Doctor Who: The Underwater Menace
(4 episodes, s04e19-e22, 1967)
Doctor Who meets Atlantis!
It’s good to see the companions having fun together. The chemistry is nice, and it shows how the cast is really clicking. The downside is that the modern day companions are picking on Jamie’s lack of knowledge about the TARDIS. It’s kind of mean of them.
Nothing good happens in science fiction, fantasy, or horror from exploring a cave on your own, but of course Polly goes off looking around after the boys leave her behind, and of course hilarity ensues. It is a rather convenient way to separate the travelers from the TARDIS, as kidnapping them and taking them to the depths of the ocean puts a lot of distance between them.
The Doctor and his goofy hat have a clever ruse to save the companions, and luckily Zaroff has a good sense of humor about the diversion. Unfortunately, Dr. Z is also bat-dung crazy. Also, we keep seeing references (outside of each episode’s credits) to the Doctor as “Doctor Who”, this time in his note: “Vital secret will die with me. Dr. W.”
Professor Zaroff has promised to raise the city to keep working, but his plan is still incomplete… and will destroy the world. Zaroff’s insanity focuses the efforts not on the citizens and the consequences, but on his own glory as it is the ultimate achievement in science. His logic doesn’t make sense, which makes him more of a mad scientist than an evil one. He’s also quite the overactor – “Nothing in the world can stop me now!” – and left a few dental impressions in the scenery.
Ben gets a clever moment to play the god Amdo and save the Doctor and Ramo. The plan and chase was pretty exciting to kidnap Zaroff, and the plot to starve out the powers that be by cutting off the supply lines with striking slaves was intelligent. Of course, the “underwater” scenes are laughable by today’s standards, but I’m sure they were a spectacle in 1967. On the downside, Polly is uncharacteristically a whimpering “damsel in distress” in this serial.
The demise of Zaroff was a nice bit of writing, but the plan to get there was a stretch. I understand overloading the reactor to destroy it, but using it to degrade the walls? It takes a while for radiation to degrade stone/concrete walls, and the flux required to rapidly destroy walls would outright kill humans and the Doctor much faster. I waved it off as best I could as a plot conceit, but it was another indicator of how middle of the road this serial was.
Rating: 2/5 – “Mm? What’s that, my boy?”
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