!).  And at once some bad acting under directionless directing by Felix Feist sets in.  The life raft survivors, plainly unsold on Seeleg Lester’s swan-song script (from Sam Neuman’s idea), cast their eyes about hollowly and hold uncertain poses.  Groping, perhaps, for an appropriate Stefano-esque dark psychological insight.  Or even a simple emotion or motivation.

The downed crew’s raft runs aground on a “plastic” floor (at least they admitted it; but did James Cameron rip this off for THE ABYSS…hmmm?).  “Je-HOSAPHAT!”  Pilot Coberly (Ron Hayes) sensibly exclaims as their clothes are thoughtfully dried by a laundry mist.  A snow-and-ice light beam freezes Dexter (William Stevens), who does his best “Chill Charlie” impression for a bit before being whisked away.  The beam then does double duty as a scalpel that slices off a chunk of the raft:  “Cold light?”  We feel the chill—but not from any hopes for an eerie episode; rather, we’re catapulted back to “The Galaxy Being” and his milieu of “frozen static.”  Ah, retrospect!

We’re introduced to clunky stage props that look to be suited to a kiddie-park fun-lab amusement.  And then “Mikie” the Oversized Microbe makes his entrance, via the manipulations of Janos Prohaska inside of a sort of Luminoid pseudopod.  We can’t make heads, tails or appendages out of it.  We’re not sure what part grabs the thawed-out Dex and…does something to him that makes him disappear until the end.  Or the unseen giant aliens do?  It’s all in there somewhere.  

Around this time the script cries, “No money!” as they discuss the plane crash that we’d have liked to see.  And now begin the litany of unlikely suppositions that tell us what we’re supposed to be witnessing.  Mandy stares with wide-eyed vapidity and Coberly strikes “What next?” stances as Mark Richman’s Jefferson Rome confidently spouts hyper-intuitive bullshit.  He “recognizes” strange sounds and ID’s alien systems and machinery and gives us all a sure-footed guided tour of a complete anomaly that he blithely interprets as an alien scientific exploration probe:  “I’ve never seen a telemetry system before…some part of it might be like this.”

Indeed.  Well, we had seen THE OUTER LIMITS before, and NO part of it was much like this.
Possibly the best visual in the episode—a forced-perspective composite of live and miniature portions of the lab set, with the humans very small on the right—is compromised by the pronounced bouncing  matte of the miniature’s lower right edge.  Jeff Rome keeps helpfully explaining alien processes for us.  Harry Lubin’s harp-and-strings “exploring” cue, along with his mock-Herrmann punctuations, establishes that Mikie is an ongoing menace. 

Lots of phony blocking and stage movement ensue, as the humans stand around and engage in “What’ll we do?” chatter and the strangely reticent Mikie sporadically lurches at them with either his head or his butt.  We see a display of cuneiform symbology that leads to nothing.

If there’s a L-OL moment that surges from the pack for special attention, it might be the scene of Mikie amorously attacking the raft before having a piece of itself sliced off.  This grows into a second unconvincing threat.  

Now the crew resort to the “map room,” for more fatuous guesswork and determined speculation about the probe’s agenda and itinerary.  They “reason” that Venus must be its next destination.  Terrible chunks of expository SF claptrap are tossed off here.  Flashing lights are meant to dazzle our imaginations as Rome and Mandy determine that they’re dealing with “lights in four or five dimensions…we’ve just communicated with something!”  Too bad it wasn’t the viewer.

Rome trips and is cuddled by Mikie before being easily pulled free.  In pondering the microbe’s “deadly” attacks, they reason that flashing overhead lights are an “obvious” code directing them into THIS ISLAND EARTH tubes, where they’re sprayed, ostensibly with Mikie-repellent.  Despite this, the wriggling microbe remains a tripping hazard, now feeling no more terrifying than skates on a sidewalk.  And how can they tell they’ve been sprayed with something intended to protect them?  “Take a whiff,” says Rome.  They smell something.  So do we.

Despite more “instant communication” babble from Rome, they’re clearly not getting through to their exploratory hosts.  And now “motors” and “humming sounds” are muscling up for that speculated jaunt to Venus.  Coberly plies their useless radio, while Rome and Mandy take yet another crack at the map room light-and-lever display.  

You had to love, in the earnest ‘50s SF films, when someone would wrinkle their brow and invoke “Einstein’s equation.”  And their interlocutor would pipe in, “Yes…of course—let’s see…E…equals MC2, right?”  As if they’d not only just worked out the equation themselves but also somehow thereby reasoned a solution to the problem at hand.  TOL was usually beyond such specious “knowledge”-dropping.  But there it is—the advanced law of relativity with which Jeff and Mandy propose to communicate to the alien monitor, though it flashes a “one-two, one-two” code that forces Rome to admit, “I don’t get it!”

The all-purpose fog engulfs Coberly so that we can’t see what’s not happening to him.  The increased “humming” sound the others react to cues us to ramp up our auto-suspense engines.  Then Rome goes after Coberly and also gets befogged.  And at this point we reach the reveal of the climactic solution that had escaped them all this time.  

Cuneiform and mathematical equations and flashing codes all have their place, but for sheer grab-‘em-by-the-antennae communicational clarity, nothing beats good old human hysterics.  Lubin’s ONE STEP BEYOND theme underscores Mandy’s impassioned soliloquy—in earnestly pleading colloquial English—begging the aliens to set them free before the probe takes off.

At first it appears she might have done no more than annoy them:  the fog advances and she gets shafted—probed—light-beamed with a new ray.  Then—deliverance!  They’re all reunited on the raft, everyone from the plane crash alive and babbling about how they were directed out by the same light beam.  A seaplane rescues them.  

In the denouement they blankly watch the probe-—a Toho-style twirly craft, possibly rejected from THE MYSTERIANS—as it’s destroyed in a kaleidoscopic explosion of sparkles to keep it from contaminating any other worlds.  Mandy’s coda—“I’d like to think we’d be as smart”—comes too late.  The episode was already in the can.

In looking back on my assessment of “The Probe” in Fantastic Films #5, I see that I was generous enough to call this one “occasionally gripping.”  Whoa.  Maybe “gripping” in the sense of grasping at straws.  But what I was probably airing here, in 1978, was a flashback to my profound sense of disappointment in January 1965; my forced withdrawal from THE OUTER LIMITS, a show that had become so important to me as a kid.  There was a youthful sense of “Oh, well—it was turning kind of crappy anyway” amongst my early TOL brethren, I recall.  A notion that the show had betrayed its compact, abandoned that promise of creepiness we had come to embrace.

But there was no comfort in the cold fact, in the dead of that Midwestern winter, that the Great Bear had gone to final slumber, that on every Saturday night hence, only Jackie Gleason would be sending us “to the moon.”  Yet never beyond.

Eulogy…unto  ∞ Infinity ∞
We didn’t have to kill the messenger.  It was broadcast to us D.O.A.  

The love affair that had begun with “The Galaxy Being”–with “cool night air, cool music, and the cool lips of Gene ‘Buddy’ Maxwell on your fevered brow”–had ended with us being “Probed” by aliens.  From “Please Stand By” to “Please Go Away.”  The sine wave had turned to “solid static.”  The headliners had engaged our passions, but by the end we were tuning in to a cool-down act:  Ladies and gentlemen, the Stones have left the building.  Now enjoy the timeless stylings of…the Standells?

So for a while we had intuited that we were observing a quiet death-watch, I think, though the news of the show’s cancellation arrived to the public abruptly.  For the kids in my demographic, anyway, there were plenty of distractions to court our insatiable lust for pop culture.  The Beatles and the British Invasion diverted many of us into musical aspirations.  But if our ingrained taste for SF and fantasy grew with us, we were never far from the scene, and there was plenty of output in books and movies to capture our enthusiasm.  If we had creative ambitions, we kept writing and drawing and filmmaking.  We weathered Viet Nam and young adulthood and then formed nuclear families that absorbed some of our weird interests in their DNA, thus preserving our pernicious species.  

Life went on, creative input poured into us from myriad sources, and the future overtook us.  But we never forgot THE OUTER LIMITS.  On the contrary, we shouted its praises from any dais that would grudgingly concede us space and time.

And then one day, like a time capsule, the WACT blog opened up, impelled by a combination of David J. Schow’s unflagging drive and John Scoleri and Peter Enfantino’s energetic curiosity about our fan culture; about how we’d respond to a new generation’s views of one of our sacred cows, and of how we’d defend our allegiance against cooler, time-altering assessment.  

While not transforming the “listeners” into Thetans, or inducing the world to grow a sixth finger, I think we’ve acquitted ourselves pretty well in our own defense.  And as a legacy we leave behind the forever viable WACT blog, an eloquent testament to our passion for this landmark TV series.  We’ve sung the justifiable praises of Joseph Stefano and Leslie Stevens and a magnificent host of talented players before and behind the camera.  Thanks to John and Peter, we have our Bifrost, our Trembling Way, which will remain open as a monumental archive to a show that could not only aspire to but also attain towering genius, at its best.  

Go to David J. Schow’s Outer Limits Companion—much of which is thankfully reproduced here—for the wonderful “Beyond the Outer Limits” section that continues the career arcs of some of these esteemed production folks.  Access and support the suggested sites on this blog’s menu, such as “The Holcombs’ OUTER LIMITS GUIDE.”  

May the WACT blog stay active enough to forestall the tumbleweeds.

Don’t Close Till Doomsday.

And the episodes—keep watching the episodes—

As the Andromedan reminded us: “Microwaves…go on…to infinity.”


Ted Rypel is the author of the GONJI series of adventure-fantasy novels.  He has also written about THE OUTER LIMITS for Fantastic Films magazine and in his own late-‘70s fanzine The Outer Limits:  An Illustrated Review.