Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day 155: The Underwater Menace, Episode Four
I’ve been waiting all the way through this story for the bottom to fall out of it and for it to become rubbish. I think it’s fair to say, now that I’ve heard it all, that it certainly doesn’t deserve to poll seven places from the bottom in the Doctor Who Magazine ‘Mighty 200’ survey from a couple of years ago. Let’s make no bones about it: I’ve loved The Underwater Menace.
I think it helps that all the right episodes are missing, and the 50% that I have been able to watch as full episodes is the right half of the story, too. Episode One has to feature the TARDIS materialising on the shores of a volcanic island, and while the tele snaps make it look half-way decent, I think there’s a danger that actually on screen, it may not have fared so well.
Similarly, today’s episode features the destruction of Atlantis, as the ocean breaks through the walls of the city, and rushes in to claim it for the deep. On the soundtrack, it sounds brilliant. The sound of the rushing water is modulated perfectly in every scene, and since I’ve listened to this episode on a train, without the tele snaps in front of me, I’ve been able to imagine it looking pretty good.
There’s a moment when Anneke Wills on the narration describes the giant head of Amdo falling from the wall. In my mind, that looked pretty spectacular crashing into the rising waves. On screen? Well, I’ve yet to look at the images, but I fear it might not have been quite as effective.
It helps, of course, that having seen two episodes, I’ve got a pretty good idea of just how things should look in this final episode. Perhaps the best thing that those two have done for me is working with Troughton’s Doctor. I mused the other day that in my head, all his movements seemed to be based on his appearance in The Three Doctors. That’s no so true, now, and it was very noticeable when he explains his plan to his group of friends.
Again, I’m not going to waste your time by harping on about how great he’s been in this episode, but he’s done it again - knocking it out of the park with his performance. What I will do is draw attention back to Michael Craze as Ben. I spent a lot of time praising him during The War Machines, and while he’s had a lot of nice stuff to do since then, today is the first time that he’s really made me smile. Sneaking the Doctor past a guard, he’s questioned on how they know this is a wanted man. ‘Well blimey,’ Ben replies, ‘Look at him! He ain’t normal, is he?’
This is yet another example of the fantastic dialogue littered through this story, and once again I’ve got notes of seemingly every other line. It’s a real pity that Geoffrey Orme didn’t write another Doctor Who story - I’m crying out for more of his work. Some of the particular highlights from today’s episode include Ben asking the Doctor if he knows what he’s doing (‘Oh, what a question. Of course I don’t’) and the poetic ways in which the destruction of Atlantis get described (‘The everlasting nightmare is here at last’).
And then we’ve got a lovely scene at the very end, with the Doctor and his trio of companions safely back inside the TARDIS, where they tease him about being able to pilot the ship. There’s yet more great dialogue (The Doctor claims that he can steer the ship if he wants to. He’s just never wanted to), and a real sense of bonding between them.
It acts as a nice counter-balance to the start of the story, and it’s the other half of Jamie’s ‘introduction to the TARDIS’ scene. Having the Doctor questioned about how well he can steer the ship seems to have become something of a staple when new companions are introduced. Here, the Doctor decides to take up the challenge, and sets course for Mars. And then the TARDIS goes haywire. How very fitting!
On the whole, I really have loved this story. It’s far, far, better than reputation would suggest, and I’m really hopeful that the recently recovered episode will convince more people to look more favourably on it as a result. Certainly, it’s low standing among fandom currently seems thoroughly undeserved. Plus, now we’ve got half the tale in the archives, surely that makes it a candidate for an animated release?