The Underwater Menace

Throughout this serial, it’s hard to shake the nagging realisation that what you’re watching isn’t very good… but I found it brilliantly entertaining anyway. Take the big baddy, Professor Zaroff, for example. He looks like Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein, and he provides possibly the hammiest performance in the entire show to date. But he’s great fun to watch, and I always admire a villain whose only motivation for his actions is “because fuck you all, that’s why”.

Then there’s the plot, which goes round in circles and largely consists of inconsequential running around. But you don’t really notice that, because it’s all so pacey and frenetic. There’s a particularly large guest cast for this serial, and that helps – it continues the new story-telling trend of spending a scene at a time with each of several concurrent plot threads. Not enjoying this bit? Don’t worry, a completely different bit will be along in a minute.

The bigger cast also gives us an even more expanded core ensemble than I anticipated – the team up with Ara, Ramo, Sean and Jacko brings us up to eight protagonists at one point. This works surprisingly well, especially the sequence in episode three where The Doctor hatches a plan that involves all of them doing particular things in particular places in order to lure and capture Zaroff. The Second Doctor is becoming somewhat of a chess master, and it’s brilliant for the character.

On the downside, Polly seems to be suffering a little from the addition of Jamie – I thought it would be Ben, but he seems fine. Instead, having two action heroes means that Polly has reverted to the wimpy type that Susan was towards the end. She’s just written so inconsistently – a brave, no-nonsense feminist last time, but all “oh no, I can’t do this, I’m not as good as you men” here.

Oh, and it was so good to actually watch a bit of Troughton at last! I’ve become increasingly angry at whichever pricks decided that the cost of video tape was worth more than preserving works of art, but I can start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m through the worst of it – The Tenth Planet episode four to The Underwater Menace episode one is the longest run of consecutive missing episodes. The rest of this season is still tricky, but after that the missing ones are in the minority once more. I can’t wait – currently, the fact that I’ve got animation instead of telesnaps for the missing portions of the next serial seems like a luxury. At this rate, I’ll be weeping tears of joy in a few months time when everything’s in colour.


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