DVD Review: Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea / Cert: PG / Director: Various / Screenplay: Various / Starring: Richard Basehart, David Hedison, Robert Dowdell, Del Monroe, Terry Becker / Release Date: Out Now
110 episodes, 31 DVDs. That takes some serious Irwin Allen kahunas. Lost in Space may remain the best-remembered of Irwin Allen’s cheesy, cheerful, high concept SF TV shows from the 1960s and yet Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea - at four full seasons - was the longest-running. Previously released in individual box sets the whole lot have now been bundled together, similar to the recent reissue of Land of the Giants with the added bonus of a colourful and informative souvenir booklet.
Voyage To The Bottom of the Sea, famously spun-off from the early 1960s feature film starring Walter Pidgeon and Robert Stirling (and generating a wealth of props and FX sequences which the subsequent series could and would merrily recycle), arrived in the 1964-5 US TV season. Although its pilot was filmed in colour (and is presented as a special feature in the boxset) the first season of 32 episodes was filmed in black-and-white. Typically for an Irwin Allen series what started out as a fairly straight adventure series, reflecting contemporary concerns like the Cold War and with espionage and political intrigue in imaginary far-away foreign countries to the fore, slowly deteriorated into lurid sci-fi monster of the week stories full of mad scientists and outlandish aliens. As early as episode two (episodes are presented in US broadcast order), The Village of Guilt, the frankly-awesome, superb Seaview is tangling with a giant octopus, the creation of a crazed scientist whose experiments in organic growth as a means to end world hunger have gone a bit awry. In truth the whole episode’s a bit of an excuse to reuse footage from the feature film and in later episodes Allen had no qualms about regurgitating action from his own earlier films to spice up Voyage yarns. More than once in the show’s run the Seaview crew found themselves in a long-forgotten land where dinosaurs and prehistoric monsters prevailed - allowing Allen the chance to crowbar ion footage from his 1958 reworking of Conan Doyle’s The Lost World (which also starred Hedison and thus allowed even more footage to be reused).
Season two - in colour! - sees a few changes amongst the supporting cast and some minor modifications to the Seaview herself as well as the introduction of the iconic Flying Sub, a detachable craft which, memorably, was often seen emerging from the Seaview and soaring above the ocean. Season two sets out its stall in the opening episode Jonah and the Whale where Basehart’s Admiral Nelson and a visiting Russian female boffin are swallowed by a giant whale. Elsewhere there are any number of giant jellyfish ghosts and even an episode entitled Monster From Outer Space which is about as self-explanatory as it’s possible to imagine. The show hadn’t quite lost touch with its spy/thriller roots though as Escape From Venice is a lively pseudo-James Bond romp with Hedison’s Commander Crane in tuxedo and playing the dashing romantic lead.
By season three the show had become irredeemably silly - and yet still monstrously enjoyable. Shamelessly borrowing sets and costumes from his other sci-fi shows (Lost in Space and The Time Tunnel were airing at more or less the same time) season three saw the Seaview stalwarts turned into werewolves, episodes featuring more and more outlandish aliens, mermaids, mummies and giant lizards. Season four merrily dispenses with any last vestiges of credibility as episodes become ever more ridiculous with appearances from Blackbeard, the Abominable Snowman, the Flying Dutchman and yet more aliens. Still successful by the end of its fourth year, a fifth series remained a real possibility but Allen chose to move on to his next - and best - project and the Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea came to end, replaced by the more expensive and lavish Land of the Giants.
Voyage is very much a product of its time with its simplistic, sensationalist storylines, utter lack of regard for real science and characters who were pretty much cyphers throughout the four-year run. But even now, nearly fifty years on, the show still looks wonderfully vibrant and colourful and its storytelling is always inventive. Sci-fi has moved on a bit since Irwin Allen merrily churned out his shows for a fairly undemanding audience and whilst today’s tastes may be a bit more sophisticated there’s still much to enjoy and even cherish in the bright, breezy, voyages of the Seaview and her trusty crew. Great nostalgic fun.
Special features: The original pilot episode, multi-part David Hedison interview, raw footage, audio interviews, bloopers, stills galleries.