“You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension, a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You're moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You've just crossed over into the Twilight Zone.”
Some stories are so rich and deep that they make for timeless classics. I can hear people cry out the name Shakespeare, but I was thinking more along the lines of Orwell or Asimov. Orwell's keen ability to predict the future with haunting accuracy and Asimov's sharp eye for human flaws and weaknesses - and strengths - pitch them as two authors, whose material, if visually interpreted, is likely to achieve a certain enduring resonance. Sure, I Robot's take on Asimov's robot stories is a little less cynical than what we would expect from the master, but the original 1984 movie, with its stellar performances from John Hurt and Richard Burton, still maintains its status as a classic. Ironically I never thought I would find a TV series which had the same sort of timeless feel to it - providing myriad stories that all share the same depth and focus on human behaviour as you would expect from the likes of Asimov. Then I remembered the Twilight Zone.
Season 5 (the last season of the Twilight Zone) contains some truly classic episodes, with no end of famous faces on board (albeit mostly in their early acting stages) for sci-fi, supernatural or even biblical tales. Simplistic in a way reminiscent of Hitchcock's Rear Window is The Jeopardy Room, where Martin Landau's Russian defector faces a worthy adversary on the eve of his escape. Then we have a young William Shatner exploring quite a psychologically demanding role in the classic story Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, where his passenger on board a jet appears to be the only one who can see the creature on the wings that is tearing the plane apart. What should he do? Lee Marvin is on solid form as a boxing trainer forced back into the ring one last time when his boxing android malfunctions and Telly Savalas slowly loses the plot as his daughter's doll comes to life. Other noteworthy names include Star Trek's George Takei, Mickey Rooney, James Coburn and Quincy's Jack Klugman.
Then there are the less star-orientated but equally compelling visions, including the award-winning An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, where a man due to be executed appears to survive the incident and go home to his family - or is he in the afterlife? Caesar and Me sees a ventriloquist being controlled by his dummy, You Drive sees a car provide the conscience for the hit-and-run driver behind the wheel and Probe 7, Over and Out is a haunting tale of the last two survivors of annihilated planets, who crash-land on Earth. Number 12 Looks Just Like You is eerily reminiscent of The Stepford Wives and Queen of the Nile explores the ideas of immortality and ageless beauty.
Twilight Zone Season 5 provides thirty-six half-hour episodes, each with gripping stories and fantastic performances. Narrated by Rod Sterling, who wrote the stories themselves and who also gives them a suitable foreword and closing coda, often putting a necessarily positive spin on things, the series is both refreshingly new and scarily familiar. These stories are likely to be eternal classics, consistently re-watchable and endlessly entertaining. Highly recommended.
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