Monday, 26 October 2015

The Underwater Menace DVD review

To conclude our eventful journey we can finally present a review of the 1967 story 'The Underwater Menace' released to DVD today. Episode 3 had been released in 2004 but when the second episode was returned to the BBC in 2011 fans were excited to see an episode thought lost forever. Episodes 2 and 3 received treatment from the Restoration Team and Anneke Wills confirmed that an audio commentary and documentary had been recorded. The DVD was scheduled for release in late 2013 but was pushed back until the following year, then to 2015. Animations to recreate the missing Episodes 1 and 4 were to come once again from Quiros but the company was liquidated and as a result the entire DVD release was cancelled. An online petition gained over 2,750 signatures imploring BBC Worldwide to release the story and unexpectedly in September BBC Shop listed the title as available to preorder. Now fans finally have it in their hands but was it worth the wait?

The Story
The Underwater Menace was the third story of Patrick Troughton's tenure as the Doctor and presents us with the earliest surviving episode of his era. Quite rightly, attention should be drawn to Troughton's magnificent performance. Still experimenting with the role, he begins with some early bumbling, but when presented with the maniacal Professor Zaroff he becomes much more measured, his seriousness elevating the sense of danger and threat. In contrast, Zaroff, played by Joseph Furst, is an over the top cartoon villain cliché. There is none of the subtlety of a Tobias Vaughan (The Invasion), just a barmy maniac. For example, the drama of the cold blooded murder of two innocent people is immediately negated by the infamous "nothing in the world can stop me now."

Another memorable aspect of the story is the Fish People, humans surgically given gills to breathe under water, providing the cliffhanger to Episode 1. Anneke Wills struggles to act terrified when menaced for an excruciatingly long cliffhanger recap but within that there is the potential for a dark and grim tale of body horror akin to a 1980's horror movie. Unfortunately the results are dressed with bathing caps and googly eyes, a sign of the incredible challenge this story must have been to the production team.

As an adventure it moves along quite quickly and even though Frazer Hines' Jamie has been shoehorned into the script. Having joined suddenly in the previous story, he doesn't feel like an interloper to the action. This is perhaps a credit to the strong trio of characters that make up the companions and it is nice to see a friendship ignite immediately.

For all its failings The Underwater Menace is unlike any other Doctor Who story before or since; a peculiar adventure with goddess worshiping, miners and fish people beneath clashing accents and unique incidental music.

The DVD
Episodes 1 and 4 are visualised by a few telesnaps, creating long gaps with no change in the visuals, but viewers can at least rely on the remastered audio making it easier to follow what is happening. The second part of an interview with Michael Troughton - son of Patrick - accompanies Episode 1, discussing how the continuous production schedule exhausted his father, making him difficult to work with and how he had been approached with scripts written for William Hartnell. Actors Anneke Wills, Frazer Hines and Catherine Howe (Ara) are joined by Brian Hodgson (Special Sounds Supervisor) and Floor Assistant (Quentin Mann) to commentate on Episodes 2 and 3. This staple of the DVD range once again provides enjoyable conversation, insight and memories from those involved in the production. Additional archive material concludes the story's final episode with audio interview clips from Directors Julia Smith and Hugh David, plus Producer Innes Lloyd. A fantastic conclusion to the tale is a previously unheard interview with Patrick Troughton himself, delighting in the work of his predecessor, confirming his companions refusal to appear with him wearing a wig and the phasing out of the stovepipe hat.

Bonus Features
A Fishy Tale - Fascinating insights into a production are always found in the stories that fail to live up to their potential. This one is a perfect example. Troughton's derogatory thoughts on the script and potential director Hugh David's evasion speak volumes. Cast and crew attempt to convince, largely unsuccessfully, that the fish people were effective and other discussion is made on the sets and peculiar eyebrows. It is difficult with a story over 45 years old to get detailed recollections but those offered are thoughtful and a relief to have been recorded.

The Television Centre of the Universe - The second part of this documentary is a welcome feature for those anticipating it would not have been released. It is by no means the definitive discussion on an iconic building but it is fitting that on the last DVD release, one of the key locations, where so much of Doctor Who was created, is acknowledged and celebrated. The real gem is unearthed studio footage from the production of Earthshock including a fantastic exchange between Beryl Reid and director Peter Grimwade.

Also included are two short censor clips, which would've been nice slotted into the episodes themselves, and a short monochrome photo gallery.

Sadly, this is the end of an era. The last classic era Doctor Who DVD release - subject to fresh discoveries of missing episodes - a range which not only brought us all the episodes in the best available quality, but became a historical record of television production. Despite the faults of this particular story, the lack of animated missing episodes and no production subtitles or coming soon trailer, for those of us who didn't watch the story on broadcast it is new classic Doctor Who and that in itself is priceless. 10/10