Shatner vs. Shatner

A man walks into a small-town diner with his wife to have lunch while they wait for their car to be repaired. The napkin-holder features a small devil’s head and a pack of fortune-telling cards. For one penny, you can get an answer to a yes-or-no question. He puts in a coin …

Nick of Time38 (1)

A man boards an airplane with his wife. He’s on his way home after recovering from a mental breakdown. The plane takes off into a bad storm. While she tries to get some sleep, he looks out the window and sees … a man on the wing?

Nightmare 20,000-16

Two iconic episodes of The Twilight Zone. One actor. Fellow TZ fans, whether you were first introduced to him as Don Carter or as Bob Wilson, you know him better as: William Shatner.

I’m here, though, not merely to praise the then-future captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise. No, I’m here to ask the impossible. I want you to select your favorite Shatner TZ. That’s tough when you have not one, but two appealing performances to judge.

In one corner, we have Don Carter. He’s a superstitious man, to say the least. Four-leaf clovers, rabbit’s feet — the whole nine yards. So despite the fact that he’s a man on the rise at his company, he easily falls prey to the fortune-teller’s seemingly “specific” answers.

This flaw is straining his relationship with his patient and persistent wife, so we’re eager for him to see reason (even as we wonder if he’s not right about the thing).

Shatner doesn’t chew any scenery here. We see every moment of the struggle he’s in etched into his expressions. He lends a truly human face to Richard Matheson’s absorbingly eerie tale.

Nick of Time42

In the other corner, we have Bob Wilson. He, by contrast, is a nervous man. All he wants to do is put his breakdown behind him and prove that he’s cured. But … damn it all, there’s a man out there! Right?

He’s torn: Should he shut up and avoid saying anything that would make him sound like he’s already had a relapse? Or speak up, alert everyone to the danger they seem to be in, and risk being put back into a straitjacket?

Great drama is born of exquisitely torturous dilemmas like this, and Shatner (acting in another Matheson masterpiece) makes us feel every twist that poor Bob is going through.

Nightmare 20,000-28

And now it’s you who face the dilemma:

UPDATE (April 24, 11:00 a.m.) It was a tough fight, but in the end “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” was left standing over the prostrate form of “Nick of Time.”  Thanks to all who voted!

Photos courtesy of Wendy BrydgeFor a daily dose of Serling, you can follow me on TwitterFacebook or Pinterest. You can also sign up for email notifications of future blog posts by clicking “follow” in the upper left-hand corner of this page. Hope to see you in some corner of the fifth dimension soon!

About Paul

Fanning about the work of Rod Serling all over social media. If you enjoy pics, quotes, facts and blog posts about The Twilight Zone, Night Gallery and Serling's other projects, you've come to the right place.

Posted on 04/22/2013, in Twilight Zone and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 27 Comments.

  1. That is the ultimate question, isn’t it, Boss? Which Shatner is best? That’s a tough one. My money is on Nick of Time for overall greatness. Although Nightmare at 20,000 Feet is the one that Shatner’s acting really shines in. Can’t wait to see the results! :)

    • No question, Gal Friday! I knew this would be a great question, mostly because I had a hard time deciding myself. Like you, though, I picked “Nick of Time.” All hail “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” which I truly love, but I’ve always preferred a more subtle threat. Feels more creepy somehow.

      Thanks again for giving me so many pics to choose from! An embarrassment of riches, that’s all I ever get with you. ;)

  2. “Nick of Time” is very well-done but more fun, not quite so serious. You can watch it and not be unnerved. “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” however…sheesh, gets me every time!! That is one nerve-wracking story!

    • Look at your post times, ladies….


      • I know – I noticed that right away! ;) Occasionally, it’s like Wendy and I are a little too in sync (yet opposite sometimes – doppelgangers!) – like we’re in…The Twilight Zone!

      • I think Mandy is onto something here… doppelgängers is the only explanation! :-o

        And it’s even creepier than you might think… we’ve both owned the same make of car at the same time!

        The only thing that’s not clear… which of us is the “evil” one? I nominate Mandy, but only b/c she’s the one who loves cats. And we all remember what Serling said about cats, don’t we?

        That and the fact I’m known as “Wendy Loves Jesus”. So obviously *I* can’t be evil. ;)

      • Uh-huh. I’m still keeping an eye on you. ;)

      • Watch yourself, Paul! :D

      • I’m just not happy unless I’m tweaking my Wendy!

    • They both feel pretty serious to me! But I know what you mean. The threat in “Nightmare” is obviously more tangible. But “NIck of Time” just has a way of staying with me more. Both are amazing!

  3. Now…ask me in five minutes and I’ll change my vote, but I voted “Nick of Time,” even though on all my flights, I constantly look out the window! I love the psychological factor in “Nick,” and something about the overall “feel” of that episode really resonates with me, but I love aircraft, love flying, loved the being out on the wing…dang it…maybe…maybe I should just…

  4. “Nick of Time” just barely won out for me. Like a previous commenter, I might change my mind again if you asked me in a few hours :-)

  5. Bill Slaughter

    Both episodes are A+ for different reasons. But if I have to pick one, it’s Nick Of Time as the pacing is perfect and you can feel the stress build from minute to minute. And of course Shatner is superb. Saw Shatner’s one-man show this year. Was disappointed that he made no mention of his great work on The Twilight Zone. P.S. The creature poking the propeller with his finger is classic!

    • That’s what I like about “Nick of Time,” too. I like it when you’re not sure if something’s real. That’s not really the case in “Nightmare.” It’s frightening, but “Nick of Time” is sinister. Big difference. Thanks for chiming in, Bill!

  6. “Nick of Time,” all the way! (Nice post!)

  7. Oh, boy. Why not ask an easier one, like which ear would I rather lose…

    I’ll be the odd one out with my barrel mates & go with “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” While I’ve never had any trouble with gremlins on plane wings, I can relate to the scariness and/or frustration of being the one to spot a problem while no one believes you!

  8. Both episodes show that nervousness of the ’50s and early ’60s, when the A-Bomb (and H-Bomb) had changed the face of the idyllic American landscape. A nightmare could be right down the block. Shatner’s character in “Nick of Time” is as equally obsessed, but I give the nod to “20,000 Feet”.

  9. Nick of Time. He loses it in both stories, but not many of us encounter people who see gremlins on airplanes. I would guess most of us either are, or know, people who get obsessive about dumb trinkets (we’re all geeks here after all). And Shatner’s arc from normal guy to obsessive dime-jockey is quite chilling specifically because of how mundane it all is.

    • Yes, that’s a very good point. “Nick of Time” is definitely the more plausible of the two, and that lends an extra air of menace to it. I appreciate the vote and the comment!

  10. Nick of Time for me, although I like Nightmare too. I know some people that let their GPS navigation or their phone boss them around so it’s sort of timeless and allegorical in a way.

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