Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea

Season 2 Episode 18

The Sky's On Fire

Aired Monday 7:30 PM Jan 23, 1966 on ABC

Episode Fan Reviews (1)

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  • Literally. It's a shortened, tightened remake of the original theatrical movie. More interesting in some ways, less so in others.

    They shortened it in every sense of the word. Where the theatrical version took place over a span of weeks, the T.V. episode took just a few days.

    They did make an attempt to clear up a very glaring nit from the movie--namely, the ice that refuses to float. Chip Morton comments on it and Nelson, rather exasperatedly, points out that when you drop ice cubes in a glass, the ice drops down before floating back up. Of course, there's the little matter of the ice dropping 500 feet, which seems a tad excessive for chunks of ice that are merely breaking off at the surface.

    They don't specify that it's the Van Allen belt that has ignited, merely that it's a radiation belt. Rather than endangering the entire world, only the Southern Hemisphere is affected, which raises some interesting ethical questions. Should the North simply sit back and watch its neighbors suffering? I wish they had gone into this point more. Were the Southerners attempting to flee North? Were the Northerners accepting them, or were they preventing incoming flights, fearing to be overloaded?

    Whereas the movie Nelson and his colleague held a marathon session lasting over 24 hours to work out their solution to the problem, our Nelson hammers things out in a little under six hours with the aid of a mini-computer. And rather than presenting his findings to the entire U.N. scientific conclave, we see Nelson discussing matters (well, yelling) with a grand total of three men: Commander McHenry, and scientists Carleton and Weber. Weber is presented as a specialist in gases, but it's never clear just why the dithering Carleton is along for the ride. Weber is convinced that the fire will burn itself out when it reaches 173 degrees, which is calculated to occur one hour after the deadline for Nelson's solution: a nuclear missile fired into the flaming belt. The others are concerned that Nelson's missile could cause the Northern belts to ignite as well, causing world-wide destruction instead of just half. The big problem in translating this to the small screen is that we're dealing with episodic television. Nelson is the good guy, Nelson is the smart one, and Nelson is going to show up again next week. We know he's right, and we know his missile is going to be fired, so there's no tension. So, of course, they have to contrive some. Source: Weber.

    Nelson is just as convinced that he's right as Weber is, but Weber is SO obnoxious about it. Presumably the man has worked out calculations to support his theory, but we never see him display them (presumably Nelson would show him where he went wrong). All he does is sit and smugly reiterate that he is right...just because.

    Nelson gathers them all up and they head for the Seaview, which is already on her way to the missile launch site. Weber displays an appalling lack of concern for the Southern Hemisphere--after all, it's less populated. No one brings up the fact that the damage sustained by the South will affect the North in all kinds of ways. And while the media mentioned the public's fears of the northern belts spontaneously igniting from the southern, the scientists themselves do not consider it. They seem to think that only Nelson's missile could cause such damage. We will see that Weber will take this "possibility" of the missile causing harm and turn it into a "certainty".

    There's a brief moment of excitement when the Flying Sub crosses back over to the South, and the heat causes damage. Interestingly, although the two visiting scientists are closest to both the fire and the extinguisher, they both sit and let McHenry make his slow way back to deal with the problem.

    The three visitors are to vote on which solution to go with. McHenry has already thrown in with Nelson, leaving it to Carleton to make the final decision. He is definitely not a man for such a matter, dithering and emoting frantically as the time ticks down.

    Weber goes to work on the crew, armed with a drugged ring. This raises the question: when did he get it? Nelson had arrived, put forth his plan, heard the decision to vote on it, and immediately left in the Flying Sub. Did Weber realize ahead of time that his solution was going to need forced support, or does he just like walking around with a poison ring? He infects Sharkey with it, and later, several members of the crew. One would think that it would be more practical to infect Carleton, or some of the ship's officers--Crane, for example.

    McHenry's decision already being a matter of record, his murder was rather pointless. And the crew's behavior was incredible. Crane's first action on getting into McHenry's cabin should have been to haul the man out of the room, but he did not do so. Neither did the fire detail that crowded into the room after him. Crane belatedly gave orders to take him out, and no one made any attempts to give him oxygen. They also accepted the amateur Kowalski's statement that the man was dead. That is a matter to be determined by a doctor, and even doctors sometimes get it wrong. Even if he was dead, swift action might have revived him.

    They fill up a little time having divers search for a lost jet nozzle (but without the added attraction of a giant squid fight). I wish they had spent some of this time dealing with the way people were reacting to the catastrophe. There's a brief mention of martial law in Australia, but most of the commentary is on the physical destruction.

    Shortly afterwards, Nelson finally convinces Carleton to accept his solution. Carleton goes off to inform Weber--and promptly ends up dead. Considering how close this followed the first "accidental" death, everyone should have suspected foul play. Instead, Crane believes that this scientist (dithering or not) somehow "blundered" through a closed, prominently marked door and fried himself on the transformers. Even more unbelievably, Nelson accepts this.

    Weber's drug must have contained a hypnotic of sorts as well as an anger-inducer. After jabbing a roomful of crew, they all promptly decide that he's right--after all, he's a famous scientist. No one mentions that Nelson is also famous, as well as being well known and trusted by them all.

    Sharkey has recovered from his bout of the drug--and they have discovered that he was, indeed, drugged. This should have caused them to suspect Weber instantly, but they didn't. There is a very brief mutiny of several members of the crew. Nelson casually switches on his intercom, notifying the Control Room of what's going on, and Sharkey rushes to the rescue.

    Weber arms himself with a gun and grenade, and holds the Control room personnel at bay until they get past the launch deadline. Crane overhears Weber, and, very sensibly, does not attempt to overpower him, instead slipping down the to Missile room to go outside and rig the missile with a timed launch device. (More stock footage.)

    I found the end irritating. It would have been more satisfying to have that self-righteous Weber live and know that he was WRONG! Sharkey redeems himself entirely by launching himself at Weber as he loosens his grip on the grenade. By a miracle (known as "renewal of contract") Sharkey missed the brunt of the blast.

    The finale has the same problem that the movie did. Nelson's been proved right, they're heading for home, all's well with the world...well, no. Thousands are dead, millions or billions of acreas have been scorched by heat and flame, the melting ice cap will wreak havoc with the ocean levels, and there will no doubt be some very hard feelings on the part of the Southern Hemisphere population. All this would cause some major alterations in the workings of the world...which would all be tidied up by the next episode.
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