Finally - the wait is over for Irwin Allen fans, as the prolific King of Sixties TV sci-fi’s catalogue of 50 minute underwater epics makes its way to region 2 DVD, a full six years after Lost in Space made its debut on disc. Yes, we’ve been kept waiting - the region one market have had these discs available to them for more than three years - but there is a compensation. The North American R1 versions had each season split in half and released as two seperate boxes - but for the European market - the seasons are here in full.
March 28 saw the release of season 1. This was a grimmer, grittier season which packed tales of espionage, sabotage and international intrigue in the cold war years in among stories that were flat out science fiction. The June 17 release of the series' second year is a whole different ball game.
There would be a handful of spy stories, but Allen’s emphasis was beginning to focus heavily on science fiction - or to be more accurate, science fantasy. Thinly veiled references to Russia as "an unfriendly foreign power" would give way to various sea monsters-of-the-week. Foreign despots were rare, but mad scientists were everywhere and seemed to crawl out of the woodwork at any opportunity.
The series underwent some changes between the first and second years, the most obvious and striking being that the series was now shot in colour. Bright, unflinching primary colour that even makes the same era’s original Star Trek look positively pastel in comparison. To compliment the upgrade, crewmen uniforms were changed from the generic sailor uniforms seen previously to really garish and bright one-piece outfits. Pity poor Kowalski who has to endure the rest of his career in a bright red boiler suit.
The hand-me-down sets and miniatures from the 1961 feature film of the same name were abandoned in favour of newer, sleeker ones. The control room of the Seaview is a brightly lit, wider room with TV monitors and banks of flashing lights presumably denoting the status of the sub’s systems. The original was thought too claustrophobic. The sub itself is sleeker, with a new design to the glass area in the front (though this makes their frequent use of the film footage from 1961 even more obvious as the Seaview constantly skips from having four windows in front to eight and then back again).
And then, there’s the Flying Sub. A yellow saucer shaped two man sub launched from underneath the front of the Seaview that can, well, fly. It’s a beauty of a design which still looks great today, 46 years later, which is itself remarkable.
So, what do you get for your money?
We have all 26 episodes, spread over seven discs. As I’ve mentioned, the more "reality based" stories of the first season give way to plots that are more outlandish, preposterous and sometimes downright silly. The tone of the series is set in the opening episode 'Jonah and the Whale' which although it has a plot that can only be described as absolutely crazy - is great fun to watch and had some excellent effects. In a nutshell, Admiral Nelson (Richard Basehart) and a female Russian scientist are in the diving bell, investigating the destruction of an undersea research lab when they’re swallowed by a giant whale. It’s up to Captain Crane (David Hedison) and a couple of crewmen to tranquillise the whale, enter through its mouth while it’s unconscious and retrieve the Admiral and the scientist before they run out of air.
I won’t go into the number of scientific or logical flaws in that plot - but as I said, it plays like a big, colourful B-movie with some surprisingly good model work when it comes to the whale. (Though its insides are represented by inflated pink plastic bags, seaweed and the sound of breaking waves - which I didn’t quite get.)
As the series progressed, the Seaview crew are exposed to Victor Buono as a scientist out to destroy a third of the world with the aid of a cyborg double of Nelson. Interestingly, as with several episodes to come, there were cross overs of monster suits and make-up between Lost in Space and Voyage. The unfinished faceless cyborgs are identical to the monster who chased Dr Zachary Smith through the first season 'His Majesty Smith' episode. 'The Cyborg' wasn’t the only automaton to plague the Seaview - a pre Time Tunnel James Darren would appear as 'The Mechanical Man' before the season’s end. 'The X-Factor' wasn’t an early version of the insidious TV show, it was a plot by enemy agents to kidnap an American scientist, coat him in wax and pass him off as a mannequin. (Whereas in The X-Factor with Simon Cowell - they really ARE mannequins). We also have the closest Voyage ever came to a story arc, with 'The Phantom' - where Alfred Ryder plays the spirit of a U-Boat captain who tries to reincarnate himself as Captain Crane (David Hedison with an outrageous German accent) and the season closer 'The Return of the Phantom' - where he tries it again.
All episodes are in 4:3 ratio, and you have a choice between the original mono sound mix or stereo (obviously no 5.1 option on a series this old.)
The special features consist of a five minute excerpt of an interview with David Hedison, continuing from the first season box set in which he paints a pretty bleak picture of Irwin Allen from his recollections. There’s also a silent 25 minute montage of special effects shots. This is footage of a man in a monster suit swimming, the Seaview going right to left, down at a angle, fully submerging etc. Truthfully, it’s a bit dull and could have benefited from at least having the theme music play in accompaniment. There are galleries of merchandise and miniatures and an excerpt from a 1966 issue of Mad magazine where the series was parodied in a strip called 'Voyage to See What’s At The Bottom'.
All in all, it’s an excellent value for money package for fans of Allen’s work and an entertaining introduction to a simpler age of sci-fi to a new generation of fans.
I look forward to the release of season 3 on September 12.
Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea - The Complete Series 2 is out now.