The Underwater Menace

The Underwater Menace
The Underwater Menace.jpg
Season: 4
Episode: 5
Vital statistics
Air date 14 January - 4 February 1967
Written by Geoffrey Orme
Directed by Julia Smith
Episode guide
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The Underwater Budget was the exorbitantly expensive (just kidding) fifth story from merely the fourth season of the best science-fiction television programme Doctor Who.  First shipwrecked in early 1967, this was Jamie McCrimmon's first journey with the Doctor.  Only two of the four sodden episodes are currently held in the leaky BBC underwater vaults.  

Actual, no bullshit working titles included Doctor Who Under the Sea and The Fish People, which might indicate just why the script was first dropped from the production schedule, only to be bailed out later when some guy writing another script, who was allergic to shellfish, got ill and wasn’t able to finish that one in time.  This story was filmed just one week before broadcast, but I swear you totally can’t see it, for reels.  Both Patfish Troutfish and the director were deeply embarrassed by it and personally arranged to have the master tapes wiped by the BBC just a couple of years later.  Bad luck struck in 2011 when a copy of episode two washed up in Australia, fueling Troutonne’s lifelong hatred of the Australian people (he infamously once shot a fan at a convention in Perth just to watch him die).   The BBC has repeatedly promised to release an official version of The Underwhelming Menace completed with sock puppetry reconstructions, but still haven’t, perhaps because it’s totally non-canon (see below).

Episode One (reconstituted from 100% real juice)

Doctor Oho’s silly tall black hat sits on something near the Tardis controls, which the Doctor appears to be operating with a butter-knife - reconstructions are always a bit vague and blurry so bear with me.   This being Jamie’s first adventure across time, space and claustrophobic BBC sets, the Doctor, Ben and Polly have to expend several tedious minutes of screen time carefully explaining in single-syllable words why the Tardis makes that wheezy noise.  Polly wants to go home home, Ben hopes they don’t find Daleks, and the Doctor wants to find “prehistoric monsters.”   

The Tardis lands in either Cornwall or maybe that rocky place where the Byzantium crashed.   The Doctor points out a model volcano.  The trio of companions - to avoid typing out their names too many times, let’s call them PB&J for “Ben, Polly and Jamie” - wander off down the beach and into a cave, while “MEANWHILE THE DOCTOR IS BUSY LOOKING IN ROCKPOOLS ON THE BEACH” - never let it be said that the Tardis crew were above a bit of farting around and doing nothing when they could be telling a story - and this is only a four-parter too.

Patrick Houghton about to show Jamie his Underwear Menace.

P finds a bracelet and gets kidnapped, so here we are just five fucking minutes in and the four characters have already separated into three groups and one’s been kidnapped - how long before the base is under siege?   I’m going to say maybe ten to fifteen minutes, time me.  BJ go looking for P and the Doctor examines some pot he’s found (there’s a lot of pot in this one, it was the 60s).  Ben looks a bit like Marlon Brando, but that doesn’t help him and J find P, but it does help them get captured and reunited with her in a dark room, no doubt chosen for the cost-conscious BBC budget.  Then out of nowhere the Doctor is also pushed into the room, probably to simplify the script, which is really something amazing for this era of the show to choose to do, when you think about it.   The room goes down like an elevator while we stare at a light on the wall, or maybe a basketball behind a grate, I’m not sure.  For some reason, there’s a shot of someone’s crotch, or maybe their butt, it’s rather blurry.  Everybody passes out and the usual electronic pulsing of a typical Second Doctor “technological set” starts up; you know, to fill up the otherwise empty background sound track lest we hear some director shout stage direction or a camera man fart.  Then everyone wakes up again, so I’m not sure why they all had to pass out in the first place, meaning that the show is up to it’s old padding tricks after all, despite that that violently radical choice made just a minute ago to simplify the script.  

P says this must “about 1970” based on the bracelet she found, so I’m guessing it must have had a “mood” stone or was engraved with “disco fever” or something (maybe a picture of Jon Pertwee).    Someone comes in but doesn't speak French, German, Gaelic, Spanish, or some other gobbledegook that the Doctor tries, so they follow him down some corridors.  By the way, at this point we’re eleven minutes it and so far it looks like we do have the base, but no siege yet.  I still confidently predict “just wait, buddy.”   

The guy gives them some food made of plankton and the Doctor tries to eat all of it by himself.  Some guy in some Aztec-ish priest outfit with a macaroni art headdress shows up with a Devo fan (or maybe he just has a shell on his head).   He makes PB&J leave after telling the Doctor they’re going to be participants in some ceremony, meaning probably they’re going to be sacrificed.   The Doctor wishes to speak to Professor Zarkoff who made the food, coming up with this important bit of information from fucking nowhere.   PB&J get tied up in a temple with a large fish-god idol-thing in it and some lame chanting.  Now, I’m only vaguely aware of what this story is supposed to be about and I thought it was something about a mad scientist, but I could be wrong.  Then again, maybe this Zarkoff guy and his crazy accent will provide that.  Still, I’m at the 15:29 mark and the underwater base isn't under siege, so I have been wrong before.  PB&J get laid... Oh, I mean, near the edge of a well, ha ha, just as the Doctor is brought in too (this script has already done this once, you’ll realize: strand PB&J in a room then suddenly introduce the Doctor without telling us exactly how he got there).   

The Doctor’s note delivered to Professor Zarkoff reads “VITAL SECRET WILL DIE WITH ME DR W,” which tells us something very important about this story: The Underworked Menace is NOT canon - it both abbreviates “Doctor” to “Dr” (even omitting the damn period) and refers to The Doctor as “Doctor Who,” so go ahead and stop reading (or watching) right here if you want to.  Funnily enough though, this story is still more canonical than both The Dæmons and The Time Monster from Pertwurst’s run just a few years down the road, as those two stories both contradict this one’s portrayal of Atlantis and how it sank (oops, sorry to spoil that for you - they’re in Atlantis).  

So now the Doctor is also tide - I mean tied up near the well which has a shark in it.  I bet they just used stock footage of a shark rather than a real live shark; it’s hard to tell for sure from a reconstruction of course, but that’s what it looks like.  A real live shark would have been pretty cool, but it’s no doubt near-impossible to find a live shark anywhere near the notoriously polluted English shores.  I think having a real live shark in a story might even be cooler than a real live bear like they did in that one Ice Warriors story, but that story too is in the future of the programme, so we’ll leave that topic for now, except to note that Episode Two discussed below has a real live fish in it; rather than spoil anything about that fish though - as it is quite exciting! - let’s move on. So - the Atlantean guys in silly costumes (we’re in Atlantis here, remember?) chant some more and the planks everyone’s laying on start to tip towards the well.  Professor Zartok rushes in and stops the ceremony. The Doctor tells Zarwarz that he’s glad he didn’t die twenty years ago “and now, here you are, the greatest scientific genius since Leonardo - under the sea!”  This sort of dialogue gold just doesn’t occur in such profusion in any other programme except Doctor Who, you know?  But then the Doctor chokes and admits he doesn’t actually have a secret for Zardoz, who threatens to feed the Doctor to his pet octopus.  But he too has sense of humor!    PB&J get sent to do some work for Atlastis; BJ get sent to the mines (like in The Macra Terror, just two stories in the future from this same season; this show has always had a strange fascination with miners) while P has to sit through a lame slideshow about life under the sea.  She asks how people breathe underwater and a guy with bushy fake eyebrows, describing every Doctor Who costume ever, tells her they give them plastic gills.   P thinks that’s cool and all until she finds out she’s next for the gill operation.   The Doctor figures out this is Atlantis (just like I said above, sorry again about spoiling that for you) and Professor Zarnov has told the Atlanteans he’s going to raise their kingdom back up out of the sea.   Meanwhile, those guys wrestle P up onto the operating table for the fish operation, which totally sounds like a nickname for getting some.

Oh Christ, it's The Web Planet all over again innet?

Episode Two

P breathes heavily on a table while the eyebrows guy gets ready to give her an injection, “one tiny jab and you’ll know nothing more about it until it’s all over,” which sounds like a roofie double entendre if you think about it.  Professor Zafir, whose lab doesn’t look terribly Atlantean, explains Atlantis to the Doctor who steals a pen.  The eyebrow guy interrupts Zartart while he’s talking to his pet lion-fishlionfish and the Doctor pulls the plug on the DANGER panel.   

By the way, that was a real live lion-fish on set, you can clearly see Zarnoff’s face in the same shot with it.  Doctor Who was beginning to make some truly great strides in bringing real live animals onto the programme, which was a vitally important advance that’s often overlooked.  This fish is pretty important here, so pay attention: the lion-fish is a venomous marine fish native to the Indo-Pacific.  Also called zebra-fish, fire-fish, turkey-fish (a name perhaps applicable for this story as well) or stripy-poison-cod, these fish-fingers-to-be are well known for their ornate beauty, venomous spines, unfaltering love of Doctor Who, and unique tentacles: young lion-fish have a tentacle above their eye sockets that may serve to attract prey; studies on 4chan’s /d/ board also suggest it plays a role in sexual selection. The fish’s showy “warning coloration” is much like Tom Baker’s red, white, creamy, and black bands, including his showy and venomous spiny vanity.  They are popular aquarium fish, so getting one for a television programme probably wasn’t all that difficult really, not at all like a real live bear, say, but still meant something because it would have required some expert fish-handler on set to avoid any medical emergencies (although no such personnel is listed during the credits).  This nasty venom can cause extreme pain, nausea, vomiting, fever, breathing difficulties, convulsions, dizziness, redness on the affected area, headache, numbness, “pins and needles” sensations, heartburn, diarrhea, and sweating; if erection persists longer than four hours, consult your doctor.  Fatalities are rare but common in very young children, the elderly (which is why we never saw a lionfish during Hartnell’s era) and those with a weak immune system (ditto).  So you can see how dangerous this fish was.  So why did the programme risk including a real live lion-fish?  To metaphorically indicate just how dangerous this crazy Professor Zarblox guy is and just how tits up his BANG! BANG-BANG!! plan will probably go if the Doctor can’t stop him.

P escapes with an Atlantean girl while the plastic-gill-doctoring bushy-eyebrow guy tries to suss out who the fuck turned off the lights.  Some guys sort of pretend to work in the mines while some horrendous feedback shrieks from the boom mike.  David Tennant, dressed as Commander Data in a latex suit, shows up to frisk the prisoners, who get chummy with BJ (I said “with BJ”, not “with a BJ”).   The Doctor escapes in a puff of smoke.  P hides in the temple and BJ eat seafood with the prisoners while discussing escape, then escape with them.   The Doctor ducks into a wardrobe standing in the middle of a stone cave for no reason to hide from Latex Data Tennant, and comes out with a plastic mack and hat.   He and the Atlantean girl who's helping him and his friends for no reason overhear the priest guy and the bushy-eyebrows guy talking; the priest hates Professor Zarbi and the bushy eyebrow guy tells him that without Professor Zackary’s help, Atlantis is sunk, ha ha.  The Doctor then literally cuts right across the apparently fucking blind priest's line of sight to whisper to the Atlantean girl.  She teases the bushy eyebrow guy away so the Doctor can surreptitiously speak with the priest, even though Data Tennant latex enthusiast is like standing right there behind him.  

BJ and the two escaped prisoners make a lame "The Bonnie Banks o' Loch Lomond" (or simply "Loch Lomond" for short) joke -  that’s a well-known traditional Scottish song first published in 1841 in Vocal Melodies of Scotland that’s often the final piece of music played during an evening of revelry.  The original composer is unknown and there’s no definitive information on any traditional lyrics; theories abound about the meaning of the song, probably because over half of its words are in Scottish gibberish.  

P smokes a bowl in the temple, the Doctor and the priest come in to blow up the pot, and the Doctor plays a recording of his recorder.  B and a prisoner startle a patrolling guard into blowing his entrance cue, but he turns out to be their friend, so they split up again - great plan.   The priest dresses the Doctor to look as silly as he does.  To help pad out the script, J falls down a hole and B has to mime helping him out of it.   The apparently deaf P, who didn’t hear (or see) the Doctor when he was in the temple, meets BJ and their prisoner friends. The priest guy and the Doctor meet with the King of Atlantis (who later played the British superhero “Minister with Special Powers” in the Spertwee story Invasion of the Dinosaurs) and try to talk him into dumping Professor Zarkaust overboard.  The king says he will consider what they have said, then stares into space for a number of seconds.  The Atlantean girl brings food and disguises to PB&J and their prisoner friends hiding out in a totally public temple somehow, which may be decorated with dried fish or maybe rats, by the way.   They all hide and the girl looks worried about the organ music.  The king torpedos the Doctor and the priest dude suggestions by turning them over to Professor Zarmanov, who looks like he’s just here to hit his mark and go down the pub for a drink as soon as the camera is turned off.

Episode Three

One night only!  Gary Numan opens For Professor Zarkah, LIVE!!!   The Doctor and Zarnoz bicker before the guards take The Doctor off to chum for sharks or something.  Zarquar also bickers with the king before an Atlantean superhero shows up with a sword to behead the Doctor and the now-former priest dude.  There's more silly chanting before someone starts playing a Halloween sound effect tape, then pretends to be the fish god.  The Doctor realizes it’s B pulling the equivalent of yelling “this is Gooood, Charlie!  Let them gooo or face my wraaath!” down a church air duct, helping them escape.  Man are these Atlantean guys dumb.  Professor Zarakoff argues with the king in a way that might be taken as critical of religion.  PB&J, the Doctor, and the escaped prisoners all plot to defeat Zaralok by freeing the barely-appearing fish-people from their scaly slavery, clearly symbolizing the Doctor’s dedication to social justice (sorry you racists), and by kidnapping Professor Zarcefron.   

A proto-Adric buys a crab before we realize that one of the merchants is the Doctor in a disguise that literally includes a pair of large sunglasses; sadly, some of the dialogue is obscured by the tambourines-and-Casio keyboard soundtrack.  There’s some faffing about on the rather small marketplace set while they avoid Tennant Latex Data and his guards.  They lure Zarbamoff into the temple and capture him, just as planned.  The escaped prisoner leader-guy tries some reverse psychology on the fish people who reply with electronic bubble sounds and rocks, then agree to help starve Atlantis of fish-fingers.   Some of the fish people, who were actually swimming around in some real water a second ago, then spend nearly two solid, wordless minutes hanging about on wires and pretending to swim, while the aimless soundtrack music wanders about drunkenly and it’s all really kind of hard to take seriously.  I mean, there might be some point to arguing that “The Web Planet was all about putting a strange costume spectacle on screen!” a couple of years previously, but this part is getting pretty silly, no wonder Troffton and the director hated it.  

So anyway, after that padding, the captured Professor Zarabas taunts the Doctor and friends, then collapses from “an attack.” The Doctor and BJ rush off to his lab to be sure his plan won’t start, literally stepping over the guy; the programme really should treat it’s villains better if it wants us to have any fear or respect for them, right?   Of course his illness was just a clever ruse and Zaraphillips attacks the ex-priest, lets P flub her cue trying to grab the spear away from him, and then stabs the ex-priest dude off-camera and takes P captive - yet another “daring escape,” but this time by the villain instead of the Doctor or one of his screaming peril monkeys, so at least there’s that.    The Doctor and BJ use fish masks and I’m getting seriously tired of the chanting inside the temple.   The dying priest guy turns up and they figure out what’s going on and make a fish joke.  J does precious little to rescue P but somehow still does, while Professor Varnoff flees laughing in such a manner as to suggest this programme shouldn’t be taken too seriously.   He runs into the king and shoots him with a gun that goes BANG! but without smoke or muzzle flash, then famously proclaims “nuzzink in zee world can stop me now!”  No wonder people vote this story so low.

Episode Four (factory refurbished)

Ah, back to reconstructions.  Another time butterfly comes flapping out of the time vortex and a storm front blows in over the opening titles when Professor Zarkana shouts “kills zeez two men!” A photograph of a pistol goes BANG-BANG! and he repeats his meme-worthy line “nuzzink in zee world can stop me now!” (except this time he sounds bored as fuck) followed by the electronic equivalent of a slide whistle.   

The Doctor and B rescue the not-yet-dead king and plan to go to the generating station - what the hell was that again?  I’m watching these out of order and don’t remember hearing of that previously, but whatever; maybe they meant the lab set???  Practically everyone meets back up at the temple and the Doctor plans to flood Atlantis and Professor Stamos’ lab to stop him from splitting open the world, but worries if everyone can swim.  Station Zed-2 is to report again at zero minus five while Zed-3 tells The Amazing Zarko there’s a fault (in the script?  His acting?), so he chews some cheap BBC scenery to pad the script’s running time.  At the generating station, B says something catty about the Doctor’s trousers then bluffs their way past a guard using his powers of overacting - quite an impressive feat to pull off in a reconstruction made of blurry stills.  The password is “Oscar,” which is something no one here will be awarded anytime soon, maybe they should aimed lower for a BAFTA?  They cut some power cables with some metal shears but somehow don’t get battered and fried doing so.  

PJ are lost, see a glowing wall and look for higher ground while Professor Zarnox berates an underling.  One of the prisoner friends doesn’t know what he’s hearing but it “certainly isn’t closing time at Eddie Murphy's pub,” whatever that means.  Many secondary characters flee the oncoming storm of water that floods the temple and it crumbles into the advancing water, having been made from paper mache, leaving the cast with but one set!  “The everlasting nightmare is here at last.”  

The Doctor tries to scare Professor Zarruda’s henchmen/scientists/lackeys by telling them the real plan (blow up the world) and that Atlantis is flooding; say what you will about expediency, but it’s funny how they only react to that second fact.  Professor Zardude traps the Doctor and B outside the lab, explains his plan (again?) and laughs some more.   The Doctor turns off the lights in such a funny way that Zarmock can’t help but keep laughing as he goes for his photo of a pistol - the same one that started out this episode - but there’s no BANG! BANG! until the dying king of Atlantis shows up and traps Professor Nodoze out of the lab as well, so now he can’t blow up the world.  After lots of “nearly there!” and “can’t stop now, the water’s still rising!” and other such run-time padding, everyone still alive and not a fish (except for Professor Zarnox) is out of the pool and back on the beach while Professor Darmok submerges himself.  The bushy eyebrow pervert surgeon guy says some stuff about how bad religion is and plans to rebuild a new Atlantis “without gods or without fish people,” which means that all those times he did that fish operation on people in the past is ok now, and is also one of the sillier quotes I’ve copied down here in, say, about two paragraphs; make that one.   Everyone thinks the Doctor didn’t make it out, but no luck, there he is goddamn it.  J points out how safe he feels in the Tardis just before the Doctor screws things up.

Reminder that Books.

The End


Trivial Nothings

The Underwear Menace was once considered something of a dog (fish) by Who fandom, based upon the silly fish-people costumes, the splashy Dr. Zanyoff’s performance, the opinions of both the director and Patrack Fishton, and how presciently it proved Malcolm Hulke’s complaint that stranding the (Third) Doctor on Earth only leaves room for alien invasions and mad scientists stories, but don’t let that ocean of facts convince you to flush this story!  It’s fairly comfy overall and Trowtone is always fun to dawdle about with.  That reputation has somewhat softened in recent years after the second episode surfaced and the creation of some masterful fan-made animated reconstructions of the missing episodes deftly captured both the subtly of the performances and cinematography (the first of which may be found here:  Some obstreperous fans of the programme may still choose to denigrate The Underwritten Menace, but will at least grudgingly admit now that it’s nowhere near as bad as anything JNT was responsible for.