atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,

#152: Darwin needs to be shot!

A dolphin killed the first SF series about a submarine for many a year.

Sometime after Star Trek: The Next Generation (ST:TNG) demonstrated that there was a real market for SF series on TV, someone came up with the idea for Seaquest DSV (SQ). The series was a near-term SF series about people who were exploring "the other final frontier", the oceans of our planet.

It was set a few decades ahead of "now" and featured a world in which mankind had suddenly taken a serious interest in aquaculture and ocean exploration. New technologies enabled submarines to dive deeper than ever and explore under the sea.

This is pretty much where the good stuff ends, though.

The series was, somehow, even more politically correct (PC) than ST:TNG was. ST:TNG at least had the excuse of being set 400+ years in the future, in a socialist utopia. SQ did not; it was basically "just like today" but with advanced submarines.

Preface most everything I say about this series with "AS I RECALL,..." because I'm not going to research it. Let me cling to my prejudice. I saw the first few episodes of the first season, and utterly lost interest.

The crew of the eponymous submarine was composed of the usual mix of ethnicities and cultures--no big deal there; the basic Star Trek thing. In this case, I think they were members of some UN organization--some kind of quasi-military outfit--but I can't remember what it was; it was all about the environment, anyway. Explore the seas, protect the wildlife, yada yada.

Roy Scheider played the captain of the submarine, and in the pilot they did the usual thing where a representative of the organization went to visit him at his home, where he was researching ways to communicate with dolphins and whales. Roy had given up on the world and was going to spend the rest of his life with his research, but the UN person convinced him to rejoin the organization and captain the submarine!

Roy's best friend was a dolphin he'd named "Darwin". And he had fitted Darwin with this obnoxious voder (voice box) which translated the dolphin's clicks and squeaks into English. Darwin lived in a special tank aboard the Seaquest. The production paid quite a bit of money for their mechanical dolphin, too, as I recall. The voice selected for Darwin was an adenoidal whine, which was about as annoying as it could possibly be. (As bad as that was, at least it wasn't the other extreme, which would have been an upper-crusty British accent. That would have been just as bad, but for entirely different reasons.)

The series ended up being a facade of adventure plastered over an environmentalist screed, but it had its devoted and it lasted a few seasons. I lost interest in it pretty quickly when I saw that there was no real conflict in it, just situations that were contrived to add enough tension to make an episode seem dramatic.

I think it was the episode where Darwin got poisoned--the "teaser" for that episode--which made me actually stop watching. (Poisoned or diseased or SOMETHING.)

The "we must cure our friend before he dies!" plot is much older than episodic TV, but when you only have 48 minutes--an hour minus commercial time--to tell a story, it means you have to economize somewhere. Using a stock-standard-formulaic "we found the cure JUST IN TIME!" plotline helps. I was in no mood for it; it was too soon for their writers to run out of steam.

But, to be honest, I wanted the dolphin dead.

SQ had a character who was in his young teens, just like ST:TNG did; this kid was no Wesley Crusher, though, so the "annoying character" of the series ended up being Darwin the Dolphin. I hated that fucking dolphin; I hated it when it came on screen and I hated it even more when an episode revolved around it.

It's not that I have anything against dolphins. Dolphins are all right. I don't think they're magical, nor do I think they're particularly bright--certainly they are not as smart as we are--but I don't hate the species. Flipper was a reasonably entertaining TV series even if it was basically just Lassie with fins. (I do think that dolphins are probably smarter than dogs, but not much smarter.) Dolphins look like they have a lot of fun, but a dolphin did not invent the Internet or penicillin. Our civilization is a pain in the ass, but it allows us to live long enough to die of cancer, rather than, say, being eaten by a bear. Dolphins are not well-known for their medical technology, which generally means that once a dolphin gets sick, it's pretty much done for. The dolphins we see at "Sea World" or WTF-ever are kept animals; naturally they look like they're having fun. There are no predators around and they get fed for doing crazy stuff they'd probably do anyway if they felt like it.

In the teaser for the episode, they showed a haggard-looking Roy Scheider near his friend Darwin as the dolphin's voder wheezed, "Darwin...hurt." And my response?


...and I knew the goddamned dolphin was going to live through the episode, so I didn't watch it...and in fact never watched the show again.

Hell, for all I know, they might have killed the stupid thing off in that episode. But if they had, there would have been 15 minutes of crying and mourning for the poor dead artificial aquatic mammal, killed by the unfeeling corporate drones who want nothing more than to destroy the environment for the sake of profit.

For all of that, no one seemed to mind that Roy Scheider made a dolphin wear bulky gear so it could talk to humans. I can't remember if the voder thing Darwin wore was wired into his brain, or what--I seem to recall that it was, but I can't remember for sure. If it was, then old Roy operated on a hapless and helpless dolphin for his own convenience, and no one shot him or put him in jail for torturing the wildlife! If he wanted to talk to dolphins he should either have wired the voder into his own brain, or learned to speak dolphin-ese!!! He's on his private island making dolphin cyborgs, but it's okay because he's doing it to help them! If he were making dolphin cyborgs to fight wars he would be an evil corporate tool, but because he's trying to prove that dolphins are just as intelligent as people, he can do what he wants!

The moral of that story is that it's perfectly fine to perform gruesome medical experiments on sentient creatures so long as your heart is in the right place. You believe the dolphin is intelligent, so you hack up its brain and install a bunch of mechanical equipment to prove its intelligence to everyone. (Hey, you used anasthetic, right?)

The series lasted for a while after that episode. More than a season, anyway. So completely had I lost interest that neither the fate of the dolphin nor the general direction of the series afterwards even registered with me. I don't even know how long it lasted.

There was something about some kind of undersea war going on when the first season ended, but I don't remember who was fighting whom. The United Nations was running the planet, so there were no wars anymore [insert picture of guy rolling his eyes] but somehow there was a war taking place under the sea! There might have been aliens in the mix, too, somewhere.

Some time later I was visiting a friend in Cedar Rapids, and for some reason SQ came up in conversation. He then imitated Darwin's voder and wheezed,

"Darwin needs to be shot!"

I laughed until tears came. Until then, I thought I was the only person who had hated that fucking dolphin; and here one of my friends from high school (who himself is a very lefty-liberal type) also hated the fucking dolphin.

Sometimes it's nice to know you're not the only one.

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