Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Ranking the Twilight Zone episodes

Almost 60 years on, The Twilight Zone is still the definitive TV anthology series. Even a load of really terrible episodes can't tarnish that legacy. You've already seen the best ones on The Simpsons, but The Top 156 Twilight Zone Tales are well worth checking out.

Here are my unreliable first-timer 'reviews,' newly shuffled into an inconsistent ranking based on several-year-old memories. In case that's useful to anyone. You never know. Stranger things have happened... in the Twilight Zone.

Writer key:

Rod Serling (65)
Charles Beaumont (21)
Richard Matheson (16)
Earl Hamner, Jr. (8)
George Clayton Johnson (6)
Montgomery Pittman (5)
Other people

156. Passage on the Lady Anne (4x17)

Season four gave us double-length stories, and this one felt every minute of its extended length. I would have been more worried about the fate awaiting the young couple aboard this rickety boat and its even more rickety clientele if only they weren't such oblivious fools. There's not even any payoff.

155. Caesar and Me (5x28)

A struggling ventriloquist suffers under the thumb of his ambitious doll. If that sounds familiar, they even use the exact same dummy as in that earlier episode. How difficult could it be to get a different one? Do they care any more?

154. The Big Tall Wish (1x27)

It's basically a rule that I never enjoy boxing-based episodes, and I enjoy morals about the importance of being superstitious even less.

We see a hopeful child's wish that a tired, old boxer win a fight he doesn't deserve come true, but things return to normal when the champ has difficulty believing the lie. Good.

153. The Night of the Meek (2x11)

The inevitable Christmas episode doesn't put a typically dark spin on the holiday, but instead embraces the joy of the season in a story about a disillusioned mall Santa becoming the real thing courtesy of a magic bag.

I missed the darkness, to be honest. There's nothing here for me. I suppose this is also definitive proof that the spirit of Christmas is consumerism after all - who knew?

152. The Bewitchin' Pool (5x36)

It's a tradition among sixties shows I've watched to go out on one of your worst episodes ('Turnabout Intruder,' 'Fall Out'), and The Twilight Zone doesn't disappoint in disappointing. This story of a magic swimming pool and Never Never Land that clumsily grapples with divorce wouldn't have been a classic even if it wasn't plagued with visible production problems.

151. Sounds and Silences (5x27)

A nautically obsessed loudmouth gets taught a lesson about peace and quiet. That's it.

150. A World of Difference (1x23)

This one isn't very convincing. A loser actor loses himself in the fantasy of his latest role and refuses to accept the "reality" of his hostile ex-wife and divorce settlement when he'd much rather be jetting off to Florida with his bland, fake wife who presumably never yells.

The one real positive is that the lead actor's face is really right for the part, as he seems to be branded with a permanent look of confusion.

149. Cavender Is Coming (3x36)

One of the most blatant examples of re-use so far, this is basically the same story as season one's enjoyable 'Mr. Bevis,' except this time the guardian angel is helping out a klutzy woman instead of a man. Completely different.

It's also one of their most over-the-top comedy episodes, featuring scenes of people throwing themselves through windows for no reason. Apparently, it even had a laugh track originally. I'd say the series was going downhill, except I know there's some great stuff coming later. The inconsistency is part of its charm after all.

148. The Gift (3x32)

An alien crashlands in backwater Mexico. He comes in peace, bearing miraculous gifts, but is greeted with suspicion and violence. Why is that always the way with humans? Or are they saying it's specifically Mexicans?

147. I Dream of Genie (4x12)

They've done genie stories before, and dressing him in contemporary clothes and downsizing to one wish are not adequate excuses for such a generic re-tread. We still get to see Mr. Hanley's various unimaginative, shallow, sexist daydreams played out while he makes up his mind, since there are 50 minutes to fill these days.

146. A Quality of Mercy (3x15)

Not a lot happens in this story, in which an eager young officer supernaturally spends time in his enemy's shoes and learns that blind prejudice isn't all it's cracked up to be. Then a bomb gets dropped on Japan a few thousand miles off-screen, hooray.

It's only notable for the presence of future sci-fi alumni including a young and barely recognisable Dean Stockwell and a delightful background Leonard Nimoy.

145. The Prime Mover (2x21)

When a down-on-his-luck boss finds out his employee is a reluctant telekinetic, he doesn't waste any time putting these skills to use for his own ends on a lucrative trip to Vegas.

Anyone who's done their background reading of cautionary tales will think they know where this is going, but the resolution is a lot less tragic than I'd hoped for. No one even jumps out of a window or anything, they just sort of move on with their lives. What kind of moderate moral is that?

144. The Fever (1x17)

This is one of the silliest episodes of the lot, one of those that presumably looks a lot more absurd today than it did at the time. But I don't know: a slot machine that speaks to our protagonist in his sleep and then awkwardly chases him around the room isn't the most sophisticated allegory of the dangers of gambling addiction.

143. The Mighty Casey (1x35)

One of several episodes I can only enjoy on an ironic level. This story of a miraculously lifelike robot being utterly wasted in a career as a baseball pitcher includes rubbish comedy sound effects, a moronic definition of what it means to be human, and an even worse 'twist' when Casey's new heart causes him to feel compassion, as if that organ has anything to do with that. Bottom drawer stuff.

142. A Short Drink from a Certain Fountain (5x11)

The tell-tale old-age make-up and less than cryptic title make it abundantly clear what we're in store for here, and updating it to a de-ageing serum doesn't make the story any more original. If you didn't see that wah-wah ending coming all the way too, you haven't watched as much Twilight Zone as I have.

141. Mr. Dingle, the Strong (2x19)

That awful Martian is just about excused by this being a comedy episode, but even when the even less credible Venusians appear at the end, I still wasn't absolutely convinced that the aliens were being played for laughs - considering the last time they tried to genuinely scare us with extraterrestrials they used children's robot toys.

There isn't much to get out of this tale of a weedy vacuum cleaner salesman being temporarily granted superhuman strength. They don't even bother with a plausible reason why aliens are going around doing totally random experiments on people with predictable consequences, I guess that's just what aliens do.

140. A Passage for Trumpet (1x32)

Another down-on-his-luck schmuck gets a second chance he really doesn't deserve and I couldn't care less. As we near the end of the first season, plot elements are starting to cycle around more and more frequently. I can see this getting worse in the future.

139. The Four of Us Are Dying (1x13)

A rubber-faced, black-hearted man puts his uncanny abilities to nefarious use as he goes around impersonating the recently deceased to extort lovers, family and enemies alike.

This one isn't so compelling. What's the message this time? The perils of identity theft? And how does he get their voices so spot-on when he's only seen a photo?

138. The Brain Center at Whipple's (5x33)

I know I'm supposed to take the side of the machine-smashing Luddites in this one, but I don't see what's so wrong with progress. Don't be so distraught at the prospect of losing your thankless job that can be done more efficiently by a machine - demand better from your life!

That Forbidden Planet robot shows up for the third or forth time. They were really having budget issues in the final year.

137. The Chaser (1x31)

As far as their progressive episodes go, this is a pretty lousy one in which a hopeless romantic buys a "love" potion to acquire the devoted affections of a formerly disinterested woman. When that doesn't work out, he naturally plans to kill her to make the problem go away, but then he chickens out, the wuss.

Tales from the Crypt did the same story, and while it wasn't any less offensive, they at least made it funny. This one doesn't have the eternal torment twist.

136. What's in the Box (5x24)

If you're running out of ideas for your weird TV show after 100+ episodes, it doesn't take an epiphany to churn out something weird about a TV show.

Continuing the theme of inescapable fate, watching his near future play out in 4:3 isn't enough to change our grumpy protagonist's ways, nor to cause him to comment on the strangeness when those scenes inevitably play out in real time. Well, that would mean re-filming, wouldn't it?

135. Probe 7, Over and Out (5x09)

Yay, space Bible! Even the Flanders kids are allowed to watch this one. As for rest of you, I hope you didn't watch this one first. The series isn't normally this hokey. Well... only every once in a while.

134. One More Pallbearer (3x17)

A wealthy, eccentric, pathetic man tries to teach a lesson to the people who rightly wronged him by staging the end of the world, then ends up getting his just desserts. There's little of real value here.

133. Four O'Clock (3x29)

A recluse with barely-defined magic powers dedicates his life to exposing the "evil" people of the world, and this afternoon, at 4 o'clock, for some reason, he has decided to transform them all into tiny little people, somehow. Bwa-ha-ha!

Oh, it ironically backfired. DIDN'T EXPECT THAT.

132. The Long Morrow (5x15)

It's elementary: if you're about to embark on a long-haul suspended animation journey, don't recklessly fall in love with someone who'll age four decades by the time you get back. Our astronaut solves the dilemma, but unfortunately his beloved seeks her own solution. Then the story ends with an uncharacteristically inflexible stance on age gap relationships. Good thing they weren't two men or anything.

131. The Trade-Ins (3x31)

An elderly couple are given a second chance at continuing their lives together by getting transplanted into creepy youthful bodies, and surprisingly nothing about that too-good-to-be-true operation turns out to be deceitful. Unfortunately for fans of escapism, the jeopardy comes in the couple not having enough money to afford it.

We end the episode exactly as we went in, except that our frail protagonist has learned that you should be happy with the miserable hand you're dealt when you can't afford anything better. Until next time, imaginative sci-fi fans!

130. No Time Like the Past (4x10)

Retreading old ground thematically and chronologically, this is another fatalistic time travel fable that puts the 50-minute run-time to patronising use in hammering home a lesson that isn't even of practical use until someone invents a time machine.

My issues are with the execution rather than the concept. If Driscoll was intent on altering the past, why did he choose destination points unhelpfully close to the events? And if he wants to escape to rose-tinted pastures permanently, why choose a time and place where the past is going to catch up with him very soon? Oh, right, it's because they have the sets for that.

129. Dust (2x12)

Another one of their occasional westerns, these always look reliably good even when the backdrops are painted and the "sun" casts multiple shadows. Featuring a hanging ('A Nice Place to Visit') and a shady peddler ('Mr. Denton on Doomsday'), it would be easy to confuse with those earlier episodes. But due to the slight season two slump, it isn't as enjoyable as either.

I'm glad they at least kept the magic ambiguous, tilted a little towards plain luck and wishful thinking unless that's my own wishful thinking.

128. Mr. Garrity and the Graves (5x32)

It's quite a while since they've done a Western - maybe a sign that tastes are changing. This tale of a travelling reanimation salesman is oddly interpreted as a comedy episode, which at least makes its moral - that annoying people deserve a premature death - less offensive.

127. Nothing in the Dark (3x16)

Another rather tedious tale building up to a trite message, in which an old woman terrified of death has to come to terms with its inevitability and move on. They pad that out to 25 minutes, but at least they only had to build the one set.

126. Night Call (5x19)

A 1960s ghost story that lacks a horrible twist ending, because that lonely, disabled, elderly lady's been through enough. I guess obscene nuisance calls weren't a thing yet, since no one treats it very seriously. Or at least, not the sort of thing you could allude to on TV.

125. The Silence (2x25)

There's nothing supernatural in this tale of high-stakes gambling, dirty tricks and desperation. The twist will only really be surprising if you're a child. Don't gamble, kids.

124. The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine (1x04)

I said I liked the depressing ones, but this is just dull, and feels overstretched even at 25 minutes. A faded Hollywood star hides away with a projector all day and night escaping to the past, and after making a wish (not the most creative writing from Mr. Serling there) she makes the literal leap into celluloid. Those final scenes are reliably creepy, but it didn't do much else for me.

123. Kick the Can (3x21)

A bored old man yearns to be young again, and recruits like-minded residents of his care home to indulge in some youthful antics behind the backs of the miserly 'grown-ups' - with predictably supernatural results.

Sometimes I respond to their sentimental ones, but this one was just a bit daft.

122. Jess-Belle (4x07)

The first skipper in a while, this bland historical romance doesn't benefit from the longer running time. It's a typical tale of jealous black magic meddling and comeuppance, saved slightly by a were-leopard. I liked to imagine the actors' tension in those scenes.

121. Twenty Two (2x17)

The line between nightmare and reality is blurring, and personally I prefer the creepy nightmare side of things over the overlong scenes of bed-bound talking. Even if they do reuse the exact same footage a couple of times.

120. The Purple Testament (1x19)

The change of location to the war-torn Philippine Islands is welcome, even if it is just palm trees on a soundstage. The paranormal plot is less satisfying, as we never find out why the Lieutenant is able to foresee who's going to die and there's not even really a message to take away, apart from it apparently being futile to try to escape the inevitable. He didn't even bother to try.

119. Steel (5x02)

Richard Matheson is usually the most dependable name on the writing credits, but this one doesn't do it for me at all, and that's entirely down to the boxing. This is at least an uppercut above the other Twilight Zone boxing eps, as it's got robots in it.

118. The Mirror (3x06)

It's not the one with the split personality in the hotel room. It's the one where Peter Falk plays a Castro-like tyrant in non-specific "Central America" and is taught to be suspicious of everyone by a magic mirror. Good acting, pretty bad story. Terrible beards.

117. The Lateness of the Hour (2x08)

If you don't see the 'twist' coming in this one a mile away, welcome to your first episode of The Twilight Zone. More could have been made of the sedate family's reliance on their automaton domestic helpers, which is the main focus of the story at first but abandoned after the secret comes out that the people themselves are not all that they seem. Maybe just because any time a story features 'the help,' my working class roots crave a bloody uprising.

This is also another of those sci-fi stories that features scenes of robots decrying their lack of emotions in a very emotional way. I guess frustration and despair don't count.

116. The Bard (4x18)

It's the semi-traditional comedy closer to the year, and hands-down the most unhinged episode of the whole run. Rod Serling lets off four years' worth of steam concerning hack writers, meddling advertisers and egomaniacal actors, and the performers are as over-the-top as the script demands.

Despite being a story about TV production, it doesn't go fully meta. We'd have to wait for Tales from the Crypt for that.

115. The Last Flight (1x18)

I expect a little more from time travel episodes than this one, in which a World War I pilot lands at an air base in the 1950s, faces minor scepticism (but not enough) about his story, then realises he has to go back to finally be a hero and overcome his cowardice. Apparently, it's not only God who was on the British side, but Time too.

114. Static (2x20)

I'm surprised the network let them get away with these rants about the hypnotic effect of trashy TV and the nostalgic superiority of old-time radio. Like all retro relics celebrating or lamenting cutting edge technology, this takes on a new level of nostalgic gloss when watched today, whether you're doing so on your picture tube or a computer terminal of some sort.

113. The Man in the Bottle (2x02)

It's your basic mischievous genie episode, so no points for originality there, and mostly watchable for seeing just how much glee the besuited genie gets from casting wishes he knows will bring nothing but misery. You can't say he didn't warn them.

Four wishes are granted, which is atypical but presumably needed to cater for the test example and the big un-wish at the end while still having room for a couple of Twilight Zone twists in-between, such as the one where our ambitious shopkeeper wishes to become ruler of a country and ends up literally being Hitler. Apparently it wasn't too soon.

112. Uncle Simon (5x08)

A vile bastard's niece/housekeeper finally can't take it any more, and he gets his revenge from beyond the grave though the convenient vessel of a hot chocolate loving robot he happened to have lying around. I didn't dislike it, but it is extremely daft.

111. Black Leather Jackets (5x18)

This story manages to be both anti- and pro-humanity, but its attitude to leather-clad bikers is less ambiguous. Not even the power of love is enough to defeat their evil machinations.

110. The Last Rites of Jeff Myrtlebank (3x23)

News of Jeff's death has apparently been exaggerated as he wakes up in his coffin during his own funeral service, and everyone's a little distrustful of this miraculous resurrection.

It becomes a send-up of small-town paranoia until it becomes clear that they're onto something. The message seems to be: well, what are you gonna do?

109. What You Need (1x12)

Ah, the good old days when an old man could approach a woman in a bar, telling her he has what she needs, and he isn't the villain of the story. After seeing a couple of demonstrations of the old peddler's uncanny clairvoyance, our miserable protagonist sets about abusing and monetising this talent for all it's worth, having never read any of those cautionary fables about not pushing your luck.

108. A Game of Pool (3x05)

A slightly less sombre view of the afterlife this time, as a late, great pool player is called back to the mortal realm to play pool. You might love it if you love pool. At least it's not baseball or boxing again.

107. The Fugitive (3x25)

A "magic" old man, in the Arthur C. Clarke sense, has a slightly creepy obsession with an orphaned girl that they desperately try to justify at the end, but it's still weird.

I have to admit I didn't see that specific twist coming though, and there are some pretty suspenseful scenes with Men in Black that might have helped to establish that particular trope among the strange.

106. Dead Man's Shoes (3x18)

One of the more amusingly literal titles, the eponymous shoes carry the soul of the deceased wearer or something. It doesn't have to make scientific sense. I just feel bad for all those expendable tramps who have to die so a criminal can get his revenge from beyond the grave.

105. The Trouble with Templeton (2x09)

Favouring fantasy over science fiction and a sage lesson for the protagonist over trauma for our benefit, this tale of an ageing stage actor getting the chance to briefly reconnect with his blissful youth and take off the rose-tinted glasses would be towards the bottom of my pile if not for that weird ending, which blurs 'real' life and theatre and adds a pinch of possible delirium if you're the sort of person who likes everything to have a rational explanation. It's better than the one where the actor thought he was his TV character anyway.

104. The Grave (3x07)

It's not one of their classic westerns, but ambiguous endings are always appreciated - tilted towards the supernatural explanation, of course.

103. Back There (2x13)

It's a time travel story, but don't get excited because it feels more like they're testing the water than anything. Following a brief debate over whether the established flow of history can be altered or certain events are set in stone, we get to see the series' answer to its own question - this time around at least. We can't demand consistency from these stand-alone universes.

Our reluctant time traveller wobbles about a bit and finds himself almost a century in the past. He learns through ever-so-slightly convenient conversation that a major historical event is on the verge of taking place, but his best efforts to thwart President Lincoln's assassination are in vain. This episode becomes slightly more eerie when you realise that another assassination was only a couple of years away at the time.

102. In Praise of Pip (5x01)

Like the mention of JKF a couple of episodes ago, this is mainly notable as a historical curiosity for featuring one of the earliest depictions of the Vietnam War. Story-wise, it's not a stand-out one, but maybe you have to be a parent or something.

101. A Penny for Your Thoughts (2x16)

A strange thing happens on the way to the bank as Hector Poole flips a coin and inexplicably becomes able to read minds. As always has and always will happen when TV shows demonstrate this ability, everyone's thoughts flow in perfect sentences as they stare wistfully between dialogue.

They keep the stakes small, as usual, with Poole's day of clairvoyance helping him turn away risky clients, blackmail his way up the career ladder and attempt to foil a robbery that turns out just to be a bored employee's daydreams, and at the end... it goes away and he's normal again. Where's my amusing twist ending, Mr. Serling? See how you've spoiled me?

100. The Whole Truth (2x14)

A funny but insubstantial tale of a pushy used car salesman being cursed to tell the truth in both his professional and private lives when he buys a "haunted car." Really.

There's not much to it beyond taking stabs at your classic sleazy businessmen and politicians, with a weird ending that suddenly takes on global proportions.

99. The 7th Is Made Up of Phantoms (5x10)

A forerunner of that terrible-looking show that pits anachronistic armies against each other, this American history mash-up sees a band of contemporary soldiers following in the footsteps of Custer and winding up with arrows in the back. You don't need to worry about the why, these things are only 20 minutes long.

98. The Odyssey of Flight 33 (2x18)

It's rarely a good sign when something reminds you of The Langoliers, but this is another classic retro sci-fi offering. As much as I enjoy its concept and the lack of an ending though, it's not actually all that good for a few reasons.

Firstly, there seems to be an embargo on drama by having the crew and passengers of this bizarre time skipping flight not exhibit any signs of distress at all.

Second, I know what the "fi" is short for, but would it have killed them to consult with people who might know these things, to postulate a more believable cause of time travel than breaking the sound barrier? And New Yorkers can be proud that the shape of their island and the Hudson River have remained remarkably unchanged over millions of years even with the shifting of the continents.

Just in case you were planning a flight and worried about the possibility of ending up in the Cretaceous era yourself, Mr. Serling makes a point of uncharacteristically assuring us that this sort of thing wouldn't happen. At least, not unless you're catching a connecting flight to... the Twilight Zone.

97. Long Distance Call (2x22)

A sentimental story of a boy losing his grandmother turns spooky when he continues talking to her on the phone and downright dark when she encourages him to come and join her, and Billy starts jumping in front of cars.

I'd be a bit more sympathetic to Billy's plight if he wasn't played by one of the worst child actors they've had so far, and that's saying something.

96. Person or Persons Unknown (3x27)

David Gurney wakes up one morning to discover that no one recognises him - not his wife, co-workers, even his own mother. All the way through I was hoping they wouldn't go with a cop-out ending and then they did. A further twist in the tale didn't cleanse the disappointment.

95. Valley of the Shadow (4x03)

What does The Twilight Zone have against small towns? This is textbook formulaic stuff, with an intriguing mystery that's soon dispelled with sci-fi gobbledygook, lengthy and obvious moralising and your basic reset button ending. I'm starting to miss the shorter running times.

94. The Incredible World of Horace Ford (4x15)

A frustrated toymaker is trapped in his childhood... literally! This isn't the first or second time the series has taken the hammer to rose-tinted nostalgia, though it doesn't match the early classic 'Walking Distance.'

Stock themes have been repeating with disconcerting frequency lately, hopefully there are still some original stories left.

93. The Mind and the Matter (2x27)

A frustrated misanthrope who's sick of overcrowded subways decides the world would be better off without all the pesky people, and when he taps into the power of 'concentration,' we all have to suffer for his lesson. Thanks for that.

92. I Am the Night – Color Me Black (5x26)

This has got to be one of the bleakest stories from Rod Serling's pen, and it's up against some tough competition. Tellingly written post-assassination - a call-out to "a street in Dallas" among the dark places makes sure of that - it's not the most subtle treatment of humanity's dark side, but a lesson that's always worth repeating.

91. The Parallel (4x11)

Your generic alternate universe story, though I imagine it was pretty exciting and influential at the time. It might even be the origin of "who's the President?" as the go-to determiner when you suspect you've wound up in the wrong dimension or time. Its name-check of President Kennedy is the most notable thing about it today, as has been the case on any re-run from several months after its 1963 broadcast.

90. The Old Man in the Cave (5x07)

In a depressing post-apocalyptic future (is there any other kind?), man falls back on superstitions that are ultimately, fatally proven correct after all. Fortunately for sceptics, the omniscient old man isn't quite what he seems, and the lesson isn't to put your faith in groundless woo-woo after all.

89. Deaths-Head Revisited (3x09)

The Holocaust. It's always cheery subject matter, especially closer to the time and when Josef Mengele was a hot topic. A Mengele stand-in departs sunny South America to revisit the Fatherland and the concentration camp where he shined most brightly, and then he realises the error of his ways.

Just kidding: he's a remorseless psychopath driven insane by the ghosts of those he destroyed. There's no forgiveness here, just justice. Yeah, not exactly the one to watch if you're in the mood for some retro kitsch.

88. The Rip Van Winkle Caper (2x24)

Don't ask me where contemporary train robbers got hold of suspended animation technology, but they did, and their plan to lie low with their stolen gold for a century until the heat dies down remarkably works like a treat.

Unfortunately, The Twilight Zone takes a dim view of criminals, and they don't have long to enjoy the 21st century Jetsons utopia before the comforting bleakness descends.

87. The Changing of the Guard (3x37)

This is only really notable for Donald Pleasence's performance as an elderly teacher who's fired from his long-held position and considers the value of his life. The big surprise ending this time is that he doesn't de-age into a younger man, so the prosthetics and wig were just for fun.

86. Showdown with Rance McGrew (3x20)

I wasn't thrilled at the prospect of another western, but fortunately it isn't that straightforward. There's nice self-deprecating humour as the ghosts of real outlaws express their irritation at the lack of authenticity in TV depictions of their lives, so they're setting out to make some changes.

85. A Kind of a Stopwatch (5x04)

For the most throwaway of reasons, a loser winds up with a time-stopping stopwatch, abuses his newfound power for personal gains and cheap tricks - well, why not? - and stumbles into a typically ironic and depressing finale. I don't know why no one notices the time meddler jump around all over the place.

84. The Self-Improvement of Salvadore Ross (5x16)

A low-life stumbles upon the inexplicable ability to strike supernatural bargains, and goes about abusing this power for self gain in an impressively canny way. Naturally he gets his just desserts in the end, but for a while there it was refreshing to have a protagonist who didn't turn into a complete moron when faced with the miraculous.

83. Still Valley (3x11)

Another tale of Confederate soldiers, this has a definite air of familiarity around it, especially when a character explores a dead town harking back to the first episode. But this time the people aren't absent, they're frozen. Or wobbling slightly if I was going to be a bastard (look, I was).

We don't have to wait long to find out that this is due to witchcraft, and after some worthless dealings with a seventh son of a seventh son (we find out that anyone can read aloud from the spell book and have their wishes enacted, so what was the point of that painstaking lineage?) it all leads up to a nice philosophical ending. It's still fundamentally a self-rip-off episode though.

82. A World of His Own (1x36)

We close the first season on another comedy episode, in which a lonely playwright has the godlike ability to create physical characters through the power of brief audio descriptions. He mainly uses this power to get it on with beautiful women. Like you wouldn't.

I do generally prefer their more dismal, horrifying and hopeless stories, but this one's saved from mediocrity by a nice post-modern ending featuring Mr. Serling himself. It's a fitting farewell to a mostly enjoyable year.

81. Nightmare as a Child (1x29)

It's one of their creepy kid ones, and fortunately they bothered to find a decent child actress to fill the role of the sombre and inquisitive girl who helps a school teacher recover repressed memories of her own childhood to get some long overdue closure and revenge.

The story leaves us enough ambiguity to draw supernatural or psychological conclusions as we prefer, and I appreciate that.

80. One for the Angels (1x02)

Your basic "be careful what you wish for" tale, done a little differently with some dark twists and turns but still essentially a fable. They even dress the honourable toymaker in white and the sinister Mr. Death in black, that's how archetypal it is.

It's the sort of story that would have been necessarily post-modernised and had more humour introduced if it was made more recently, but I'm happy to take it as seriously as it wants to be. The notion that you can't escape death is a bit depressing, and the bureaucratic organisation of the afterlife even more so, but the protagonist's upbeat tone keeps it from getting too sombre.

79. Young Man's Fancy (3x34)

Richard Matheson gives us a modern (1960s) haunted house story that spends most of its time terrorising a loving wife who only wants the best for her husband. But her husband prefers to be a child under the domineering care of his mother. You could probably psychoanalyse the heck out of it.

78. Of Late I Think of Cliffordville (4x14)

The Devil's back, rather soon, but there's something different about her this time. Miss Devlin (get it?) is no less cunning than her male counterparts, even when dealing with a canny businessman who does his best to avoid loopholes and pitfalls when calculating his wish. His Hell will be entirely of his own making.

It's clear this is going to involve a trip to the past when half the actors start out in old age and bald cap make-up. It isn't too bad until they raise their eyebrows. Someone should have told them.

77. Ring-a-Ding Girl (5x13)

The whole magic ring thing isn't the most sophisticated gimmick they've ever done, but the mysterious, foreboding atmosphere is effective.

76. He's Alive (4x04)

Until the ghost of the Führer is revealed (SPOILERS! Come on, how obvious do you want it?), this hardly seems like the same show at all. That's largely thanks to a strong performance from a young Dennis Hopper as a neo-Nazi. He makes the Hitler actor look even worse than he would already.

75. Mr. Denton on Doomsday (1x03)

In our first period piece we're back in the Old West, and as someone who doesn't consider himself a fan of Westerns - but tends to really enjoy Western-themed episodes whenever they crop up in shows, so probably is - it's not a bad example or too cliched. Westerns were one of the dominant genres at the time anyway, so shoving in a load of stereotypes for the sake of it would have just seemed bizarre.

There isn't really any levity this time, as a former crack shot with a troubled past finds himself facing the burden of notoriety once again, thanks to the unsolicited aid of a mysterious peddler. It's the second episode in a row to deal with a mysterious Man in Black - Mr. Fate this time, rather than Mr. Death - but considering Rod Serling's extraordinarily prolific workload, I'm going to be forgiving of repetition across the series generally. I'll try to remember I said that.

This one's notable for featuring a slightly-younger-than-you've-seen-him-before Martin Landau, the first major geek spot of the series. Compared to the smooth Rollin Hand, his mischievous cowboy looks positively deranged.

74. A Piano in the House (3x22)

A terrible man buys a self-playing piano as a birthday gift for his presumably talentless wife, and gets more than he bargained for when he discovers that it... sort of... reveals the hidden 'truth' about... the person nearby who you're thinking about?

Alright, it's explained poorly even by this show's standards, but it's satisfying to watch the tyrant's inevitable downfall as he's hoist by his own player piano.

73. The Jeopardy Room (5x29)

The welcome return of Martin Landau - his appearances almost bookend the series - it's a rare non-fantastical tale of cunning and survival against an overconfident executioner.

72. The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street (1x22)

I don't normally scoff at vintage TV shows, I appreciate them in context. But this episode would have benefited from less over-the-top performances and characters with at least a modicum of realism, who didn't jump to illogical conclusions about alien impostors at the suggestion of an imaginative child.

It comes across more as a parody of paranoia, and the twist ending just had me laughing. It really would have been better if they'd left it at self-made human horror, but maybe there were government guidelines against that sort of pessimism.

71. I Sing the Body Electric (3x35)

Ray Bradbury gives us a sentimental one that surprisingly doesn't deteriorate into a horrific or depressing ending. Maybe that's the twist ending? That building a custom robot nanny organ by organ in the image of your dead mother is actually a good way to cope with the loss.

70. The Last Night of a Jockey (5x05)

Disgraced jockey Mickey Rooney wishes he could be Big, realising too late that he's in The Twilight Zone where a fitting comeuppance is followed by just desserts. There's very little substance, and it's impossible not to see the end coming, but it's a rare one-hander and the scaled-down sets look great, so it gets points.

69. A Thing About Machines (2x04)

A furious Luddite keeps smashing his consumer electronics when they don't agree with him, but there's more to this disharmony than faulty connections. Mr. Finchley's machines just don't like him very much, and when he ignores their commands to leave the house, the more dangerous among their ranks have to take a more proactive approach.

It's quite funny in places, sort of like a low budget and more sinister version of the things-coming-to-life films of my childhood, and once again the protagonist deserves everything he gets. If there is a message, it's to treat your electronics as you would wish to be treated yourself, and generally try not be an insufferable arse.

68. A Stop at Willoughby (1x30)

This story of a Mad Men accounts man escaping the stresses of his city job and retreating into vivid daydreams felt like a lesser retread of the early classic 'Walking Distance,' swapping nostalgic childhood for idyllic historical fantasy.

I have to say I didn't see the ending coming, which is both excessively bleak and oddly uplifting in the manner of Terry Gilliam's Brazil.

67. Judgment Night (1x10)

One of their moral fables, the puzzle over our oddly German protagonist's identity as he finds himself aboard a vulnerable ocean liner in the middle of World War II isn't an especially cryptic one. But if you're a fan of divine poetic justice, you'll be satisfied getting to watch it play out.

66. Hocus-Pocus and Frisby (3x30)

As their comedy episodes go, this is a lot better than the likes of 'Mr. Dingle.' Mr. Frisby is selected for abduction by an alien race who've never discovered the concept of lying, and thus believe his impossible boasts. Luckily, he stumbles upon their brand of Kryptonite before it's too late. Totally ridiculous, but there's nothing wrong with that sometimes.

65. Queen of the Nile (5x23)

What looks like another scathing treatment of vain Hollywood starlets is revealed to have a somewhat broader scale, as a reporter gets a little too close to the truth and lives an incredibly short time to regret it. What Dorian Gray woo-woo is going on this time? All that tacky Egyptian decor may be a clue.

64. The Encounter (5x31)

George Takei joins the ranks of 'Trek/'Zone alumni in a tense two-hander that was controversial at the time, presumably because the American vet came off worse than his Japanese counterpart.

Watching today, you'll wonder what the fuss was about. But then, you can always rely on Mr. Serling to be more sensitive and progressive than his audience.

63. The Obsolete Man (2x29)

This snapshot of an uber-totalitarian State may be as unremittingly gloomy as my favourite episodes tend to, but I was less won over by the po-faced and extremely obvious messages (Hitler = bad), as well as the Bible once again being used as the hope for humanity's salvation. Get over it.

62. From Agnes – With Love (5x20)

This is one of their more effective comedy episodes, even if it has the most irritating, goofy score of all time. Man makes computer; computer falls in love with man; man rejects computer; computer inexplicably drives man insane. The classic tale.

61. Ninety Years Without Slumbering (5x12)

An eccentric old man is overly concerned with the upkeep of an equally old clock, in the unflinching belief that they'll both wind down together when their time comes. This would have been one of their rare sweet episodes even if they'd gone with the writer's original idea that the old man dies at the end. He seemed perfectly content, after all.

60. Spur of the Moment (5x21)

A young woman is haunted by own phuture phantom on the cusp of a life-changing decision. Unfortunately for her, inflexible fate never allows her to break the cycle. That wouldn't be fair on the rest of us.

59. The Hunt (3x19)

Your basic afterlife story, presenting extremely humdrum concepts of heaven and hell that can at least be explained as personalised versions for a down-to-earth man and his dog. One for the pet lovers.

58. The Hitch-Hiker (1x16)

Our lead character (and our writer) is a woman this time, which is a refreshing change, and you could hardly claim it's sexist to have her pursued across the breadth of the USA by a sinister figure when pretty much the same thing happens to the guys every week.

No one else can see the mysterious hitchhiker who's always one step ahead of Nan, and we're invited to draw our own conclusions before the customary twist ending that makes about as much sense as any other. Just pick one.

57. The New Exhibit (4x13)

The tragi-comic tale of a wax museum curator who's a little too into his work, and his ambiguous downward spiral into his own Chamber of Horrors. I'm pretty sure it's not supposed to be comic, but I did find it amusing just how rapid his descent is. It would be even funnier if this had been in any other season when they were still doing 25-minute episodes.

If they'd intended for a shock ending, they could have used all real waxworks rather than one mannequin and three visibly swaying actors. Bit of a giveaway.

56. The Fear (5x35)

It's not one of Rod Serling's most thought-provoking pieces, but it makes a mighty fine B-movie. The unsettling atmosphere builds very well throughout, from flashing lights to colossal fingerprints and footprints, then the topsy-turvy resolutions bring things down to size.

There's presumably commentary on small-town xenophobia, provincial isolation and fear of encroaching modernity in there, but there's also a giant inflatable cyclops.

55. Execution (1x26)

A pioneering time meddler arbitrarily plucks someone out of the past. Unfortunately, this turns out to be a remorseless serial murderer from the Old West who was in the middle of being hanged when he was catapulted to the strange, new world of 1960.

When he deduces the stranger's origin, the scientist starts to regret his what he's done and to fear for his life (justifiably, it turns out). But what of the person whose life he was all too happy to disrupt by removing them from their own time in the first place?

The clear message to take away from this is that these meddling scientists must be stopped. Progress just isn't worth the risk of homicidal cowboys being set loose in the city.

54. The Dummy (3x33)

The twist isn't as classic as Tales from the Crypt's take on it, but these tales of a living dummy and its reluctant ex-puppeteer are usually reliably funny and creepy. I like the over-reliance on skewed camera angles to suggest strangeness too.

53. Elegy (1x20)

It's another story about strangers exploring a creepy town and learning its chilling secret. This is at least the third time even this early in the series, but this time it's three astronauts and it's an asteroid, not the Earth, which is sort of the reverse of a couple of episodes ago, so I guess it's all fine. Rod Serling was cranking these babies out at a rapid rate, so he gets a lot of slack.

The astros theorise about time streams and the like before learning that they've stumbled onto an interstellar graveyard where the departed are preserved through freakish taxidermy according to their wishes. We then get one of the most horrific twists yet, as the caretaker follows his peace-keeping duties with lethal diligence.

You don't want them to show the result, but they do, and what's more they overlay jaunty music and turn it a black comedy. This show is a bit mad.

52. You Drive (5x14)

Following a merciless hit and run, the driver's blameless accomplice refuses to let him get away with it, and it's very satisfying seeing the mean old murderer being literally driven crazy. If you ever watched the British children's show Brum, it's kind of a dark version of that.

51. To Serve Man (3x24)

One of the most legendary ones, I didn't enjoy it as much as I usually do these certified classics, and it wasn't just because we all know the excellent twist in advance.

Maybe the B-movie trappings of wobbly UFOs and sad-looking alien actors just aren't doing it for me any more, or maybe I accidentally dwelled on how none of it really made sense. That's never advisable.

50. Living Doll (5x06)

One of the more self-explanatory ones, and it doesn't waste any time getting there. Their outright comedy episodes are sometimes on the embarrassing side, but these unintentionally hilarious ones are a hoot. I guess it was pretty terrifying in 1963. Nice to hear Bernard Herrmann belatedly writing some new music too.

49. In His Image (4x01)

Brevity was among this series' charms when it came to filling those empty 25 minuteses, but season four's longer duration is an interesting change of pace, for the most part. I also enjoyed the quirky new opening titles that offer a helping hand if you had trouble visualising the concepts of "sound," "sight" and "mind."

This tale of a creeped-out, hallucinating man doesn't end in the most original place - it's basically a riff on the first science fiction story of them all - but that's okay sometimes.

48. Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up? (2x28)

A classic of paranoia and suspicion that could easily have been an episode of The X-Files, I actually expected this to be more underhanded in its solution than it was. But even if the identity of the Martian isn't as clever as it could have been, they still make room for a separate comical twist. It can't have been too long after this that our understanding of Mars and Venus stopped them being the go-to planets for Visitors.

47. A Hundred Yards Over the Rim (2x23)

It may be pretty much a rip-off of early hit 'Walking Distance,' and not even the first time they've sent a man from the Old West into the present day, but this still manages to be one of the better entries of the season.

That's partly for the desolate desert atmosphere, which always serves these stories well, and I also like the ambiguity of whether Mr. Horn's time slip was a random jaunt or took him when he needed to be to save his ailing son and regain his hope for the future.

46. Where Is Everybody? (1x01)

This was a good choice for the first episode, as it immediately creates a sense of unease that I hope will remain largely intact across however many hundred episodes I'm about to watch. This tale follows a solitary amnesiac who arrives in a town seemingly deserted only moments before, where kettles are steaming and cigars smoking, bells tolling and phones ringing, and film projectors operating of their own accord.

We all know the format - that we watch a strange situation unfold for 20 minutes before the curtain's pulled back at the end - and this time the reveal was inevitably going to be a disappointment whatever it was, considering how much I was loving the sinister and depressing atmosphere. It didn't take away from the journey though.

45. Long Live Walter Jameson (1x24)

You can tell what this one's going to be about right from the title, but the journey that unveils the long and storied life of the man currently taking the identity of Walter Jameson is a worthwhile one.

The expected commentary on immortality is there - the tragedy of watching your loved ones age and die, death giving life meaning. More interesting are the admissions that long life doesn't necessarily bring with it greater wisdom, and that a person's weaknesses will remain however long they live for.

I also liked the suggestion that this type of identity crafting ruse is becoming increasingly difficult in the advancing world - fast-forward to today, and you wonder how the Wandering Jew deals with it. The ending is typically and satisfyingly unflinching, as the best ones generally are.

44. The Howling Man (2x05)

This is a very traditionally styled horror story, complete with a dark and stormy night, a dingy castle, a sinister cult and permanently skewed camera angles, and it was a joy to watch.

Unlike most shock twists that the series is famous for, this time we're presented with the conundrum fairly early on and have to decide whether we'd prefer the howling prisoner to be an innocent man who's been unfairly chained up by a mad cult, as he attests, or the Devil himself finally trapped under lock and key.

Alright, so it's The Twilight Zone, and I did put that spoilery picture at the top, but for a good while it could have gone either way.

43. The Masks (5x25)

Awaiting his death, an old man shows his pre-bereaved estate what he thinks of them with bespoke enchanted masks. They don't come out of the arrangement too badly really, they have all the money they need for cosmetic surgery.

42. Once Upon a Time (3x13)

This slapstick time travel farce is elevated above their usual comedy episodes by the gimmick of presenting the 1890s scenes as a silent film, complete with intertitles and a jaunty piano soundtrack.

It works brilliantly, particularly as Buster Keaton's curmudgeonly Mr. Mulligan is seeking an escape from the 'noise' of his time, only to find that the era of the talkies is only going to bring more disharmony.

41. A Nice Place to Visit (1x28)

In this classic fable of just desserts, a low-life thief wakes up after being shot in the head to find himself surrounded by all the shallow luxuries he ever dreamed of, for tedious eternity.

While the title makes the message clear right from the beginning, it can take a little longer to see past our afterlife concierge's helpful demeanour, elusive half-answers and deceptively white suit as the full extent of the horror sets in. Watch it again and you can tell he's loving it.

40. The Arrival (3x02)

Planes are a favourite theme of the Twilight Zone. There's no prehistoric odyssey this time, but instead an eerie mystery as a plane lands on schedule sans pilot and passengers. A plane that seems to appear differently to every observer.

In time-honoured fashion dating back to the first episode, the pull-back-and-reveal ending isn't very satisfying, but the psychological journey is worth it.

39. Mute (4x05)

Another keeper from Richard Matheson, in which a girl sadistically raised as a mute telepath by her parents has to adjust to the noisy, confusing world. Have fun making comparisons to parents raising their kids in religion or vegetarianism if you like.

If this was a standard length episode, the entire bereaved mother plot probably wouldn't have made it. I'm still on board.

38. Miniature (4x08)

Either the quality of actors has really improved this season or I just wasn't paying attention before. A (requisitely) young Robert Duvall plays a loveable square who (typically) can't find his place in the real world, so instead becomes enchanted by a doll house and its miniature occupants that only he can see.

It's not their most complex or subtle exploration of [insanity / the fantastic], but for escapist delight it's one of the best of the year.

37. Mr. Bevis (1x33)

The clumsy, eccentric optimist Mr. Bevis feels like the first protagonist we've had in a long while who isn't completely loathsome. While they're continuing to recycle ideas from earlier episodes (and to do Groundhog Day several decades in advance), I'm fully behind the message on the importance of being true to yourself and not selling out.

36. King Nine Will Not Return (2x01)

There are some superficial changes in the air for the new season, which introduces the famous doo-doo-doo-doo soundtrack and now features Rod Serling on set for his opening voice-overs. Otherwise it's business as usual, with a creepy story following a stranded pilot whose World War II bomber has crashed in the desert and whose crew are nowhere to be found.

Things get stranger as he sees apparitions of his crew and futuristic jet planes flying overhead that he somehow has knowledge of. He runs through the various stock possibilities on our behalf - delusion, coma, purgatory - and in the end the writers pick one, but there's a still a fun coda to bring back some of the mystery. It's not one of my favourite episodes, but it's as definitive as they come.

35. Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room (2x03)

For those of us unfamiliar with 1960s rental rates, that is still a cheap hotel room. Its occupier is the nervous and unsuitable gangster Jackie Rhoades, who is tasked with carrying out a hit and sets about trying to "get guts" and talk himself into it over the course of an evening. Unlike most monologues, the man in the mirror talks back and isn't satisfied with his lot.

It's another very simple and iconic episode set in one room and mainly based around a single actor (Joe Mantell), which doesn't have to rely on more than basic effects to convince us that he really is talking to himself. If it's missing anything, it's an extra twist where it's revealed that the substituted Jackie can't exit the room or something, but part of the appeal of these tales is how succinct they are in idea and execution.

34. Mirror Image (1x21)

This was probably one of the cheapest episodes to make, but the intimate setting of a lonely bus depot and the slow pace help a lot with the suspense. It also helps that the paranormal activity going on can't be easily categorised like it usually can, keeping us guessing and leaving things satisfyingly mysterious.

33. Two (3x01)

In this post-apocalyptic two-hander, a scruffy Adam and Eve learn to set aside old differences and start again in the rubble. The production team must have had some fun trashing those sets, but the resulting episode is as bleak as bloody Threads.

32. The Jungle (3x12)

I don't usually like the stories that champion superstition over common sense, but the ominous terror in this one is so good that it gets away with it. And after spending 20 minutes subtly suggesting that a concrete jungle is the real thing with sound effects and shaking trees, they go for it and put a lion in the bedroom for a memorable ending. No need to write in, I'm sure he liked it.

I also enjoyed how the episode refused to get more specific than "Africa" throughout, even on the survey map. Why burden yourself with unnecessary knowledge?

31. The After Hours (1x34)

Like Doctor Who's Autons, this journey through the Twilight Zone's uncanny valley succeeds in making the mundane world of department stores and mannequins frightening, before a twist that should technically be even more horrifying but actually feels comparatively upbeat. Anne Francis is a great screamer.

30. Escape Clause (1x06)

Another neat fable that's more morbidly amusing than I would have expected for the era - clearly I have some periodist bigotry that needs to be overcome, since it's already evident that Rod Serling is a master of the medium.

This modern day (c.1959) take on the Faustian bargain sees a paranoid hypochondriac exchange his soul for immortality, after which there's the inevitable 15-minute countdown until the twist that sets him free. Walter Bedeker is entertainingly loathsome. Totally self-absorbed and a complete arsehole to his long-suffering wife, he deserves everything he gets, and it's very satisfying to watch his downfall.

29. Printer's Devil (4x09)

Burgess Meredith is back, and this time he channels the Penguin a few years early to play a devil with the same mannerisms, minus the squawk. Mr Smith shows up in the Nick of time to save a struggling newspaper with his magic fingers, and a compelling tale of desperation and ethics ensues.

28. Come Wander with Me (5x34)

I always appreciate episodes that try something different, and this is The Twilight Zone's only folk musical. A travelling musician is enchanted by a ballad of the woods and adopts it as his own, which unfortunately means inheriting the typically tragic narrative along with it.

27. The Shelter (3x03)

One of Mr. Serling's more timely and condemning ones, this is a snapshot of an America debating the merits of fallout shelters until it's too late, and another scathing criticism of what fear can do to people.

Even in the absence of a bomb, it's not one of the jollier outings into the Zone. I'll even award them a free pass if they want to lighten the tone with a stupid story about a genie or two-headed alien experimenter or something.

26. The Midnight Sun (3x10)

Is Mr. Serling going for a depressing home run? Is he in competition with himself?

This authentically sweaty tale of a rapidly heating Earth piles on looters and potential rapists just to make the situation even more grim. Don't look to the anticipated twist ending to save you either, as you'll only be offered the briefest respite before having your hopes dashed anew.

Living in a tropical country prone to power and water shortages, I identified with this one more than most. It wouldn't say much for my sanity if I identified with the majority of episodes, would it?

25. A Most Unusual Camera (2x10)

There are two types of Twilight Zone stories I really like: unremittingly bleak with a shock twist, and nasty with a sense of humour. This is squarely the latter, as a team of low-life criminals picks up a mysterious camera in a haul of otherwise useless curios that they soon discover can take pictures of the near future.

Because this is pre-Back to the Future, the inevitable scheme to win big on the races needs to be explained at patronising length before we can get on with it, and then we get to enjoy watching terrible people temporarily indulge in the lap of luxury for the few minutes remaining before they get their even more inevitable just desserts. It's all about the journey.

24. Stopover in a Quiet Town (5x30)

A couple wakes up in a strange bed in an impractical house in a deserted town. What is going on?

If you were looking for the perfect introductory episode, they don't come much more archetypal than this. That's not to say it's one of my favourites, but only because it liberally mashes up various earlier hits, stretching right back to the beginning. Just like that inaugural episode, the resolution might as well be multiple choice: afterlife, aliens, hallucination, simulation, they'll have to pick one by the 20-minute mark.

23. The Lonely (1x07)

While we've previously dealt with time travel and other science fiction themes amidst the general unusualness, this is the first time we get extraterrestrial, as the barren landscape of Death Valley makes a convincing enough asteroid.

We're on the common topic of loneliness again - it seems to account for about a third of these early episodes - as a wrongly convicted (so he claims) criminal is inflicted with the cruel, unusual and impractical punishment of being isolated on his own floating rock. On a routine supply trip, his sympathetic supplier adds something extra among the food and paperbacks - a robot woman whom we presume is "fully functional" in the Data sense, but as this is 1959 we're just told how good she is at conversation.

While it's obviously mired in the sexist attitudes of the time, this is still a thoughtful episode with a genuinely upsetting ending. Because they're usually so cheery, right?

22. I Shot an Arrow into the Air (1x15)

There's another surprise and quite grim ending that I should have seen coming all the way through, but just like these stranded astronauts, I refused to believe it could be so obvious.

We're back in desolate Death Valley again that stands in for the mysterious world these test pilots have crashed on, and we see what man is capable of when robbed of food, water and shelter as discipline clashes with survivalism.

21. Perchance to Dream (1x09)

Don't sleep or you die!

This is a convincing psychological horror tale that doesn't have to be supernatural if you don't want it to be - the sleepless Edward Hall might just be driving himself to an early grave through his own paranoia, spurred on by a sinister seductress and helped out by some authentically creepy dream sequences that owe a debt to the silent Impressionists. I was gripped.

20. The Passersby (3x04)

This is a simple, spooky one that doesn't make it into my favourites but is still basically perfect. A Confederate sergeant stops off at a widow's cottage on the long walk 'home' to share depressing stories, play a few chords and contemplate the point of it all. It can be enjoyed just as much on repeats even when you know what's going on.

19. Nick of Time (2x07)

William Shatner and some actress who wasn't the star of a landmark sci-fi series later in the decade play a lovey dovey couple killing time in a small town, who are quite enjoying it before Shatner's character becomes obsessed with a gimmicky fortune-telling napkin holder that he believes is dispensing uncannily accurate predictions about their future.

This is one of their simple and effective tales, and for championing scepticism I love it. Despite the coda that basically confirms the thing is magic after all, it's refreshing that it's the guy who's a slave to superstition and has to be talked into taking control over his own destiny by the level-headed girl.

18. And When the Sky Was Opened (1x11)

When an experimental space flight crashes back down to Earth, its three occupants start to disappear one by one, with their loved ones' memories and physical evidence being gradually erased. It's creeping existential horror of the finest pedigree, and one of those episodes where you know for certain what the ending will be all the way through, but you still feel morbidly compelled to get there.

17. Third from the Sun (1x14)

Another one from Richard Matheson, with a tense and foreboding atmosphere as two scientists try to save their loved ones from the oncoming apocalypse without alerting the attention of their suspicious superiors.

It's gripping enough even before the twist ending, which is one of those classics that's been so widely parodied since, it's charming to see it played straight. They still got me.

16. The Invaders (2x15)

This is one of the stand-out episodes of the second season, though initially that seems to be for all the wrong reasons. Richard Matheson wrote this tale of miniature invaders, and the writing isn't the problem - that would be the children's toys used to portray the eponymous invaders.

For the first half I was convinced this was going to go down in history as an embarrassing failure, but as the invaders' relentless onslaught of the lone farm woman keeps going, it somehow becomes terrifying. That is no small achievement, and the choice to go completely dialogue-free before the ending twist is very effective.

And the twist is a killer. For a while I was hoping it'd turn out the crashed UFO and its occupants actually were toys that had somehow malfunctioned and ended up crashing into a farm house, just to excuse those effects, but I can't improve on Matheson.

15. Death Ship (4x06)

A great silver-age sci-fi short and nicely morbid too, this tale adapted from Matheson's short story sees the crew of a crashed spaceship (the visuals may not live up to the writing) work through various, equally unappealing theories to explain their deceased doubles.

Futile time loop or hell? Does it make a practical difference?

14. On Thursday We Leave for Home (4x16)

This tale of unwelcome salvation and Messianic megalomania is the first one penned by Mr. Serling in a while. I've missed his bleak poetry, and this is one of the darkest. If it doesn't make it to my top 10, it's only because some of the dafter ones are so adorable.

It feels like a long time since we've been out in space too, so please welcome back our old friends, flying saucer stock footage and cardboard backgrounds.

13. People Are Alike All Over (1x25)

It's one of the classic twists, a darkly comic pay-off to building suspicions that there's more to the overly hospitable Martians than meets the eye and the most ruthless stab at humanity's less noble tendencies since 'Maple Street.'

It certainly isn't an episode for those who like their sci-fi hard, but the rest of us can enjoy the cardboard backdrops of a Méliès Mars and trying to identify several future Star Trek alumni. I saw the ending coming as soon as I realised that was Vina from 'The Cage' - I guess this one made quite the impression on Gene.

12. Little Girl Lost (3x26)

From now on, this list is pretty much all going to be "Simpsons episodes." Those Halloween specials are a lot less creatively impressive when you get all the references.

It's another interesting concept from Richard Matheson, whose ideas of how four-dimensional space would interact with ours aren't exactly followed through when we go all 4D at the end. Never mind, it's very suspenseful and freaky and up there among my favourites.

11. Five Characters in Search of an Exit (3x14)

Not counting endless homages and rip-offs, this was my first ever Twilight Zone tale, though in radio form rather than visual, and it does seem much better suited to the audio medium which gives it a bit of added surrealism.

Unfortunately, it's also one with a twist that's just so memorable, you'll never be able to forget it and enjoy the experience anew. The unlikely group of characters brainstorm a number of equally plausible theories for their predicament, but you know it's not going to be anything as mundane as alien abduction or purgatory, give them some credit.

10. Shadow Play (2x26)

A convicted man's recurring dream of going to the electric chair runs on a seemingly endless loop, and since he knows that the dramatis personae are all figments of his imagination, there's no hope of escape.

It's more creative than your standard time loop or nightmare episode, and there's some interesting dream logic too. Many films and TV shows have tried to persuade me that I may be nothing more than a figment in their character's imagination, but few have been this successful.

9. Walking Distance (1x05)

There are similarities to the first episode here as a man explores an unusual town and tries to unravel its mystery, but it's taken to another level as a powerful allegory about the transience of youth and the importance of moving on. Then Mr. Serling explains as much in the extended closing narration just in case you somehow didn't get it.

It really feels like they've perfected the format with this one, as everything is as good as it could be - with the notable exception of the rubbish child actors, but that's forgivable. Skewed camera angles and odd lighting set a compelling eerie tone, and Bernard Herrmann's back on soundtrack duties which always helps.

The ending is generally seen as downbeat, but I don't think that's the case. This could work as a creative self-help guide to finding satisfaction in your life and letting go of the past.

8. The Little People (3x28)

Another one The Simpsons parodied. I'm gradually conditioning myself to consider these the originals and lose the associations, but it'll take time.

This was another instant favourite for me, combining imaginative sci-fi (we haven't had a nice soundstage planet for a while) with pretty daft characterisation. It only takes a couple of days for a crashed astronaut to go from irritated with his superior officer to full-on megalomaniac when he discovers a race of miniature people he can lord over (amusingly varying in scale), and then there's a very satisfying twist to put him in his place.

7. The Thirty-Fathom Grave (4x02)

Presumably the double length of season four episodes means they get twice as much money to spend on them, as it really shows in this seafaring mystery. Rod Serling delves into his war trauma again to tell the tale of a mysterious sound coming from the depths and ghosts from the past.

6. An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge (5x22)

The Twilight Zone goes international by stamping its branding on an award-winning French short film adaptation of Ambrose Bierce's classic twisted tale. It stands out 5,000 miles from its neighbours with its arty angles, intricate nature footage and random song montage in the middle, but tonally and thematically it fits like a snug noose.

5. Number 12 Looks Just Like You (5x17)

Riffing on similar themes to 'Eye of the Beholder,' that double bill should be mandatory viewing in South Korea where they are literally just doing this.

It's a shame it's not one of the double-length episodes, as there's plenty more they could have done with mistaken identity and duplicity in a world where everyone shares one of several ideal physical forms, but even in 20+ minutes they explore the horrors of enforced conformity, the impracticality of everyday nametags, and expand the dystopia to include mood synthesisers and frail romantic bonds.

You could point at the split screen blooper as an imperfection, but for me, that's just cute.

4. The Eye of the Beholder (2x06)

A deservedly famous episode, I had the feeling I've seen this before, but it was probably just one of the endless affectionate parodies or sneaky rip-offs out there. Its story of conformity rings even truer today than it did at the time, to the point that it should probably be a mandatory inclusion on those flash drives people sneak into North Korea among the latest movies. To be fair, its cosmetic surgery obsessed neighbour to the south could do with the lesson too.

It's all extremely tense, with strategic camera angles and shadows keeping the appearance of every character not wrapped under dense bandages a secret until the end. And after a few episodes that could be written off as little more than light entertainment, Maxine Stuart's emotional performance makes for powerful television.

3. Time Enough at Last (1x08)

Along with 'To Serve Man,' the cornfield and William Shatner dealing with a gremlin on a plane, this is one of the most famous episodes, and the combination of a bleak, post-apocalyptic setting, a likeably goofy protagonist and a deviously cruel twist make it a justified classic.

This is one bloody bleak series generally, but it's thanks to Burgess Meredith's sympathetic portrayal of the bookworm comically despised by his boss and wife that it's entertaining as a darkly funny fable in the vein of 'Escape Clause' as opposed to the plain nastiness of 'The Lonely.' Treating it like a fairy tale also means you don't need to dwell on the less realistic aspects of the post-apocalyptic landscape. It's no Threads.

The visually challenged will especially sympathise with Mr. Bemis, and I'm certain that you could correlate purchases of spare glasses with broadcasts of this episode. But if you're feeling affected by his plight, look on the bright side - he'll presumably die from the radiation before too long. Feel better now?

2. It's a Good Life (3x08)

Another deservedly famous one, the story of young Anthony and what remains of his desperately sycophantic townsfolk is sort of terrifying, really funny and utterly without hope.

We're not told why Anthony is different from other boys, that would only mean fewer minutes getting to enjoy the fruits of his tyranny. This is a good episode, a real good thing they did.

1. Nightmare at 20,000 Feet (5x03)

Most people younger than 40 are probably more familiar with the Simpsons version, but even outside of that, this has probably been more widely parodied and straight-up remade than any other episode. It's because it's the best one. Gripping, the ideal length and perfectly ambiguous until that final shot, but make of that what you will.

William Shatner pays his second, more memorable visit to the Twilight Zone, and being several years pre-Kirk, it's another remarkably ego-free performance. Is his nervous flier a hero or a madman? The more you think about it, and the more the Gremlin screws around with him seemingly for kicks, the more likely the latter seems. But then there's that final shot.

Yes, the Gremlin looks goofy up close. That close-up might not have been the wisest decision. But when it's leaping around on the wings, it's prettyterrifying.

Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)

I like a good anthology film, but like most of the rest, this averages out to just okay. Four established directors had 156 episodes of The Twilight Zone to choose from, and fair play they picked a couple of the best. But Spielberg bizarrely picks one of the dullest for his sagging middle (did he think things were getting too dark?) while Landis decides Rod Serling's story of overcoming bigotry could do with a thorough reworking.

The 'Good Life' and '20,000 Feet' segments are the only ones really worthy of celebration, expanding on the originals with varying degrees of artistic license, though I could have done without all the zany animatronics that are more in line with Tales from the Crypt.

If you're lucky enough to be ignorant about the behind-the-scenes horror, there's an amiable atmosphere of homage rather than cynical remake about the whole thing, or at least three quarters of it. But I did wonder if we'd all been watching the same show.


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