Wednesday, November 15, 2006

THE OUTER LIMITS- The Brain of Colonel Barham

The second season episode ‘The Brain of Colonel Barham’ is not one of the best the series has to offer. It’s not completely terrible but it’s not very good either, squandering a potentially great idea.

In the near future the military is planning for their first mission to Mars. The leaders of the project have decided that the first craft to venture there will be robotic. But to handle all the unforeseeable possible problems the robot needs to be controlled by a human mind. Top notch astronaut Colonel Alec Barham is slowly dying of a disease that ravages his body but leaves his brain untouched. It’s proposed to him to implant his mind in a machine and send him to the red planet. The egocentric Barham at first refuses but the idea of living forever finally sways him. Disregarding his wife’s feelings (much as he has for years) he agrees to the experiment over the objections of the project’s psychological expert Dr.McKinnon. The doctor fears that a man already so self-centered is a poor choice to use in such an experiment. As he predicted Barham begins to grow more arrogant and becomes able to control others. Somehow able to increase his brain mass he continues to gain power he becoming more dangerous until finally a confrontation takes place as our now mad brain attempts to kill his wife and Dr. McKinnon.

There are some interesting ideas floating around in this episode but none of them really come together well. The dis-embodied brain becoming all powerful is an old sci-fi staple but nothing great is done with it. I think that if we had simply gotten a speech or two from Barham that showed his gradual shift from man to madman we might have had a chilling show. It would have been nice to have some insight into his goals and his thinking as he made his attempt to control those around him. As it stands we have a half-baked story about a spurned husband lashing out at his wife over very little. And the relationship between the doctor and Mrs. Barham is poorly scripted as well with neither actor seeming to know what to do in their scenes together.

There are moments of clear and strong storytelling but they are few. The show starts well, introducing the scenario and remains good through the scene when the idea is proposed to Barham. The dialog here is good and the performances fine with the scene ending brilliantly as the presiding General verbally smacks Barham down. This opening segment shows us all we need to know about our main character perfectly even getting across the fact of his numerous marital infidelities with ease.

The second stand out moment is near the end when the General decides to talk to the now mad Barham to determine if he really is dangerous. The no nonsense ‘This crap is over’ attitude he presents is just what the flagging story needs right then. Of course, from there it limps home in a pretty obvious way but for a minute it seems like better things are coming.

This one is in the bottom third of Outer Limits shows and is probably best skipped unless you’re a completist- like me.

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