The Underwater Menace
by Geoffrey Orme
Starring Patrick Troughton, Anneke Wills, Michael Craze and Frazer Hines
So, this is it. Nearly 16 years after The Five Doctors cautiously emerged onto DVD, the classic Doctor Who shiny disc range has finally come to a close. All pre-2015 Who eps are now out there, there’s nothing left – unless Philip Morris is hiding a couple more down his trousers. *squints* I don’t… think he is… so for now, THIS IS IT!
And ‘this’ is probably not what we would have expected. At one stage, the DVD range was intended to end with something big and much-loved – going out with a bang with a partly-animated The Tenth Planet – that would have been great, right? But what we’ve ended up with is the much maligned Patrick Troughton adventure, The Underwater Menace (it came 224th out of 241 in DWM’s last big story poll), and its route to DVD has not been an easy one.
The Underwater Menace part 3 has already had a DVD release back on the Lost in Time package in 2004, but – miraculously, Part 2 was returned to the BBC archive (along with Galaxy 4, Air Lock) in 2011. The door was suddenly open to a DVD release of the 2 (of 4) existing episodes, and it was then that the water-torture of waiting began – 4 years of the stuff!
Initially the plan was to animate the 2 missing eps, something I was almost responsible for with animation company Qurios, then it looked like the Antipodean team at Planet 55 might take it on, but in truth, for various boring reasons, nothing ever got off the ground. In the end, producer John Kelly has put together telesnap montages for episodes 1 and 4 – but even that (though no fault of John’s) is ultimately presented here in very basic form. It’s not quite the send-off we’d want for a range that has always worked hard to present Doctor Who in the best possible way.
But sod all that.
Because The Underwater Menace is a remarkable, unique piece of Doctor Who. With its sparkly fish people, insane costumes, killer sharks, pet octopuses and gloriously mental Professor Zaroff, this is the most bat-sh*t mental Who has ever been. I mean, Zaroff’s plan seems to be to raise the lost city of Atlantis, but actually – secretly – he just wants to explode the Planet Earth. Where he lives! Just because he can! It’s totally, utterly, barking mad – and I love it for that.
This is only Troughton’s third story, so the newly recovered part 2 is now the very earliest Pat we have. He’s getting towards the end of his mad, formative stage here – all hat-obsessions, odd disguises and crazy eyes – but there’s a strong argument that Troughton coming up against the unstoppable ham of Joseph Furst as Zaroff, is the tipping point that brings the Second Doctor’s energy levels down a notch. Troughton is magnificent here, particularly in part 2 in his scenes with Zaroff – “BANG!” has already gone down as a classic Pat moment.
The script is just odd, seemingly written in the misinformed comic-book style of those old Doctor Who annuals, where the writers are writing all about the show, but never seem to have actually seen an episode of… Doctor Who. The delirious threat our heroes face is so absurd, the fish people so silly (“You’re not turning me into a fish!”), and the setting naively extravagant for a BBC budget. It’s pretty much unlike anything else in the series. The Doctor even signs his name as ‘Doctor W’ – come on!
You’ve also got to feel for the companions here – Polly, Ben and Jamie. Polly does ok, but Jamie McCrimmon had only just been recruited to the TARDIS and was a last-minute addition to this script. The solution was to split all of Ben’s lines between him and the Scotsman, which sadly shafts both actors. Sometimes, poor Jamie just echoes what Ben has just said – so Ben shouts “Tell us!” and Jamie meekly echoes “Yeah, tell us!”
Wait. Am I being mean about this? I don’t want to be. Look, it is rubbish. But – like Pertwee’s The Time Monster and Baker’s Creature from the Pit, it’s wonderfully, gloriously, life-affirmingly rubbish!
And despite the reconstructions of parts 1 and 4 not being much cop, this is still a great DVD. We get a terrific making-of documentary, Fishy Tales, from Russell Minton, who also contributes the indulgent but enjoyable Tales of Television Centre part 2 doc. Minton is awesome at adding quirky production value to these films – and after his amazing TARDIS team cake on The Visitation SE, here we get gorgeous footage of someone dressed as a fish person crawling around the rocks of a Dorset beach – and Russell actually had someone sew a brand new, super-accurate costume for the shoot! Now that’s Doctor Who dedication.
The disc also benefits from some ingenious commentaries –Toby Hadoke filling the gaps of the missing episodes with a touching interview with Troughton’s son, Michael, and audio soundbites from the UM cast and crew who are no longer with us. The surviving eps have a fun chat-track from cast and crew including Anneke Wills and Frazer Hines.
And then that’s it. Over. The moment hasn’t particularly been prepared for, but we’re here. I’m hugely biased, but I’ve loved it – what other show has received the level of attention, passion and inventiveness that has been visited on the Doctor Who range? Ok, shut up anyone saying Red Dwarf. And same goes for Star Trek. Ok, everybody just shut up!
*breaks down in tears and is carried from the stage*
BLOGTOR RATING 6/10
Thanks to BBC Worldwide