At Mansfield House, our host Winston Essex (Sebastian Cabot) introduces the episode. Essex discusses the origins of chess, a deceivingly “harmless” game. But, he notes, chess is based on war games: attack, defend…capture…checkmate. It requires two players “under ordinary circumstances,” he opines, but in the upcoming story, the circumstances will be far from ordinary…
When Bobby innocently makes a remark about how much he likes his elementary school teacher, Miss Gilden, the sinister twin heads off to school to make the instructor’s life a living hell. The doppelganger quickly proves a distraction in class, but then sets about framing Miss Gilden for using force against him. His plan is successful, and Miss Gilden is fired from her long-held teaching job just months short of her retirement.
When Ghost Story works…it really works, and “Alter-Ego” proves an excellent reminder of this quality. This episode is absolutely riveting as Miss Gilden and the sinister Bobby duplicate play a real life game of chess, matching move and counter move perfectly. The performances by Hayes and Wixted are more than equal to the material, and the teleplay by Dorothy Fontana is very strong too. The story itself is based on a literary work by Stanley Ellin (1916 – 1986), and in 2001 I had the chance to ask Fontana about her contributions:
The “evil child” represents one of the great pop culture tropes of the 1970s, appearing in films and television series such as The Exorcist (1973), Space: 1999 (“Alpha Child”), and The Omen (1976) to name just three. “Alter-Ego” is a highly cerebral variation of the tale, but also an expression of the idea that all children boast a good and a dark side. Only in this case, the dark side is externalized as a separate (and murderous) entity.