The TARDIS arrives on an extinct volcanic island, and after being captured and taken into the depths of the Earth, the Doctor and his companions find the lost city of Atlantis and it’s civilians. A deranged scientist, Professor Zaroff has convinced them that he can raise the city from the sea, but in actuality, he plans to drain the ocean into the molten core at the Earth’s centre, which will result in the explosion of the planet.
The Underwater Menace contains, at the time of writing, our first look as Patrick Troughton in the role of the Doctor. Up until part two of this story, we have to make do with animation in The Power of the Daleks, audio in the case of The Highlanders and telesnap reconstructions of the first and last parts of this story. It is perhaps a shame that it is quite an underwhelming story, which feels as though the writer doesn’t have a firm enough grip on the concept of Doctor Who.
It feels like I say this with every early Doctor Who story, but this one definitely had a troubled journey to the screen, as it was another rushed job, due to the scheduled author of this story being taken ill. It does feel as though Geoffrey Orme doesn’t really understand the central concept of Doctor Who and the plot regarding the lost city of Atlantis and the megalomaniacal plans of Zaroff wouldn’t feel out of place in a late-era Roger Moore James Bond movie. Despite how Doctor Who has a relatively flexible structure and can almost fit any kind of story, The Underwater Menace feels as though it has overstepped the mark. Despite Zaroff’s grand plans, it never feels as though the story really has credible stakes due to the sheer ridiculousness of the plot. Orme’s lack of knowledge of the series seems blatant when the note that the Doctor writes to Zaroff is signed by “Dr. W”. Similarly, the story does struggle to accommodate the increased number of companions, with Jamie McCrimmon being a late addition to the TARDIS team and with the existing companions Ben and Polly, it feels like there’s barely enough for them all to do. The narrative also gives the additional pseudo-companion of Ara who gets more to do than any of the three. Catherine Howe, however, does give a good performance and it is a shame that it’s not a better story and that she does not get the opportunity to travel with the Doctor.
Look at him – he ain’t normal, is he? (about the Doctor)
The elephant in the room here is the performance of Joseph Furst as Professor Zaroff. In keeping with the late Moore-era feel of his villain, Furst really overplays it and it feels at first like he is one in the long list of actors to ham up their role. However, as the story gets more ridiculous, the performance becomes much more commendable as he makes the best of questionable writing. The lasting legacy of Furst’s performance is perhaps helping Troughton finally decide on how he will play this incarnation of the Doctor. Troughton starts the story feeling like he is still feeling his way as the Doctor, however, when he faces off against Zaroff, his performance alters. He starts to play the Doctor more subtly, with an impish charm and hints of a more scheming mind behind his cosmic hobo exterior. This story definitely gives us a more recognisable performance of the Second Doctor, by Troughton largely underplaying the role. This is perfectly demonstrated by the way he fiddles with the lighting at the start of part two, which saves Polly from her surgery.
The sea creatures seen in this story also look distinctly cheap and really add nothing to the plot, except to be manipulated by outside elements into rebellion against Zaroff. I appreciate that the budget was much lower in this era and the show was making more episodes on it, but they look utterly bizarre. They also feel like a last minute addendum to the plot, just to give Ben and Jamie something to do. This story also features a beautifully choreographed ‘underwater’ dance sequence, which also just feels like complete filler. Other than Ara, the other civilians of Atlantis seem rather one dimensional, sadly, and this coupled with looking like quite a cheap episode (except for the eventual destruction of Atlantis) means that this is rather forgettable.
Verdict: Sadly, the first surviving footage we have of Troughton features in a bit of a muddle. The performance of Joseph Furst saves some of the more middling moments, but it feels utterly baffling at times. 3/10
Cast: Patrick Troughton (The Doctor), Michael Craze (Ben Jackson), Anneke Wills (Polly), Frazer Hines (Jamie McCrimmon), 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 (Zaroff’s Guard), Paul Anil (Jacko), P.G. Stephens (Sean), Noel Johnson (Thous), Roma Woodnutt (Nola)
Writer: Geoffrey Orme
Director: Julia Smith
Behind the Scenes
- This is the first story to feature the lost city of Atlantis.
- Hugh David was originally slated to direct, but realised that it was impossible on Doctor Who’s budget after discussing the story with a member of the crew working on the James Bond films. David dropped out and then assigned to direct the preceding serial, The Highlanders.
- Jamie McCrimmon was a late addition to the TARDIS team, which meant that there had to be hasty rewrites to accommodate him.
- This is the first Doctor Who story to feature Atlantis, which would reappear in The Time Monster.
The Doctor’s confrontation with Professor Zaroff, where we start to see what kind of man the Second Doctor will be.
Zaroff, I think you ought to know the sea has broken through and is about to overwhelm us all.
Don’t listen to him! The man lies!
Then perhaps the distant roaring we can hear is just the goddess Amdo with indigestion.
Second Doctor and Professor Zaroff