Wednesday, 16 December 2009
"By the all-beating heart of living Atlantis!"
Review: THE UNDERWATER MENACE
Audio soundtrack of incomplete story, written by Geoffrey Orme, directed by Julia Smith, 1967
The vilification of this story says a lot about DW fandom’s humourlessness; it’s a blast. Obviously it’s also shite, but to see it purely in that way misses the point that there’s absolutely nothing offensive here, and certainly nothing to justify it as contender for ‘Worst. Story. Ever’. I really would take this absurd comic book runaround over dreary stories like The Three Doctors, The Face of Evil, Planet of Fire – which nevertheless, have perfectly serviceable reputations. The fact that this essentially harmless piece of fluff is singled out as especially dreadful does at least show how extreme its excesses are – but even this is in its favour, as far as I’m concerned; by comparison, all those other stories are too mediocre to even bother hating.
What to say, then? The Underwater Menace is FUN. That about covers it. It’s set in ATLANTIS, for god’s sake – that’s absurd enough to get me on side for starters, but it gets better: the bushy eyebrows! Why? Never mind, here come the crap stereotypes, psychotic music, and gypsy Doctor! (I love how rascally Troughton looks when he leaves his piratical gold hoop on.) All this AND Ben in rubber!
Even the eternally derided Joseph Furst’s Zaroff is fantastic value for money, and at least his utter, overblown lunacy is acknowledged within the story. The moment when the king gives him a look that says, ‘You’re nuts!’, but just says, “Oh, nothing…” is priceless. Zaroff even kills people with harpoons – somebody bring this guy back! All his overblown dialogue is fab (pointedly ignoring ‘that’ line. Though not that well, obviously), but the Zaroff scene that tickled me most was when someone declaims the line, “May the wrath of Amdo engulf you!” at him, but he replies with a contemptuously dismissive, “I’ll take my chances – get out!”. I think it’s the smug self-confidence of his lunacy that makes him so entertaining… In that respect he’s a surprisingly effective flipside to the Doctor.
The general po-faced response to a story which so clearly doesn’t warrant (any) deep analytic study is just depressing – Patrick Mulkern, on the Radio Times’ episode guide page, describes it as "camp bilge," although he at least acknowledges the enjoyable sight of “fit duo Michael Craze and Frazer Hines cavorting around in tight wetsuits”. Everyone always bangs on about how Doctor Who is all about diversity – and, yes; it should be – so the assumption that this is automatically crap or ‘worthless,’ just because it’s a lightweight story strikes me as slightly ridiculous. It’s not so much a case of this being crap, just that it goes into a tongue-in-cheek area of B-movie absurdities, more so than is the norm in Doctor Who – whereas, say, Frontier in Space or Earthshock try to be ‘better’ than that (ie, slightly less hackneyed), but they end up worse because they’re flat and tedious (in my personal opinion, but you get the point).
Tsk. All I wanted to say was how unexpectedly enjoyable this story is (particularly the existing episode three). How grim that I’ve felt the need to justify such an inconsequential opinion to death! That took the fun out of things. Maybe I’ll go and watch it again.