Review: Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea - Season 4 / Created by: Irwin Allen / Starring: Richard Basehart, David Hedison, Robert Dowdell / Release Date: Out Now
And here we are once again, braced for another round of underwater shenanigans with the brave and intrepid crew of the SSRN Seaview, patrolling the depths, saving mankind from just about everything that swims, floats, flies, walks, crawls or slithers.
Season four completes the series run, and sadly, it’s not before time. After four years, the show was unfortunately running out of steam, and according to comments from star David Hedison in a special feature interview the budget was also being cut.
What had started out in 1963 as a gripping weekly black and white television series featuring stories of underwater exploration, espionage and thrilling political espionage against the then-current cold war backdrop with elements of science fiction had, in the second and third series become a colourful, loud monster of the week series with scant, if any, regard for any real science. By 1967, the writing was on the wall. The sheer lunacy of the Batman series of 1966 and its ensuing public mania had caused the producers of several other adventure series of the time to follow suit, becoming increasingly more far out and ludicrous in their plots to try and compete for the audience who were hungry for the comic absurdity of Adam West and Burt Ward. It was happening to Lost In Space, it was happening to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. And sure enough, even the mighty Seaview would eventually sink under the weight of popular camp humour, never again to break surface. Besides that, while the ABC channel were content pumping out juvenile oriented science fantasy during prime time, over at NBC, real science fiction aficionados were being treated to the real deal as their show, Star Trek was hitting its stride with its second season and had the fan-winning advantage of being written by real, actual science fiction authors.
So, while Star Trek explored the Vulcan mating cycle, doomsday machines capable of devouring planets, God-like computers controlling primitive civilisations, telepathic beings, and time travel, what was Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea concerning itself with?
Well, mad scientists who want to draw the moon closer to the Earth, gorilla creatures, plant monsters, amphibians, Blackbeard the pirate, frost men, the abominable snowman, a leprechaun, a lobster man and Vincent Price. The 26 episode series doesn’t as much explore the deep it just plain plumbs the depths.
The writing throughout the season is uniformly sloppy and for the most part, downright childish. For example, The Deadly Amphibians has a race of, well, deadly amphibians who want to reclaim the Earth as their own. We’re subjected to an hour of this plotline (which is interchangeable with most of the episodes in this season, EVERYONE wants to take over) and yet, the entire plot is foiled when a tied and bound Captain Crane rolls over an electrical cable, causing their device to short circuit, and that’s it - show’s over. Roll the credits.
Even worse is The Deadly Dolls, where even Vincent Price’s scenery chewing performance, and believe me, he’s on form here, fails to save the show. Price plays the part of a toymaster who has a number of puppets who can assume the size and appearance of the Seaview crew members. When Captain Crane spends an inordinate amount of time around a control switch on the wall of the Seaview control room that we’ve never seen before in the previous three years - you know there lies the solution to the problem. Somehow, this triggers a device that renders the outside of the sub radioactive so it can charge at torpedo speed and self destruct, annihilating whatever it hits and, presumably every living thing within a radius of hundreds of miles, not to mention contaminating the sea just by being all glowy and radioactive.
This is the kind of sloppy, thrown together storytelling that is the Achilles heel of this season.
However, it’s not ALL bad - suspend your cynicism and you’ll have a good time in an era that was perhaps a little easier for being a little more innocent. To its credit, although the DVD releases have been over 25 years further in the future that the show was even set, it still looks great. In fact, as the episodes have been cleaned up and digitally remastered, even the worst written of them earn some forgiveness points for being just dazzling to look at, with the colours being lush and bright. Even the bridge of the Enterprise looks a bit pale compared with the multi hued splash (forgive the pun) of the Seaview’s control room. We might not know what all those lights do or indicate (I doubt Irwin Allen himself knew) but they look like they’re important - even the imposing countdown display that’s right in front of a crewman’s nose and is perpetually counting down to nothing in particular.
The eight disc set comes fully armed with a disc of special features, which this time include the last part of the interview with show headliner David Hedison, who remains as comically terse and deadpan as he did back in the day in his role as Lee Crane.
Also included are three versions of the pilot. There’s the original unaired pilot in black and white. Then there’s a recut version in colour (oddly with a shot of the Seaview from underneath in the title sequence, which clearly shows the Flying Sub bay doors although the sub itself wasn’t introduced until the second season) and finally there’s the broadcast version - with the original American commercials still in place, so you can see for yourself how the weekly underwater adventures were sponsored by the makers of a range of deodorant products. Altogether now, "Spray Fresh, Stay Fresh".
I don’t know how many people out there want to watch three different versions of the same episode, but they’re there for you if you want them, though there is a little bit of a cheat here. The original unaired pilot was actually also included in the season one box. Shame on you 20th Century Fox for trying to sneak that past us.