Monday, November 9, 2015

Doctor Who - The Underwater Menace DVD Review

Doctor Who:
The Underwater Menace
By Geoffrey Orme

“Nothing in the world can stop me now!”

The Doctor, Polly, Ben and new companion Jamie McCrimmon find themselves on a beach near a cave that looks somewhat mysterious and begs to be explored.  Upon investigation they group ends up getting captured and finds themselves far underground in what is the missing city of Atlantis. There The Doctor finds himself in the crazy graces of Professor Zaroff.  Zaroff’s dream is to destroy the world and plans on doing it with the Atlantian technology and their unwitting help.  The Doctor is horrified that a man of science would want to blow the world up just for the sake of doing it and has devised a plan to try and stop him.  But first he must get Ben and Jamie freed from the mine and prevents Polly from being turned into a fish person.  It will be tough as Zaroff is just that type of crazy that will not be stopped from his destiny.

Finally the fans get to see The Underwater Menace episode two which was found in December of 2011 legally.  There is a leaked rough copy on Dailymotion that came out years ago that wasn’t remastered and is pretty hard to watch but was adequate enough.  Now we have the two remaining episodes together on the same DVD, Episode 3 was released on Lost in Time Box set, and now we can watch the full story.   Well there will be more on that later on in the review. 

First off the story isn’t all that bad and it is not all that good either. It is somewhere in the middle and for the most part I enjoyed it as I have always enjoyed the Troughton era and the 2nd Doctor and if the 5th Doctor wasn’t my favorite he would be.  The story is a simple mad scientist story with lots of escape gets captured scenarios thrown in.  The premise isn’t a bad one as lots of science fiction stories deal with the destruction of earth but this one just seemed to simple and the conclusion was a letdown as The Doctor just threw a couple of switches to save the day.  Zaroff is one of the maddest villains The Doctor has ever encountered and also one of the most of the top.  Not sure if Joseph Furst intended that way or that was the direction given to him but his performance is pretty entertaining and his confrontations with The Doctor are really well done and worth watching this story for. 

The Underwater Menace is the first story to feature Frazer Hines as a companion.  This follows The Highlanders and you can tell that there wasn’t anything written for him as he and Michael Craze were sharing lines and for most of the story seemed to be joined at the hip as every scene in the story they were together. Unlike in The Moonbase where Jamie was ill for ¾ of the story there wasn’t much they could do but to let him share lines.  This story was written before they made the last minute decision to cast Frazer Hines as a companion after The Highlanders and it wasn’t until The Faceless Ones where he really comes into his own.  The Underwater Menace part two is the earliest surviving Patrick Troughton story.  With most of his stories missing there isn’t much for the fans to see.  But fortunately with The Underwater Menace we get to see him develop the Second Doctor that we all know and love.  By part three we see his Doctor emerge and it is quite interesting to see how he just changes direction mid story.  

Now for the disappointment of this DVD and it’s not the overall story but the recons or telesnaps that they used.   As you know episodes one and four are missing so instead of using animation like they did with The Moonbase and The Ice Warriors they choose to go the route of using recons or telesnaps with the existing audio like they did with The Web of Fear episode three.  Now The Web of Fear episode three was done well and helped with the narration of the story you could not say the same for what they did with the missing episodes of The Underwater Menace.  The recons that they used for episodes one and four are just horrible.  This was an embarrassment to watch.  I was pretty shocked at what I saw and for someone paying around 20 to 25 pounds or dollars this is a disgrace.  BBC Worldwide went so cheap that they did not even give us full opening credits. It was just a picture of the title Doctor Who with the theme music playing.  The recons looked like they were slapped on as an afterthought.  It was so frustrating watching episode one and four as it was hard to follow what was going on.  At times you had the same picture for at least 5 minutes when other things were happening.  How can the viewer possible follow the story?  My favorite was seeing the drowning Zaroff for what seemed like forever when you knew other stuff was happening.  There are tons of photos they could have used to help the story along with the recons but this was just utter crap.  For shame BBC Worldwide and thanks for treating the fans like crap again.   Do yourself a favor and watch the Loose Canon recons for episode one and four of The Underwater Menace instead as the fan made ones are far superior.

One of the other highlights are the two documentaries The Television Centre of the Universe and A Fishy Tale.  I really enjoyed A Fishy Tale as Frazer Hines and Anneke Wills among others talked about the making of The Underwater Menace and what the liked and disliked about it.  I found it really interesting to listening to them talking about what they remembered about this story and what Patrick Troughton thought of the script.  It was fun to watch them praise and rip into the story as they were all under agreement that it wasn’t the greatest story but after watching it again they agree it wasn’t the worst and they really liked the underwater filming scenes.  

The Television Centre of the Universe is the second part of the Doctor Who farewell to the now closed Television Centre.  Peter Davison, Janet Fielding and Mark Strickson come together and share their memories of recording Doctor Who and working at Television Centre.  It had lots of funny stories of things that did not go right and mishaps which makes this documentary a really enjoyable watch and worth getting this DVD for.  I’m glad these two documentaries final got released as they were really well done and the fans shouldn’t have had to wait so long to see them.  Watching these was a good reminder of the good that BBC Worldwide can do when they put their mind to it and a good legacy for the add value material that we have known for the Classic Doctor Who DVD range.

So if you’re a fan of Doctor Who this DVD is indeed worth getting despite the shoddy job on the recons as there is enough good stuff to watch and you get a good glimpse of the early days of the Troughton Era.

DVD Grade B +
Recons  Grade F

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