Space 1999 #10: Death's Other Dominion

On the ice world of Ultima Thule, the Alphans encounter members of lost Earth expedition who have achieved immortality - but at a price!
WHEN: The episode takes place 14 years after 1986 - when the Uranus mission took off - but for the Thulians, it's 2870. They might have gone through a time warp, but perhaps the Moon did too; Black Sun certainly supports the idea of a relativistic time jump (how many chronometers must I keep track of?!). It first aired on Oct.2 1975, 5th in broadcast order, though 14th in production order.

OH THE NOSTALGIA! In French, the title was "Un autre royaume de la mort", which translates as "Another realm of death" and saps all the literary/biblical quality out of it. I wish my DVDs had the French track so I could compare Jack's Shakespearean dialog in this episode to the way I would have originally heard it.

REVIEW: Ok, so there was no way Brian Blessed would play a part in a robotic monotone, so that particular Space 1999 curse has been lifted, though perhaps only temporarily. And he's relatively subdued, especially with John Shrapnel literally playing a Shakespearean fool next to him. If you're wondering how they dug up those caves, it was probably by letting these two guys chew up the scenery. All kidding aside, this is one of the better Season 1 episodes. The guest stars are refreshingly alive, the model work is great, and the snow storm sequences are violent. Apparently some kind of formaldehyde spray that scared the crap out of the actors, the snow effect is quite effective, at least until too much accumulates and it starts looking like whipped cream. The sequence does turn into a game of Marco Polo there for a minute, but it ultimately sells the danger of the situation and lets Alan believe the rest of the party must be dead if it didn't make it to the Eagle.

But they survived and been taken in by the Thulians, last survivors of yet another doomed expedition from Earth - I'm starting to think there are space-time anomalies all over the outer planets, because there are way too many Earthers scattered across the universe - and it's certainly interesting to see how they've adapted, give or take a little space madness. Though their caves look like they were carved out of ice, it's probably some other material, because they've got huge geothermic bowls in the middle of the room that would turn the environment into a humid sauna, and the steam would hide all those bathing suit beauties lounging around. But while Blessed's character Dr. Rowland talks a good game, he has a hidden agenda and sabotages communications between Thule and the Moon, and dissidents, including mad Jack, are trying to tell Koenig things, if only he can understand the poetry. It seems the Thulians have gained immortality thanks to something on the planet, and in trying to export the secret, Rowland has turned various volunteers into undying vegetables. Only Jack has walked away from mind-death, and though a manic annoyance at first, he soon becomes an essential source of pathos in the story. The irony is that though his sanity comes and goes, it's Rowland whose obsession makes him truly mad and dangerous.

Great set-up, great performances, a great overall look, but it doesn't all work for me. For one thing, it's slightly irritating that only Koenig is enough of a humanist to think the idea of living forever on an ice ball isn't a great idea. Helena, Victor and Alan all think he's crazy even though they're aware of Rowland's nasty experiments, that the dissidents call their culture stagnant, and that no child has ever been born to them. It's like they drank the Kool-Aid, but there's no Kool-Aid in the story. Why else endorse the idea of letting anyone who wants to move to Thule do so, when it means Alpha's precarious balance would be endangered? Koenig, to his credit, will put it to a vote, but either they all stay or they all go. Except it's not clear the vote ever takes place because Thule's spokesman Rowland turns into a gory, smoking skeleton as soon as he leaves the planet. Surprisingly ghastly, it also makes the decision a little too easy to make, and is, in the end, inexplicable. That's a problem with a lot of Space 1999 scripts - it's all well thought-out science and then, crazy magic with no attempt at explaining it, even with a piece of technobabble. So the ending is all very pat and simple, with the Thulians happily concentrating on healing their catatonics and Koenig finally making the humanist argument to himself rather than, you know, using it to shock his friends into some reasonable frame of mind earlier.

Brian Blessed is Dr. Cabot Rowland; he hardly needs an introduction but I'll go ahead and mention Flash Gordon, Blackadder, Doctor Who's Mindwarp, and lots of Branagh-directed Shakespeare films. John Shrapnel is Jack Tanner; he was Gaius in Gladiator, among other things. Among the Thulian beauties, you'll find Valerie Leon who was in a couple of Bond films (The Spy Who Loved Me and Never Say Never Again), and Crackerjack presenter Suzette St.Clair.

- Fires on all cylinders, but kind of drops the ball at the end. Still, the performances, the design, and the mystery are good enough to warrant a recommendation.


David Lyttle said...

I take issue with your surmise of a dropped ball at the end. It is the ending that makes this a great story and great Sci fi. I have an issue though with Koenig almost killing everyone in that senseless walk through the deep cold to find the source of the radio voice. Why wear parkas when they could have worn spacesuits and been much warmer and safer from the harsh fridgid winds of Ultima Thule? Aside from that I love this one most of all Space:1999s. Second only to Mission of the Darians with an honorable mention of the deeply flawed Black Sun.

This one works on many levels with Shakespearian soloquies from the almost mad but all-seeing Jack... "Good Doctor revel while you can, the hour is late, our end is near... The road to paradise has seized up!" and his lament of despair as he reveals, "Thule is a jealous woman. She'll never let us go... NEVER!" Great performance and great writing.


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