The Underwater Menace episode 2 & Galaxy 4: Airlock

A review of two recovered black-and-white episodes for DWM, 2011


Hopefully you will accept that I’m being more honest than churlish if I make the observation that, had Doctor Who fans been invited to vote for two missing episodes to be miraculously returned to us, this pair would have been near the bottom of the list. The words ‘The Underwater Menace Episode 2’ have surely never caused anyone a rush of blood to the head. And most, I think, would have been hard-pressed even to put a name to the third instalment of Galaxy 4.

But that’s what makes this double discovery so delicious. We can relax. Our expectations are managed. If we’re already anticipating something approaching the worst, our delight on finding that these episodes are actually pretty darned good – full of sharp little pleasures – is felt all the more keenly.

Without doubt, Patrick Troughton is the great joy of The Underwater Menace. He’s the kind of actor who can steal a scene without even speaking, thanks to the wonderful range of micro-expressions that play across his face; countless nuances of performance that could never be guessed from an audio recording alone. Early in this episode, the Doctor stands well back and watches Professor Zaroff – supposed saviour of the sunken city of Atlantis – bicker with underling scientist Damon about problems with the power supply. We see from the Doctor’s faintly amused look that he is taking all this information in to use against them later. And soon enough he’s at a control panel, quietly fusing vital circuits. Holding a pulled plug in one hand, Troughton puts a finger to his bottom lip, his face a picture of childish innocence. “I can’t think of how I came to be so clumsy,” he says – and you simply cannot help but adore him.

The Underwater Menace’s second episode features the story’s key exposition, as Zaroff reveals his plan to plunge the Atlantic Ocean into the white-hot core of the Earth. This will raise Atlantis from its watery ruin, albeit with the unfortunate side effect of blowing our planet to rubble. As Zaroff, actor Joseph Furst is clearly relishing the chance to play a total crackpot. With no shading to his motivation, what else can he do but go for broke? He certainly delivers an enthusiastic blast of acting for his money – so much so that at one point he seems to be trying to stop himself from laughing. Skilfully balancing the scene, Troughton again plays innocent and flatters the truth from Zaroff – drawing out the scientist’s lunacy.  “Just one small question,” he says in a small, guileless voice, his eyes like saucers. “Why would you want to blow up the world?”

A similarly measured performance is provided by Colin Jeavons as Damon, who makes the most of a minor role. The actor is as bloodlessly baleful as ever, even while labouring under a pair of outrageous fake eyebrows. However, Jeavons almost derails Troughton at one point when he stumbles through a clumsy line of dialogue: “We pick up survivors from shipwrecks who would otherwise be corpses.” The uncertainty proves contagious, and our star fluffs his response. “What a fantasting… conception,” says Troughton, and then pauses. He sucks his cheeks in – physically pulling his mouth back under his control – and saves the scene.

The episode rather wanders when we stray from Zaroff’s lab, as companions Ben, Polly and Jamie make contact with various flavours of oppressed rebels whose assistance will be needed in later episodes. Ben himself does not seem a great boon to this Atlantean Spring however, as he likes to bellow secret plans at the top of his voice while mere feet away from belligerant guards. A trek through tunnels to find a secret entrance to the city brings to mind the slow later episodes of the first Dalek serial, and a scene where Jamie is rescued from some slippery rocks proves a joyless longueur. But at least it gives us time to marvel at how gorgeous the Doctor’s young friends are. Anneke Wills is stunning – her giant, mascara-circled eyes shine like headlamps. Frazer Hines and Michael Craze are boyband beautiful; the latter even offering a Justin Bieber hairdo. They remain the prettiest team of companions to date, and that’s against some strong competition.

Fans of the Eleventh Doctor will particularly enjoy his second incarnation’s powerful hat fetish. And here we find a hitherto unsuspected addition to his collection. After hiding in a wardrobe, the Doctor emerges clutching a raincoat and a sou’wester – and, of course, it’s the hat he delightedly puts on first. But this is nothing compared to the glee with which he greets the remarkable headgear offered by Ramo, priest of Atlantis. It’s an explosion of fleshy tubing styled after a sea anemone, or an advertisement for Cheestrings. “Put this on, could you?” says Ramo. “Could I!” replies the Doctor, his face a picture of childish glee. Later, when we see the Doctor proudly wearing this epic headgear – to this day, his millinery apotheosis – you can still spot him eyeing Ramo’s slightly larger version with envy.

Amongst all the new, it’s sad to note a few details that those familiar with the audio of this episode may have expected or hoped for, but are denied. In episode one, Zaroff delivers one of Doctor Who’s more unlikely threats with: “I could feed you to my pet octopus, no?” We also knew that in episode two he says, of something in a tank: “Ah! So you are hungry today? Did I forget to feed you? Is beautiful, no?” – and surely this famished beauty would be his octopus. But, alas, Zaroff’s tank contains naught but a rather blowsy fish. Is disappointment, no? And while we can at enjoy a early scene of the Second Doctor tootling his beloved recorder, we sadly don’t get to see him wear the tall Beau Brummell hat from his earliest adventures.  However, one charming new moment more than makes up for these small disappointments. While trying to explain to King Thous about Zaroff, the Doctor insists that the scientist is “as mad as a hatter” – which, when you consider the deranged creations of the hatters of Atlantis, is really saying something. To illustrate his point that Zaroff is ‘out to lunch’, the Doctor raps his knuckles sharply on his own head. “Hell-oo?” he calls, and then cups a hand behind one ear. “No answer!” It’s a lovely bit of business – pure Troughton, and impossible to guess from the audio alone – that will surely become a defining moment for this incarnation, and serve as droll punctuation in a thousand clip reels to come.

*  *  *

One cannot deny that the more sombre Galaxy 4 delivers less fizz than The Underwater Menace. Air Lock, in essence, cuts back and forth between two conversations taking place on two spaceships wrecked on an unnamed planet: one between Vicki, the Doctor and a Rill, the other between Steven and Maaga, the leader of the Drahvins. However, it’s certainly no less fascinating a piece of work, and at key moments proves even more lurid than the Troughton episode.

For many years, the Doctor Who world has been in possession of only a single murky photograph of a Rill. They are the ultimate ‘lost’ monster, and long spoken of in reverential tones by those who remember Galaxy 4 from broadcast. And so it is that one cannot help but note that the reality proves less awe-inspiring than those treasured memories suggested. Not quite so enigmatic and obscured as we had been led to believe, the boggle-eyed creature rocks slowly from side to side in its steamy chamber, like someone wafting a freakishly large haddock behind a bathroom window. When the Doctor informs it that the planet upon which they stand has just two days of life left two it, the Rill signals its dismay by wobbling at double speed. It’s all rather two-dimensional and Captain Pugwash – but not too grievous a let down, certainly no embarrassment, and perhaps merely the victim of this viewer’s unmanaged expectation. Happily, the episode offers no shortage of compensations.

Like Troughton, William Hartnell is a total delight. Here, he’s running at the higher pitch of his later years, with his dialogue looping into strings of his favourite little exclamations. “Hmm! Hmm! Yes! Quite so! Carry on!” When contemplating a problem, the fingers of his left hand flutter in mid air, demanding our attention. At times of resolve, they swoop back to the roost of his lapel. But there’s also a real vigour to Hartnell here. Early in the episode he shows a remarkable turn of speed when offered a flat set and clear passage through the Rill ship. When directing the Chumbley robots toward Steven’s aid, he strikes a heroic pose, pointing with his walking stick to an unseen horizon like Wellington pressing his cavalry to battle. The same stick, however, almost proves his undoing early in the episode. Hartnell puts it to one side when examining the Rill’s gas pump, but it slips and clatters loudly to the studio floor. As with Troughton and his line stumble, you actually see the moment where our star decides that it’s not enough of a problem to warrant a costly recording break. The noise draws his irritated glance for a split second, and presses on.

In terms of set design and direction, Air Lock is a stylish serving of 60s Doctor Who. It’s a talky piece, but director Derek Martinus holds our attention. Most interesting is a brief flashback sequence – very rare in Doctor Who – as our Rill recalls an expedition across the planet’s surface shortly after their ship crashed; presumably in some kind of ammonia-filled minibus. The camera positions us at the Rill’s point of view as we find an injured Drahvin guard crawling in the sand. There’s blood dried in rivulets across her forehead  – a shock that, what with blood likewise a rare sight in the programme. Suddenly, Maaga the Drahvin approaches and shoots, and as we are sharing the Rill POV, she’s shooting straight at us. Backing off, we lurk at a distance behind some alien foliage. And just as the picture crossfades out of the flashback, we see Maaga coolly murder her own soldier. It’s a very striking scene.

Maaga is, beyond question, the star of this episode – thanks to a surprisingly rich characterisation, a wonderful performance by Stephanie Bidmead, and some great directorial choices by Martinus. A lengthy scene in the Drahvin ship begins with Maaga expressing frustration at the limitations for her clones, sounding much like any put-upon mid-level manager. “I told them soldiers were no good for space work. All they can do is kill. But they wouldn’t listen. If you are to conquer space, they said, you will need soldiers. So here I am confronted with danger, and the only one able to think!” Maaga picks up a pair of leather gloves and stalks the room, her tone becomes ever more bitter and vengeful. As she fastidiously pulls on the gloves we see her knuckles show through holes cut in the leather. Martinus moves in for a tight close up. Maaga’s face fills the screen. And then for a minute – a whole minute – she delivers a soliloquy straight down the camera lens, looking us right in the eye as she notes that, when she flees this doomed planet, she will not be able to witness the death of the Rills, the Doctor and his friends. “But I, at least, have enough intelligence to imagine it,” she whispers to us. “The fear. The horror. The shuddering of a planet in its last moments of life… And then they die.” Her blood lust is palpable. It’s an electrifying moment – the definite highlight of either of these two episodes – which deserves to lift Maaga from the rank of ‘forgotten’ Doctor Who characters into the pantheon of great Doctor Who villains.

Looking at these episodes together, there’s no denying that they are not among the greatest ever produced. But they are roundly entertaining examples of well-made, low-budget, studio-bound Doctor Who. And with no weight of history or hyped expectation to distract us, we can see the fundamental fabric of our programme showing through; the diligent weaving of the sublime with the ridiculous, the essential warp and weft of Doctor Who.

And that will never be less than a total joy to behold.