“The twenty first century. Mankind has colonised the last unexplored region on Earth – the ocean. As captain of the seaQuest and its crew, we are its guardians. For beneath the surface, lies the future.” Captain Nathan Bridger
And with those stirring words began the adventures of seaQuest DSV, (the DSV standing for Deep Submergence Vessel). The series was produced from 1993-96 and was the first ongoing science fiction live action TV series to be set on board a submarine since Irwin Allen’s Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea in the sixties – as series it would inevitably be compared with.
But the intention, initially at least, was to explore plausible science fiction elements within the realms of credibility and realism. With this in mind, it’s easy to see the first series as an underwater version of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Roy Scheider’s performance as the captain echoes the gravitas of Patrick Stewart, Stephanie Beacham’s Doctor Westphalen was from the same mould as Beverly Crusher, they had a boy genius on board who’d become an Ensign Lucas Wolenczek (Jonathan Brandis). From the second season, they’d even have their own version of Data with the introduction of Dagwood!
The premise is established in the pilot film, set in the then-future of 2018 when having depleted Earth’s resources, we’re colonising the ocean depths. SeaQuest is the largest submarine ever to have travelled the seas. It was designed for the military, but is now refitted and used as a tool for exploration and research on behalf of the United Earth Oceans organisation (UEO). It’s an odd-looking vessel consisting of an arrowhead bow, with three bulbous sections and a tapering stern. For sensors, it has a series of smaller drone-like submersibles called ‘whiskers’ that swim alongside, above or below as needed. It is also capable of launching smaller craft, and has a moon pool, where Darwin, a verbose ‘talking’ dolphin can enter and leave as needed. All this piqued Steven Spielberg’s interest enough to become the show’s executive producer in the first two seasons. Also on board as a scientific advisor was famed deep sea explorer Robert Ballard to further the sense of plausibility. Ballard had discovered the wrecks of both the Titanic and the Bismark. He narrated a factual closing segment during the first season concerning the latest breakthroughs in underwater exploration. (Though it must be said he never looked comfortable wearing a seaQuest DSV baseball cap.)
The first season kept by and large to the mission statement of sticking to ‘proper’ science fiction, keeping the peace and discovering phenomena like a black smoker – a hydrothermal vent emitting noxious black clouds, which nearly sees the premature end of Darwin in the Devil’s Window. Several of the episodes involved children in peril. In Brothers and Sisters, children are discovered onboard an underwater munitions depot scheduled to be entombed. Bad Water saw the ship badly damaged by a lightning strike while searching for a crippled submarine whose passengers are all children who are running out of air. The Good Death showed the seaQuest duped into torpedoing a boatload of children. But while all these were good, strong episodes, the Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea element had begun seeping in, with stories seemingly more befitting the crew of the SSRN Seaview. Haunted sunken wrecks in Knight of Shadows, a mermaid in Abalon (which guest starred Charlton Heston), and the discovery of an alien spaceship in Such Great Patience.
The seaQuest’s tour of duty came to an end at the end of Season One with the vessel being sacrificed to save the planet. Season Two saw the launch of a new seaQuest with some new faces on board – not all of the cast wanted to relocate to Florida where the show was now being filmed. Newcomers included Michael DeLuise as Seaman Piccolo, who had genetically engineered gills and Peter DeLuise as Dagwood, a genetically engineered life form. With these embellishments, it’s not surprising that seaQuest crash-dived into a series of monsters of the week, which saw the crew struggle against an alien predator in Dream Weaver (which guest starred Mark Hamill), a paranormal being known as the Avatar, demons, a giant crocodile, time travel and, sadly, Irwin Allen’s old favourite – killer plants.
At the end of the season, the seaQuest and crew were abducted by an alien spaceship to fight a civil war on another world. Little wonder that Scheider lobbied to be released from his contract and barely appeared in the third season when the sub reappeared in the further future of 2032. Command was handed over to Captain Oliver Hudson (Michael Ironside) for a lacklustre and uneven half season of 12 episodes before the show became unsalvageable and the mighty seaQuest submerged for good, never to resurface.
You can catch the adventures of seaQuest DSV on Horror Channel from July 30th. SKY 317, Virgin 149, Freeview 70, Freesat 138.