Review for City/Secret Beneath the Sea - The Complete Series
If you were disappointed (rather than relieved) when you finished off the 'Pathfinders in Space' set then this is definitely for you. OK - it's not 'in space' but it's pretty much more of the same; creaky studio based sci-fi on a budget. This was hugely popular at the time and clearly a formula that worked.
Once again Gerald Flood stars, though this time is cast as Mark Bannerman who is a reporter. He's joined by Peter Blake (Stewart Guidotti who also featured in Pathfinders) and this time, rather than another trip into the above and beyond, it's a dip down below the sea where they find themselves in a secret city.
Starting out reporting on a new testing submarine, the sub is hi-jacked (sound familiar? It's the self-same plot as 'Pathfinders to Mars') and taken to the secret city of Aegiria. In common with Bond and Man from Uncle plots, which would come later, the city houses a power-mad professor intent on using nuclear warheads.
Despite the 'beneath the sea' promise, there is very little water-based action and when there is the lens gets a healthy dollop of picture softening grease over the lens which, far from looking watery, just looks out of focus. But that is all part of this retro show's charm of course.
Each episode seems to bring some new danger - and a resolution - as the plot drifts towards the first series climax and the city is liberated from the clutches of the mad professor. Hurrah!
The sequel (Secret Beneath the Sea) sees the team back in Aegira which is now a research laboratory. The lab is seeking out a rare metal, essential for space travel and research, though naturally the material is equally attractive to foreign powers. Cue the baddies!
Having recently watched all four seasons of Irwin Allen's 'Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea' which shared the same challenges of creating drama in a confined (studio) space for the lion's share of airtime I would have to say that Voyage was a far superior programme. But that's what film, a bigger budget and plenty of style can do for you. This series lacks all of that. But what it does have in spades is plenty of intelligent dialogue, a certain amount of scientific thinking (much of which is pure bunkem of course) and plenty of chutzpah and spirit of the strictly British stiff upper lipped variety.
Dr. Who lovers will recognise much in this series that would later make its way into that with Hartnell's early series putting pay to any further derivations of this one.
If you're the sort of person who likes this stuff (and you know who you are) then you are not going to be disappointed. To the contrary, this may well represent a small sample of TV heaven for you. For others, who will make up the vast majority of the British populace, this will just be too creaky and old-school to satisfy.
Extras include a pamphlet by Andrew Pixley who generally does an excellent job of contextualising classic TV of this vintage (I can't comment I'm afraid as I received only check discs for the review) as well as a series of on-disc production stills.
Picture quality is remarkably good given the vintage, though mastered live to tape so occasionally, where a take has had to be re-done (and given some of the blunders that have been let through this must have been serious) there is occasional signal roll and break up, though it was probably transmissioned that way. All part of the charm!