I learned something Wednesday night. I learned that videotapes that are old enough to legally drink alcohol in the US can still be perfectly watchable. Well, perfectly watchable for me, anyway; I have a pretty high tolerance for poor video quality. Last weekend I liberated some very old VHS tapes of Doctor Who (on which I’ll elaborate at a later date). Then Wednesday night was my every-other-Wednesday with my brother, which it seems has become Doctor Who night. (Though he suggested Blake’s 7 for next time.) We decided to give one of the old tapes a whirl. I nudged us toward “Underworld” ‘cause (as I mentioned before) TARDIS Tavern will be covering that episode soon. In point of fact, the reason they’re covering it is because Doctor Who Magazine’s 2009 poll ranked it among the five worst Doctor Who stories ever.
Um. What? No seriously, WHAT?
D and I figured out we hadn’t watched “Underworld” since 1994. He didn’t really remember it at all, but I had fond memories of this episode. I was more-than-half-ready to be unpleasantly shocked to reality by how badly my memory cheated. This, despite Radio Free Skaro-Chris’ repeated assurances that it’s a good one. (I mean, the guy loves Pertwee; what could he possibly know?) But he, and my memory, were spot on. I still adore this story.
Ok, the effects aren’t great (D pointed out that the episode 1 cliffhanger had the ship buried in what looked like Grape Nuts cereal), but I’ve never watched Who for the effects. I watch for the stories. Always have. Always will. And this one was right up my alley. I mean RIGHT up my alley: nods to Greek mythology, a nearly-endless quest, Time Lords as gods, a fledgling rebellion, a technologically-advanced society that’s devolved into slavery and mysticism… The list goes on and on. I would hug this episode if I could.
And on top of all that, it’s a really fantastic Leela story. I’ve always loved her, but not having seen any of her stories in a while, I’d forgotten how hilarious Louise Jameson could be–starting with the very first scene when she near-fumbles about the TARDIS console for a bit before eventually shouting for the Doctor. Or her next scene in which the Doctor and K-9 think that an artifact is 100,000 years old. Leela sagely nods and agrees, “Me too.” Later she’s hit with a pacifying ray and becomes all soft and sweet. It’s a brilliant piece of acting which had me laughing out loud. I think my favorite Leela moments come when she’s the voice of experience with regards to scientific knowledge and technology. Compared to the Doctor, she’s quite the ignorant savage, but when they encounter a race who knows even less than she does about spaceships and the stars, she very matter-of-factly assumes the role of slightly-put-upon mentor. And she underplays it just perfectly. I love it! LOVE. IT.
D felt pretty much the same way. He called it “bizarre” that this episode landed in the bottom five. (Seriously, I think he was nearly offended by that fact.) I’m curious to hear how the TARDIS Tavern boys feel, but honestly, I don’t really care overly much what anyone else thought.
I loved it. Full stop.