Space: 1999 1.5 – Death’s Other Dominion

So Space: 1999 has joined our son’s other little rotation of shows that we occasionally watch together in the afternoons, which reminds me of just how incredibly spoiled for choice the kids of today are. Remember all those afternoons in the late seventies when you felt like putting down the toys and books or coming in from outside playing for some TV time, and you just had to cross your fingers there was something better than F Troop on? Children today will never know our ennui.

Anyway, I decided against writing about the other shows we occasionally look at together, in part because who needs the extra work, and in part because Space: 1999 is usually so uninspiringly stupid. Not even a groovy guest star might have tempted me. He and I could watch BRIAN BLESSED in anything and I don’t have to write about it. I could even pass on the opportunity to make a joke about the possibility of spending eight hundred-plus years in the company of Valerie Leon, eternally thirty years young. Or a joke about one actor’s obvious hairpiece, or another about carved from ice on a distant planet or not, these dudes have the most 1970s pad I’ve ever seen.

No, I mention “Death’s Other Dominion” today for another reason. In this story, the Alphans deal with a time warp or something not really explained and meet the members of a lost expedition from Earth. From the Alphans perspective, all contact was lost just fifteen years previously, but for the people of Ultima Thule, it’s been about 880 years and they have not aged a day. Experiments to understand their immortality have left some of their number slowly vegetating in a distant cave as “the revered ones,” their minds completely gone as they twitch silently or rock side to side. And this really got under the kid’s skin in an unexpected and devilish way. Just before Tubi took an ad break, our son got up and went to the other sofa, eyes wide, as he said “This has really, really creeped me out.”

He was still so bothered by the implications and the visuals that when the episode comes to its thunderously memorable and incredibly grisly climax, he was less bothered by that freaky moment than the shuffling, mindless men and women walking back and forth in an ice cave, forever. I remembered the ending from when I first saw this one as a teenager – it foreshadows the finale of Raiders of the Lost Ark in a chilling way – but had completely forgotten the cave of the revered ones. Funny what sticks with you. This might stick with him for quite some time.

Space: 1999 1.1 – Breakaway

Two nights ago, the episode of Xena that we watched had a really cheesy and corny ending with our heroines talking about how they’re lost without each other. The kid gagged, and, in that kid way, refused to stop talking about how corny it was. He asked Marie and me whether we’d ever seen an ending as corny as that. That’s not the sort of list either of us make, so we couldn’t answer.

But then I remembered. Ah yes, “The Rules of Luton” on Space: 1999. It ends, as much TV in the seventies did, with people smiling and cracking a joke, this one coming at the end of fifty minutes of our heroes being on the receiving end of three pissed off telepathic trees and forced to reenact the plot of the Star Trek episode “Arena.” Space: 1999 was always stupid, but the second season, when they tried to be as much like Trek as the law would allow as they boldly went where no moon had gone before, was really, really stupid. And then that episode ended with Martin Landau yukking about picking flowers.

(To drive home the point, when I say telepathic trees, I’m not kidding. This wasn’t stuffing Stanley Adams into a carrot costume, this was a photo of three trees with a actor’s voiceover.)

My story told, I thought that would be the end of Space: 1999 around these parts, but yesterday, something wild happened. The “how does this thing make any money” streaming channel Tubi TV announced it had acquired Dr. Slump. We live in an age of wonders. I opened up Tubi, saw that Arale-chan ain’t there yet, but lo and behold, there is 1999. So I called down the kid to show him the trees and the ending, which was stupid, but less corny and less freeze-frame-smiling than I remembered it, and the kid had two things to say. He wanted a toy of the Eagle transporter, and the title sequence was awesome. Correct, in fairness, on both counts.

But then I said “That title sequence is good, but the first season title sequence is iconic. Check this out.” And his brain exploded. He demanded that we watch the first episode.

I tried to say “Son, I’m telling you, this show is really stupid,” and what he said was conveyed quite silently and I heard it very loudly. What he said was “Old man, stop it. I just saw explosions and cool spaceships and rocking guitar and fast editing and people screaming and the moon being BLOWN OUT OF EARTH’S ORBIT and you are to STOP AT ONCE showing me girls with swords in New Zealand and GIVE ME EXPLODING MOON SPACESHIP ACTION IMMEDIATELY.”

So I said we’d have time Thursday afternoon. And here we are.

He really liked it and wants to see more. Which is reasonable; I enjoyed this from time to time when I was a kid, too. But the first episode is very slow, even by 1999 standards. It’s a long, long investigation into the strange deaths of several astronauts, and none of it is too scientifically ridiculous for a while. The cast is kind of solid: season one features Martin Landau, Barbara Bain, and Barry Morse as the three leads. Morse is as awesome as he always was, just a terrific, watchable actor in anything. Prentis Hancock, Zienia Merton, and Nick Tate are the first season’s B-team. Guest stars this time include Roy Dotrice, Philip Madoc (for a single scene), and Shane Rimmer. I was saying just last month how Rimmer could usually be heard, uncredited, in shows from the period, and here he is without a credit today.

The explosions are well up to the impossibly high standards of Gerry Anderson’s visual effects wizards, the design is very good, and it’s all just so slow and lifeless and, most of all, dumb. But the space disaster business genuinely pleased the kid and he wants to see more. He might really, really start liking it when weirdo aliens show up. I’ll make sure all the lights are out when we get to the big tentacled thing that everybody remembers in “Dragon’s Domain.”