The Outer Limits: S1E09 “Corpus Earthling”

Just a quick head’s up. This episode deals with death by suicide as a major plot point. I will address it in this writing.

A doctor with a metal plate in his skull gains the ability to hear the conversations of an alien species disguised as rocks.

Sci-fi can be a silly thing. This is especially true with adaptations of stories or novels that can spend more time explaining what’s happening. It’s one thing to read a story about alien rocks trying to take over the world; it’s quite another to watch it happen.

In the novel Corpus Earthling by Louis Charbonneau, the main character, a professor, is a telepath receiving very specific messages. Something is compelling him to consider death by suicide. It’s not his own thoughts, but no one wants to believe him. More and more people become possessed by the alien species living within the rock after learning about the voices. It’s easier to believe that the professor needs psychiatric care rather than believe the voices are real.

In the episode “Corpus Earthling,” the main character is a Doctor who starts hearing the voices after an accident. No one believes him, but his wife, a geologist, and her coworker speculate about aliens hiding in rocks. The doctor himself suggests that he’s suffering from mental health problems, but his wife believes that something else is going on.

The overall plot of the two versions is the same, but the storytelling is different. It is 100% the issue of adapting sci-fi to the screen. When you read a book about talking alien rocks, you don’t need a visual indicator that the rocks are talking. You just know that the voices are being heard and can imagine what that looks like on your own. It’s believable because you interpret the image. On-screen, in the late 50s and early 60s, audiences expected to see the alien force in full motion.

The result is only as good and believable as the effects being used. Here, hollow rubber casts of rocks are deflated and inflated over and over again to look like they are talking. It’s so ridiculous, I honestly thought they were jiggling some Jello molds at first.

The direct, literal discussion about rocks and sentience doesn’t help the believability, either. The actual discussion of rocks by two geologists is the kind of science you learn in elementary school. Did you know there are three major kinds of rocks? You can look at them through a microscope or weigh them or heat them up. Meanwhile, they just kind of pass over that the two new rocks are samples from a space mission. The geologists shove them on a shelf and go back to heating samples of other rocks in a brick oven on a lab table.

“Corpus Earthling” doesn’t seem to know what story it wants to tell. There are things they know they need: the talking rocks, the doctor hearing voices, the trope of the suffering and supportive wife. The rest of the story is connecting the dots any which way they please and hoping for the best.

***

content warning: death by suicide (discussed), mental wellness


Up next: S1E10 “Nightmare.” The Outer Limits is streaming for free on The Roku Channel.