“The Counterfeit Man” was broadcast on 11th October 1965.
After an indifferent start to the new series with the opening episode “No Place Like Earth” which I discussed in a previous post, things picked up considerably with the second episode “The Counterfeit Man”.
The action takes place entirely on a space ship returning from Jupiter’s largest moon,. Ganymede. When conducting some routine medical tests Doctor Crawford discovers that one of the crew, Roger Westcott, has no blood sugar, which is impossible, by rights he should be dead. But when he conducts the test again he finds that it is normal. He reveals this disturbing news to Captain Jaffe, and the two men speculate on the implications and possible causes. Crawford concludes that Westcott must be an alien who has taken human form to infiltrate the ship and journey to Earth. He sets out his thesis to Jaffe:
Just suppose Ganymede wasn’t quite as deserted as we thought it was…Suppose there was life there, intelligent life. Suppose we didn’t remain unnoticed but were carefully observed, observed by life forms that didn’t want to make their presence known to us…What if these life forms had no particular rigid anatomy as we do. Maybe they’re some sort of jelly-like protoplasm, capable of changing to fit whatever conditions they might meet, or perhaps copy anything they wanted to copy….Maybe one of them killed Roger Westcott, out there among the rocks, and came aboard this ship, copying exactly his reactions, his appearance, hoping to learn more about us…Now suppose one of these creatures slipped up on this copying job. Maybe he could not know at first just how the blood chemistry of a human being was supposed to balance. Maybe he needed time to change and copy. So he came aboard this ship with a nice, convincing outer shell completed but with the inside all mixed up and uncertain…
I think most writers, when handling an alien infiltration story, would have concocted a series of small occurences which would gradually lead the crew to suspect that something may be terribly wrong. But in this story we presented with the scenario in one fell swoop in Crawford’s lengthy speculative monologue. Frankly it’s clumsy, but is rescued by what happens next.
Crawford and Jaffe decide that to test the hypothesis they need to put pressure on Westcott to see if he is human or alien. Following the sudden death of another crew member Chaffer (possibly killed by Westcott to divert attention), Westcott is falsely accused of stealing the money from a collection made by the rest of the crew.
This leads to the the most effective scenes in the episodein which Westcott, played excellently by David Hemmings, is ostracised by his crew mates and retreats to his room where he lies on his bunk, staring open-eyed into space. There is a palpable sense of paranoia and claustrophobia, added to greatly by the direction and the electronic music
Eventually we learn the truth of what has really happened to Westcott, including a final plot twist when the space ship returns to earth. All in all, despite the awkward exposition at the start, a fine episode which really should have started the series. One odd thing, all the crew have blonde hair, harking back to The Midwich Cuckoos, perhaps.