Monday, March 14, 2011

The Probe

Production Order #17
Broadcast Order #17
Original Airdate: 01/16/65
Starring Mark Richman, Peggy Ann Garner, Ron Hayes.
Written by Seeleg Lester, story by Sam Neuman.
Directed by Felix E. Feist.

A flight crew ditches their aircraft after flying into the eye of a hurricane. They finds themselves in their life raft on board an unmanned Venus space probe. If they can avoid being eaten by Turdo's Venusian cousins, they might just figure out the key to a way out of this puzzle.

JS: Take away "The Galaxy Being" and you've got Mark Richman book-ending the series with episodes of similar caliber. Unfortunately, that is not a good thing.

PE: What a long strange trip it's been. We begin our final journey with a harrowing flight into the eye of a hurricane. Not a trip I'd like to take in a model airplane. I would have liked to have seen the crash that left the crew unbattered and unbleeding. Instead we get a "kill the action" scene later where three of the stars stand around and recount the awe and mystery of the crash landing into the sea. May I remind those of you out there who have never experienced being lost at sea that the safest thing to do when you're in a raft in the middle of the Pacific is to remain seated and not stand straight up.

JS: For anyone who did not appreciate the preceding episode's air force stock footage extravaganza, now you can see the alternative. I kept waiting for the 'pilot's' hand holding the wing of the model plane to enter the shot. I loved how that despite the wild ride the puppeteer had the plane on, the crew seemed to be enjoying the smoothest ride into a hurricane of their lives.

PE: Cobley seems genuinely perplexed that the raft is actually not on water but in a pup tent. "I can't understand it," he shrugs as if trying to figure out why his car won't start. But the artificial fog being pumped into the tent finally gets his attention: "Jeeee-Hoshaphat!"

JS: I want to know what happened to the "Jumpin..."?

PE: L-OL dialogue (after the crew has been "misted,"):
Rome: Okay, it's gone
Coberly: What's gone?
Rome: Whatever it was. It doesn't seem to have any effect though, does it?
Amanda (excitedly): Except I'm dry! Isn't that funny?
(a general chorus of "Yep, that's funny" and "Hey, I'm dry too!")
Amanda: What was it?
Coberly: A fog. A mist of some kind.
Rome (obviously stunned): With a drying action.
JS: And thus begins the, "I've got a crazy theory, and by golly, it happens to be true" development of the plot.

PE: I love the part when Dexter climbs in the raft to investigate the "cold light," realizes it's producing ice and then stays in the ray until he becomes a popsicle. That's what I'd do. The others stand to the side and shout warnings rather than coming to the aid of the dope.

JS: Think of the potential savings and increased production value had they hung onto the Chill Charlie prop.

PE: Cobley's exchange with Dexter is a hoot:
Rome: Dex, can you move your fingers now?
Dexter: They're st-st-st-starting to tingle. And my toes! (shouts) And my ears hurt!
Cobley: Another second or two in there and you woulda just froze to death.
Dexter: What made it do it? What made it freeze up so fast?
Cobley (points to the tower): That first light beam.
Dexter: Whole light?
Cobley: That wasn't all. You shoulda seen that second light beam come down and slice that raft in two like a knife (gestures cutting with a knife). And another light beam lift...lifted up that pipe and put it up in that hole there!
I wasn't sure if Cobley was explaining this to Dex or to us.

JS: I hope Dex, because I didn't buy it.

PE: And as we see the giant fake rubber vomit "scurry" across the floor towards Dex, there's my favorite rip-off music cue "The Children of the Hydra's Teeth." I can almost anticipate when this bit of music will come up now. Same goes for that rotten harp theme. Interesting that when the Vomit absorbed Dex, he spit out his jacket but not the rest of his clothes.

JS: The jacket clearly wasn't his size. I feel sorry for the poor bastard who had to climb into that ridiculous cousin-of-Turdo bear suit.

PE: L-OL dialogue abounds!

When we first get to see the "Incredible Shrinking Man" lab, a discussion between Rome, Cobley, and Amanda goes something like this:
Cobley (pointing at the piece of raft we all saw cut like a knife and sucked through the big hole near the ceiling): How did it get here? (Here I had to rewatch the scene where Cobley actually explains to Dex what happened to the raft in the first place just in case I was missing something)
Rome (obviously a hell of a lot smarter than Cobley): Maybe through the center post there (points up to where there might be a big sucking hole near the ceiling). Where the machinery is. And those light beams.
Amanda: But what for?
Rome: I think maybe to test it (how he deduced this, I'm still trying to figger out)
Amanda: To test it for what? Who's doing the testing? Where is everybody?
Rome (now pay attention here): The results of the testing...would be sent where everybody might be!
Cobley (puts his hand on Rome's shoulder): Jeff, have you got some kind of theory about all this?
Rome: I'm getting one.
JS: I'm getting one, too. I think that if this Venus probe was exploded over the Eastern Seaboard and it rained down radioactive particles... we might just have the makings of a zombie apocalypse.

PE: A whole lot of wild deductions based on little to no information follows. Rome is either the smartest man ever born or he's full of shit but doesn't want the others to know:
Rome: That mist is a staining solution. The same as we do with microscope slides. This entire set-up is a gigantic testing station created by alien beings from the planet Xenon. Right now they're monitoring our breathing patterns in anticipation of invading Earth because Xenon's women are infertile and can no longer bear children. The bastards! I'm on to them! Here, Cobley, help me detach this bio-convertor. I can fashion a nuclear device and have us back home by supper. POLARITY REVERSE!!
JS: Had you been older than two, it sounds like you could have landed a job writing for Season 2.

PE: I'm finally (after 49 episodes) detecting a pattern: When in doubt (or when in debt) film a show where the cast does nothing much more than walk from one room to the next and talk talk talk. You can vary this formula when needed (example: film an episode where a couple runs from a car to a military base twenty times). And, when in doubt, use hieroglyphics to impress or amuse your audience.

JS: Had they only realized they had stumbled across the Venusian equivalent of an Indian casino. They might have won a few bucks playing Keno.

PE: Peggy Ann Garner has a "deer in the headlights" look about her all through the show. Understandable since she's in a stressful situation but most humans blink their eyes now and then. Her  emotional soliloquy at the climax (wherein she spouts questions to an unseen force) brought to mind the great Hawaiian vacation episode of The Brady Bunch where Marsha questions the Tiki pole about boys at school and acne (At least they got Vincent Price. -JS). Amanda does get to christen our vomit "Mikey." Not a very regal name for an alien being. "I Defeated Mikey, the Vomit from Space" doesn't have the necessary ring to it, does it?

JS: Give the raft to Mikey. He won't eat it. He hates everything. Hey wait—he likes it! Hey Mikey! No really, Mikey... get off the raft... that's disgusting...

PE: Who knew that a scene of Alien Vomit humping the remains of a raft would be an effective shot? I do like the baby Krispy Kreme donut that dislodges from its side. As Amanda says a few times too many "It's fantastic!"

JS: Yes. When Cousin of Turdo isn't enough, we bring you—Turdito, the alien apple fritter!

PE: Richman has the same intense delivery he milked in "The Borderland" but, to be fair, he's given the same kind of crappy dialogue. And lots of it. He does grit his teeth and spout "We need to be understood!!" with fiery abandon.

JS: And oddly enough, his commitment to this role is one of the few points that makes this episode bearable (just like "The Borderland"). Did anyone happen to check his hands this time out? I was disappointed that amongst his monologues, he never quite got around to saying, "To be... or not to be..."

PE: And for sheer suspense, you can't beat when Copley and Rome are debating whether to make a run for the door before "Mikey" can get them, all while "Mikey" is sitting right in front of them. Copley makes an NBA juke to fake out "Mikey," and Rome and Amanda are able to run past. The choreography on this shot alone must have taxed the multi-hundred dollar budget. The rest of the budget was spent on that explosive climax. I'm fairly sure the spfx for the self-destruction of the spaceship was achieved by positioning a camera inside an oven as Projects Limited baked cupcakes.

JS: Again, condolences to the poor sap stuck inside that latex hell.

PE: Best scene would have to be the dry-cleaning of Amanda, Rome and Copley (I would have preferred Amanda in a t-shirt though). Giant beakers rise out of the floor, surrounding the trio (and do they coincidentally walk right to the spots or would the beakers grow around them no matter where they are?), bathing them with jets of water and then drying them with a heavenly mist  ("Not bad," proclaims Amanda, "Not a famous French perfume, but not bad!"). The scene's eccentricity almost cries out "this is all a dream" (yeah, I know, the rest of it is pretty wacky as well) and cements the show for me, as the perfect companion piece to "Cry of Silence." I'd roll this one at one of my wild parties anytime. Absolute proof that Hollywood writers were using psychedelics long before the hippies were.

JS: Now that you mention it, what that scene needed was a little Strawberry Alarm Clock "Incense and Peppermints" with our three principles dancing in their respective tubes.

PE: Purists who still have "Gwyllim for President" posters or "Demon with a Glass Hand" action figures will cry "Oh, the humanity!" at the thought that this was the last trace of The Outer Limits on ABC in 1965. I look at it a different way. Though it was probably not its intent, "The Probe" made me laugh out loud and shout "What the fuck" several times at my TV set. Sometimes entertainment just needs to get your mind off tsunamis and foreclosures, no? I'd say "The Probe" is one of the more entertaining  episodes I've seen this season.

To which, I'm sure, you'd say "'The Probe', my ass!"



David J. Schow on "The Probe" (Click on pages to enlarge):

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

While soaring above the Earth's greenery
Coberly found himself void of Earth scenery.
    Once eluding a fog,
    They played tag with a glob
In a probe-ship straight outta penury.

Its rooms were quite spotless and cleanest
As the probe, it ascended toward Venus.
    The cast declared, as they must,
    "When best eps discussed,
You know, for a fact, they won't mean us."

(Tim Lucas)

Be sure to come back later this morning for our last special Spotlight on "The Probe."

Next Up... Our Series Wrap-Up!


  1. Ouch, this episode hurt. A fitting end for the second season. I see that the director, Felix Feist, died in 1965, shortly after completion of this show.

  2. TOL may have crapped out a turd (and a turdito) with this finale, but our hosts spun pure comic delight from it. And high in fiber! Grazie! Those precious moments of my life wasted on "The Probe" are not as painful now (except, of course, when I bend over).

    The one recurring thing poking me in the eye while watching this episode was what a great adventure short it would've made for the Three Stooges.

    But then I realized it alread is.

    I got nothing else on this.

    To clear my palate- well, actually to vaccinate myself before this episode, I will relate that I got my entire family (wife and 14 year-old son) to sit down and watch "Demon with the Glass Hand" on a Saturday night at 8 p.m.

    And they saw it.

    And the Son said, "It was good."

    And it was.

    And all the creatures and mutants and bears that lurked or stalked or slithered or crawled or stooped or squatted before us danced in glorious celebration.

    For they knew that the power of TOL would live on and on.


  3. Not as bad as I thought it would be. The concept is a pretty neat idea, just executed poorly. Surprisingly, I actually agree with Peter's closing statement regarding the episode.

    Of all the shows in the OL series, this one reminds me the most of a Twilight Zone ep. for whatever reason. Also, if there is a candidate for 'Worst Looking Bear,' Mikey might have to get my vote.

  4. Oh the humanity! This episode makes me yearn for the glory days of The Premonition and The Brain of Colonel Barham. It is so awful that my dvd player actually refused to play it--it kept skipping over several scenes! (In truth, I think it's the crappy dvd itself--these things are only seven years old and already they're falling apart? This is alarming to me--I don't mind losing The Probe, but I had skips during Forms of Things Unknown, too. Cripes, am I going to have to buy ANOTHER set of this, only to watch that fall apart too?)

    During the "drying action" scene near the beginning, I realized the truth--they were really inside a giant washing machine. Even I can't find much of anything to appreciate about this episode, aside from Peter and John's inspired commentary above. Maybe Mark Richman's earnestness? Peggy Ann Garner coming up with an emotional outpouring at the end after a performance that mostly consisted of walking around with her mouth wide open in professed amazement? I don't know.

    It IS a sad ending to this series, but so be it. There are plenty of good memories, too.

  5. Adios Season 2! Still glad that I met you!

  6. Probably the most interesting thing about this final episode was the TV Guide description, which explains how a bunch of people happen to find themselves on a "suddenly solid sea"... which, of course, turns out to be the hard floor of an alien space probe. But the notion of an actual ocean, its waves inexplicably frozen in time, was pretty cool. Sad to say, nothing in the show itself came close to matching this evocative visual concept.

  7. Ron Hayes is forever melded in many minds as Lincoln Vail, star of THE EVERGLADES, much syndicated through the 60s, in which he polices in a way cool airboat.

    You really have to have fun with this one--you have to--as John and Peter have shown, with it's rich MST-worthiness.

  8. Gary G---

    It's a telling revelation when the TV Guide blurb winds up better than the actual episode! But that "solid sea" description would, in fact, have gotten a lot of people to watch, you're right.

    Larry B---

    I had forgotten THE EVERGLADES. Probably didn't make it habitual viewing. It's amazing to see how much these character actors hustled to make a living, especially with so much less TV programming in those days.

    For any blog-followers who didn't catch my Spotlight/eulogy---farewell, steer your curious friends toward the WACT so that it doesn't become a ghost town, and here's hoping we maintain contact, if only via another J&P tent-show revival blog!

    If "the machines are everywhere," then let's keep the episodes spinning on 'em!

  9. Take care Ted. Besides watching an awesome show for the first time, along with getting several great recommendations regarding other films and television shows, it was a privilege for me to be able to interact with everyone on here. All the intelligent, thoughtful postings by you old-school masters made what would have been a pleasurable viewing experience on it's own, even that much more enjoyable. So again, thanks to everyone involved with this OL blog.

  10. AWC--

    Glad to hear that the young one enjoyed "Demon"; there is hope.


  11. I'm going to disagree with P & J. Obviously this was created to save $$$ my being on one set (much in the same way as the Emmy winning for writing Homicide episode '3 Men and Adena' so sometimes this can work out), I think its pretty imaginative resembles the Star Trek episode Intruder in the Dark(?). I think its pretty intelligent, resembles a decent SF short story.

  12. There are many occasions in my life when I needed a Jeff to tell me what is going on. I think he is awesome. It sounds like he is bullshitting, but he isn't. He is always right. A prince amongst men for sure.

  13. I just saw it again, and I'm glad to see some pleasant comments about it.
    The Harry Lubin Outer Limits theme gets some flak, but that version of it played during Amanda's big speech to the aliens sounds very good.

  14. For the life of me, every single time I read the title "The Probe", I drew a blank. Then, I read the brief description at the top of the page... OHHH!! I remember this one! I don't recall if I saw it once, or twice, but I did see it, probably back in the 70s. It definitely has a TWILIGHT ZONE "What the HELL is going on?" sort of vibe in the first half... then, it probably just drags on too long.

    You know, STAR TREK THE NEXT GENERATION did way, WAYYYYY too many "TZ"-style stories, with that "What the HELL is going on?" sort of plot. I swore the whole 7 years I watched that thing, they were more interested in doing every kind of 60s show they could... but NOT "Star Trek". At least 2 episodes were cleary inspired by GET SMART stories... and the 1st feature film ("GENERATIONS") took its story structure AND CLIMAX from-- of all things-- "THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO!" Except, Derek Meddings' special effects were BETTER-- and far more exciting.

  15. Boy, I hate this episode. No wonder TOL went off the air. What did this one cost? 3 thousand bucks? Maybe 4? Hardly even dressed up the soundstage for this one!

  16. I'm watching it at this moment. Except for The Galaxy Being, I like to begin at the end when it comes to this show, which I'm sure makes sense around here when it comes to The Probe.

    One thing about this episode is that (like so many others) it doesn't go along with the "helpless female" cliche. When Amanda gets almost hysterical, Jefferson's only reaction is "Do you have to do that?"

    1. Good point about the female. She:s a strong, active character who refused to be in the background. I thought it was weird they kept referring to her impending marriage, like that was her role, but that's a minor quibble. There's a 2950s sci-fi film in which a female character on a space ship apologizes for acting hysterical. "That's alright' the captain answers, "You're just being a woman."

    2. Yes, they don't show the crash, but watch the opening scene of the original Planet of the Apes, there's no crash either, and that is a major Hollywood feature film.

  17. I disagree. I remember really liking this decades ago and watching it today I still do. I'm surprised it's a rare episode on which there's no commentary on the kino set. I've always understood that it was done to save money by using a single set, but often that can turn out to be a blessing, i.e. the Three Men and Adena episode of Homicide. That show was produced to save money by having the entire episode set in the interrogation room and it's considered to be the best episode of that acclaimed series as well as one of the best episodes of television ever. Not that I am saying that about The Probe, but I found it very inventive. It really compares to an hour long Twilight Zone episode, ,I'm thinking of the one about the dolls trying to get out of the toy bin, it sets up a good premise and pretty much delivers, although maybe it's a bit padded. The acting is good although maybe a bit overwrought at times. It's nice to see Peggy Ann Garner who won a juvenile Oscar for A Tree Grows is Brooklyn in 1946. I really like the sets, I wonder if they contributed to the shows one and only Emmy nomination for Production design. I thought the effects were neat too. The germ monster was effective although it resembles the bear in a couple other episodes, like the one in the doomsday box. Come to think of it, isn't it similar to the Star trek episode Intruder in the Dark I think it's called. Also the music is quite similar to Star Trek, I am ignorant, but did both shows have the same composer? A minor quibble, why does the guy struggle to remember E=MC2? My 12 year old nephew knows that equation and he's not that bright. Good closing narration too, a fitting coda to the series. There are several turkeys in the 2nd Season which I hope to get to soon, but not this episode. 3 Zantis.


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