In recent weeks I became aware of the fact that one of my favorite TV stations, "THiS TV" Channel 32-2 Digital, was no longer playing The Outer Limits at 4:00am, substituting instead the classic western Bat Masterson. I'm as big a fan of the rougish adventurer as anyone, but I missed my Outer Limits fix (that I could only catch on my nights off anyway).
Imagine my great glee when early Tuesday morning, a casual channel surf of the program guide revealed an episode of The Outer Limits was going to play at 4:00am! (Apparently, TV32 likes to experiment with the program line-up constantly. Many shows I reported seeing to you a few issues ago on that and my other fave station, RetroTV 8-2, are no longer on or have been moved.) I made an appointment with my tiny rabbit-ear set for 4:00am.
Tuesday's episode? 1964's "Soldier," written by Harlan Ellison, and starring Michael Ansara, Lloyd Nolan, and Tim O'Connor! Quite the coincidence on the week of the release of Terminator Salvation. Why? As every good fanboy knows, it was this episode and pieces of another Ellison-scripted show, Demon With The Glass Hand that spurred Harlan to threaten director James Cameron with a copyright infringement lawsuit over the original Terminator. Until Tuesday morning, I hadn't seen "Soldier" in probably 10--20 years, since Limits was syndicated on early cable television, likely the USA Network. I remembered a great deal of it, but needed another view to see if Ellison was warranted in his accusations. Where I can see where some fans would side with Ellison over this, I personally think there is not enough in common between "Soldier" and Terminator to have ensured his victory (eventually the parties settled with an acknowledgment to Harlan Ellison in the Terminator credits).
The distant future on a dark, war-ravaged earth. Two soldiers in heavy battle gear square off for combat amid firing laser canons and energy weapons in a remote area. Suddenly, a conflagration of energy beams strike the two combatants simultaneously, sending them both into a time-warp. One (played by Allen Jaffe) is caught in the flux and cannot escape. The other (played by Micheal Ansara) goes back in time to 1964 earth.
Confused at his new location but still in combat mode, the soldier takes aim and fires at an idle passerby. The disturbance attracts the police who struggle to contain the situation and arrest their perpetrator. It is quickly apparent to the authorities they have captured something very unusual.
A philologist (language interpreter) named Tom Kagan (played by the great Lloyd Nolan) is summoned by a gov't power, presumably the FBI or FBI-like agency. He is met by G-man Paul Tanner (Tim O'Connor) at the holding facility. Tanner marvels that a philologist is the first one on the scene, but explains the reason: The wildman they've captured can only utter the following rapid-fire seeming nonsense over and over:
Kagan spends days trying to decipher a recording of the gibberish. Making a breakthrough, he then brings his conclusion to agent Tanner in what is arguably this episode's most riveting moment: the language is English and their captive is a soldier. His name is Quarlo Clobregnny. Private. RN-CN-TN-D0. His name, rank, and serial number!
Slowly gaining the trust of the captive, Kagan discovers the man is from the future, 1,800 years from now. His speech is an accelerated form of gutter-English and military parlance laced with slang of the day. There is a war going on where there is only us and The Enemy. Quarlo was born in a hatchery and raised to kill the enemy. That's all his is. That's all he knows. He trusts no one. But he doesn't believe Kagan is The Enemy. Kagan takes the calming soldier to his home in an effort to build more trust and learn more, but time is running out as the agency is demanding permanent custody. Eventually, the other combatant is freed from the time-warp and also arrives in 1964. Seeking out Quarlo, he burns down a wall to the Kagan home to gain access. The two soldiers engage in battle and an energy field appears to, presumably, take them back "home".
Despite James Cameron's quasi-admission that he couldn't rule out being influenced, in retrospect, there are very few pivotal things in common with Terminator. The most basic is the future being US vs THEM. The soldier/killing machine from the future, who is followed by another bent on taking him out. The similarities end there. Several centuries in the future, not decades. Quarlo is not a cyborg. His drive to kill is the result of government conditioning, but he is very much human. The trip back in time was an accident, not a mission. The soldier going after him was the victim of the same accident. No Sarah Connor. No John Connor. No Kyle Reese (well, maybe the second soldier, but that's a stretch). And no CyberDyne Systems or world of robots. Quarlo could be reasoned with, The Terminator could not.
I love this episode of The Outer Limits and I love Terminator. But they are two distinctly different stories of war and time travel. "Soldier" is worth re-visiting if you can catch it on the tube (I envy all who have the The Outer Limits boxed set....me, I'm po'). Excellent script and excellent performances, classic photography, and tons of Ellison-esque nuances, especially regarding Quarlo's speech syntax that are a howl.
After a temporary computer setback early last week, followed by an exhausting weekend where Yours Truly didn't even turn the computer on for two days (and slept 13 hours on Sunday!), I feel much better and am back on track.
The Shocker Toy review will go up this week along with some more of my usual ravings.
Thanks to all for the inquiries and support, as always.
Today as I post this (May 19th) PCR's assistant editor and number two man at the organization, Terence Nuzum, turns the BIG 3-0! A pretty big day (although he will deny that will typical aloofness).
My thirtieth birthday in 1985 was marked by quite a shindig at Tampa's Lowrey Park with a cook-out, beer (which we weren't supposed to have I learned later), the original Coke (which had been replaced with the notorious "New Coke" merely three months earlier), and, of course live music in the form of BLADE, my stalwart heavy-metal band from the '80s. Super turn-out and I had a great time.
Terence's family arranged a small get-together at a restaurant in Brandon last Saturday for his (he hates big-deal shindigs where he's in the spotlight), but it's always special and a treat to see them all together which is rare enough. I'm always honored to be part of it.
Many Happy Returns, Young Man. For your benefit, I left up the last three posts on PCR 477's Readers Comments to be the first three posts up this week so you could see what some well-wishers had to say before #477 goes into the Archives.