Monday, September 07, 2015

Cult-TV Theme Watch: Alien Abduction

One of the greatest tropes of science fiction television is alien abduction, the idea that extra-terrestrial beings could whisk you away from your normal life to a world, well, of hurt.

Sometimes, according to abduction lore (as well as sci-fi TV), the abductees are experimented upon in uncomfortable and even brutal fashion. 

Sometimes, during an abduction, there are instances of memory gaps, or missing time.  And after the abduction, abductees sometimes experience inexplicable visions or memories of their time aboard the alien craft.

Alien abduction has occurred many times in cult-TV history, though not always precisely in the sense that our culture currently describes it: with people being taken, sleeping in their beds, paralyzed, to a hovering saucer.

In The Twilight Zone (1959-1965) for instance, an episode called “To Serve Man,” about Kanamits harvesting mankind as food, featured a moment in which the aliens force a UN translator back on their saucer after he learns the truth about their motives.  Unable to escape, by definition he is abducted to their ship.

In Lost in Space (1965-1968), an early black and white episode, “Invaders from the Fifth Dimension” involves aliens abducting first Dr. Smith (Jonathan Harris) and then Will Robinson (Bill Mumy) in an attempt to use their brains to control their navigational computer.

On Star Trek (1966-1969), the second season story “Gamesters of Triskelion” sees Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Lt. Uhura (Nichelle Nichols) and Mr. Chekov (Walter Koenig) “intercepted” during transport by the Providers of Triskelion.  After the abudction, they are sold into slavery, and made gladiators.

The series Space: 1999 (1975-1977) often contended with abduction stories.  In the Year One story, “Ring Around the Moon,” Dr. Helena Russell (Barbara Bain) from Moonbase Alpha is captured by a probe from Triton. There, she is programmed to be the probe’s eyes and ears on the lunar facility.

The episode “Missing Link” features an unusual brand of alien abduction.  Koenig’s “soul” is abducted to the distant planet of Zenno by the scientist Raan (Peter Cushing) while his comatose body is treated on Moonbase Alpha.

In Battlestar Galactica’s (1978-1979) epic two-part episode, “War of the Gods,” Viper pilots on patrol in unexplored space are abducted by the Ship of Lights, not to be seen again until the defeat of Count Iblis (Patrick Macnee), a fallen angel-type character.

One of the weirdest series cliff-hangers in history, occurred on The Colbys (1985-1987), when Fallon (Emma Samms), was abducted by aliens in the desert.  The series was canceled, and Fallon returned to the series, Dynasty, without mentioning the abduction.

The age of the standard alien abduction -- an experience involving missing time, a tour of the alien ship, medical experimentation, and the like, did not occur on TV often until Chris Carter’s The X-Files (1993-2002) began to chart the details of the incidents. 

A story early in the second season, “Duane Barry,” concerns a serial abductee (Steve Railsback), and its conclusion, “Ascendance” ends with Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) abducted.  We believe for some time that the abduction is alien in nature, but learn late in the series that the Cigarette Smoking Man and his Syndicate are orchestrating them.

But in the eighth year of the series, Mulder (David Duchovny) is abducted by genuine aliens, and nearly converted into a not-quite human super-soldier.

Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994) also got into the act, with a story called "Schisms," about alien abductors from another dimension experimenting on the Enterprise-D crew, namely Commander Riker.

In the Asylum season of American Horror Story (2011-present), alien abductions also played a surprising role, and may have affected the fate of one character in particular.

1 comment:

  1. I don't think I've seen the Battlestar Galactica episode "War of the Gods" since its premiere showing, but I remember it being fun, if over-extended.

    The Space: 1999 episode "Ring Around the Moon" bored me when I first saw it way back in 1975 (or early 1976), but now I seem to be a little obsessed by it, and its badness...

    I rewatched "Missing Link" a couple of years ago and liked it this time. (Guess what my impression was back in 1975/76.) It suffers from the Face-paint-Aliens so typical of the series as a whole, but the story, while slow-moving (in a good way), is entertaining and thoughtful enough.