Nothing in the world can stop you enjoying this classic Doctor Who story! ‘The Underwater Menace’ sees the Time Lord and his companions venture into the mythical city of Atlantis – and come up against one of the craziest baddies of all time.
First broadcast in 1967, this classic Doctor Who story was the third of Patrick Troughton’s era, with the actor having taken over from William Hartnell two adventures previously in ‘The Power of the Daleks.’ By this point, he was fully established as the eponymous hero, travelling with a fun but somewhat crowded TARDIS crew of Ben, Polly and Jamie.
Interestingly, Jamie was never meant to be in ‘The Underwater Menace’ at all. He had made his debut as a guest character in the preceding story ‘The Highlanders’ and the producers had so enjoyed his performance that they decided to make him a permanent member of Team TARDIS. Unfortunately, this meant that the next few stories had to be rewritten to incorporate him, and most of the time this meant repurposing Ben’s dialogue.
This was particularly problematic in the case of this classic Doctor Who story, which had encountered difficulties from the start. It had originally been pulled from the production schedule as it was deemed too expensive, and it was due to be replaced with an adventure by William Emms called ‘The Imps.’
Unfortunately, Emms fell ill and wasn’t able to complete the rewrites, and with filming fast approaching, writer Geoffrey Orme had to get his scripts for ‘The Underwater Menace’ into shape in record time, and this included making allowances for the introduction of Jamie McCrimmon. In the end, each episode of this adventure was filmed only one week before it was broadcast.
That being said, the somewhat rushed production of this classic Doctor Who story doesn’t really show, and the inclusion of Jamie is seamless. At the same time, actor Frazer Hines did reveal in subsequent interviews for the classic Doctor Who DVD range that he felt Michael Craze (Ben) was a little confused as to why the producers had decided to introduce another male companion. It was certainly more problematic in the following story ‘The Moonbase,’ and Jamie ended up unconscious in a hospital bed for most of the adventure.
But like all good classic Doctor Who stories, ‘The Underwater Menace’ is chock-full of imaginative ideas. It’s all set on the lost island of Atlantis, presumably in the present day, with the civilisation trapped beneath the sea. Keen to rectify this problem, the mad scientist Professor Zaroff decides to boil away the Earth’s oceans so that Atlantis can rise once more. And whilst you don’t have to be a Time Lord to spot the flaw in this plan, the Doctor rightly concludes that Zaroff’s scheme will result in the complete destruction of planet Earth, and sets out to stop him.
And whilst there aren’t any monsters as such in this classic Doctor Who story, ‘The Underwater Menace’ is perhaps best-remembered for the Fish People who, as the name suggests, were humanoid fish beings that served the people of Atlantis. It’s actually quite a sinister idea, as these creatures were once real people who were converted by Atlantis’ scientists in order to act as mindless slaves.
Of course, like many classic Doctor Who stories, ‘The Underwater Menace’ has been criticised for its production values over the years. Apparently, Patrick Troughton was particularly unhappy with this adventure and felt that the Fish People were poorly realised. The producer Innes Lloyd later echoed this sentiment, comparing ‘The Underwater Menace’s production values to that of a 1950s American B movie.
At the same time, episode three is notable for a lengthy ‘dance’ sequence which shows the Fish People swimming around at the bottom of the ocean to the accompaniment of eerie, otherworldly music composed by Dudley Simpson. It may not add anything to the overall plot, but it holds up well – particularly when one considers how little time and money the crew had to get it in the can.
But whether or not ‘The Underwater Menace’ looked like a cheap American movie is, of course, a matter of opinion. And in fact one could argue that nobody ever tuned into classic Doctor Who for its high-end special effects. The appeal of the programme has always been the main character and his wild adventures in the TARDIS, and one of the strengths of classic Doctor Who is the scriptwriting. Love it or hate it, ‘The Underwater Menace’ is certainly pacey and rich in original ideas.
One such idea is that of Professor Zaroff. Like the much-maligned Tryst in ‘Nightmare on Eden,’ Zaroff has received much criticism over the years for his over-the-top, somewhat pantomimic performance, but it’s worth remembering that actor Joseph Fürst was playing a deranged scientist from a lost, mythical civilisation with his sights set on draining the world’s oceans and blowing up the planet. He was never going to have the cool, Bond villain-like intelligence of Scarlioni from ‘City of Death,’ or even Taren Capel from ‘Robots of Death.’ Fürst’s performance was in-keeping with the script he was given.
Furthermore, there is much enjoyment to be had in Fürst’s high-energy portrayal of Zaroff. His line at the end of episode three (“Nothing in ze world can stop me now!”) has passed into classic Doctor Who legend and, again, whether you love him or hate him, Zaroff is certainly not dull.
As such, if you have never seen ‘The Underwater Menace,’ it is well worth a few hours of your time. Unfortunately, the first and last episodes of this classic Doctor Who story are still missing from the archive, but the DVD release does contain a photo reconstruction of the missing parts along with the original soundtracks, so it is still possible to ‘watch’ this adventure in its entirety. We can only keep our fingers (or our fins) crossed that the missing episodes will be animated one day – or, better still, be found in the depths of a long-lost archive. (Just don’t try to boil away the oceans in order to get them…)
In the meantime, tell us – is there anything in ze world that you like about ‘The Underwater Menace’? Let us know in the comments below.
And be sure to check out our other piece: Can we complete ‘The Underwater Menace’?
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