Season 3, Episode 37 (102 overall)
Cayuga Production # 4835
Fifty years ago tonight, The Twilight Zone’s third season came to a gentle, elegiac close with a somber tale of failure, redemption, and… oh yeah, ghosts.
“The Changing of the Guard” concerns elderly Professor Ellis Fowler, who is devastated to learn that he is being forced into retirement just as school is letting out for the Christmas break. Believing himself to be an abject failure, and that he’s never really taught anyone anything worthwhile, he sets out into the winter night… with a loaded pistol in his pocket. However, the ghosts of his past students might have something to say about this misguided act.
Pleasence would go on to a memorable role the following year as a man with extraordinary psychic abilities in the Outer Limits episode “The Man With the Power” but, more famously, he was one of three actors to portray the villainous Ernst Blofeld in the James Bond film series (specifically You Only Live Twice; coincidentally my favorite Bond outing). He also played Dr. Loomis in several installments of the Halloween film franchise.
The headmaster is played by Liam Sullivan, last seen in season two’s “The Silence,” in which his obnoxious character promised to remain silent for a year (but cheated by having his vocal cords snipped). Here he’s got plenty of nice things to say, but our Professor Fowler is too despondent to hear them. The lovely, pastoral music heard as Fowler leaves said headmaster’s office (after being told of his forced retirement) is called “Quiet Western Scene,” a CBS Music Library stock cue by Nathan Van Cleave, contributor of many great original TZ scores. Here we only get a snippet; the cue will be more prominently featured in season four’s “On Thursday We Leave For Home” (we’ll get it about a year from now).
Ghosts appear and fade away. (Men at Work, "Overkill")
Aside from the scheduling absurdity of airing a Christmas episode in June (TZ would also rerun its perennial holiday classic “Night of the Meek” a few months later… in August!), “The Changing of the Guard” is a gentle, satisfying tale of one man’s heartbreak and ultimate optimism for the future. I could argue that Fowler is actually a selfish jackass for endeavoring to blow his own brains out in the middle of the campus, which would likely traumatize both the faculty and the student body, but I’ve never been forced to retire, so I’m really not in a position to judge. In all honesty, I WISH they’d force me to retire. At 42, however, I fear I’ve got quite a while to wait.
Next: The summer rerun season kicks off with the passionate tale of a plane, a dinosaur, and the freak tailwind that brought them together.