One of my favorite television shows when I was much younger was the Outer Limits. Sure, I was a fan of the famous Twilight Zone but there was something really off beat and engrossing about the stories on the Outer Limits. Unfortunately, that classic black and white series only lasted two seasons. Then some thirty years later I noticed something on the premium cable station Showtime, the logo of a new Outer Limits series. With some trepidation I tuned in, after all a remake was never as great as the original, right? To my pleasant surprise it was every bit of good, in fact, in some ways it was better. MGM/UA has been releasing box sets of the new Outer Limits but instead of the typical season oriented sets they are doing theme oriented releases. In this latest round of sets there are four individual themes explored, Aliens, Robots, Mutation and Death. With each set contains six episodes from the seven seasons that comprised the new series.
What made the original and new series such a great experience in television viewing was the writers never pandered to the lowest common denominator, they made you think. Where the original series was able to explore rather touchy topics veiled in the genre of science fiction, the new series pushed the envelope even more, taking on some of the topics that where as old as the human experience or new, developing out of the rapid advances that are the hallmark of our times. Each episode had the same basic format. The famous control voice sets up the plight of the episode and ends with a little question that makes the audience consider a moral dilemma. Few series have ever been as thought provoking as this one.
Aliens Among Us
Life on other planets has been a favorite topic for science fiction for well over a century. In the tradition of the original Outer Limits the new series used aliens as a mirror to the human condition, letting us see the best and worse that mankind has to offer in the strange faces of extra terrestrial creatures. In the ‘Quality of Mercy’ there is a interstellar war between mankind and a monstrous alien species. Major John Skokes (Robert Patrick) finds himself as a prisoner of war, kept in a barren room. The aliens also place a young woman Cadet Bree Tristan (Nicole de Boer) in the cell. Naturally, a bond forms between the pair, the young girl seemingly desperate for human companionship as the aliens experiment on her turning her into one of them.
In ‘Relativity Theory’ a biologist (Melissa Gilbert) is on a mission to another world accompanied by a group of zealous soldiers. The come across huge aliens and proceed to kill them off. This is a recurring theme in several Outer Limits episodes, the dark side of exploration, the human need to rid themselves of anything strange or different, the imposition of the conquering culture upon the native. The prospect of unimagined wealth supersedes ay possible respect for the existing culture found on this new world.
Fantastic Androids & Robots
Another way to explore the nuances of human nature has traditionally been looking at robots and their more humanized counterparts, the androids. Here, man is the creator; the god like being that makes a sentient creature in his own image. One thing that the new Outer Limits did was to take an episode from the sixties series and re-imagine it in the context of the nineties. They managed to keep the pathos of the original while presenting a fresh look at a perennial problem. One such episode was the famous ‘I, Robot’. Here, a robot, Adam is accused of killing his creator, Doctor Link. Although the authorities want to immediately dismantle Adam, Link’s daughter Mina (Cynthia Preston) is appalled at the thought of her father’s work being destroyed. She hires a retired lawyer Thurman Cutler (Leonard Nimoy) to stop the procedure. He comes up with a novel approach, forcing the prosecutor to charge Adam with murder and put him on trial. Not only does this episode examine the rights of self aware machines but is an indictment of the justice system.
The episode ‘The Hunt’ is set in a world where environmentalist and animal rights groups have banned the hunting of animals. To satisfy those that demand the thrill of the hunt a black market emerges, hunt human looking obsolete robots. Unfortunately, the robots being sentient have found a way to disable the program that prevents them from fighting back. Now, the prey is able to stalk the hunters for their own survival.
Death & Beyond
Humanity has always had a fascination with death and what lies beyond this life. Religions and legal systems have taken on this topic but never in the innovative fashion of the Outer Limits. By presenting this topic as science fiction some of the forbidden aspects have been allayed but the impact is still there. The episode ‘Essence of Life’ takes place in a world where a plague has killed a significant part of the population. The government has created the Code, banning outward displays of emotions, especially morning. Dan Kagan (Daniel Baldwin) works as an enforcement agent, tracking down social terrorist such as Dr. Nathan Seward (Joel Grey) who provides the illegal ESS, the essence of life, a substance that allows the user to experience a brief reunion with their departed loved ones. Here not only does the story look at grief but examines government control and the problem of addiction. It is not unusual for an episode of this series to intertwine themes to demonstrate the interaction of human nature.
Mutation & Transformation
From the fifties there has been a concern with living creatures mutating because of radiation. The nuclear bomb has been blamed in those classic flicks from everything from giant ants to horribly deformed and crazed men. What was never imagined back then is that the genetic code that makes up everything living thing would be decrypted and understood just enough to be really dangerous. Man is now able to alter DNA to fight disease but with this comes the potential to change man at will into unimagined forms. The Inheritors is another case of an episode from the original series brought to a new audience. A meteor strikes the city, fragments killing three random people. Not only do they not stay dead but upon their unexpected resurrection, the victim now geniuses in very specific fields. One is becomes as master of Wall Street, able to turn a few dollars into millions in a matter of weeks. Another is a master of material science, developing alloys that are stronger than steel with a mere fraction of the weight. Even stranger is they are collecting terminally ill patients causing much concern with the Federal government.
As mentioned previously most of us true fans would have preferred season sets. After all if ‘Punky Brewster’ has season sets shouldn’t the new Outer Limits? Still, the quality of this series is such that I’m just happy to have any episodes on DVD permitting me to retire the long cherished video tapes. The video is full screen but is generally well done with no artifacts or flaws. The audio is presented in Dolby Surround and provides a nice full sound field. If you are a fan of this series this is a must have. For the rest of you this is a perfect way to get to know some of the best television ever.