The Outer Limits was a proving ground for Stargate talent, showing us Michael Shanks, Amanda Tapping, and others in chilling new guises.
Before MGM paired them to develop Stargate SG-1, Jonathan Glassner and Brad Wright were both employed as executive producers on a reboot of the classic, 1963-5 series The Outer Limits. As it happened, their Outer Limits far outstripped the success of the original, logging 152 episodes to its progenitor’s 49. But compared to what has been described as the “radical optimism” of Stargate SG-1, a determinedly dystopian outlook characterized The Outer Limits. Basically, if something could go wrong on The Outer Limits, it did so—and in the worst possible way.
The anthology series also provided a fertile vineyard from which to pluck cast members for Stargate and not just because both shows were shot in Vancouver, which always looks thoroughly miserable on The Outer Limits (we said it was gloomy). The list of Outer Limits alumni who would appear on Stargate is much too long to be fully encompassed here but salient appearances will be noted. The last shall be first … or is it the other way around?
Discover the MBTI profiles of your favorite Stargate Atlantis characters, from lemon-loving Rodney McKay to midnight runner Ronon Dex.
Beau Bridges (General Landry) in ‘Sandkings’
Stargate SG-1’s final commanding officer would be The Outer Limits’ initial guest star, headlining the 1995 feature-length pilot, ‘Sandkings’ (S1, Ep1). Adapted from a novella by George R.R. Martin (A Song of Ice and Fire), ‘Sandkings’ depicts a scientist—portrayed by a ponytailed Bridges—with a serious God complex.
When an experiment on insect larvae retrieved from Mars goes wrong and is shut down, Bridges’ Dr. Simon Kress smuggles some of the banned eggs out of the lab and into his barn, where they hatch into oversized, carnivorous arachnids (kids, don’t try this at home). Worshipped by the Sandkings as their creator, Kress loses his sanity, his family, and ultimately his life.
Michael Shanks (Daniel Jackson) in ‘Mary 25’ and ‘Manifest Destiny’
In the Glassner-penned Outer Limits episode ‘Mary 25’ (S4, Ep15), a wife-abusing, lecherous developer of androids (Tom Butler) brings the titular, robotic Mary 25 (Sofia Shinus) home to spouse Teryl (Cynthia Geary) and family, to be the live-in nanny and child guardian. Shanks plays Mary 25’s engineer —and the wife’s former lover—Melburn Ross. When Ross gets wind of the domestic violence taking place in the household he tinkers with Mary 25’s programming, with fatal consequences. He ultimately realizes he’s been played by Teryl but not in a way he could ever have foreseen. A five-time Outer Limits alumnus, Butler also played Major General Trofsky in the Stargate SG-1 episodes ‘Out of Mind’ (S2, Ep22) and ‘Into the Fire’ (S3, Ep9).
Shanks returned to The Outer Limits for its most harrowing episode, 2000’s ‘Manifest Destiny’ (S6 Ep4). As the medic and video documentarian on an outer-space flight, he is only intermittently seen but quite affectingly heard from start to finish, since frequent Stargate director Brad Turner shoots ‘Manifest Destiny’ in first-person, “found footage” style. (Andreas Poulsson does the virtuoso camerawork.) The brilliant Mark Stern/Geoffrey Hollands teleplay is set aboard the terraforming ship Mercury, which comes across the blood-spattered hulk of an Earth battlecruiser, seemingly abandoned after having committed genocide on an alien planet. But, as one ill-fated crew member says, there are “ghosts in the machine,” wreaking vengeance on their human destructors, who grow increasingly paranoid and turn on one another—to the death. (The battleship’s captain is named Milus O’Brien, seemingly a dig at the one-big-happy family cosmos of Star Trek.) Future Stargate SG-1 actress Sarah Deakins (‘Forsaken’ and ‘Outsiders’) plays Shanks’ doomed love interest.
A thoroughly gripping 45 minutes, this is an Outer Limits masterpiece.
Doctor Who writers Paul Cornell and Gary Russell, and Stargate novelists Sally Malcolm and Geonn Cannon, on the curious journey from fandom to canon.
Amanda Tapping (Samantha Carter) in ‘The Joining’
Tapping’s sole Outer Limits turn, ‘The Joining’ (S4, Ep13), is a haunting tale evocative of David Cronenberg. Turner again provides a firm hand on the tiller. Glassner and Wright collaborated with Sam Egan on the original story, in which Tapping’s Cmdr. Kate Girard voyages to Venus to rescue her stranded fiancé Miles (a live-wire C. Thomas Howell). Once back on Earth, Miles begins manifesting a wasting sickness and reacts to radiation treatments by extruding grotesque, replicated body parts, the byproduct of interaction with some Venusian creepy-crawlies. Girard stands by her now-husband through thick and thin but, after a laboratory fatality, finds herself the only person between him and a death sentence.
Don S. Davis (General Hammond) in ‘Living Hell’ and ‘Voice of Reason’
The hardworking actor made a double-dip in the 1995 Outer Limits season. In ‘Living Hell’ (S1, Ep7), a drifter (Sam Robards) suffering from a gunshot wound to the head has an experimental chip implanted in his brain by an ambitious surgeon (Elizabeth Peña). It links his consciousness with that of a serial killer. Naturally, he becomes the prime suspect in the murders, due to his detailed knowledge of them. Davis has the fairly routine role of the lead detective on the case.
In the season finale, ‘Voice of Reason’ (S1, Ep20), a flustered bureaucrat (Gordon Clapp, NYPD Blue) tries to convince a secret federal committee that America is “overrun with aliens.” It’s a clip show stitched together by Wright, who must tee up such footage as the future Major Lorne of Stargate Atlantis (Kavan Smith) being devoured by an alien-possessed Alyssa Milano. Davis plays a skeptical general, sort of an inverse Hammond. Still, it’s easy to see from his authoritative air why he was Wright and Glassner’s top choice to oversee Stargate Command.
We speak to six of the key players in the first-ever episode of Stargate SG-1, ‘Children of the Gods’, on the occasion of its 25th anniversary
Teryl Rothery (Dr. Janet Fraiser) in ‘Trial by Fire’ and ‘Re-Generation’
Another two-time Outer Limits alumnus, the diminutive actress is believed to have secured the role of Dr. Fraiser with a powerful supporting turn as the presidential science advisor (also named Janet) in the taut Outer Limits episode ‘Trial by Fire’ (S2, Ep9). Written by Wright and directed by Glassner, it is one of the series’ finest installments.
A new president (Robert Foxworth) is confronted immediately with a first-contact situation involving an enigmatic alien armada. Pressed for time and afraid to appear weak—thereby betraying his weakness—he makes a tragically wrong decision. Familiar faces in the episode include Ian Tracey (Stargate SG-1’s ‘Prometheus’ – S6, Ep11), Bruce Harwood (The X-Files), Jason Gray-Stanford (Monk), and Lawrence Dane, playing a role very similar to his later one in Stargate SG-1’s ‘Chain Reaction’ (S4, Ep15), that of an overzealous general bent upon catastrophic military action.
A bespectacled Rothery returns—as a doctor—in The Outer Limits episode ‘Re-Generation’ (S3, Ep3). Wannabe politician Graham Highfield (Daniel Benzali) pushes wife Rebecca (Kim Cattrall) into being impregnated with an embryonic clone of their recently deceased son. But the fetus turns out to have an agenda of its own, causing sinister complications and pitting husband against wife. Rothery’s Dr. Lucy Cole provides a sympathetic ear to an increasingly paranoid Rebecca … but is not as she appears.
Torri Higginson (Elizabeth Weir) in ‘The Haven’
Residents of ‘The Haven’ (S5, Ep15) are cosseted in automated, self-absorbed solitude under the all-seeing eye of the supercomputer Argus. When the latter breaks down, so does the existence of an insufferable yuppie (Chris Eigeman, perfectly cast), at least until he begins forming common cause with other trapped occupants of The Haven. Stargate SG-1 veteran Gerard Plunkett (‘The Broca Divide,’ ‘Fire and Water,’ ‘Enigma’) plays George, the sinister concierge hologram. Higginson’s role as Eigeman’s terrified neighbor asks little of her, although she gets to deliver a very un-Weir-like “I’ve been told I lack initiative. I’m more of a follower than a leader.”
Weighing the changes in the 2008 ‘Final Cut’ of Stargate SG-1’s ‘Children of the Gods’ against the original on the 25th Anniversary.
Robert Picardo (Richard Woolsey) in ‘Sarcophagus’
Long before he arrived at Cheyenne Mountain or in the Pegasus Galaxy, Picardo was confronting the eponymous alien ‘Sarcophagus’ (S4, Ep19). In the wilds of Alaska, an overambitious archeologist (Lisa Zane) and her husband (David Cubitt) discover the cocooned remains of an extraterrestrial (Doug Jones, Pan’s Labyrinth/Star Trek: Discovery) and unwittingly revive him. Picardo is the most divisive member of the expedition, whingeing and money-grubbing. But he gets the episode’s best line: “I told you, no more touchy-feely with E.T. here” before meeting an explosive demise.
Lou Diamond Phillips (David Telford) in ‘Identity Crisis’
Brad Turner steers an entertainingly freaky installment, ‘Identity Crisis’ (S4, Ep10). Stargate Universe favorite Phillips plays Capt. Cotter McCoy, a participant in a military experiment whereby human consciousness drives cyborg counterparts. When a mission is sabotaged, McCoy is left trapped in a rapidly degenerating android body and rampages in search of a cure. Phillips’ clipped performance is both empathetic and distinguished by completely convincing mime as McCoy’s cybernetic counterpart. Only a pat, have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too conclusion mars a fine episode.
Ronny Cox (Senator Kinsey) in ‘Déja Vu’
Those who thought Kinsey never met the karma he deserved will be satisfied manifold by Ronny Cox’s fate in The Outer Limits episode ‘Déja Vu’ (S5, Ep16). This ‘Window of Opportunity’-like tale revolves around an attempted teleportation experiment, employing an artificial wormhole that destabilizes, throwing lead scientist Mark Crest (Kevin Nealon) into a time loop back to the previous day … and again … and again. Crest’s avuncular Marine Corps supervisor (Cox) turns out to be another bloodthirsty and ruthless version of Dick Jones in Robocop, one who has hijacked the experiment to his own deadly ends. Dean Marshall, Sgt. Bates on Stargate Atlantis, plays an analogous role here.
Mel Harris (Oma Desala) in ‘Paradise’
Daniel Jackson’s favorite ascended being stars in this Cocoon-esque installment, ‘Paradise’ (S2, Ep17), directed by ‘Children of the Gods’ helmer Mario Azzopardi. Harris plays a medical examiner puzzling over the deaths of three women due to premature, sudden aging. The climax of this almost-sappy episode has Harris delivering her mother’s half-alien baby. We’re not making this up.
Richard Dean Anderson and Brad Wright reunite for Stargate Legacy to mark the 25th anniversary of Stargate SG-1’s first episode, ‘Children of the Gods’.
Jessica Steen (Elizabeth Weir 1.0) ‘The Refuge’, ‘Essence of Life’, and ‘The Grid’
She may not have lasted at Stargate Command but Jessica Steen was an overachiever on The Outer Limits, racking up three discrete characters. In her first outing, 1996’s ‘The Refuge’ (S2, Ep11), she plays one of several personality-morphing women under the malign influence of tycoon M. Emmet Walsh (deliciously obscene). Roaming a post-apocalyptic, wintry landscape, Raymond Dalton (James Wilder) stumbles onto this cozy oasis of decadence and tries to make sense of it—a storyline let down by a forced, “it was all a dream” happy ending.
Steen would return three seasons later in ‘Essence of Life’ (S5, Ep18). A post-pandemic government has pharmaceutically repressed its citizens’ emotions. Daniel Baldwin and Steen play agents on the trail of a chemist (Joel Grey) who makes an elixir that enables its users to reconnect with lost loved ones. Baldwin gets hooked on the substance and the visions of his dead wife (Daphne Zuniga) it conjures. Steen ultimately takes a bullet to save him from the police. Ron Halder (Cronus on Stargate SG-1) turns up as a mortician. Turner again directs.
“Trust nobody” is the watchword of ‘The Grid’ (S6, Ep15), a predictable Invasion of the Body Snatchers knockoff. The residents of a small town are enslaved to an omniscient computer, as Scott Bowman (D.B. Sweeney) discovers when investigating the murder of his brother (Eric Breker, Col. Reynolds on Stargate SG-1). Other Stargate denizens on hand are Brent Stait (Lt. Ferretti) as a hostile sheriff and Colleen Rennison (Cassandra Fraiser), in the gravy part of the local prophetess of doom. Steen is a local medical technician, with a thankless role and dull performance. Luckily, Steen’s squeaky-wheel habits meant she wouldn’t be moving on to Stargate Atlantis.
Colin Cunningham (Paul Davis) in ‘World Apart’
A space expedition makes contact with Earth 20 years after leaving orbit in ‘Worlds Apart’ (S2, Ep10). But is stranded on a watery planet a galaxy away, connected with home only through an unstable wormhole. The lone survivor (Chad Willett) is the former lover of the mission director (Bonnie Bedelia), but while she has aged, he has not. She must decide whether to send a high-risk rescue flight into the wormhole to retrieve him. Cunningham’s Professor George Ernst counsels restraint in the face of heavy political pressure to green-light the salvage mission.
And there you have it. Or not, as Jack O’Neill would say. Because recurring Stargate faces like Tom McBeath (Harry Maybourne), Garry Chalk (Col. Chekhov), JR Bourne (Martouf), Robert Wisden (Major Samuels), Kevin McNulty (Dr. Warner), Bill Dow (Dr. Lee), Gary Jones (Sgt. Harriman) and even Apophis himself, Peter Williams, populate The Outer Limits universe. It’s a veritable Stargate parallel cosmos.
You could make a drinking game of it … although you might find yourself thoroughly blotto in no time flat.
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David McKee works as a business reporter and editor by day in order to feed his science-fiction habit on nights and weekends. He caught the bug way back when Space: 1999 was airing. He lives in Augusta, Georgia, with his wife and their cat.