Around 1975 or so, my father let me know that we’d be getting a new television station. This was back during the era of antenna television, where the number of choices was slim. So slim, in fact, that this new station wasn’t on the main dial of 13 options, but rather to be found on that strange other dial, the UHF dial. He mentioned this to me because that Sunday the station was going to be airing the Marvel Super-Heroes cartoon. While I wasn’t yet a Marvel fan (in fact I didn’t care for Marvel books at all at that point), I nevertheless tuned in, and watched as Captain America took on the threat of the Sleeper robots. But it was the show that aired after Marvel Super Heroes that I liked better–FANTASTIC VOYAGE
FANTASTIC VOYAGE was, no lie, the perfect animated distillation of everything that was cool in the 1960s when it was made. Ostensibly based on the recent film, it was instead a crazy mash-up of Mission: Impossible, The Fantastic Four, Star Trek and about a dozen other things.
FANTASTIC VOYAGE dealt with the adventures of the C.M.D.F, the Combined Miniature Defense Force. They were a team of characters who would be shrunk to miniature size (who knew that being so small was such an aid to promoting world security!) and take on counter-espionage missions in their ship, the Voyager, battling spies and saboteurs as well as common criminals and mad scientists.
The team included Commander Jonathan Kidd, who was very much Captain Kirk by way of Nick Fury, with his eyepatch. Doctor Erica Lane, biologist and token female. Guru, who possessed mysterious vaguely-Hindu/Swami based powers as well as a Spock-like reserve and detachment, and inventory Busby Birdwell, who both created the Voyager and piloted it, in-between sparring with Guru in the manner of the Human Torch and the Thing, or Spock and McCoy.
A FILMATION cartoon, the truth is that most of the individual adventures were only so-so. But compared to the other cartoons of the period, it was amazingly good. One of the big appeals was the time limit: the team could only remain miniaturized for a total of twelve hours before something horrible would happen. We were never quite told just what it was–and in one episode, after the limit was reached the Voyager and its crew simply began to return to its original size–but that ticking clock, referenced often throughout each show, kept the tension level high. In typical FILMATION style, Ted Knight performed something like 80% of the voices.
FANTASTIC VOYAGE only ran for 17 episodes, and it quickly disappeared from my television screen–as did the entirety of that UHF station, which couldn’t make a go of it. It would be years before I would see an episode of Fantastic Voyage again, or even be able to recall the name of it. But it’s my pick as the best television cartoon of the 1960s.