By Owen Quinn author of the Time Warriors and Zombie Blues
1978 and yet another sic fi series debut. And again this one was first broadcast as four, made for television movies, the success of which lead to the commissioning of 13 weekly episodes. Starring then unknown actor, Patrick Duffy as the titular character Mark, the very first movie set out the show’s parameters.
Mark was suffering amnesia and believed to be the last survivor of the city of Atlantis and had webbed hands and feet, has super strength and is able to breathe underwater for long periods of time while withstanding great depth pressure. He had a unique style of swimming that kids all over the land tried to copy much to the chagrin of school teachers everywhere on trips to the swimming pool (see video below).
Mark would ally himself with Dr Elizabeth Merrill, played by Belinda Montgomery, who worked for the Foundation of Oceanic Research and utilizing a submarine called the Cetacean. Although on the twelfth episode, Montgomery’s character was replaced for no rhyme or reason by Dr jenny Reynolds, played by Lisa Blake Richards. Over the course of the episodes Mark gained a supporting cast between the crew of the Cetacean and members of the Foundation.
After helping defeat a mad scientist, Mark offers to stay and learn more from the humans which leads them into a series of adventures ranging from sea monsters to aliens to space spores. There was even hints of mark’s background in the story‘Shoot Out at Land’s End with Duffy playing the dual role of both Mark and Billy, where Billy apparently has had his webbing removed surgically. The four television movies were wildly different to each other, deftly showing how versatile the format of the show could be if given the chance.
And it was when a further thirteen episodes were green lit for a series which looked like it would be a ratings smash given the demographics based on the four movies. This would also be a format tested with both Buck Rogers and Battlestar Galactica.
The ratings were good, despite criticism of the show being too aimed at kids but not only were there spin-off novels produced, but a comic book series too.
Here it thrashed Doctor Who in the ratings, the only other American import to do that was Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. There was almost a toy range produced but never got past the prototype stage. All-in-all that wasn’t bad for a show that was cancelled after thirteen episodes.
The stories may have been deemed as made for kids, but there was a great effort to make the stories different and utilize the sci fi elements such as monsters and aliens. Even to this day, the ocean is unexplored and therefore a blank canvas for all sorts of adventures. Herbert F solow , Mayo Simon (Phase IV), Alan Caillou (Man from Uncle) all had experience in the fantastical and were well suited to bringing new adventures for the Man from Atlantis but like so many other shows in this era, the axe fell.
There are so many theories and politics from this era that the reason for the decision may never been known but two things were certain; kids loved this show; like bionic jumps it was something they could identify with and copy in water and two, it ensured Patrick Duffy’s place in a new soap opera called Dallas playing someone called Bobby Ewing. Funnily enough, water would play a vital part in a scene with Duffy that would change the course of that show too… but that is another story.