Destruct that ship, General!

Friday, September 19, 2014

Episode Spotlight: "Soldier" (9/19/1964)



“Soldier”
Season 2, Episode 1 (#33 overall)
Originally aired 9/19/1964



Fifty years ago tonight, we glimpsed a future that wasn’t particularly bright, but required one to wear shades regardless… y’now, because of those pesky giant laser beams and whatnot.


Centuries in the future, earth is divided into two warring factions whose weapons are enormous, destructive laser beams and, for more intricate operations, foot soldiers bred from birth to do nothing but seek out and kill the enemy. Qarlo Clobregnny is one such soldier and, prowling within a vast nightmarish wasteland, he stalks his enemy counterpart, who happens to be stalking him at the same time. Spurred by urgent voices emitting from their helmets, they rush to meet and, just before they blast one another into oblivion, find themselves caught in the middle of two intersecting laser beams.

Qarlo and the Enemy spin in a temporal vortex and end up in 1964. The Enemy only partially materializes, trapped halfway between the present and the future; Qarlo, meanwhile, makes it through unscathed and is promptly apprehended by the authorities. Incoherent and violent, he is deposited in a mental institution. Philologist Tom Kagan is sent to evaluate him and hopefully decode his mysterious language. After an ominous briefing by government liaison Paul Tanner, Kagan gets his first look at Qarlo, who paces in his cell like a caged animal, uttering a near-unintelligible phrase over and over.

Kagan eventually realizes that Qarlo is speaking a heretofore unknown dialect of English laced with copious amounts of slang, and that the phrase he's been repeating ad infinitum is actually his name, rank and designation: “Name’s Qarlo Clobregnny, Private, RM-EN-TN-DO.” Kagan progressively establishes a dialogue with Qarlo and is able to piece together the soldier’s back story, as wells as details about future Earth. Elsewhere, the Enemy finally wriggles through into 1964 and commences hunting for Qarlo.


Kagan convinces Tanner to release Qarlo into his custody for further study. He brings the wary soldier home to live with his family, which works out promisingly at first…. until the soldier sneaks out one night and breaks into a gun shop. Kagan is able to talk him down and get him back to the house, but the damage is done: Tanner and his men surround the house and prepare to take him into custody.



Just then, the living room wall disintegrates as the Enemy arrives, laser rifle blazing. Qarlo protectively leaps in front of Kagan’s family and attacks the Enemy. After a brief scuffle, the Enemy’s weapon discharges, reducing both of them to a pile of ashes.


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RANDOMONIUM

“Soldier” is the first of two Outer Limits episodes written by sci-fi luminary Harlan Ellison (he also penned “Demon with a Glass Hand,” which will turn 50 in just a few weeks). I’ve never been a fan, but I can’t deny that his contributions elevate the show’s abbreviated second season considerably. Ellison also wrote “The City on the Edge of Forever” for the original Star Trek (which is generally remembered as one of that series’ best episodes; however, he has bitched at length ever since about changes made to his script), and he served as a story consultant on the 80’s Twilight Zone revival on CBS (a position he angrily vacated over attempted changes to one of his scripts). It’s as if he never quite peeped the concept that a TV writer is subject to all manners of editorial revision and yes, even censorship. Nobody’s script gets produced as is… nobody’s.

Ellison sued James Cameron over similarities he perceived between Cameron’s 1984 film The Terminator and Ellison’s “Soldier” teleplay. And okay, sure, there are some shared concepts, but I personally wouldn’t call it a case of wanton plagiarism (the matter was ultimately settled out of court and Ellison received a mention in the film’s end credits). This is only the tip of Ellison’s massive litigious iceberg, and that’s as deep as I’m going on the matter (feel free to research the man’s exploits to your heart’s content). You may be a fan, and if you are, more power to you. I personally find him to be a loud, caustic, self-absorbed asshole, which is really too bad because he’s also a really gifted writer. I know, I know, I should really separate the art from the artist… but damn, it’s hard in this case. I should probably stop right there or he might hit me with a defamation suit.


Happily, there are a couple of familiar names in the credits: “Soldier” is directed by Gerd Oswald, who helmed some of season one’s greatest triumphs (and is by far the series’ most prolific director with 13 episodes; that’s 27% of the entire series to you math geeks out there). Speaking of prolificacy (yes, it's a word; look it up), director of photography Kenneth Peach served on a whopping 25 episodes (a bit more than half the series!), including this week’s offering. Thanks to their combined efforts, the episode is certainly nice to look at: the gigantic futuristic battlefield is one of the most impressive sets in the entire series, and the prologue sequence set within it is effectively and tensely staged.





The sight of Qarlo and the Enemy flailing around in the spiraling time warp is laughably silly, but it does serve as an effective introduction to the new season’s more traditional gee-whiz sci-fi visual identity. And of course we’ve seen this same effect time and again in the ensuing fifty years, most obviously on TV’s The Time Tunnel and, more recently, Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (did you ever think you’d see an Austin Powers reference in these pages? Oh behave!). And I’d be unforgivably remiss if I didn’t mention a rather famous spiral (though not time warp-specific) from a certain other classic TV series that I just happen to blog about….


Visually, things do get progressively pedestrian as the episode progresses, but it’s nothing terribly detrimental (by contrast, have a look at next month’s “Expanding Human” to see a true example of Oswald and Peach phoning their work in, almost spectacularly so). In fact, it’s probably appropriate to tone things down and flatten out the lighting as Qarlo transitions into a quiet, suburban life… and who among us wouldn’t love to see that sitcom play out?




Through his interaction with Qarlo, Kagan is able to deduce that the future Earth is dominated by two warring factions, which are locked in perpetual conflict as a means of maintaining absolute societal control. I’m reminded of the tri-state warfare of George Orwell’s 1984 (Qarlo’s use of the word “thinkspeak” to describe the telepathy between soldiers and prowling reconnaissance cats is a nice Orwellian touch). Orwell implies that the endless war between Oceania, Eurasia and Eastasia is in fact a collaborative effort between the three governments as a means of unbreakable control over their citizenry; I’ve always suspected that Oceania’s Big Brother (whether he’s an individual, a legislative body or merely a construct) actually rules over the entire world, and I have the same suspicion about the future Earth in “Soldier.” The Purple Class, which Qarlo relates is the equivalent of royalty in his tattered world, may very well extend across both sides of the conflict, and are perpetuating the war as a means to retain global control. It’s interesting (or, rather, telling) to note that the uniforms and armor worn by Qarlo and the Enemy are extremely similar, as are their weapons (only their respective targeting scopes are different). In the flesh and blood real world, I've suspected for years that there are really only a handful of corporations across the globe, and many competing brands actually have the same owner (c'mon, surely you've at least suspected that the Cola Wars are totally staged).

Honestly, how can they tell they're on different sides?


Qarlo explains that he has no mother; that he was born in the “Clobregnny Hatchery,” which strongly implies that he is in fact a clone, one of thousands, perhaps millions that are engineered solely for battle. Modern viewers saw this concept realized on a massive scale (computer generated, unfortunately) in 2002’s Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones.




The brief scene in the kitchen with Qarlo and Kagan's teenaged daughter is positively brimming with surprising (and sadly unexplored) tensions. It’s refreshing to see the spunky kid stand up to the scary radiation-scarred meanie in her midst, but it’s imminently more satisfying to witness Qarlo’s seething, tortured reaction to her. He’s probably never seen a female before, much less a nubile girl on the cusp on womanhood, so one can only imagine what previously-dormant genetic-memory impulses are firing inside his addled head (and, um, other areas as well) as she gives him a piece of her mind. He raises a hand to strike her, ostensibly to shut her up, but it may very well be a defensive move against the incomprehensible icky, sticky feelings he’s experiencing.

Qarlo’s trip through time is more or less instantaneous, but why does the Enemy get stuck halfway? We aren’t given exact time frames, but I’m pretty sure he’s trapped in limbo long enough to starve to death. And before you argue that maybe his bodily functions are suspended since he’s temporarily disconnected from the normal flow of time, let me point out that we see him in his suspended state, fully conscious and struggling against his bizarre circumstance…you know, working up one hell of an appetite. I dunno, maybe he can subsist for weeks, even months, on his tiny Sustenance Syrup™ flask thing (good thing it wasn’t Qarlo who got stuck, since apparently all he has on his person are self-lighting cigarettes). Once the he finally breaks through the pesky Time Hymen™, we don’t see him again until he shows up at the Kagan residence for the final showdown. I’d frankly forgotten all about him, so I certainly was surprised… but I think it would’ve been vastly more effective to cut in a couple more quick scenes as he tracks Qarlo, for suspense-building and whatnot.


If Qarlo’s near-instantaneous disintegration of the police car in act one looks familiar, it’s because we saw the Thetanized Robert Culp do the exact same thing to those pesky  hunters' station wagon in “The Architects of Fear” last season. It's a bit more drawn out this time around, allowing for a closer study of the optical effect. It's like those cars just melt out of existence.

The helmets worn by Qarlo and the Enemy contain speakers which bark orders at them (“Find your enemy,” “Attack,” “Kill,” etc.). We presume that their superiors transmit these messages from long distance, but the fact that the messages still play in the past would seem to indicate that the messages are mere recordings playing back at random intervals. The voice in Qarlo’s helmet, incidentally, belongs to Tim O’Conner (Tanner). The Control Voice himself, Vic Perrin, provides the voice in the Enemy’s helmet.

The Enemy’s tracking device, worn like a wristwatch, was clearly purchased at Radio Shack, so it appears at least some of the retailers of the 20th century will survive far into the future (they probably have McDonald’s too, since their lab-concocted pseudo-food could quite possibly withstand an atomic blast). I love the idea of cigarettes that light themselves when struck, and I was delighted to discover that these actually existed in the first half of the 20th century.






Of course, we have our own version in these post-modern times: the comical (yet increasingly popular) e-cigarette. That's right, I bought one for research purposes. The things I do for you people.....


Nerds rejoice! “Soldier,” along with Ellison’s other Outer Limits contribution “Demon with a Glass Hand,” was mentioned in “The Mommy Observation,” a 2014 episode of the TV comedy The Big Bang Theory. Have a look/listen:


Qarlo’s helmet reappeared on TV’s Mork and Mindy in the late 70’s, a series that introduced the world to a more-or-less unknown comedian named Robin Williams, who would go on to become a celebrated and beloved superstar. Tragically, Williams took his own life just a month ago.


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AURAL PLEASURE

With “Soldier” we get our first excursion into The Outer Limits without the wonderful and distinctive musical stylings of Dominic Frontiere. How do newcomer Harry Lubin’s efforts stack up? Well…. I can’t imagine anyone preferring Lubin over Frontiere, but Lubin’s stuff isn’t necessarily bad. It’s just a step down (see here for more). The musical landscape of “Soldier” includes the following library tracks by Lubin:


Final Conflict
Dramatic Tragedy 1
Dramatic Tragedy 4
Imminent Ambush 1
Hostile Galaxy
Affliction
Mental Anguish
Murderous Assault

Regarding that last cue… my car stereo has a USB input, so I often listen to music stored on flash drives. Lately I’ve been listening to Lubin’s cues quite a bit (to get myself in the mood for season two), and I’m always amused when “Murderous Assault” comes up, because the stereo can only display so many characters….


As previously reported, there are bootlegs out there if one looks hard enough, but an official soundtrack release of Lubin’s contributions to the series is long overdue. La La Land Records, are you listening?

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DRAMATIS PERSONAE

Tom Kagan is played by Lloyd Nolan in his only Outer Limits appearance; however, his résumé (okay, his IMDB page) reveals another series connection: he appeared in “The Name of the Game” on TV’s I Spy, which starred TOL leading man Robert Culp. Nolan doesn’t have much genre experience, but he can be spotted in many film noirs from 20th Century Fox, including 1945’s The House on 92nd Street (which co-starred TOL alum Signe Hasso), 1946’s Somewhere in the Night, and 1948’s The Street with No Name.

Nolan (right) with TOL alum Robert Culp.

Michael Ansara is marvelous as Qarlo Clobregnny. Genre fans probably know him best as Kang the Klingon, a role he originated in “The Day of the Dove” on the original Star Trek (which he later reprised on the Trek spinoffs Deep Space Nine and Voyager). I first became aware of Ansara when he played Kane, Princess Ardala’s jealous henchman, on TV’s Buck Rogers in the 25th Century (a character first played by TOL alum Henry Silva in the series’ pilot movie). Genre fans may have spotted Ansara in three appearances on Alfred Hitchcock Presents as well (“Shopping for Death,” “The Orderly World of Mr. Appleby,” and “The Baby Sitter”).

We last saw Tim O’Connor as the sullen lout Major Clint Anderson in season one’s “Moonstone”; happily, he’s much more likable here as Paul Tanner, the gum-chewing government liaison. O’Connor’s genre TV cred also includes appearances on The Twilight Zone (“On Thursday We Leave for Home"; below), The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (“What Really Happened”), Star Trek: The Next Generation (“The Perfect Mate”), and hey, speaking of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, he played Dr. Elias Huer throughout the show’s first season.


In genre circles, Allen Jaffe is probably best remembered as Qarlo’s pursuer, known only as The Enemy. Jaffe did manage a smattering of other genre TV appearances, including The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (which starred TOL alum David McCallum) and Mission: Impossible (which starred TOL alum Martin Landau; however, by the time Jafee appeared, Landau was no longer in the cast). One of Jaffe’s final roles was that of a hunchback in “Graveyard Shift” on TV’s Circle of Fear in 1973 (below).


Sgt. Berry is played by Marlowe Jensen, who also played the minister officiating over Noel’s doomed wedding in season one’s “The Man Who Was Never Born.” Jensen’s acting career only lasted ten years but, in that brief time, he managed several appearances on The Fugitive, The F.B.I., and, more appropriate for our purposes, an episode of The Invaders (“The Watchers," which guest-starred Noel herself, Shirley Knight).



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HOME VIDEO RELEASES





“Soldier” first appeared on the chunky, clunky, and downright funky VHS format (above) in December 1988 (as part of the fifth wave of retail releases, along with “The Architects of Fear” and “Specimen: Unknown”). For its subsequent Columbia House mail-order exclusive release (pictured below), the episode inexplicably gained a “The” in its title and shared tape space with “Fun and Games,” another Oswald-directed outing. For its UK release (right), it was paired with season one’s “Nightmare.”





“Soldier” was deemed worthy of inclusion in the series' first LaserDisc collection, which appeared in November 1990. I actually own this volume, even though I’ve never owned an LD player. As a self-appointed chronicler of The Outer Limits’ home video history, I was really curious to check out a set in person, and it was only ten bucks on eBay, and… hey, why the hell am I explaining myself? I do these things so that you, the reader, doesn’t have to. Yeah, you’re welcome.

That’s right; it resides next to my vinyl collection. Where the hell else would I keep it?



Like all 49 episodes of the series, “Soldier” can be found on three distinct DVD releases:  the original season two set (September 2003), the later “volume three” set (October 2007), and the complete series collection (October 2008). Be advised that all three contain the exact same discs; only the packaging is different. As an obsessive completist collector type, avoiding the later releases was difficult, but somehow I managed to stick to my guns. I should also mention that the first season two disc is prone to failure; mine won’t play “Behold Eck!” all the way through (which may be a blessing, actually). That’s right: MGM has released the same iffy discs three different times and has never bothered to fix the problem or even offer an exchange program.


But hey, why give MGM any of your hard-earned money at all when you can watch the entire series, “Soldier” included, for free? Just point your browser to Hulu and have yourself a little (or big) Outer Limits marathon at your leisure. If you’re worried about quality, well, you needn't be: the streaming versions are identical to the DVDs (I did a direct comparison for last season’s “Moonstone” and couldn’t see a difference).

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MERCHANDISE SPOTLIGHT


Qarlo Clobregnny is yet another visually interesting Outer Limits character that would’ve made an awesome Sideshow Collectibles action figure… but it was sadly not to be. Happily, Dimensional Designs saves the day with a pretty cool 1/8”-scale resin and metal model kit (DD/OL/QC-32), sculpted by Sean Sansom (who also did a bang-up job with Reese Fowler from season one’s “The Mutant”). This one’s especially nifty because it comes with an alternate head, so you can display yours avec or sans that distinctive helmet. If you’d like to add a li’l Qarlo to your model collection, be prepared to fork over $59.95 plus shipping, plus the time and effort to assemble and paint him. Drum-dums like me are all thumbs and couldn’t possibly accomplish such intricate work. I, um, wasn't able to track down a picture of a completed Qarlo specimen (not even from the stalwart Mr. Enamel), so I'm feeling a bit failurish right about now.
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THE WRAP-UP


“Soldier” certainly doesn’t feel like the Outer Limits we know and love, but it’s a solid inaugural outing for the series’ new regime. It’s undeniably fun, and Michael Ansara turns in an intense and unforgettable performance. If the entirety of season two maintained this level of quality, I imagine it’d be remembered much more fondly. Unfortunately…. well, stay tuned.



14 comments:

  1. The opening scenes of Qarlo fighting in the war torn wastelands of Earth are great. The set design is very intriguing and it should give a real thrill to fans of older science fiction.

    There isn't a lot of action in this story. Instead, the emphasis is on Qarlo learning to communicate with philologist Tom Kagan. Kagan is played by Lloyd Nolan who's performance is enjoyable, but mostly because of how ineffective it is. Nolan spends most of the time voicing his frustrations with a Howard Cosell-style delivery. It's distracting.

    And what to say about Tim O'Connor here. All his character does is continually cave to Nolan's requests. Why is his character even here? I suppose it's to build tension around the possibility that Qarlo could be handed over to the military for inhumane study or something.

    As Qarlo continually demonstrates how unstable he is while in captivity, Kagan somehow manages to bring Qarlo home to live with him and his family! It does create some interesting situations, even if it is difficult to imagine how it would ever be permitted.

    Qarlo eventually mixes it up with his enemy from the future who was stuck for most of the story between his present and the past. The final confrontation is fun with the two dangerous soldiers of the future fighting it out in a suburban living room.

    As silly as "Soldier" seems, it is a lot of fun. Thankfully, the opening battlefield scenes and the performance of Michael Ansara make this far more watchable than it should be. I do like the futuristic soldier uniforms. The helmet is strangely square but it's an attractive lid. However, that solenoid or whatever it is on their backs doesn't score any style points.

    It's a good start to Season Two, but to me, it may not even make the top five episodes of the much maligned second season. Who knows? While I rewatch these episodes along with this blog, my mind may change and this may climb in my own personal standings.

    I love the humor and collectible info you bring to these articles! Thanks!

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  2. The war zone, the laser beams and the very second the two soldiers zapped were the highlights. It had some of the dark qualities of the first season. It left me in awe and THEN the actual episode started and was fairly dull. Not a bad episode definitely worth watching now and then. Michael Ansara was really cast well in this. The Harry Lubin music disappointed me because Dominic Frontiere's music was so much a part of the atmosphere of the first season. I got used to Lubin's music after a while but it never cam close to Frontiere's creativity and penchant for the right music and the right tone and volume at the right time. His music in "Demon" was a pretty worthwhile exception. The theremin beginning of the show was, and is, ridiculous. People remember that stupid opening than they do the "real" one. Frontiere's musical build up to that incredible "sting" ,opening the first season, always sent tingles up my spine. It still does. It's The Outer Fucking Limits for christ sake!. Saturday night Outer Limits? What was I going to do on Monday nights now? Monday night at 7:30 was the most special hour of the week. I had to fight with my parents to watch OL on Saturday nights. It was smart to run "Soldier" ahead of the next episode if only because the way this episode began pasted season 1 and season 2 together visually. What might have been if the Stevens-Stefano-Frontiere were still in charge. It haunts me to this day. The name Ben Brady makes me cringe even now. If he wasn't deceased I might pick up Qarlo's rifle and...well you know the rest.

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  3. "Dog is a dog. Dog Dog Dog Dog Dog Dog Dog Dog!...Dog A Kagan! Dog! Dog A Kagan! Don A Kagan! Dog A Kagan!"

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  4. I sympathize with Steve -- I had to fight to watch OL on Saturdays, too. My dad was a huge fan of Jackie Gleason, whom he called "The Great One" when he was in a particularly fannish mood, and Gleason was on opposite OL, so we usually saw Gleason if Dad wasn't still at work. To this day, if I use the words "great one" to describe someone -- "He thinks he's some great one" -- it is the ultimate expression of my distaste for that person.

    Ellison's unaltered script for this episode can be found in the collection IN THE LAND OF FEAR; it has a almost completely different third act with MUCH more of Qarlo's interaction with the Kagan family. When the munchkins start gnawing at a script, the first thing to go is character development, but this was a story that ultimately stands or falls by its character development. The original third act would have given the closing Control Voice statement a lot more weight: "Did the soldier finally come to care for those he protected? Or was it just his instinct to kill? "

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  5. Welcome back, and thanks for using the word "peeped" in a sentence. Only those who see the episode will know why.

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  6. Hey, I just finished making the Dimensional Designs Qarlo model. If you need some photos of the completed kit, send me an e-mail at:
    terencedoyle@fsmail.net or terrydoyle39@gmail.com

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  7. Allen Jaffe was my uncle and was in more than a smattering of shows, check imdb. From three ones mentioned, and that girl, mission impossible, have gun will travel, untouchables, Gilligans Island, Batman tv series, gunsmoke, legend of Wyatt Earp, to co starting with Charleston Heston in the war Lord, and Dustin Hoffman and Steve McQueen in pappion, as well as the Istanbul Express. He usually died in the shows. He was my fishing buddy and had some great stories. Sure miss him, he died in 1989 I believe, thanks for including him in these memories.

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    1. I said he was in a smattering of GENRE shows (sci-fi, fantasy, horror). That in no way implies that the entirety of his acting career was in some way lacking.

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    2. I said he was in a smattering of GENRE shows (sci-fi, fantasy, horror). That in no way implies that the entirety of his acting career was in some way lacking.

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  8. Just want to let you know how fun your blog is. We (3 baby-boomers in their 60's) have been watching all the episodes. One a week. We then consult this blog for helpful insights and inspirations!

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  9. I enjoy your blogging on OL Craig. This episode was too hard to surmount the suspension of disbelief. I don't HATE it; I just don't buy most of it. Bring the guy home? Where several times he comes close to hitting or killing your wife and kids? Could never happen. Makes it almost laughable. The military LETTING this guy bring him home? Even more laughable. But enough of me venting. Carry on peeps--

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  10. thanks for your blog. its great for a post show read.

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