Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea

Season 2 Episode 20

The Shape Of Doom

Aired Monday 7:30 PM Feb 06, 1966 on ABC

Episode Fan Reviews (1)

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  • Any episode with a whale is bound to be adventurous. However, this particular episode doesn't date very well.

    Nowadays, of course, the sympathy would be with the whale. And modern audiences would be horrified at the oh-so-casual use of NUCLEAR EXPLOSIONS as a kind of underwater bulldozer. And what the heck do they need a canal at the bottom of the ocean for, anyway?

    Still pretty exciting, though. The teaser is nearly identical to the one for "The Ghost of Moby Dick" in the first season, except for the inserts with the new actors. It's set at night, so that the black-and-white footage of the whale blends in well. We don't know exactly what is going on here, but at first sight it looks as though Holden has a vendetta going against the whale, as Bryce did in "Ghost". As he fires his harpoon into the whale, he screams at it in triumph. Clearly, this man is already over the edge. Understandably upset at the painful jab in its side, the whale turns and retaliates, splintering the craft. The hapless crewmen, of course, drown, leaving Holden the only survivor.

    Seaview is aware of the presence of the ship in a restricted area--it has been vainly attempting to communicate by radio. Suddenly their equipment no longer registers the ship. (Oddly, it doesn't register the presence of a large whale, either.) Some time later, probably the next morning, they locate Holden in the water and bring him aboard.

    It's amazing that Crane doesn't confine the man to Sickbay, at the very least--he's already looking rather wild-eyed. (Hagen's whole performance in this episode is splendid.) He's also incredibly arrogant, coming on board and acting as though he's taken over. It takes a little prodding to get him out of the Control Room.

    Holden tells Nelson and Crane--and anyone else in the vicinity--about "his" whale and his life-long project that has culminated with this experiment. He had previously injected the whale with some sort of growth serum (although why one would want to make a whale even bigger than it is already is anyone's guess) and now, after chasing it through three seas, has finally caught up with it. He needs to take tissue samples, as well as retrieve certain other materials he attached to the whale previously. As with Dr. Ames in the previous episode, he had neglected to keep copies of his notes safely stored elsewhere, and they all went down with his ship.

    Unfortunately, the Seaview is already involved in a big project. A canal is to be dug in the ocean (again, why?) and they are going to save lots of time and money (but not sea life) by using nuclear blasts. The project has been publicized for months, and all ships had been warned out of the area by radio, on all frequencies. Holden has been too busy (read: obsessed) with his work to notice such matters. What I find impossible to believe is that his crew apparently didn't listen in on the radio, either. You'd think that they would have to have the radio on to keep track of weather patterns and the like. It actually would have been in keeping with Holden's obsession and arrogance if he HAD known about it--and just chose to ignore it.

    Nelson's behavior is peculiar in this episode. Even if he doesn't like them personally, he usually has a soft spot for scientific geniuses. Here, he doesn't even ask for details about Holden's "world-changing" discovery, and refuses to allow Holden even a little time to try and collect the samples he needs. Can't keep the President waiting, after all. Nelson doesn't even say he's sorry. His attitude seems to be "Too bad, too sad."

    Having brushed Holden aside like an annoying fly, Nelson proceeds with the launching of the first nuclear device. Holden's whale reappears and seems to think that the device looks tasty. He eats and runs. Quite bizarrely, Holden seems to be pleased that the whale is now a swimming bomb.

    One gets the impression that Nelson was prepared to immediately detonate the bomb, even though it would destroy the Seaview--until he learned that the President's ship was in the danger zone. Holden makes the useful suggestion of tranquilizing the whale--he could then obtain his samples and even, perhaps, disarm the bomb (which is probably the way the plotline would go, nowadays). Nelson, rather nastily, allows Holden to think for a few moments that he has agreed to Holden's plan. Then he flatly states that they will detonate the device as soon as the President is safely out of range (and hopefully, the Seaview as well).

    The whale has other ideas. In spite of everyone's terror that the slightest contact will set off the device, the whale achieves some solid hits on the Seaview, causing a fair bit of damage and wiping out their communications. Holden seems quite proud of his whale's behavior.

    The initial tranquilizing harpoons aren't very effective, and they decide to hit it with all the remaining tranquilizer they have, although it will likely kill the whale. Nelson certainly hopes so. (Perhaps this is a humanitarian impulse, because the whale's death is a certainty.) Holden tries to persuade Nelson again, mentioning that he had appreciated Nelson's criticisms of his work because it forced him to better efforts. It's hard to tell if Holden was being sincere or if, as Nelson seemed to suspect, he was simply trying to flatter him. Either way, Nelson remains inflexible and Holden utters what sounds like a distinct threat. Nelson (rather belatedly), orders him confined.

    One medium-sized Master-at-Arms doesn't prove much of an obstacle for the tall and desperate Holden (although he puts up a pretty good fight). Holden heads to the Missile Room. Conveniently, Riley is the only one present. Holden prevents him from putting the tranquilier in the harpoon. Riley also puts up a pretty good fight, but it's no match. Kowalski doesn't even get the chance to put up a fight--he's clubbed down as he walks in with the two remaining cans of tranquilizer. There's a heart-catching moment when it appears that Holden deals 'Ski a skull-crushing blow--but it turns out that he's smashing the cans.

    Worried at the lack of response from the Missile Room, Crane and Nelson rush to investigate, rather than sending a security detail (who could have gotten there sooner). Riley reports what happened, and the search is on for Holden, who, of course, manages to keep himself hidden, even though some of his expressions make it clear that he doesn't really know his way around. Riley and Kowalski join the search, although they really should have been sent to Sickbay. There's a bit of levity added to this tense episode, when 'Ski mistakes Chip Morton for Holden and his whole team piles onto him. Chip's expression as he extricated himself was priceless. Kowalski babbles a few incoherencies and flees. (One wonders if this scene was originally slated for Sharkey--it seemed to fit his style.)

    Holden's voice suddenly comes over the sound system, stating that they will do as he wants--or else. Oddly, neither Crane nor Nelson ask "or else what?" even though Holden has not mentioned the nature of his threat. Crane suddenly realizes what it must be--and apparently hopes that Holden has made the threat without first assuring that he had the means to carry it out. He races for the Admiral's cabin--only to find the small safe broken open and the detonater for the nuclear device in Holden's grip. Holden seems quite aware that he's gone off the deep end (Hagen's performance in this scene is marvelous!)

    Holden demands access to a mini-sub, with extra oxygen and survival gear. Once he's gone out, the Seaview will be free to go on its way. Nelson attempts to dissuade him, but finally bows to the inevitable.

    For some reason, the Flying Sub was unavailable for this episode (explained as being repaired or tuned up). Perhaps they simply didn't want to destroy yet another one. Mini-subs are presumably a lot cheaper. Poor Kevin Hagen, taller than average, looked very cramped.

    Seaview heads for the surface, and Holden heads for the whale. Still not well tranquilized, it begins thrashing around again, and starts to slip off the shelf it has been resting on. (The device is also set to go off if it goes below a certain depth.) Seaview braces for the explosion, and Holden makes a last, futile gesture in the whale's direction. It really looked as though he was reacting, not to his impending death, but to the loss of his precious samples.

    Seaview and the President's ship survive the jolt. The whale, Holden, and a few million sundry sea life do not.

    We don't hear more about the canal--under the circumstances, perhaps they reconsidered.
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