This week in 2012 marks the centennial of the RMS Titanic’s fateful maiden voyage. Titanic had been described as “unsinkable” in the press of its time, of course, but it nonetheless struck an iceberg and went down. You already know these historical details by rote: There were not enough lifeboats aboard Titanicto preserve all the passengers and many people drowned in freezing waters that terrifying night.
The world has mourned the loss of Titanicever since in fiction and film, and the doomed ship has become the stuff of legend in cult television too.
In 1959, the paranormal anthology One Step Beyond presented in its second episode, “Night of April 14,” a tale about the “psychic” web surrounding the sinking of Titanic. Here, a woman named Grace experienced recurring dreams of drowning in freezing waters. She soon discovered she would be honeymooning with her fiancé aboard Titanic. Later in “Night of April 14,” various personalities across the globe (including a Methodist preacher in Canada and a cartoonist in the Big Apple) experienced precognitive visions regarding the loss of Titanic.
The Titanic was also the central location of the first episode of Irwin Allen’s The Time Tunnel, in September of 1966. In “Rendezvous with Destiny,” Project Tic-Toc scientists Newman (James Darren) and Phillips (Robert Colbert) were hurled through time and ended up on the deck of the doomed ocean-liner. They attempted to convince the captain, played by Michael Rennie, that the ship was in grave danger. After they tried to take over the radio room (to call for help), the scientists were dismissed as dangerous lunatics. Even a newspaper with a headline describing Titanic’s sinking could not sway the Captain. The unusual thing about this particular adventure is that neither Newman nor Phillips evidenced any concern for the idea that by saving the Titanic on its maiden voyage, they would be changing their own history, since they were born after the disaster occurred. Never once in the episode was the idea questioned that they should interfere in history and try to save the ship and passengers.
Rod Serling’s Night Gallery featured the Titanic in an episode entitled “Lone Survivor.” Here, a cowardly passenger aboard the ship, played by the late John Colicoswas doomed to repeat, over and over again, the events that led to the sinking of the vessel, as well as his unethical behavior to ensure his own survival. In this case, the Titanic story was a milieu for moral commentary. What lengths would you go to in order preserve your own life, even if women and children could be saved instead? And what cost should you pay for making that choice?
A Friday the 13th: The Series episode in the late 1980s — entitled “What a Mother Wouldn’t Do” — starred Lynn Cormack and involved a “cursed” antique from the Titanic: a wooden cradle. The malevolent cradle demands human sacrifices (drowning victims…) to keep a terminally-ill infant alive. Here the curse of Titanic was seen to extend to artifacts from the ship itself.
In 2011, the CW’s Supernatural aired an episode called “My Heart Will Go On” that involved the Titanic. In this case, an angel named Balthazar saved the doomed ship, not to preserve lives, but so that he would no longer have to endure Celine Dion’s song from the 1997 James Cameron film. Unlike “Rendezvous with Destiny” on The Time Tunnel, “My Heart Will Go On” explored what the world would look like if everyone had survived on Titanic. In this case, 50,000 new souls would exist…souls that could be (eventually) harnessed in a Heavenly war.
In some instances, theTitanic has been seen in futuristic terms on cult television. Both Futurama and the new incarnation of Dr. Who have imagined space vessels called Titanic…which actually resembled the infamous sea-going ship. And in both instances, the temptation has been to see (tragic) history repeat itself., only in the final frontier. The question of interest, however, is this: would you board a spaceship named after the famous, sunken ocean liner?
I doubt that I would…
Termed “the ship of dreams” in Titanic (1997), the unsinkable ship has proven itself the ship of nightmares in cult TV history for over fifty years now.