Dragon's Domain



This is one of my comments on Space:1999 episodes. I've written some in German but unfortunately they are far from being complete and only every now and then I do have the time - and inspiration - for writing down some thoughts about the episodes as I see them.
There is a special history to this one, though, it all started with an e-mail discussion between my friend Barbara and me, when I found out that she really disliked John's behaviour towards Helena while I myself have always regarded the "argument scene" as quite an  extraordinary piece in the puzzle of understanding how a relationship between such contrasting  individuals like Helena and John might work.
Well, this is a summation of our exchange, wrapped up in some more ideas I had about
Dragon's Domain, and to me it was a huge and very pleasant surprise when Barbara sent me the English version of the text (Danke, liebster Oberschpezi!).
Comments and suggestions are welcome, as always. Send them either to Barbara or to me (e-mail see below).

Script: Christopher Penfold
Director: Charles Crichton

Gianno Garko (Tony Cellini)
Douglas Wilmer (Commissioner Dixon)
Barbara Kellerman (Monique Faucher)
Michael Sheard (Darwin King)
Susann Jameson (Juliet Mackie)



One night, Tony Cellini, a friend of John's, is tormented by nightmares, and feels he has to face his old enemy, who had been responsible for the failure of a space mission under his command.
Before he can leave for space, John keeps him from going and takes him to Medical Centre. The story of the Ultra Mission is brought up again, when Cellini had returned from the expedition alone, telling a story about a monster which had killed the whole crew. Nobody except John believed him - on the contrary, he was declared
mentally instable and suspended from the space program.
Now, John has to realize that Helena herself had been dealing with Cellini's case back then, and that it was finally her responsibility that not only Cellini, but also John himself and Victor were banished from Alpha for some time. This leads to a fierce argument between John and Helena, but it soon gets irrelevant as sensors detect life signs in space which correspond to those of Cellini's mission.
Cellini steals an Eagle to face his enemy. When the other Alphans join him, they have to realize the monster really exists, but Cellini is no match for it, and gets devoured. John can defeat the monster by hitting it with an axe, aiming at the creature's only eye.




Johnny Byrne mentioned several times that in Dragon's Domain, toward the end of the first season, the time had come for the Alphans to begin to create their own mythology. This impression is strengthened by the way the action is presented to the viewer: It is narrated by Helena.
That the implementation of a mythology was indeed the intention of script writer Christopher Penfold gets clear when, in the end, he lets John compare Cellini's fight against the monster with the fight of Saint George against the dragon.

However, the only thing Tony Cellini and Saint George really have in common is that they are both Italian. George, whose real existence has never been proved, is said to have been a Roman soldier who converted to Christianity and became a missionary. After saving a virgin from being sacrificed to a dragon, he immediately christianized the whole pagan village. George did survive the fight against the dragon but not the anti-Christian attitude of the then Roman emperor Diocletian: He was burnt at the stake as a martyr.

The young astronaut, Cellini, doesn't have any religious motivations. He is a child of our times, a modern scientist who, as a captain with his crew, sets off for an exciting and adventurous future, to explore deep space. More than that, John admiringly characterizes his friend as an athlete, a poet - patently a profoundly educated person, and his statements about him give the viewer an idea about why he had always stood up for him, in spite of all the reprisals.

Naturally, John's opinion about him is biased, and he ignores how the experience that made Tony lose his whole crew and locked him up for months in a lonely command module changed his friend. Such an experience must have an effect on the human psyche, especially when the person has to face the disbelief of all the authorities who decide on his fate.

Cellini's story cannot be proved, and is so unbelievable that he has no chance to save his reputation and his career. It's not clear, though, how much his reputation matters to him, because the encounter with the space monster has cut a deep notch into his personality and led his path into a different direction than the one he had planned. He is haunted by the alien being that he escaped from, and he feels that he can only free himself from his past by seeking the confrontation. His whole being is aimed at the encounter with his enemy. His quarters are the home of a warrior, equipped with weapons of all kind, hanging on the walls like a decoration, surrounding him. They are a warning for his enemy, sending the message, "Come on, this time I'm prepared for you!"

The older Cellini now appears like a kind of religious maniac; he is somebody who sees his destiny clearly before himself and is completely ready to follow it. The enemy finally has to confront him; his fate and Tony Cellini's have been linked with each other ever since that unfortunate encounter near the planet Ultra, and the dragon is attracted to his human enemy just like a moth to the light. When Tony steals the Eagle, he sets off for his own personal crusade; he wants to look into his enemy's eye, in order to overcome the past.
It is the arbitrariness of the script writer and the producers which doesn't let Tony defeat his enemy, but determines John to end his friend's fight. The victory, however, is Cellini's: He was able to prove that he was no madman who once killed his crew, and more than that, he could show John that his trust and friendship had been no bad investment, and that John hadn't lost his own career for a lie and a murderer.

Dragon's Domain is only at first sight a story about dragons and mythology, about madness and obsession, and about being victorious while failing. It is a story told on two levels: The one level, the thrilling monster story dealing with a misunderstood hero being caught by his past so he can face it, offers the material for the myth, Cellini and the dragon. The other level - and the actual topic of the episode - is as ancient as the art of narrative itself: It deals with heroism, friendship, trust, devotion, conviction, and the fact that there are some things more important than reputation, career, even more important than one's purpose in life - and, of course, more important than politics. Superficially, we see a legend about a dragon fight. In reality, however, this episode contains essential messages about human relations; it is about the nature of friendship, and about elements which make a humane way of living together possible at all.

John and his friendship with Cellini are the centre of the subject. He alone does not let Tony down, he alone believes him that he is no murderer who threw his colleagues out into space in a fit of madness, and he is convinced that the monster Cellini spoke about really existed. This trust and the faith in his friend cost him his job, and the extent of his loss can hardly be measured. For a person like John, an astronaut with heart and soul, losing space, and the moon base he helped build up, must have been the destruction of a lifetime's dream.

In the end, John manages to return to the moon, but under very hard circumstances, and there are times - like here in this episode - when his lifetime's dream turns into a nightmare, dominated by monsters. As commander of the moon base, John is kept busy, and along with the Alphans he has to fight for the survival of the small community in deep space, but when the cosmic phenomenon emerges and Cellini starts behaving strangely, John remembers, and the past returns to his memory, as if everything had happened only yesterday.
No wonder he plunges into a fierce argument with Helena, when he learns that she was involved in bringing Tony into discredit, and when he has to realize that, through this, she is indirectly also to blame for his and Victor's suspension. Everything is back before his mind's eye, and the argument between him and Helena turns into one of the episode's central elements, because its course presents a precise characterization of the two main characters and explains so much about the interaction between the two of them.

The attitudes on both sides are natural and understandable. Helena, who once had been confronted with a mentally disturbed Cellini, whom she had judged to the best of her knowledge, talks to John according to her nature, soberly and even-temperedly, and she reacts to his emotionality with irony, hoping to get him back "down to earth" that way.

In contrast to this, John tries to explain to Helena why he believes Cellini. But he is an intuitive, emotional person, and he can't explain his conviction rationally. No wonder his words hold no water and can't stand their ground against Helena's logical arguments. He is truly desperate because he suddenly finds himself in the same position as all that time ago, when he was standing in front of Commissioner Dixon, who did not believe him either. No matter what he says, Helena's words outweigh his, because they are based on facts and are not supported by emotions.

To Helena, Cellini's case was just one among many others; she has no relation of any kind to the person. She carefully considered the facts and correctly drew her conclusions. There is nothing John can do about it, and he knows, which makes him getting rude and unfair, and finally run away. With all her insistence and conviction, Helena still can understand John and his reactions.

The fact that a little later John returns with a flower and an apology, and that both of them wish to reconcile, tells a lot about how a relationship between two people as different as John and Helena can work: By seeing an argument not necessarily as a destructive force, but as a way to express oneself and, through this, find some relief, and by showing the most important elements for a functioning coexistence: The ability to ask someone's forgiveness, and the ability to forgive.

In the end, John kills Cellini's dragon, but the greater victory he gains is undoubtedly the victory over his own dragon, which had been sitting inside his head and his heart, ever since the day he stood up for his convictions with Commissioner Dixon, without success - convictions which might have led to an irreparable break-up with Helena. The fact that he didn't let it get to that point is a sign of a personal maturity and stability which, as the commander of a community like Alpha, is not only required, but also necessary for survival.




Kano (playing chess): I beat the computer every time.
John: Sure. You programmed it.

Kano: Computer's probably angry because you insulted her.

Cellini: Let me go, John.

Juliet Mackie viewing the derelict space ships:
Perhaps it's some huge conference of all space peoples and this is just their car park!

Cellini: Maybe in a while we'd get around to my sex life!
Helena: Alright! You seem fairly keen to talk in a wide range of topics!

Commissioner Dixon: Well, I hope you've all got some strong ideas for alleviating the drought!

Cellini: You've had my report!
Dixon: Oh, the whole world's had your report! That's my problem.

Dixon: The reality of space adventuring is that it's terribly expensive.

Alan (about Cellini): What's that guy got against me??


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