Every now and then, you can tell from reading the blurbs in the DVD booklets that a particular serial is generally considered to be a bit shit. I try not to let this colour my judgement, but given the frequency with which I disagree with the consensus, the lowered expectations must surely be a factor.
This serial was absolutely fine. It wasn’t particularly brilliant by Doctor Who‘s high standards, but it was by no means bad TV, which is more than can be said for the likes of The Celestial Toymaker or Fear Her. It was a perfectly entertaining set of episodes, and in fact the first part was really good. I loved the concept of the Time Lords having a dirty little secret, and seeing the way that other races view them helps to expand their legend.
It was another strong showing from K-9, with him pulling off such diverse tasks as flying the spaceship, printing out maps, and rescuing the Doctor by blowing up rocks. I’ve figured out what he is now – he’s the handy plot-advancing fix-all that the sonic screwdriver would later become, but so much cooler. Like a Swiss army knife with a personality.
The rest of the serial never quite lived up to the heights of the opener, and it began to feel like it was covering old ground once they started exploring the planet. It was an odd decision to do the suppressed workforce plot two serials in a row, and it also owed a lot to The Face of Evil, with both an egomaniac super-computer playing god, and the primitive society being baffled by technology. On the latter point, it was nice that Leela was the one to help guide them through it, and it shows how far she’s come throughout her travels.
As for the notorious CSO? Come on, it’s not that bad, at least not on a technical level. Out of dozens of shots, there are a few that are misaligned or have too much of a blue halo around everyone, but it’s honestly not as bad as people make out. The biggest snag is that the backgrounds are so repetitive, which makes the geography a little confusing. I was grateful whenever they returned to the lovely spaceship set, and there was also some great model work in the first and last parts.
The episodes each seemed to run a little short, and the cliffhanger recaps were particularly long. Several shots of The Doctor unscrewing a hatch, removing a grate, etc seemed to go on for far longer than necessary. The sense of padding contributes to a slight feeling that there isn’t quite enough plot to fill four episodes. I must admit that the Jason and the Argonauts parallels were completely lost on me until I read about them afterwards, because I am an ignoramus, so perhaps I was missing something. I just thought that “Underworld” was a nice pun on how they were under a world.