An interstellar space probe is on the verge of being launched. Because three previous probes had been sabotaged before they got off the ground, it has been decided that control of the fourth launch will be put in the hands of a sea vessel, and what better vessel than the Seaview? To minimize the danger of sabotage even more, the crew has been whittled down to just six men. Crane is worried; his ship is not designed to be run by so few people (and no one thought of using the computerized navigational control used in several previous episodes.) Kowalski is down in the Engine room (although the voice that responded to Crane's check was definitely not his). Sharkey is in the Reactor Room. Chip Morton is in charge of the Master Flight Control--he and the Admiral are the only two with knowledge of the control procedures. For some reason, Crane did not check in with the fourth station--we would find later that Patterson is in the Circuitry Room. On route to their rendezvous point, sonar suddenly picks up a strange "bounce" dead ahead at 2,000 yards. The object seems to be absorbing the sonar signal rather than reflecting it back. It's also approaching them at three times the Seaview's flank speed. Crane orders that the speed be cut (this time the voice from the Engine Room is recognizeably Kowalski). They then try to back up, but it's too late. Crane and Nelson (and presumably everyone else) get tossed back and forth a few times. It looks no worse than usual--but they suddenly sink to the floor, unconcious. A dark silhouette appears in the Control Room, accompanied by a rushing sound. It's a man draped all in black, but for a cheap special effect, it works very well, although he seems to be prone to dramatic postures.
The entire Control Room starts blowing out, and the shadow fades away. Crane awakens as soon as it's gone, and jumps to put out the fires that have resulted. Nelson calls for the other men to report. Chip, at least, is unconcious. We can hear Nelson's voice coming over the intercom in Flight Control, but Nelson, oddly, assumes that it's not working, rather than thinking the men might be unable to answer. Turning to look out the nose, Nelson and Crane see...absolute blackness. At the depth they're at, they should be able to see some sunlight. Outside floodlights also have no effect. You'd think that they'd be a little leery of going out into that nothingness, but Crane promptly heads for the Missile Room to suit up.
In Flight Control, the shadow emerges, comes close to Chip, then vanishes. Chip wakes up. Walking stiffly and showing no expression, he walks over to a panel, lifts off the top, and adjusts something inside. When Nelson enters the room, Chip sounds perfectly normal. They only have an hour and forty-five minutes until the launch. Nelson tries to get a fix on the probe, and does so easily. Chip does not have as much luck trying to get in touch with Space Command HQ. At least not until Nelson leaves the room, at which point he quickly switches the transmitter back on and calls. His voice immediately flattens out, as he tells HQ that everything is fine and proceeding normally. He has them start the countdown.
Down in the Missile Room, Kowalski points out to Crane that, as with everything else on board, no automatic controls are working in the Engine Room. (For some reason, no one seems concerned about this effecting the air flow.) Crane and Kowalski enter the escape hatch and Nelson turns it on--but the hatch will not fill with water. Nor will the manual release work. Back in Flight Control, Space Command HQ calls Chip, who confirms that they are on their way. This seemed to me to be just a bit of killing time--Chip had already given them the same information shortly before. (Maybe HQ is just being antsy.) Chip turns off the transmitter, and the shadowman reappears. This time he speaks, in a nice, creepy whisper--the voice is excellent for the part. He tells Chip that the time is coming, and that he must stand ready. Chip, looking and sounding very zoned out, says that he is willing to do it all himself, but the shadowman wants to even the odds first. He says that "we" will give Chip others to help, although we never see more than one shadow. Nelson calls during the conversation. The shadowman vanishes, with a slight (but creepy) chuckle. Chip answers, sounding normal (it's like snapping a switch). Nelson has fixed the intercom (not difficult, considering that it didn't seem to be broken in the first place) but Chip has still not fixed the transmitter.
In the Reactor Room, the power is dropping, even though their fuel is at 98%. Sharkey likens it to something sucking the radiation away. The shadowman appears, then vanishes. (Just keeps poking his nose into everything.) Nelson has concluded that the Seaview is actually inside something, and plans to try cutting their way out with the laser. Power is rerouted from the Reactor Room to the laser. The shadowman appears in the Control Room. Crane fires the laser, but the only result is the usual Seaview lurch, and the monitor panel in the nose blowing out. They haven't made a dent in the darkness. Crane becomes overshadowed (also a nice, albeit cheap, effect). As Nelson speculates on the ability of the object outside to absorb energy of every kind, Crane quietly goes to the weapons locker and fetches an odd-looking handgun. Nelson trails off as he notices what Crane is doing. Crane is utterly bland ("Nothing's wrong. You've just got to die.") as he shoots at Nelson. The damage from the weapon (presumably a laser gun) causes another lurch. Nelson has ducked down behind the pilots' chairs, but for some reason, he starts to stand up where Crane can see (and shoot) him. Kowalski comes down the stairs (but Nelson stood up before he saw him. Very brave. Not sensible, but brave). Nelson asks Crane what is going on, but Crane refuses to explain. (Quite different from the norm, where they usually explain in tedious detail why they're going to kill someone.) Kowalski jumps Crane, and manages to flatten him with a punch. Nelson plans to take him to Sickbay and pump him full of tranquilizers. He then spots the shadowman. Basehart's reaction is great--not too much, not too little. They shoot at it with the laser and it vanishes--but Nelson isn't confident that it's dead. Maybe it, like the object outside, absorbs energy. They pick up Crane, who promptly breaks away and rushes up the stairs, pausing to kick Kowalski on his way. (Revenge for getting punched, perhaps.)
Nelson's agile scientific mind has already come up with a possible solution for dealing with the shadowman, and he sets Kowalski to building it. 'Ski hasn't the faintest idea how the thing will work, but he takes directions very well. Nelson is impatient (like poor 'Ski should be able to conjure the gadget with a flick of his fingers). 'Ski's haste results in an explosion that looked and sounded as though it should have blown his fingers off, at the very least, but he doesn't get a scratch. Nelson cautions him that, at full power, the gadget would (or should) have enough power to destroy the Seaview.
The shadowman appears in the Reactor Room, posturing dramatically again. It takes over Sharkey, and tells him to power up the reactor--oh, yes, and kill any human who walks in. Sharkey's already prepared; he had a gun in the top drawer of a tool chest. Patterson walks in, and, with commendably fast reactions, dives out of the way. Sharkey seems to be more affected by the shadowing than the other two--he stands, frozen, as Patterson slips around the reactor and comes up from behind. Patterson, sensibly, doesn't try to fight an armed man; he just shoves him aside and flees. Running up to the nearest microphone, Patterson attempts to call the Control Room, but before the Admiral can respond (natch!) he gets clobbered by Crane (who has a rather odd "so there!" expression). Crane then rips out the microphone. Nelson finally responds, but it is Sharkey who answers, claiming that Patterson has gone crazy and tried to sabotage the Reactor Room and kill him. Nelson leaves Kowalski locked up in the room (work room? Machinists' Room?) to finish the gadget, cautioning him to not let anyone in. We'll see how well Kowalski listens to this.
Space Command HQ (still antsy) calls again. Chip says everything's still fine. There is one hour to ignition, and they will be turning control over to Seaview. Chip hears a knock, and quickly turns off the radio. He had wedged the door shut with a crowbar, claiming that he had been concerned after hearing what was going on over the intercom. Nelson finds this reasonable. As he starts going over the panels, trying to find the problem with the transmitter, he tells Chip about the gadget 'Ski is working on. Chip almost smashes Nelson's skull in with the crowbar, but pauses when Sharkey comes on the intercom--although there is no reason why that should have stopped him. Sharkey says the reactor has gone wild and is going to blow. Nelson rushes to assist. The shadowman emerges and commends Chip (which would be nice if it didn't sound rather like a man saying, "Good dog,"). He tells Chip that there are three men left unshadowed. He also mentions that every time he takes someone over, it depletes his energy. This was probably for the benefit of the audience who were wondering why he didn't just take everyone over and have done with it. The Reactor Room has been booby-trapped; when Nelson gets in there, everyone will die. Chip does not react to this statement.
Patterson comes to the room where Kowalski's working (and just how did he know he was in there?) He tells 'Ski what really happened. We know it's the truth, but 'Ski is awfully trusting--although he did have the presence of mind to grab a weapon before opening the door. Patterson says that Nelson is going to be killed. When Nelson doesn't respond to 'Ski's call on the microphone (and why didn't he?) Patterson runs to the rescue, leaving a puzzled and nervous Kowalski behind.
Nelson finds Sharkey standing before the reactor with all the rods out. Sharkey speaks calmly of the impending explosion. In spite of this, Nelson doesn't seem to realize that Sharkey's been taken over--and getting clobbered by Crane doesn't give him time to figure it out. Crane implies that only the unshadowed men will be killed in the explosion--which could explain why none of them have been concerned with the idea of "everyone" dying. I do wonder how they would manage to survive--quite possibly the shadowman lied to them. There is an explosion, and the Seaview lurches--but that's all. Tossed around the room, Kowalski prepares to go after the Admiral, but Chip has turned up at the door. 'Ski is anxious about Nelson, but Chip is calm and says that Nelson can handle things. This is definitely not a normal reaction, but 'Ski doesn't notice. Chip then claims that Nelson had been with him during the explosion, which relieves 'Ski's mind. Chip is very interested in the gadget 'Ski is creating (which looks considerably different than the pile of material at the beginning would lead you to expect). Patterson finds Nelson in the Reactor Room. He can't understand what exactly happened--if the reator had reached critical mass, they should all be dead. Nelson assures him that it did indeed go critical. Apparently the shadowman's own powers have thwarted him--he and his ship absorbed all the energy of the explosion, leaving the ship and crew safe. Nelson and Patterson start to reset the reactor. The shadowman pops up and tells them not to bother. He informs them that he is from Centauri--which is the target of the probe. He and his people want nothing to do with Earth, even though Nelson protests that the probe is intended to be a peaceful, friendly gesture. The Centaurians don't believe it--they've observed centuries of Earth's inability to get along with itself. I wish that they could have gone into this discussion bit more--perhaps the writer thought the Centaurians had a point. Nelson is understandably skeptical of the shadowman's own claim of peacefulness--after all, if they can reach Earth, they could simply pass around the message: "Please Stay Away." The shadowman now knows that Nelson is the only one who has the knowledge of destroying the probe. It prepares to take over Nelson--which apparently takes some more effort than the others did, possibly because Nelson is aware and resistant. Patterson offers to let the shadow take him instead (quite a noble gesture--I hope Nelson noted it in Patterson's personnel record afterwards) but Nelson tells him to get the rods put back in. With the resulting drop in power, the shadowman slumps and vanishes. Chip is still brushing off Kowalski's concern for the Admiral--and 'Ski is still not noticing anything odd about this. Chip only wants to see 'Ski finish the gadget--every step. Nelson and Patterson return to to the room. Chip offers a lame excuse for not being in Flight Control. The transmitter is still not working--but that's why he's supposed to stay in Flight Control--to fix it! Kowalski notices that his statement does not mesh with what he had told Kowalski earlier--and STILL no one gets suspicious! Nelson wants a gadget apiece for each of them--as well as laser guns. Chip makes the obligatory statement spelling out to the audience what the laser guns will be used for--and Nelson responds with the equally obligatory statement that, yes, they will kill Crane and Sharkey if necessary. Unfortunately, Patterson is confronted by Crane and Sharkey as he heads for the Ordnance room to get the guns. He puts on a nice act pretending that he doesn't know that anything's wrong--and Crane pretends to go along with it, before shooting Patterson in the back. (That's the second time poor Patterson has been shot by his colleagues.)
Nelson, wearing a protective vest, checks over the circuits in Flight Control. He can't find anything wrong. He opens up the last panel, reaches in to fiddle with it--and the radio comes on with Space Command HQ in full cry. Nelson turns to Chip deliberately--the light has clearly dawned. Chip tries to blame the suddenly fixed problem on HQ's transmitter, but Nelson's having none of it. He should have guessed. (Yes, he should have.) Chip would have been the logical first target of the shadowman. Chip's voice immediately flattens. He makes no attempt to stop Nelson from calling HQ. The audience has just enough time to wonder about this before Nelson is shot from behind, by Crane. The shadowman emerges yet again, dishes out another compliment, and approaches Nelson (rather like Dracula targeting a tasty neck). Nelson suddenly rolls over and turns on the gadget. Now it is clear that he wasn't wearing the vest because he was afraid of sparks. The three men all sway in unison before toppling over, while the shadowman freezes, then vanishes. Nelson calls HQ back, and hastily explains the situation. HQ says that they cannot retake control of the launch--it's automatic. (Pretty bad designing.) Nelson protests that the probe will be destroyed from Seaview if they don't shut down the ignition. HQ dumps it all back in Nelson's lap, just as Crane awakens and shoots at Nelson, blasting the panels (and REALLY wrecking the transmitter, this time). Nelson manages to knock him out. Considering that all three men passed out simultaneously, I'd like to know why only Crane woke up. Kowalski shows up, and notices that Nelson has been shot high on the left arm. Nelson ignores it. His gadget had burned out--and there are no more. The necessary batteries have all been ruined. They leave the three men in Flight Control--without even bothering to try and lock the door. Bad move, guys.
They find Patterson still alive (the man has incredible luck with gunshot wounds) and carry him with them to the Missile Room. Chip and Sharkey follow after them. Crane shows up shortly afterwards. He takes his Captain's perogative of pushing in front of the other two (otherwise known as upstaging, which you can get away with when you're the star). Nelson locks the Missile Room door. He proposes firing a nuclear missile (ignoring Failsafe yet again) although the explosion may end up destroying them all. Nelson hopes that the object will absorb enough of the energy before its destruction to save the Seaview. The overshadowed trio prepare to break in to the Missile Room and kill the others--Nelson is now considered too dangerous to mess around with. (No one messes with Nelson!)
There's less than five minutes before the launch. Nelson loads the missile himself, while Kowalski tends Patterson's wounds as best he can. I liked Nelson's concern for Patterson--he had 'Ski drag him out of the line of fire, knowing that the three men would be getting in soon. The shadowman, however, doesn't have to come in by the door. He overshadows Kowalski, who could have ended everything right there if he'd just turned and shot Nelson, instead of standing and looking at him. Nelson didn't just have an "Oh, no!" expression as he saw Kowalski--he actually said the words before ducking. The trio breaks in. The shadowman offers to let Nelson share their "benefits", although I'd like to know what those would be. Nelson is equally dubious. He tosses a smoke grenade (I think that's what it was) and the shadowman vanishes, while the men open fire. Nelson fires the missile. Everyone gets thrown about. The men wake up--all back to normal. As Nelson had hoped, Seaview was spared the brunt of the explosive power. Crane, naturally, has no idea what has been going on. As they stand looking at each other, the escape hatch, with the switch left turned on, suddenly fills with water, which I thought was nice attention to detail. Nelson sends Sharkey off to get them back to full power. He tells Chip to contact HQ and explain the situation--but if Crane had no idea what was going on, Chip should have known even less--he was taken while still unconcious. Kowalski starts to take Patterson to Sickbay, and Crane...well, Crane's the Captain. Captains take charge. The confused Crane looks for the moment like the last man you'd want to have in charge of anything, but he turns and assists Kowalski with Patterson.
There is one final, startling image of the shadowman's silhouette--this one burned into the wall of the Missile Room. Nelson gives it a grim look as he heads out the door--but I'd like to know how the other men missed seeing that.
A very tense and exciting episode.