Doctor Who – Underworld

Doctor Who Story 096 – Underworld

Who Wrote It?

Bob Baker and Dave Martin

What’s It About?

In order to avoid a spiral nebula on the edge of known space, the Doctor materializes the TARDIS onto a ship that has been traveling ten thousand years in search of its sister ship, the P7E.

The quest is the quest

Orfe is captured by The SeersIn so many ways, this story should have been amazing. Conceptually, it is quite clever. Underworld is a retelling of the story of Jason and the Argonauts but as a sci-fi story. The script is quite clever with how it plays with these themes. And the idea of mining Greek myths for science fiction plots is a very good one (sadly, Doctor Who has not made this work, but the idea is sound). Underworld makes good use of this initially, as part one is actually quite intriguing. The myth elements are established. There is even a fascinating revelation that the Minyan society, from which the heroes are descended, was destroyed after Time Lord interference. The Time Lords had shared their technology with the Minyans, who eventually destroyed themselves. This led to the Time Lord non-intervention policies. Part one leaves the viewer with the idea that something epic is about to unfold.

Unfortunately, the story falls apart soon after. Apart from the sets for the R1 and the P7E, the entire story is shot with CSO. In theory, this should have allowed the production to save money on sets by using models. However, the models were cheaply produced. The models used were merely reproducing caves, which seems a bit odd since Doctor Who has filmed in caves from time to time. Was the budget so tapped out that they couldn’t go on location? (The answer seems to be yes.) In the end, the CSO looks rather poor. Tom Baker seemed to lose interest in the story. Much of the guest cast doesn’t put forth the effort. Plot holes abounded. The Time Lord angle is dropped completely. In other words, a wonderful concept died a horrible, horrible death. Maybe the novelization, whenever I get around to reading it, will redeem this story in some way. I still think mining stories from antiquity could work, but maybe not on a television budget. I certainly applaud the show for trying, but clever ideas are not, in themselves, good stories for the same reason that many people have an idea for a novel, but few people have written novels. Underworld was a great concept, but after the development of the ships’ set, it seems everyone stopped trying. And when the show gives up, what are the viewers supposed to do?

My Rating


3 thoughts on “Doctor Who – Underworld

  1. I seem to have liked this one more than most other Doctor Who fans. I have it on DVD, and I’ve watched it a few times. It’s not a great story, but I don’t think it is awful, either. It’d say it’s about average. To be honest, I can forgive the extreme use of CSO. Like a lot of 4 part serials in the 1970s, I think it could have used some tightening up. It might have made a much better 3 part story.

    It is very interesting to note that the origin of the Time Lord’s non-intervention policy is very similar to that of the Watchers from Marvel Comics, in that both were extremely advanced civilizations who gifted their technology to a much more primitive species, only to see them use that knowledge to develop nuclear weapons and blow themselves up, and in the aftermath swore never to interfere in the affairs of others. I wonder if Baker & Martin ever read any comic books, or if it is just a remarkable coincidence.

    1. Given the circumstances under which this story was filmed, the CSO is understandable. And there are so many good ideas in this story that are aching to be explored but not fully developed. But you are right, if it had been tightened up (say, if Anthony Read had been able to devote more time to editing the script) it may have been a better story.

      I wasn’t familiar with the history of the Watchers. That’s an interesting similarity. Do you happen to know when the Watchers were created?

      1. The Watchers were created by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby in early 1963 in Fantastic Four. Their origin story was recounted by Lee & his brother Larry Lieber a year later in a back-up story that ran in Tales of Suspense #s 52-53. Unfortunately, I don’t think the TOS stories have ever been reprinted in a collected edition. I read an excerpt of the story in a comic called Marvel Saga which retold a lot of the 1960s comics via reprinted panels, new art, and text captions.

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