- Vintage TV Christmas: Irwin Allen Style -
By Rev Protodeacon George A. Haloulakos
Nostalgia TV, especially from the 1960s, is replete with unusual Holiday or Christmas themed episodes integrated into the storylines of various TV series. Some have a direct connection with the Holiday Season while others are a bit more subtle if not unusual with incorporating the Christmas spirit into the narrative. One such example is an episode titled "Long Live the King" from Irwin Allen's Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea that originally aired December 21, 1964 and is now part of the ME TV Network's annual screening of various Christmas episodes from various notable television series.
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea was on network TV for four years (1964-68), with its first season filmed in Black & White. Season One was notably darker if not more serious in tone as its episodes largely involved spies and espionage in a Cold War setting. "Long Live the King" is remarkable not only because it was the series' only Christmas show BUT it was a warm episode in an otherwise dark season. In its four year run, Voyage seldom recognized seasonal connections with the real world in its plotlines, so this makes this Christmas show all the more special. What now follows is a synopsis plus notable highlights from a truly unusual but fun Christmas show.
The week before Christmas the submarine Seaview is tasked with having to secretly transport a young prince from the west coast of the USA to his homeland so that he may rightfully succeed his father as King, in the aftermath of the boy's father being assassinated. The underwater trip requires immediately crossing both the Pacific and Indian Oceans thereby cancelling the two-week Christmas shore leave for Seaview and its weary crew. Obstacles are overcome along the journey, including a torpedo attack by an enemy sub and attempted murder of the young prince by a treasonous member of his personal staff. Coincidentally, Seaview also picks up a shipwreck survivor, a very mysterious but personally endearing character named John, who establishes a trustworthy relationship with the young prince during the remainder of the trip. Carroll O'Connor plays the role of John -- giving a magical, whimsical performance in which he sings, plays a flute and teaches the young prince about assuming his adult responsibilities with kindness, understanding and wisdom. Seaview reaches its destination. With confidence but humility, the young prince is preparing to be crowned as King. After the new King is crowned, John mysteriously vanishes leaving only his flute behind as a token of remembrance for his young friend. Amidst the Yuletide Season with its mission successfully completed, Seaview is now homeward bound retracing its journey across the Indian and Pacific Oceans. During the closing dialogue that includes Christmas wishes for one and all, it is noted that John had been picked up very near ..... Christmas Island!
Obviously, O'Connor's singing, flute playing and mentoring the young prince are highlights in this Christmas show. But there are also other memorable scenes: Christmas music played in the background during various parts of the show, the Chief good naturedly losing a card game to the young prince and the genuine laughter and goodwill among the officers and crew are all done with the true spirit of Christmas fellowship uniting everyone as family even though all are sojourners. This quality of warmth in a show noted for action and high adventure took Voyage to a realm that was rarely seen during its network run. It is also interesting to observe that the aforementioned individual scenes may actually be better than the overall storyline, with the mysterious shipwreck survivor subtly adding the Christmas spirit to what otherwise might have been a predictable plot.
One final bit of trivia: There really is a Christmas Island. It is located in the Indian Ocean about 224 miles south of the island of Java and 870 miles northwest of Australia. So the geography referenced in the course of Seaview's journey across the Pacific and Indian Oceans for this classic episode is accurate. Learn more at: https://www.britannica.com/place/Christmas-Island
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