Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, created and produced by Irwin Allen and based on his 1961 movie of the same title, told of the adventures of the Seaview, an advanced nuclear-powered research submarine, designed and built by retired admiral Harriman Nelson (Richard Basehart), the founder and head of the Nelson Institute of Marine Research, located in Santa Barbara, CA. Set in the then somewhat distant future of the '70s, the 1964 series depicted the Seaview and her crew -- who were organized along U.S. Navy lines although it was officially a civilian vessel, unless commissioned into the regular navy in an emergency (as in the episode "Mutiny") -- as scientists, investigators, and explorers, as much as military men.
The Seaview is initially under the command of Captain John Phillips (William Hudson), who is killed in an attempt on the life of Admiral Nelson in the opening minutes of the first episode, "Eleven Days to Zero." Her new captain, detached from the navy to take command of the Seaview for the mission at hand, is Commander Lee Crane (David Hedison), who agrees to make the assignment to the Seaview permanent by the episode's end. The admiral and the captain are depicted as developing a close relationship, almost like a father and son, across the run of the series. During the first season, many of the Seaview's missions involved adventures on land, and stories of espionage and infiltration, in keeping with the spy movie craze of the period, although the overall mix of stories also encompassed topical thrillers, drama, science fiction, mystery, exploration, military adventure, and even human interest ("Long Live the King"). The ship's complement of officers and crew included Lt. Commander Chip Morton (Bob Dowdell), Crane's dutiful executive officer, CPO Curley Jones (Henry Kulky), the rough-hewn, gravel-voiced top-enlisted man, and a crew of almost 100 others, most of them recruited by the admiral out of the regular navy for this plum assignment and all fiercely loyal to Nelson. The ship's array of weaponry in the first season included two-man mini-subs, torpedoes, and missiles, and in "Doomsday" it is established that the Seaview -- though a non-government vessel -- is part of the United States' nuclear defense arsenal, and is equipped with thermonuclear missiles to be launched in the event of an attack, as part of the "failsafe" system; introduced in that episode, those missiles would play a key role in subsequent shows in the ensuing years. The program's cast of characters was surprisingly consistent across four seasons, all but one of the regulars -- Chief Jones, as played by Henry Kulky, who died of a heart attack midway through the first season -- reappearing throughout the run of the show. Nelson's rank was advanced without explanation midway through the first season as well, from vice admiral (three stars) to full admiral (four stars). Among the developments in the first season, Nelson designed built a sister ship to the Seaview, the deep-diving submarine Polidor, which is destroyed by sabotage in the episode "The Fear-Makers"; another rival to the Seaview, the Neptune, is destroyed in her shakedown cruise by an encounter with a gigantic, irradiated man-o-war, in "Mutiny." Other menaces faced by the Seaview in that first season included a giant octopus ("Village of Guilt"), a super-powerful magnetic ray ("The Magnus Beam"), a robot returned from space ("The Indestructible Man"), and a devious survivor (Robert Duvall) of a race of super-intelligent humanoids from an ancient evolutionary chain in Earth's primordial history. Despite these seemingly wild and outlandish stories, the series' first season is usually regarded as its most realistic and easy to take, principally because it was aimed at adult as well as juvenile viewers. As the later seasons progressed, the focus shifted much more toward holding and entertaining younger audience members. The first season was also notable for the presence of a fairly large number of women in the guest casts of each show, including soon-to-be Irwin Allen leading lady June Lockhart (who subsequently co-starred in Lost in Space) in one episode. As a submarine in the '60s, women would be relatively scarce in real-life, and this was the case in subsequent seasons (especially after the second) as the plots moved away from spy stories and dramas, and into more fanciful realms. ~ Bruce Eder, Rovi
- Richard Basehart, David Hedison, (more)