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The Outer Limits: The Sixth Finger

A scientist speeds up the effects of evolution on a human test subject, and things do not go well.

As with many cautionary tales, this one began with a mad scientist. Professor Mathers felt guilty that he had participated in the creation of the atomic bomb (why was a geneticist working on the bomb?) and in his lab hidden away in a tiny Welsh village, he experimented on a way to eliminate war by artificially forcing humanity to evolve. This same topic was also explored successfully in the second Star Trek pilot, "Where No Man Has Gone Before." (I can almost hear Sally Kellerman exclaiming that "a mutated superior man could also be a wonderful thing!")

But again, science was seen as cold and frightening, a obvious theme in The Outer Limits even after only a handful of episodes, when Professor Mathers' Frankenstein-ish creation nearly took out an entire village.

Test subject Gwyllim Griffiths was a coal miner, an intelligent man who hated his life, despised the backward village in which he was trapped, and wanted desperately to have an occupation in which he could use his brain, not his body – a sad reminder of how society often kept people in the jobs that their parents had, even if it didn't suit them. (It was funny that he wanted to "use his head," considering what happened to that head later in the episode.) I thought David McCallum, who is famous as sixties heartthrob Illya Kuryakin on The Man from UNCLE as well as several hundred recent episodes of NCIS that I've never seen, did a good enough job with the part, even though it was obvious that he was trying to work around and emote through the head and hand appliances.

Gwyllim was not just smarter – he was telepathic and eventually telekinetic. He also had pointed ears, a precursor of a particularly famous character from 1965 who wasn't a glimmer in Gene Roddenberry's eye quite yet. The sixth finger that he acquired was a small way of making him less human and more frightening and villainous, although apparently polydactyly is a lot more common than I thought.

(If you want to be creeped out by extra finger and toe pictures, check out the polydactyly wikipedia page. In fact, while researching this episode, I realized that there are many six-fingered villains: Count Rugen in The Princess Bride, Hannibal Lecter in the original book, not the movies, and the Blue Meanies in Yellow Submarine. Henry the Eighth's second wife, Anne Boleyn, may have had a sixth finger, but that also might have been a rumor started by her enemies to make her seem evil and link her to witchcraft.)

Professor Mathers realized almost immediately that he hadn't created the hope of humanity – he'd created a monster, and Gwyllim's newly acquired telepathy made it impossible for Mathers to act against him. Gwyllim deliberately killed Mrs. Ives, the unfortunate housekeeper, with his mind because she was about to sound the alarm in the village and the torches and pitchforks were on their way. Of course, Gwyllim called the villagers "savages" when in fact, he was the one that resorted to violence. The way he wanted to destroy the town, an inadvertent reminder of Carrie (which hadn't been written yet) made me think that if they'd had a bigger budget and more time to film, it would have been curtains for the entire village.

Gwyllim's girlfriend Cathy wanted to be smart but couldn't even track how much money she was supposed to get for the bread she delivered around the little town. Professor Mathers tested her blood but said she wasn't a good subject for his experiment. Which made me wonder if he didn't take her because she wasn't smart. Or because she was female. In a little bit of callback to Beauty tamed the Beast or possibly King Kong and Fay Wray, Cathy was Gwyllim's downfall, or possibly his savior. For a supposedly brilliant advanced creature, it was incredibly stupid of him to ask a woman who liked him as he used to be to help him become even more alien.

Why couldn't Gwyllim read Cathy's mind? Because she was stupid? I was almost surprised that the plot key wasn't that he couldn't read the mind of a woman. But then, Gwyllim wouldn't have killed Mrs. Ives.

I couldn't help some non-serious speculation on what the Cathy denouement meant. That love conquers all? That women prevent men from making progress? That stupidity triumphs over intelligence? I can certainly theorize that Gwyllim's swollen brain and lack of hair lessened his attractiveness, and he showed no interest in Cathy after he started advancing. Were they theorizing that humans of the future will have no interest in sex? Is that even possible? Okay, I'm being sarcastic.

And what happened to Gwyllim in the end? Will he live? I sort of expected him to die. Apparently, the original ending of the episode had Gwyllim devolve into a puddle of gooey cells; that would have worked. Instead, he just collapsed, probably from the physical stress of devolving to a cave man and re-evolving so quickly.

Just one more observation. I loved that the labels on the lever said simply "Forward" and "Backward." It was totally illogical, but it also reminded me of George Pal's Time Machine, which was made in 1960, by the way. And (okay, two observations) Darwin, the monkey that Dr. Mathers had made more intelligent, was such a transparent comparison to Gwyllim. Poor thing. What monkey would want to spend his life as a file clerk? I had a job as a file clerk once, and it made me want to blow my brains out.


— The coal miners apparently never washed their faces so that we'd know instantly that they were coal miners.

— Another Star Trek reference: the huge head that Gwyllim sports in the advanced versions of himself also reminded me of the Talosians in "The Cage" and "The Menagerie." Just a reminder that Outer Limits was first. Maybe it inspired Gene Roddenberry.

— Safe to say that no one sounded Welsh, and the accents were all over the place. David McCallum, who is in his eighties and still working, bless his heart, is Scottish, Jill Haworth was American, and Edward Mulhare was Irish and supposed to be from London.

— There were several shots of statues around the house and outside, including the very first shot of the episode, an obvious visual of other created human images.

— Can I mention how much I dislike the standard Outer Limits teaser clip? They take one of the most exciting portions of the episode to show before the title card. No one today would show a spoiler like that right before the episode. Although I suppose one could argue that it's a charming Outer Limits quirk.

Excellent. Four out of four statues,

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


  1. This is one of my favorite Outer Limits episodes. But I am a fan of David McCallum. I like this episode better than the other Outer Limits (original series) that he was on. You'll get to that soon. And he is one of only 5 (? I think?) actors to have been on the original series and in the rebooted series in the late '90s (Leonard Nimoy is one of that group as well).

    I always heard that his character was supposed to devolve to be a kind of ape or gorilla, but that probably never even got to the script process, due to standards and practices. I think it works as devolving him to a caveman. (Don't agree with evolution, but I do know cavemen existed!)

    Still, I like this episode a lot. And that's interesting to see those pictures side by side. I thought he looked like something from Star Trek, but I couldn't put my finger on which alien it was, even after seeing both episodes many times.

  2. Enjoyed your comment, Kathy. Of course, there's the pointed ears, too. I bet Roddenberry was an Outer Limits fan.

  3. I remember that episode very well. I had just taken some acid and when I turned on the TV there was illya kuryakin, his head getting bigger at approximately the same rate as mine. Fortunately I came down and returned to more or less my former self.

  4. Neil Ayer, very funny. Please post more comments -- I needed that laugh.


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