Harriman Nelson

Harriman Nelson

Admiral Harriman Nelson was a fictional character first played by Walter Pidgeon in the 1961 science fiction movie, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and later played by Richard Basehart in the 1964-1968 TV series of the same name. Both the movie and the series were set in the near-future of the 1970s and 1980s, with the series generally using dates between 1973 and 1984. Since this era was depicted from the vantage point of a decade earlier, their version of the decade obviously differs considerably from the one that actually took place.


Nelson, as depicted in the original movie, was a career naval officer, about age 65 or so. He was strong willed, forceful, and not used to being questioned about his decisions. The TV iteration of Nelson was a bit younger - about 50 - and considerably more energetic, as more generally befits the protagonist in an action/adventure series. This version was evidently somewhat based on Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, the youngest four star admiral in US Naval history. The younger version of Nelson preferred cigarettes to cigars, and chain smoked for the first several years of the series.

In both versions, Nelson is a four-star admiral (though at the beginning of the TV series, he was shown to have three-stars and no explanation was ever given as to when, how, or why he obtained his fourth star), and one of the world's most brilliant scientific minds. He's cited as being "One of the world's foremost marine biologists" in both versions, and also apparently holds high degrees in Nuclear Physics as well. The TV series added that he was also one of the brightest minds in computer engineering alive at that time. He also won the Nobel prize in Biology for 1976 (as explained in the episode, Cyborg).

Personal life

Nelson is unmarried, and apparently childless, though why this should be is never explained, and it is unknown if he is widowed, divorced, or perhaps a life-long bachelor. His only living blood relative, a sister who was 'kidnapped' (although later it is found out that the person was actually an intelligence agent) and held hostage in an attempt to get Nelson to release top-secret information. His place of birth is unknown, however his accent implies that either he or perhaps his parents were New Englanders. In author Theodore Sturgeon's novel of the ' Voyage ' movie, Nelson is described as being part of a family involved in banking and philanthropy. His one known ancestor was an 18th century New England captain, who was of Irish ancestry, of a slave ship. Nelson has an extremely close relationship with Commander Lee Crane, which is alternately describes as "Father/son" or "Brotherly." The two trust each other implicitly, except when the script says differently.

Character History

Nelson's naval record is never expressly stated; however it is known that he has extensive naval combat experience, both in submarines and in the surface fleet, and he's an extremely experienced aviator as well. It is known that he commanded the USS Nautilus at some point in the late 1950s, and that Lee Crane first met the Admiral when he served on that ship's crew. It is also known that he has served as an instructor at the United States Naval Academy on occasion, as well as at several co-educational institutions (see The Ghost of Moby Dick). He has some background in Counterintelligence (ONI), and evidently speaks fluent Russian as he is occasionally seen on assignment under cover in the Soviet Union. His credentials as a scientist and explorer are above repute, and although he is mentioned as being "Always controversial," he is held in generally high regard by the scientific and military communities, despite his mercurial temper, and is popular in the media, probably because of said temper.

Nelson retired from the active-duty Navy at some point prior to the beginning of the series (And movie), and formed the Nelson Institute of Marine Research, which is headquartered in Santa Barbara, California. In this capacity, he designed and built the 400+ foot Seaview (later designated as SSRN in the TV series), which is the world's only privately-owned-and-operated Nuclear Submarine. Nelson also developed the process for the transparent hull plating - ' X-tempered Herculite ' - for the ' window ' sections of the sub's forward nose. With it, he hoped it would afford ' sights never before seen by Man, and by seeing, solve some of the mysteries of the deep '. The USOS Seaview (for United States Oceanographic Survey, & in the motion picture, under the Bureau of Marine Exploration) is, however, listed as a Naval Reserve vessel, and is automatically drafted into active service as the US Navy deems necessary. As such, her crew is composed entirely of retired or reserve naval personnel.

Nelson has always felt it was his duty to be strictly apolitical, and refused to ever voice an opinion publicly on a political matter. In the second season, however, he was forced to take a different stance when he discovered that a leading candidate for Secretary of Defense was actually an enemy agent. Despite his apoliticism, Nelson is extremely close friends with fictional US President Henry Talbot MacNeil, and was counted as one of the president's poker buddies.

Nelson's religious beliefs are a subject of some debate. He is obviously a rational - if moody - intellect, and clearly believes in evolution; however, he has also memorized lengthy passages of the Bible, which he recites on occasion, and he seemed condescending towards a visiting Soviet dignitary's vocal atheism on at least one occasion. That said, despite his several paranormal experiences, Nelson appears, on balance, to be Deistic or else guardedly irreligious.

A closer look at the "text" - i.e. the actual episodes - suggests a decidedly Christian bent to the Admiral's complex personality. As noted above, Nelson frequently quotes Scripture, "Cradle of the Deep (1965)", "Jonah & the Whale (1965)". More examples tend to indicate the Admiral's familiarity with Scripture went beyond that of simply a well-read man. In "The Cyborg (1966)," he flashes a clearly disgusted look at a mad genius who had quoted Genesis 1:27 to glorify his own creative work (that being a race of synthetic "humanoids.") In both "Jonah & the Whale" and "The Terrible Toys (1967)," he suggests prayer to a Soviet scientist and Crane (respectively) on occasions of dire peril. In two burials at sea - one for a "People's Republic" officer in "The Exile (1965)" and another for ghostly U-Boat Capt. Krueger in "The Phantom Strikes (1966) - Nelson and his friend Capt. Lee Crane refer to "the Resurrection" and their belief "those who call on the name of the Lord shall be saved." It is certainly true, however, that Nelson's religious/Christian denomination - if he had one - was never mentioned in the television series.

Awards and Decorations

The list below contains all of Nelsons's known awards and decorations. The names are given in order of precedence, according to SECNAVINST 1650.1F and the U.S. Navy Uniform Regulations (NAVPERS 1566.5G).

Navy Cross
Navy Distinguished Service Medal
Silver Star
Legion of Merit
Presidential Unit Citation
American Defense Service Medal
American Campaign Medal
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal (with 1 bronze service star)
World War II Victory Medal
National Defense Service Medal
Korean Service Medal (with 2 bronze service stars)
United Nations Service Medal


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