Thursday, July 25, 2013

"The Underwater Menace"

Aired Jan 14 – Feb 4, 1967

4 Episodes

Story 32


Written by Geoffrey Orme

Directed by Julia Smith


Synopsis

Arriving on an extinct volcanic island, thee travellers are quickly captured and taken deep underground where they find the hidden city of Atlantis, still populated after all these centuries.

The Atlanteans are secretive, and have created a subservient race of Fish Peope who can harvest the plankton-based food supply upon which they subsist.  These Fish People are created through a process that genetically modifies people so they can breathe underwater.

A human scientist, Professor Zaroff, has convinced them that he can raise their city from the sea to the surface, but the formally brilliant Zaroff has gone insane, and his plan will cause the ocean to drain into the molten core of the Earth, and the resulting steam created will destroy the planet. The completely mad Zaroff sees the destruction of Earth as his greatest scientific achievement. 

After meeting and enlisting the aid of two shipwreck survivors, Sean and Jacko, the Doctor forms a plan. While he works to stop Zaroff, Sean and Jacko will inspire the Fish People to rebel and stop gathering food, causing chaos in Atlantis. During the panic, the Doctor and his friends manage to put an end to Zaroff's plans by flooding the city. The madman drowns, and the Doctor helps the Atlanteans escape to the surface.

The Doctor and his companions leave, and after Jamie teases the Doctor about his seeming lack of control over his ship, the Doctor makes a concerted effort to steer the TARDIS….and they spin wildly out of control…


Analysis

"Nothing in zee vorld can stop me now!"  The Underwater Menace has amongst the direst reputations in fan circles. While that reputation is certainly deserved, these four episodes are so totally off the chart bonkers that it remains a fun, if cringe-worthy, experience.


The idea is pure B-movie stuff, with an actual honest-to god mad scientist at the centre of the whole thing. Joseph Furst's portrayal of Zaroff goes so far over the top that it becomes some sort of weird art piece. It's as if writer Geoffrey Orme realized that the villain's plan was so nonsensical and so without any logical motivation that the only way to make it make any sort of narrative sense is to make Zaroff totally cray cray. Is this lazy storytelling? Yes, absolutely. Is it beneath the show? Yes, again. Does it allow Jospeh Furst license to overact to an hilarious degree? You betcha.

Then there's the fish people. When you see the underwater stuff that's done in this episode, it's actually kind of great. There are times when they really look like they're swimming. Their costumes are diabolically, wonderfully, awful in a mesmerizing way, and the whole concept of them is stupid, but they're filmed pretty well. I love how a race of people forcibly genetically modified into a slave labour force that supplies all of the food for their oppressors has to be talked into rebelling.

The dialogue is terrible. The plot is kind of okay, but the main threat is so nuts. I mean, if surface people can get to Atlantis, and the Atlanteans can get to the surface, and the Atlanteans want to live on the surface, why don't they just go? Why the need to raise the city? If the fish people gather all the food, and Zaroff helped create the process for making the fish people, and he's only been there for a few decades, how did they eat before? Why can't they just go back to that?

This may be as close as the series ever got to that amazing level of bad that Ed Wood regularly reached. An earnest over the top level of badness that makes it worse than, but also more watchable than, say, The Chase or The Keys of Marinus. It's awful, yes, but fun nonetheless.

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