Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day 153: The Underwater Menace, Episode Two
This episode, along with the third part of Galaxy 4 have something of a ‘magical’ feel to them. The thought that they both spent so long sitting in a private collection, while the rest of the world thought them lost makes them seem somehow even more special than any of the regular 1960s episodes that have just always ‘existed’. While the aforementioned Galaxy 4 episode has recently seen release slightly patched up on DVD, this episode has yet to go through any kind of major restoration process, so the occasional break in the footage or dirt on the print really help to add to that feeling of watching something newly recovered.
What’s nice about the timing of the episode’s recovery in relation to this marathon is that this will be one of the first times it’s been reviewed in context of all the other 1960s episodes since its first broadcast, 47 years ago. No pressure there, then!
And, excitingly, it’s the first time I’ve been able to properly watch Troughton moving in the run of The 50 Year Diary! For some reason, since the start of The Power of the Daleks, I’ve been basing all of the Doctor’s movements on the way he behaves in The Three Doctors. To be perfectly honest, I don’t even know why I’m doing that. Maybe it was the last story with Troughton in that I’ve watched? Maybe it’s because he plays his recorder far more in these early stories than in the later ones, and he plays it a fair bit in The Three Doctors, too? Whatever the case may be, that’s the way I’ve been imagining him.
But it’s wonderful to actually see the man. You forget just how much Troughton simply dominates the screen - even when he’s not the main focus of the scene. There’s several moments in this episode where conversations take place between Professor Zaroff and Damon, but all my attention is going on the Doctor in the background, as he fiddles with bits of the set, or looks around pulling funny faces - all totally in character.
Indeed, Troughton is more expressive than Hartnell (and he was pretty expressive himself!), and there are a number of times the camera comes in for a close up on the Doctor’s reaction to really get a point across. The look he gives when breaking the power supply is priceless. Also of note is the little jig - for want of a better word - he does when given some priest clothes. He looks positively thrilled to have been given such an elaborate hat!
I think my favourite moment may be when the Doctor tries to convince Thous, the leader of Atlantis, that Zaroff isn’t quite as sane as they might like. ‘The professor is a wonderful man, a worker of miracles,’ the Doctor explains, calmly. ‘But… have you noticed his eyes lately? When he talks of his project, have you noticed his eyes? They light up like this! The professor is as mad as a hatter!’ As we move through this latter part of the exchange, Troughton makes a point of giving a good, comical, stare. It’s a lovely moment, and one that would be hard to appreciate simply through audio.
The scene between the Doctor and Thous is just one example of the brilliant dialogue on display in the story. As always, the sign of a good episode is that I can’t write my notes quickly enough before there’s something else to jot down - and this episode is a real example of that. From notes on the Doctor trying to explain Zaroff’s insanity in a different way (he knocks on the side of his own head, before dead-panning ‘No answer. Sad’), to mocking Zaroff’s plans to drain the ocean into the Earth’s core (‘Bang!’), The Underwater Menace is a humorous story, and it’s giving me plenty of things to enjoy.
It may not be to everyone’s tastes, and I’m wondering if the level of humour in the story is responsible for that? A couple of months ago, in my preview for Cold War, I described it being ‘a very funny episode’, mostly in relation to David Warner’s character. The first comment the preview generated was someone complaining, sarcastically, that there really wan’t enough humour in the programme at the moment. Any kind of humour in the programme seems to get some fans’ back up.
It doesn’t always work for me - I really didn’t enjoy The Romans, for instance, and that’s considered to be one of the best examples of Doctor Who doing comedy - but in this story, I can’t help but loving the more playful side of the series. The Second Doctor seems to bring a kind of natural humour to everything he touches, so it’s lovely to see it being used so well here.