Monday, February 01, 2016

Cult-TV Theme Watch: The Seance

A séance is a gathering at which people sit around a table and hold hands in an attempt to combine their energy and -- through the use of a medium -- establish contact with the spirits of the dead.

A séance is a long-standing trope in cult-TV history, and has appeared in numerous variations over the years.

In the first season Lost in Space (1965-1968) episode, “Ghost in Space,” Dr. Zachary Smith (Jonathan Harris) mistakes a bog-dwelling alien being for the spirit of his deceased Uncle Thaddeus, and attempts a séance (complete with Ouija Board) to contact him.  He recruits Penny Robinson (Angela Cartwright) for this enterprise.

In Star Trek (1966 – 1968) -- a series about science, not the supernatural -- the episode “Wolf in the Fold” finds Scotty (James Doohan) accused of murder during shore leave on the planet Argelius.  The Prefect’s wife, Sybo, is a gifted medium and conducts a séance to help determine his innocence or guilt.  Unfortunately, Sybo is murdered during the séance and Scotty again looks like the culprit.

In the Gerry and Sylvia Anderson series UFO (1970), one episode “The Cat with Ten Lives” begins with a séance to contact the dead.  Unfortunately, a malevolent and alien presence is already among these séance goers.

Space: 1999 (1975-1977) features a séance each season. In the Year One story, “The Troubled Spirit” by Johnny Byrne, a group of botanists led by Dan Mateo use a technological séance to contact plants in the Hydroponics Section, spurring them to grow.  Unfortunately, the séance raises a spirit, a vengeful, scarred ghost.

In the Year Two story, “The Séance Spectre,” a group of mutineers use the practice of a séance to bind together as a group, and determine a course of action when a planet is spotted in a space weather belt, and Commander Koenig (Martin Landau) refuses to settle there.

The Filmation series Space Academy (1977) features a séance in the episode, “The Phantom Planet.”  Here, a ghostly alien guardian attempts to contact the cadets when its world will be destroyed.  Its future is contained in several artifacts on the planetoid surface, and the Cadets must retrieve them.  But a séance is necessary to learn the truth.

These examples all represent space or future bound versions of the séance, but there are many earthbound ones as well.

In the first season of Mission: Impossible (1966-1972), for example, an episode called “Zubrovnik’s Ghost” involves a scientist (Beatrice Straight) seeking messages from her dead husband, and falling under the power of a phony psychic.  The IMF force (led by Steven Hill, at this point…) recruits a real psychic to set the scientist straight.

In the Penny Dreadful (2014 - ) episode titled “Séance,” Vanessa (Eva Green) and Sir Malcolm (Timothy Dalton) attend a party at the home of Ferdinand Lyle, but a séance goes awry when Vanessa becomes possessed by spirit voices, and publicly humiliates Malcolm about his personal history and past.

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