RETROSPECULATIVE TV: Man From Atlantis: “Man From Atlantis III: The Deadly Spores” (Season 1, Episode 3)

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You may remember how oddly excited I was when I recently watched the first “Man From Atlantis” TV Movie, for the second time in 33 years, and suddenly knew where I was and what I was doing on March 4th, 1977, between the hours of 8 and 10 PM. Well, though I knew I’d missed some of the episodes of this series, I’d assumed I’d seen most of them. Turns out I was wrong: I’m more-than-passingly sure I never saw Episode 2, and I’m certain I never saw this one.

In fact, this is the only one I knew for sure I never saw, and I specifically remember being annoyed on May 18th, 1977 when my friends were talking about it, and I realized I’d missed it. I did hear all about it, though, and a year or two later my family went to Florida on vacation. We spent a week in Marco Island, and I found the monetization of “The Deadly Spores” by Richard Woodley in the hotel store, and bought it. I don’t remember really anything substantial about it. This is odd. I remember ravenously reading it, I remember playing tag in the elevators with John McCarthy and his little brother, Kevin, until the manager chased us down and told us to knock it off. I remember a huge dead dragonfly I found in Kevin’s room, and I remember how it glided when I dropped it off the balcony. I remember running down to the ground floor and trying to find the dragonfly again, but it was lost. I remember finding a starfish, and trying to keep it alive in a large glass of sea water, to take home as a pet. I remember watching a repeat of the final episode of the Mary Tyler Moore show as a repeat on TV in my room. I remember specific daydreams about having my own space agency while walking along the beach. I remember an old man coming in from the pool with a bad growth of some sort on his chest, and yet I don’t remember a damn thing about this book.

Weird, huh? Well, I *do* remember it had to do with alien spores from space causing a ruckus, and I remember one terse scene in which “Mark swam faster than he ever had before, so fast the ocean roiled and boiled behind him in his wake.” I vaguely remember a scene with mud, but basically I was going into this episode totally blank.

Join me in being totally blank, won’t you?

PLAY BY PLAY

OBSERVATIONS

As with the previous episode, we get a narrator recaping the premise of the show, and the events of the previous two TV movies in lieu of a title sequence. We also finally get a name for the submarine - the “Cetacean.”

As we begin, the Cetacean is out at sea doing something that involves looking at a lot of slides. CW calls from the Foundation, and wants them to take a call from NASA. (Well, it’s given some hokey name other than NASA, but that’s clearly what it is.) We get a long, allegedly comedic scene about how disinterested in space Miller and Elizabeth are, and how neither of them can be bothered to take the call. Ultimately, they have one of the ship’s crewmen - Sid - fake being Dr. Miller and take the call. This goes on for a looooong time, and is ostensibly supposed to be funny. In fact, it might actually be funny at half the length, with better editing, and acting. I’m just not warming up to this Kenneth Tigar guy who plays Dr. Miller. Anyway, after all this semicomic filler, we find that a satellite returning from deep space has picked up six ounces of something en rout from somewhere, and is off it’s course. It’ll crash 20 miles from their sub, and could they please pick it up?

They agree, and Mark swims out after it splashes down. The probe is about the size and shape of a table lamp without the shade, and as Mark gets close, it starts to bubble and “Blue coins” come out. One of ’em gets on Mark’s hand, and then he starts acting oddly, so they order him back to the sub with the probe, and have him stick it in a small decontamination unit.
Back on the sub, Mark is acting all goofy, alternately weird and normal, as if he’s got multiple personalities who aren’t aware of each other, or like he’s possessed of devils. This scene takes a long time, and the actors make the best of it, but it’s blocked and filmed in the blandest way possible. Mark (or possibly the thing possessing Mark) explains that the quarantine hasn’t worked, and the aliens are already infesting the sub. Though no one but him can see it. They turn off the lights and see little blue aliens all over the ship (Actually small blue pointer-lights randomly projected on the walls, and with a fractal pattern in one place)

Back at the foundation, CW complains about how the Generic Space Agency wants their probe back, and they tell him to stall them. They want to figure out a way to stain the aliens so they can study them under microscopes (How quaint and steam-age these 1970s people were!), so Mark goes out to capture an eel that has just the right kind of dye to stain ’em. We get some swimming scenes, and then some scenes of Patrick Duffy wrestling with a rubber snake underwater. The died aliens have no organs, no apertures to breathe or see, they’re essentially malevolent alien jellybeans.

Then Mark starts complaining that he’s cold - which he’s incapable of, though he’s susceptible to heat - and tries to burn himself. They stop him, so he steals a car, and we’re treated to an entirely gratuitous car chase sequence. Then Mark wanders off into the desert, and Elizabeth and Miller chase him down. This goes on for a looooooooong time - seriously, what is it about this show and scenes that go on three times longer than they need to? I was having flashbacks of “Die Another Day,” it was so gratuitous - and while I have to give mad props to Duffy for hurling himself down some pretty massive sand dunes and quite-literally face-planting, man, it just goes nowhere.

Mark is, of course, dying in the desert because there’s no water, so when Miller and Elizabeth find him, she runs back to get some, and calls for an air ambulance. En rout back, she falls down a dune and spills the water, momentarily freaking out until she realizes they can just pack him with the mud to buy a few minutes. This they then do. The chopper shows, and they load Mark aboard as she instructs the pilot to fly them to the nearest water supply, which is a big swimming pool at a hotel. In an actually-pretty-neatly filmed sequence, filmed from inside the chopper, we see the ground moving by, the pool, and then Mark gets dumped in, Gurney and all while a score or so of horrified vacationers look on in shock.

Elizabeth’s stunt woman dives from the chopper to the pool, and she kind of blows the impact and starts flipping backwards once her head hit’s the water. That looks like it hurt! (Though I might just be commiserating since I’ve had a lot of back problems lately). If I ever get to talk to Marneen Fields, the woman who pulled that stunt, I’ll have to ask her about that. Elizabeth releases Mark from his gurney on the bottom of the pool, and he comes ’round.

The aliens have vacated Mark, and back at the Foundation, they explain they won’t be back for him. He warns that they haven’t killed anyone (though they tried to kill him), and he explains that they only attack when attacked. At present, they’re just learning how to effectively attack if they need to, and he pleads with her and Miller to not try and destroy them. Faster than you can say “Pad the plot,” the aliens go out and start possessing random people - an old man starts beating people with a cane, a guy by a tree screams randomly, a traffic cop empties a clip into the air - and then they check into a nice hotel and start possessing random people there. (I’m sure - absolutely certain - that this is the same hotel with the pool they dropped Mark into. It’s not *supposed* to be the same one, but, you know, budgetary move.) Then the aliens leave, and all this comes to nothing.

He goes to meditate, sitting lotus-style on the bottom of the ocean. It’s kind of neat, if a bit highlandery. Upon returning to the Foundation, everyone there has been taken over, so he runs away. The take their now-bezombied sub and chase him down. He sees it and comes on board. Miller and Elizabeth use a high-pitch Goauld filter to sound all creepy and explain they’re hive-minded aliens form deep space who got trapped on the probe, and only want to get off this damn rock (I’m with you there, brother!). There’s a space launch in four hours, and Mark needs to get them to it so they can leave. If he fails, they’ll use their abilities to make humanity destroy itself so they won’t have to put up with our ugliness, or something. I dunno. The aliens are kinda’ jerks.

The rest of the episode is a race against time in which the “Roiling, Boiling Wake” scene from the book takes place. Mark has all the aliens inhabiting his body, and all the possessed people are set free. He needs to download them into another probe. Will the human race be doomed? Will he make it?

Well, duh. I mean, there’s fourteen episodes after this one, right? (Though I did think it’d be cool if the subsequent ones were post apocalyptic, dealing with the aliens who’ve wiped out most of humanity and trashed the world.)

The End.

OBSERVATIONS

What we’ve got here is your basic Irwin Allen Possessed By Aliens Zombie plot. Irwin used this one at *least* a dozen times on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea alone, and a couple times on all his other 1960s series. Other shows have done this as well, including Trek and Space: 1999 and God knows who all else. It was a cheap way to do a ‘bottle show’ and bring yourself in well under budget. They throw in a heavy dose of “The Andromeda Strain” (A great movie, btw) and a pinch of “One of those freaky episodes where Spock gets emotions,” as well, but it’s basically ‘aliens of the week possess the Seaview’s crew. Specifically, the “Posessed Mark” scenes evoke “Spock possessed by the Medusan Ambassador” TOS episode. (“Is There In Truth No Beauty,” I think was the title.)

The “Spock” similarities are probably not coincidental. Trek Alumni’s Herb Solow and Bob Justman produced the first episode (Though Bob appears to have left by the time the second episode was made), and this episode was written by John D.F. Black, who was the original story editor for Star Trek: TOS, until Gene Roddenberry began to see him as a threat to his apotheosis, and made him the first of a long list of people he fired and banished to outer darkness. Solow obviously liked him, though, and gave him this episode. It’s sad that it feels so derivative, and kinda’ inconsistent in places.

For instance, the aliens are completely in tangential, except when the plot forgets, and makes them capable of being dye-stained, and then picked up by human fingers. Elsewhere we’re told that the aliens don’t kill, but they clearly tried to kill Mark in the desert, and in the end they threaten to destroy the human race.

Pretty much everything that happens in this episode could have been avoided if the aliens - clearly capable of communicating - simply explained what the hell was up from the outset. Of course if they did that, the episode would have been nine or ten minutes long, with nothing to fill up the rest excepting Kenneth Tigar juggling for an hour and twenty - he just looks like a man who can juggle, doesn’t he? I don’t know how I know, but I know - and obviously that isn’t going to pull down big ratings, so they padded it out a bit.

A bit too much, really. As I said in my review of the first episode/TV Movie, I think there are some genre series that would work better if you got three or four movies of the week per year, than if they were regular weekly shows, but I’m having to re-assess that opinion the more I see of ‘70s TV. Galactica probably would have worked better that way, and I would have thought Doctor Who would have as well, until this terrible season of five specials, but, man, these last two episodes of MFA have really been ponderously padded out. For instance, the whole “People freaking out in a hotel” scene gets them out of the set for a bit, but contributes *nothing* to the story, it just fills up ten minutes of air time.

(there is, however, one really funny scene of a bellboy just freaking out and trashing two whole carts full of luggage, but I wonder: Was he possessed, or just really pissed off about the gay bellboy uniform he had to wear?)

I assume everyone in the Pool and Hotel and Park scenes were probably actual guests of the hotel who volunteered to be extras. Somewhere in the world today, there’s someone with a stretchy, faded betamax copy of this episode, who still fast forward it to that sequence and freeze-frames it on their scene to show friends. Think I’m joking? I’m not. A guy I used to know is in a crowd shot in “Hoosiers.” How many times do you think he’s forced me to sit through Hoosiers? I’ll give you a clue: one time too many for us to remain friends.
There’s some voice-over dialog that seems out of place, with Mark meditating about things Elizabeth has said (Though she hasn’t said them yet), and him saying “Will there ever be another sunrise? Is this the end of the world?” This makes no sense, as only 900 people, none of them important, have been possessed. I suspect there was a dialog scene that probably originally happened between the alien’s threat and the conclusion, but they cut-and-pasted part of that forward.

I guess this would be a good place to say a few words about Fred Karlin’s MFA theme. It’s pretty simple:
G F G G# F# D C
E B C# D C# A B
B D# F# C# A#
D# A# A A# G# F C# D#
It’s pretty, it’s whistleable, it’s a nice progression, a nice phrase, but it’s played in too lilting and pretty a fashion to ever be terribly memorable. A show like this obviously wants some swashbuckling fanfare, you know? Trumpets blaring, basses rumbling away, some nice strings as a counterpoint. This is mostly synth, and could easily be the theme for a daytime soap. I’ve been fiddling with it four a couple days now, however, and it occurs to me that this would work really well if they did it as a waltz or a celtic piece. Swing would have been cooler still, but obviously no one would go that way. Certainly not in the singery/songwritery ‘Seventies, when people not only listened to bland navel-gazing tripe like “Lonely Boy,” but they actually *admitted* to it. Karlin racked up 140 screen credits before he died, but aside from this the only ones I recognize are the themes to “Sex and the Single Parent’ and “Futureworld.”

Jumping back to the story for a minute, you know, I don’t really expect my SF shows to be educational. I definitely don’t want that guy from the Woodshole Institute talking over the ending credits about the importance of preserving wreck sites, or the effects of ship anchors on the reef system, but I would appreciate *something.* I mean, most of our world is ocean, even now, huge hunks of it remain unexplored, a sense of wonder and exploration would be nice, you know? Instead, we get two episodes in a row about schizoid aliens who can’t really be trusted, and boring white people in a sub looking at slides rather than taking phone calls.

There is one neat scene, however, where Mark mentions that he’s seen sea creatures that behave as the aliens have:

“What are these creatures?” they ask.
“I don’t know. In the sea, nothing has a name, it simply is. You have not mentioned these creatures, so I do not know what you call them.”

We never find out what he’s talking about, but it’s the best scene in the episode.

There’s a receptionist in this episode - she was in the previous one, too - who is just inexplicably awful and all over the place. In the previous one, she’s got a scene where she talks in Italian for no reason, and here she’s trying to act all funny/drunk/sexy, and failing miserably. “Pamela” is her name.

C.W. is said in this episode to be the Foundation’s Administrator. He gets one really good scene while possessed. Threatened by a general, he say “Ah, that’s cute,” totally not intimidated. We’re told in the opening Narration that the Foundation is top secret, but how secret can it really be if neighborhood kids swing by with interesting rocks, as we saw last week? They do have security guards in the parking lot, though.

Every bit of sub footage was reused from the first episode. It’s getting to look pretty old, already, but at least they’re more sparing in their usage of it this time out.

We *do* get some pretty good looks at the inside of the sub, however. The set is interesting: Basically we’ve got the “Control Module” set, which opens into a hallway that has the airlock on one side, and that hallway opens into the “Lab Module” set. Both “Modules” are the same size and shape, and all three sets appear to have a wild (Removable) wall on the left side for ease of filming. Pretty clearly these are the 2nd and 3rd spheres of the 4-sphere sub. The first one appears to be an observation deck that we never see, and the fourth one appears to be engineering. A curious design oversight is that there are no apparent doors leading from the “Com Mod” (Command Module) to the forward sphere, nor from the “Lab Mod” to the engineering sphere. Aside from the terrible lighting, I do like these sets, though there’s an air of “Jason of Star Command” about ‘em. In both the modules we get to see, there are sliding pocket doors on either side. These *appear* to lead to the conning tower, and might lead to the lower deck, if there is one. I’m increasingly thinking there isn’t. There’s absolutely no room for a sickbay that we heard about last week, so I’m assuming the “Sickbay Set” Was just a redress of the lab.

There’s a bunk set into the wall of the Lab, which seemed a bit derivative of the Flying Sub set from Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, but it made me wonder “Where does the crew sleep?” There doesn’t appear to be a galley or bunkroom or anything, and I can’t imagine they’re holed up in the observation deck. So you’ve got a sub that can go to 7000 feet, but you can’t keep it out overnight?

Curiously, the “Main Viewscreen” is *not* in the front of the Com Mod, it’s actually on the port side. My sketches of the floor plan get more detailed with each episode, once we get done with the series I might post ‘em online for everyone to see.

The Space Probe cost $600 million, they say. In today’s money, that’s $$2,167,319,587.

Why do the possessed people go all purple and ashen when they didn’t have that affect on Mark? Why, for that matter, do Mark’s eyes change color from scene to scene? Obviously, because they forgot to put in his contacts.

I thought I saw a young David Hasslehoff in this episode, but I was wrong, it was just one a very Hasslehoffy looking, sounding guy.

The guy I took to be the helmsman in the previous episode is addressed as “Captain Bracey” in this one. He commands the sub, Elizabeth and the others command him. Speaking of which, Elizabeth has more to do in this episode than the previous one, and she’s more assertive. Also, they got her hair under control, and her breakdown scene when she spills the water and freaks out was well done.

Mark’s got a scene where he dives into the empty sub pen and swims out to sea. This is a huge water-filled room, and obviously a real location, not a set or a process shot. I have no idea what it is. It might actually really be a Sub Pen for all I know. It does cause a continuity error, however: the Sub is supposed to be in the Pen when he dives, but it’s clearly not there. Why? Because they reused stock from the previous episode - we saw this exact same scene last week!

And that’s it. Ultimately, despite my occasionally astounding memory, I think the reason I don’t remember anything from the book is that the root material the book was based on simply had nothing in it worthy of being remembered.

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