Features and Columns · TV

Exploring The Twilight Zone #108: Death Ship

By  · Published on November 26th, 2011

With the entire original run of The Twilight Zone available to watch instantly, we’re partnering with Twitch Film to cover all of the show’s 156 episodes. Are you brave enough to watch them all with us?

The Twilight Zone (Episode #108): “Death Ship” (airdate 2/7/63)

The Plot: A spaceship and her crew land on a new planet and make a startling discovery when they find the crashed remains of an identical ship… and the deceased remains of an identical crew.

The Goods: It’s 1997, the future, and a three-man crew has been sent to a newly discovered planet to confirm conditions and bring back samples. If the results are as promising as they hope the people of Earth will have a new place to call home and then plunder beyond recognition. As the spaceship flies over the planet’s terrain one of the men notices something reflective on the surface, and while he’s excited at the prospect of alien life his commander is far less enthused. Still, they head down and land on the planet to investigate.

The object in question is an exact duplicate of their own ship, exact aside from the severe structural damage it undertook during an apparent crash. The three men head inside and discover three dead bodies. Their dead bodies.

I think we all know where this occurrence at Alpha Centauri bridge is heading.

Ross (Jack Klugman), Mason (Ross Martin), and Carter (Fredrick Beir) all have different reactions to the discovery. Mason and Carter assume simply that they’re dead, and each man in his own way deals with it through emotional displays and more. They each fade briefly into their lives back home; Carter sees an old friend and an even older neighbor as he tries to find his wife, and Mason spends a few brief minutes with his daughter and wife. The common ground the two visions share though is that the friend, the neighbor, the daughter, and the wife are all deceased.

Ross has no such mind trip and instead stays on a rational train of thought. He works through the different possibilities from time travel to an alien “fear based” attack, and refuses to accept that he and his men are actually dead. It’s that refusal to accept the probable truth that may just keep these three men trapped here for eternity.

One of the problems with many of The Twilight Zone’s season four episodes is that the material isn’t sufficient to fill the hour-long format. That’s an issue here only in the sense that the story’s eventual ending is the most obvious one and one that a shorter episode would have jumped to much quicker. It also would have been presented as a shock or twist ending.

Here though, across the episode’s fifty minute run time, it’s presented as the very first possibility. Ross argues against it, and the episode allows him time to work through some equally preposterous but far more pleasing options. If it’s the future then they can work to avoid it by not flying again. If it’s a nightmarish image implanted in their heads by malicious aliens they can disprove it by flying.

The extra length gives the episode and the characters room to breathe as it teases possible explanations and allows time for the three men to work through it all in their own ways. It also allows more time for scenes to play out better than they would in abbreviated form. The scene where they find the three dead duplicates for example is a slow and silent one, and it’s made all the more chilling by the time allotted to it.

“Death Ship” may feature an obvious denouement (hell, it’s in the title!), but that doesn’t stop it from being one of the more entertaining fourth season entries. All three men give strong performances, especially Martin, and the effects are… entertaining too.

What do you think?

The Trivia: The spaceship prop is recycled from the film Forbidden Planet.

On the Next Episode: “A woman enlists a local witch to win back her sweetheart.”

Catch-Up: Episodes covered by Twitch / Episodes covered by FSR

We’re running through all 156 of the original Twilight Zone episodes over the next several weeks, and we won’t be doing it alone! Our friends at Twitch will be entering the Zone as well on alternating weeks. So definitely tune in over at Twitch and feel free to also follow along on our Twitter accounts @twitchfilm and @rejectnation.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.