Space 1999 #16: Dragon's Domain

After years of mental torment, an Italian astronaut finds the space monster he fought on a doomed 1996 mission.
WHEN: The episode takes place between on Feb.6 2002, 877 days after Breakaway, though a large part of it takes place in 1996-97. (Some Season 2 episodes happen earlier than this, which surely is a mistake.) It first aired on Oct.23 1975, only 8th in the broadcast order (you see why this could be problematic). It was the penultimate (23rd) episode in production order.

I must not have seen this one. Because I can't believe I'd have forgotten that terrifying monster!

REVIEW: Apparently written for Alan, whatever deal Space 1999 had with Italy turned Alan in the story into the Italian crew member Tony Cellini, a Renaissance Man whom Koenig greatly admires, which makes his first appearance here a little suspect. Still, because Tony is haunted by events from 1996 (aren't we all?), we get to flash back to a time when the Moon was still in Earth orbit - Earth scenes, Earth-style ships and space stations, our heroes before they were stars, etc. We find out Koenig was almost sent up on that mission instead of Tony, that Victor was on the science team that discovered a new planet (it plays like it's an outer planet, but if Ultra has Earth-like conditions, that can't be), and that Helena ultimately sided with the authorities, writing Tony up as unstable for reporting having seen a "monster", while Koenig and Victor's careers were sabotaged by their believing the report. The flashback would be a little more effective if it HAD starred Alan, because we spend a whole act without a series regular, but regardless, the Lovecraftian horror the exploration team finds in a spaceship graveyard is awesome, and the way it kills is terrifying, ejecting crispy smoking corpses as it goes. That made the episode for me.

Five years later, Tony is on Alpha, and fighting a Star Trek patented energy being in his quarters with melee weapons, the only thing that works against his "dragon". Presumably, he's been collecting these weapons because he's always known he'd come face to face with the creature, though it's not clear how its energy form is manifesting on the base. Is it a hallucination caused by his proximity to the graveyard, a telepathic bond the creature uses to taunt him? That's no more clear than the strange coincidence of the Ultran graveyard showing up "in between galaxies", though there's tons of evidence on the series for space-time anomalies sucking in things all across Near Space. But are all of these anomalies' exit points on the Moon's trajectory? But hey, it's never been a very good idea to look at the physics or astronomy on the show, because it's quite simply nonsense. For example, the Moon is between galaxies, a trip's that meant to last "another 3 months", so just how fast is it going? Galaxies are really far away from one another!

Though Tony Cellini is the protagonist, and goes through the cliched motions of going off to fight the monster alone, etc., this is otherwise Helena's story. The framing structure of the episode is her writing this all in a report, one in which she must admit her errors and accept she was wrong about Tony. Her original diagnosis causes friction between her and Koenig, quite obviously a couple now, but she can't let go of it even after every crazy thing she's seen since Breakaway. That's a little absurd, and if the episode didn't give the first definitive date (and a late one at that) since the pilot, it might've been one to place very early on in the season. By contrast, Koenig is once again the man who takes things on faith (I must say, it's a reversal of the usual male/female paradigm on such shows, so not altogether uninteresting). She disbelieves Tony until the last possible moment, when she comes face to face with the truth and her guilt (not that a different diagnostic would have prevented the space program from slapping all these guys down for political reasons anyway). Obviously, Alan wouldn't have died at the end, but instead defeated his dragon. Not sure if that's a better ending, but we might have avoided the lame coda in which Helena and Koenig muse about Tony's consolation prize - eventually taking Beowulf or St.George's place in whatever mythology the Alphan's descendents end up having. These guys come up with such platitudes sometimes.

HEY, ISN'T THAT... Among the doomed crew of Probe Ultra is Michael Sheard, one of Doctor Who's most recurring guest-stars, in addition to having logged appearances in The Empire Strikes Back and two of the Indiana Jones films. Douglas Wilmer is Commissioner Dixon; he played Sherlock Holmes on a number of occasions in the 70s, including in Gene Wilder's The Adventure Of Sherlock Holmes' Smarter Brother.

HEY, WAS THAT ALMOST... Apparently, the SFX crew filmed shots of the spaceship graveyard with the TARDIS and the USS Enterprise. Although they were barely visible, it was decided to remove these shots from the completed episode. Sadness!

- Going back to the past and that crazy monster are more than enough to make the show watchable despite some dodgy motivations and science.


Ben Herman said...

This is probably one of my favorite episodes of Space 1999. Actually, although I've seen a number of them over the years, this is the one I remember better than any other, no doubt because of the monster. It's one of those rare instances where a sci-fi television show from the 1970s was able to create a totally non-humanoid alien that was convincing & scary.

RicG said...

Oh wow. I saw this when I was really young and had nightmares.
I'm sure people walking up to the creature and throwing themselves into it's mouth was purely budgetary but the effect was utterly terrifying to a pre-teen. And crapping out the stripped bones afterwards certainly made an impression!


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