June 29, 2019


(ABC, September 14, 1968-January 4, 1969)

Filmation Associates, 20th Century Fox Television

Marvin Miller – Busby Birdwell, Guru, The Chief
Jane Webb – Dr. Erica Lane
Ted Knight – Commander Jonathan Kidd, Professor Carter, Narrator

            Devised by Otto Klement and Lewis Bixby, Fantastic Voyage is a 1966 science fiction film directed by Richard Fleischer about a crew of explorers that utilized shrinking technology. Originally meant to be set in the 19th Century with a heavy influence from Jules Verne stories, all of that was abandoned for a more contemporary Cold War setting by screenwriter Harry Kleiner.

            Both the United States and the Soviet Union had developed shrinking technology that can only be utilized for an hour at a time before the shrunken objects revert to their original size. Soviet scientist Dr. Jan Benes (Jean Del Val) figured out how to keep things shrunken indefinitely and attempted to defect to America. However, he ended up placed in a coma during an assassination attempt. To save his life, the Combined Miniature Deterrent Forces (C.M.D.F.) shrank a submarine populated by pilot Captain Bill Owens (William Redfield), Dr. Michaels (Donald Pleasence), surgeon Dr. Peter Duval (Arthur Kennedy) and his assistant, Cora Peterson (Raquel Welch) and sent it into Benes’ bloodstream to remove a blood clot from his brain. Despite racing the clock and dealing with the dangers natural to the inner workings of the human body, the crew also had to content with the potential that one of them was an assassin sent to finish the job.

The movie crew navigating the blood stream.

            The film was released by 20th Century Fox on August 24, 1966. Despite favorable reviews and a box office of $12 million, the film ended up taking a loss overall. It was nominated for five and won two Academy Awards. Isaac Asimov was retained by Bantam Books to write the novelization of the film, and was allowed to deal with several plot holes he found in the original script. Because of his writing speed and the film’s comparatively slow production, the book ended up coming out 6 months before the film.

The cartoon crew: Guru, Erica, Kidd and Busby.

            Two years later, Filmation Associates acquired the rights to make an animated series based on the film. However, instead of being a direct continuation, they only took the basic premise and introduced an all-new line-up of characters as well as several overall changes. The name of the organization was changed to the Combined Miniature Defense Force; which used their shrinking technology to infiltrate and investigate things that normal-sized agents couldn’t. Instead of just the single hour, each episode of shrinking could last 12. The team was comprised of scientist Busby Birdwell (Marvin Miller), who created their special transport vehicle, the Voyager; special agent Commander Jonathan Kidd (Ted Knight); doctor and biologist Erica Lane (named for Erika Scheimer, voiced by Jane Webb); and Guru (Miller), master of strange mystic powers. They answered to a mysterious shadowy being known only as The Chief (Miller) and the shrinking apparatus was overseen by its inventor, Professor Carter (Knight).

The Voyager preparing for shrinkage.

            Fantastic Voyage debuted on ABC on September 14, 1968. Each episode saw the team tasked with dealing with strange biological life forms, radio waves, super spies and master villains. The episode “The Mind of the Master” played out in a similar fashion to the original film. The team’s mission would be laid out for them in the opening minutes by the Chief and Carter before cutting to the show’s introduction, which featured a descriptive narration by Knight. The series was written by Ken Sobol, David Melmuth, Eric Blair and H.F. Mauberly, with Sobol serving as story editor. Robert Allen and Ray Ellis (as Spencer Raymond) composed the series’ music.

Professor Carter watches the missions from HQ.

            The show only ran for a single season. While it was in production, Aurora Model Company was contracted to produce a model kit of the Voyager. It was released months after the show’s cancellation, and as a result only one press run was made. Due to the limited availability and the generally poor care of sold models being treated as toys, it has become an incredibly rare model and expensive on the secondary market. Polar Lights (whose name was an homage to Aurora) had acquired the rights to reproduce the kit, but passed on it citing a prohibitive cost for what was essentially a niche item. Moebius Models would eventually retool an original kit and put it back into production. Milton Bradley released a board game based on the show in 1968, and Gold Key Comics, who published the film adaptation comic, published a comic series for the show that ran for two issues in 1969. To date, the series has only been released to DVD in 2011 by Revelation Films in the United Kingdom.

“The Gathering of the Team” (9/14/68) – The CMDF assembles a team and sends them on a test mission in a drop of water, which becomes deadly when their ship becomes damaged.

“The Menace from Space” (9/21/68) – The team investigates how a rocket crew died from oxygen loss.

“The Magic Crystal of Kabala” (9/28/68) – The team heads inside of a magical crystal ball to destroy the evil within.

“The Atomic Invaders” (10/5/68) – The team investigates mysterious butterflies that cause explosions at power plants.

“The Master Spy” (10/12/68) – A spy infiltrates the CMDF and impersonates Carter to sabotage the team’s mission.

“The Mind of the Master” (10/19/68) – The team has to go inside Guru’s mind to repair the damage of an enemy attack, unknowingly bringing with them the very person that attacked him.

“Gone Today, Here Tomorrow” (10/26/68) – The team finds themselves up against a legion of miniature toys.

“The Day the Food Disappeared” (11/2/68) – The team investigates an outbreak of rapidly-growing weeds that destroy the nation’s crops.

“Revenge of the Spy” (11/9/68) – Busby ends up trapped in an enemy base but manages to send the ship back so that help can find and save him.

“The Hobby House” (11/16/68) – Something disrupts the CMDF radio beam and causes the ship to crash between the toys of Jacob’s Hobby House.

“The Spy Satellite” (11/23/68) – The team is sent to sabotage a satellite capable of taking pictures through walls.

“First Men on the Moon” (11/30/68) – Commissioner Upjohn’s bratty son steals the ship and strands himself and the team on an artificial moon used for missile testing.

“The Great Busby” (12/7/68) – Erica shrinks Busby to use as a puppet in a children’s hospital show only to have him stolen by a jealous puppeteer.

“The Barnacle Bombs” (12/14/68) – The team heads out to find a missing bathysphere full of Navy soldiers investigating an evil professor.

“The Perfect Crime” (12/21/68) – Kidd steals the portable miniaturization machine and joins a criminal mastermind.

“The World’s Fair Affair” (12/28/68) – The team has to save the World’s Fair from being blown up.

“The Most Dangerous Game” (1/4/69) – When radioactive ore is found in a mine the team heads in to prevent it from contaminating the state.

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