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Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea: Series 3

Review by: 
Black Gloves
Release Date: 
Revelation Films
Aspect Ratio: 
Directed by: 
Richard Basehart
David Hedison
Terry Becker
Del Monroe
Paul Trinka
Bottom Line: 

This third season of Irwin Allen’s classic fantasy sci-fi adventure series “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” sees the emergence of a pronounced family structure become more evident among the regulars who appear each week in the increasingly surreal episodes on the show. Whereas the first and even the second series placed heavy emphasis on the heroic patriotism of the dynamic Captain Crane (David Hedison) and steadfast military science genius Admiral Nelson (Richard Basehart), the actual crew of the Seaview (the state of the art military sub designed by the good Admiral himself for special missions into the unknown in service of the interests of the United States) remained largely faceless, and were afforded little screen time or character development across the episodes. This third series promotes many of those secondary background faces much more frequently, and they swiftly become as recognisable as the main stars: Lt. Commander Chip Morton (played by Robert Dowdell) is the stolid third in command among the trio of patriarchs, while crewmen Kowalski (Del Monroe) and Patterson (Paul Trinka) are the dependable foot soldiers who bear the brunt of the weekly alien assaults which soon come to dominate the storylines this season. From the second series on, Terry Becker took on the role of Chief Sharkey, replacing Henry Kulky who played Chief Curley Jones in the more espionage themed black & white first series.

One of the recurring motifs of this third season is the comedy interlude, which is often played out between Chief Sharkey and Kowalski. The theme of these light-hearted verbal jousts revolves around Sharkey (who is clearly of a similar social background to the rest of the crew) and his attempt to pull rank on his crewmen, issuing orders to Kowalski or Patterson, who then gently question why they have to do whatever it is they’ve been assigned to do as a form of undermining Chief Sharkey’s slightly pompous air of authority, until he finally has to admit that he has no idea why they’ve been issued their orders – but that they should just get on with doing as they’re told and carry them out. Despite the undercurrent of mockery and the evident class divide which is signified by the military ranking system on-board the Seaview, this is clearly now a family of dependants rather than two heroes and a ship-full of largely faceless crewmen. Even the non-speaking background functionaries become recognisable over the weeks (one of them even gets killed by a rampaging reptilian humanoid in one episode, but is still back in his regular place at the controls at the back of shot the following week!) and other characters among the crew, who don’t get significant lead roles in the storylines but still nonetheless have an important function in many of the plots, such as engineer Sparks (Arch Whiting) and the nameless ship’s doctor (Richard Bull), are just as familiar by the end of the 26 episode run.

This and the fact that, unlike the first and even the second series, very few of the stories ever leave the familiar claustrophobic corridors of the Seaview itself, means that there is a strongly defined sense of base-under-siege-from-outside-threat in the tone of this group of episodes, and the strong community and ties of loyalty between crew members are the basis for a whole series of stories that involve intruders – cuckoos in the nest – coming aboard and causing upset, frequently threatening the lives of everyone on the sub in the process.

 In a season which notably plays variations on exactly the same storylines over and over again, one thing soon starts to become an unavoidable recurring pattern, and that is that every single guest who comes aboard the Seaview, for whatever reason, will eventually turn out to be either up to no good or the cause of life-threatening trouble for the crew. It’s not always necessarily their fault: in “Monster from the Inferno” a giant alien brain on the seafloor takes control of visiting Doctor Lindsay’s (Arthur Hill) mind in order to have him help it install itself on board and use the Seaview as its metal body so that it can enslave the entire human race. Dr Sprague: (Henry Jones) causes trouble on a lost island of giant prehistoric lizards in “Night of Terror” when hallucinogenic natural gases cause him to imagine a trove of treasure beyond what turns out to be a pool of quicksand, thereby hindering the landing party’s escape when he becomes trapped and they have to pause to rescue him.

Often, the on-board guest is more clearly to blame for the troubles that besiege the American nuclear submarine: in “The Heat Monster”, Norwegian scientist Dr Bergstrom (Alfred Ryder returning with a Scandinavian accent that’s even ropier than the German one he adopted for his role as the ghostly Captain Krueger in series two), is picked up and brought aboard the Seaview as the only remaining survivor at an Arctic base which has been wiped out by an alien life form trapped in a block of ice. This life form takes a gaseous, disembodied flame form (a cheap special effect achieved simply by moving a flame jet around from below the camera) which threatens the crew with a fiery extinction. Despite this, misguided Dr Bergstrom insists that they should attempt to communicate with the alien and even collaborates in disabling the sub to gain time to achieve his aim, convinced that talking can eventually bring the creature round – that is  until it makes clear its intention of blackmailing the crew into firing off the sub’s nuclear missiles (a frequent aim of invading forces) and destroying the human race, whereupon Bergstrom finally comes good and sacrifices himself to save humanity and the Seaview.

Mostly though, the guests brought on board are just plain bad. You’d think Admiral Nelson and his crew would get the message after a while, but scientists, politicians and even relatives alike, again and again prove to be the cause of all their woes. In one of the best episodes of series three, “The Day the Word Ended”, a charismatic senator’s (Skip Homeier) visit coincides with the apparent disappearance of the entire population of the earth apart from everyone on-board the Seaview. The sub stops off at New York and Nelson finds the streets eerily deserted in true “I am Legend” style. The solution to this mystery turns out to be heavily contrived, but rest assured it involves the senator being up to no good. In “The Plant Man” an evil twin (William Smithers, playing both roles) who can control his weaker minded research scientist brother using twin telepathy, causes havoc on board the Seaview when he engineers the rampage of a giant plant creature with which he hopes to (you guessed it) rule the world! “Death from the Past” sees Nelson and Crane rescuing two cryogenically dormant inhabitants from a German World War 2 submarine, unaware that the re-awakened survivors still think it is 1943 and are intent on winning the war for the Nazis by completing their original mission and setting off a fleet of experimental rocket bombs. There’s even more predictable trouble when Captain Crane becomes mesmerised by a mermaid (Diane Webber) while the Seaview is on a mission to find an enemy bomb that is just about to go critical. He brings her aboard, but a super-strong reptile man from the deep invades the sub in search of her, threatening to permanently disable the Seaview and kill everyone on-board.

Perhaps the threat to the increasingly close-knit crew is more acute when it seems to come from family members of the sub’s own inhabitants, thereby threatening divided loyalties. This happens several times over the course of this series.  In “Deadly Waters” the theme of divided loyalties and patriotism versus family responsibilities is quite explicit: Captain Crane risks his life to rescue a trapped diver from a wreaked sub. It turns out to be crewman Kowalski’s older brother, Stan (Don Gordon). When the Seaview itself crashes to the ocean floor after descending below crush depth, the Crew’s only hope of survival is for Stan to use an experimental diving suit to get an SOS fired off at the surface. But Stan refuses to co-operate! Stan’s lack of community spirit, his selfish disregard for patriotism and loyalty to friends and countrymen alike is what causes the rift between himself and his younger brother Kowalski, who is used to the total unquestioning obedience of life aboard the Seaview.

Family loyalty and duty clash again in a different way in “The Thing from Inner Space”, when the Seaview goes on a mission with the world famous TV personality Bainbridge Wells (Hugh Marlowe) in search of the sea creature that killed a cameraman on one of his previous assignments. That cameraman was crewman Patterson’s father and the normally placid engineer blames (correctly as it turns out) Wells for his death and sets out to sabotage the mission to get evidence and, ultimately, his revenge. It’s even worse for Chief Sharkey in “The Lost Bomb”, one of the only espionage themed stories in this batch, when an enemy sub is bent on sabotaging the Seaview’s attempts at disarming a highly unstable nuclear bomb. The bomb expert brought aboard for the job is Sharkey’s very best friend Bradley (John Lupton), but unbeknownst to all, he’s a traitor, secretly working for the enemy foreign power that’s intent on destroying the Seaview and stealing the bomb for itself. 

When the threat comes from more fantastical quarters it frequently either takes control of or cloaks itself in a form that mimics the crew of the Seaview in order to insinuate itself; frequently, the crew will find itself caught up in a Morten’s Fork situation, faced with either killing their alien-controlled or brainwashed colleague or else risking the fate of the human race, the rest of the crew or both. In “Day of Evil” an alien being with semi-magical powers takes on the form of Admiral Nelson and offers a Faustian pact to save the oxygen-starved crew of a dormant Seaview as well as the life of  Captain Crane, who is dying from an otherwise lethal dose of radiation poisoning. In “Deadly Invasion” an alien with invasion on its mind takes the form of Admiral Nelson’s best friend, Sam Garrity. The only trouble is, the man died years ago during World War 2! In “The Haunted Submarine” the threat is both more nebulous and even closer to home – and even more fantastical and fairy tale-like – when Admiral Nelson is visited by the ghost of a 17th century slave-trading Irish ancestor, also played by Richard Basehart, who wants to swap places with him and live again in the 20th century.

One of the craziest and most memorably surreal episodes, “The Wax Men”, sees the entire crew replaced by animated waxworks replicas with dead eyes and clammy, waxy skin – all of them controlled by a mischievous dwarf clown whose motives are never explained. Captain Crane only escapes this fate when he comes aboard late, but then spends the rest of the episode being hunted by shuffling, clockwork zombie-like replicas of his own crewmen controlled by the giggling clown mastermind via radio control! One of the few episodes to escape the monster of the week formula is the strange mystery-based adventure “The Death Watch”, which sets up a scenario in which best friends Admiral Nelson and Captain Crane are seen hunting each other through the deserted corridors and cabins of an empty Seaview, each intent on killing the other while Chief Sharkey seems to be implicated in some sort of Manchurian Candidate brainwashing scenario using subliminal tape-recorded messages.

Brainwashing occurs again in the series final episode, provocatively titled “Destroy Seaview!”, but usually when Crane and Nelson come to blows, it’s because one of them has been surreptitiously taken over by an alien force controlling his body. The body snatcher storyline is one of the most frequently referenced in this entire body of episodes. “Shadowman” provides one of the most striking instances of the common formula: a shadowy energy-absorbing alien takes over the minds of a skeleton Seaview crew made up of all the most prominent episode regulars, and at one point one of the main cast is even cold-bloodedly shot by a taken-over Captain Crane at point-blank range (he survives, of course) and the episode climaxes with almost everyone taken over by the alien presence, all of them intent on destroying the Seaview, apart from a resilient Admiral Nelson.

In “The Creature”, Captain Crane is attacked and killed by a strange amphibious plant-like creature! He comes back to life under control of the malevolent life-form and sets about recruiting other key members of the crew. “Deadly Cloud” also sees the ever-susceptible Captain Crane replaced by a robotic alien humanoid after the flying sub is enveloped by a mysterious cloud from space which is believed to be the cause of cataclysmic world-wide natural disasters. Perhaps the most poignant episode in which the threat appears to come from within the regular cast itself is actually a sequel to an early episode in the series run: “Brand of the Beast”, a follow-up story to an episode entitled “Werewolf” in which one of two scientists exploring a pacific island is attacked and bitten by an geographically incongruous, mutant-rabies-infected wolf and starts transforming into a wolf man on board the Seaview, sees Admiral Nelson realising he has been infected with the same malady after being scratched in the  course of the earlier episode. Unusually for “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” right up to the very last minute of the story it appears that there is no way out for Admiral Nelson and he even attempts suicide as a means of saving the rest of the crew from being destroyed by the beast within him.

The werewolf story is just one of a whole slew of monster stories inspired by horror and SF fantasy in this series: the crew variously find themselves tangling with a reanimated 3000 year-old Mummy, menaced by fossil men, enveloped by giant jelly fish, assaulted by red-scaled lizard men from space that hatch out of giant eggs or forced to do battle with alien-possessed toys brought aboard by a shipwrecked drifter. It is noticeable how mixed up the series’ attitude to science and concepts of progress actually are throughout this run. Radiation is treated as a magical source of both power and danger and almost every single episode involves the crew being exposed to large doses when the sub’s reactor core regularly goes critical. Judging by the frequency with which they are exposed to these lethal radiation levels, it would seem not many of them could have possibly been expected to live to a ripe old age, yet radiation and nuclear bombs are also regularly employed like curative elixirs to destroy that week’s alien threat and get the Seaview out of trouble.

The monster of the week, whether it’s a lumbering rock monster, silvery humanoid, disembodied gaseous mind or plant-like vine creature, almost always communicates in echoing, reverberating American English and the action tends to become mightily repetitious across the series, with the Irwin Allen ‘Rock and Roll’ technique (in which the camera is tilted in time with the crew flinging themselves backwards and forwards to indicate explosive turbulence etc.) is over-used to a numbing degree. Almost every episode involves the alien, sea monster or saboteur either trying to launch the sub’s nuclear missiles or cripple the sub by ripping out the main controls. Nevertheless, the sheer chutzpah behind the kind of crazy scenarios only Irwin Allen would risk, keeps most of the episodes seeming charmingly watchable to this day, and there is a respectable handful of classic adventures, included amongst the 26 on this 7-disc set, which are essential viewing for all Allen fans.

The set’s 7th disc also includes a handful of extras in the form of the next part of an interview with David Hedison, speaking about his co-star Richard Basehart’s shyness, how the Rock and Roll effect was co-ordinated with the help of a tin bucket, and his argument with Irwin Allen over one particularly badly written script. There are also brief audio interviews from 1966 with both Basehart and Hedison and a selection of photo galleries are included featuring production stills and episode stills, as well as a Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea comic strip.

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