Doctor Who: The Underwater Menace
"Nothing in the world can stop me now!"
Say it with an Austrian accent for full effect.
The Doctor, Ben, Polly and the newly-on-board Jamie arrive in the TARDIS on an extinct volcanic island, They are soon captured and taken underground, into the lost city of Atlantis. The Atlanteans use Fish People – who have been operated on to be able to breathe underwater – to farm the plankton on which they survive. However, scientist Dr Zaroff (Joseph Furst) has promised he can raise Atlantis from the sea, but his real goal is to drain the oceans into the Earth's crust, thus causing the Earth to explode from the resulting superheated steam. Why? Because he can...
Any fan of vintage television, not just Doctor Who, has to face the fact that great swathes of it no longer exist. We may have scripts, soundtracks recorded off-air, stills, sometimes fragments kept for some reason or found as part of another programme, but not the actual programme. Unexpected finds, or the result of detective work, are always possible, even for programmes broadcast once forty or fifty years ago, and we will never know for sure that there are no further episodes out there to be found. That can breed some resentment: why, for example, are all four episodes of The Gunfighters still available to us, when only three out of twelve of The Daleks' Master Plan or Marco Polo exist? I for one would certainly love to be able to see Fury from the Deep and The Web of Fear was high on many people's wishlists before it became complete all but for its third episode, in 2013. The episodes still missing are all from the 1960s, and Troughton's era is worse affected than William Hartnell's.
Back in 2004, the DVD set Lost in Time was released, gathering together all the surviving episodes from stories which were complete fifty percent or less. Episode 3 of The Underwater Menace was one of them, then the only surviving episode of this serial, and the earliest one featuring the Second Doctor and Jamie. The story, Patrick Troughton's third, was generally seen as one of the weakest Second Doctor stories, down there with The Space Pirates (of which one episode survives out of six, which can be found on Lost in Time), with a poor script and rampant overacting from main villain Joseph Furst. Flash forward to 2011, and the annual Missing Believed Wiped at the BFI Southbank in London. I had been going to these since 2005 and the programme brochure hinted at something of interest to fans of television SF. Seeing several of the Who great and good in the audience gave me a good indication as to what we might be seeing, which also included in the programme a rediscovered Dennis Potter play (Emergency - Ward 9) and a newly-found Top of the Pops performance by David Bowie from 1973 of "The Jean Genie". Mark Gatiss stood up to introduce the next item, which had been in the possession of a private collector, Terry Burnett. That was "Air Lock", the third episode of Galaxy 4 (which can be seen along with a reconstruction of the other three episodes as an extra in the special edition of The Aztecs. But then, said Gatiss, Terry Burnett had found another one...and then started Episode 2 of The Underwater Menace. I did hear a laugh as the title caption came up.
That was five years ago as I write this, and this find, the first in seven years, was overshadowed by nine episodes being found in Nigeria, making The Enemy of the World complete and The Web of Fear now complete bar one episode. Those two serials came out on DVD fairly quickly, though with no extras other than a coming-soon trailer, and with the missing Episode 3 of Web reconstructed with the aid of tele-snaps and the off-air recorded soundtrack. A DVD of The Underwater Menace has been a while coming, but with this release all known surviving episodes of Who are available on DVD. The only other serial which is fifty percent complete which has not had a separate disc release is The Crusades (two surviving episodes included on Lost in Time, plus the soundtracks from the other two episodes, but no animation or tele-snaps accompanying them) but I do not know if there are any plans to release that. So, as of January 2016, this may well be the last Who DVD release, unless others of the currently ninety-seven missing episodes are ever found. Rumour has it that there are more out there, possibly many more. We can only hope that's true.
Geoffrey Orme had submitted an earlier story which had been rejected by script editor Gerry Davis, but Orme was encouraged to submit another idea, originally called Under the Sea. Hugh David was originally assigned as director but dropped out due to feeling the subject matter impossible to realise on a BBC budget. He was then assigned to the previous story, The Highlanders. Julia Smith, who had directed the first story of Season Four, The Smugglers, was assigned to direct a William Emms story The Imps, which was delayed due to Emms's illness and was never made, so she was assigned to Orme's story which was then called The Fish People. Patrick Troughton did not get on with her and was very critical of the script and production, though by all accounts he behaved professionally on set.
The show, now in its fourth season, was in a state of flux at the time, and not just because it had just replaced ("rejuvenated" or, as later canon put it, "regenerated") its leading actor. Troughton had come as a complete contrast to Hartnell, and his first two serials had been marked by a broadness of tone: "a clown" as his predecessor described him in The Three Doctors. But, as Robert Shearman points out in the making-of documentary here, confronted with Joseph Furst's wholesale scenery mastication, he begins to underplay the role, setting a template for the rest of his term.
There had been a change of producers in the last series, with the originating producer Verity Lambert standing down, John Wiles taking over for a short time, and then Innes Lloyd coming in with The Celestial Toymaker and presiding over the Doctor's regeneration with script editor Gerry Davis. One manifestation of this was a change in companions. Ben and Polly had been introduced in The War Machines. Jamie, on the other hand, had been envisaged as a one-off character in the previous story The Highlanders but Lloyd liked the character and Frazer Hines's portrayal of him, and so Jamie became a regular and remained so, being written out of the show along with Troughton. This caused some rewrites to Geoffrey Orme's script for The Underwater Menace, with some of Ben's lines going to Jamie.
Three companions (usually two of them female) had been the norm since the start, but there's a sense that it's rather too much, especially with two men to handle the action stuff, making one of the men essentially redundant. Ben and Polly would leave the show during The Faceless Ones, not appearing in the serial at all after the second episode of six other than a prefilmed sequence in the final one. With the following serial, Victoria was introduced and the one-boy-one-girl combination continued until the end of the Sixties (Jamie and Victoria, then Jamie and Zoe), though since then a single female companion has been usual. Polly fits the template for the distaff companions of the Sixties, turning rapidly from the Swinging London chick of her first story to someone prone to screaming and needing to be rescued, and that's the same here, with the first episode's cliffhanger featuring an operation designed to turn her into a Fish Person. Some of that is in Orme's writing, as she is more proactive in earlier stories which are now lost.
As for Joseph Furst, he was a distinguished Austrian-born actor much active on small screens and large in Britain at the time, often playing Germans, later in Australia from 1972, until his death in 2005. Here he's clearly decided to go big ham or go home, and he's distinctly in pantomime-loony mode here, with the line quoted above (cliffhanger to the third episode) quite infamous in Who circles.
Julia Smith was one of only two women to direct Who in the Sixties. Paddy Russell was the other one, and there was a paucity in the BBC as a whole. (Another was Naomi Capon, who didn't direct Who but who did direct three episodes of Out of the Unknown around the same time.) Smith's first serial was with the First Doctor and Polly and Ben, but she and Troughton did not get on, and he had further issues with the script and production. Smith is now best known as the co-creator of Eastenders. She died in 1997 at the age of seventy.
With one more episode available than there used to be, no one is going to call The Underwater Menace an overlooked classic. The production design (Jack Robinson) is quite impressive, but it's let down by cheap-looking costume design, all shells, spangles and wrinkly leotards, and the Fish People's underwater ballet brings Episode Three to an embarrassing halt. Dudley Simpson's electronic score is interesting. But it's a weak link in this transitional season. We end with the TARDIS out of control, setting us up for the return of the Cybermen in The Moombase.
The Underwater Menace
is released on a dual-layered DVD encoded for Regions 2 and 4. This disc does show signs of the time it's been in the making. It also has a sense of wrapping things up, as two of the extras are continuations of others from previous releases. Unlike previous discs, there are no information subtitles and no PDFs of Radio Times listings, though the text of these can be found at the BBC Genome site.
Shot on 405-line black and white video, with 16mm inserts due to two days' location shoot at Winspit Quarry in Dorset and prefilmed material at Ealing Studios, The Underwater Menace. The DVD transfer is restored and VidFIREd from the surviving 16mm telerecordings of the surviving episodes. Terry Burnett's copy had been to Australia and back as it had edits made by the local censor before the serial was broadcast there. More of those later, but those trims had been separately discovered in 1996 along with material cut from other stories, so four brief cut shots from the episode could be reinstated. The two episodes look as fine as they are likely to, given the sub-SD originals.
The still-missing first and last episodes are represented by tele-snaps accompanied by an off-air soundtrack. Tele-snaps were the work of John Cura (who spelled the word with a hyphen) who shot still photographs off the TV screen as a visual record, for which producers, directors and sometimes actors paid for. He had provided the service from the start, though not all his tele-snaps survive. For some stories other than fragments his is the only visual material that remains : Verity Lambert used him now and again, though John Wiles didn't. He returned with Innes Lloyd's second story The Gunfighters and he provided the service for all the episodes bar two until Episode Three of The Mind Robber. He then stopped, possibly due to declining health due to cancer: he died seven months later. Episode Four ends with credits for the audio restoration and tele-snap reproduction: this incidentally is the only 2015 copyright date on this disc.
The commentary falls into three distinct parts, all hosted by Toby Hadoke. Covering Episode One is the continuation of a conversation with Michael Troughton, talking about his father. The first part is on the DVD of The Ice Warriors. Troughton clearly has a great deal of regard for his father though is clear-eyed about his personality. Although he became an actor himself, unlike brother David he didn't appear in Who though is often asked if he did.
The two surviving episodes feature the more usual multiple-participant conversation. Hadoke gives away the fact that this was recorded a few years ago by saying at the start of Episode Two that "a year ago" no one might have thought they would see this one again. Taking part are Frazer Hines, Anneke Wills, Catherine Howe (who played Ara, at the age of sixteen), sound designer Brian Hodgson (who worked on Who for its first eleven years) and floor assistant Quentin Mann. Hadoke as ever ably moderates the conversation so that everyone gets to say their piece, though Mann says the least. Over the final episode, Hadoke presents archive audio interviews with those now departed: Julia Smith (from 1987) Hugh David (1986) Innes Lloyd (1983) Patrick Troughton (no year given).
"A Fishy Tale" (28:26) is the making-of documentary, which sets out its stall straight away by describing the story as "insane" (new series writer Robert Shearman's words) amongst other descriptions. Taking part are Frazer Hines, Anneke Wills, Catherine Howe (who dated Hines for a while), assistant floor manager Gareth Gwenlan, production assistant Berry Butler as well as Shearman.
"The Television Centre of The Universe – Part Two" (32:12), presented by Yvette Fielding, is the second part of a tribute to the then-closing and now-closed iconic building. You can see the first part on the Special Edition DVD of The Visitation. Accompanying Fielding are Who castmembers Peter Davison, Janet Fielding and Mark Strickson, with input from their behind-the-camera colleagues about their experiences of working in the Centre, often in hot and cramped conditions. Despite all that, it's an inevitably nostalgic piece.
Australia was the foreign country which showed Sixties Doctor Who more than any other. However, every episode had to be viewed by the Australian Film Censorship Board (now called the Office of Film and Literature Classification(), as were all other television programmes. Some stories were edited to make them suitable for a G rating, meaning they could be shown before 7.30pm. The two Sixties stories which were not shown (Mission to the Unknown and The Daleks' Master Plan, minus its Christmas-special seventh episode, which was never telerecorded nor offered for sale overseas, meaning that when it was wiped it became the one episode which was definitely lost forever) were because the censor gave them a A rating (unsuitable for children) with no possibility of making cuts. However, while many of the episodes which were cut became lost, much of the cut footage survived and was found by Damian Shanahan in 1996. The four cuts made to Episode Two have been reinstated in the episode itself, which leaves one shot from Episode One and one from Episode Four, the only surviving footage from them. They are shown as a separate item with explanatory captions, running 0:46 in total.
The remaining extra on the disc is a self-navigating stills gallery, running 1:52.