So here it is. Barring any unexpected missing episode recoveries, The Underwater Menace, the third serial from the era of second Doctor Patrick Troughton, is likely to be the last BBC DVD release from the ‘classic series’ range. On-again/off-again more often than a wedding in a soap opera, the DVD finally limps out following a BBC turnabout (it was officially finally cancelled as recently as June) in the face of considerable fan pressure to get these last episodes (especially episode two, recovered a couple of years ago and now finally surfacing restored and scrubbed up) released. Fans will, of course, be pleased to finally plug that gap in their collections (well, apart from all those other currently unpluggable gaps) even though only half the story actually exists and, as 1960s Doctor Who goes, The Underwater Menace really isn’t much cop.
The recovered second episode, however, does serve to rehabilitate the serial’s cheesy reputation, thanks to a sterling performance from Patrick Troughton, rising way above often lamentable material and indulging in lots of quirky visual business previously-available audio recordings obviously haven’t been able to depict. The story sees the recently-regenerated Doctor and his chums – Polly, Ben and the newly-recruited Jamie (standing room only in the TARDIS at this point in Doctor Who history) arrive on an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. The island is actually a gateway to the long-lost fabled city of Atlantis which is alive and well under the sea and home to a bunch of religious fanatics in silly hats, unfeasible fish people and the mad, bad Professor Zaroff (Joseph Furst) who has promised to raise Atlantis from the sea bed but secretly plots to drain the Earth’s oceans into its molten core, splitting the planet apart. Why? Well, why not? It’s a cast-iron plan; as Zaroff famously rages at the end of episode three “Nothing in ze world can stop me now!” This is the stuff of Doctor Who legend.
The missing first and last episodes of the serial are represented by images taken from the TV at the time of the story’s transmission by enterprising historian John Cura and whilst they’re obviously not of the standard of previous reconstructions or animations of missing episodes (the BBC wanted to get this disc out as quickly and cheaply as possible) they just about do the job and help fill in the visual gaps in the narrative. Some images stay on screen an age as the action rattles on in the episode but the selection of stills is decent and comprehensive enough and whilst watching reconstructions is a necessary evil they do at least help tell the story and are fluid enough to rub alongside the surviving two episodes.
It’s tacky, cheap and unsubtle but The Underwater Menace at least gives us a little bit more of Patrick Troughton’s very peculiar Doctor Who magic and if the story itself isn’t specially distinguished – and it really isn’t – Troughton, as ever, is a joy to behold and he’s well supported here by ‘to Hell with it’ performances by his fellow regulars and a gung-ho supporting cast which includes Colin Jeavons and Catherine Howe. Decent special features include a mix of commentary/interview options, a standard thirty-minute ‘Fishy Tale’ ‘making of’ largely led by Anneke Wills’ memories of the serial as well as new framing material shot on the story’s original location and part two of the 2013 TV Centre feature which sees 1980’s Who team Peter Davison, Janet Fielding and Mark Strickson, guided by Yvette Fielding, continue their memory lane tour of BBC TV centre, at the time slowly winding down, now shamefully being demolished. It’s nothing to do with The Underwater Menace but Davison and co, as ever, are full of cheery anecdotes, aided by behind-the-scenes crew such as senior cameraman Alec Wheal and AFM Sue Hedden and writer/producer Richard Marson. Not exactly a stand-out release to finally sign off on the ‘classic’ series on DVD, but one which is sure to find favour with those who have been clamouring for its release for so long.
Special Features: Commentaries / Interviews / A Fishy Tale / The Television Centre of the Universe Part 2 / Censor clips
DOCTOR WHO – THE UNDERWATER MENACE / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: JULIA SMITH / SCREENPLAY: GEOFFREY ORME / STARRING: PATRICK TROUGHTON, ANNEKE WILLS, MICHAEL CRAZE, FRAZER HINES, JOSEPH FURST / RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 26TH