Finally, Fox Home Entertainment is making good it their promise to finish the run of the class seafaring SF adventure "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea." No doubt we will be treated to the same high quality transfers, with sharp picture, vibrant colors and amazing sound. However, the real reason to smile is in the episodes themselves.
After what could be called a "guilty pleasure" year, Voyage returned with a surprise fourth season, a surprise to the actors as well as the audience, who all thought the show would be cancelled. However, fortune and funny accounting kept Voyage on the air another year and, to some degree, Irwin Allen improved the series somewhat from its prior year.
While the series would not hit the heights of its first two seasons again with any regularity, some true gems cropped up this year as monsters took a break for a while.
The season kicked off in grand style with "Fires of Death." This episode , which shaky in the plot department, boasted amazing sets depicting the inside of an active volcano. There is no doubt this is the reason why this episode was chosen to open the season rather than the vastly superior "Man of Many Faces", which was the first episode shot. However, the episode moves along at a brisk pace with legendary actor Victor Jory appearing as Dr. Turner, an alchemist with an obsession for unearthing "elixir stones" - the key to his immortality. Star David Hedison is absent for the last two thirds of the episodes, owing to an appearance on a variety show. The supporting cast gets to step up and take the reassigned lines and screen time. The result is a unique episode in the Voyage canon with amazing SFX for the time.
"The Deadly Dolls" follows, a classic bizarre episode starring Vincent Price as Dr. Multiple, an evil alien puppet master. The highlights of this episode include a rather cheerful atmosphere, amazing background score by composer Harry Geller and the amazing "Nelson Puppet." Voiced by Richard Basehart (obviously having fun) and looking like a Kroft Puppet, this character is a riot, popping in and out, dropping one liners and generally making a menace of himself. The result is a nonsensical but genuinely fun episode in the vein of the classic Avengers TV series.
"Cave of the Dead" stands out as an eerie tale of ghostly sea lore and evil curses, with Warren Stevens making his third and final appearance in Voyage as Van Wyck. There's a great scene that gives new meaning to the term "skeleton crew."
"Sealed Orders" is another outstanding tale of the effects of wacko Irwin Allen universe radiation. As soon as a top secret nuclear missile is opened onboard, the crew begins to vanish one by one. The atmosphere, assisted by the odd visual effects and another great score by Geller, is pleasantly weird and spooky. The climax is genuinely suspenseful and well shot. There was obviously an eye on thrift as they keep coming up with reasons to have only the main cast involved, but at least these episodes display more imagination than the latter third season shows.
The hits keep coming with the aforementioned "Man of Many Faces." A master of disguise frames Nelson for murder (on national TV no less) and infiltrates the Seaview, impersonating the main cast one by one in an effort to stop the crew from foiling an evil plan to control the tides. While the idea of one man impersonating so many people of different weights, heights and voices stretches credibility, the episode is so well mounted and paced, it's easy to forget the plot holes and just enjoy the episode. It's a temporary, but wonderful, return to the second season feel that had been missing for far too long.
"Rescue" is a tense tale involving a traitor on the Seaview and his attempts to keep the Admiral from discovering an undersea lab and rescuing Captain Crane, who is trapped in the disabled Flying Sub at the sea bottom. Again, the episode is set bound with one real guest star, but that doesn't prevent the episode from being exciting and serious. For the ladies, there's a one and only scene of Chief Sharkey without a shirt.
Rounding out the classics are "Blow Up" (Admiral Nelson is gripped by insane paranoia after breathing through an experimental oxygen device) and "A Time To Die". The latter episode introduces the time traveling Mr. Pem (Henry Jones), who also appears in the series' final episode. It is an interesting story, but sadly padded with a five minute scene from "Thing from Inner Space" from the third season. His second appearance would do the character justice.
This half of the season would prove to be the best of the year, as the series began to return to monsters and aliens for stories. However, there were still a few goodies left and one truly riotous episode played mostly for laughs. But you have to wait for the second half of the set for me to tell you about it. :-)
Bonus features will include David Hedison interviews covering all four seasons, Irwin Allen's goals and his office (?), the intense work hours and the various voiceovers. Also included will be a still gallery and, most promising, a recut version of the unaired pilot episode.
As fans saw, the initial first season set included the color version of the pilot episode. This print incorrectly included the second season opening titles instead of the correct "titles over churning water and different music" sequence seen in the syndicated runs and back on the old Columbia House VHS release. And aside from the color, the episode itself was no different from the aired black & white version.
However, there exists a 47 minute unaired version. I have no idea at this time (12/8/08) if a color or b&w print will be used, since both seem to exist, but the b&w 16mm print is more easily found. However, no matter, this edit has many differently shot and scored scenes. In the aired version, both Theo Marcuse and Werner Keplerer portray Dr. Gamma. I assume this was because Marcuse was not available for reshoots and they are both bald and in the shadows. They had totally different voices though. The unaired version has only Marcuse as Gamma, but the reshot scenes were necessary. The originals are over the top melodramatic and very corny. The background score also has liberal sprinklings of the music from the 1961 Voyage movie. Nelson and Crane had some dialog redubbed (replacing the phrases "evil forces" and "evil powers" with more realistic words) and, strangely, the entire scenes of Crane sneaking aboard, being caught and all references to the incident, are not here. Finally, the opening and closing theme music is completely different from the famous Seaview Theme.
All in all, this should prove to be well worth the wait for fans. While the usual Fox nonsense is in evidence (double sided DVDs, half seasons, limited extras), this is still a release fans have been clamoring for since October of 2007. It will be nice to have the Seaview back.