Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea

Classic episode, Doomsday, page 2

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Admiral . . .

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Give him another chance.

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I'll have to think about it, Lee.

Crane heads to Nelson's cabin, concerned about what's going on with Corbett.
What happened to Corbett?
Nelson: He couldn't activate his Failsafe, he just couldn't do it!
Crane: Every soldier who ever went to war knows that moment.  It's one thing to be a crack shot on a rifle range.  It's another thing to pull the trigger when there's a man, a real man, a human being in your sites.
Nelson: Corbett's not a coward.  He just started to wrestle with his conscience at the wrong time.  He should have done that before he'd taken his oath of duty.
Crane: Admiral, no one -- none of us knows how we'll act when we have to pull that trigger.  Give him another chance . . .assuming we have another chance.

The Admiral takes Cranes advice and has Corbett restored to duty as missile operator.  He goes to see Corbett, who is obviously still troubled about their situation . . .

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What difference is it who started it?

Nelson: I can't understand it.  You're Navy, Annapolis.  This is what you've been trained for.  You've gone through this a hundred times.
Corbett: Practice runs, games, like when we were kids.  This is no game, Admiral.  This is real.  I know.  A missile officer knows.  There was no practice alert scheduled for this run.This is doomsday, Admiral--doomsday!
Nelson: If it is, we didn't start it.
Corbett: What difference is it who started it?  It's one thing to carry a big stick--it's another to bash someone's head in with it.  I just couldn't do it.  But you could! (he looks astonished)  Couldn't you, Admiral?
Nelson: You think that because I do what I have to do I don't feel . . .  Nelson chokes up, recovers, and continues.   "Our job is to provide the bone and muscle of our country's deterrent power.  If we fail in that . . . if we freeze in the clutch, our country's defenseless.  You failed your country once before--don't ever fail her again. "  This said, you know Nelson damn well means it in spite of the implicit horror.

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Buoy heads up.

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Waiting for a signal.

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Undeniable relief!

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The alert is cancelled.

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Momentary joy.

Nelson heads forward to the control room and as he enters, Crane announces they've reached launch coordinates.  The Failsafe alert buoy is released to check for any sign that the order for attack has been withdrawn.  None is received and the countdown begins amidst tension thick enough to drown a bull.  In the proverbial nick of time, an abort signal comes through, and a wave of relief washes through Seaview.
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But it's short lived when three things happen in rapid succession.  Sonar detects enemy destroyers closing in, Nelson is quick to point out they'd better surface and explain themselves, and simultaneously, Corbett notices that missile #4 has not released, and is set to fire at sea level.  They can't surface, he tells Nelson. 
Nelson's response:
If we can't talk, let's run.  Let's get out of here.  Lee, jam their sonar; they'll have to rely on hydrophones.

Seaview below--pursued by hostiles from above.

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And run they do.  As depth charges rain down from enemy destroyers, Doc tries to save Kowal-ski's sight. 
  Try to hold still, will you.

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Amidst a hail of depth charges,  Nelson orders Seaview slowed and then has the mini-sub fired up, its engines matched to the pitch of Seaview's.  When launched, the destroyers mistakenly follow the sound of the smaller submarine, allowing Seaview to sneak away undetected, the loss of the mini-sub, a small price to pay for survival.   Nelson, Crane and crew still face the problem that they cannot surface.
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Can Seaview go that deep? 


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I will not poison the air with our mistake.

When Nelson informs Corbett he needs a firing solution for detonating the missile at 1000 feet, the missile officer reacts: But Why?  To detonate at 1000 feet below surface, we'd have to fire at 4700 feet.  Can Seaview go that deep?
Nelson: It's just possible.
Corbett: Possible? You mean you'd risk every man aboard to conceal a nuclear accident?  To prevent the world from knowing Failsafe is fallible?
Nelson: No, Commander.  Nor would I risk the lives of this crew to honor the test ban treaty which we'd violate if we detonate at surface.  But I will not pollute the atmosphere with our mistake.  I will not poison the air of the earth.  Better to risk the lives of this crew than generations to come.

Nelson, the military man, sums up his case: . . . long ago, under circumstance less nerve wracking that we faced this morning, strategists and statesmen formulated a plan.  A plan which you as a military man have sworn to follow.  If plans made in periods of calm are not followed to the letter in times of stress, we can only face chaos.  Our survival as a nation and as individuals requires that we rely on reason, not on emotions.
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On the other side of the question, Corbett sums up his position thusly: Our security also requires an informed public.  The world should learn, as I learned this morning, what doomsday would really mean, what a nuclear accident means. Then maybe we'll throw away these monstrous toys before they destroy us.

Nelson slides in what he thinks is the last word: You want to sound the trumpet, commander, then do it.  But not in that uniform -- and not on Seaview.  We detonate at minus 1000 feet. 
These orders issued, Nelson negotiates with the President for a window of time in which the Failsafe system will be opened that Seaview might capture missile 4 for safe release.  But at Seaview heads for the required 4,700 foot firing depth, her main ballast vents jam, and the sub balloons out of control, for the surface.

William Read Woodfield's powerful cautionary script for "Doomsday" poses a horrible dilemma for both Nelson and Crane.  They are duty-bound to carry out their orders in spite of the fact that to do so is madness.  The writer is clearly on the side of Corbett, who pleads the case for humanity, arguing that there is a line past which individuals are not bound by orders.  And at the conclusion of the drama, the viewer sides with Corbett in spite of the fact that his military career is ruined and Nelson is obviously the show's daddy/hero.  Fairly bold stuff to air in 1964 during the cold war and a brewing Vietnam, "Doomsday" is arguably Voyage 's finest attempt to deal with social and moral issues.  "The Sky is Falling" and "The Price of Doom" also take a firm stand, although in the context of science fiction.

Donald Harron turned in an intense, focused performance.
In Doomsday, pleading the case for humanity.
Donald Harron as Corbett--a standout performance.