Space: 1999: Death's Other Dominion   Rewatch 
November 26, 2016 7:53 AM - Season 1, Episode 14 - Subscribe

Back after another long break, and given the lack of any inter-episode continuity within most of Season One I'm jumping ahead to 'Death's Other Dominion', featuring BRIAN BLESSED. (Also, lots and lots of Shakespearean thesping, and one of the series' more memorable denouements.)

My rewatch of Space: 1999 has had to confront the fact that an awful lot of the Season One stories became rather formulaic, and so although I do want to review the lot I've decided to jump ahead and perhaps go through the more interesting ones first. There's no plot arc really, and they were shown in a very different order to that they were filmed in, and apart from a few that clearly belong near the start of the season I'm not sure you lose anything by watching them out of strict order.

Right away we're introduced to the two main guest stars. Brian Blessed - I will drop the TV Tropes convention of referring to him in bold capitals at all times - would have been familiar to British audiences from his early role in 1960s police drama Z-Cars and as Porthos in a late-60s TV adaptation of The Three Musketeers, but this was before his role as Augustus in I, Claudius ("IS THERE ANYONE IN ROME WHO HAS NOT SLEPT WITH MY DAUGHTER??") and of course his career-defining turn as Prince Vultan in Flash Gordon. John Shrapnel, meanwhile, is one of those actors you may not recognise straight away but when you look at his filmography you realise you've seen him all over the place. He was just 32 when he played Jack Tanner, despite the character seeming considerably older. As an aside, all the episode guides and cast lists I've seen refer to him as 'Captain Tanner' but he's clearly introduced as 'Colonel Tanner' - perhaps he was captain of the unnamed Uranus Probe ship (stop snickering at the back). Oh, and that was clearly a pretty large and impressively mixed-gender expedition, given that the Thulians we see are all survivors from it.

Blessed gives a commanding performance as the charismatic but manipulative and obsessed Dr Rowland, but if anything he is outshone by Shrapnel's portrayal of Tanner as a man who, we discover, has lost his mind and reassembled a semblance of it from the wreckage. We don't get any explanation for Tanner's 'Shakespearean Fool' persona; perhaps there was a copy of the Complete Works aboard the Uranus Probe and in 800 years of repetitive boredom Tanner has obsessively rebuilt himself around the characters therein. Also impressive is Mary Miller as Freda, the Thulian most attached and sympathetic to Tanner and the even more stricken other survivors of Rowland's experiments.

If anything, the plot is let down a bit by the credulousness of Bergman, Russell and Carter, all of whom seem entirely prepared to ignore the previous consequences of Rowland's attempts to understand the Thulian immortality. Bergman in particular seems to be particularly out of character, seemingly losing all his impressive critical faculties in the face of Rowland's assurances that the experiment upon him will be safe, even after Koenig reveals that Rowland has failed to explain the disastrous results of previous experiments ('informed consent' clearly not being a phrase in Rowland's vocabulary).

Once again the visual design is superb. Even in modern HD the Thule set stands up superbly, although every account of the making of the episode relates the cast's problems and concerns with the chemicals used to make the artificial snow. I did wonder where the Thulians got their fur and leather from, although there's a mention near the very end of a local ox-like animal that presumably provides the source for both. The SFX work of the Eagle entering the 'smog' and later taking off from an enveloping snowdrift are again impressive for the era and budget involved, although you have to ask why Moonbase Alpha keeps stocks of ski attire.

The sub-plot with Carter becoming lost in the blizzard feels rather like padding and one wonders why the Alphans didn't think to tie themselves together with the rope they're carrying. It also leads to some in hindsight unintentional humour as they are rescued by a search party that's calling out for them via the Shoutiest Man In The Universe.

In wider terms 'Death's Other Dominion' feels as if it fits with the Space: 1999 theme of an vast and uncaring universe that is far less comprehensible in scientific terms than the technologically-based Alphans might hope for. Dr Rowland's demise is straight out of a fantasy trope or a just-desserts fairy tale (and is extremely gruesome for 1970s prime-time TV); it is also an allusion to Shangri-La, and the fate of long-term residents who leave it. That being said, there is a note of optimism at the end, as it's implied that freed from Dr Rowland's control Tanner is much recovered, with the prospect of hope for Rowland's other victims.

Episode Guides:

The Catacombs
posted by Major Clanger (3 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Yeah - that gruesome ending is etched in my memory. It made a big impression on me as a kid.
posted by wittgenstein at 9:13 AM on November 26, 2016

"Everything mankind has ever desired."
"Except humanity."

"Is it death that gives meaning to life in the end."
"If there is an end..."

Another fine episode.

Lost in a fierce blizzard, of course Brian Blessed's voice could cut through the howling winds and be heard. How useful he would be in so many emergencies, shouting out instructions and providing good cheer.

We can start to see more clearly that the act of space travel itself seems to trigger the forces pushing humans to explore the nature of their humanity, as all Alpha encounter seem to be from Earth or seeking it. It appears our solar system sits atop a space mountain as the act of traveling beyond its edge hurls the voyagers out into deep space at incredible speeds. Flung out into the void, they are pulled to other planets, not so much by force of gravity, but force of morality as each planet seems to hold a promise of some lesson to be learned or some enticing trap to be avoided.

Carter and Helena continue to be problems for Koenig, challenging him again, based on minimal evidence and shoddy reasoning. Did they give up too soon though? I mean if they wanted eternal life, they could have it on the planet as long as they stayed there. Sure, seeing Brian Blessed melt might dampen some of the enthusiasm for the idea, and, really, I'm not sure I see an ice planet with that food and decor as all that desirable, but, still, floating through space on a runaway moon without any promise of extended living might not seem so attractive either. Although it isn't as if they're gonna get too lonely out there at this rate as often as they have encounters.

Landau got to tone it down a bit in this episode, with Blessed, Bain, and John Schrapnel as Jack taking on the over-the-top emoting this go around. A little much in some scenes, but amusing to find that madness mainly consists of speaking in low grade Shakespearian auguries.

(I wrote that out before reading Major Clanger's comments for my initial response.)

Yes, Bergman is misused in this episode, it probably would have been better to have had him stay on Alpha and someone else go along and maybe cut down on the wandering in the snow bit to show Bergman and the Alpha crew trying to figure out what happened.

Going out in a blizzard without tying themselves together, even after Koenig noted they could get separated was silly, but I didn't mind so much that Carter found Eagle 1, that seemed promising enough, they just didn't really go anywhere with it. Carter flies back to Alpha believing the others are dead then flies back to the planet later for unclear reasons or plot purpose. The flight back did have that nice cut from Carter saying "You tell him we'll be right there." and looking over at Bob, to being in on the planet looking down at the plate of cooked meat.

The Thulian relationships seemed a little strange, with Blessed's Dr Rowland clearly being in charge, but the others seeming sometimes cowed, sometimes blase, Sometimes happy, and sometimes aggressive without clear indications of why for any of it. There wasn't much evidence that Rowland was keeping them from talking, other than perhaps by force of personality, which with Blessed I suppose could be a powerful thing, so their reticence to speak out more directly was odd given they didn't really highlight any big divides between the Thulians either, other than crazy psychic Jack's ramblings.

The effects were good, and more nice lighting this episode, but the camera work was more a little more mundane. Not bad, just not as interesting as it was in some earlier episodes, probably due to more scenes being set in the one large room without much many objects to frame, so they relied on the extra people in the scenes to provide the sense of depth and "livedness". It was more of a grounded Star Trek feel to a lot of it, rather than the trippier feel with all the camera effects in other episodes.

When Helena laid down, you could see the foam-like accumulation of whatever chemical they used for the snow on her outfit when she got up. I can see why the cast might have been concerned about that given how heavy it was in the wandering about scenes as they were likely taking in quite a bit of it.

I would have liked to see one of those snow oxen that could survive -180 degree temperatures, but I can see why the budget denied us that pleasure.

According to IMDB, this was the fifth aired episode. That seems like a bad choice and a bit early in the series for the plot/theme. It seems to fit better as a later choice.
posted by gusottertrout at 9:08 PM on November 26, 2016

A couple of other thoughts on the episode.

Opening on Rowland and Jack is interesting because it frames the story as being as much about the Thulians as the Alphans, or more accurately given what the show is about generally, it sets up the Thulians as a comparison for the Alphans by analogy. So this episode is as much about Rowland and Jack and how their relationship might echo that of Koenig and either Bergman or Helena and what it is the Alphans should be looking for.

The Shangri La connection is spot on, and the sort of offhand connection to Shakespeare and his late plays of interest too. The concept of sterility but everlasting life balanced against continuity through natural reproduction is the background to the morel dilemma of the story, with the ice planet being an obvious metaphor for the choice of a sterile continuance of self. Making that choice would go against cultural norms, where there is a limit to our existence and a taboo against seeking to get around that limitation. Extending life is fine, eliminating death not so much. Whether this is a fair choice is, realistically, irrelevant as we can't opt otherwise, so the stories where it occurs are more about accepting the natural limitation rather than bemoaning it.

Tying those who do find a way to "live forever" to one magical place acts as a different sort of boundary that is supposed to impose an unwelcome limit to the subversion by emphasizing the banality of endlessness. There is no escape essentially, and here that is matched against the seemingly unstoppable journey of the Alphans, which is another frequent trope, that of the traveler or wanderer finding adventure and novelty as they go, maintaining the interest of life. To settle, in a sense, is to have found enough satisfaction to peacefully await death. To settle and not die is to wait for something that can never come, ending satisfaction.

It's a trope that ties life to a story narrative, where pleasure is found by the protagonists encountering something new and where repetition or the mundane is the antithesis of the narrative function in a way. So the heroes ride off into the sunset to find new adventures, that's the human drive. Individually of course we all accept an end or settle into some lifestyle, but the collective drive is for furtherance or betterment so we move on because we must. At least that's how the stories go.
posted by gusottertrout at 9:49 PM on November 26, 2016

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