Doctor Who – The Underwater Menace Review

  • Series Title: Doctor Who
  • Story Title: The Underwater Menace
  • Story #: 32
  • Episodes: 4 half-hour parts
  • Discs: 1
  • Network: BBC
  • Original Air Dates: 1/14/1967 – 2/4/1967
  • Cast: Patrick Troughton, Frazer Hines, Anneke Wills, Michael Craze
  • Format: Standard, Black and White, DVD, NTSC

“Just one small question, Why do you want to blow-up the world?” – The Doctor to Professor Zaroff

“Nothing in the world can stop me now!” – Zaroff

Part 1 and 4 of  “The Underwater Menace” are presented as telesnaps with the original audio. Parts 2 and 3 are the original black and white film/video episodes. Telesnaps are what they sound like – pictures taken off a television screen. Unfortunately, this doesn’t work nearly as well as actually re-creating the episodes with animation. Part 1 is especially confusing – Jamie is a new companion in the TARDIS, and they land on an ocean shore. Even Polly remarks that they’ve landed “in Cornwall”. It’s actually Dorset according to the making of featurette included on the DVD, but it’s a sign of things to come in this somewhat off-center Doctor Who story. The Doctor (Troughton), Ben, Polly, and Jamie explore and Polly wanders off – she finds some artifacts and is taken hostage or something. The TARDIS crew find themselves in Atlantis.

In Atlantis, the Doctor and Ben are nearly sacrificed to the god, Amdo, while Polly is taken to Professor Zaroff to be turned into a Fish Person. Polly screams and proclaims she’ll “not be turned into a fish!” But the Doctor knows of Zaroff, a famous researcher in getting food from the sea. The Doctor, Ben, and Jamie are treated to a meal that the Doctor claims is delicious, ambrosia. Then the Doctor is taken to Zaroff, while Ben and Jamie are sent to work in the mines. The Doctor does some minor sabotage to the lighting so Polly can escape. Meanwhile, Ben and Jamie meet two miners, Jacko and Sean, who are determined to escape the mines. They all become partners. The Doctor meets up with Zaroff and realizes he’s completely mad. Moreover, his plan to raise Atlantis by lowering the level of water in the Ocean (by allowing it to drain through a drilled hole into the center of the planet) will destroy the Earth.

Polly makes friends with a handmaiden in Atlantis who helps her out – aiding her escape from the scientists trying to turn her into a Fish Person, getting her clothes and a place to hide in the temple, passing messages along. Jacko, Sean, Ben, and Jamie soon get the chance to escape the mines and follow a tunnel that leads to the temple, so they are reunited with Polly quickly. The Doctor, learning that Polly is hidden in the temple, goes to meet with the priest, Ramo. Despite a rocky start (Ramo had tried to sacrifice the Doctor after all) the Doctor ends-up allied with Ramo, as both want to over-throw Zaroff. Ramo gets the Doctor a disguise and brings him to the head of state, Thous, to try to get him to stop Zaroff. Thous only wants to raise Atlantis from the sea, though, so he orders the Doctor to be sacrificed again. Ben stops this by pretending to be Amdo and directing all the religious observers to avert their eyes – while the Doctor and Ramo escape behind the altar.

The Doctor, Ramo, and the TARDIS crew, with help from Jacko and Sean, then work to stop Zaroff. Sean baits the Fish People into going on strike – which stops the food supply for Atlantis. The food that the Fish People raise for the city may be delicious – but it spoils quickly and cannot be stored. This food shortage causes the miners to stop working, and Ben, Jamie, and Jacko help them escape through the tunnels to the higher levels of the city. The Doctor, with help from Polly, breaks the sea wall, flooding Atlantis, including Zaroff’s lab. The Doctor does try to rescue Zaroff, but his own arrogance dooms the insane scientist.

Some of the people of Atlantis are drowned, but the rest survive, including Ramo and Thous. When Ramo suggests building a shrine to the Doctor and company, Thous insists they will have no more shrines and no more slaves (the Fish People) they will re-build Atlantis together. The Doctor meets up with Polly, Jamie, and Ben at the TARDIS and they leave – but the TARDIS seems to encounter a problem in flight.

Overall, “The Underwater Menace” is a bit, odd, as a Classic Doctor Who episode. It’s a very fantasy-oriented episode – with Fish People, ancient gods, Atlantis, and the classic battle between scientists, politicians, and religion. But, surprisingly, here – it’s the religious priest who is actually the calmest, most logical, and most sane man of the three. Even when he tries to sacrifice the Doctor it’s more of because he’s been ordered to do so by his king, rather than because he wants to. And Zaroff is just simply insane. When the Doctor asks him why he wants to blow-up the world, his answer is basically “because it’s there” and as a demonstration of ultimate power. Although with every living thing dead on the planet one wonders who he thinks will observe this demonstration? The Doctor also cleverly manipulates Thous, asking him if he’s ever observed Zaroff’s eyes. This causes Thous to realise himself that Zaroff is mad (though Zaroff then shoots him, but not fatally). Unfortunately, with parts 1 and 4 missing – it’s very hard to figure out what is going on, especially in part 1. I’d really like to see a special edition release of this story with the missing episodes re-created with animation. I don’t understand why BBC Worldwide choose to use telesnaps for the missing stories rather than animation as they have for other stories where individual parts of the whole story are missing. Overall, this is one of the more “campy” episodes of Classic Who (especially Zaroff – he’s way over the top in every scene he’s in). But it has some good points as well: the inverse of the science vs. religion debate, some great costumes, and sets, etc. Yes, I thought the Fish People costumes, and the sea-shell and seaweed dresses were inventive and impressive.

Overall, I’d give it a 3 out of 5, and I’d pay money for a fully restored/animated Special Edition, even though I seldom re-buy something I already own.

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