A couple of hours before we settled down to watch The Underwater Menace, Sue and I appeared as guests on Bob Fischer’s BBC Tees radio show to shamelessly plug this blog. You can listen to the edited highlights below; Sue’s PVC Dalek-suit anecdote was news to me!
Sue: That’s just great. This story is going to star that ****ing hat. I hate that ****ing hat.
We both enjoy the opening TARDIS scene, especially Jamie’s reactions to the insanity he has just walked into. There’s a playful edge to the proceedings and a warmth that we haven’t really felt since the glory days of Ian, Susan and Barbara. We chuckle when Ben sarcastically hopes for the Daleks (“I bet the kids wouldn’t have complained”), whereas the Doctor’s desire to meet prehistoric monsters is dismissed out of hand (“Not on this budget, love”).
Me: Where do you hope they’ll end up this time?
Sue: Somewhere with decent carpentry.
The TARDIS arrives on a beach, and when Polly guesses at their whereabouts, Sue declares, in perfect harmony:
Sue: Cornwall! It’s always ****ing Cornwall!
It doesn’t take very long for our heroes to find themselves in danger. A platform they are standing on is actually a lift, and as they hurtle beneath the sea, the TARDIS crew succumb to the bends.
Sue: That’s very interesting. Ben just asked Polly to get them out of there. He didn’t ask the Doctor, and he’s standing right next to him. I don’t blame Ben, though. This Doctor is still pretty useless.
When they regain consciousness, Polly finds some pottery with the logo for the 1968 Mexico Olympiad emblazoned on it, and then our heroes are confronted by a race of people dressed in clam shells and seaweed. Sue believes she has it sussed.
Sue: Are they rehearsing for the Opening Ceremony?
Their high priest even sports a fish on his head.
Sue: Please tell me the Doctor doesn’t get a hat like that.
Just as Sue believes she has a handle on events, our heroes are strapped to some slabs and sadistically lowered toward a mad man’s pet sharks.
Sue: Is this a Bond movie now?
Me: Yes. You Only Live 13 Times.
Sue: Has this got anything to do with the Olympics? Anything at all?
When the Doctor signs his name ‘Dr. W’, he reignites an old debate.
Sue: You can’t really argue with that, can you? That settles it. His name is Dr. Who. You’ll just have to accept it, love.
Me: Unless his real name begins with a W.
Sue: Like Doctor Wibbly-Wobbly-Timey-Wimey? Would that make you feel any better? And does it really matter? I call him Dr. Who all the time.
Me: Yes, I know. And every time you do it, part of me dies.
When Professor Zaroff reveals that they are currently hanging out on the lost continent of Atlantis, Sue doesn’t even flinch.
Sue: Atlantis. Of course it’s Atlantis. Where else would they be in this ****-ed up programme? So, it’s James Bond on Atlantis? Gotcha.
Thanks to those fainthearted Australians, the cliffhanger moves, although we find ourselves sympathising with the censor as Polly is strapped to a table and threatened with a large hypodermic needle by some evil scientists who want to turn her into a fish. Yes, a fish.
Sue: I don’t know what Polly is moaning about. I’d love to breathe underwater indefinitely. She could stick around and enter the 1972 Olympics. Mark Spitz would have nothing on her.
Me: How short is Polly’s surgical gown?
Sue: Trust you to notice that, love.
The hot topic of conversation during this episode is Zaroff. Who else?
Sue: He reminds me of that mad scientist from that show you love, you know, Comedy Theater 2000.
Me: Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Sue: That’s it. He reminds me of the mad scientist from that – an over-the-top pantomime villain.
Me: Believe it or not, the guy playing him is actually a very fine actor.
Sue: Oh, I don’t doubt it. He’s just having a laugh with the part. And who can blame him? How else would you play this character? His plan is completely pointless. There’s no clever reason for him to do any of this, he just wants to blow up the world. There’s no benefit or motive.
Me: He’s insane.
Sue: It’s lazy. With no motivation or back story you have to play him as a larger-than-life lunatic. I like him. He’s committed. He’s definitely the funniest villain we’ve had in the series so far.
When Ben and Jamie are taken to the mines of Atlantis, a high-pitched whining cuts through the scene. We assume it represents the sound of the drilling, but whatever it is, it’s making our teeth itch.
Sue: If we were 16 years old, we would hear that sound whenever went near an off-license.
Me: Have you warmed to Troughton yet? He’s basically playing his version of the Doctor now. More or less.
Sue: He reminds me of Ken Dodd in some of these stills. That one in particular (see right). The music doesn’t help. It’s atrocious. It sounds like they’ve let a small child loose on a Bontempi organ. This is the worst music that I’ve heard in the series so far. Who’s responsible for it?
Me: An Australian called Dudley Simpson.
Sue: Sack him. He’s rubbish.
Finally, after enduring 13 consecutive recons, we are reunited with a real bona fide episode. I never thought I’d ever hear myself say this, but thank Amdo for The Underwater Menace Episode 3.
Sue: Even though the story is still a complete mess, it’s a thousand times easier to follow it when it actually exists. I don’t want to state the bleedin’ obvious but even the very worst story improves when you can actually see it. The recons I gave good scores to must have been really good.
The highlight of the episode for Sue is, of course, the sight of Jamie and Ben in tight-fitting rubber.
Sue: Given the state of some of their costumes, they should have called this story The Underwear Menace.
Me: I think the playwright Joe Orton mentioned this story in his diary. Or was it in Salmon Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses? No, it must have been Joe Orton. He fancied Jamie in his rubber suit, I think. Or maybe it was Kenneth Williams. My memory is almost as bad as yours.
Sue: Jamie and Ben wouldn’t look out-of-place at that nightclub, Heaven.
As if to accentuate this observation, Jamie and Ben suddenly launch themselves into the campest salute this side of ‘Allo ‘Allo.
Sue: Does Troughton ever go through a story where he doesn’t play that bloody recorder? And are there any stories where he doesn’t dress up at the drop of a hat, which he’ll probably pick up and put on? He’s a borderline transvestite.
Me: You might want to hold onto something during the next scene. We’re about to meet the Fish People.
Sue: They look like a second-rate dance troupe who are waiting to audition for Britain’s Got Talent. They’re probably going to do an up-tempo version of Yellow Submarine.
A miner called Jacko attempts to turn the Fish People into striking militants. He does this by winding them up a bit. At one point he cries, “Are you not men?” and, quick as a flash, Sue replies:
Sue: No! We’re fish! Are you blind? Hang on, is that Polly in a snorkel?
Me: No, it’s a Fish Person.
Sue: They’re having a laugh, now.
And then it happens. Impossible to describe. Impossible to watch.
Sue: This is the lowest point in Doctor Who yet. By some considerable margin. Please make it stop.
Me: Is this worse than The Web Planet?
Sue: Oh yes, this is even more half-arsed.
Me: It’s like a perverse joke. You wait 13 episodes for a real episode and then you get this.
Sue: I take it all back – this would have been much better as a recon.
Something that really niggles at us is the Fish People’s economic impact on Atlantis, which is based on the assumption that the food they farm must be consumed immediately.
Sue: Okay, let me get this straight. Zaroff has a nuclear reactor but he hasn’t got a fridge? That makes no sense at all.
Me: This is your first proper look at Patrick Troughton. Have you formed an opinion yet?
Sue: I feel a little more comfortable with him now that I’ve seen him in action. He’s far more animated than I expected and he’s definitely got charisma. There’s something about him. Sadly, the director isn’t doing him any favours, so I’ll have to reserve judgement until I’ve seen some more.
And then we reach the moment The Underwater Menace is probably best known for. But immediately before it arrives – and I’d completely forgotten this – Zaroff stabs someone with a spear, he shoots someone at point-blank range, and then he has two others killed off-screen. It’s horrific!
But it’s completely eclipsed by what follows:
It’s so mesmerising, we have to watch it again. And again. And again.
Sue: He’s having a whale of a time.
Me: I’m glad somebody is.
Sue: I still can’t believe he didn’t bring some fridge freezers with him. Still, I guess if you are planning to blow up the world, you can’t think of everything. You know, I think every episode of Doctor Who could be improved with a Zaroff. The only thing missing is a scene of him tearing his hair out as he screams, “Why am I surrounded by idiots!”.
Me: There’s still twenty minutes to go. I wouldn’t rule anything out.
Sue: I like the way the show has kept to its educational remit.
Sue: Jamie is from the past and he doesn’t understand what radioactivity is. Some of the children watching this wouldn’t know either.
Me: Yeah, that’s great. There’s just one tiny problem – they don’t explain it. Polly says she can’t be bothered!
Polly and Jamie are struggling to escape the rising waters of Atlantis.
Sue: It’s turned into a disaster movie now.
Me: Oh, it’s definitely a disaster.
Sue: Why is Polly wearing a fireplace corbel on her head?
Me: I don’t even know what that means.
Thanks to those Aussie wimps, we get to see Professor Zaroff drown. Well, I say drown.
Sue: That’s not drowning! Zaroff has hours left before the water rises above his head! Maybe he was bored and he decided to commit suicide?
The world saved, the Doctor and his companions leave the Atlantans to it.
Sue: Why are they bothering to rebuild Atlantis anyway? Why don’t they just move up to the surface? They’ve got fridges up there. And while they have missed the 1968 Olympics, Mexico have the World Cup in 1970. It would be a shame if they missed it.
Sue: That was bonkers. And a little bit shit.
Sue: Zaroff was excellent, though. I could watch him all day. I’m not convinced that he’s dead either; I think he was just wetting his hair a bit. He should definitely return in the new series. The League of Gentlemen could play him.
Me: What, all of them?