Episode 32: The Underwater Menace
Companions: Polly, Ben, Jamie
Written by Geoffrey Orme
Directed by Julia Smith
It’s a race against time as the Doctor tries to save the world against a power-mad scientist.
This isn’t my favorite episode but it’s not the worst episode I’ve watched. What makes this episode extraordinary is that this is the first time I’ve actually seen Patrick Troughton in action since I’ve started this blog. I had watched The War Games ages ago but my impressions of his Doctor have escaped my memory. With The Power of the Daleks and The Highlanders, I had only heard Patrick’s voice or read about the Doctor’s antics in the written adaptations. Once he’s finally on screen, he’s wonderful and it made me giddy with joy while watching his performance. Anytime that Patrick was on the screen, I kept thinking of Matt Smith’s Eleventh Doctor; the bumbling actions that hid a highly clever personality. While Smith was inspired by other programs as well as Albert Einstein in the creation of his take on the Doctor but I can’t help but see the similarities between Two and Eleven.
Unfortunately, you don’t really see the Doctor in action until the second installment of this episode. The DVD has photo stills and an audio soundtrack for the first and last installments. The problem is that the audio doesn’t give you an indication of what exactly is going on. It was distracting and frustrating. I was able to fill in the puzzle during the second installment but it doesn’t flow well because of this confusion. I had to go back to the written adaptation, which was entertaining, to understand what exactly was going on.
The story begins with Jamie in awe of the TARDIS. As a man of the mid-1700s, he’s understandably wary of future technology. Unlike the First Doctor’s companion Katarina, Jamie handles the technology with ease and rolls right with and, sometimes, into the punches. The companions and the Doctor land near the ocean, on a volcanic island. When Ben, Polly, and Jamie start to explore, they find they are being followed. Polly is kidnapped with the Doctor, Ben, and Jamie captured shortly afterwards. They soon discover that they are in somewhere around Mexico, sometime in the early 1970s. Their captors are preparing their prisoners for a ritual sacrifice. These captors are survivors of Atlantis and still celebrate their old Gods. After some quick thinking, and quick talking, they are rescued from death by the mad Professor Zarloff. The Professor recognizes the Doctor’s intelligence and separates him from the companions. Jamie and Ben are to work in the mines and Polly is to become a fish person.
Circumstances change and the team is reunited by the third installment. Professor Zarloff’s designs to raise up Atlantis involve a plan to blow-up of the Earth. Naturally, the Doctor makes every effort to stop him.
There are many themes at play in these installments. There is a religious story mixed with the mad scientist story mixed with a conspiracy story mixed with a socialistic angle. It’s a tale that is everywhere. There’s even a scene in which the Atlantis fish people are seen swimming around the ocean. It felt like outakes of some B-movie version of Disneyland footage. It’s fun to watch but the overall story feels scattered. Zarloff is played over-the-top, which can be fun in a campy way but with everything going on at once, it’s overwhelming and underwhelming at the same time. Zarloff’s character would have been amazing in some 1960s American science-fiction film.
I did sit and watch the making-of documentary, which involved cast and crew interviews. This episode was originally meant to follow The Power of the Daleks but the scheduled director, Hugh David, thought the script was crap and publicly claimed that the budget was too much. There was a reworking of the script/broadcast schedule and The Highlanders was created to follow The Power of the Daleks with Hugh David directing that amazing episode. The Underwater Menace was pushed around until it was finally scheduled for after The Highlanders.
Patrick Troughton also thought the story was crap and the companions, now three instead of two, had lines cut to share with each other. Polly’s character, who had been a mighty force in The Highlanders (something I touched upon on in my last review), was written weak and not the strong, independent 60’s character she had been designed. I fell in love with Anneke Wills watching this mini-documentary, as she discussed why her character was created with this modern 60’s mentality. I had already loved Polly but the woman playing this fantastic character is a treasure. Sometimes writers are stuck in the past with no understanding of characters.
Overall, it’s not a bad episode but it’s still not the best. If there had been some editing of the story wherein the focus was on a smaller cast of characters, it might have been amazing. Patrick Troughton shines because he was a professional and made the best of what he had. Here’s hoping that this was a one-off thing and the rest of these adventures don’t follow this pattern.