Doctor Who: Underworld (and Overjoyed)

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.

4 thoughts on “Doctor Who: Underworld (and Overjoyed)

  1. eric says:

    This is awesome!

  2. Considering several people found the 1st episode the best part of this, imagine my first impression when, the first time saw this, I walked in at the started of Part TWO. Ouch. And would you believe? Inexplicably, the “movie” version I have on tape, Howard Da Silva’s narration comes in at the start of part 2!! Somebody at the distributor screwed up.

    I quite liked James Maxwell as Jackson (I’ve seen him in a few other things, including a wonderful Cathy Gale AVENGERS episode where they spend the whole story building him up to be a traitor, then you’re delighted to find out… no, he isn’t!). I also enjoyed Alan Lake as Herrick. He had great passion when he wanted to kill the Doctor, and later, he seeemed to really enjoy fighting those stupid Underworld guards. Just read up on him– he had a wild, and in the end, tragic life, his wife Diana Dors dying from cancer only a few months before he took his own life while suffering a brain tumor, at age 43. So sad.

    The spacesuits look like Jack Kirby designs, and the shield-laser weapon– brilliant!

    I’d like to point out that the effects shots of the spaceship are actually INTENSELY well-done, particularly the close-up near the end when they’re escaping from the planet moments before it blows up. The explosion is also damned impressive. Nobody mentions any of this, perhaps forgetting that the stupid CSO (which finally did work better than anyone probably expected, in “MEGLOS”) was not the only “effect” used here.

    Far more troubling to me than bad effects shots was the “zero gravity” scene, which just made NO F***ing sense at all! I mean, Jack Kirby had a zero-gravity well in FANTASTIC FOUR #7 (“Prisoners Of Planet X”) which would have made perfect sense here, if those 2 jokers who wrote this had even bothered to think of it. But having The Doctor say it’s zero gravity because they’re at the center of the planet? What were they smoking that week?

    How about that “Oracle” being “The Oracle” from “FOR THE WORLD IS HOLLOW AND I HAVE TOUCHED THE SKY”. Even the same name, and they’re both monstrously stupid for computers.

    Did anyone else think the chief guard, Rask, looked like Rod Steiger? They kept playing up the guards as “cops”, with his office having bars like a small-town jail, and chasing an escaped slave and referring to him as a “suspect”– wha’…?? Were they also trying to throw in a reference to IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT for no reason at all?

    I hated how they had Leela in Part 1, but they almost made up for it in Part 2 when Jackson tells them to stay behind, and she & Baker walk away, then turn, look at each other and smile, then follow. THAT’s a pair of good friends at work, which is how they should be.

    Now how are all those escaped slaves gonna survive a journey that’s supposed to take 350 years, in such a small spaceship?

    I’d still rather watch this than “GENESIS”…

    • Wow, excellent and thorough response! Thank you!

      Your In the Heat of the Night comment made me giggle. :) Nice.

      Though your mention of “The Oracle” being similar to another “The Oracle” simply highlights that they were pulled from the same source material (the Oracle at Delphi, most likely), and not that one was a reference to the other. That similarity strikes me firmly as an “independent invention” situation.

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