A Science Fictionanthology 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 remakes of episodes from the original series.A recap page is in progress.
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").
Adult Fear: "Under The Bed" has a monster that kidnaps and kills children
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.
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.
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.
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").
The Chains of Commanding: The episode "Trial By Fire" deals with the US President being sequestered in a bunker after being informed that a massive object, traveling at half the speed of light, is going to hit Earth in roughly a half hour. It's up to him to decide what to do from there, though he has plenty of noise from his advisers.
Clifford Simak: His short story "Goodnight, Mr. James" was adapted for the original series as "The Duplicate Man".
Clip Show: The revival had no less than seven: one each in Seasons 1, 3, 4, 5 and 6 and two in Season 7 (those being the last two episodes...)
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 new 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.
Death Is the Only Option: In the episode "Better Luck Next Time", a police detective is manipulated by a pair of malevolent energy beings into being their plaything, intending to turn her into a host after they've tricked her into shooting a fellow cop. However, their hosts burn out rapidly, they can't survive for long without one, and their current hosts are just about to expire. She utters the episode's title just before shooting herself in the head, bringing the energy beings' centuries-long murder spree to an end.
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.
Disability Immunity: One episode of the Revival had a mentally handicapped man with fetal alcohol syndrome who was immune to an infestation of mind-controlling brain worms because his brain was so feeble they simply starved to death.
Does Not Wear Shoes: The perpetually barefoot Mrs. Dame in the TOS episode "The Bellero Shield". The episode has several lengthy closeups of her bare feet.
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.
Energy Beings: Featured in the TOS episodes "It Crawled Out of the Woodwork" and "Counterweight", plus several revival episodes.
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 Title Sequence.
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".
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."
I Never Told You My Name: As part of the Downer Ending of the revival's "Lithia." Set in the post-apocalyptic commune of the title - entirely populated by females due to a plague having killed all but a few cryogenically frozen men - a defrosted male is put back into freeze after his aggressive tendencies cause tragedy, and the leader of the commune (who says "Goodbye, Jason" as he's frozen, even though he never... you know) is his lost love.
Insect Queen: Classic episode "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.
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...
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.
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."
This was featured in "Trial By Fire" (detailed under The Chains of Commanding, above). It would have been a far easier decision if those on Earth knew what the aliens were saying with their transmission.
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.
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).
The Remake: Five episodes of the original were redone as four episodes of the Revival ("Nightmare," "A Feasibility Study," "I, Robot" and "The Inheritors" parts 1 and 2 - this last, the original's only two-parter, was remade as a one-parter).
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).
Seeker White Blood Cells: In an episode of the new series, a spaceship crew punches a hole into another dimension, which they assume to be hyperspace or subspace. The main character, who is descended from Magical Native Americans, starts to believe that it is actually the bloodstream of the living universe. What they originally thought to be asteroids turn out to have a similar structure to human white blood cells, except they use gravity to kill infection.
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 Limitscards (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.
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.
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".
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.
"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.
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 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.
Kim Coates played two different, unrelated characters, seven years apart.
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, most notably with Robert Culp, who starred in three episodes.