In “The Hand of the Goral,” a shuttle carrying Buck (Gil Gerard) and Hawk (Thom Christopher), and a Starfighter piloted by Colonel Deering (Erin Gray) explores a habitable planet.
Rather, an alien games-player, or “tester,” the titular hand of the Goral, is responsible. He was left behind by his people to protect the planet from intruders, and determine their worthiness to receive the wisdom and riches of the Goral. He refers to the strange duplicates as “simulacra,” and certainly his powers are fierce.
There have been many attempts in science fiction stories to tell stories in which protagonists encounter duplicate versions of the habitat, and must determine if it is real or not. On Star Trek, Kirk was confronted with a complete mock-up of the Enterprise in “The Mark of Gideon.” The Alphans encountered a duplicate of their moon base in Space:1999’s “One Moment of Humanity,” and here Buck, Hawk and Wilma visit a duplicate Searcher, replete with a crew of simulacra. At least in this case, it is made clear that the hand of Goral possesses incredible powers and energy stores by which to create these settings and characters.
It’s intriguing to meet the Searcher crew recreated as “imperfect fakes.” Asimov is a dictator, Crichton is nice, and Wilma suddenly is all clingy and frightened. It’s not they are “evil” parallel versions, just versions that are off, and require deciphering on Buck’s part.
Overall “The Hand of the Goral” is tense, keeps one guessing, and doesn’t rely on a ridiculous premise (see: “The Golden Man”) to sell its story. I love stories about mysterious planets, or planets “of death,” with their ancient, inscrutable mysteries.
“The Hand of the Goral” may not be terribly original, but it possesses a creepy vibe, and a sense that an unseen force is manipulating reality itself. In a not always successful second season, those qualities are enough to make the episode stand out from the pack.