“The Outer Limits” was broadcast on ABC from September 16, 1963, to January 16, 1965, at 7:30 PM Eastern Time on Mondays. It is often compared to The Twilight Zone, but with a greater emphasis on science fiction stories. It is an anthology of self-contained episodes, sometimes with plot twists at their ends.
This was the scariest thing I ever consistently watched as a kid (in syndication). Star Trek’s opening was the first I ever memorized. The Twilight Zone was the second. But for sheer pulse-pounding weirdness, nothing could top the cold open of The Outer Limits.
I searched for the entire clip having heard pieces of it for decades. When I heard the whole thing, I memorized it and it is with me until this very day.
Filled with innuendo and pregnant pauses, it lets you know the experience you are about to have is going to be more bizarre than anything you have ever watched on television. Yes, the Twilight Zone existed and its horror was often cerebral, designed to make you think and posit Human nature. The Outer Limits threw off Human nature and dared you to imagine the unimaginable, to plumb the darkness between the stars and ourselves.
“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.”
And the show delivered. Frankly, I think it was too much for television of the era for which it was born in. People were easily frightened or unwilling to expand their mind to fully embrace the depth of the scripts, to truly embody the horrors presented.
The series was revived in 1995 until 2002 with the episode “The Zanti Misfits” was ranked #98 on TV Guide’s 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time in 1997. The first series ran for 49 episodes and if you feel like a trip into the Wayback Machine, you can find the entire run of the first series on Apple TV+.
It was revived in 1995, until its cancellation in 2002 with 152 episodes. The first two episodes of the new series was based on George R.R. Martin’s work called the Sandkings. Chilling. Many other famous writers cut their teeth on this series including Harlan Ellison, A.E. van Vogt, Sam Egan, Steven Barnes and Scott Peters. The series was broadcast on Showtime from 1995 to 2000, and on the Sci Fi channel in its final year (2001–2002).
It won one Emmy award, one Emmy nomination and 49 other awards for its writing, direction, makeup and cinematography. The second series ran for seven seasons This show, both eras were wonderfully bizarre affairs, without the conceit of having a regular cast of characters to rely on, or a magical blue box spanning time and space. The Outer Limits relied on having great stories and delivering them well, often with twists and turns leaving you waiting for the other shoe to drop.
My favorite episode was the Zanti Misfits, which ultimately won an award from TV Guide ranking it #98 on their list of 100 Greatest Episodes of All Time.
In the Zanti Misfits, an alien species deposits is criminals on Earth. Humanity is told their world shall become a penal colony for these desperate criminals and they don’t get a choice in the matter. The Zanti criminals are monstrous but the Zanti, as a people, lack the will or conviction to punish their criminals on their world.
The Outer Limits did away with the convention of just “adding ridges” to Human faces and presented their aliens with more than a bit of makeup adding to their often grotesque appearance. When a Human criminal screws up the arrangement of privacy with the Zanti, the prisoners try to escape. They are all subsequently killed. Humanity waits for reprisal from the technologically enhanced Zanti, but none arrives.
The Zanti will later thank humanity by saying they were unable to execute their prisoners and so sent them to a world where the primitive nature of the dominant species had no qualms about killing anyone, referring to humanity as “practiced executioners.”
What a damning indictment. Worse, they were right. We were capable and willing to kill anyone for the right profit. Access to alien technology was certainly an incentive.
It was the first time I ever thought about corporal punishment, execution of criminals and the value of the prison system entirely, and has left me questioning the efficacy of that system to this very day.
I loved this show. If they made a new one, I would fight to write for it. Happy sixtieth birthday, Outer Limits. You have aged gracefully and remain darkly relevant. The Outer Limits doesn’t get the crazed fandom love of Star Trek, Star Wars or Doctor Who. There are no singular individuals for which the viewer is left to identify with. But I suspect this is also it’s hidden genius.
Its stories posit any moment in space and time can be pivotal and you may be called upon to make a decision which changes the potential fate of all humanity. The show prepared you for the day when you may have to make a decision which takes you and all of humanity from the deepest part of our collective inner mind to…
The Outer Limits. Please stand by…
Thaddeus Howze is an award-winning writer, editor, podcaster and activist creating speculative fiction, scientific, political and cultural commentary from his office in Hayward, California.
Thaddeus’ speculative fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies and literary journals. He has published two books, ‘Hayward’s Reach’ (2011), a collection of short stories and ‘Broken Glass’ (2013) an urban fantasy novella starring his favorite paranormal investigator, Clifford Engram.