Review: Doctor Who: The Underwater Menace (DVD)

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The Doctor (Patrick Troughton) encounters mad scientist Zaroff in Atlantis.

This looks likely to be the final DVD release from the original 1963-1989 run of Doctor Who, barring any further ‘missing episode’ recoveries—and even then they’ll likely come out on digital download services (such as the BBC Store). As it is, The Underwater Menace’s recovered second episode has been locked away in the BBC vaults since its rediscovery in 2011, and this DVD release was even cancelled earlier this year. With this story finally out on shiny disc, however, the BBC DVD range is going out with a wet whimper rather than a big bang.

The Underwater Menace is something of an unloved Doctor Who story among fandom, despite being an early Troughton, and it is unlikely to undergo anything like the reappraisal afforded The Enemy of the World (the recovery of which was followed by a rapid release in 2014), based upon this nearly bare bones release.

The Doctor, his companions Ben (Michael Craze) and Polly (Anneke Wills), along with new travelling companion Jamie McCrimmon (Frazer Hines) arrive not in 1966 Chelsea (as Polly hopes) but the lost world of Atlantis, under the dominance of mad scientist Zaroff (Joseph Furst). This is the first of the series’ ‘three possible versions of Atlanis’ (as referenced in the recent The Magician’s Apprentice, the others being in Third Doctor stories The Daemons and The Time Monster).

The story is a basic good guys versus bad guys runaround, on a shoestring budget—even star Troughton was not enamoured of it. The tiny space the cast and crew had to work in is given away during the risible market scene in episode three, although the temple sets are alright. Even the decent guest actors can’t save it. Poor Tom Watson wanders around as if he’s auditioning for the role of Mr Tumnus, and Colin Jeavons sports Androgum eyebrows throughout. The return of episode two allows a better appreciation of Troughton’s performance, allowing us to see some of his visual only facial quirks which were (obviously) totally missing from the previous audio-only release of the story, especially in his confrontation with Furst’s crazy Zaroff.

The still missing first and fourth episodes are represented by reconstructions created from off-screen still photos (telesnaps), but no effort has been made to jazz this up—the memo clearly stated ‘minimal effort required, chaps’. One shot in the fourth episode is a terribly exciting view of a cave wall. It’s the last hurrah, yes, but a wee bit more effort would have been appreciated—there are better fan ‘recons’ out there! The shame about these particular instalments being missing (apart from viewers losing the set-up and climax for the story) is that all the location filming in Dorset (in a cold December, as related by Anneke Wills) was featured in these parts.

BBCDVD3691 UK Underwater DVD 3D RGBThe ‘making of’, entitled A Fishy Tale, is stretched to a half hour by featuring much cavorting about by a cosplayer done up as a bargain basement Fish Person. The participants tell their stories (some are repeated on the all-star commentaries for episodes two and three—I’m looking at you, Anneke Wills), and the poor regard they have for this ‘adventure’ is evident. There’s also the second part of a documentary on TV Centre, which is fine, except that The Underwater Menace wasn’t made at TV Centre and the guests wandering around jogging their memories are the 1980s Peter Davison TARDIS crew, minus Nyssa. This simply speaks of barrel scraping as BBC Worldwide clear out their cupboard of unreleased extras. The infamous Australian ‘censor clips’ also make the cut—at least they’re from the episodes in question.

Best value comes from the unusual commentaries for episodes one and four. Hosted by Toby Hadoke, we hear from Troughton’s son Michael (who laments never having been in the show—indicating this was recorded prior to the 2014 Christmas Special, Last Christmas). He talks about his father’s wider career and their personal relationship. On episode four, archive fan audio recordings offer up the reminiscences of director Julia Smith, The Highlanders’ director Hugh David, and producer Innes Lloyd. Pride of place on this release, however, goes to Patrick Troughton himself, who is heard discussing his time on the show—it’s a fitting send off for the DVD range (if, indeed, this is the end) to hear from a Doctor who has been somewhat underserved by DVD simply due to the huge gaps in his Doctor Who filmography.

Verdict: Nice to have, but only a necessary purchase for completists, 6/10

Brian J. Robb

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