Exploring the science fiction, horror, and dystopia of television over the last 60 years

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Outer Limits: Specimen: Unknown

The Outer Limits
Specimen: Unknown

Original Air Date: February 24, 1964
Teleplay by Stephen Lord
Directed by Gerd Oswald
Rating: **1/2

Scientists aboard a spaceship bring aboard a plant that grows on the hull of their ship. They call them space barnacles, but they are much more than that.
One of the scientists grows several specimens in the lab and the growths soon sprout flowers that shoot spores. They also release a deadly gas that kills the scientist. Unaware that the plants have caused his death, the crew packs them in the passenger compartment of the ship as they prepare to return to earth.

On the way back to Earth, the plants do their act again and more of the crew are infected and near death. The mission commander on earth decides to go ahead and let the spaceship land, risking contamination of the planet's biosphere.

The ship arrives and the plants find earth very much to their liking. As soon as the spaceship is opened and the surviving crewman evacuated, the plants begin to grow quickly and multiply. The mission commander and the wife of one of the astronauts are seemingly trapped. The plants are growing like crazy, surrounding them. Rain is on the way, certain to make their growth even more rapid.

However, salvation comes just in time from an unlikely source.

This episode combined hard science fiction with dripping sentimentality. The science fiction was solid. The premise was original (and stolen for an episode of Star Trek called This Side of Paradise)and the dialogue well written.

The wife of the astronaut pleading with her husband to return to her was just over the top. The drama between her, her husband out in space, and the mission commander who holds his fate in his hands distracted from an otherwise good episode of science fiction television. But it was the 1960s. . .

It's also hard to believe that the mission commander would have allowed the ship to return to earth. The men aboard were against it, willing to sacrifice their lives. That would have been the smart thing to do. Instead, the mission commander succumbs to the wife's pleading.

Gerd Oswald directed many Outer Limits and seemed to get the most out of his cast and his script. Like most Outer Limits episodes, the cast is rather undistinguished. The only well known member in this episode is Russell Johnson of Gilligan's Island fame. Johnson was a veteran of many sci-fi movies and television shows, having appeared in This Island Earth, It Came from Outer Space, Thriller, The Twilight Zone, and The Outer Limits.

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