Doctor Who – The Underwater Menace

Doctor Who - The Underwater Menace
Doctor Who – The Underwater Menace

“The Underwater Menace” is an adventure of the fourth season of “Doctor Who” classic series, which aired in 1967. It’s a four parts adventure written by Geoffrey Orme and directed by Julia Smith.

The story

The Tardis materializes on Earth and the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton), Jamie (Frazer Hines), Ben (Michael Craze) and Polly (Anneke Wills) go out to explore what looks like a deserted volcanic island. However, the nearby caves are inhabited and the travelers are immediately captured.

The local inhabitants are the survivors of Atlantis and their high priest decides to sacrifice the travelers to their god Amdo. They receive one last meal but the Doctor realizes that it must have been prepared by Professor Zaroff, a scientist whose traces were lost. In fact, Zaroff is working on a plan that can have terrible consequences for the whole world.


This DVD contains a decent amount of extras. There are typical contents such as a gallery of pictures from this adventure but less than usual.

There are various comments in the adventure episodes alternative audio track: in episode 1 by Patrick Troughton’s son Michael Troughton and Toby Hadoke, in episodes 2 and 3 by the protagonists Anneke Wills and Frazer Hines, actress
Catherine Howe, sound supervisor Brian Hodgson and floor assistant Quentin Mann moderated by Toby Hadoke and in episode 4 by director Julia Smith, the originally assigned director Hugh David and producer Innes Lloyd moderated by Toby Hadoke.

A Fishy Tale. A half-hour documentary about the production of this adventure.

The Television Center of the Universe – Part Two. Peter Davison, Mark Strickson and Janet Fielding meet old friends and colleagues at the BBC Television Center, where “Doctor Who” was filmed. Inevitably this documentary concerns above all the Fifth Doctor’s era.

Censor Clips. Bits of this adventure cut from the version broadcast in Australia.

Geoffrey Orme had already worked for years as a screenwriter for cinema and television when he submitted the idea for an adventure to “Doctor Who” production. Gerry Davis, then script editor, rejected the idea but discussed other ideas with the author and eventually commissioned him to write what became “The Underwater Menace”.

The production of this serial was rather chaotic because the initially chosen director, Hugh David, pointed out that the budget needed was greater than that available. At that point, it was decided to produce another serial but the author had health problems and was unable to finish it. “The Underwater Menace” was reinstated into the fourth season schedule but with Julia Smith as director and adding in the story the presence of Jamie, who was added to Doctor’s companions.

“The Underwater Menace” has a negative reputation that started at the time of its first transmission. It had a potential but is basically wasted and ends up being too often almost a parody. Perhaps the author had to finish the script too quickly after the serial was reinstated into the schedule, perhaps the budget was too low, perhaps in those years the production team preferred to avoid stories with themes too profound, the fact is that it turned out to be a big mess.

The setting in the lost Atlantis already had its own potential and from that point of view the biggest problem was probably the budget. The Doctor and his companions find a primitive society with a king and a high priest and there was the possibility of developing some themes connected to political and religious power and their relationships but perhaps it would have been too much. The presence of a scientist such as Professor Zaroff gave the possibility to develop the theme of ethics connected to science, was that too much as well?

The classic “Doctor Who” series budget limits are well known so we can’t complain about production values. It’s the story that was developed in a superficial way and ended up becoming notorious above all for the performance that’s really over the top of Professor Zaroff by actor Joseph Furst. If nothing else, the audience can have a few laughs and that ends up being one of the few positive notes of “The Underwater Menace”.

The judgment on “The Underwater Menace” is not easy because it’s an incomplete serial. For years, only the third episode was available, but in December 2011 the discovery of the second missing episode was announced together with some pieces cut by the Australian censorship. Those pieces had already been recovered along with the ones cut from the other episodes allowing to complete the second episode.

The BBC has decided to publish “The Underwater Menace” on DVD but, unlike other serials, the missing episodes were included only as reconstructions with existing still images accompanied by the audio track and not as animations. In some scenes it’s difficult to understand exactly what’s happening based only on some stills, especially in the ending, which seems frenetic from the audio.

The result is that the pace seems even slower than it really is and the characters may seem dull – Zaroff apart, of course – because you only see a part of their performance. A fan created CGI animations of the lost episodes – episode 1 and episode 4 – that are still limited but offer something more than the reconstructions.

For this reason, the DVD edition is a bit “crippled”, a cheap job, perhaps already thinking that only “Doctor Who” fans who want to have the complete collection would buy it. It’s the case in which the extras, with the two documentaries and the comments in the alternative audio track, could be more interesting than the adventure.

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