Saturday, November 21, 2015
Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Space Academy: "The Phantom Planet" (October 29, 1977)
“The Phantom Planet” opens with Space Academy on high alert.
"Chris, have you ever seen a ghost?" Commander Gampu (Jonathan Harris) urgently asks, before revealing on the main view screen how a strange world keeps materializing and de-materializing in space near the unstable asteroid, Proteus 9B.
Gampu sends the Blue Team in a Seeker to demolish the asteroid, despite the presence of the 'phantom planet' and Peepo is afraid. However, Loki is excited. "If you see a ghost," he tells Gentry, "let me know right away."
While Chris, Tee-Gar, and Paul set "tech-nite" charges to destroy the unstable asteroid, Laura, Adrian and Peepo are confronted by a strange ghost in a gray cloak. He beckons them to a cave, but the entrance is sealed.
Adrian blasts the cave open with a laser gun that looks like an office water dispenser jug, and inside the it, she and Laura discover a jeweled cavern. A group of golden eggs are ensconced there, and the ghost appears to be protective of them. Laura and Adrian take one at the ghost's urging, and return to the Academy with the others, beginning the countdown to the destruction of Proteus.
Back at the Academy, however, the alien contacts the cadets again. It is decided that a séance should be held to determine what it wants. The team soon learns that the eggs are memory "vessels” containing the ancient the wisdom of an alien civilization. They will "one day open and enrich the lives of people yet to be born," Gampu declares.
Since the asteroid is due to explode in any minute, the only way to safely retrieve the other golden eggs from it is for Laura and Chris to use their newly honed powers of "astro-portation." Thus they astral project themselves to the planet and retrieve all the eggs before the asteroid goes up in flames. Pleased, the Guardian now vanishes for all time, his mission accomplished.
“The Phantom Planet” is either a golden egg or a rotten one, depending on how you choose to look at it, I suppose.
Negatively, the alien guardian or ghost is a cheap, ridiculous-looking creation, like a refugee from a stage production of A Christmas Carol. Furthermore, his "howls" are obviously some actor standing off-stage bellowing like a kid trying to be "spooky" on Halloween night. The ghost sounds like something out of a Scooby Doo episode.
And then -- out of the blue -- Laura and Chris develop the power to astral project? It’s pretty convenient, right?
The story raises other questions too. Why is the Academy intent on destroying the asteroid (even if it is unstable) once it's known a civilization once thrived there? Seems an archaeology professor somewhere would object to the demolition. And why would the Academy – a school – be assigned a job in demolitions, especially a dangerous job in demolitions?
On the positive side, I must admit this kind of storytelling. It has been done well on Star Trek many times, and can work in a science fiction setting. Basically, in plots of this type, space men (cadets or officers) encounters something apparently frightening -- at least on first blush -- only to learn that (to quote Space: 1999), we’re only aliens until we get to know one another. No shots are fired in anger.
No one is killed. Understanding is forged. And a better future is made.
A story like this is about discovery, and overcoming the differences in people. The conflict comes not from anger, revenge, or malice, but from the unknown.
On that foundation, I would argue that “The Phantom Planet” is an entertaining and worthwhile story. It just happens to be seriously hampered by that bad costume, and bad vocalizations of the “ghost.”
Also, I love the weird, unwieldly laser gun/drill that Adrian (Maggie Cooper) uses to blast open the cave entrance.