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Doctor Who Rewatch: 06

Ow. The Underwater Menace is the first really bad story for some time, in fact almost as bad as The Sensorites which is my least favourite story so far. The plot is dreadfully padded - the Tardis crew faffing around getting captured in the first episode, wandering around in caves in the second episode, the hideously embarrassing fish-people dance in the surviving third episode, more cave wanderings in the last episode. The plot is fundamentally stupid, and Joseph Furst intensely annoying as Professor Zaroff. (Likewise Peter Stephens, doing a reprise of Cyril the schoolboy as Lolem the high priest; and the risible parts written for Token Irish Guy and Token Black Guy.)

As minor compensation, it looks decent enough, and the early Dudley Simpson score generally works; and some of the supporting cast are good - Ara (played by 16-year-old Catherine Howe who went on to a successful career in music) is clearly deeply in love with Polly, in the most overt gay crush in Who since Ian and Marco Polo. And Troughton carries it well, conveying at least his own confidence in the story (however feigned that may have been). Episode Three is the thirteenth Second Doctor episode, but the earliest to survive. I can't help feeling that any one of the previous twelve would have been better.

Well, it's The Moonbase and the Cybermen are back. Only four stories on from The Tenth Planet, but we have essentially the same plot, with no women at all bar Polly (who saves the day by thinking of nail varnish remover) and only one non-white character who gets killed off in his first scene. We also lose the Cybermen's own motivation, which was incoherent but at least sincere in The Tenth Planet; here they just want to eliminate humanity and take over the world, because they are Bad. (Random note: this is the fourth Second Doctor story, but the first in which he does not pretend to be someone else; identity settling down at last?)

The one thing I will say in favour is that the Radiophonic workshop music is very good - when I heard the lunar surface theme, I checked to see if the BBC had ripped off the Ligeti Kyrie from 2001: A Space Odyssey (and they hadn't; the film came out a year after this story was shown). The dénouement of the Cybermen being levitated off the Moon is also better than I had remembered, and the whole realisation of the lunar surface is rather effective. But it's rather a poor relation of The Tenth Planet.

On the other hand I have seriously upgraded my opinion of The Macra Terror as a result of watching the recon, one of the rare cases where the BBC audio book version is rather poor (due to John Nathan-Turner writing the linking narrative). The holiday camp atmosphere is delightfully bonkers, especially when it turns out that all the colonists are in fact the unwitting slaves of, as the Pilot puts is, "grotesque insects" who thrive on pollution and corrupt the minds of their victims. The soundscape - incidental music and various sound effects - is remarkably good even by the generally high standards of this period of the programme's history, which is just as well considering the visuals are lost. Even Michael Craze actually gets something interesting to do when Ben gets brainwashed (which interesting means his accent slips into standard RP). The scenes of the Doctor and Polly working out what to do with the pipes in the last episode are an early version of numerous Third Doctor / Jo Grant exchanges to come. And while I feel sorry for the Australian viewers who missed out on the many shots of Polly screaming deleted by the censors, fortunately the result is that we can now watch Anneke Wills at full lung power. (Though I have a suspicion that the loss of the Macra in their first incarnation may not be such a shame.)

It's also Jamie's first proper story as a companion (though this comes about because of the narrative space opened up by Ben's being brainwashed). The Macra Terror has leapt up in my estimation; it is my favourite Second Doctor story so far. Only five episodes survive from Troughton's first season; I would swap any of them for one of these four. (And think how rapidly the programme has changed - The Savages, by the same writer as The Macra Terror, was broadcast barely a year before, with Hartnell's Doctor, Steven and Dodo; now we have Troughton's Doctor, Ben, Polly and Jamie. A huge shift.)

And suddenly we are back in contemporary Britain, in Gatwick airport no less. I found I liked more aspects of The Faceless Ones than I had expected. The location is itself a bit of a star - the two surviving episodes of The Faceless Ones really show up just how badly Time Flight muffed similar opportunities with Heathrow, many years later. Pauline Collins is brilliant as Sam Briggs, and it is a real shame that she didn't stay on as the new companion. Troughton and Hines are good as well, the Doctor gradually taking control of the situation, Jamie overcoming his initial confusion.

Of the supporting cast, Colin Gordon, who was Number Two twice in The Prisoner, is less sinister but still very watchable as the Commandant, and a number of other semi-familiar faces turn up - including Wanda Ventham as Colin Gordon's secretary, and Commander Andred of the Castellan Guard is in charge of the immigration desk. The special effects of the Chameleons turning into people and of the plane docking with the spaceship appear to have been decently realised, as far as we can tell.

But it's still a miss rather than a hit. After much buildup, the central plot premise, once it is revealed, makes no sense at all, and the details make it even more incoherent; hardly a single element of the alien plan makes sense. (Why miniaturise? How did they set up a tour company?) A lesser point, but Bernard Kay's inspector has a very peculiar range of accents (like Jamie, when he is duplicated by the Chameleons, he starts speaking RP which I suppose the director thought of as 'losing' his accent). Finally, despite their limitations, and although their final scene when they briefly reappear in the last episode is rather nice, Ben and Polly deserved a better sendoff.

So goodbye to Ben; let's hope he got his ship. Of the early male companions, I think he is actually the least successful; he gets basically two interesting moments - the Z-Bomb subplot in The Tenth Planet, and his own brainwashing in The Macra Terror - and apart from that he is the physical force guy in the Tardis, straight man to Hartnell's Doctor for three stories and then auxiliary muscle to Troughton's Doctor for another six (rather like the "tin dog" role that Mickey complains about in School Reunion).

Ben as a character is curiously short-changed in The Power of the Daleks when we as the audience are clearly directed not to sympathise with his suspicion of the new Doctor - compare RTD's much better treatment of the Rose/Doctor dynamic in The Christmas Invasion. Craze is decent enough as an actor but never really dominates the screen as his co-stars do. I hate to say it, but when he disappears in the second episode of The Faceless Ones we hardly notice. Craze is unfortunately no longer available for convention appearances or spinoff audios.

Anneke Wills as Polly is a very different matter. We know more about her background than any other companion since Ian and Barbara (bar the short-lived Sara Kingdom) - we've seen her office, we've seen her favourite night club, we've seen her hairstyle vary interestingly over the last few stories. Wills was clearly given the job of bringing some glamour as well as girliness to the companion role, and she discharges it well - a powerful set of lungs for screaming, but also coming through with useful suggestions and an element of compassion when it is necessary. However, in the end she is back where she and Ben started.

Wills has done several plays for Big Finish, usually as the mother of audio companion Charlotte Pollard, though she has reprised Polly both in a Companion Chronicle and in the recently concluded Three Companions series of short episodes with Nicholas Courtney's Brigadier. My favourite book with Ben and Polly is John Peel's novelisation of The Power of the Daleks.

Well, I have revised my opinion of Evil of the Daleks upwards thanks to watching the reconstruction. I still rate it below Troughton's debut story, The Power of the Daleks, because the plot has some large holes (why go to the bother of the elaborate entrapment via the cafe in 1966? how is the Doctor supposed to spread the Dalek Factor through history? what's up with Terrall anyway?) and also I just don't like Victoria (though again, maybe I will change my mind after doing her stories in sequence).

There are a couple of things about Evil of the Daleks, however, that really appealed to me this time. First, Marius Goring as the deranged Maxtible is a compelling vilain, especially as backed up by John Bailey as Waterfield - together they are the two sides of the scientist character portrayed by Lesterson in the previous story. Second, Dudley Simpson is on top of things as composer - the Daleks have a "diggerdy-dum" leitmotif, Victoria has a more wistful theme. Third, while I'm not a huge fan of turning the Daleks into something else by giving them humanity, Whitaker handles it better here than Helen Raynor did in Daleks of Manhattan / Evolution of the Daleks. Fourth, it's a nice early example (or perhaps foreshadowing) of the steampunk subgenre.

Finally, the two episodes on Skaro are an excellent climax to not just this story but the five Dalek stories of the black-and-white era; the return to their home planet somehow gives the Daleks more cultural depth than they previously had, with the thrilling appearance of the Emperor and the excitement of the civil war. So more of a thumbs up than I expected.

Good to finish this run on a high note. Tomb of the Cybermen is one of the great Who stories. It is the best Cyberman story in the whole of Who, combining the Cybermen themselves doing something more interesting than the standard invasion lark with a very watchable cast of Good and Bad humans. Victoria, as I have said, is not my favourite comopanion, but she actually gets some good moments here, holding the fort upstairs while the others are playing in the vault, and with that rather wonderful conversation with the Doctor about his family in episode three - we have been seeing a more human and vulnerable Doctor from Troughton over the last few episodes, and this exchange in the first story of the season sets a whole new tone for his relationship with his companions - from Hartnell's grandfatherly character to a more wacky uncle. (I note, on behalf of the shippers, that he is very touchy-feely with Jamie.)

Among the generally good guest cast, Shirley Cooklin's Kaftan is the most notable. She is one of the sexiest characters ever on Who, and brings a definite frisson even to her exchanges with the virginal Victoria. (By coincdence, it is Shirley Cooklin's 80th birthday today; if she is reading this, congratulations!) On top of that, the story looks and sounds good - the opening quarry scenes establish Telos clearly as a real and desolate planet, the Tombs have an integrity of design, and the incidental music (uncredited though see here) is once again excellent.

What strikes me about the earlier stories of this run is that, although Lloyd and Davis had worked very hard to pull Who round to their own vision - writing out Steven, Dodo and the First Doctor; giving up on the historical stories; bringing in Ben, Polly, the Second Doctor and Jamie - they then produced some of the least memorable stories of the era once they had got the show where they wanted it. The quality ticks up noticeably when Victor Pemberton and Peter Bryant take their turns at the helm. There was also clearly a resources problem, with a demand for more and better stories for the same money or less; but I can't help feeling that the seat-of-the-pants method of producing Who may have been a symptom rather than a cause of Lloyd's problems.

It is shocking that Tomb of the Cybermen is the first intact story since The War Machines - not a single story from the original fourth season survives in full. My next run of stories has an even worse casualty rate, and I am still trying to obtain a decent recon of the missing episodes of The Ice Warriors.

< An Unearthly Child - The Aztecs | The Sensorites - The Romans | The Web Planet - Galaxy 4 | Mission To The Unknown - The Gunfighters | The Savages - The Highlanders | The Underwater Menace - Tomb of the Cybermen | The Abominable Snowmen - The Wheel In Space | The Dominators - The Space Pirates | The War Games - Terror of the Autons | The Mind of Evil - The Curse of Peladon | The Sea Devils - Frontier in Space | Planet of the Daleks - The Monster of Peladon | Planet of the Spiders - Revenge of the Cybermen | Terror of the Zygons - The Seeds of Doom | The Masque of Mandragora - The Talons of Weng-Chiang | Horror of Fang Rock - The Invasion of Time | The Ribos Operation - The Armageddon Factor | Destiny of the Daleks - Shada | The Leisure Hive - The Keeper of Traken | Logopolis - The Visitation | Black Orchid - Mawdryn Undead | Terminus - The Awakening | Frontios - Attack of the Cybermen | Vengeance on Varos - In A Fix With Sontarans | The Mysterious Planet - Paradise Towers | Delta and the Bannermen - The Greatest Show in the Galaxy | Battlefield - The TV Movie >

Comments

( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
swisstone
Mar. 3rd, 2010 08:47 am (UTC)
I too would happily swap the surviving episode of The Underwater Menace for any other missing episodes.

a real shame that [Pauline Collins] didn't stay on

A shame for us as Who fans, though not I think for Collins. Doctor Who often wasn't the best thing that happened to an actor's career; I can only think of Frazer Hines and Louise Jameson of the pre-2005 companions who had decent acting careers afterwards. I'm not counting Jean Marsh, as she was only cast for one story, Peter Purves had to move sideways into presenting (and has openly said that Who killed his acting career), and Bonnie Langford was already well-known before she was cast.
nwhyte
Mar. 3rd, 2010 04:06 pm (UTC)
Yes, I'm trying to think if there is a single missing episode that I would not prefer to #3 of The Underwater Menace, and coming up blank so far. (But maybe after I've got to The Space Pirates my view will change.)
swisstone
Mar. 3rd, 2010 04:09 pm (UTC)
I'm trying to think if there is a single missing episode that I would not prefer to #3 of The Underwater Menace

Episode 2 of The Underwater Menace? Though that has no Fish person ballet ...
wwhyte
Dec. 22nd, 2011 06:39 am (UTC)
Funny you should say that...
swisstone
Dec. 22nd, 2011 11:38 am (UTC)
Yes, I was eerily prescient, wasn't I? Having seen it, I have to say that I would rather have this than episode 3 - though there are still 104 episodes I'd rather have than either of them.
altariel
Mar. 3rd, 2010 09:57 am (UTC)
I think 'The Underwater Menace' is a hoot.
nwhyte
Mar. 3rd, 2010 03:52 pm (UTC)
Yeah, perhaps it just depends on your frame of mind when watching it - though more than usually so in this case!
wwhyte
May. 18th, 2010 06:45 am (UTC)
When you reach The Ambassadors of Death I'd love to hear your thoughts about David Whitaker overall.
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

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