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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later.Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

17 Comments

  1. John Callaghan
    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.

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  2. Alex Wilcock
    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.

    Reply

  3. Alex Wilcock
    December 9, 2011 @ 2:27 am

    [Continued]

    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?

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  4. Alex Wilcock
    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 😉

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  5. Iain Coleman
    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.

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  6. Wm Keith
    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.

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  7. inkdestroyedmybrush
    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.

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  8. BerserkRL
    December 11, 2011 @ 8:41 am

    Reply

  9. Elizabeth Sandifer
    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.

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  10. 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"…

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  11. encyclops
    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.

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  12. Triturus
    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.

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  13. encyclops
    April 16, 2014 @ 2:41 pm

    Busted! I didn't think anyone would find me hiding here. 🙂

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  14. Triturus
    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.

    Reply

  15. Prandeamus
    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.

    http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gauss%27s_law_for_gravity#Spherically_symmetric_mass_distribution

    That's better.

    If I ever watched underworld as a teenager on transmission, which is pretty likely, every single minute of it has slipped my memory.

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  16. 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.)

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  17. orfeo
    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.

    Reply

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