Serial Review: The Underwater Menace (Season 4)
Being that I’ve always had a bit of interest in stories revolving around Atlantis, whether it be reading Aquaman comics as a kid or otherwise, I figured I would enjoy “The Underwater Menace.” I was also quite pleased that at least one of the episodes survives, having just finished “The Power of the Daleks” and “The Highlanders” both of which are completely missing aside from a few clips here and there.
The Doctor, Jamie, Ben, and Polly find themselves on a beach, and upon doing a bit of exploring, in Atlantis. Of course, they are escorted away by religious zealots and just about sacrificed to their god. There are some pretty cool snaps here (which I assume reflext camera shots from the footage when it existed) of an aerial view of the four members of the TARDIS team on an altar. Crazy stuff, and I’m a sucker for a cool camera angle.
Something about Joseph Furst’s portrayal of Professor Zaroff appealed to me pretty early on; I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but I think he’s a compelling villain. He acts very dramatically and perhaps overly so, but I think it actually works for the character. He has minor symptoms of being a Bond villain, but being a James Bond fan that isn’t really an insult coming from me.
Once the plot starts to really unravel and the Atlanteans start doing things like trying to surgically give Polly gills, this gets particularly twisted. It’s dark as hell, and the first cliffhanger actually gave me chills. I usually find the cliffhangers one of the biggest problems with a lot of otherwise good stories (“City of Death” comes to mind), but this isn’t an issue with “The Underwater Menace.” The first and third episode cliffhangers are particularly stirring. Just as crazy as Polly in surgery is the scene that ends the third episode (thankfully still existing), in which Professor Zaroff shoots someone at point blank with a menace in his eyes, orders his cronies to execute two more, then yells into the camera “Nothing in the world can stop me now!” Brilliant.
There’s a distinct thread of anti-religion in this story, with the zealotry of the religious people in this story being easily manipulated. A perfect example of this is when the Doctor and a friend are about to be executed, Ben simply speaks to the religious warriors from behind a wall, claiming to to be the voice of their God, allowing the Doctor to slip away easily. Almost every religious character in the story meets a sticky end, and in the end everyone decides to re-build society without religion. I like when Doctor Who gets all heathen-y.
As it is, there are definitely some issues with the story. There are times where it is slow, and the design of the fish people is terrible. There are some that don’t look bad, and actually look like fish people, and others that are just extras in wet suits and goggles… which doesn’t really work. That being said, I think the plot line of the Doctor arranging for the food supply to be cut off to the Atlanteans an interesting way to stop their plans. Perhaps it is overly convenient that their food has such a low shelf life, but I like the idea.
Despite the issues, I really enjoyed this story in spite of itself. There are some really genuinely scary moments, and I love a good twist villain. Those two cliffhangers I mentioned are both just really outstanding, and I think this is the first story where Patrick Troughton gets to play his Doctor straight– in the previous two stories, he was under assumed identities. It showed the range of his acting quality, but here he gets to be the real cosmic hobo. I’m definitely a fan of “The Underwater Menace,” another apparently strange opinion.