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Doctor Who story number 31

Geoffrey Orme submitted this story as Under the Sea (it went through many title changes), and it was originally to follow The Power of the Daleks. The director originally assigned to this story complained that the story was unfilmable given a standard Doctor Who budget, and he was given The Highlanders instead. Julia Smith was given the director's chair - she had previously handled The Smugglers - but this was her last Doctor Who work. Anneke Wills has said that Patrick Troughton didn't make the director's job easy for this story.

What would have definitely contributed to on-set stress is the tight production schedule. Due to season reshuffling The Underwater Menace was placed after The Highlanders, and the addition of Jamie to the TARDIS crew meant the script needed to be re-written. This story and the following one would see Jamie share Ben's dialogue. Other changes include cutting the reason for Zaroff's insanity (which made him a tiny bit like Captain Nemo), and the removal of a female scientist called Steen (I have no idea if she was going to do anything significant).

The plot is very b-grade, but it's not too bad. The problem with the story is the amount of characters - there's so many people siding with the heroes that groups sometimes sit around doing nothing. Another problem is the off-hand treatment of the fish people in the story - we only see people interacting with them once so we never get an idea of how they really are treated, and the point of surgically converting prisoners into fish people isn't examined well enough.

Good points are the offhand comments or events which set up a plot event later - this saves us from shoddy writing such as a miraculous fact being pulled from thin air by the Doctor, which is a hallmark of the 70's and 80's Doctor Who. There's also stuff happening all the time so the story seems to move along without dragging (even if the stuff is a few minutes of fish people swimming in a tank). There's also a lot of attempts to use science in this one, which is really great - Orme might get it wrong sometimes but it feels like I'm watching a real science fiction show.

The fish people are a real bone of contention. People say they look like crap. Hell yes, do they ever. What's especially bad is that they couldn't make proper costumes for all the fish people, so you have actors in wetsuits with diving masks alongside the scaled, finned, gilled fish people. This would have been the fault of both the tight schedule and the tight budget - looking at the photonovel you can see it's been sucking up the resources. There's passable anchors and chains and other debris in the underwater scene. One has to wonder how the fish people with proper costumes looked on a grainy 60's television.

A representative of the National Society for the Welfare of Children in Hospitals complained about the scene in (presumably) the first episode where Polly was about to be surgically transformed into a fish person, claiming that this would traumatise children who were due for surgery. Producer Innes Lloyd said that the story was clearly unrealistic, and that the scene was not a problem. It was too late to do anything about it afterwards though if it was a problem....

Joseph Furst plays Zaroff. There are claims that he faked the accent, but he was born in Austria, so, uh.... maybe he faked his own accent?

This story was thrown into a furnace in the '70s. However, episode 3 exists (the earliest Troughton episode - deemed significant because of the underwater scenes), along with clips from episodes 2 and 4 removed by the prudish Australian censor (part of the surgery scene that prompted the complaint, funnily enough). There is no audio CD of the story yet (November 2004). The existing episode is available on the potentially orgasm-inducing Lost in Time DVD.

Update: Even more inappropriately exciting was the announcement on 11/12/2011 that episode 2 had been recovered, along with episode 3 of Galaxy 4!

The photonovel is available here:

You can read the script here:

There's a bit of confusion about the names of characters between these two sites, so I am going with the photonovel. Frustratingly enough Zaroff is always said to have a pet octopus - in the photonovel he has a fish. The only reference to an octopus is a joke he makes at the start.

Geoffrey Orme

This story has 4 episodes.
Episode cliffhangers are marked in subscript.

Plot Overview
The story opens with the usual 60's new companion scene of incredulity at where the TARDIS is going ("no idea" is the usual answer). On materialisation they find themselves on a volcanic island. Polly almost loses her footing but because Geoffrey Orme is a forward thinking writer and not Terry Nation she doesn't fall down and twist her ankle. However as she, Ben and Jamie explore the crater Polly gets all tired and has to rest. Naturally Ben never learns from past experience and he and Jamie go on ahead - then come running back when they hear Polly screaming. Not even ten minutes into the story and three of the main characters are in a cage. Oh, and the Doctor too. Bloody hell.

The cage is an elevator - taking the TARDIS crew down below sea level. Polly manages to untie herself and free the others, and then they all pass out briefly due to misapplied science. When they come around Polly gives the Doctor a date - she happens to have found a souvenir bracelet from the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. She then proceeds to attempt to speak to the Inevitable Guards in French, German and Spanish. Clever girl. The guards don't understand a word and prod the travellers down the hall to a dining area, where the Doctor recognises the food as some sort of plankton derivative.

Ramo turns up and welcomes the visitors with the usual "We've been expecting you, eat up, we're going to rip your hearts out in a minute" routine. Polly, Jamie and Ben are carted off but the Doctor hangs back to demand to be taken to see Professor Zaroff, having concluded that as the food is the result of Zaroff's research, Zaroff must be here. His request to see Zaroff is refused, but he orders the serving girl, Ara, to take a note to the professor. the Doctor is taken to join his friends who are about to be thrown to the sharks. Zaroff turns up and the Doctor secures their freedom. Well, partial freedom, his companions are taken to the labour controller while the Doctor and Zaroff give us some more background for this month's mad scientist.

Ben and Jamie get taken off to the mines, while Polly gets a tour of the food production facility. She's quite impressed with the plastic gills, until she's told she is to have a set fitted. More exposition comes from Zaroff and the Doctor: Zaroff informs him they are in Atlantis - a network of caverns deep beneath the volcanic island, on the Atlantic Ridge. When the Doctor asks how he gained acceptance from the Atlanteans, Zaroff reveals his plan - to raise Atlantis from the sea. Ara comes in while Zaroff is distracted to tell the Doctor that Polly is about to be operated on.1 The Doctor tells her to get Polly out if she gets a chance and grabs a pair of wire cutters....

In the operating theatre the lights go out. Damon, the surgeon, goes to Zaroff to complain - Zaroff sometimes syphons off too much power, draining the underground city's supply. Back in the surgery Damon's assistants go to look for a light source, and Ara, who can see in the dark, leads Polly out. The Doctor's sabotage is found out, and he's now in trouble. So much trouble that Zaroff decides to explain his plan. His plan is to raise Atlantis from the sea (just in case you missed it in the last episode). However the Doctor now points out that raising a continent is kind of difficult. Zaroff agrees. Much simpler to lower the water level of the ocean instead. By drilling through the Earth's crust.

The subsequent destruction of the world is just a minor side effect.

Off in the mines Ben and Jamie are put to work with the usual suspects and promptly end up escaping through a darkened tunnel with a couple of characters who are probably along for the ride to die horribly. The Doctor escapes from the lab with some applied chemistry and runs into Ara. They go to find Ramo. Ara drags Damon away from Ramo so the Doctor can have a chat to him. the Doctor demonstrates the effect Zaroff's plan will have using a high school science lesson, and Ramo accepts that Zaroff is a bad thing for Atlantis on more than just superstition. He gives the Doctor a Mardi Gras costume and they head off to find the ruler of Atlantis.

During all this we get scenes of four men fooling around in a dark tunnel. The four escapee miners end up in the temple of Amdo, coming out of a passage hidden behind the statue, and meet Polly. Ara turns up and tell the surface dwellers to hide in the chamber behind the statue. While this is going on the Doctor and Ramo meet with Thous, the King of Atlantis, who quite fairly listens to the Doctor and Ramo, then leaves to think about it - and returns with Zaroff.2

Zaroff sends the Doctor and Ramo to Lolem to be carved into fish food - Thous does appear concerned about his resident mad scientist though. In the temple, the Doctor and Ramo are saved from certain doom by Ben faking the voice of Amdo and the superstition of the Atlanteans. While all seven people hide behind the statue Lolem goes off to brag about the miracle to Thous and Zaroff. Zaroff doesn't believe this for a moment, and Thous agrees to search Atlantis for the outsiders.

The Doctor has a plan - Zaroff's plankton derivative doesn't last more than a few hours (a plot point delivered to us earlier, thankfully), and if they can convince the fish people to stop working the underground city will run low on supplies almost instantly. The miners Sean and Jacko are sent to foment revolt among the fish people, while the Doctor plans to kidnap Zaroff. Both teams will use Amdo's back passage as a meeting place.

In the market the Doctor and the others mill around avoiding guards - or pretending to be them. When Zaroff shows up the Doctor waits until his guards are distracted and leads him to the temple - Zaroff commandeers the disguised Ben and Jamie as he follows. In the temple the Doctor and the others subdue Zaroff and drag him behind the statue. Down at the "waterfront" Sean taunts the fish people to get their attention, and tells them how they hold Atlantis in their grip - They agree to cease gathering food.

Behind the statue Zaroff laughs and tells the Doctor that the nuclear reactor is complete, it will start on it's own and their capture of him was useless The Doctor doesn't believe a megalomaniac like Zaroff would pass up the thrill of pressing the big shiny red button. Zaroff has a heart attack and collapses, dying. The Doctor, Ben and Jamie head for the laboratory to check on the reactor just in case. Zaroff asks Ramo for atonement, and Polly naturally does the girly thing, convincing Ramo to succour Zaroff. Unfortunately the only ones getting suckered are Polly and Ramo - Ramo is murdered by Zaroff, who runs off with Polly.

In an opera style death Ramo staggers out into the temple, where is death is witnessed by the others - about to leave after waiting for a religious service to end. Ramo's good timing lets the Doctor and Ben head for the laboratory, while Jamie pursues Zaroff. Jamie frees Polly, but Zaroff escapes. Sean and Jacko turn up after the nick of time and return to the temple, while the other two go to find Ara so she can lead them around Atlantis. Damon is informing Thous about the revolt among the fish people - Thous agrees to negotiate and Damon leaves. Zaroff arrives and says he will put down the revolt with force. Thous realises Zaroff is mad, but Zaroff shoots him and calmly says he will definitely succeed with his plan.3

The Doctor and Ben decide to make a detour to enlist Thous and find him bleeding to death on the floor. They cart him off to the secret chamber behind the statue, where Sean, Jacko and Ara are waiting (Jamie and Polly having gone on ahead to find the laboratory, but will get lost). The Doctor gives Sean and Jacko the task of evacuating the lower levels of Atlantis so his new plan won't kill everyone....

In the lab Zaroff is losing workers as they go to scavenge food. The Doctor and Ben bluff their way into the generating station and cut some random cables to buy time. Polly and Jamie are working their way through tunnels as Zaroff notices a radiation leak - which causes a wall in the tunnel to glow. Polly declines to explain radiation to Jamie, passing off the cause of the crumbling wall as the vibration from the machinery - which is actually a plausible answer and not as mind-bogglingly stupid as it seems - and then they start climbing as the wall breaks and the seawater floods in. Sean has already informed Damon, who comes to help them move Thous. As they move him Thous laments that Atlantis has finally fallen to the sea.

The Doctor and Ben walk right into Zaroff's lab, with the Doctor happily letting everyone in the room know Zaroff's real plan. The guards and technicians flee the rising water and the insane Zaroff, who has one last trick up his sleeve - a portcullis to seal him and the crucial controls off from the rest of the room. Ben leaves as the water approaches, and the Doctor shuts off the lights. Zaroff opens the portcullis and goes for a gun. When the emergency lighting comes on Lolem is in the room, heading for Zaroff with a knife. The Doctor closes the portcullis while Zaroff shoots Lolem, and flees as Zaroff reaches in vain through the portcullis for his doomsday switch. The Doctor meets Ben outside and they run, Ben refusing to let the Doctor to go back for Zaroff - who still reaches for the distant controls as the water rises over him.

On the surface Thous and Damon discuss the sacrifice they believe the Doctor has made, and also a new Atlantis - without religion. Ben and the Doctor meet Jamie and Polly (who spent the whole episode climbing through tunnels) and they head to the TARDIS. Sean and Jacko have made it to the surface too - and are quite surprised to see a Police Box. They're even more surprised when it disappears....

Inside the TARDIS Ben and Polly tease the Doctor when he tries to claim he can control the craft. When he tries to take them to Mars to prove he can control the ship, however, he sends the TARDIS spinning out of control.4 As usual.

Main Cast

  • Joseph Furst - Professor Zaroff
  • Catherine Howe - Ara
  • Tom Watson - Ramo
  • Peter Stephens - Lolem
  • Colin Jeavons - Damon
  • Gerald Taylor - Ramon's Assistant
  • Graham Ashley - Overseer
  • Paul Anil - Jacko
  • P.G. Stephens - Sean
  • Noel Johnson - Thous
  • Roma Woodnut - Nola
  • Bill Burridge - Executioner Priest
  • Jimmy Mack - Refugee Priest
  • Tony Handy, Alex Donald, Tony Douglas - Guards
  • Notes

    • The volcanic island where the story is set was filmed at Windspit Caverns, near Worth Matravers in Dorset.
    • The idea of creating a mer-race via surgery and grafting would be used by Terrance Dicks in his Doctor Who novel Evolution - It's possible he didn't borrow the idea from here consciously, if he knew of it at all.
    • The Doctor mentions caisson disease as they descend in the cage in episode 1 - I think they're going in the wrong direction....
    • The note to Zaroff is signed Dr. W - which probably annoys some fans.
    • This is the last story to feature the Doctor's stovepipe hat, which has been toned down a lot from its original ridiculous dimensions.
    • "Dissapeared scientist is found in an extreme location conducting weird, dangerous experiements" and "Converting people into slave race" are themes you will find in The Black Hole

    Can't... fight... urge... to... quote... line....

    Nothing in the world can stop me now!!!!!! - Zaroff

    Okay - when I got to about halfway through episode four I realised I'd seen something before with a lost civilization and a mad scientist aiding them with his secret discoveries. I'm thinking jungles, possibly cave, possibly a temple of some sort. Any ideas? It's from the 70's or early 80's. It's reminding me of The Black Hole in tone, so possibly the scientist has gone into hiding.

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