“Dragon’s Domain” is the Space: 1999 episode that casual watchers seem to most often remember from this Gerry and Sylvia Anderson TV series. It’s easy to understand why. We get to learn more about the main characters’ history on Earth (before “Breakaway”) and more importantly, the episode concerns…a monster.
And one hell of a memorable monster at that.
“Dragon’s Domain” is the story, in part, of the Ultra Probe, an Earth vessel captained by Tony Cellini (Gianni Giarko). The story is told in flashback by Dr. Helena Russell (Barbara Bain), and we learn how Cellini’s ship – in 1996 -- encounters a grave yard of spaceships in orbit around the planet Ultra, and then loses his crew to a devouring, one-eyed monstrosity: a tentacled spider/dragon-type alien.
If this act of “feeding” wasn’t horrifying enough, then the very next moment surely fit the bill. The steaming skeletons of the dead were spewed out onto the spaceship deck…human flesh (and internal organs...) totally consumed.
The “Dragon’s Domain” monster had no noble of sympathetic qualities, and didn’t exist, seemingly, on a different scale…towering above us like a dinosaur. Instead, it was inescapable, hungry, and something that could occupy the same room as any unlucky human soul. It seemed more immediate a threat, more real, and less fanciful than the other monsters I loved, somehow.
But “Dragon’s Domain” fascinated me for other reasons too, as a kid. At that point, I had also been raised on stories such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Robinson Crusoe, and even Moby Dick. “Dragon’s Domain,” with its squid-like monster, man alone on a life boat, and central mission of vengeance (on the part of Cellini) tied in directly with these beloved literary tales and translated critical story elements, again, to the final frontier.
There’s something downright mythic about this tale, and even the teleplay acknowledges it, comparing Tony and his “monster” to St. George and the Dragon.
The “monster” didn’t register on any Alphan scanning devices, for instance, which meant that these 20th century, technological men couldn’t really determine if it was truly dead at adventure’s end, a nice Twilight Zone twist to close out the hour. This open-ended question tantalized me for weeks and months (and years and decades…).
Was the monster from that world, or did the grave yard appear in orbit by coincidence? What was the surface of that planet like? Who lived there? Had they too, been devoured by the dragon?
All these unanswered questions swirled in my mind, and my response at the time was to “make pretend” further 1999 adventures (with my Mattel Eagle…) that addressed some of these points.
“Dragon’s Domain” was so tantalizing a mystery, so engaging a tale, so psychologically intricate, that this episode of Space: 1999 evoked the creative, artistic impulse in me, even at six. One of these days, I must remember to thank Christopher Penfold. Or perhaps I just did.
But as a kid, I wanted more; more stories that were open-ended, that offered hints -- but not clear-cut answers -- about the universe This is the very thing that continues to draw me to Space: 1999, and to works of art like Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (2012).
On the contrary, I look at it as gateway to engagement. In fact, I now consider this quality a necessary pre-requisite for great art: room for interpretation, based on the hard evidence of a text’s words, and of its visual symbolism. How boring it is to be told everything of import, or to be led on a leash to just one answer, when a filmmaker can, instead, only hint or whisper life's little verities to us.