Review of SeaQuest DSV: Season 1 Box Set
It all comes down to Star Trek! Or in other words, give a reviewer (and occasional Star Trek fan) with too much time on his hands an opportunity, and he can link anything to Roddenberry`s opus. With SeaQuest DSV it`s an easy connection to make though. The early eighties were a veritable drought of televised sci-fi. It took the resurrection of Star Trek with The Next Generation in 1987 for studios to realise that there was still profit to be made in genre television. Paramount had the golden goose laying overtime, with spin-off DS9 first to follow in 1992. Warners quickly joined the fun with Babylon 5. All these shows had some things in common, an ensemble cast boldly splitting infinitives in a forbidding frontier. It seems a recipe for success, and it`s no surprise that Universal wanted in on the action. However, for their foray into the future, they decided to stay closer to home. This time the final frontier would be our own uncharted oceans, the setting the near future, and our heroes would venture forth in a highly advanced submarine. If this all seems familiar, you may have just had a flashback to Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea, the 1964 Irwin Allen series based on the film of the same name. The Deep Submergence Vehicle SeaQuest was a completely different animal to the Seaview however. Akin to Trek, the crew was another diverse ensemble cast including a teenaged geek, there was no flying sub, and correct me if I`m wrong, but there wasn`t a talking dolphin aboard the Seaview. What`s more, this new series would have Steven Spielberg as executive producer, and more tellingly, for the first season at least, there was a greater emphasis on the science bit of science fiction. The world of 2018 was an intriguing extrapolation of our own, a future where increasing resource consumption had heralded a colonisation of the oceans, and a new pioneer spirit existed 40 fathoms below the waves.
My recollection of SeaQuest DSV is not positive one, and it`s not just because of the geek and the talking dolphin. This was one series that fell victim to studio interference, and it quickly descended into farce, with absurd alien and time travel storylines shattering the earlier thoughtfulness of the series. My memories are tainted by when SeaQuest DSV became the DeLuise show, with the entire clan appearing in some guise or other. I`m hoping that the Season 1 boxset will rekindle the affection I had for the show, back when it was essential viewing for this sci-fi starved telly addict.
It is the near future and mankind`s desperate scramble for resources has heralded the colonisation of the oceans. This leads to a tense standoff, as nations, corporations and groups struggle for control of the precious sub-sea territories. Keeping the peace is the United Earth Oceans organisation. The UEO have in their possession the most advanced submarine ever created, the SeaQuest, and its Captain Stark is tasked with keeping the peace. That`s until the day that she snaps and almost starts a nuclear war. Over a year later, the SeaQuest has undergone an extensive refit, it`s been redesigned to accommodate a civilian science contingent and embark on a mission of peaceful exploration. It`s just that it needs a Captain that all sides will respect and trust. That man is Nathan Bridger. The only problem is that since the loss of his family, he has severed all ties with the military, and has refused to ever work for them again.
Season 1 contains the first 23 episodes of SeaQuest DSV over 6 discs.
1. To Be Or Not To Be (feature length pilot episode)
Drafted aboard the SeaQuest, Nathan Bridger wants nothing more to remain a reluctant passenger until the first opportunity to disembark. However his wishes are thwarted when the former Captain Stark appears with a rebel submarine, determined to exact her vengeance on her former paymasters. When it transpires that Stark has a secret weapon that renders SeaQuest helpless, Bridger realises that he must break his promise to his dead wife, and return to command if he is to save the life of everyone aboard.
2. The Devil`s Window
The SeaQuest is embarks on its peaceful mission, investigating undersea volcanoes in the mid-Atlantic. However Bridger`s dedication to science is put to the test when dolphin crewmember Darwin falls victim to a mysterious affliction. Meanwhile an insistent scientist is stirring things up over his pet project.
3. Treasure Of The Mind
Conducting archaeological research in the Mediterranean off Egypt, the SeaQuest miraculously uncovers the mythical Library of Alexandria. This prompts a free for all, as nations clash over what to do with the spoils. It`s down to Nathan Bridger to mediate the solution, and to help him UEO sends a group of espers to help judge each delegate`s intentions. Only the espers have their own agenda.
The SeaQuest attends an emergency at a desolate prison in the Arctic, a prison built to hold but one man. Rubin Zellar is guilty of genocide, unleashing toxins that slaughtered thousands, and as luck would have it, he`s soon loose wreaking havoc on the submarine. But one of his victims was Robert Westphalen, brother of Dr Kristin Westphalen, SeaQuest`s resident physician.
5. Treasures Of The Tonga Trench
Captain Clayton of the UEO is aboard conducting efficiency evaluations of the boat and her crew. Supply Officer Ben Krieg is brushing up on his submersible skills when a mysterious sea monster drags him off course and dumps in him in a veritable treasure trove. Soon the crew of the SeaQuest have a new get rich quick scheme to occupy their minds. But the sea monster hasn`t finished with them just yet.
6. Brothers And Sisters
The SeaQuest is visiting a depot for decommissioned weaponry to ascertain what happened to its missing crew, and then seal the facility permanently. It`s a shock when they are fired upon by the apparently abandoned facility. It turns out that the children of the crew have been living there alone for the last three years. Regardless of SeaQuest`s mission, the facility will be destroyed soon anyway by the undersea conditions, but the children don`t want to leave.
7. Give Me Liberte
Visiting an Aquasphere to replace its science contingent, they crew are shocked to find that the scientists are all dead. Second in command Jonathan Ford and the replacement team are placed in quarantine back on SeaQuest, and it`s a race against time before they succumb to the malady that claimed the Aquasphere`s crew. The answer lies in a wrecked French space station.
8. Knight Of Shadows
SeaQuest`s AI suddenly pops up in Bridger`s cabin and demand that the submarine changed course, then a mysterious woman appears in the hologram asking for help, before throwing Bridger halfway across his cabin. The course leads to the shipwreck of the H.M.S King George, lost in mysterious circumstances in 1913. But there are spooky signs of habitation aboard the submerged wreck.
9. Bad Water
A French sightseeing sub is in trouble in the Caribbean, and SeaQuest is the only vessel in the area that can attempt a rescue. Then one of its submersibles carrying Commander Ford, Lt. Krieg, Dr Westphalen and the resident teenage computer genius Lucas Wolenczak is damaged in the freak subsurface conditions. The survivors await rescue in a life raft, but as a hurricane builds, time is running out. And they are in the Bermuda Triangle.
10. The Regulator
SeaQuest`s air conditioning is breaking down, and all it would take to repair it is a cheap microchip, a microchip that just isn`t available. UEO`s bureaucracy insists that the crew make the best of the uncomfortable situation, but a couple of days of sharing his cabin with Lucas convinces Bridger to take desperate action. He orders Krieg to get the part at any cost. It means contacting The Regulator, an alleged thief and pirate. When The Regulator comes aboard, Lucas finds a kindred spirit.
The SeaQuest receives a distress call from an undersea mining colony off Australia`s Barrier Reef, but no one at the colony admits sending it. There`s a mean sheriff in town and the residents are keeping quiet. Chief Engineer Catherine Hitchcock goes in undercover as a lounge singer to find out what`s going on, but she catches the eye of the unscrupulous sheriff.
12. Photon Bullet
The crew receive a call from an important communications node in the Pacific, asking for supplies, and a visit from Lucas. Lucas is feeling out of place on SeaQuest and jumps at the chance. He finds a colony of young teenage hackers, led by the legendary Martin Clemens keeping the flow of data regulated. But Clemens has big plans. He wants to use Lucas` talent to take control of the data, manipulate it to remove the evil of government and big business from the world, giving the needy a better life. It`s a tempting offer for Lucas, a chance to save the world.
13. Better Than Martians
The first manned mission to Mars is about to return with an astounding discovery, but problems occur during re-entry, and the capsule spins out of control and crashes in the Andaman sea. It`s a hotly contested region, with various confederations vying for control. Now SeaQuest must head into a tense military situation where the UEO is a pariah, and rescue the survivors before their air runs out.
14. Nothing But The Truth
The SeaQuest is about to test a revolutionary new technology, but it means evacuating the sub. With only a skeleton crew aboard, a distress call is received from a research sub, but the rendezvous turns nasty, when a group of armed insurgents take over the vessel. Now Ford, Krieg, Hitchcock, Lucas and Security Chief Crocker have to retake the sub and stop their nefarious plan, before the UEO, who can`t allow SeaQuest to fall into hostile hands, destroys her.
15. Greed For A Pirate`s Dream
Early on in SeaQuest`s mission, a research buoy was launched into a volcanic vent to track the flow of subsurface magma. That buoy has now resurfaced on a desert island, and the crew have to recover the probe. Time is of the essence as the ejection of the probe indicates an imminent volcanic eruption. Only this island has some treasure hunters on it, who are determined not to leave.
16. Whale Song
Whaling is illegal in the future, but it doesn`t stop unscrupulous types from hunting the giants of the deep. One man has dedicated his life to stopping the hunts, and when it becomes apparent that the world is indifferent, he begins resorting to violence. Nathan Bridger is ordered to hunt down this rogue sub and destroy it, sparking a crisis of conscience, as he is reluctant to do anything that condones whaling.
17. The Stinger
UEO is offering a corporate prize to whoever can design the best one-person submersible. Lucas and Hitchcock have a revolutionary design of their own, but when they are testing the sub, an unscrupulous competitor seizes his chance to pull off some industrial espionage.
18. Hide And Seek
Darwin is entering people`s dreams. Bridger, Lucas, communications officer Timothy O`Neill and ship`s sensory officer Miguel Ortiz are all sharing visions about the ship`s resident dolphin. Also dreaming about Darwin is the world`s most wanted man, war criminal Milos Teslov. Teslov captures Dr Westphalen and uses her to get aboard the SeaQuest, but his intentions aren`t violent. He wants to use Darwin to communicate with his son Caesar, who has been traumatised into silence since Teslov`s escape from the UEO.
19. The Last Lap At Luxury
The SeaQuest is ferrying delegates to a UEO conference at the new Mondial resort. When the Secretary General learns that ship`s genius Lucas is responsible for the communication`s breakthrough that allows Darwin to speak, she appropriates him to speak to the world`s leaders. Trouble erupts when the delegates and Lucas vanish from the conference room.
Testing a new diving suit at 34000ft below the surface, Commander Ford sees… a mermaid! It`s no surprise that he gets prescribed shore leave. But when Ford sees the same woman at a beach resort, he follows her, only to be kidnapped by her brothers. He wakes in an undersea lab, guest of mysterious scientist Abalon, who has been engineering his progeny to live underwater. Ford is next on the augmentation table.
21. Such Great Patience
Strange things happen aboard SeaQuest following an undersea quake. Crewmembers are suffering from headaches, and Darwin is hearing things. An aftershock reveals a buried alien ship, a million years old. The crew leap at the chance to explore, but the ship isn`t exactly uninhabited.
22. The Good Death
Bridger is ordered to chase down a smuggler, but is horrified to learn that he has fired on a sub full of refugees, including Dr Westphalen`s daughter Cynthia. Cynthia has been helping rescue children from the death squads of the Amazonian Pact. The children are pawns in internal politics, and when the Amazonian leader learns of their existence, he`s unwilling to let the children escape.
23. Higher Power
The world is on the verge of a technological renaissance. A massive undersea hydroelectric plant will generate enough energy to supply the entire planet, for free. Disaster strikes during the start up, and Bridger must take the SeaQuest into the maelstrom to save the world.
A 4:3 regular image quite naturally, although with SeaQuest coming from US TV`s soft period, don`t expect much in the way of clarity. The image is soft, low in resolution and typical of the era. Brighter scenes fare better, although most of the underwater scenes are less distinct. Hot on the heels of Jurassic Park, CGI was just about taking hold of the television industry, and just like Babylon 5 before it, the effects shots for SeaQuest were all accomplished in the innards of a Commodore 64. Of course I`m being ridiculous, but the work accomplished with the Videotoaster™ has dated horribly in the last 13 years, digital banding and macroblocking is apparent, and the detail is lacking. Truth be told, the CGI does improve as the series progresses, especially in the latter half of the season, but the average home computer game today can put the CGI work in SeaQuest to shame. In fact, this show is in more of a need of a visual spruce up than the recent remastering of Star Trek.
DD 2.0 Stereo English, with various Scandinavian subtitles. It`s all clear and audible, not counting a couple of minor sound dropouts in a couple of episodes, and the sound effects are done justice by the track. I`d forgotten how good the music to SeaQuest was, although elements from it do sound familiar. It has the right balance of wonder and military intrepidity to capture the show`s feel. Discs 1 and 4 have some awkward layer changes.
The absence of English subtitles is criminal, and fans that have difficulty hearing will have to import the Region 1 version from the US.
The extras boil down to deleted scenes.
Disc 1 has a Playback UK trailer as well, but more substantial are deleted scenes for all three episodes running to 13 minutes. The majority of the scenes cut come from the pilot To Be Or Not To Be however. Disc 4 has deleted scenes for Nothing But The Truth and Greed For A Pirate`s Dream, which total some 5 minutes. Disc 5 has around 3 minutes of scenes cut from Hide And Seek and The Last Lap At Luxury, and finally Disc 6 has 8 minutes cut from Abalon and Such Great Patience. Most of the deleted scenes are in the form of incomplete raw footage.
The series trademark is still there, the end credits of each episode are accompanied by a brief presentation by Bob Ballard about the wonders of the oceans.
Each disc ends with an anti piracy warning.
The first season of SeaQuest DSV is a lot better than I remember. Much of my negative opinion comes from the taint of the later seasons, when reason and sensibility took a flying leap. A little comes from ITV`s dubious scheduling (yes, there was a time when this channel showed something other than reality television and all night quiz mayhem). So seeing these episodes at my leisure and in order allowed me to appreciate what the show attempted. SeaQuest is the ideal eighties sci-fi, episodic adventures in a future world. Unfortunately this is one of the show`s flaws, as it was made in the nineties when audiences were expecting story arcs and character development. It isn`t until the latter half of the season that SeaQuest begins to deliver in this respect.
For much of the first ten or twelve episodes, SeaQuest was desperately in search of an identity, and came off as a fairly simple Star Trek TNG clone, even going as far as adapting some basic Trek staples to the undersea setting. During this period in the show, the tone remained uneven and varied from episode to episode. At time light and frothy, even childish, at times serious, it was hard to know what to expect from week to week. The pilot episode is fairly workmanlike, and does the job of introducing the premise and the future world, but is let down by a dismal performance from the villainous Captain Stark, a pantomime villain if ever there was one. Of the following episodes, Treasure Of The Mind is the most impressive, which effectively relates its message with a compelling story. There are also psychotics loose on the submarine, odd illnesses to cure, children to rescue, as well as an undersea Western town that needs some law. It`s all very derivative, and uninspiring. The nadir comes with Knight Of Shadows, an utterly dismal ghost story that would have inspired violent jabbing were my finger poised over the series cancellation button.
There are early signs of rejuvenation with Bad Water, a tense story that sees Bridger torn between rescuing his own crewmembers and a submersible full of school children. Again it is an unoriginal story, but it`s directed well with an edgy pace to it that makes it easy to enjoy. But the show transforms over the course of three good episodes, Photon Bullet, Better Than Martians and Nothing But The Truth. It`s during this period that the show`s back-story and world building begin to pay off, with references to off screen events, some character growth and consequences resulting from the stories. This is where SeaQuest finally comes good, as it has a rich future world to build on, and finally getting hints about how this world came about makes watching the show a more satisfying experience. At the time the continuity really kicks in, it also becomes apparent that these episodes aren`t in production order, with certain character developments revealed before they actually occur on screen. Last Lap At Luxury really needs to be watched prior to The Stinger. Today, when television series need to be firing on all cylinders from the first episode, it almost seems untenable that a show actually gets some time to settle down. SeaQuest DSV took half a season to find itself, which is actually pretty brief. Star Trek TNG didn`t really settle down for three years.
What helps is that the cast is likeable from the start. Roy Scheider impresses as the veteran Captain Nathan Bridger, and he sparks off well against his second in command John Ford, played by Don Franklin. There is a nice friction between science and the military that is part of the core of the series, but is never allowed to overwhelm the story. There is also some nice chemistry between Scheider and Stephanie Beacham as Dr Westphalen. My earlier complaints are wholly unfounded though. The late Jonathan Brandis was perfectly cast as Lucas Wolenczak. His performance was perfectly judged, and some intelligent writing created a teenaged genius that actually was a teenager, complete with the alienation, angst and rebellion that state implies. Consequently the surrogate father son relationship that developed between Lucas and Bridger worked very well. He`s certainly no Wesley Crusher.
Darwin the talking dolphin works well also, and turns out to be far from the gimmick the idea implies. For one thing the stories that feature the dolphin are intelligently written, the second thing is that there is some degree of rationality and realism applied to the dolphin`s translator. It`s made explicitly clear that the device is experimental, and imperfect. It`s also stated that it doesn`t translate a language so much as it puts concepts and ideas into words. When the crew converse with Darwin, it is little more advanced than the sign language that Bridger uses to talk to Darwin in the pilot. In this way, Darwin comes across as stranger and more alien than the countless forehead aliens that Trek introduced. The only complaint I have is the voice. Lucas creates a speech synthesizer for the dolphin that could conceivably have used any voice. Darwin could have sounded like Barry White, Darth Vader or the Cadbury`s Caramel Bunny, instead he sounds high pitched and squeaky.
That relative realism is also another positive thing about the show, with a refreshing absence of technobabble from the stories. Much of the future world is recognisable, and the stories extrapolate only slightly on the present day. The only really fantastic thing is the SeaQuest herself, with the future scientists still using devices and terminology that is familiar to us today. No Warp Particles or reversing the polarity here.
Another way to judge a sci-fi series is with the calibre of guest stars it attracts, and SeaQuest fares well in that respect. During this season, you can see Topol, Yaphet Kotto, Udo Kier, David McCallum, Kent McCord, David Marciano (Due South), Seth Green (Buffy) and Charlton Heston. Trek Alumni include Tim Russ who would later star in Voyager, as well as the Shat himself, William Shatner.
Put the travesties that are the final seasons of SeaQuest out of your mind, as this first season is solid, entertaining sci-fi that delivers interesting stories. The boxset is pretty cursorily thrown together; the image and sound quality isn`t going to convince you to invest in that HD television just yet. However the deleted scenes that came with the region 1 release are here as well. SeaQuest DSV, better than you remember.