The Scariest Hour in TV History: Space 1999: “Dragon’s Domain”

The Scariest Hour in TV History: Space 1999: “Dragon’s Domain”

What IS the scariest single hour of TV ever? Something out of Night Gallery, perhaps, or one of the space1999-07more high octane Twilight Zone episodes? Star Trek’s “The Devil in the Dark?” What about recent vintages like True Blood, or some modern-day zombie flick? Salem’s Lot was made for TV and that has chills aplenty, but it’s far longer than an hour.

What’s left?

Space 1999. That’s right. Not usually a rock ‘em-sock ‘em sort of program, and definitely relegated now to the “dated” category, but still… for one awful hour in 1975, Space 1999 changed my life.

Let me admit up front that I was a scaredy-cat kid. If a more frightened child ever existed, I have yet to meet him, her, or it. I was scared of the dark, terrified of the basement, and petrified of being alone: demonstrating fear of abandonment in all its forms, from sensorial to parental. For years, in watching TV broadcasts of The Wizard of Oz, I never once saw the Wicked Witch; at the least hint that she was to make an appearance, I’d flee the room.

I think I was twelve (at least) before I realized how Dorothy actually disposed of Mme. West. The Fun House at the Ohio State Fair frightened me so much, I wouldn’t walk past it, much less venture inside. When some evil elementary school trickster handed me Stephen King’s short “The Boogie Man” and told me it wasn’t scary at all, I was stupid enough to believe him.

space19991-300x199So you could say that what Space 1999 did to me was my fault, but honestly, it wasn’t. The first several episodes were downright dull. Very little happened. How could I have possibly prepared for what the show unleashed next?

“Dragon’s Domain” was the 23rd episode numerically in the Space 1999 series, and was first aired in the U.K. on October 23, 1975. In the U.S., it must have aired in summer; I watched it during prime time and still had time to go outside after and play badminton with my dad. When it was time to come in, I refused to open the door. I was literally shaking, too terrified to risk what might be on the other side.

Well. Now that I’m older than dirt and hoarier than Methuselah on his deathbed, I felt it was high time to revisit the single most traumatic viewing experience of my childhood, and so off I went to Youtube in search of my past.

xcxornxpjyqtbigAnd you know what? While the sets are clunky and the technology looks hardly better than stone knives and bearskins, the show plays well. The scripting is efficient, the acting solid. Stars Barbara Bain and Martin Landau actually pay attention to each other (any able actor will tell you that acting is listening).

Best of all, the script wastes no time in letting us know that fellow astronaut Tony Cellini (Gianni Garko) is just about out of his head with grief, guilt, and fright. Wisely, the script doesn’t tell us why. Instead, it shows us via extended flashback the launch of a probe mission commanded by Cellini, a voyage that begins so right you just know it’ll go wrong (they even launch, unlike contemporary airlines, “on schedule”).

To an accompaniment of classical organ music, “eight months of uneventful routine” leads to a new planetary mass on the outer edges of our known solar system.

Cut to commercial. When the show returns, the probe has encountered a graveyard of space ships: a “car park of all space peoples,” as one crew member puts it. But there is no sign of life on any of the ships.

This is the point where, as an eight-year-old, I should have run out of the room.

space1999lunchbox2Cellini docks at one of the desolate ships, and in the next instant, a tentacle-laden monster bursts through the hatch, roaring and hissing. It charms one crewmember after another into its maw, and then –– horror of horrors –– it spits them back out again as blackened, charred husks.

Note the key effects deployed in service of rendering this poor eight-year-old sleepless and nightmare-ridden for years: the crew is out of control, and far from help; the monster has tentacles; the monster demonstrates to those still alive what will shortly happen to them by quickly regurgitating its victims; and finally, the creature appears to be invincible.

Cellini flees in an escape pod and somehow makes it back to Earth, where of course no one will believe a word he says.

(That’s scary, too –– for kids.  “Daddy, there’s a monster under my bed.” “No, son, there, isn’t. Now go to sleep.” “But Daddy…”)

space1999_04The script functions for nearly a half hour as an extended flashback, a risky gambit in lesser hands, but writer Christopher Penfold and director Charles Crichton keep things grounded by focusing, after the disaster, on the lack of belief back on Earth and the political fallout of a failed mission. Yes, they allow Landau to deliver a few too many lines with raucous and unearned exclamation points; but beyond that, the show really does play, Pleistocene special effects and all.

(Actually, the exterior scenes age quite well; it’s only the interiors that disappoint.)

The engine that really drives the show is a dread sense of déjà vu, the inevitability of a second encounter with “the dragon.” Another probe ship, a fresh crew. Fresh meat for the grinder. In that sense, the show’s dramatic engine works off the same hook that powers Aliens, in which, having seen the carnage and terror of which the aliens are capable, circumstance and heroism insist that our heroes must venture for a second time into the belly of the beast.

Enough spoilers. Watch it for yourself, and as you do, put yourself in my age-eight shoes. Petrified, but unable to look away, hooked by the ineluctable need to know what happens next.  That’s the juice that really fuels the entire horror field: our inability to look away, our atavistic need to know how (if at all) order is restored to the universe.

600full-space--1999-photoFor those inclined to really geek out on this episode, or nitpick it to death, may I suggest the following site: nitcentral. The site boasts scores of comments on the show, nearly all of them adoringly positive even as they find fault with everything from chess pieces to docking procedures.

So, there. My confession is made. (And in public, no less.) Your turn, gentle reader. What was your scariest hour of television?

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Joe H.

I remember seeing that episode back when it originally aired and yes, it scared the bejeebers out of me also. (Now that whole car-wash-phobia has come into sharp focus.) I rewatched it on Netflix recently and it held up much better than other Space: 1999 episodes that I’d seen recently.

The other TV snipped from my childhood that haunted me for years to come was the “execution by sliding down a gigantic blade” scene in The Long Ships, which I believe was mentioned on this site not too long ago.

Dr. Inknstain

For me, there’s no contest. RAI’s Odysseus (Odissea, 1968) miniseries was broadcast here in Finland when I was on 1st or 2nd grade. I was already familiar with the story, but still the episode with Polyfemos, the Cyclops, blew me away. It was unbearable, I was peeking from behind this big comfy chair, hiding behind it every time the cyclops grabbed yet another crew member, still hearing every scream as he munched on them. Needless to say, I was not particularly sympathetic towards Polyfemos as he later bellowed to his brother Cyclops that ‘Nessuno’ was trying to kill him.

Here’s the relevant part:

After all this time, still pretty effective. And to think that they cancelled Space:1999 here in Finland – twice – for being too scary for children!

Allen Snyder

No contest. The episode of Twin Peaks where Laura Palmer’s killer was finally revealed, from early in the second season if memory serves. I was an adult–a young adult, but still–and I was hiding under the covers that night, something I hadn’t done in ages.


Just thinking about the scene late in the episode where Laura’s dad looks in a mirror and we see Killer Bob looking back still gives me the creeps.


I’m always on the lookout for a good, creepy episodic television. I’ll have to check out the Space: 1999 suggestion above.

I’m with awsnyde though, the episode of Twin Peaks that he mentions is incredibly creepy! I think you have to watch the whole series up to that point to get the full effect of the surprise. But even without that background, the scene mentioned is incredibly chilling and disturbing.

I can think of an episode or two of X-Files that also evokes the same creepiness. An episode called “Home” (I think season 5) is a classic. But there are others.

That episode of Space: 1999 creeped me out as well, and is one of the few where I have much of a clear memory of the plot. It was certainly the only one I ever re-enacted with Legos.

I never warmed to the show as a kid. I always WANTED to like it, but it seemed oddly disconnected, and I used to think that maybe I was too young to get Space: 1999. Upon revisiting I realized that it simply was scripted pretty badly almost all the time. Perhaps there were some brilliant episodes, but I didn’t stick with my revisit long enough to find out.

Still think the Eagles were cool and that the guy playing the chief pilot was the most compelling character because he was actually allowed to carry out actions as opposed to standing around theorizing.

Nick Ozment

Ooh, now I want to see this episode! By the way, was Space:1999 the series that included a shape-shifting female character who occasionally turned into Bigfoot? As a small child (I’m talking 4 or 5), I’d be glued to this sci-fi program just hoping it would be an episode where that character turned into a monster to battle some alien that had sneaked onto the ship.

I WHOLEHEARTEDLY agree with previous comments that the creepiness factor of Twin Peaks rivals just about anything else that has ever aired on network prime-time. From the very get-go, too — like the Red Lodge scene in the pilot episode, with the backwards-talking dwarf. The scariest Killer-Bob moment for me was a flashback-memory scene where someone (was it Laura’s mother?) pictures Laura’s empty room, then the empty-room scene replays and (pure Lynchian composition here) your eye suddenly registers that a leering, bedraggled, gray-haired specter is actually crouching behind the foot of the bed. I just got goose-bumps typing that.

I also agree that a couple stand-alone episodes of The X-Files were quite effectively scary, and I think the pilot episode of Supernatural has a horrifying finale, when the parents realize something is in the baby’s room, and the father darts up the stairs to find the mother stuck to the ceiling, going up in flames. The first time I saw anything of that show, it was walking in on THAT scene. My immediate, visceral reaction was “What the hell is this?”

Sarah Avery

My childhood tv habits just didn’t include horror. My college tv habits wouldn’t have, except that a friend insisted that Twin Peaks had the best writing he’d ever seen on television. Here’s something nobody should ever do: I watched the entire first season in three days. What was I thinking? The episodes all kind of blur together, but some ways into the first season, there’s a dream/vision/something scene with the demonic Bob running in slow motion toward the camera. As he gets close, he opens his mouth. The shot cuts right up against his teeth as they slam together in a bite that reverberates at impossibly deep pitches. It’s poetry. Evil, terrifying poetry. Man, Poe would have loved Twin Peaks.

[…] those who saw my last post (“The Scariest Hour in TV History”), you will already know that I have ‘fessed up to being a scaredy-cat kid.  Had The Hunger […]

[…] The Scariest Hour in TV history: Space: 1999 “Dragon’s Domain” […]


Thank you so much for this. For years, I’ve wondered off and on if I’d ever recall what this episode was that scared the hell out of when I was also 8 years old. Now I know. The regurgitation aspect completely freaked me out. All I remember with complete clarity was that I was absolutely relishing in a bowl of whipped cream whilst I was watching this episode, one of my favorite vices at the time…..And I haven’t touched the stuff in 38 years since.


I recently re-watched this episode on Amazon Prime. For $1.99 I went back in time 40 years and boy what a ride. This episode also frightened the hell out of me as a young lad. I was also 8 at the time and I had nightmares about that creature and those skeleton bodies for months.
In re-watching it.., I realized that this show had special effects that even Dr. Who could top. I loved that Cellini, upon returning to the probe 5 years later, grabs from the Eagle; A. his trusty axe, b. a butcher knife. So we are to believe that standard issue on a spaceship like the Eagle is an AXE and a BUTCHER KNIFE? Funny stuff. I guess the best/worst part was in the beginning when they were on the moonbase filling out their reports.. via a TYPEWRITER!! HAH!!! So here are all of these computers around them and all of these CRT screen and they fill out paperwork by using a typewriter.
It was quite a thrill to see this episode though. Not quite as scary as I remember. My two sons, 10 and 6 did not even flinch. They just commented on how fake the monster looked.
Oh well. Thanks for the memories.

I do love the show, though. I love the EAGLE. A very cool modular design concept. Go Gerry Anderson!


This could have been written by me! I was about 5 or 6 when I watched this, and it freaked me out for a long time. For years, this was the monster under my bed, ready to suck me in and spit me out as a corpse.

[…] what did you think?  Turns out there are several blog posts dedicated to this episode, such as this one.  Clearly I wasn’t the only one still harboring childhood trauma from watching […]


For years I thought this monster was from Lost In Space as I watched both shows as a kid in the ’70s. Then I saw a promo that Comet TV started showing Space 1999 on their sci-fi weekends. I innocently started watching the Dragon’s Domain episode and realized that one of my childhood nightmares came from this show and this particular episode. I too was around 8 or 9 years old when I first watched this and it scared the hell out of me. Rewatching it in my 40s made me see what the scare was all about. Yeah the effects look a bit dated, but it’s still a extremely scary monster. The charred regurgitated corpses was such an image that I’ll never ever forget. This is an episode I’ll definitely save for further viewings. Wow!

[…] And then there’s the episode “Dragon’s Domain”, which frightened me so much as a child that I still don’t dare watch it today. (I wasn’t the only one, either.) […]

Craig Highberger

OMG YES, this was one of the most nightmare inducing episodes of television I had ever watched. This was years before the movie ALIEN, which had similar powerful nightmare inducing effects.

Andrew M

Nothing quite prepares a 8-9 year old for seeing a partially digested corpse slide into view… Saturday Mornings were never quite the same…

Andrew Horton

About the same age. Huge affect on me too. Gianni Garko is a story of his own. Once played a killer cowboy using playing cards as ninja knifes–but that’s another orbit. Thankfully the full version can be found on Internet Archive, downloadable for those who like their horror “well done”. Kudos for the Brits putting on a real horror show. Bon Voyage or Appetit.


I know I’m late to the discussion, but one of the ‘Over the Air’ channels has been.showing Space:1999 and it triggered my memory about the episode you have in your post.
I rember watching it when I was about 9 when it originally aired. It literally TERRIFIED me and I couldn’t stop thinking about it for weeks. I rhino I finally just blocked out of my mind, but every now and then I’d have vague memories of some alien that sucked I people, then spit then out all burned up.
Seeing Space:1999 again made me remember ithat it was the show with THAT alien monster. Thanks to the internet and Google, I was able to find this page in about 5 seconds and realize I wasn’t the only kid traumatized by ‘Dragon’s Domain’.
I haven’t seen that episode aired yet, but now I know which one to watch for to prepare myself when it does. 😱


OMG. I thought I was alone. This absolutely scarred me, sitting in front of the TV with my dad at the age of 8. And yet, both of my kids watched Alien at the same age and were utterly unmoved by it. I can’t explain that at all.

Peter C

I think I must have seen this when it was reshown in ITV regions between 1982 and 1985. I can’t believe I would have seen its original 1975 airing as I would have been between 3 and 4.
That said, I had an utterly terrifying nightmare of being IN this story, and didn’t remember that it had been an actual episode, so it was a very nasty surprise many, many years later when I ran across it again.
The other scary Space 1999 moment, of course, would be the end of Death’s Other Dominion!
How they got away with broadcasting this stuff on Saturday morning kid’s TV is beyond me.

K. Jespersen

No wonder my cousin never let my little cousins watch “Space: 1999” even though she loved it so.

I’m not convinced that episode would have freaked me out, given that “Neverending Story” and “Brave Little Toaster” were integral parts of my experience. Sympathetic characters died to horrible creatures and bad situations–that’s life. What DID terrify me at age 9, though? The Planet-Eater from the original “Star Trek.” Papier-mache cones that baked planets to death with all of the people on them were Not Cool. And that incredibly depressed captain or engineer who rode the dead ship into the thing’s throat? Into that horrible, awful, red glow?! AUGH!!!

My parents never did figure out why I started sleeping at the foot of my bed. They thought there must be a draft from the window they’d placed it under. I just didn’t want to see the Planet-Eater coming for Earth.

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