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The Outer Limits: O.B.I.T.

The Department of Defense uses an amazing new security device to spy on its scientists, and things do not go well.

"O.B.I.T." is about as timely as a fifty-year-old television episode could be. It's almost like an extremely early episode of Black Mirror.

It started out with an inquiry. The handsome, telegenic Senator Orville arrived at the Cypress Hills Research Center, a scientific facility run by the Department of Defense, because an officer had been murdered under mysterious circumstances.

The interminable inquiry was the weakest part of the episode, which was unfortunate since it was also about 90% of the episode. Senator Orville (Peter Breck, who looked a lot like Roger Moore) walked about purposefully, talked about how important he was, and asked witnesses a number of questions about the murder in a faux courtroom setting – actually, and handily, the room in which the murder occurred – with no judge or jury to speak of.

The Senator seemed inexplicably concerned about how morale was plummeting at Cypress Hills and nobody was attending company picnics anymore, which I didn't think was relevant to the murder – except, of course, that it was. The O.B.I.T. machine, or "Outer Bank Individuated Teletracer," was a new, extremely invasive security device that allowed its users to observe scientists at Cypress Hills any time, day or night, by tuning into a specific individual's brainwaves and heartbeat. I thought it was really interesting that the wavy picture that came up on the circular screen was limited to the person being observed, and didn't include rooms, furniture, objects or other people. I guess the subjects were lucky that it included their clothing.

The inquiry revealed that people at the facility were being strongly affected by O.B.I.T., or what one female technician called the "peeping tom" machine: the complete lack of privacy had caused an increase in alcoholism, divorce and even suicide. One older scientist revealed that even though he was dying, he was so upset about being observed all the time that he refused to ask his son to come visit him. Dr. Clifford Scott, the head of the facility, had had a complete "physical breakdown" (I assume that was a sixties version of a "nervous breakdown") and had been confined to a rest home.

After Senator Orville retrieved Dr. Scott and put him on the "stand," the truth finally began to emerge. Dr. Scott admitted that he had worried that his wife, an attractive women with really big hair, was cheating on him and he had become obsessed with watching her on the machine. Even though he couldn't see who she was with, the suspicion and paranoia had ruined his marriage and pushed him off a mental cliff. Dr. Scott then revealed that he had seen a monster in the O.B.I.T. screen, and that Captain Harrison had as well, which was why Harrison was murdered. Scott was afraid that if he told the truth about what he saw, he would be killed, too.

So apparently, Mrs. Scott was having an affair with the operator of the O.B.I.T. machine, Mr. Byron Lomax (Jeff Corey), an extremely creepy and odd looking man with large, round black glasses. (During the inquiry, there were several extreme close-ups of Lomax watching the proceedings that made me laugh out loud because the glasses reminded me of Groucho Marx.)

Lomax's speech at the end was by far the best thing about "O.B.I.T." when he, coordinated with his own alien image on the O.B.I.T. screen like he was speaking in stereo, revealed that the machines were already everywhere and that it was a precursor of an alien invasion. Spying on other people and knowing all their secrets was an addiction, a sickness that would bring about the end of humanity, hence the machine's cleverly applicable acronym. Only by resisting would we survive, and that certainly didn't seem likely.

While this episode wasn't a strong one, it had something important to say about secrecy, technology and the ever increasing lack of privacy in today's world – computers, cell phones, satellites and GPS. I kept thinking of Big Brother and 1984, too. If this is what will destroy humanity, hey baby, we're already there.

I also really liked Lomax's "disguise" when he was in human form: the coke bottle bottom glasses, the weird line of hair on the top of his hands, the limp. (His associate had all of those, too.) It reminded me of abduction stories, of "gray" aliens disguising themselves as humans and not quite pulling it off. Lomax's true form was pretty cool, too. The one eye in the center of its face, the huge, overhanging brow. Although its face also reminded me of a crumped, upended loaf of bread.


— Lomax said early on that anyone with nothing to hide wouldn't mind constant 24/7 surveillance, an argument that has also been made by the U.S. Government.

— Could we go back to the improbability of Mrs. Scott having an affair with Lomax? I mean, not only was he super creepy and unattractive, he was a freaking alien! Did his bits even match her bits?

— The aliens had a name: Helosians. It was mentioned in the original script but didn't make it to the episode.

— One thing I always think about when I see stories like these: how can there be enough watchers to watch that many people, especially 24/7?

— This episode was written by Meyer Dolinsky, who also wrote "The Architects of Fear" and "ZZZZZ."

— And here is my usual original Star Trek note: Harry Townes, who played Dr. Scott, was in "The Return of the Archons," and Jeff Corey was in "The Cloud Minders."

— Constant surveillance was an everpresent (pun intended) theme in the brilliant sixties series The Prisoner, too.


Senator Orville: "Morality makes its own decisions, Colonel."

Dr. Scott: "As long as I'm insane, I'm safe."

Colonel Grover: "It's the most hideous creation ever conceived. No one can laugh or joke. It watches. It saps the very spirit. And the worst thing of all is… I watch it. I can't not look. It's like a drug, a horrible drug. You can't resist it. It's an addiction."

Lomax: "The machines are everywhere! Oh, you'll find them all, you're a zealous people. And you'll make a great show of smashing a few of them, but for every one you destroy, hundreds of others will be built. And they will demoralize you, break your spirits, create such rifts and tensions in your society that no one will be able to repair them! Oh, you're a savage, despairing planet. And when we come here to live, you friendless, demoralized flotsam will fall without even a single shot being fired. Senator, enjoy the few years left you. There is no answer. You're all of the same dark persuasion! You demand, insist on knowing every private thought and hunger of everyone: your families, your neighbors, everyone – but yourselves."

Hmm. Two out of four pairs of Groucho Marx glasses,

Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.


  1. Nice review. I think that the overriding theme was the cyclopean nature of the imagery. The Helosians were cyclops. (Helos - a singular planet circling around a sun, or eye?) OBIT had a single, round screen. The garishly round glasses on Jeff Corey. The shots of the inquiry room from above, as if an eye were looking down. All meant as metaphors for the "eye that sees us all". (Also a big theme in the old Corman movie "X - Man with the X-Ray Eyes")

    Also, courtroom dramas were big at the time ("Perry Mason") which may explain the acceptance of Dolinsky's more "dramatic" script for a more "mature" audience.

  2. Lomax looks like Elvis Costello

  3. My favorite Outer Limits -- I give it four Eyeballs! A remarkably prescient look at the pitfalls of technology, the threat to personal privacy and the rise of government/corporate surveillance.

    Yes the courtroom setting is dry but the tension does build. And the scenes at the sanitarium and the alien accomplice's hotel room are wonderfully dark and paranoid.

    What this episode does is personalize these vast issues by boiling it all down to a handful of characters, especially the research center's troubled supervisor -- Harry Townes gives a standout performance when he finally shows up in the plot.

    Two ominous points are noted in passing -- uncaring government bureaucrats rubber-stamped this alien plot, and the OBIT machines are also spreading to private industry and education.

    OBIT is not a whodunit because we know who, the key is WHY. The aliens have some devastatingly keen insight into human weakness.

    Bonus Trivia: Meyer Dolinsky wrote another TV episode with a surveillance theme -- for the original Hawaii 50!


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