“There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture; we are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal; we will control the vertical. We can roll the image…make it flutter. We can change the focus to a soft blur, or sharpen it to crystal clarity. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all that you see and hear. We repeat; there is nothing wrong with your television set. You are about to participate in a great adventure. You are about to experience the awe and mystery which reaches from the inner mind to…the outer limits.”
On September 16, 1963, a television series entitled The Outer Limits debuted on the ABC network. For two years, it would entertain and thoughtfully provoke viewers intelligent enough to appreciate its, for the most part, finely-written and well-acted episodes. The series owed its initial acceptance by the network to the prior success of The Twilight Zone, but The Outer Limits was no clone of that fine series. It was more focused on hard science fiction than fantasy and it had the benefit of a full hour for each program to develop characters and plot lines more fully. Unfortunately, as with all really good science fiction shows, there were not enough perceptive viewers to enable the series to persist as long as it deserved. Subsequently, the series did very well in syndication and in the 1990s spawned a new series of shows under The Outer Limits title. While commercially successful, the new series lacked the artistic quality and thoughtful content of the original for the most part. Fortunate then are we to have the first full season of the original series now available on DVD from MGM.
The complete 1963-64 first season of The Outer Limits, consisting of 32 episodes is presented. The episode titles and principal players are:
* The Galaxy Being — Cliff Robertson, Lee Philips, Jacqueline Scott (*)
* The Hundred Days of the Dragon — Sidney Blackmer, Phillip Pine (*)
* The Architects of Fear — Robert Culp, Leonard Stone (*)
* The Man with the Power — Donald Pleasance, Priscilla Morrill
* The Sixth Finger — David McCallum, Jill Haworth, Edward Mulhare (*)
* The Man Who Was Never Born — Martin Landau, Shirley Knight (*)
* O.B.I.T. — Peter Breck, Jeff Corey, Joanne Gilbert
* The Human Factor — Gary Merrill, Harry Guardino
* Corpus Earthling — Robert Culp, Salome Jens (*)
* Nightmare — James Shigeta, Ed Nelson, Martin Sheen (*)
* It Crawled Out of the Woodwork — Scott Marlowe, Kent Smith
* The Borderland — Philip Abbott, Gladys Cooper, Nina Foch (*)
* Tourist Attraction — Janet Blair, Henry Silva, Ralph Meeker
* The Zanti Misfits — Michael Tolan, Olive Deering (*)
* The Mice — Henry Silva, Diana Sands, Dabney Coleman
* Controlled Experiment — Barry Morse, Carroll O’Connor
* Don’t Open Till Doomsday — Miriam Hopkins, John Hoyt, Russell Collins
* ZZZZZ — Philip Abbott, Marsha Hunt, Joanna Frank (*)
* The Invisibles — Don Gordon, George Macready, Dee Hartford
* The Bellero Shield — Martin Landau, Sally Kellerman, Chita Rivero
* The Children of Spider County — Lee Kinsolving, Kent Smith (*)
* Specimen: Unknown — Stephen McNally, Richard Jaeckel (*)
* Second Chance — Simon Oakland, Janet De Gore, Don Gordon
* Moonstone — Ruth Roman, Alex Nicol, Tim O’Connor (*)
* The Mutant — Larry Pennell, Warren Oates, Walter Burke (*)
* The Guests — Geoffrey Horne, Nellie Burt, Vaughn Taylor
* Fun and Games — Nick Adams, Nancy Malone
* The Special One — MacDonald Carey, Richard Ney
* A Feasibility Study — Sam Wanamaker, Phyllis Love (*)
* Production and Decay of Strange Particles — George Macready, Leonard Nimoy
* The Chameleon — Robert Duvall (*)
* Forms of Things Unknown — Vera Miles, David McCallum, Barbara Rush (*)
One of the things that really marked the first season of The Outer Limits was the consistent quality of its episodes. I’m not talking here about its special effects, which were rudimentary in many cases compared to what we’re used to nowadays, but about the high standard of the scripts and the efforts of both cast and crew that went into turning them out as smartly-directed, well-acted, and generally good-looking short movies. On some occasions, they were reminiscent of the better B-movies from the 1930s and 1940s, with the exception being their usually more-limited casts.
Part of the consistency was due to the principals of the production crew — people like producer Joseph Stefano and executive producer Leslie Stevens who also doubled as scriptwriter and director from time to time. They also had the good sense to hire experienced directors, maybe not ones recognized as being at the very top of the craft, but Hollywood veterans such as Byron Haskin, John Brahm, and Robert Florey, who knew how to get the most out of what was available to them. Gerd Oswald, though not possessed of quite the same degree of experience, had the same capability.
Looking back at the series now, it is amazing how many well-known lead and character actors lent their talents to the series — both well-known at the time, as well as others who were little-known but have since gone on to fine careers. Virtually every episode featured one such person, from Cliff Robertson to Donald Pleasance, Robert Duvall, Martin Sheen, Martin Landau, Vera Miles, David McCallum, George Macready, Stephen McNally, Signe Hasso, Ralph Meeker, Ruth Roman, Miriam Hopkins, and so on.
As suggested above, the themes of the series’ various episodes tended to favour hard science fiction with concepts such as spacecraft, time travel, and futuristic machines being common. With these as background, the interaction between human being and alien was a favourite thrust, as often sympathetic to the alien as not. Everyone familiar with the series has their own favourites among the first season’s episodes. Indicated above are mine (asterisked in the “Facts of the Case” section). There are actually 17 that I’ve noted, which may seem like a lot, but then I really liked the series when it first came out and I still do. You certainly can’t go wrong with the season opener and closer — respectively “The Galaxy Being” and “Forms of Things Unknown,” while episodes like “The Borderland” and “ZZZZZ” offer something a little different. “The Zanti Misfits,” “The Man Who Was Never Born,” and “Nightmare” are other episodes that most fans seem to agree on as being among their top ones. Certainly with 32 episodes to choose from, there’s something for everyone.
MGM presents the 32 episodes on four double-sided dual-layer discs. The transfers are 1.33:1 full frame as originally broadcast. For a 40-year old television series, these shows look very good. There is the odd bit of debris and speckling, but for the most part, the images are quite clear and nicely detailed with no annoying edge enhancement. Black levels are noticeably deep and rich. I can’t imagine anyone being disappointed with the results here.
The sound is the original mono, which adequately conveys these dialogue-driven shows. Age-related hiss or crackle is virtually non-existent. There is no subtitling available, but English closed captioning is provided.
The only supplement is a nice 12-page insert booklet that provides information on each episode, including a brief plot summary, cast and crew credits, and DVD chaptering (five per episode). Sure, it would have been nice to have more detailed information on the making of the series and on the major personalities behind it, but we have over 27 hours of material here already, so I think we can cut MGM some slack in this case.
What a pleasure it is to have the entire first season of the original television series The Outer Limits now available on DVD. Anybody interested in intelligent science fiction should have no difficulty in finding plenty to entertain them among the 27-plus hours of material that MGM has placed on its four-disc set. I think you will be more than happy with the quality of the transfers also. (Note: I have heard that some purchasers of this set have had difficulty getting some discs to play or had synchronization problems. I can only say that I found no such problems with my review set.) Recommended.