Eye For Film >> Movies >> Seaquest DSV: Series 1 (1993) Film Review
I bow to no one in my appreciation for cheesy sci-fi TV series, with their neatly packaged moral lessons and recycled plots. Leaving aside the genuinely good ones, such as Deep Space Nine or the current Battlestar Galactica, I have also happily made it through tosh including seven years of Voyager, three seasons of Enterprise and quite a bit of Andromeda (until they got rid of the sexy dreadlocked guy). Ridiculous gimmicks, from muppets to androids, hologrammatic lounge singers to clones, are fine by me. But Seaquest DSV is where I give up.
There is a talking dolphin. That’s right, a TALKING DOLPHIN. Captain Bridger’s pet, Darwin, whose chirps are translated by a near-indecipherable computer voice into sentences (“Darwin love Bridger,” for example) and who is actually a member of the crew of the futuristic underwater international vessel and goes on missions.
And it gets worse: the computer programme which enables the dolphin to talk was created by a teenage boy genius who is also a member of the crew, for no better reason than his rich parents want to keep him out of trouble. Said boy genius is straight out of the Wesley Crusher mode of smartass teens - the kind who go into the Captain’s quarters unannounced to tell him he’s doing a good job, without getting belted for it. Oh hey, and we’ve not even mentioned the Captain’s hologram counsellor, specially programmed to help him with awkward monologues – er, that is, ethical dilemmas.
All this would be perfectly acceptable in a Saturday morning cartoon, but Seaquest DSV takes itself hideously seriously. Clearly an attempt to ape the success of Star Trek: The Next Generation, it manages only that series’ early worthiness without its saving grace of loveable characters.
Though series creator Rockne S O'Bannon would go on to helm the firmly tongue-in-cheek Farscape, here there’s no snarky silliness or pop culture references to leaven the dull plots and turgid dialogue. People say things, with a straight face, such as: “How long has he got? I don’t know. Death doesn’t punch a clock.” Or: “If we knew all the answers, we wouldn’t be scientists - we’d be gods.” It’s like something from Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace.
If the show had stuck to stories about the mysteries of the ocean, ecological dangers or the battle among the countries above for the lucrative mineral and other rights, it might have worked. But daft gimmicks like ESP (Darwin the dolphin is able to contact the crew through their dreams), aliens, merpeople and so on just make it seem ridiculous.
That said, it does have some things in its favour. Despite the ludicrous concept of the communicating dolphin, the creature is awfully cute. There is a lot of gorgeous underwater photography, perhaps recycled from old Jacques Cousteau films, but creating a sense of awe which the stories cannot. And, if you care, each episode’s credits includes a short précis of real oceanographic facts from which the storylines are extrapolated.
The cast includes some reliable character actors doing a decent job – chiefly Roy Scheider as the reluctantly drafted Captain Bridger (seems he got a bigger boat), the fabulous Stephanie Beacham, Ted Raimi and Don Franklin. Some quality guest stars pop up too, such as Topol (in an interesting tale about the discovery of the Library of Alexandria underwater, spoiled by unnecessary nonsense about a team of parapsychologist mediators) and – in a marvellously scene-chewing performance – William Shatner. Appearing in the episode Hide And Seek, he plays an ethnic-cleansing Balkan dictator (without any attempt at an accent, but with a startling moustache), about whom Commander Ford earnestly says: “He’s just too evil, Captain.”
Overall though, it’s a soggy experience, not worth dredging up from the archives.Reviewed on: 20 Nov 2006