To start with, it is very rare for us to review a TV show or film, but doubly so to take on just a single episode. But this is a special case. The Outer Limits episode “Soldier” is closely tied into to The Terminator (1984) and along with the later episode, A Demon With A Glass Hand (1964), is considered to have been plagiarised by James Cameron and his co-writer, Gail Anne Hurd in order to bring the sci-fi classic to the big screen back in 1984.
So, let’s see what all the fuss is about…
It is the 19th of September, 1964 and the second and final season of the original The Outer Limits series premièred with a new episode which is infamous not for being apart of this much regarded sci-fi series but the perceived copyright infringement which would take place 20 years later.
Solider, penned by Harlan Ellison and starring Michael Ansara, follows the 38th Century warrior as he, along with his mortal enemy, have been thrown back in time to the 20th Century. He speaks a bastardised English which is at first heard as gibberish but he is befriended by a linguist who has been brought in to communicate with this futuristic soldier.
The plot is nothing spectacular but the execution is good, with time and interest taken into trying to paint a more realistic view of the distant future, more in tone, with the concepts of renewable energy, test tube babies, telepathic links and the evolution of language. This, as you would come to expect from the series, is not written for or by dummies.
The Outer Limits was intelligent sci-fi and Solider, which was seen by many as the direct inspiration for James Cameron’s “Tech Noir” thriller, The Terminator in 1984, must stand as one of the best. But The Terminator may have drawn some of its plot points from this 60’s TV show but in all fairness, outside the realms of copyright law and accusations of plagiarism, it is a very different story.
The future, with the sky lit by lasers, was very close to the post Judgment Day world of Cameron’s Terminator, but Ansara’s “Solider”, as well as that of his two-dimensional foe, are very different from anything in the 1984 film, as was the plot. This episode simply follows a solider out of time, unable to adjust and eventually giving his life for a loving family who he cannot understand, or could he?
This was not about nuclear war, rather it was a clear Cold War metaphor with the emotionless killing machine giving everything to the state. In fact, this episode is loosely based on Ellison’s 1957 short story “Solider From Tomorrow”, in which it is established that Qarlo (Ansara) fights for the “Tri-Continentalers” against the, wait for its subtly, the “Ruskie-Chinks”!
“The State is mother, the State is father…”
In this future, freedom has been scarified for victory. The echoes of McCarthy-ism from a liberal writer are coming in loud and clear. The metaphors are also coming think and fast and are as subtle as a sledgehammer but still offer an interesting subject for dinner table debate.
This is about a man born in breeding farm having to come to terms with his exposure to a free thinking, peaceful humanity rather than simply killing his enemy. He is a kind of terminator but a very human one. Have more in common with a war veteran who cannot return to civilian life. Solider is a tragedy but one with hope at its core.
True science fiction and a noble inspiration for any writer to draw from.