Worst to Best
The Outer Limits
Season One

Prev 4

9 The Man With
The Power

The most Twilight Zone-style episode of the first season (okay, I promised I’d stop), with Donald Pleasance as a little man, much put upon by all around him. Pleasance has his own personal electromagnetic cloud of cosmic radiation, borne about when a manager from a science project agreed to let him have brain surgery to channel it. A lot of Outer Limits episodes have such ridiculous premises, played deadly seriously, and Pleasance carries this one through admirably. Of note is the moment when his subconscious takes out his Dean.... the Dean and his wife are sleeping in separate, single beds. It was a different time back then.

8 Corpus Earthling

The great thing about The Outer Limits is how it takes the most ludicrous situations and set ups and has you believing in them because the characters involved do. In arguably the most noirish episode, we take on board talking parasitic alien rocks, a Jamaican Mexican, an out of control orchestra and Robert Culp being able to deck someone with a left hook that lands a foot away from its intended target. Yet when all concerned do such a good job of making it all play so convincingly - particularly Culp and Salome Jens creating a believable relationship - you can't help but be won over. The only first season story to be based on a literary work (a novel of the same name), some of the sillier stuff put in to please the network does seem slightly unfortunate, but the episode rewards by being resolutely downbeat.

7 Zzzzz

A typical story of the conflict between a scientist and his wife when they get a young female assistant who flirts with the husband. Oh... except she's a bee. This one has a pre-credits teaser that is actually part of the story, with Regina metamorphosing in the back garden of the scientist, apparently right before his eyes. As she changes from a bee into a woman he's still none the wiser, though his overhearing a recording of talking bees revealing her plans doesn't really make him twig, either. What should be utterly ludicrous - and still kind of IS - is made more than palatable by the various psychosexual commentaries on display. Sadly, the last commentary on the sanctity of marriage and the need for God is clearly there at the insistence of the censor.

6 The Sixth Finger

An absolute comic tour-de-force as David McCallum's "Northern" miner meets Devon from Knight Rider as a scientist studying evolution. When McCallum agrees to be his guinea pig, he finds that Devon and his super-intelligent chimpanzee have invented a device that can alter evolution... a red lever with "forward" and "backward" written on it. McCallum gives it everything, accelerating his performance with the changes, though his scenes with the "Northern" accent are funniest, culminating in the inexplicably hilarious "I want to read them all!!" The series' decision to provide pre-credits teasers reaches one of its lowest points here, as the final reveal of the evolutionary changes - a surprise reveal nearly 38 minutes in - is given away in the first ten seconds.

5 O.B.I.T.

A wordy, densely-plotted episode, that ambiguously touches on McCarthyism (is it supporting or condemning a metaphorical "red menace" by any other name?) as well as the surveillance state and even television itself. Sadly it slightly undermines itself by turning into another "bear" episode right at the end… even more inexplicable is that this "bear" is revealed in the pre-credits teaser. What is one of the most intelligent entries in the programme clashes with no intelligence at all…

4 The Zanti Misfits

"I tore all the seams apart... to see what held them together. And... and then I couldn't get them back together again."

Sure, the reveal of the aliens may be a little chucklesome to some and the twist ending is kind of trite, but this is a story that drips in subtext. In this showcase of The Outer Limits I’ve talked about how some of the weaker episodes reveal their set-ups in the first 5-10 minutes then go nowhere. But The Zanti Misfits introduces intrigue, a subplot, subtext and plot progession. We’ve got peaceful generals, demanding underlings, political commentaries and psychologically scarred bystanders. In 1997 TV Guide had this as 98 in their list of the top 100 TV episodes of all time. Now, it might not be that good, but it’s close.

3 The Invisibles

The best episodes of The Outer Limits could work as self-contained pilots for series of their own. The covert adventures of agent Luis Spain could be one such series. Sure, with its reworking of the Invasion of the Bodysnatchers trope, it doesn’t come from anything particularly original. But where this one really finds favour with an adult audience is with Joe Stefano’s clear, and questionable, homosexual subtext: the aliens spread by men taking off their shirts and lying "face down", while all their human masters are effete, and a potential ally of Spain’s is involved simply because he "likes" him. To say more is to spoil the plot, but, as with the best television, there are layers behind what, at first glance, may appear to be a standard narrative. And while the direction on The Outer Limits may vary, the climax to this one - set amongst deserted warehouses and electricity pylons - is terrific.

2 Don't Open
Till Doomsday

Absolutely wild and insane, this episode sees 25-year-old Buck Taylor and 22-year-old Melinda Plowman as underage newlyweds looking to consummate their marriage. Unfortunately for them, they didn't figure on Miriam Hopkins as a Bette Davis style boarding house nutjob, who has a plan... a Freud-troubling one-eyed alien in a box that terrorises new brides.
     The ending may be a little pat, and we have familiar issues with the concept of showing an "in story" clip before the main title, but the moment when the bride starts to get sucked into the box and makes the noise of a developing orgasm ( in 1964!!) may make it the greatest Outer Limits episode of all.

1 The Forms of
Things Unknown

It feels somewhat odd to suggest that this is the best episode of the first season of The Outer Limits, given that it wasn't even made as an Outer Limits episode at all. Given twice the production time, this was made as a pilot for a series simply called "The Unknown". Strangely for a series with such a title, many of the supernatural/SF elements of the story were rationally explained - such as murdered/resurrected playboy Andre Pavan not being killed after all - and when the series wasn't taken up, more "out there" elements were provided to make it an Outer Limits episode.
     Joe Stefano will go down in history not as the man behind so much of this series, but as the man who adapted Robert Bloch's novel for the film screenplay of Psycho. This one has enough steals of the music cues and full on horror moments to evoke that movie. Fans of Zone favourite Sapphire & Steel may also get off on seeing David McCallum earnestly explaining how the past can crash into the future, and resurrecting a corpse in a room full of clocks. The Forms of Things Unknown has many of the same personnel as a typical Outer Limits (including director Gerd Oswald and director of photography Conrad Hall) but, intended as a new series all of its own, has an even more off-kilter, avant garde flavour. Criticisms can be that it's inexplicable and pretentious, but what wonderful, inexplicable pretension.