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28/1/1967: Re-watching... The Underwater Menace – Part 3

Doctor Who

My ongoing mission: to watch classic television fifty years after first broadcast...

One thing that really strikes me watching this story is the incidental music. Noticing that it sounds exactly like the music used during the Pertwee era (I know, a few years from now!) I hadn’t realised how early Dudley Simpson adopted this purely electronic style. There hasn’t been anything like it before this. I’m not saying it’s good, but it’s undoubtedly striking and unusual.

Zaroff has the Doctor and Ramo taken away by Lolem to be sacrificed. I recognise this chap Lolem. He’s a bit camp, reminds me of Christopher Biggins. It’s not him though. Got it! It’s Cyril from last year's The Celestial Toymaker!

The sacrificial chamber has a PA system and before sacrifice can take place a voice booms out claiming to be the voice of Amdo and ordering everyone to look down. The voice actually belongs to Ben (or is it Polly attempting a deep voice?) and luckily the Doctor and Ramo hadn’t been tied up, so they just get up and leave while everybody is obediently looking at the floor. Always tie your sacrificial victims up. Or hypnotise them. Or drug them. Also luckily, camp Lolem is hard of hearing so doesn’t hear the Doctor urging Ramo to leave with him. When they all look up again they’ve gone so naturally Lolem assumes that they’ve been eaten by Amdo. And let’s face it, what other possible explanation could there be?

The Doctor plans to defeat Zaroff by persuading the fish people to go on strike. Another disguise for the Doctor – headscarf, sunglasses and a hippy tambourine. I love Polly’s disparaging comment about it being a rubbish disguise! They’re waiting for Zaroff in this marketplace. I wonder how much this story cost to make – there are an awful lot of extras. It’s odd seeing so many children in Doctor Who.

A double act called Jacko and Sean goad the fish people into action. Calling them “a bunch of sardines” has to be one of the most obscure insults ever, and prompts a torrent of rocks to be hurled at the pair. They should work on their material. I think Sean must be Doctor Who‘s first Irish character! An Irish Atlantean – odd concept.

There seem to be two types of fish person: the ones with lots of intricate makeup, scales and creepy clown faces, and the rather more plain variety in not much more than a body stocking and a polythene bag on their backs. And as one would expect from a day by the sea, there are some rather unflatteringly-clad body shapes on view. I have to say though, that I find the properly made up fish people slightly disturbing, especially bearing in mind the whole concept of them once having been human. They are creepy in a similar way to the Cybermen from The Tenth Planet. The goading eventually works and the fish people begin their industrial action. They signify their understanding by opening and closing their mouths, because that’s what fish do. As we all know fish open and close their mouths once for yes and twice for no. Definitely nothing to do with respiration.

Zaroff has been captured by our plucky heroes but remains defiant, giving it all he’s got, ranting and smirking. I find him quite entertaining actually. His over the top madness is quite funny and he always looks as if he’s barely suppressing a fit of giggles. He pretends to collapse from the intensity of his ranting, and because Polly is back to being “weedy and frightened” this week, she falls for it. We are then treated to an objectionable scene in which Polly stands by watching helplessly while Zaroff lunges at Ramo, they struggle for a bit and then Zaroff brutally stabs him with a spear. That’s a pretty low point for Polly and surprisingly strong stuff for a children’s series, even though the actual spear impact is off camera. We were harder in those (sorry, these) days.

Zaroff drags Polly off into the tunnels. Meanwhile the Doctor and friends find Ramo’s body and the Doctor can’t resist a fish-based joke. On sending Jamie off to find Polly he tells Ben that the two of them have “other fish to fry”. Fish puns are hugely popular of course, and you’ll note that I myself have managed to resist the urge. This is neither the time nor the place for that sort of thing.

Polly hears Jamie calling and manages to escape, clobbering Zaroff over the head with a rock. She must be trying to amend for standing and watching while Ramo was murdered. However Zaroff’s head is rock proof so this just makes him run off laughing, and he joins Thous and Damon in the council chamber.

Thous realises that the Doctor was right about Zaroff being bonkers and orders his project stopped. Talking of fish puns (a couple of paragraphs ago if you’re still with me), we get yet another (perhaps unintended) one from Zaroff when he exclaims that “fission will take place!” Well, yes. Zaroff shoots a strangely unprotesting Thous (despite a couple of seconds delay) and orders his guards to shoot the others. Again, murder seems quite shocking for Saturday tea time to my 21st century sensibilities. A pause from Zaroff, and then (altogether now): “Nothing in the world can stop me now!”

Read next: Corruption
Nick Brown
Nick Brown

I've embarked upon an open ended mission, pretending to travel back in time and watch classic television on (or close to) the fiftieth anniversary of original broadcast date; getting a sense of the context, the magic of that first viewing.

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28/1/1967: Re-watching... The Underwater Menace – Part 3
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