THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE
TV STORY "THE SUN
MAKERS" AND THE
AUDIO BOOK "THE
BOB BAKER &
'MYTHS AND LEGENDS'
DVD BOX SET (BBCDVD
2851) RELEASED IN
AT THE VERY EDGE OF
THE KNOWN UNIVERSE,
THE TARDIS ARRIVES ON
AN AGING SPACECRAFT,
THE R1C. ON BOARD, THE
DOCTOR AND LEELA MEET
JACKSON AND HIS CREW,
WHO ARE ON A MISSION
TO RECOVER THEIR RACE
BANKS FROM ANOTHER
SHIP WHICH LEFT THEIR
HOME PLANET CENTURIES
CLOSING IN AT LAST ON
THE P7E, JACKSON RISKS
EVERYTHING TO FOLLOW
ITS TRAIL INTO A NEWLY-
CAN THE DOCTOR HELP
JACKSON TO SECURE THE
FUTURE OF THE MINYANS?
7th january 1978 - 28th january 1978
‘Bristol Boys’ Bob Baker and Dave Martin can boast a number of extraordinary
Doctor Who feats on their curricula vitae. They united three Doctors, wrote out Sarah Jane Smith and even created K-9 - but unfortunately they must also hold their hands up to having written what must be regarded as one of the most terrible Doctor Who productions of all time: Underworld.
The penultimate serial of Season 15 was more beleaguered than most. With rising inflation laying waste to what was left of the season’s budget, producer Graham Williams elected to try and save his production team a small fortune in set-building costs by shooting the vast majority of the serial using colour separation overlay. Even by the standards of the day, the results were appalling. Whilst no-one could accuse this serial of having “wobbly sets”, such would have been preferable to Underworld’s procession of garish static backdrops, against which a few stray actors would be crudely pasted.
“Did I just call Jackson Jason?”
This a real shame as for their part, the writers had done their job rather well. Recognising the previous production team’s success in ripping off classic film and literature, here Baker and Martin turn some of the world’s most enduring stories for inspiration, most notably the Greek myth Jason and the Argonauts. Whilst they may have made their parallels a little too patent for adult viewers – Minyan / Minoan; P7E / Persephone; Jackson / Jason; Orfe / Orpheus et al – the script has an epic sense of scale to it that you’ll struggle to find in many of the Bristol Boys’ other works, allowing them to delve into Time Lord history and examine the origin of their defining non-interference doctrine. What I like most of all though is how the writers use the mythological springboard to leap into some fantastic science fiction ideas: the concept of a ship being buried alive by meteors and, thanks to gravity, eventually attracting enough mass to become a planet is truly inspired, for instance.
The production is also buoyed by
some enticing performances. Tom
Baker and Louise Jameson are
both at the height of their powers
here, and being fed exchanges
like “They eat rock. Processed
rock” / “Did I ever tell you about
the time I went to Blackpool?”
it’s perhaps little wonder. Alan
Lake and Jonathan Newth are
also impressive as Herrick and
Orfe, but sadly the same cannot
be said of those menacing them.
Christine Pollon’s Oracle is “just another machine with megalomania”, and even its guards, who look rather striking, are just another lot of robots when they take their masks off.
Above: Writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin journey Into the Unknown
Of course, troubled stories make for absorbing, dirt-dishing DVD extras, and Underworld is no exception. Tom Baker, Louise Jameson and Bob Baker are more magnanimous than I might have expected in their sparkling commentary track, but the half-hour Into the Unknown documentary is much more… pragmatic. Narrated by Richard Heffer, this feature allows not only the story’s writers, but also script editor Anthony Read; designer Dick Coles; and even late producer Graham Williams (courtesy of archive video footage) to get their candid views across. Needless to say, it makes for fascinating viewing. The disc is then completed with a generous complement of time-coded, greyscale video clips that offer us a glimpse into the harried studio recordings.
Jackson and his men have a mantra – “the Quest is the Quest.” Sadly it’s not quite true. The Quest isn’t the Quest – it’s a cut-price corruption of it that looks so unconvincing that even the most forbearing of Doctor Who fans will struggle to invest in it. Were it not for the odd one-liner from Tom Baker, or having Imogen Bickford-Smith’s Tala to feast my weary eyes upon,
I sincerely doubt that I’d have managed to sit through all four episodes of Underworld again.
I hate to sound like the comic book guy from The Simpsons, but the phrase “worst episode ever” would be apt if one were to just bolt a four to the beginning and an s to the end.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2007, 2011
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
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