Re-watching... Doctor Who: The Underwater Menace – Part 4

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

Saturday 4 February 1967

“…my ultimate moment of triumph.”

So, it's the last episode of this unusual story. It’s a race against time before the whole of the Earth blows up. The Doctor and Ben are separated from Jamie and Polly. The Doctor’s plan is to flood Atlantis but first they have to get past the guard and into the generating station. The Doctor’s confident they’ll get past the guard, Ben less so (“What, in those trousers?”).

So Ben pretends to be escorting a captured Doctor. When questioned by a skeptical guard about the Doctor being a wanted man, I like Ben’s “Blimey, look at him! He ain’t normal is he?” The Doctor tricks the guard into revealing the password. Incredibly, his method is the old schoolboy trick: “You don’t know the password”, “Yes I do, it’s…”

The two of them sabotage the equipment but Zaroff is alerted. The Doctor admitting he doesn’t know what he’s doing (“Of course I don’t!”) is something it’s hard to imagine Hartnell’s version saying.

Meanwhile Jamie and Polly are making their way through tunnels to Zaroff’s laboratory. They find some glowing radiation and then the vibration caused by the Doctor’s sabotage cracks open the rock and starts to let water in. Lots of water-based effects scenes here.

Zaroff is defiant though, telling everyone to remain where they are. The Doctor breezes in and confronts him but he and Ben are trapped as Zaroff activates a portcullis. Luckily he tells the Doctor and Ben how they can escape, just so that they can “share the last greatest experiment of Zaroff.” Classic lunatic, referring to himself in the third person…

The Doctor turns the lights out though – the second time he’s pulled that trick – and Zaroff raises the portcullis. Zaroff crosses to the other side, Ben rushes out, and the Doctor lowers the portcullis again, trapping him. Simple. Jamie and Polly climb up to the surface, and Zaroff drowns. The Doctor and Ben emerge from the tunnels just as Polly and Jamie had given up hope of them having survived. They all head back to the TARDIS. I wonder what happened to the fish people. Just swam away?

So ok, the dialogue was rubbish, and admittedly this is not going to win any top story polls, but actually there were enough ‘moments’ to keep it fairly enjoyable. It was quite fun actually. Some inconsistency in character as Polly gets really hysterical, a far cry from the tough girl of the last story, a Polly who who despaired at highlander Kirsty’s crying and rallied everyone into action. But Patrick Troughton actually seemed to find his feet in this one and we get a more solid, clearly defined version of the second Doctor. In fact he probably saved this story! There’s a moment where the Doctor’s conscience stops him letting Zaroff drown and he wants to go back for him. It’s Ben who stops him and they continue onwards, but that was more like the Doctor we will know.

The fish people were quite effective, spooky almost, and which Doctor Who story isn’t brightened up by some location filming, especially at the coast? As for Joseph Furst… well Zaroff was a nutter with a ridiculous plan and Furst played him that way! I rather enjoyed his performance.

Ironically my favourite bit was when the travellers were back in the TARDIS. Just seeing them all round the console, Ben teasing Jamie about smelling of fish, and Polly wearing the Doctor’s hat raised a smile. We haven’t seen inside the TARDIS since Troughton’s first episode. The Doctor spontaneously sets course for Mars and it made me wonder why he’d never been before. Or perhaps he has in untelevised adventures…

We get a cliffhanger ending as the TARDIS lurches out of control. I wonder if they’ll make it to Mars…

Better than The Space Museum.

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.

Now Reading
Re-watching... Doctor Who: The Underwater Menace – Part 4