The Doctor (Tom Baker)  & Leela (Louise Jameson) - Doctor Who Underworld (c) BBC
The Doctor (Tom Baker) & Leela (Louise Jameson) – Doctor Who Underworld (c) BBC

Underworld: Part 2

Broadcast on January 14th 1978 @ 6.25pm (9.1m viewers)

Underworld is a venture into the mythological after producer Graham Williams had been brought in following complaints regarding violence in the programme. Where the previous team of Philip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes had been influenced by a number of classical horror films, this new era of the show would take inspiration from literature. Underworld is an enjoyable script because it draws heavily on the ancient mythical story of Jason and the Argonauts and is full of references. For example, Jackson/Jason, P7E/Persephone, Orfe/Orpheus and Herrick/Heracles are just a few of the nods to the original mythological tale. Instead of being set in ancient Greece the action occurs with spaceships and planets in the far future, effectively turning ‘Jason and the Argonauts’ into ‘Jackson and the Astronauts’.

The Doctor (Tom Baker) and K9 - Doctor Who - Underworld (c) BBC
The Doctor (Tom Baker) and K9 – Doctor Who – Underworld (c) BBC

The late 1970’s was a very difficult period in Great Britain with soaring inflation rates and the Doctor Who budget crisis hit ‘Underworld’ hard. However, out of adversity creative people thrive. The decision was made that scenes set in the caves could be achieved by using as we now know it ‘green-screen’ technology but at the time was called ‘Colour Separation Overlay’ (CSO) or ‘Chroma key’. That process involves the actors being filmed on a screen, blue in this case but a green colour is now more common, and that colour being replaced by a feed taken from another camera directed at a still image or model. In the 21st Century such methods are quite common in Doctor Who and on movie franchises such as ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Harry Potter’, however ‘Underworld’ was made in 1977 when the technology was not at the standards we have since become accustomed to. Therefore, the reason for using cave models and placing them behind the actors was to avoid the construction of sets and save money in the very tight budget. This decision also meant that production could also continue on the final story of the season the ‘Invasion of Time’.

As is customary of Doctor Who during this period the model work is very impressive with significant proportions of the evaporating production budget allocated to achieving convincing shots of the R1C and the P7E spaceships. Once again the creative ingenuity at the BBC Visual Effects department manages to deliver at a time when the whole world was about to be blown away by the first Star Wars movie.

Memorable Moment

Part 2 of Underworld has a significant number of sequences of cast members exploring and running through the cave systems achieved by the CSO process. On the whole, they are largely effective, managing to convince the viewer that the characters are in caves. However, when compared with location sequences from ‘Revenge of the Cybermen’ (1975) filmed in Wookey Hole caves, the difference in quality is noticeable. Despite this, ‘Underworld’ is a fantastic achievement symbolised by the cave sequences, the tale of a production team dedicated to delivering the retelling of a mythical tale in spite of significant budgetary restraints.

Also first aired On This Day…

  • The Underwater Menace: Episode 1

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