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One Step Beyond
Directed by John Newland
Written by Charles Beaumont, Russell Beggs, Martin Benson, Ian Stuart Black, Alfred Brenner, Francis M. Cockrell, DeWitt Copp, Paul David, et al.
One Step Beyond
 
Principal Cast
John Newland -- Host
Jeanne Bates -- Mary Todd Lincoln / Edna Gibbs / ...
Francis De Sales -- Doctor Norton / Sam Harkness
Olan Soule -- Harris / Conductor / ...
Robert Douglas -- Harrison Ackroyd / Paul McCord / ...
Will J. White -- Spanish Man / German Soldier / ...
Past Feature Reviews
A review by Trent Walters

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If the human judicial system fails, is there a cosmic, albeit perpetually ironic, judicial system in the universe, built entirely out of psychic phenomena? If you'd like to think so, then One Step Beyond may be the series to watch. The entire premise is that these are dramatized real life accounts:

"What you're about to see," John Newland, our host, tells us, "is a matter of human record. Explain it, we cannot. Disprove it, we cannot. We simply invite you to explore with us the amazing world of the unknown, to take that one step beyond."

While it prefigures The Twilight Zone, what ensues in these thirty-three episodes on eight DVDs (a web site offers forty-three for a price) is usually one step shy of The Twilight Zone. Most of the "stories" lack any arc -- little more than campfire tales or urban legends -- evoking a number of "Idn't that weird" or "Dee world is stranger than we thunk" responses. Kill someone and end up in the electric chair. Reform your bad-boy ways to love someone, and the psychic force(s) will be on your side.

Perhaps it is unfair to judge non-fiction by the tougher standards of fiction. But then most of us subconsciously search for a natural story structure whether it comes in fiction or in non-fiction. Forcing structure on the latter might make it less "true" but it does make for a more satisfactory entertainment.

A few episodes have clever conceits (some of which get used in other incarnations with minimal variation), especially "The Return of Mitchell Campion." Mitchell visits a Spanish-speaking island to recover after having been in the hospital, only to find out the island thinks he was already on the island, during the time he'd been in the hospital. Or "The Devil's Laughter" in which a murderer cannot be killed because he knows how he'll die. Ghosts of the past and future come in brooches, mirrors, paintings, windows, rooms, hotels, hungry houses, headstones, dreams, hypnosis, hieroglyphs, dead twin sisters, dead daughters, strokes, donated blood, cold and bloody hands of murderers, and souls reborn in a new body across the world.

A few episodes are touching, especially "The Lovers" in which an older gentleman finds his love come up against a poltergeist's flying books and sculptures, although the episode still doesn't leave the viewer much after it's over.

And a few are absolutely wonderful. The best of which is "The Secret," the story of a woman who has a imaginary companion because her real-life companion, her husband, is far too stuffy and finds marriage simply an image to uphold for the neighbors. Another episode worth watching is "The Aerialist," a young trapeze artist who, in the heat of the moment, threatens not to catch his father for slapping the young artist. To the young man's grief, he fails to catch his father.

Stories like the last two rise above the usual Twilight Zone fare, a few match it, but most fall short. If you're an insatiable fanatic of black and television programs, of absorbing late 50s and early 60s culture through television, of The Twilight Zone, or of psychic experiences, you should probably own this collection. Who knows? The world may be stranger than we think.

Note: Charles Beaumont, the late great The Twilight Zone and short story writer, dramatized two episodes of the series.

Copyright © 2004 Trent Walters

Trent Walters' work has appeared or will appear in The Distillery, Fantastical Visions, Full Unit Hookup, Futures, Glyph, Harpweaver, Nebo, The Pittsburgh Quarterly, Speculon, Spires, Vacancy, The Zone and blah blah blah. He has interviewed for SFsite.com, Speculon and the Nebraska Center for Writers. More of his reviews can be found here. When he's not studying medicine, he can be seen coaching Notre Dame (formerly with the Minnesota Vikings as an assistant coach), or writing masterpieces of journalistic advertising, or making guest appearances in a novel by E. Lynn Harris. All other rumored Web appearances are lies.


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