Doctor Who (Classic): S04E05 “The Underwater Menace”

Season 4
Directed by Julia Smith
Written by Innes Lloyd

After joining the show at the end of the last serial, it’s time for the first full serial with Jamie as a companion. It’s also our first actual look at both Jamie and the Second Doctor in terms of extant complete episodes and not just a couple clips. It’s extremely welcome to have some full episode after two weeks of none, but we can still manage only 2/4 intact and the rest of the season, which lacks a single complete serial, still looms large.

“The Underwater Menace” is set in the sunken city of Atlantis at some time in the near future, the first stab at the show in mythology since “The Myth Makers” a season ago and the first mythological place on Earth. The Doctor and his companions however stumble on to less than friendly circumstances however as the doctors attempt to turn Polly into a fish person (hilariously they are called just that), hardly the appropriate way to greet your guests (or even prisoners), with her only barely escaping thanks to a bit of luck. Jamie and Ben on the other hand are turned into slave labor alongside various others who have been brought to the city as a result of shipwrecks and only the Doctor (as he so often is) accepted because of the assumption of his intelligence and how useful it may be.

The serial features a kidnapped mad scientist attempting to raise Atlantis from the sea by draining the very sea. It’s a ridiculous concept that the show acknowledges and even leans into with the scientist eager to see the realization of the project in spite of, and because of, the fact that it will blow up the world. His constant yelling and raving grows tiresome quickly and the fact that he doesn’t even bother to hide his madness makes the trust he is given by the ruler of Atlantis seem misguided to say nothing of any subtlety which is quickly thrown out.

The costumes for both the people of Atlantis and the fish people is Doctor Who at its most over the top and ridiculous looking. The worst part of it is that the show actually seems proud of its fish people costumes with some lingering shots of them swimming about and doing some interpretive dance for seemingly no reason but padding. They are barely even used in the plot, with them existing as slaves and their strike being something that occurs offscreen. I’ve expressed before that I appreciate when the ugly looking aliens (or in this case modified humans) aren’t the villains (despite the title seeming to suggest otherwise) but they are far too much of an afterthought.

There’s quite an interesting subplot with one of the priests however as he discovers that his god was merely a parlor trick meant to subjugate the people and you can hear the sense of defeat in his voice upon discovery. It’s a small moment and no one else seems to notice, but an important one especially since the leader is unwilling to even admit the fraud at the expense of letting the Doctor and company run free. Granted, the god took the form of the talking wall from Legends of the Hidden Temple so it’s easy to mock the stupid natives here but it is all they know and it can really be taken as a condemnation of religion as a whole.

The plot requires Polly to unbelievably pick up the idiot ball as the villain is effectively neutralized halfway through the third episode. She’s been shown to be pretty clever in the past and even the most gullible man in the world could have seen it was a trick. Heck, I’m pretty sure she had pulled the same kind of trick before to escape captivity. It’s got that air of Bond type plotting I criticized “Where No Man Has Gone Before”, a comparison driven home more so by the underwater lair and world destroying plot. There’s plenty of cleverness from everyone else though and it seems to be Ben’s turn this episode to show off with him being responsible for the aforementioned fake god routine among other things. The Doctor also shows off some chemical based trickery and in general is proving himself to be as clever as the First Doctor thought himself to be throughout.

It’s an ultimately minor and disposable serial. There’s not much to like or recommend, and yet I feel predisposed to it because of the quality of the cast right now. I just enjoy seeing the Second Doctor, Ben, Polly, and Jamie in action as they already have quite a bit of chemistry. Jamie has already proven a great addition as he seems to be genuinely having a good time and embracing his new life, an outlook for this era I can whole heartily accept.
Grade: C

Stray Observations
– The Doctor refers to himself as Dr. W in a note. Clearly we are to assume he is really Dr. Watson after all this time.
– I did not remember the recorder having survived this far into the Second Doctor’s run. I fear my memory is going.
– The show seems to be awfully fond of throwing the Doctor into various disguises though Troughton always seems to have fun with them.
– There is a huge special effects failure as they don’t even bother getting a prop gun that looks like it is firing when it goes off. It was sad even for Doctor Who as is the fact that the professor apparently had a gun makes his decision not to escape using it earlier rather silly.
– The Doctor admits he has no clue what he is doing at one point and that may be the first time he’s ever done so. I certainly can’t imagine the First Doctor saying that.
– Speaking of things I can’t imagine the First Doctor doing, the Doctor is actually willing to go back and save the villain instead of being concerned largely with his own skin.
– This Week in Cliffhangers: We get a proper one this week as the Doctor has lost control of the TARDIS after he attempts to steer it to Mars.

Next Up: We return to Star Trek: TOS for “The Corbomite Maneuver” and “Mudd’s Women” on Friday with more Doctor Who on Monday we see the return of the Cybermen with the half missing, four-episode “The Moonbase”.