I recently rewatched the pilot for Seaquest DSV(NBC,1993). I never watched it during the initial run (1993-1996) and saw only when it was shown on Sci-Fi channel some years ago. The premise is that the oceans are the new frontiers, with colonies now established. Rivalries exist, there are environmental terrorists and all kinds of rogues that the United Earth Oceans Organization (UEO) must deal with. To contend with all of this you need a powerful submersible and that is where Seaquest DSV (Deep Submergence Vehicle) comes in. Seaquest is unlike any other submersible before with a radically different design that makes it look aquatic. Not only does it have the latest technology but has dual military and scientific missions. It is so large that an internal subway system is required to traverse it.
It is somewhat similar in concept to Voyage To The Bottom Of The Sea (ABC, 1964-1968). The Seaview, with is distinctive windows in front, was designed for marine research and nominally under civilian control. Like Seaquest, nearly all the officers and crew come from the regular navy. Voyage was set in the 1970’s with the Cold War still raging. Many stories (especially in season 1) dealt with spies, saboteurs and hostile governments along with monsters and aliens. Seaquest is set in 2018 and the world has gone to heck forcing many to head to the oceans for natural resources. The show was meant to showcase underwater action as well but also focus on real science. Which is why Robert Ballard served as a consultant and usually closed out the shows with a commentary.
The pilot dealt with a couple of things. First, getting Nathan Bridger (Seaquest designer and former naval officer) back and in command. Second, dealing with a rogue submarine owned by a German speaking millionaire who sees Seaquest as a threat. The rogue is commanded by the former Seaquest captain out for revenge. Third, dealing with the integration of the science and military aspects of the vessel. Bridger ends up taking command when things take a turn for the worse when the primary defense systems fail to operate against the rogue (a computer virus planted by the former captain). He ends up winning the battle by deception. He uses the resident dolphin Darwin to tag the rogue sub with a transponder and then configures the one torpedo they can fire to home in on the signal.
I liked the pilot and feel of the ship. It was different and yet had things we all know that ought to be there. I did not care much for the Jonathan Brandis character (Lucas Wolenczak). I suppose they wanted to make Bridger a father figure and also wanted to have super-smart kid that would irritate and solve problems. Using such characters is always risky. They can often irritate the audience and turn them off. Brandis was there to attract the 18-25 age bracket. Stephanie Beacham as Dr. Westphalen was certainly a good idea. Sadly she would not stay with the show beyond season 1 (the one they brought in for season 2 was disliked by fans from what I read). Seaquest was an attempt to take Star Trek and make it work underwater. And it might have worked had the decided early on to stick to a combination of science, fantasy and good entertainment. NBC wanted it one way, the producers the other and NBC won.
So instead of stories about realistic underwater adventures it changed to space aliens and monsters with the usual bad suspects of corrupt leaders and business types to round it out. Roy Scheider was vocal in his dislike. Guy Williams, who played John Robinson on Lost in Space, would empathize as he faced the same type of outlandish scripts as well(remember the famous carrot monster!). The revamped series, Seaquest 2032, was darker and perhaps might have had a chance but by that time most had given up watching the show.
Seaquest now is remembered in marathons and special showings. For a brief moment it showed something that could have been really good. And it is those moments of this series we can enjoy and consign the rest to Davy Jones Locker.
Seaquest is out on DVD (all three seasons) through Netflix or you can purchase it from Amazon here. It is also now being streamed on Netflix as well.