Monday, November 20, 2006


A soldier from 1800 years in Earth’s future is caught between two explosive rays and somehow catapulted back to our time. (Or, more accurately, the early 1960s). Grown in mass incubators and raised only to know war he is completely unable to understand this new world. Captured by police and placed in a padded cell his only contact is a linguist brought in to try to decipher his language. Eventually discovering the soldier speaks a version of English he is able to communicate but can’t seem to change his simple view of the world. For our time traveler there are only Us and Them and the enemy must be killed. Still, the linguist is able to make some progress while keeping the military folks at bay until another future soldier caught in the same accident arrives in our time and tracks his ‘enemy’ down.

The first of two episodes written by enfant terrible Harlan Ellison it’s also one of the best the show ever produced. Well written, well paced, well directed and wonderfully acted by a fine cast this is The Outer Limits at the top of its game. When the only complaint I can muster up is that the Soldier should have been afforded at least one change of clothes in the weeks he was confined you know things are good.

I can’t pretend to have a vast knowledge of TV directors of any era but I do know Gerd Oswald’s name. I noticed in my youth as I watched (over and over) the original Star Trek episodes that he was responsible for some for the better ones. When I saw his credit at the beginning of this show I was confident I was in good hands. Smooth and clean seems to be Mr. Oswald’s trademarks as a director. I noticed there are many scenes in which he would use a single set-up for a two or three character scene where the norm would be multiple shots. One of the best here is a three shot that has the linguist in the foreground with his back to the camera. He’s facing his wife and daughter who are framed to his right. Once the daughter’s part of the scene is over the camera pushes in to a two shot at just the right moment to emphasize the emotional exchange between the couple. It’s brilliant direction and completely seamless. Also Oswald seems to love putting the camera near the floor and shooting up at the actors. This appears to have necessitated the addition of higher than normal walls and partial ceilings for some of the sets- very different for television at the time but adding a great sense of confinement for the confused soldier. Even smaller details like the linguist’s son adapting the Soldier’s slang are well done where in less capable hands they might have felt forced. This is great science fiction TV and exactly what I look for from this series.

While it is a little creaky at the climax this is a near perfect episode that holds up to repeat viewings. It shows its age but, as with any good story, it can still delight an attentive audience.

1 comment:

Rhatfink said...

Damn, that's one cunning linguist! Great episode, too.