Sue: It’s the Bristol Boys.
I’ve been schooling Sue between stories because the experiment is the…
Sue: They were responsible for the giant prawn, weren’t they? I don’t like the Bristol Boys very much.
Nicol: What are you talking about?
Yes, I persuaded Nicol to join us for Underworld; let’s call it payback for overcooking my chips last night. Anyway, the episode begins with a stunning vista that features a cornucopia of stars and planets. But as the camera pans right, we’re left facing darkness.
Sue: Did they run out of stars or is it supposed to look like that?
Leela is flying the TARDIS through this area of empty space (Sue: “Is she allowed to do that?”) while the Doctor is off painting something. Sue reckons it’s a ceiling, whereas Nicol opts for some still life. I couldn’t care less.
Sue: I’ve never noticed this before, but the thing that moves up and down in the middle of his TARDIS…
Me: The time rotor.
Sue: Yes, well it’s a bit wonky, isn’t it? Shouldn’t it go up and down in a straight line?
Me: We can but dream.
A frustrated Leela gives K9 a slap.
Sue: Hey! That wasn’t a great message for any kids who have pets. Who’s idea was that? She kicked him last week.
Even the Doctor tells K9 to shut his trap.
Nicol: Why are they so nasty to K9? What has he done to upset them? I love K9. Leave him alone.
Meanwhile, on a spaceship piloted by an elderly woman…
Sue: It’s a Saga cruise liner. In space.
The ship is crewed by Jackson, Herrick, Tala and Orfe (aka the Minyans of Minyos).
Sue: A lot of thought has gone into their costumes. Their spacesuits look very practical.
If only she was impressed with the costume’s contents.
Sue: He isn’t very good. The Welsh one. He’s too hammy. He looks like Peter Gordeno. If Peter Gordeno had let himself go.
The Doctor and Leela arrive on the Minyans’ ship and discover that the crew have been searching for their sister ship – the P7E – for 100,000 years.
Sue: How did they last this long without killing each other?
Nicol: I’ve been on this ship five minutes and I’m bored already.
The crew managed this incredible feat by constantly regenerating.
Sue: Now that’s what I call botox. So the Mignons…
Sue: Whatever. They must be more advanced than the Time Lords. They can regenerate thousands of times, and they don’t have to go through the rigmarole of changing their faces and personalities, although that would probably get boring after a while, especially if you looked like a rough Peter Gordeno.
Sue is perplexed by the symbols which adorn the ship’s floor.
Sue: Have they been playing Scrabble to pass the time? At least they have some comfortable leather sofas to lounge around on. That must have helped. Actually, the more I think about this, the more insane it seems.
The Doctor connects K9 to the ship’s navigation systems, which causes the robot dog to yelp.
Nicol: Does K9 ever go, “Woof”?
Me: Only if you pour petrol over him and set fire to him.
The ship enters a spiral nebula, and then – get this – it begins to turn into a planet.
Me: Is that feasible, Nicol?
Nicol: Is what feasible?
Me: The physics. Is it feasible?
Nicol: I’m sorry, I wasn’t paying attention. I was trying to figure out where I’d seen that blonde woman before. She was in Fawlty Towers, you know.
Me: Put your bloody phone down.
Nicol: But this is rubbish!
Me: You promised to watch it with us. You said you’d give it your undivided attention. The experiment is the…
Nicol: Did you know that Peter Gordeno’s son is in Depeche Mode?
Me: Yes, but Peter Gordeno isn’t in this.
Nicol: Oh. Sorry.
The credits roll.
Sue: Well, I liked it.
Sue: Seriously, Nicol, this isn’t that bad. Hang on, who’s Anthony Read when he’s at home? And where has Robert Holmes gone?
Nicol is on her phone again.
Nicol: According to a poll of 200 stories in Doctor Who Magazine…
Sue: 200!? You told me we were over halfway through this ages ago, Neil.
Me: That number includes the new series. We’re not doing that, remember?
Sue: We’ll see about that.
Nicol: Anyway, according to this poll, Underworld is rated 197th out of 200.
Me: (Under my breath) Generous.
Nicol: So why are you making me watch it, Neil?
Sue: Hey, it’s not that bad. I’ve seen a lot worse. And I didn’t vote in that poll.
Meteorites start to cling to the Minyans ship (Sue: “Like a deadly honey nut cluster”), but when they blast their way free, they end up on a collision course with a planet.
Sue: They don’t have any seatbelts. They haven’t got a hope in hell.
The crash landing is cushioned by the planet’s liquid surface.
Sue: If this planet is still forming, shouldn’t it be boiling hot? Shouldn’t they be roasted alive?
Nicol: Not necessarily.
She isn’t convinced with Nicol’s explanation (I dozed off myself), but at least they can agree on one thing…
Sue: What the ****?
Nicol: What the hell?
Yes, we have landed on the planet Chromakey.
Sue: It’s all gone a bit Pete Tong.
I haven’t the heart to tell her that nobody uses that phrase any more. Not even Pete Tong.
Nicol: That character just walked straight through a rock.
Two mysterious figures, dressed from head to toe in black, are monitoring events from a control room.
Sue: That look is very S&M.
Me: They look like something out of a Hostel film. Or a random Saturday night in Sitges.
Nicol: How can they see anything out of those tiny little holes? They must be sweating like pigs.
Sue: This story is so cheap, they’re replaying shots of the same crappy CSO effect. That is not good, Neil. That is not good at all.
Me: You’d better get used to it.
Sue: You must be joking.
Me: They didn’t have any money left. It was this or nothing.
Nicol: They should have gone with nothing.
Sue: I suppose you have to admire them for trying. It doesn’t look that bad, sometimes. Oh, wait… No, that isn’t good.
And that’s when Nicol walked out.
Sue: This reminds me of the time our boss thought it would be a good idea to run a TV drama module where the whole thing was shot in the studio with chromakey backgrounds. It was supposed to be set in a service station and it took us forever to set the cameras up.
Me: What did it look like?
Sue: Shit. Like this looks like shit. And we tried it 20 years after this was made. What were they thinking?
The Doctor and Leela explore the virtual caves.
Sue: What you save on cost, you lose on pace. You can’t move the camera without it being a big faff, so everything is static and boring. I can see why this came 197th in that poll. Hang on… That means there are three stories even worse than this one. Have we seen them yet? Please tell me we’ve already seen them.
Me: I’ll kill Nicol when I find her.
The Doctor and Leela hide in a mining cart and Sue’s patience is sorely tested when the guards fail to notice our heroes’ pathetic attempts at subterfuge.
Sue: Maybe if the guards didn’t have those stupid masks on, they’d actually hear them banging about. This is ****ing terrible. Please make it stop, Neil.
Herrick deflects a guard’s weapon fire with a gun that doubles up as a shield.
Sue: He’s like Captain America. If Captain America looked like Peter Gordeno and was a bit shit.
The guards finally take their masks off (BBC Health and Safety probably stepped in).
Sue: Why wear them in the first place? I’m surprised they don’t faint when they’re on duty. The sweat is pouring off them.
The Doctor and Leela rescue a man named Idas. Sue doesn’t understand why they bothered.
Sue: He’s as memorable as a kitten fart.
The guards fumigate the caves, which means the fake CSO background now has fake gas superimposed all over it.
Sue: This isn’t exactly Genesis of the Daleks, is it?
The Doctor tries to reverse the polarity of the gas. “Whatever blows can be sucked!” he declares.
Sue: This story blows and sucks, mate.
We are then treated to one of Doctor Who’s most drawn-out cliffhangers, as the Doctor tries – and seemingly fails – to do something clever with his screwdriver.
Sue: And it started so well, too.
It’s Monday evening and Nicol has joined us again. She must like it, secretly.
Nicol: Did Tom Baker fall asleep during the last cliffhanger?
When the gas has been safely pumped away, the Doctor shares his delight with the audience watching at home.
Sue: There’s no such thing as a fourth wall as far as Tom Baker is concerned. They should have docked his wages every time he broke it. That would have stopped him.
K9 returns to the fray.
Nicol: I didn’t know K9 could hover over the ground like that.
Sue: He can’t. That’s bad CSO, love.
K9 prints out a map for the Doctor to follow.
Sue: What a clever boy. Who’s a clever boy, then?
Me: Please, Sue. Don’t.
Idas is worried about fire-breathing dragons.
Sue: Don’t worry, mate, the BBC can’t stretch to dragons, never mind fire-breathing ones. It can’t even stretch to a real set. You’ll be fine.
Our heroes reach the planet’s lower levels via a zero gravity elevator.
Nicol: Bad physics, bad acting, bad special effects and bad music. All in the same scene.
Sue: I can’t argue with that. This is terrible. They should have called this Underpants.
I bury my head in my notebook when Tom Baker starts flapping his arms up and down. That way I can pretend it never happened.
Nicol: I’m sorry, but this is pathetic. And I’ve seen Twilight.
Sue: Can’t we play the DVD at double-speed? We could get it over with in half the time.
I’m sorely tempted.
Me: The one good thing about Underworld is the episodes are relatively short.
Sue: You must be kidding. They feel like they’re double the usual length. So how does that work?
Herrick and Jackson shoot their way past some guards.
Nicol: When did Star Wars come out?
Me: In the UK? Late December 1977. This story appeared on television a week later.
Nicol: You can tell.
Me: Don’t be silly. They didn’t have enough time to rip Star Wars off. You make it sound as if they made this programme a couple of days before it was transmitted.
Nicol: You mean they didn’t? They actually spent time on this?
The Doctor and Leela are introduced to the slaves who are mining this planet.
Sue: Doctor Who is obsessed with mining. Mind control and mining. They can’t get enough of it. It’ll be mind-controlled miners next.
Herrick is questioned by the mysterious seers.
Sue: They’re just a couple of berks in burkas.
The seers reveal their true faces.
Sue: Oh. That actually makes sense. I quite like the design of their helmets. It reminds me of the old Flash Gordon serials. Very retro.
The Doctor, Leela and Idas hide in another mining cart, only this time they’re delivered to a waiting crusher.
Sue: Another terrible cliffhanger. Has this director ever seen Doctor Who before?
Nicol doesn’t comment. She’s too busy playing with her phone.
Sue has had it with Idas.
Sue: He had better not be the next companion. He’s more suited to a consumer affairs programme like That’s Life!, or This Is Shit!.
Sue: They shouldn’t have broadcast this story, Neil. You know, quality control. I mean, look – Leela’s leg just disappeared again.
Nicol: Does anybody know what’s going on?
Sue: Not a clue, Nic. Neil?
Me: Don’t look at me. I don’t think I’ve seen this episode before. I usually give up in the middle of Part Two. I probably saw it when I was eight, but if I did, I’ve blanked it from my mind.
Sue: The first thing Jackson will do when he gets back to his ship is regenerate. He’ll have to if he wants to stand a chance with his fit co-pilot.
The seers hand the race banks over to Herrick.
Sue: Aw, that was nice of them.
According to Herrick, the quest is over.
Sue: Thank **** for that.
Nicol: There are 10 minutes left according to my stopwatch.
Sue: Oh God.
Me: Stick with it, Sue. You can do it. The experiment is the…
Sue: If you finish that sentence, I will ****ing kill you.
K9 tells the Doctor the race banks are clever fakes, and they’re actually fission grenades in disguise.
Sue: So the bad guys made these grenades on the off-chance this lot would come looking for the real ones, and they wouldn’t bother checking to see if they were fake before they left? Well, it almost worked, I suppose.
The Doctor ushers the slaves into the Minyans’ ship.
Sue: I don’t think I’ve seen this many extras in an episode of Doctor Who before. They even hired a dwarf!
Nicol: That’s where all the money went. That’s why they don’t have enough money for any sets.
Jackson doesn’t want this rabble on his ship, even when the Doctor points out that the refugees are his own people.
Sue: Finally, a decent scene. That was quite interesting, actually. But it doesn’t make up for the rest of it. Not by a long chalk.
The Doctor swaps the fission grenades for the data banks, duping the seers in the process. Their mad supercomputer, the Oracle, tells them to get rid of the grenades immediately.
Sue: Flush them down the loo!
The grenades go off.
Sue: Worst villains in Doctor Who. Ever.
The Minyans can’t wait to take the race banks back to Minyos II. It won’t take them long – 370 years, give or take.
Sue: Just enough time for one more game of Scrabble!
Nicol: I wonder which word they’ll make with the letter Q?
The Doctor is suddenly reminded of Jason’s mythic quest for the Golden Fleece.
Sue: Bollocks. Jason and the Argonauts was great. Jason and the Argonauts had sword-fighting skeletons and scary monsters in it. This rubbish doesn’t even have a real cave!
K9 isn’t convinced, either.
Sue: That reminds me, am I allowed to give negative scores?
Sue: What can I say? I liked K9.