#31: ‘The Outer Limits’

Every Saturday, The Savvy Screener’s Boomer Box is counting down “The 50 Greatest Television Episodes of the 1960s,” in reverse chronological order, as researched and written by Todd M. Pence.

#31: The Outer Limits: ‘Demon with a Glass Hand’

The mid-1960s saw the advent of the most ambitious pure science-fiction anthology series television had seen to date: Leslie Stephens and Joseph Stefano’s The Outer Limits.

Ostensibly a “monster of the week show,” the memorably iconic alien costumes, constructions, and special effects the program featured week after week belied sophisticated themes examining the nature and evolution of humankind.

Perhaps no other series in television history so well combined high-brow sci-fi with primal psychological horror. The prototypical “ahead-of-its-time” TV series, The Outer Limits sacrificed its own longevity during its original run for a posthumous immortality.

The episode usually cited as the series’ crowning achievement aired early in its final, abbreviated ABC season, on October 17, 1964:

“Demon with a Glass Hand” stars Robert Culp as a man known only as Trent, with no memory of his past life. In place of his left hand is a sophisticated computer shaped like a human appendage but with three missing fingers. The computer tells Trent that when he finds and replaces the digits he will be informed as to his identity and purpose.

Trent learns that he has actually been sent back in time from the far future, a period when Earth has been conquered by aliens called Kybens. The Kybens are themselves dying because of a plague unleashed by the earthmen as a last-recourse defensive effort. He meets a woman named Conseulo (Arlene Martel).

Trent must undergo the quest for his missing fingers and his missing identity while being pursued by Kybens from the future, who believe that the information he carries holds a cure for the plague, all the while unaware of an existential nightmare that will be revealed by learning the answers to his questions.

Harlan Ellison’s screenplay won a Writer’s Guild of America award for anthology drama. Ellison would later also win a WGA for his script for another legendary science fiction series: Star Trek’sThe City on the Edge of Forever.”

You can buy “Demon with a Glass Hand” for $1.99 from Amazon.

(Top photo: Arlene Martel, Robert Culp and the glass hand. Source: IMDb)

About Todd M. Pence

Todd M Pence has been an amateur historian and scholar of American television for the past 35 years. “The 50 Greatest Television Episodes of the 1960” is the product of decades of research, not just in active viewing but in extensive combing of newspaper and magazine archives to read the original reviews of programs at the time they aired. He has also reached out to fellow television researchers to get their opinions. Pence maintains that the decade of the 1960's constituted the zenith of American primetime television drama, and that we will probably never see its like again. His purpose in compiling this list was to preserve this history and to spotlight many exceptional programs which have been forgotten and consigned to the dustbin of history. Pence holds a BA in Journalism from West Virginia University and has worked for the past 20 years in the Fairfax (Virginia) County Public School system

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