Specimen: Unknown

The Outer Limits (1963)

Specimen: Unknown, directed by Gerd Oswald.

Researchers on a space station discover organisms on the hull, little "space barnacles" like mushrooms, which grow into toxic, fast-reproducing flowers. With the entire crew becoming ill, they ask that their shuttle be destroyed before returning to Earth and contaminating the entire planet.

Ground control gives this serious consideration but decides to bring them back. Damaged and off course, what will happen when the space ship crashes?

I am torn on this one. I remember the episode fondly, but now it seems I saw only the post-crash ending when I was young. That still seems like a fine little short-short SF horror story, with the deadly flowers multiplying every time we turn around. Like a zombie apocalypse or The Birds (1963), where numbers themselves become terrifying. Or like the plants of Day of the Triffids (1962), except these don't need to walk because they spread so insanely quickly.

Invasive species, indeed! At that rate the Earth is gone in hours.

On the other hand the nuts-and-bolts rocket ship adventure is not really Outer Limits material, but more like something from the single season Men into Space series. In fact, footage from that series is used in this episode and others.

Now, I was nuts for that stuff as a kid. Show me a space helmet or the old Wheel in Space design and I was happy. Combine that with the alien infestation final act and it was a good episode at the time, but now seems considerably more padded and clunky. Lots of talk and agonizing over what to do.

The cast:

The story reuses older SF tropes and anticipates later ones:

Photographed by Conrad Hall. His odd experiments in lens filtering are absent this time and we get sharp images of Gail Kobe.

The Blu-ray commentary track has Craig Beam ridiculing the episode. He finds only the space funeral scene has the expected Outer Limits SF gothic horror, with the rest being terribly weak. His comical disdain becomes tedious.