A collage of "bears" (and a handful of humans) from various episodes.
"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 by Dominic Frontiere, 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. 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
in the middle of the season, 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 even remakes
of episodes from the original series.
A recap page
is in progress. Please put any Tropes specific to the 1995 series
onto its own page.
- Adam Link: The story was adapted by both versions of the show, under the title "I, Robot". Leonard Nimoy appeared in both, as different characters.
- Added Alliterative Appeal: 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").
- After the End: In "The Man Who Was Never Born", a present day astronaut goes through a "time convulsion" and winds up in 2148, where an accidental Synthetic Plague has devastated humanity, with only a few mutants left. The plot centers around the characters trying to return to the present and prevent this.
- 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 Zanti Misfits" is the only episode where the aliens don't speak English.
- All There in the Script: The name of Aabel, the alien from "The Children of Spider County". His name is never shown or spoken in the episode.
- And I Must Scream: The fate of the Limbo Being in "The Premonition", who gets trapped in a Void Between the Worlds.
- Another Dimension: "Production and Decay of Strange Particles" and "Behold, Eck!" feature beings from other dimensions accidentally finding their way into our world.
- Battle Boomerang: Used by one of the Calco Galaxy aliens in "Fun and Games".
- Becoming the Mask: "The Chameleon" features a human spy who is turned into an alien to infiltrate a crashed spaceship. He adapts well to his transformation...so well that he abandons his empty life and goes into space to live on the aliens' world.
- Beeping Computers: Commonplace in the original series.
- Big Brother Is Watching: The titular device in "O.B.I.T." is a highly advanced surveillance machine that is used to spy on the scientists at a research station, leading to an atmosphere of pervasive paranoia.
- Big "NO!": One of the aliens in "The Chameleon" does this when the human spy kills the other alien.
- Billing Displacement: When the series was released on VHS, the tape packages sometimes gave top billing to well-known actors who played supporting characters (such as Edward Asner in "It Crawled Out of the Woodwork" and Happy Days' Marion Ross in "The Special One").
- Bittersweet Ending: Though most common in the Revival, besides 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.
- Bottle Episode: "Controlled Experiment" (from the first season) and "The Probe" (the very last episode) were both written to be filmed cheaply when the producers were trying to control the series' budget.
- Brain in a Jar: The plot of "The Brain of Colonel Barham", in which a terminally ill astronaut's brain is preserved so it can control a space probe to Mars.
- Building of Adventure: Most of "Demon with a Glass Hand" was filmed inside The Bradbury Building, a Los Angeles landmark dating from 1893. Harlan Ellison tailored his script around the location, which is called The Dixon Building in the episode.
- By the Eyes of the Blind: The titular creature in "Behold, Eck!" is usually Invisible to Normals, but people wearing glasses whose lenses are made from meteoric quartz can see him.
- Cloning Blues: A major plot point in "The Duplicate Man". Space anthropologist Henderson James has himself "duplicated" so the clone can hunt an alien monster that James let escape. While the clone accumulates the real James' memories, James' wife discovers that she prefers the clone because her husband has become a cynical Jerkass and the innocent clone reminds her of his younger self.
- Conspicuous Gloves: In "Demon with a Glass Hand", Trent (the man with the glass hand) wears a glove over it, only removing it to speak to it or add a finger as he finds them.
- Content Warnings: In 1977, an independent station that was rerunning the series gave it this warning.
- Courtroom Episode:
- In "O.B.I.T.", a murder at a research station leads to an investigation of the titular surveillance device.
- "I, Robot" is about a sentient robot on trial for the murder of its creator.
- Creepy Monotone: The Control Voice.
- Cryptic Background Reference: In Joseph Stefano's scripts, characters sometimes make fleeting references to their pasts that are never explained.
- Dark Is Not Evil: The Ebonites in "Nightmare". Their sinister appearance, including gargoyle-like faces and bat wings, belies that it's the human generals who command them to torture and interrogate their prisoners.
- Darker and Edgier: Than most shows at the time.
- Decoy Protagonist: Joseph Reardon in "The Man Who Was Never Born." He's primarily focused on for the first ten minutes, then after he gets Ret Goned Andro (played by Martin Landau) serves as the true protagonist of the episode.
- Does Not Wear Shoes: The perpetually barefoot Mrs. Dame in "The Bellero Shield". The episode has several lengthy closeups of her bare feet.
- Feet-First Introduction: How we first see her.
- Some of the TOS aliens went barefoot as well ("O.B.I.T.", "The Children of Spider County", "The Chameleon").
- 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".
- Driven to Suicide: At the climax of "The Man with the Power", Harold Finley, who has gained deadly new mental powers that he can't consciously control, declares that "If I have this power, then I don't want to live" and turns it on himself.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: A few episodes.
- Energy Beings: Featured in "It Crawled Out of the Woodwork" and "Counterweight".
- Episode Title Card: Very distinctive; 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 Title Sequence.
- Everything's Worse with Bees: In "ZZZZZ", an entomologist raises a super-intelligent hive who plan to Take Over the World by turning their queen into a Half-Human Hybrid who can mate with humans.
- Evil Teacher: Mr. Zeno in "The Special One" is actually from planet Xenon, and he influences child prodigies to help his homeworld with their Alien Invasion. (He also murders the father of one pupil for asking too many questions.) However...
- Fake Defector: Kenny Benjamin, Zeno's latest pupil, was only pretending to cooperate, and he saves the day by turning the alien's own weapon against him.
- 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 "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".
- Genghis Gambit: The plot of "The Architects of Fear"; a group of scientists turn one of their own into a terrifying fake alien so he can threaten an Alien Invasion and thus unite the nations of Earth.
- Genre Anthology: A well-known example.
- Get a Hold of Yourself, Man!: When test pilot Jim Darcy and his wife Linda are trapped in a Time Stands Still situation during "The Premonition", she freaks out and he calms her down with a slap to the face.
- Gladiator Games: The plot of "Fun and Games"; the Anderans kidnap beings from various planets to fight for survival, with the losers' homeworld being destroyed.
- A God Am I:
- In "The Sixth Finger", Welsh miner Gwyllm Griffiths is turned into a futuristic superhuman. He doesn't react well, planning to destroy his hometown because of its "dirt and stupidity".
- "The Brain of Colonel Barham" is a Brain in a Jar who goes mad with power and gains the ability to enslave the people around it with Hypno Rays.
- Government Agency of Fiction: In "The Invisibles", the protagonist is a spy who works for the GIA (General Intelligence Agency).
- 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: Regina in "ZZZZZ" and the titular characters in "The Children of Spider County".
- Hoist by His Own Petard: The fate of scheming, murderous Villain Protagonists Judith Bellero in "The Bellero Shield" (whose plan to kill a Christ-like alien and steal his technology backfires disastrously) and Mr. Zeno in "The Special One" (see Fake Defector above).
- Humans Are Bastards: 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 Through Alien Eyes: "Controlled Experiment" features two comical humanoid Martians who strive to understand humanity, especially its strange custom of murder.
- Human Mom, Non-Human Dad: The title characters in "The Children of Spider County".
- Insect Queen: "ZZZZZ". A giant mutant queen bee takes human form so she can mate with a human male. She can control her fellow bees and make them attack people, such as the wife of the man she wants to seduce.
- In Your Nature to Destroy Yourselves: Referenced in "Counterweight".
Keith Ellis: We're a simple people. Given a chance, we'll destroy ourselves. Why do it for us?
Antheon alien: Because you'll destroy us, too, if we let you. You do not know us, we have never hurt you, yet you come to attack, to conquer. We will not allow this.
- 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 & Hyde: In "Expanding Human", a mind-enhancing drug transforms one of its researchers physically and mentally, turning him back and forth between his normal self and a super-strong, super-intelligent alter ego who wants to Take Over the World and convert or destroy the rest of humanity.
- Jerkass: The bad-tempered, self-pitying title 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: The result of the Robotic Reveal at the end of "Demon With a Glass Hand".
- 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".
- Lighter and Softer: The second season, while not lighthearted, generally lacked the darkness and moral ambiguity found in many season one episodes, and took far fewer risks.
- 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.
- Mechanistic Alien Culture: Many episodes of the classic sci-fi anthology featured aliens with ambiguously robotic characteristics.
- Mildly Military: TOS episode "The Invisible Enemy". The officers in the second mission repeatedly disobey orders and get each other killed.
- Mind Control: "The Brain of Colonel Barham" (from the episode of the same name) 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...
- Monster of the Week: One of the series' central tropes.
- Multinational Team: The human soldiers in "Nightmare" come from the United States, Britain, West Germany, China and an unnamed nation in Africa.
- Murder the Hypotenuse: In "ZZZZZ", humanoid queen bee Regina sics her hive on the wife of the entomologist she's fallen in love with.
- Naming Your Colony World: In "Wolf 359", Dundee's Planet is a miniature recreation of an actual alien world. It's named after the businessman who financed the project.
- No Immortal Inertia: In "The Guests", people who leave the alien-controlled house instantly become their real age—which leads to Rapid Aging and death for anyone who stays too long.
- No One Left Behind: In TOS episode "The Invisible Enemy", Captain Buckley refuses to leave Major Merritt behind on Mars.
- No Party Given: The Presidential candidates in "The Hundred Days of the Dragon".
- The Noun Who Verbed: The title of "The Man Who Was Never Born".
- Opening Narration: Partially quoted above.
- Outlaw Couple: Ben Garth and Lisa Lawrence in "The Zanti Misfits", although Ben fits the "outlaw" part much better than Lisa does.
- Pistol-Whipping: In "Demon With a Glass Hand", Trent knocks out one of the Kyben by hitting him on the head with the butt of his pistol.
- Plant Aliens: The anenome-like Grippians from "Moonstone".
- 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. The Point Of Divergence: In "Forms", the "Time Tilter" actually works, while in The Unknown it doesn't.
- Power Incontinence: In "The Man With the Power", Milquetoast scientist Harold Finley invents a "link-gate" that gives him mild mental powers. However, the device causes his subconscious resentments to manifest as an energy cloud that zaps his enemies without his knowledge.
- Psychic Static: Used by a man to protect his thoughts from the title character in "The Mutant".
- 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.
- Recycled Soundtrack: Some of Dominic Frontiere's music came from Stoney Burke, an earlier Leslie Stevens series. Later, some of his Outer Limits scores were used in The Fugitive (especially the fourth season), The Rat Patrol and The Invaders (including the theme music, which was originally composed for The Unknown).
- Reluctant Monster: The titular alien in "Behold, Eck!" Also the episode's Working Title.
- Robotic Reveal: The ending of "Demon with a Glass Hand".
- Sand Is Water: "The Invisible Enemy" had a sand ocean complete with tides and several giant monsters swimming in it.
- Science Is Bad: 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).
- 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 plot of "The Invisible Enemy". The protagonists are sent to Mars to learn why the astronauts from the first expedition disappeared.
- 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 couldn't use the series' actual plots due to licensing issues, 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.
- Sliding Scale of Continuity: Level 0 (Non-Linear Installments).
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Tends to fall on the cynical side, but there are exceptions.
- Snark-to-Snark Combat: In the TOS version of "I, Robot", the exchanges between Thurman Cutler (Adam Link's attorney) and Judson Ellis (a cynical reporter covering the robot's murder trial) fall into this.
- 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". Their time tampering saves the world, but Andro's existence is erased in the process.
- 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 and a hawk attacking its prey, 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" is accidentally brought to earth through a Television Portal.
- In "The Mice", the Chromoites have invented a "Teleportation Agency" that they use to send one of their people to Earth—and vice versa.
- In "Fun and Games", the Anderan senator "electroports" Mike and Laura between Earth and the site of the Gladiator Games.
- In "The Special One", Mr. Zeno travels between Earth and Xenon via a "lightning bolt" effect that is one of the series' most striking visuals. .
- Theremin: Harry Lubin's scores for the second season use the instrument extensively.
- Tickertape Parade: "Cold Hands, Warm Heart" begins with one.
- Time Is Dangerous: The aforementioned And I Must Scream situation in "The Premonition".
- Time Stands Still:
- In "Controlled Experiment", the Martians have a "temporal condenser" that can stop time, then reverse or fast forward it like a cosmic VCR.
- In "The Premonition", this seemingly happens to the Darcys, but what's actually happening is closer to Just One Second Out of Sync.
- Time Travel:
- "The Man Who Was Never Born" starts with a 1963 astronaut going through a "time convulsion" and ending up in the Bad Future of 2148. Andro makes the trip in the opposite direction.
- "Soldier" begins with another accidental example, as Qarlo and The Enemy are somehow sent from the distant future to 1964 via "a crossfire of death beams".
- Finally, an intentional example! In "Demon with a Glass Hand", both Trent and his enemies the Kyben use a "Time Mirror" to travel from the future to the present. However, they'll die if they try to return to their own time.
- Tomato in the Mirror: The result of the Robotic Reveal at the climax of "Demon with a Glass Hand".
- Twenty Minutes into the Future: The setting of "Moonstone", "The Mutant" and "The Duplicate Man".
- Two Rights Make A Wrong: Several episodes have this as the twist.
- Video Phone: "The Duplicate Man" had video phones with rotary dials.
- Wait Here: "Demon with a Glass Hand". Trent has Consuelo climb out onto a window ledge outside the building so she'll be safe from the Kyben.
- Waking Up at the Morgue: Happens to a college professor who's been experimenting with a mind-enhancing drug in "Expanding Human".
- Walk Through The Camera: Trent does this twice during "Demon with a Glass Hand". Wade Norton does it in "The Guests".
- Warrior Poet: Major Jong in "Nightmare", who recites Haiku while the aliens are torturing him.
- "What Now?" Ending: "It Crawled Out of the Woodwork". The deadly energy monster is confined again, but as a policeman notes, "It's under control—for the moment". No one knows how (or if) it can be destroyed, or how else to deal with it.
- Whole Plot Reference: "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). Coincidentally, both episodes star Martin Landau.
- X-Ray Sparks: Seen at the climax of "The Borderland" when a character jumps into the dimensional travel machine. His skeleton shows through his body as he's obliterated.
- Year Inside, Hour Outside: A plot element in "Don't Open Till Doomsday" and "The Guests". Both episodes feature human characters trapped in an alien-controlled environment where they don't age because time doesn't pass.
- Yellow Peril: The Red Chinese are the villains in "The Hundred Days of the Dragon".
- You Look Familiar: Many instances, but most notably with Robert Culp, who starred in three episodes.
- You Wake Up in a Room:
- Trent, in "Demon With a Glass Hand," who also has Laser-Guided Amnesia.
- In "The Duplicate Man", the clone of Henderson James has a similar awakening.
- Zeerust: "The Duplicate Man", an episode from 1964, is set in 2025, a future in which humanity has been exploring outer space at least since the 1980s.