So, yeah. It’s been a minute since the last one of these. Where does the time go?
For those among you who are new to following the questionable expenditure of electrons that is my blog, one of its “irregularly recurring features” is something I like to call, “Tied Up With Tie-ins.” It’s here that I take a fond look back at a favorite series of novels based on movies or television series.
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 published much more recently if it trips my trigger. A few of the subjects previously tackled represent books or book series which inspired a film or television series, so that’s obviously on the table. One example I’m pondering for a future entry is the series of “Walt Longmire mysteries” penned by author Craig Johnson and the basis for the Longmire TV series. I guess we’ll see, eh?
Meanwhile, for this entry, we’re setting a course for the 1990s and heading back to the ocean, “for beneath the surface lies the future.” At least, that’s what they told us in 1993 about the far off year of 2018 and the undersea world of seaQuest DSV.
Premiering on September 12, 1993, on NBC, seaQuest DSV introduced us to Captain Nathan Bridger, a semi-sorta retired U.S. Navy officer who considered himself more of an explorer than a warrior. At one time, his influence saw to it he was able to gain the support for designing an advanced submarine capable of exploring the ocean depths in a way never before possible.
Naturally and with the U.S. government footing the bill, this meant it would also (of course) be a state-of-the-art weapons flatform capable of projecting American military might anywhere in the world. Bridger, disillusioned with military service after his son was killed in action during a naval battle, retired from the Navy and retreated to the Caribbean, continuing his own flavor of scientific research which included facilitating communications with dolphins.
In his absence, the Navy proceeded with his design. The result? The Deep Submergence Vehicle seaQuest, which is constructed and deployed into an oceangoing environment increasingly crowded by undersea colonies, farms, and mining consortiums. It’s like a 21st century, waterborne “wild west” with the world’s governments trying to maintain a fragile peace even as rebel factions fight for territory and resources. When tensions escalate and seaQuest‘s commanding officer, Captain Marilyn Stark, nearly starts a shooting war in defiance of orders and is relieved of command, everyone seems to take a step back to regroup.
One result is the creation of the United Earth Oceans Organization (UEO), basically NATO but with a mandate to keep the peace below the surface. Now charged with acting as a peacekeeping vessel, seaQuest is retasked to UEO and Bridger is coaxed (lured?) out of retirement to take command. In a bid to mitigate the boat’s perception as an instrument of war, the UEO refits seaQuest with a host of science and research facilities in keeping with Bridger’s original design and vision. After a testy introduction to the boat and its crew, Bridger commands the seaQuest during a crisis against its former commander, Stark, who’s taken up with a rebel submarine and is wreaking havoc against various undersea colonies. Bridger eventually accepts the opportunity seaQuest represents, not simply to act as a force for maintaining peace but also furthering humanity’s understanding of the ocean’s depths and the discoveries waiting there.
For the older and/or knowledgeable readers, if this setup sounds like you could replace “Captain Nathan Bridger” with “Admiral Harriman Nelson” and “seaQuest” with “Seaview” in various places, you’re not wrong. There’s very much a bit of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea baked into seaQuest DSV. That’s okay, though, right?
Described at various times as both a sleeker, CGI-infused update of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea and even “Star Trek underwater,” seaQuest DSV spent three seasons pitting its crew against many of the same sorts of problems and situations visited upon the crews of the Seaview and the Starship Enterprise. Venerable everyman actor Roy Scheider’s portrayal of Nathan Bridger brought a level of gravitas to the production it might not otherwise have enjoyed, in much the same way Patrick Stewart’s Jean-Luc Picard provided a solid core to the cast of Star Trek: The Next Generation just a few years earlier.
Never a ratings powerhouse, seaQuest DSV nevertheless managed to hold onto its Sunday evening timeslot for three seasons, enduring network and studio-mandated retooling and significant(!) cast changes each year, along with shifts in tone and storytelling approaches. The first season dealt with storylines touching upon scientific discoveries and environmental questions, with occasional diversions into political shenanigans and even extraterrestrial contact. The second year brought with it an enhanced emphasis on action-adventure stories and increased focus on science fiction concepts, much like Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea did in its later seasons. Rebranded as seaQuest 2032 for its third season, the show endured even more reworking and a change of cast lead from Roy Scheider to Michael Ironside while taking an even more “serious” approach to its storylines. The show was cancelled in early 1996, with the season’s 13th and final episode airing that June.
Like many genre shows of the 1980s and 90s, seaQuest DSV was a prime candidate for tie-in efforts such as novels and comics. Ace Books acquired a publishing license and quickly commissioned three novels which were published while the series was still broadcasting its first season.
The first of these, seaQuest DSV: The Novel, is actually a novelization written by noted author Diane Duane and adapting the series’ 2-hour pilot episode, “To Be or Not to Be.” It was published in October 1993, barely after the show’s premiere.
Following in January 1994 was Fire Below, written by science fiction and horror author Matthew J. Costello. It’s an original tale fusing what could be a 1st-season storyline of terrorists taking over an undersea resort with another plot you might find in Season 2 and featuring a newly-discovered species of “sea worm” that possesses mind-control powers.
March 1994 brought with it the final stretch of the show’s first-season episodes as well as The Ancient, the third and final seaQuest novel, written by David Bischoff. This one carries more than a bit of Star Trek sensibility as it finds Bridger and his crew tasked with investigating reports of a sea creature wreaking havoc in the South Pacific. This leads them to encounter an alien spacecraft that is basically a living being (think like Moya, the ship from Farscape), which apparently came to Earth millions of years ago and taught dolphins how to communicate.
Elsewhere, Nemesis Comics published exactly one issue of a seaQuest DSV comic in March 1994. It featured an original story and while there were plans to continue the series, no other issues were published. I have to confess I’ve never seen this comic so I can’t comment on the story.
seaQuest DSV still has its fans, to be sure, and I count myself among them. Because of that, I was jazzed to hear the recent news of the show getting a long-awaited complete series Blu-ray release (due out in just a couple of weeks as I write this). There was a time when I figured the show wasn’t the sort of thing to be graced with any kind of follow-up such as a continuation series or movie or even a full-blown reboot, especially considering it’s been off the air for nearly 30 years and key cast members – notably Roy Scheider, Jonathan Brandis, and Royce D. Applegate – are no longer with us. That said, Michael Ironside is still tearing it up and when it comes to pop culture entertainment and nostalgia, I’ve learned to never say never in this business. Who knows what the future might bring?
Maybe it’s still there, hiding beneath the surface.
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
Man from Atlantis