The Outer Limits

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"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..."

A Science Fiction anthology show, created by Leslie Stevens, although producer Joseph Stefano did more to set the series' avant garde tone. Its original version, which aired on ABC between September 1963 and January 1965, was often a worthy competitor to The Twilight Zone.

The Outer Limits was often somewhat dark in tone, and it was also unusually arty and thought-provoking for an early 60s TV series, complete with poetic dialogue, unusual camera angles, a lush orchestral soundtrack, and Chiaroscuro cinematography (often provided by future Oscar winner Conrad Hall). The show featured some truly brilliant writing by the likes of Stefano, Robert Towne, Anthony Lawrence and Meyer Dolinsky. And then there was the show's main selling point—the Monsters Of The Week and other special effects, which were all the more impressive for being created on a weekly TV schedule and budget.

Although ABC commissioned The Outer Limits to cash in on the late 50s/early 60s monster boom, the network never really understood it, which helps explain why it was Too Good to Last. When ABC announced that during the series' second season in 1964, it would be moved to a suicidal Saturday night time slot against The Jackie Gleason Show, Stevens, Stefano and much of their production team left in protest. The network replaced them with a new team headed by Perry Mason vet Ben Brady, who tried to save the series by making it (somewhat) less artsy and more commercial. ABC didn't help matters by reducing the series' already low production budget. Despite this, the second season produced several memorable episodes (most notably Harlan Ellison's two scripts, "Soldier" and "Demon With A Glass Hand", and the two-part "The Inheritors"), but it did no good. After a few months of predictably bad ratings, ABC canceled The Outer Limits after only 49 episodes.

However, that wasn't quite the end. Despite its status as a short-lived, black and white anthology series, The Outer Limits remained popular enough to stay in constant syndication for nearly four decades. This resulted in a made-for-cable revival series helmed by producer Pen Densham, which far outlasted the original, beginning its seven-season run in 1995. A few of the new series' episodes were remakes of episodes from the original series.


Tropes used in The Outer Limits include:
  • Adam Link: The story was adapted by both versions of the show. Leonard Nimoy appeared in both, as different characters.
  • Alliteration: Joseph Stefano loved this trope. His scripts are full of phrases such as "this virile, violent inevitability" ("The Invisibles") and "mad mechanical magics" ("Fun and Games").
  • An Aesop
  • After the End ("The Man Who Was Never Born")
  • Alien Invasion: Several episodes of both series.
  • Aliens Speaking English: A frequent trope in both series, understandably enough. Given a variety of handwaves, some of which are more plausible than others.
  • The American Civil War: The setting of most of the Revival episode "Gettysburg", complete with one of the characters plotting to assassinate Abraham Lincoln.
  • And Call Him George ("Behold, Eck!")
  • And I Must Scream: The fate of the Limbo Being in "The Premonition", who gets trapped in a Void Between the Worlds.
    • Also happens with the murderous priest in the Revival episode "Fear Itself", driven mad in the end, a throwback to the punishment given to the SS commander in the Twilight Zone episode "Death's Head Revisited" by the ghosts of his victims. Laser-Guided Karma, anyone?
  • Another Dimension: Two TOS episodes ("Production and Decay of Strange Particles" and "Behold, Eck!") feature beings from other dimensions accidentally finding their way into our world.
  • Arc Welding: The season finales of the Revival are Clip Shows that tie together the plots of various previously unconnected stories, one involving a Super Soldier project & another with a pair of immortal Energy Beings who have been setting up the events of several stories, all for no other purpose than their own amusement.
  • Back to Front ("Zig Zag")
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Frequently invoked in the 90s revival.
  • Battle Boomerang: Used by one of the Calco Galaxy aliens in "Fun and Games".
  • Big Brother Is Watching ("O.B.I.T.")
  • Big No: Delivered by Mark Hamill himself at the end of "Mind Over Matter".
    • Robert Patrick delivers one at the end of "Quality of Mercy".
    • The two evil aliens deliver this as they are defeated at the end of "Better Luck Next Time".
  • Bittersweet Ending: The most common type of ending in the Revival, behind outright Downer Endings. The original series did it fairly often as well.
  • Body Swap: The TOS episode "The Human Factor" features an accidental one caused by a Phlebotinum Breakdown.
  • Born on Pay Television: The revival's introduction, similar to the original's, has a "please stand by" notice added to it in syndication since the Showtime airings did not have commercials.
  • Bottle Episode ("Controlled Experiment", "The Probe")
  • Brain In a Jar ("The Brain of Colonel Barham")
  • By the Eyes of the Blind ("Behold, Eck!", "Music of the Spheres")
  • Catch Phrase: Quoted above.
  • Clifford Simak: His short story "Goodnight, Mr. James" was adapted for the original series as "The Duplicate Man".
  • Cloning Blues: "The Duplicate Man" in TOS. The Revival has "Think Like A Dinosaur" and, unusually, subverts the trope with "Replica", which also has one of the few happy endings in the series.
  • Color Me Black: "Tribunal" featured an ending where a Nazi war criminal whose escaped justice for 50 years put into the uniform of his prisoners and taken back in time to his own camp. His younger self shoots him for being Jewish.
  • Compelling Voice ("The Special One", "The Inheritors")
  • Crapsack World: In the remake series, at least. Many episodes are interconnected through the mysterious Innobotics Corporation and their Ridiculously-Human Robots, not to mention that every season produces a couple of sequel episodes for earlier stories for double the Cruel Twist Ending!
  • Cruel Twist Ending: The Revival series did this so often, the trope used to be named Outer Limits Twist.
  • Deprogramming: "The Deprogrammers".
  • Does Not Wear Shoes: The perpetually barefoot Mrs. Dame in "The Bellero Shield".
  • Downer Ending: Both series, although the revival did it more often; the original series was more likely to do Bittersweet Endings.
  • Dramatis Personae: "Counterweight" does this at the end of the episode.
  • Dramatic Thunder: Used ironically in "Specimen: Unknown".
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: A few episodes, even in the revival.
  • Easily-Thwarted Alien Invasion
  • Energy Beings ("It Crawled Out of the Woodwork", "Counterweight")
  • Episode Title Card: Very distinctive on the original series; the episode title, and the names of the episode's stars, come right at the viewer, accompanied by the sine wave and (after the first few episodes) the piercing electronic whine from the opening credits.
  • Everything's Worse with Bees ("ZZZZZ")
  • Evil Teacher: Mr. Zeno in "The Special One".
  • Executive Meddling
  • Fable Remake: "The Man Who Was Never Born" is based on Beauty and The Beast, and "The Bellero Shield" is based on Macbeth (which also makes it an example of The Bard on Board). Concidentally, both episodes star Martin Landau.
  • Fake Defector: Kenny Benjamin in "The Special One". He was only pretending to cooperate with Mr. Zeno, and he saves the day by turning the alien's own weapon against him.
  • Fantastic Anthropologist
  • First Contact: One of the series' central tropes.
  • Fish Out of Temporal Water: The main characters of the Time Travel episodes listed below.
  • Free Sample Plot Coupon: In the TOS episode Demon with a Glass Hand", the character Trent must find the three missing fingers of his artificial left hand to save humanity from the Kyben invasion. Fortunately Trent's incomplete left hand is a talking computer that can help him find the three fingers.
  • Frogs and Toads: They're possessed by a disembodied alien in "Cry of Silence".
  • Genre Anthology
  • Gladiator Games: The plot of "Fun and Games"; the Anderans kidnap beings from various planets to fight for survival, with the loser's homeworld beign destroyed.
  • A God Am I: "The Sixth Finger", pictured above.
  • Government Drug Enforcement (several episodes)
  • The Grotesque: Andro in "The Man Who Was Never Born", the fake alien in "The Architects of Fear", the Chromoite alien in "The Mice", etc.
  • Half-Human Hybrid ("ZZZZZ", "The Children of Spider County")
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Several episodes of both series.
  • Hoist By Her Own Petard: The fate of scheming, murderous Judith Bellero in "The Bellero Shield".
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: The fate of scheming, murderous Mr. Zeno in "The Special One".
  • Humans Are the Real Monsters: Both versions of the series explored humanity at its worst, though they were also kind enough to show humanity at its best, usually at the same time.
  • Humans Are Cthulhu
  • Humanity's Wake
  • Human Mom, Nonhuman Dad: The titular characters in "The Children of Spider County".
  • Hunting the Most Dangerous Game ("The Hunt")
  • Idiot Ball: Over the duration of "Sandkings", the main character (Simon) grabs onto the ball so tightly that he practically becomes a walking-talking Idiot Ball himself. To elaborate: he brings home Martian insects proven to be intelligent enough to escape military security procedures. He continually expands their enclosure, maxing out his family's credit line in the process. He leaves the enclosure open-air, allowing the family dog to be kicked. After punishing the creatures for doing so, he leaves his upper body dangling inside the enclosure, getting himself bit. Then he invites his ex-boss over to feed the creatures, and his death spasms break open the enclosure.
  • I'm Mr. Future Pop Culture Reference: In the episode "Time to Time", a time traveler uses "Luke Skywalker" as an alias when in the year 1969. He even finished a phone call with "May the Force be with you."
  • In Your Nature to Destroy Yourselves: Referenced in the TOS episode "Counterweight" and the revival episode "Heart's Desire".
  • Jacob Marley Warning: The Limbo Being gives one of these to the main characters of "The Premonition"—mostly because they threaten to set him on fire forever if he doesn't tell them how to escape from their Time Stands Still situation, as he was unable to do.
  • Jekyll and Hyde ("Expanding Human")
  • Jerkass: The bad-tempered, self-pitying titular character in "The Brain of Colonel Barham". Yes, he's terminally ill, but the episode makes it clear that he was a jerk even when he was healthy.
  • Just a Machine
  • Kill and Replace: A U.S. Presidential candidate by an Asian government's agent, in the 1960's episode "The Hundred Days of the Dragon".
  • Lotus Eater Machine ("Tempests")
  • Mandatory Twist Ending: What are these "happy endings" of which you speak?
    • To be fair, both versions of the show do have the occasional episode with a Happy Ending.
  • Mind Control: The titular "Brain of Colonel Barham" somehow gains this power.
    • Also, in "The Special One" Mr. Zeno can control the bodies of his victims, while their minds remain free. A nice power to have when you're an alien invader who sadistically delights in forcing the humans who discover your plot to commit suicide against their will...
  • A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Read ("What Will The Neighbors Think?")
  • Monster of the Week: One of the original series' central tropes; somewhat less common in the Revival.
  • Multinational Team: The human soldiers in both versions of "Nightmare".
  • Murder by Cremation: One episode involves a scientist working in a sealed lab with a gas meant to be used to pacify riots. As a side effect, the latest batch ends up turning the lab monkey immortal. When the scientist's assistant attempts to steal the monkey's biological culture, the scientist's Corrupt Corporate Executive brother traps him in the lab. The angry assistant slams the door with his fist, which results in a bloody fist. The culture in his blood triggers the decontamination system, which "flashes" the lab, killing the guy. The brother later tries the same with the scientist and his girlfriend, who have discovered that the culture makes you temporarily invincible, only to kill you in a few days.
  • Murder the Hypotenuse: In "ZZZZZ", humanoid queen bee Regina sics her hive on the wife of the entomologist she's fallen in love with.
  • Name's the Same: The Revival episode "The Human Factor" is not a remake of the TOS episode with the same title.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Occurs in more than a few episodes, but "Sandkings" is the story of one man breaking things over and over. See Idiot Ball.
  • No Immortal Inertia ("The Guests")
  • No Party Given: The Presidential candidates in "The Hundred Days of the Dragon".
  • Not So Harmless: The Body Surfing aliens from the Jack the Ripper story, originally portrayed as mindless parasites, turn out to be responsible for orchestrating the events of every single episode of the revived series.
  • Obsolete Mentor
  • Opening Narration: Partially quoted above.
  • Orifice Invasion ("From Within")
  • Outlaw Couple: Ben Garth and Lisa Lawrence in "The Zanti Misfits", although Ben fits the trope much better than Lisa does.
  • Poor Communication Kills: In his Outer Limits Companion, David J. Schow identifies this as a plot flaw in two TOS episodes, "The Mice" and "Second Chance". He notes that both episodes feature "a lone alien on a mission that is terminated because the aliens do not bother to ask for what they want."
  • Poorly-Disguised Pilot: There were two versions of "The Forms of Things Unknown"; one was intended as a pilot for The Unknown, a straight suspense anthology that wasn't picked up.
  • Psychic Surgery
  • Puppeteer Parasite ("Corpus Earthing", "The Invisibles")
  • Really Was Born Yesterday: In "Demon with a Glass Hand", Trent initially thinks he's "A full grown man, born ten days ago." He's wrong on both counts.
  • Reluctant Monster: The titular character in "Behold, Eck!" Also the episode's Working Title.
  • Robot Girl: One episode of the Revival involved a Robot Girl as one of the main characters, and it ended on an absolute Tear Jerker.
  • Robotic Reveal: The ending of "Demon with a Glass Hand".
  • Robotic Spouse: The premise of the Revival episode "Valerie 23" and the mandatory Cruel Twist Ending of its sequel, "Mary 25"
  • Sand Is Water: "The Invisible Enemy" had a sand ocean complete with tides and several giant monsters swimming in it.
  • Science Is Bad is a recurrent theme and the basis for the plots of many (though not all) of its episodes.
    • Notably averted in the episode "Behold, Eck" where not only is the scientist character the hero, but his invention ultimately saves the day (and the alien, who just wanted to go home.)
  • Sealed Evil in a Teddy Bear: One of the episodes in the Revival seires had a literal example of this trope as part of the Cold Opening.
  • Screaming Woman: Quite a few examples, especially in the original series.
  • Screwed by the Network
  • Secret Test: In "Nightmare" a group of soldiers invading the planet Ebon are captured and tortured for information by the Ebonites. They eventually learn that the situation is a set-up by their own superiors to test their ability to resist interrogation, with the cooperation of the Ebonites (who eventually protest the unethical nature of the test).
  • Send in the Search Team ("The Invisible Enemy")
  • Show Accuracy Trading Card Accuracy: The original TOS Outer Limits cards (one of which is the page pic), released while the series was still in production, are notorious because the writer, who apparently had never watched the show, concocted new stories (and laughable ones, at that) around colorized photos of the Aliens and Monsters. Later series of cards didn't have this problem; one series recycled the original pics with new text including both the TV and trading card plots.
  • Spoiler Title: "The Probe", considering that the story is about a group of plane crash survivors who wind up on an alien space probe—without either the characters or the audience initially realizing it—and spend about half the episode trying to figure out where they are.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Andro and Noelle in "The Man Who Was Never Born".
    • Eric and Larissa in "Stasis".
  • Stock Footage: Used from time to time in the original series. Some spaceship shots come from earlier science fiction films and series. "The Premonition" starts with footage of an actual X-15 flight; it also includes scenes of a coyote chasing a rabbit through the desert, which were taken from Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom.
  • Stop Motion: Used to animate the aliens in "The Zanti Misfits" and "Counterweight".
  • Teleporters and Transporters ("The Galaxy Being", "The Mice", "Fun and Games", "The Special One", "Think Like A Dinosaur")
  • Television Portal ("The Galaxy Being")
  • Theremin: Harry Lubin's scores for the second season of the original series use the instrument extensively.
  • Time Is Dangerous: In one Revival episode, the result of Ripple-Effect-Proof Memory is that an entirely new lifetime's worth of memories gets added onto the existing one, which could result in brain damage.
  • Time Stands Still ("Controlled Experiment", "The Premonition")
  • Time Travel ("The Man Who Was Never Born", "Soldier", "Demon with a Glass Hand", several episodes of the Revival)
  • Tomato Surprise ("Tempests")
  • Treacherous Spirit Chase: The main plot of "If These Walls Could Talk" concerns a house "infected" by an alien substance. Not only does the house absorb people into its structure, it's able to regurgitate Doppelgangers of those people to lure in their friends and loved ones when they come searching for answers.
  • Twenty Minutes Into the Future: The setting of "The Duplicate Man" and some episodes of the Revival.
  • Two Rights Make a Wrong: Several episodes have this as the twist.
  • Vichy Earth: "The Deprogrammers"
  • Video Phone: The episode "The Duplicate Man" had video phones with rotary dials.
  • Warrior Poet: Major Jong in the TOS version of "Nightmare".
  • What You Are in the Dark: Quite a few moments. The closing narration for "The Voyage Home" even outright states "The true measure of a hero is when a man lays down his life with the knowledge that those he saves... will never know."
  • The Wild West: The setting of the revival episode "Heart's Desire".
  • X-Ray Sparks ("The Borderland")
  • Year Inside, Hour Outside: A plot element in "Don't Open Till Doomsday" and "The Guests" from TOS and "The Sentence" from the Revival.
  • Yellow Peril: The Red Chinese are the villains in the TOS episode "The Hundred Days of the Dragon".
  • You Look Familiar: The Revival had several episodes featuring the time-traveler Nicholas Prentice, played by Alex Diakun. Alex Diakun also played unrelated characters in unrelated stories, most confusingly the store owner in "Alien Shop", which aired after two Nicholas Prentice episodes had established character continuity.
    • Crystal Cass appeared in "Paradise", "Bits of Love", and "Rite of Passage". Emmanuelle Vaugier appeared in "Rite of Passage" and "The Other Side". Kristen Lehman appeared in "Falling Star", "Dead Man's Switch", "Stasis", and "Time To Time". Michael Ironside appeared in "Summit" and "Rule of Law". Each time, these are different characters in unrelated stories.
      • The original series did this as well.