Hey! Been a while since I traveled this road, huh?
For those of you who’ve joined our program already in progress, one of the “irregularly recurring features” I like to play around with here in the confines of this blog-type thing is something I like to call, “Tied Up With Tie-ins.” Basically, it’s when I decide to take a fond look back at a favorite series of movie or TV tie-in books. Given my penchant for nostalgia and collecting old books, I figure this is a nice intersection for those two interests, which often means I’m revisiting something older, such as the many different tie-ins which were all over the place during my childhood and early adulthood. That said, I’m certainly not above babbling about something newer if it tickles my fancy.
This time around, we’re heading back to the 1970s and taking a (not too) deep dive to pay a visit to Patrick Duffy, who before he was Bobby Ewing and the dad from Step By Step and Bobby Ewing again, was Mark Harris, the Man from Atlantis.
Created by screenwriter Mayo Simon with an assist by Herbert F. Solow (yes, the Herb Solow from the original Star Trek series) and Solow’s production company, Man from Atlantis began as many a television series did in the early-mid 1970s: as a TV “movie of the week” for one of the three major networks. In this case it was NBC (Herb had done that dance before, amirite?).
The first film, simply titled Man from Atlantis, introduces us to an unusual man found lying on a beach in the aftermath of a serious storm. Discovered by Dr. Elizabeth Merrill (Belinda Montgomery) and other scientists working for a government oceanographic agency, they learn he has gills, webbed hands, and can’t seem to remember his name or where he’s from. They also quickly learn he can only spend a limited amount of time out of the water without suffocating. As he has no apparent identity of his own, he’s given the name “Mark Harris.”
It’s soon learned that he lives and breathes like a fish and can swim unassisted to great depths, and there’s some speculation he could be a survivor or descendant from the fabled lost city of Atlantis. Naturally he’s recruited to work for a government agency to help with oceanographic exploration, which is a good thing as they end up running into all manner of villains and aliens and other threats that seem to use the oceans as the launching pad for their various diabolical schemes.
The original TV film was broadcast on March 4, 1977, the first of four such movies to air during the spring and early summer of that year. Ratings for the four movies were good enough for NBC to greenlight a weekly television series, which premiered in September 1977. Belinda Montgomery and Alan Fudge, who appeared in the previous films, were ported along with Patrick Duffy over to the series. Victor Buono, who’d made his bones chewing scenery and playing bad guys on television throughout the 1960s and 1970s including memorable turns on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Perry Mason, and (of course) as Professor William McElroy and his “King Tut” persona on the Adam West Batman series, plays Dr. Schubert, a crazed scientist bent on destroying the world through various means, all of which are of course thwarted by Mark and his oceanographer pals. Buono appears in the original TV film as well as five of the weekly series’ 13 episodes. Global annihilation is good work if you can find it, amirite?
Of course I watched the show when I could catch episodes back in those pre-VCR/pre-DVR days. Living in Florida with a pool in my backyard, I naturally tried my hand at swimming “Mark Harris-style.” For the record, Patrick Duffy looked way better in his swimsuit and much cooler swimming than I ever did (or would).
As tended to happen with a number of TV-based science fiction series of the era, high production costs and dwindling ratings saw to it Man from Atlantis was cancelled after its inaugural 13-episode season. Though the first nine episodes aired (more or less) weekly between September 22 and December 13, 1977, the final four episodes were held until the early spring of 1978, with the final installment broadcast on June 6th before the show left the airwaves with no wake left behind.
As also tended to happen during this same period, the series provided fodder for tie-in publications such as novels and comics. In 1977, Dell Publishing acquired a license to produce novels based on the concept. Author Richard Woodley was tapped to adapt the script from the first TV film for prose, and Man from Atlantis was published in October of 1977 after the TV series began airing.
Woodley would also pen adaptations of the scripts for the three other TV films. The second novel, Death Scouts, followed in November of 1977. Killer Scouts, adapting the third movie, was released in June 1978 just as the TV series aired its final episode. Published alongside it was Ark of Doom, which adapted (and retitled) the fourth film, The Disappearances. The novelizations are typical of such works from this era of tie-ins, being lean and doubtless written very quickly. Even so, Richard Woodley, a veteran writer in his own right, still found ways here and there to add bits of characterization and other details to help flesh out the stories while translating them from their respective teleplays.
During the same period, Marvel Comics also acquired a license to produce all-new Man from Atlantis tales. This begat a monthly title which lasted for seven issues during 1978…the sort of thing that also tended to happen with varying degrees of limited success when it came to comics based on TV and film science fiction properties of the day. Marvel had previously experimented with comics based on (for example) 2001: A Space Odyssey, Logan’s Run, and Planet of the Apes (the latter a repackaging of adaptations created for their more successful run of black-and-white Planet of the Apes comics magazine). They’d later take swings with Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica, and Star Wars, with the latter in this case enjoying far more sustained success than the other titles.
As for Man from Atlantis, as with those other properties the stories tended to have some resemblance to characters and situations from the parent property, aimed at the perceived comics audience of the time. I remember seeing the odd issue of this one back when I was a kid and it’s possible I even bought a copy or two the way I did those for Logan’s Run, 2001, and Apes, but whatever copies I had are long gone. At the same time, the UK-based children’s magazine Look-In featured a Man from Atlantis comic strip between February and June of 1978. It was one of many such shows to receive this treatment, and like those other strips (The Six Million Dollar Man, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, Space: 1999, and a whole bunch of others) I’ve seen the odd strip here and there thanks to the internet, but that’s about it. I don’t know if there will ever be reprints of these strips, but a boy can dream.
Now, like a lot of science fiction properties of the era that aren’t named Star Trek, Star Wars, or Planet of the Apes (or even Battlestar Galactica, which I promise you will be its own installment of this series at some point), that was mostly the end of it as far as Man from Atlantis was concerned. While the series appeared sporadically in places like the old Sci-Fi Channel and even a VHS home video release of the original pilot film way back when, awareness of the show tended to exist within that realm of fans who remember other single-season wonders of the 1970s like Gemini Man, Fantastic Journey, or Salvage One ( :: raises hand :: ). I’m sure someone somewhere at some point as discussed reviving or rebooting the property either for television or as a feature film, but if it’s a serious conversation it’s one I haven’t heard…not that anyone’s asking or including me, of course.
(Note: For those who may be curious, the TV films and series are available as separate DVD collections from the Warner Archive. The films and the series are also available for streaming via Amazon Prime Video for $1.99 apiece.)
Meanwhile, the Man from Atlantis himself had his own ideas.
Actor Patrick Duffy had apparently carried for many years the notion of writing a novel about Mark Harris, wanting to explore the character’s origins and backstory. Published in June of 2016, Man from Atlantis picks up many years after the events of the TV series. I confess I haven’t read it yet, though I couldn’t resist picking up a copy. It’s written as the first of a trilogy, though so far as I can tell there’s been no news or updates about the remaining two books. Reviews of this volume are a pretty scattershot, and it’s likely the sort of thing that will only appeal to diehard fans of the series, curious passersby, and people like me who can’t resist an interesting-looking tie-in to something from their childhood. If you’re of similar bent, you can find your very own copy on Amazon by clicking this link right here.
At the same time, the writer part of my brain is fascinated by how this project came to be in the first place. I certainly don’t discount Mr. Duffy’s desire to revisit the character and provide readers and fans insights that were never offered by the TV series. I’m disappointed that the book contains no author’s foreword or afterword, which I would’ve loved to read. His bio at the back of the book states: “Not needing to confine his imagination to the special effects limitations of the 1970s, he has fleshed out an incredible life history of not just Mark Harris but of his entire Atlantean race.”
Just gonna leave us hangin’ like that? COME ON. I’m honestly intrigued to see what else Mr. Duffy might have up his sleeve so far as the Man from Atlantis is concerned.
I just won’t be trying that Mark Harris swimming thing anymore.
Previous entries in this series:
The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman
Planet of the Apes
The “No-Frills” Books
Alan Dean Foster!
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea