The Underwater Menace

Doctor WhoJamie’s first trip in the TARDIS is anything but uneventful, as the timeship brings the Doctor and friends to a volcanic outcropping in the middle of the ocean on Earth. The time travelers are quickly captured taken to an underground city, which they soon realize is Atlantis. The somewhat backward natives seem friendly enough, but they also seem intent on sacrificing the newcomers to the patron goddess of their island. Salvation comes from an unlikely source – a scientist called Zaroff rescues them, but then reveals his plan to cause the Earth to explode by draining the world’s oceans into a shaft leading straight to the planet’s molten core. Zaroff has also been performing horrific experiments to turn the locals into an enslaved population of Fish People. Now on the run from both Zaroff and the Atlanteans, the Doctor and his friends realize that their only hope of escape – and of stopping Zaroff’s mad scheme – may lie with liberating the Fish People. But when Zaroff is so intent on destroying the world, can anything really be a deterrent to his plan?

Order this story on audio CDwritten by Geoffrey Orme
directed by Julia Smith
music by Dudley Simpson

Guest Cast: Joseph Furst (Professor Zaroff), Catherine Howe (Ara), Tom Watson (Ramo), Peter Stephens (Lolem), Colin Jeavons (Damon), Gerald Taylor (Damon’s Assistant), Graham Ashley (Overseer), Tony Handy, Alex Donald, Tony Douglas (Guards), Paul Anil (Jacko), P.G. Stephens (Sean), Noel Johnson (Thous), Roma Woodnutt (Nola), Bill Burridge (Executioner Priest), Jimmy Mack (Refugee Priest)

Broadcast from January 14 through February 4, 1967

Note: While the Doctor wasn’t mad about Zaroff’s idea to drain the oceans of the Earth into the core of the planet, he was much more sympatico with the idea of draining at least the Thames into the Earth’s core to destroy the emerging children of the Empress of Racnoss in 2006’s The Runaway Bride. This story is quietly sidestepped by other future entries in the Doctor Who canon, including the Jon Pertwee story The Time Monster, which offers a completely different story of the destruction of Atlantis. The master tapes of this story were destroyed by the BBC in the early 1970’s, and only episode 3 and a handful of select clips from episodes 1, 2 and 4 remain intact.

LogBook entry & review by Earl Green

Review: If The Underwater Menace isn’t a shoo-in for the low point of the Troughton era, it’s at the very least a strong contender. As fan historians would have us believe, the audience gradually took the new Doctor on board following his unprecedented change of features and personality in The Tenth Planet, but after watching the reconstructed edition of this mostly-lost four-parter, and then listening to the BBC Radio Collection narrated audio CD of the same story for clarification, I wonder if more viewers didn’t defect in the wake of Hartnell’s departure than we’re led to believe.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but The Underwater Menace is just plain silly. It’s Scooby Doo silly. Part of this is due to the fact that the production team, still trying to find their footing after the change of lead actor, hadn’t really nailed down what they wanted the second Doctor to be. In this story he’s still doing slapstick costume gags, using his recorder to temporarily disable his enemies (!), and generally being more comical than dramatic. His adversary for this story is the wacky, over-the-top mad Professor Zaroff, whose vaguely Teutonic accent appears and disappears almost at random while he’s hatching wildly implausible schemes to destroy the Earth (for reasons that are never really adequately explained), and making grand proclamations straight into the camera like “Nothing in ze world can stop me now!”

And then there’s episode 3’s trippy interlude with the Fish People “swimming” under “water”. I’m sorry that this story isn’t intact, but by God, if only one episode could survive, I’m glad it was the third one. If the whole thing was still in existence, that’s one Doctor Who adventure that I’d want to sic Joel, Crow T. Robot and Tom Servo on, stat. There have been moments of intentional comedy gold in Doctor Who both old and new, but I’m not sure I’ve ever laughed quite so hard at any of the Time Lord’s travels as I did here.

The Doctor’s newly-crowded TARDIS crew doesn’t fare much better here; Jamie gets some action scenes in, but there’s little hint of the fan favorite that the character will shortly become. This may well be Polly’s worst outing during her brief stint on the show, with the character used as nothing more than a screaming damsel waiting to be rescued.

It’s probably better that The Underwater Menace is one of the stories that has sunk (sorry, couldn’t resist it) into hazy still-photos-and-audio memory. This is one serial where I’m not sure it’d be worth it to have it back in one piece.