The Outer Limits
Season 1 Box Set

Starring: Robert Culp, David McCallum, Martin Landau et al
RRP: 39.99
Certificate: PG
Available 11 July 2005

There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. For the next hour, sit quietly and we will control all you see and hear. 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...

I know more than a little about the original version of The Outer Limits. Believe it or not, I'm too young to remember its first airing in 1964, but it was sporadic at best. In 1980 BBC2 showed every episode. They were out of sequence, and moved from a regular early evening slot to a late night one for no explicable reason. But I didn't care. I couldn't get enough of them. I've loved this quality anthology series ever since, and it has for years sat in my all-time top five TV programmes.

Okay, so I appreciate the show. But why is it so good? Well, first and foremost the scripts are so strong; even those considered to be weaker knock spots off other shows of this format. Although The Outer Limits was devised by producer Leslie Stevens (he also wrote the pilot The Galaxy Being), the show's major success was undoubtedly down to Joseph Stephano, one of the best scriptwriters of his time. Not only did he write many of the best episodes, but also received co-credits for many others for his tightening of those scripts, making them compatible with the show.

The "Bear", which was what insiders called the monster of the week, was almost universally well-handled. Simple optical effects and good camerawork combined to make the creatures more threatening or otherworldly. One of the reasons why this series works so well is that everything is played straight. There is no underlying tongue-in-cheek "No, we're not convinced by the monster either!" attitude.

This first season DVD set incorporates 32 45-minute self-contained stories over eight discs (four titles on each disc). This differs slightly from the region 1 version which has been around for at least a couple of years now. That had four unlabeled two-sided discs, with only a microscopic A or B to distinguish each side. Don't expect any extras here (Isn't more than 27 hours of viewing enough, for goodness sake?!), and there is only the original mono sound. I surmise that to cleanup the picture would have significantly increased the cost of the set, but rest assured that only a couple contain minor scratches. On the whole, the picture is pretty much pristine.

If I were to list every good story it would take over this entire review, so here's just a few classic episodes. In The Zanti Misfits, a Zanti official contacts Earth saying that a penal ship will land and that they should not approach it. The area is cordoned-off, but a criminal and a runaway wife break through and end up stumbling across the craft. A Zanti creature emerges to warn them off and in the confusion the Zanti criminals make a bid for freedom. This is a well-written tale by Stephano, but the appearance of the Zanti turn it into a classic. The ant like creatures with humanoid features are creepy but make you smile at just how well they are realised.

In The Invisibles an undercover government investigator infiltrates a secret society where humans are hosts to parasitic creatures which are taking over positions of power. Again this is credited to Stephano, but shame on the producers for not crediting Robert Heinlein, because this is undoubtedly based on his novel The Puppet Masters.

In The Sixth Finger, a man volunteers to undergo a scientist's experiments in advancing man's evolution hundreds of years. He becomes much more intelligent, but to others his metamorphosis makes him so unhuman that he appears to them as a monster. Guest stars in this season include: Robert Culp (the ultimate jobbing actor), David McCallum, Martin Landau and a multitude of other faces many of whom you will recognise (Neil Hamilton, Commissioner Gordon in the camp sixties Batman series, is one of them).

In short, this is pretty near brilliant stuff. Go out and buy it. "We now return control of your television to you, until next time..."

Ty Power

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