Playing Pat-a-Cake With The Wall (Underworld)
|The Doctor enjoys the wonders of things he can’t|
arbitrarily walk through.
It’s January 7th, 1978. Wings remain at number one with “Mull of Kintyre,” and, as mentioned, stay there for the whole story. Bonnie Tyler, Donna Summer and The Bee Gees also chart. So that’s not entirely exciting.
Since Doctor Who went on its Christmas break, the Copyright Act of 1976 took effect in the United States, changing American copyright law to be based on the life of the author instead of the date of publication. A referendum in Chile supported Augusto Pinochet’s policies, which is a less impressive electoral feat than it sounds given Pinochet’s overt fondness for the mass slaughter of his political opponents. And the United States returned the Holy Crown of Hungary to Hungary, having been keeping it safe in Fort Knox since World War II.
While during this story, riots erupt in Nicaragua after the assassination of a leading critic of the government. Rose Dugdale and Eddie Gallagher become the first people to marry in prison in the Republic of Ireland. And speaking of Ireland, the European Court of Human Rights acquits the United Kingdom of torturing prisoners in Northern Ireland, but does find that they mistreated prisoners.
While on television, it’s one of the great punching bags of Doctor Who: Underworld. A story that I could simply and cavalierly lay into for a myriad of faults and get absolutely no comments from anybody suggesting that I was being too hard on the story or being unfair. This is the one Tom Baker story to slot in the bottom ten on the Doctor Who Magazine Mighty 200 poll. Lawrence Miles declares it the worst story of the 1970s. It’s crap. it’s garbage. I kinda liked it.
I mean, it wasn’t good by any measure, but it’s not even the worst Baker and Martin script of Season Fifteen, little yet the worst Doctor Who story of the 1970s. (I’m not through the 1970s yet, but I’m pretty sure The Monster of Peladon is the single worst.) For the most part, on this story at least, Tat Wood’s review in About Time is spot on – there’s nothing bad that you can say about this that can’t also be said about The Time Monster, and unlike The Time Monster there are at least some valid production reasons for why their backs were so up against the wall.
Star Wars was a mixed blessing for Doctor Who. This is an altogether more positive interpretation than most people would give you. The more common view would have to be that Star Wars was a disaster for Doctor Who because Doctor Who could never hope to match its effects and so looked cheap and silly after Star Wars. This, at least, is clearly nonsense – The Invisible Enemy looked cheap and silly just fine on its own.
All of which said… Underworld is horrendously cheap and silly. Amusingly, one aspect of the story manages to simultaneously be the most appallingly cheap looking and the part of the story that served as a road map for future stories, which is the CSO work. Nobody, not even Barry Letts, has managed to cross the line of what 1970s CSO technology was capable to quite this gratuitous an extent. There are, of course, background reasons. Graham Williams, aware that Star Wars was going to be out before this story aired and that it would be unfavorably compared, decided to try to economize and redo the script so that it only required two sets, both of which he could then spend on. One set was to be the Minyan spaceship, which would serve double duty. The other was to be the cavern set.
Unfortunately, upon returning from vacation he discovered that Underworld was on track for an overspend to the tune of three times what it was supposed to spend. With the Minyan spaceship set already in production, and faced with the option of either pulling the plug on the final story of the season (which was tempting, as the intended finale was turning out to be completely unfilmable) or of getting exceedingly creative. The latter option was chosen, in part because abandoning episodes was going to be a disaster in its own right, and in part because they had an idea, which was to build models for the cavern sets and shoot them with CSO. This idea was appealing in particular because it would finally give Williams reason to force through a production decision (the first major change to how stories were made since Barry Letts) he’d been lobbying for all season – a gallery only day in which effects work could be done.
The only problem is that it didn’t work. I mean, the gallery-only day was a winner. So that was nice. But the actual CSO use has to go down as the most spectacularly ill-advised attempt to beat Star Wars at its own game until at least Galactica 1980. Particularly great are any of the moments in which K-9, motors running at appallingly high volume, walks through walls, although the sequence of the Trogs running around in a rockfall at the start of episode two manages to capture the visual aesthetic of Monty Python and the Holy Grail with an uncanny accuracy sullied only by the fact that it’s not meant to be funny.
But let’s face it, the whole production is cheap looking even by the recent standards of Doctor Who. Perhaps the most telling moment is when K-9 is hooked into the Minyan computer via what is very obviously a pair of binder clips at the end of telephone wires. What’s striking about this isn’t the use of cheap and everyday materials in Doctor Who – that’s been going on for ages, with condom maggots and bubble wrap alien arms appearing in highly acclaimed stories. It’s the fact that no effort whatsoever is made to disguise the fact that it’s phone wire and binder clips. They’re not spray-painted gold or anything. They’re using phone wire and binder clips that are obviously being phone wire and binder clips. It’s a stunning moment in which it’s clear that the production department has simply given up all hope that this will ever look good.
To be fair, at this point we should probably return to the old joke about the guy who came upon an old man playing checkers with his dog. The guy watched the two of them for a while, and finally said “you know, this is incredible. You trained your dog to play checkers. I mean, that’s got to be the smartest dog I’ve ever seen.” And the old man shrugged and said “Nah. He only wins about forty percent of the time.” Yes, the BBC is unable to make it look good when they turn out six film-length science fiction stories a year on a BBC television budget without relying on standing sets or even on a sizable regular cast. But unless you’re just willing to say that the BBC shouldn’t be doing science fiction in the first place, it’s tough to complain too much. The impressive thing is that the BBC can do six film-length sci-fi stories a year, not how good they look. And reasonable people, at least, understood that in 1978 and were willing to just accept that Doctor Who wasn’t supposed to be Star Wars. This story tests the limits of that, certainly, especially since it’s only the worst of the season and not the only misstep, but the fact of the matter is that the show can fall on its face occasionally in the effects department with no ill effects.
Unfortunately, the visual effects aren’t the only bad thing in this story. I mentioned the terrible rockfall scene at the start of episode two, which is one of the single worst shots in all of Doctor Who. But its low quality is as much the fault of the actors playing the Trogs, whose style of running from rockfalls more resembles rushing to the bathroom than fleeing for one’s life, as it is the bad CSO cave they’re running through. And they don’t even manage to occupy all the slots for “worst actors,” with the Minyans and, for that matter, almost every other guest star flopping badly. This is somewhat more surprising. Even granting that this is Norman Stewart’s first directorial effort, it is difficult to understand how so much went wrong in terms of casting.
That said, there’s a general problem with the series’ acting that starts to set in around now, and it’s one that’s worth understanding as a general case instead of as a lengthy series of specific bad performances. To some extent it’s easiest to go back and look at this in terms of the previous Baker and Martin story and the appallingly bad performance of Frederick Jaeger as Professor Marius. The thing about that performance is that Jaeger is a good actor. He’s even been good on Doctor Who, having played Professor Sorenson in Planet of Evil and Jano way back in The Savages. And yet in The Invisible Enemy, he’s terrible. What about that story would make someone we know is a good actor be that bad?
There’s a viewpoint you can find from a sizable number of writers. Douglas Adams has a version of it he said about City of Death, for instance, and Steven Moffat has said it about Coupling. Usually the viewpoint comes in some form of telling actors who are appearing in something that’s very funny to stop being so funny. In Moffat’s telling, the single most common direction given to actors appearing in Coupling was “You know that funny thing you’re doing? Stop doing it.” In Adams’s version, it was frequently necessary to pull actors aside and tell them not to do funny walks or funny voices when playing parts but to play it straight.
In a way this is just a version of taking your bubble wrap seriously, but not entirely. It’s not as though Frederick Jaeger’s acting changed particularly in The Invisible Enemy when he was face to face with a poor effect. Instead this is a point about overall aesthetics. When the show is forced to look cheap and silly, a large number of actors instinctively respond by hamming up their performances. The logic behind it is sensible enough – given that the show isn’t serious, clearly one should act non-serious as well. So everyone slips into panto mode. The only problem is that it completely sandbags the approach that worked in The Sun Makers. The Sun Makers worked because the story was in on it’s own joke – it knew it was ridiculous, and that freed it up to be serious. But that only works if the story is a mix of the serious and the ridiculous. If everybody is in on the joke and openly acknowledges that everything is ridiculous then there’s no joke anymore. The approach works only when the show gains the ability to turn on a dime between serious and ridiculous and requires a delicate balancing of both.
Unfortunately, in this story everyone is in on the joke. And the effects are the worst they’ve been. And the whole thing comes off terribly. But despite this, under the hood, there are some real reasons to be optimistic about the direction the series is going. And this is where the good bits of what Star Wars meant for Doctor Who come in. But first of all, let’s use this story to shoot one more gaping hole in the idea that Star Wars was coming up with anything new. The plot of this story is basically the myth of Jason and the Argonauts retold with sci-fi concepts. So, in other words, myth redone as science fiction. i.e. the thing that everyone acts like Star Wars was so clever for figuring out. And it was firmly written before Star Wars came out. So yeah. Good job, George Lucas. You’re almost as clever and as good a writer as Bob Baker and David Martin. Enjoy a golf clap, mate.
Admittedly Star Wars just goes and does mythic science fiction instead of having an irritating coda in which it its itself on the back for how clever it is. And perhaps more to the point, it’s not like this is the first retelling Doctor Who has done lately. It retold Quatermass and the Pit two times ago, has redone Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Frankenstein, and various mummy movies, and was going to open the season with a redo of Dracula except a BBC production that was actually of Dracula scuppered that and Terrance Dicks hurriedly wrote Horror of Fang Rock instead. In this regard there’s not actually anything all that new in using Jason and the Argonauts other than the fact that it’s an idea that everybody has now and so isn’t innovative so much as trendy.
On the other hand, as formulaic structures go, “take the Doctor and shove him into someone else’s story” isn’t a bad one. There are, after all, rather a lot of other stories, and the Doctor’s anarchic tendencies contrast well with most of them. Even in this story, hidden behind the bad effects, is the Doctor’s line about how “the more ritual and mumbo-jumbo, the greater deterrent. That’s the whole point of official sadism,” which is one of the most cuttingly antiauthoritarian lines in the whole series.
The only problem, and even Tat Wood, who comes close to defending this story, ends up admitting to it, is that there’s not actually a reason for this story to exist beyond the cleverness of its own existence. Jason and the Argonauts is not a story with immense cultural relevance. There’s not a lot of cutting or innovative commentary to be made on Britain of 1978 via Jason and the Argonauts. This is Doctor Who adapting existing literature with no real point behind it, just for the sake of doing it. And doing a myth because myths are big, so it makes for more epic Doctor Who. With no attention paid to whether there’s a good story or a good set of images.
Which is the basic problem with Baker and Martin at this point, and something I’ve criticized them for before. They’re long on ideas and short on interest in developing them. In their early stories this worked because the production team stepped up and made uncanny and impressive visuals to go along with the ideas. The Claws of Axos was just the story of the Trojan Horse glammed up to the point of utter and spectacular brilliance, but it worked because the visuals were so fun. Here the visuals are as crappy as the show has ever managed, and suddenly the facile nature of Baker and Martin’s ideas is revealed. As with The Invisible Enemy’s failure to do anything with its cloning, Underworld fails spectacularly to do anything with the idea that the Time Lords were worshipped as gods by the Minyans. Which is a great idea, if really just a slightly new spin on Chris Boucher’s main good idea in The Face of Evil. But Baker and Martin leave it there, blowing the biggest opportunity to do anything with this story. Similarly, the idea of the Minyans endlessly and torturously regenerating themselves isn’t really touched. The villain is just another crazy computer, and that’s not done as well as Boucher did it a year previously either. Much like The Invisible Enemy, there’s a good story to be written with these ideas, and this just isn’t it.
Still, this isn’t nearly as bad as people suggest. The effects are wretched, but for understandable reasons. The plot is above average for the writers. And it’s the debut script of a new script editor whose time was rapidly being hovered up by the next train wreck he was going to have to fix. For all its flaws, it is a story that continues to move towards a workable model for the series. The basic idea is here – have the writing be complex and full of big ideas and then produce it with a knowing camp glee at the limitations of the medium. Increasingly there is the sense that if the production team could catch their breath and straighten out their budgets, this could actually work. In some ways, one wishes this were the end of the season so we could just move on.
December 9, 2011 @ 1:27 am
I'm surprised they didn't turn the CSO sets into a merit by creating models that would have been wildly expensive and impractical at full-size. Like some of the backgrounds in Invisible Enemy 3, for instance. Then Underworld would be visually distinctive and people would praise its surreal aesthetic and ambition. If it's as easy to look interesting as generic, why be ordinary?
I quite like Invisible Enemy 3, by the way.
December 9, 2011 @ 2:27 am
Oh dear. You quite liked it (though it’s hard to see where you say why), so I feel a bit of a meanie to say why it’s worse than you think. With the added complication that I’m kinder to some bits you’re more harsh about, and vice versa. You see, it doesn’t strike me as camp at all, and the script as much worse even than The Invisible Enemy, because – as I’ve written in some depth on the Doctor Who – Myths and Legends Box Set – it’s unforgivably just plain dull. And to think it was only Wednesday when you claimed someone had rewritten a myth with the serial numbers filed off – Bob and Dave show what happens when someone really does that and files off all the remotely interesting bits to boot. Though, perhaps because I have a lingering fondness for it from when I was six, I’d agree with you that it’s not the worst of the ’70s, putting a handful of Pertwees below it (not much of an excuse).
Now, I’m not a big defender of The Invisible Enemy, but I’d much rather watch that than this, and not just because the earlier story has fun and this so very po-facedly doesn’t. Both stories have CSO passageways: one takes the opportunity to be colourful and interesting; the other has grey and brown smears wandering about a grey and brown smear. In both stories, Part One’s the most competently done, but whereas Invisible’s Part One is surprisingly creepy and well-directed, Underworld’s is just… Stolid. It does have Bob and Dave’s best (perhaps only) idea of the story in it, which I’ll come to, but it also has me spitting tacks at their even worse characterisation of Leela. In Invisible, they incredibly made her both a stupid savage (as opposed to the heretic who asked the awkward questions – highly intelligent but untutored) and the first companion able to fly the TARDIS, possibly the stupidest juxtaposition any Who writer had yet managed, but in Underworld they just use her for laughs as a sulky infant after being shot with the cannabis ray (in just the previous story, the Doctor rightly thought a similar pacification programme an abomination).
But the crucial way in which Underworld is worse is absolutely down to the script. It’s the ideas – which just this once Bob and Dave are suddenly short of rather than, as you claim, “long on”. It’s a horrible failure of imagination. Both have some shocking ‘science’, but while the earlier story mainly borrows from a tacky movie and The Deadly Assassin, and at least tries to go somewhere different with each, Underworld rips off the previous year’s Doctor Who again, Star Trek, and above all, the best-known ancient myths to its target audience, not doing anything different but just carbon copies of each, and still stuffs up every single one of them. One story’s source material was merely “Fantastic”; this one is supposed to be fantastic.
Instead, it makes Greek legends dull and prosaic, taking the shape of them but emptying them of meaning: the ‘underworld’ is not death but just under the ground; ‘dragons’ just an electrified door (disappointing every small boy in the land); the ‘golden fleece’ a test tube; the point of the Sword of Damocles entirely missed. The idea of the Time Lords’ most tragic mistake has potential (and, shh, don’t notice that it’s nicked from Marvel Comics), but the crew are bored by it and it’s just forgotten after Part One, while the “timeship of the gods” is used as just another spaceship. The whole thing is basically a remake of The Face of Evil (as you spotted) with its brain scooped out and, astonishingly, what isn’t taken from legend or then-recent Doctor Who is from Star Trek, mainly For the World is Hollow…. Which, embarrassingly, is better. So when Bob and Dave run out of ideas, photocopy from several other sources and end up far less interesting than any of them, I really have to wonder why they bothered.
December 9, 2011 @ 2:27 am
Thanks for making me think about that one good line, at least, about ritual and official sadism; I’ll trade you what I’ve written about what should have been a good anti-authoritarian line, “Who are you to question me?” / “Who do I have to be?” which Bob and Dave then manage to miss the point of completely with their follow-up. One little bit of mercy, though, for the “phone wire and binder clips”; that always came across to me as a typical Doctor lash-up that was something of a relief amid all the self-aggrandisement.
I know Anthony Read was new, and he goes on to be a fabulous script editor for the following year, but he really needed to perform major surgery on this to give it a hope of working (and a second effects-spectacular Bob and Dave asteroid script so soon should have set off as big warning bells about their exhausted ideas as about the budget). Because if you can make something so boring out of the amazing stuff you’ve ripped off, something’s gone badly wrong. For a start, the interesting bit is the Minyan odyssey, not the ambling about in tunnels looking for great myths to name-check and piddle away, and the story starts when that bit’s over – with that one good idea, of most of the crew having despaired and died, and the fourth suicide attempt in four stories this season. But surely it doesn’t need a great mind to realise that, even if that’s your one good idea, starting your story at the point when all your characters have become bored to the point of suicide has a fatal flaw for audience engagement? At which point I shall invite ridicule by pointing out that this is the only Doctor Who story for which I’ve ever, while not written a fully-fledged fan fic, published an online outline of what they could have done with the story instead. Look, somebody should have ripped it up and started again, back then…
Obviously, it doesn’t help that such a pitiful script is then so poorly realised on screen, with the dull grey and brown smears perhaps a visual metaphor for taking a legend and sucking all the excitement out of it, but I have to disagree with you again and say that it’s bad in a very different way to that you claim. You seem to have written the stock fandom critique of the Graham Williams era about almost the only one of his stories that it doesn’t apply to, which is bizarre: “have the writing be complex and full of big ideas and then produce it with a knowing camp glee at the limitations of the medium”. Except that Underworld does precisely none of that. As I’ve argued, the ideas simply aren’t there, but neither is the campery. This is perhaps the only Tom Baker story that’s just plain dull. OK, so there are flashes of The Tom Baker Show in the painter’s smock and scarf-wafting, but even Tom rarely seems engaged, and absolutely no-one else is remotely interesting (perhaps the Oracle on moments). When you cite Freddie Jaeger as an early example of the problem faced by Adams and Moffat, you’re right, but who fits that “panto mode” here? Who’s “in on the joke”? Particularly when Bob and Dave give the impression it’s supposed to be crushingly self-important rather than funny, and have even the Doctor (mostly the only ray of light) self-importantly pulling rank in it? All the guest actors seem bored, incompetent, or both, and in particular the ‘scary villains’ – the Seers – who’d usually have a cod-Shakespearean threat to them. Instead, the director’s cast working class Londoners cast in the roles, but rather than giving the parts an unexpected naturalism, they just do a bit of the cod anyway, in a particularly dreary and dull way. As with so much of the story, what was the point?
December 9, 2011 @ 2:30 am
And I've taken so long writing that that John Callaghan's already put one bit of it, better and more punchily. I agree 😉
December 9, 2011 @ 5:02 am
I watched Underworld for the first time fairly recently, and I quite enjoyed it. I can't argue with any of the criticism levelled here, but nonetheless it was pacey and entertaining enough. Maybe it's just down to its inclusion in the Myths and Legends boxed set, which means you watch it immediately after The Time Monster.
December 9, 2011 @ 6:21 am
I really enjoyed this one when I watched it aged 7 on first transmission. It was fun simply recognising that it was obviously a rip-off of a well-known Greek myth (I'd enjoyed the Hinchcliffe years but I had no knowledge of their source material. Here, I had Roger Lancelyn Green to inform me).
The visuals of this one – and of the opening episode of "Invisible Enemy", actually – stood out in my memory as being excellent. I loved the shield-guns. It is probably no coincidence in this regard that it wasn't until the following year that I found out just how extremely short-sighted I am. Had I been wearing glasses in 1978, things might have been different.
December 9, 2011 @ 9:25 am
Couldn't address this in the prior post about star wars, but i tend to disagree with your assessment of the impact that Star Wars had on Doctor Who and audience's perception of Science Fiction/Fantasy. The Invisible Enemy didn't work then and doesn't work now because the science is complete shit. I can live with hyperdrive and blasters, because you're making rules up for them and then not messing about. Baker and Martin are terrible because their basic understanding of science is so bad that they routinely blow off stuff that even a 5th grader knows is wrong. Its not about destroying the "suspension of disbelief", its about destroying any credibility that the story had within its own parameters. What science they used in Star Wars plays by its own rules, rules that seem to make sense to us, and, until the later prequels, stays as known variables within the first three movies. Doctor Who had a cheap looking story that made no sense on the air when Star Wars hit and it simply underscored how bad every aspect of the production was. If you were watching Genesis, at least you coudl forgive the sets as the writing was so good. And the politics made sense.
I rather like the first episode of Underworld, but not much, and then it does become boring and more boring. And yes, Leela gets completely shafted here.
December 11, 2011 @ 8:41 am
In other news, two more lost episodes have been recovered.
December 11, 2011 @ 9:27 am
Indeed! And a much more exciting pair than people give credit for. Underwater Menace 2, in particular, is a corker of a find. I never would have thought of it as a most-desirable Troughton episode, but after seeing the released minute clip and thinking about it, the only two Troughtons I can think of that I'd have rather seen are Evil of the Daleks 7 and Power of the Daleks 1. I think Underwater Menace 2 has a real possibility of completing changing our understanding of how the Hartnell-Troughton transition worked.
Galaxy Four 3 is quite a find as well, though I don't think there's nearly as much to learn there.
Henry R. Kujawa
April 18, 2012 @ 8:21 pm
Considering several people found the 1st episode the best part of this, imagine my first impression when, the first time saw this, I walked in at the started of Part TWO. Ouch. And would you believe? Inexplicably, the "movie" version I have on tape, Howard Da Silva's narration comes in at the start of part 2!! Somebody at the distributor screwed up.
I quite liked James Maxwell as Jackson (I've seen him in a few other things, including a wonderful Cathy Gale AVENGERS episode where they spend the whole story building him up to be a traitor, then you're delighted to find out… no, he isn't!). I also enjoyed Alan Lake as Herrick. He had great passion when he wanted to kill the Doctor, and later, he seeemed to really enjoy fighting those stupid Underworld guards. Just read up on him– he had a wild, and in the end, tragic life, his wife Diana Dors dying from cancer only a few months before he took his own life while suffering a brain tumor, at age 43. So sad.
The spacesuits look like Jack Kirby designs, and the shield-laser weapon– brilliant!
I'd like to point out that the effects shots of the spaceship are actually INTENSELY well-done, particularly the close-up near the end when they're escaping from the planet moments before it blows up. The explosion is also damned impressive. I notice you didn't mention any of this, perhaps forgetting that the stupid CSO (which finally did work better than anyone probably expected, in "MEGLOS") was not the only "effect" used here.
Far more troubling to me than bad effects shots was the "zero gravity" scene, which just made NO F***ing sense at all! I mean, Jack Kirby had a zero-gravity well in FANTASTIC FOUR #7 ("Prisoners Of Planet X") which would have made perfect sense here, if those 2 jokers who wrote this had even bothered to think of it. But having The Doctor say it's zero gravity because they're at the center of the planet? What were they smoking that week?
Spot on about "The Oracle" being "The Oracle" from "FOR THE WORLD IS HOLLOW AND I HAVE TOUCHED THE SKY". Even the same name, and they're both monstrously stupid for computers.
Did anyone else think the chief guard, Rask, looked like Rod Steiger? They kept playing up the guards as "cops", with his office having bars like a small-town jail, and chasing an escaped slave and referring to him as a "suspect"– wha'…?? Were they also trying to throw in a reference to IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT for no reason at all?
I hated how they had Leela in Part 1, but they almost made up for it in Part 2 when Jackson tells them to stay behind, and she & Baker walk away, then turn, look at each other and smile, then follow. THAT's a pair of good friends at work, which is how they should be.
Now how are all those escaped slaves gonna survive a journey that's supposed to take 350 years, in such a small spaceship?
I'd still rather watch this than "GENESIS"…
March 17, 2014 @ 12:48 pm
I've finally gotten around to rewatching "Underworld" (doubt I'll need to do that again for another decade or so) and I happened to notice that for all the justified criticism of how Leela the character was treated in this episode, Louise Jameson does a typically outstanding job of giving her dignity despite the script. After she's told that she'd been "pacified," Jameson plays Leela's "sulk" absolutely straight. She's horrified that her fighting instinct was taken from her, and even more appalled that everyone including the Doctor seemed to think this was no big deal at all. I was hugely impressed at how seriously Jameson took that moment, and the director made sure he captured it.
Episode 1 is really quite good, I think — evocative and tense and mythic. If, as others have observed, it had been all about the ramifications of a hundred-thousand-year quest and the weariness and stasis of regenerating into the same four people over and over during that time, it would have been a highlight of the season if not the era. Instead, unfortunately it became a drab runaround with guards and grubby peons and hokey rituals with no connection to anything. I agree with Henry about those planet effects, though. Science aside, that shot of the Minyan ship plunging into the liquid "planet" is fabulous.
The odds of anyone reading this comment at this late date are probably close to nil. But perhaps, 100,000 years from now, our descendants will take on the quest of reading through all of these comments and trying to reconstruct the human race from the information contained herein. One shivers.
April 16, 2014 @ 10:56 am
I don't know if it can be called a coincidence, given that it is more than a month later, but I just watched Underworld last night, and decided to look it up on here to see what everyone had to say about it. And hey presto, someone else has watched it recently and left a comment on a 3-year old blogpost. Well, count me in.
I don't think Underworld is all that bad. It's certainly not the second worst Dr Who story ever. Although mainly, if I'm honest, this is because this story was the first one I watched all the way through as a kid, on a black and white telly, in 1978. And obviously, you can't hate your first story; it'd be like going back in time and kicking your 7 year old self in the knackers.
The model work is pretty good, the CSO is ropey but nowhere near as bad as some people make out, and even though there are plenty of things in the script to criticise, this story, for all its faults, was the start of my interest in Doctor Who, so I feel obliged to treat it favourably.
Watching it, there were so many images I remembered from 1978; the guard masks with the ridiculous tiny eye holes (at least these guys have an excuse for dreadful peripheral vision), the Seers robot heads, the gas, the race bank cylinders, the sword of Damocles, Herrick's OTT gung-ho-ness. I remembered a lot more about this episode than I did about Terminus, or Meglos, or any number of stories from later seasons.
So, basically, the key to appreciating this episode is to watch it first when you are seven, have only watched one episode of Dr Who prior to that, in black and white and in 1978.
If you don't meet any of these criteria, then yeah. It has dodgy CSO in it.
April 16, 2014 @ 2:41 pm
Busted! I didn't think anyone would find me hiding here. 🙂
April 17, 2014 @ 8:55 am
I'm planning to post on The Savages entry next. That really would be the blog equivalent of moving to a croft on an isolated Hebridean island and switching one's mobile phone off.
December 4, 2014 @ 10:19 am
I will point out that under certain circumstances there is actually weightlessness at the centre of a planetary object.
If I ever watched underworld as a teenager on transmission, which is pretty likely, every single minute of it has slipped my memory.
Henry R. Kujawa
July 23, 2015 @ 6:38 pm
I'm 3 parts into re-watching it right now. The last few times I've watched the show, I played with the running order. One time, I alternated between different Doctors each story. That was fun! This time, I watching in order again… but going out of my way to SKIP any stories I just don't like. I didn't skip this one!
Those guards are some of the most arrogant, obnoxious, LOUD tyrants I've ever seen. There's no thining going on, just ABUSING other people with absolute confidence and impunity. Just the sort of BASTARDS who need to be taken down.
What's interesting (and this has nothing to do with the story itself) is that the previous story– "THE SUN MAKERS"– had the SAME thing. Only, funny.
As I often say about Tom Mankiewicz' script for "LIVE AND LET DIE" (an absolute bastardization of what was my favorite Ian Fleming novel)… "Funny can forgive a lot of sins."
You just wanna B****-slap JNT for what he did to "THE LEISURE HIVE" and "VENGEANCE ON VAROS"… I would have loved to have seen those before they removed all the jokes.
By the way… it's "known" that the idea of Time Lords deciding to NOT interfere with other cultures was swiped– allegedly (??) from a story in "Tales Of The Watcher" from TALES OF SUSPENSE #53-54 (May-Jun'64). That story was done by Larry Lieber, with his brother STEALING credit & pay for the story idea ("plot"). The question, in some fans' minds, of course, is WHERE did that idea come from? MANY story ideas in Marvel Comics in the early 1960s came (uncredited AND UNPAID) from Jack Kirby, including many he didn't even draw. (Though many of those, he did draw the covers. Or, what wound up being turned into covers.) Then again, there were also a number of writers who worked for Martin Goodman's MAGAZINE division, who served as "ghosts". So, was it one of them, or was it "simply" Kirby channelling one of his MANY sources (he was a voracious reader– mythology, technology magazines, science fiction pulp magazines,etc.). I bet there's an earlier source for this story that hasn't been identified yet.
The question of whether or not Kirby was involved is because a few years later, Kirby wrote an ENTIRELY different origin for "The Watcher"– which was completely rejected and BUTCHERED by his "editor". (DOCTOR WHO writers during JNT's time on the show aren't the only ones to have their work so badly abused.) And it doesn't seem right that Kirby would have written 2 such complete-at-odds versions of the SAME story.
Of course, Baker & Martin may well have swiped the idea from the SAME source as whoever wrote that "Watcher" story did. (The only thing that seems clear to me is, neither Lieber or his brother came up with it on their own. They just didn't the talent for that.)
August 14, 2015 @ 5:16 am
Well, I'm relieved, after being warned about this story's reputation, that I didn't hate it. Certainly not in the way that I hated The Invisible Enemy.
I pretty much agree with the review. Yes, there are lots of production and direction problems, and little decent acting, and yes the script doesn't really develop it's most interesting ideas. But I appreciated the fact that there actually were some interesting ideas. I actually found Episode 1 quietly intriguing, with its Time Lord references and a lonely 100,000 year quest.
Episode 3 also had a few nice bits. I thought we might learn some more about this Underworld society as a twisted reflection of Minyan culture. In the end, though, we just get another mad computer, only this one is more stupidly ineffectual than usual.