Monday, March 18, 2013
Cult-TV Theme Watch: Sargasso Sea
The Sargasso Sea is an area of in the North Atlantic Ocean where, legendarily, ships are reputed to become trapped or otherwise ensnared. Thiw area is believed to have been discovered by European sailors in the 1400s, and named for the pervasive Sargassum sea-weed of the region. The sea weed is often pinpointed as the direct cause of vessel entrapment, but the Sargasso Sea is also an area of light winds, and some have fingered that environmental factor as the key.
In cult television history, the Sargasso Sea -- a graveyard of ships -- has often been transposed to the realm of outer space. Gerry Anderson’s Space: 1999 (1975 – 1977) featured two different “Sargasso Sea” scenarios, one in orbital space, and one on a planet surface.
In the former scenario, “Dragon’s Domain,” the Ultra Probe, captained by Tony Cellini, discovers a spaceship graveyard occupied by a deadly, tentacled monster. Later, the same graveyard appears in the deep space between galaxies…as if following Cellini’s journey on Moonbase Alpha.
In the Year Two opener, “The Metamorph” an alien scientist on the planet Psychon, Mentor (Brian Blessed) captures unlucky space travelers near a Psychon mine, and drains their intelligence to feed his biological computer. The Alphans set down in this misty, volcanic graveyard of spaceships, and nearly end up mindless servants of Mentor as well.
Over the years, the Star Trek franchise has also featured the Sargasso Sea trope. In the Filmation animated series of the early 1970s, an episode called “Time Trap” saw the Enterprise and a Klingon battle-cruiser drawn into a dimensional vortex in a mysterious realm of space called The Delta Triangle. Inside the void was a graveyard of ships that had been trapped there for a very long time. To avoid suffering the same fate, the Klingons and the Enterprise had to join forces, and link up their respective engines.
Star Trek: Voyager (1995 – 2001) repeated the Sargasso Sea convention in its final season, in an episode titled “The Void.” There, Voyager slipped into an area of space without matter, and became trapped with other spaceships, some of which had begun to resort to piracy and theft to survive. After dealing with a duplicitous alien captain, Valen (Robin Sachs), Voyager escapes the void using a device called a “modulator.”
Doctor Who has also visited the Sargasso Sea concept on more than one occasion. In “The Brain of Morbius,” the Sisterhood of Karn brings down any spaceships that wander by their world…for fear that their crews plan to steal the Elixir of Life. When the TARDIS lands on Karn at the behest of the Time Lords, Sarah-Jane (Elisabeth Sladen) terms the spaceship cemetery a “Sargasso Sea.”
More recently, the eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) discovered a Sargasso Sea of half-devoured TARDIS’s on a distant world outside of the conventional universe, in a kind of bubble or pocket dimension. When his own TARDIS is stolen during this episode, “The Doctors Wife,” The Doctor and the “soul” of his TARDIS must construct a time capsule to retrieve it out of the TARDIS corpses.
Terrestrial Sargasso Seas have also appeared in the puppet-show Diver Dan (1960) story “Lost in the Sargasso Sea”) and in Jonny Quest (“The Mystery of the Lizard-Men”) and, after a fashion, in The X-Files Bermuda Triangle episode “Triangle.”