What do you get when you cross a bulldog and a shih tzu? No, I’ve got a better one. What do you get when you take The Haunting of Hill House, add a pinch of Doctor Who’s Ark in Space and a dollop of Seeds of Doom? You get The Troubled Spirit.
Mostly, it’s the Haunting of Moon Base Alpha; the Doctor Who moments are the man with the horribly scarred hand having to hide it as he leaves a room, reminiscent of Noah in Ark. The episode opens with a number of the crew enjoying some 70’s style guitar music proving that Hendrix has a long lasting influence on humanity. Meanwhile, four members of the crew seem to be holding a séance but we learn that they are actually running an experiment to communicate with plants a la Harrison Chase of Doctor Who’s Seeds of Doom. Sure it sounds nuts, but then Mateo figures their dwindling resources is going to get them sooner or later so it’s better try whatever they can to coax a little extra food out of the hydroponics bay. Hey, what people get up to on their free time is their business, am I right? Plus it gave us an excuse to see more of the base.
The thing we have to remember is that this is a horror story, or more specifically, a haunting and that means deaths. The crew actually get luckier than most horror movie survivors: they only lose three people by the time the episode ends. (Humanity is down to 281 crew members; talk about a species going extinct!) The thing is, two of the deaths seems to be caused by the ghost that’s haunting the base. This leads Victor to speculate on the nature of the threat. He distinguishes between supernatural and paranormal. The point is, what’s happening is more than natural, but may not be a ghost. It’s an interesting thing to consider. But the punchline makes it unclear what the intent was because, as Koenig says later, it’s Mateo’s spirit of vengeance that’s causing the deaths but it’s doing it before Mateo is actually dead!
This adds a layer of complexity to the standard horror trope and I think its an interesting thing. The ghost is a horribly burned version of Mateo; it’s a bit like Batman’s Two Face, where half his face is disturbingly melted. So when Helena, Victor and Koenig lock Mateo in a room for an experiment, the spirit manifests itself but it can’t leave the enclosed room. The two Mateo’s get into a fight and both die. The whole episode seems to be a buildup to a magnificent ending, where the ghostly Mateo vanishes leaving the other dead on the ground. When Koenig turns him over, we see the horribly disfigured face that had been on the ghost.
This just makes me wonder in the end… did Mateo need to die? If they hadn’t run the experiment, Mateo would not have been burned and died, meaning the mangled corpse would never have been created. So in some ways this ends up being a time travel paradox.
The episode offers an epilogue with Koenig lamenting another death, claiming that every death on the base affects him personally. It’s a good character statement about the man in charge, but that hardly makes up for the slow, plodding plot or the dark sets and annoying music. The idea of being haunted by your own ghost should make for a really great story. Sadly, all I could think of at the end was what you get when you cross a Bulldog with a Shih tzu. ML
When sci-fi makes room for the supernatural, particularly at a time when Sapphire & Steel and The Omega Factor would soon make their marks on British television, an episode like The Troubled Spirit just might help us to look at the supernatural in a scientific perspective. When it comes to ghostly apparitions that give strong evidence of such impending dooms, going back to classics like Charles Dickens’ The Signal Man, Space 1999 took quite a brave chance with how this one was so unforgettably resolved. I liked Giancarlo Prete’s performance as Mateo and it was certainly a tough role. The closing words from Martin Landau reaffirm how existential subjects became most significantly popular in space age shows thanks to Space 1999. Thank you, ML, for your review.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Many thanks for all these reviews! I didn’t watch much of Space 1999 when it first appeared (although I did enjoy some of the novelizations at the time) and have never gotten around to catching up to it since on DVD, etc. (unlike Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, etc.), so I appreciate these discussions all the more.
LikeLiked by 1 person
I’m delighted to have you reading them and finding value there. Many thanks for accompanying me on the trip with the Alphans! ML
LikeLiked by 1 person