The Underwater Menace

This story is not known to exist in its original format
(4 black-and-white 25-minute TV episodes)
in its entirety.
Region 1 U.S.

NEW for
2016 May 24
Region 1 Canada

NEW for
2016 May 24
Region 2 U.K.

NEW for
2015 Oct. 26!
(Doctor Who Story No. 32, starring Patrick Troughton)
  • written by Geoffrey Orme
  • directed by Julia Smith
  • produced by Innes Lloyd
  • music by Dudley Simpson
  • 4 episodes @ 25 minutes each
Story: The TARDIS lands on a volcanic island, and the Doctor, Ben, Polly, and Jamie discover a way down to a ritualistic and ancient underwater society. Have they discovered Atlantis? Who is the mad scientist Professor Zaroff, and why does the underwater society allow him to create fish people? Will Atlantis rise again? Or what is Zaroff's ultimate experiment really going to do?

DVD Features include:

  • Two digitally remastered complete original episodes (#2 & 3)
  • Sub-standard "Telesnap" recreations of episodes 1 & 4 using the original TV audio over a VERY BASIC montage of still images.
  • Full-motion censor clips from episodes 1 & 4 (1 min. total)
  • Plus extra features:
    • Audio commentary for episodes 2 & 3 by actors Frazer Hines (Jamie), Anneke Wills (Polly), Catherine Howe (Ara),
      sound designer Brian Hodgson, and floor assistant Quentin Mann.
    • Audio commentary for episode 1 by Patrick Troughton's son Michael.
    • Audio commentary for episode 4 using interviews of Patrick Troughton (The Doctor), producer Innes Lloyd, and
      directors Julia Smith (this story) and Hugh David (the previous story). Moderated and linked by Toby Hadoke.
    • "A Fishy Tale" making-of featurette (28 min.) with Hines, Wills, Howe, assistant floor manager Gareth Gwelan,
      production assistant Berry Butler, and new series writer Robert Shearman. Narrated by Peter Davison (the 5th Doctor).
    • "The Television Centre of the Universe" featurette - part two (32 min.) with Davison, Janet Fielding, Mark Strickson,
      senior camera supervisor Alec Wheal, costume designer Odile Dicks-Mireaux, assistant floor manager Sue Hedden,
      production assistant Jane Ashford, and others...
      (Part One of this featurette can be found on "The Visitation" special edition DVD.)
    • Photo Gallery music and sound effects montage (2 min.)

In-Depth Analysis Review

by Martin Izsak

WARNING: This review contains "SPOILERS", and is intended for those who have
already seen the program. To avoid the spoilers, read the Buyers' Guide version instead.

The real question for this story is whether or not it deserves the label of being Patrick Troughton's worst. Where it fails most is in the character department - everybody becomes a cardboard cut-out, although at least the series regulars have some history behind them to lend weight to their traits.

The story is more "James Bond" than anything from the Jon Pertwee Era by far. A mad scientist living in a volcano decides to blow up the world for no good reason, other than that he thinks it will be a remarkable scientific achievement..... for no good scientific reason. He also lives amongst a colony of blind followers, half of them human (physically, anyway), and half of them "Homo Amphibian". And it seems that only the Doctor and his friends can stop him, by escaping a number of death-defying traps, assuming a few false identities, and using a few bluffs. "The Underwater Menace" also manages to be as thin on character as the worst of the James Bond films, which is something the warm and friendly Pertwee Era team thankfully never stooped to.

Some of the best bits include Jamie's acclimatization to time travel, and it appears that the TARDIS was done every justice here. However, once the exploration of the volcano gets underway, it takes FOREVER for this story to get started. Nothing seems to happen that creates any sense of anticipation for things to come in the adventure. Dead End City, again and again. The Doctor makes a big to-do about telling the chief scientist Zaroff something important. But when push comes to shove, it turns out that Geoffrey Orme's imagination can come up with nothing for the Doctor to say. This is really lame. Much of the dialogue feels unfinished, like temporary placeholders objectively stating the general dynamic that the writer wants for each section of the story, while no attempt had yet been made to allow the characters to subjectively inhabit these dynamics.

Dudley Simpson created some very atmospheric music with a male vocal choir for the religious sacrifice scene in episode one, which seems to have been shot in a very visually interesting way - I'm impressed. However, this barely makes up for the lack of motivation in the story at this point. Things finally begin to pick up as the Doctor explores the scientific concepts of the story with Zaroff, including the introduction of the Fish People and the process that creates them.

This story gets quite lost in the middle, with characters running around everywhere accomplishing Who only knows what. Simpson's music is equally lost, as he cheaply mucks around on some primitive synthesizer organ in an irritating fashion that depletes the drama.

For many years, many fans judged this story from its one remaining episode, number three. Perhaps this one was saved for the feature sequences of Fish People swimming about. In terms of story, this is meant to show their activities as they go on strike, though what this actually does for the plot is not clear, and probably wouldn't accomplish anything if one takes the time to really think it through. Simpson's music during this sequence is certainly nothing to write home about either. Pat Troughton's disguise as a sun-glassed gypsy in the market is much more entertaining. What, if anything, the disguise has to do with the plot, I couldn't tell you either.

Music by Dudley Simpson:
The Fish People (0:37)
is available on:
Audio CD -
Doctor Who at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop - Volume 1:
The Early Years 1963-1969

Find out more here.

However, we are now lucky enough to have the second episode of this story as well, which was executed with a slightly higher degree of finesse. This is an episode that allows us to get a better sense of who the characters are and what they are concerned about, which in turn helps inform much of the more aimless shenanigans of episode three. Even then, many elements of plot just aren't worked out very well at all. Cast, crew, and fan analyzer Robert Shearman seem to want to highlight some redeeming elements of the tale on the extras, but I'm not sure I'd agree with them, particularly concerning where and when Patrick Troughton really found "his" Doctor performance-wise. Let's not forget what he accomplished in the two stories previous, even if we can't actually view anything much of them at this time. At any rate, episodes two and four appear to be the better ones of this tale, while one and three are somewhat more definitively the stinkers.

Indeed, episode three's cliffhanger is the most anti-climactic piece of idiocy I can ever remember. The acting is bone dry, the action relies on the sound which is cheap, empty, and repetitive, and we are left with no music at all to help build the suspense. In this lack of atmosphere, Zaroff hams us with the line that has become infamous as the epithet of both his character and the story in general: "Nossing in ze vorld vill shtop me now!" Even my misspellings above do the line more justice than the poor actor playing Zaroff, who does not effectively come across as a mad scientist, or a person with a thick Polish/East-European accent. Certainly the script is nothing great, but other directors have often made more suspense out of less substance in adventures past and future.

Surprisingly, the final episode does improve. The reason is simple: the conflict moves away from Man vs. Man, which doesn't have the characters to support it, and becomes Man vs. Nature. The final confrontation with Zaroff does not revolve around dialogue; instead it revolves around characters attempting to reach through a set of bars to get at each other and the main controls. Most of the characters are busily trying to escape the mass flooding of the volcano, and finally the plot becomes simple enough for Geoffrey Orme to make it work. Lame music is once again with us at the beginning of the episode, but it wisely leaves us again to let a montage of sound effects take over and give the flood a strong sense of power. The flood isn't good or evil in any artificial way, it simply is, and you'd better move yourself out of its reach before you simply aren't!

The morality attempted as a rush-through at the end is not impressive, but the wrap up is otherwise okay, and the final scene in the TARDIS gives us a good lead-in to the adventure yet to come.....

I think the Restoration Team has successfully deflected most of the flak for the disappointingly basic recreations of episodes 1 and 4 back onto the "powers that be" who gave them such a strict brief. But I'm left wondering, if they had disobeyed the brief, at no extra cost, and with no delay in turn-around, what could the "powers that be" possibly have done about it other than eat crow? The idiotic brief deserved to be challenged, at least to the point where someone could explain WHY it was what it was.

Personally, I don't have a problem with looking at a still photo of a scene for a minute-and-a-half while the soundtrack plays. The photos look better than I've ever seen them before, and the sound is additionally crisp and understandable. I actually prefer having the photos fill the full frame as they do here, rather than having them as framed insets with some bizarre moving backgrounds in behind. However, had I been in charge of this recreation, nossing in ze world vould shtop me from putting on a proper title and credit sequence, and using the existing full motion video clips where they fit. That much could not ever be negotiable with me by inexplicably idiotic briefs. And I'd flip back to a previous photo if, say, the scene changed to another location, and it was the best available option. The stricture on the end product looks additionally silly when zooms on the telesnap photos can occur in the "making-of" but not in the episode recreation, or when full motion shots of the sea can be used during the credits for the recreation team, but not during the actual episode. In the end, this story is lucky to get a serviceable DVD for itself while many other better incomplete 1960's Doctor Who stories may not, but it's not quite as "proper" as what most other DVD's in the range have been able to achieve.

"The Underwater Menace" is definitely a contender for the worst Pat Troughton story, but it does find equally unhealthy competition from "The Highlanders" (the previous story, which also starts boringly but ends well), and a few other stories further on.....

....on final analysis, however, "The Highlanders" has many healthy production values and watchable/listenable characters evident from the soundtrack to boost its rating, while the added clarity and visuals of this story's third episode on video only serve to keep it firmly mired at the bottom. The Wooden Turkey Award for the season's worst story hovers overhead, preparing to make an underwater nest..... And I think even after the DVD has lifted the rest of the story into the light, I can still say that I enjoy every other Doctor Who story that Patrick Troughton was in more than I enjoy this one.

International Titles:

Magyar: "A víz alatti fenyegetés"

Français: (La Menace Sous-marine)

Русский: "Подводная угроза"

This story is not known to exist in its original format (4 black-and-white 25-minute TV episodes) in its entirety.

The existing episodes from this story (#2 & 3) are now available on DVD,
with EXTREMELY BASIC "telesnap" reconstructions of episodes 1 & 4.
This is the first ever commercial release for the recently recovered episode 2.

Region 1 U.S.

NEW for
2016 May 24
Region 1 Canada

NEW for
2016 May 24
Region 2 U.K.

NEW for
2015 Oct. 26!

See top of page for a full listing of DVD bonus features.

Doctor Who: Lost in Time - Patrick Troughton
2 DVD discs

(also included in Lost in Time Boxed Sets)

Coverage on The Underwater Menace includes:

  • Episode 3
  • censor clips from episodes 1, 2 & 4 (1 min.)
More details & buying options for "Lost in Time" DVD's
Audio CD - Doctor Who - The Underwater Menace.

This audio CD set features the complete audio tracks of all 4 television episodes of this story, narrated by actress Anneke Wills (who also played Polly) to help listeners follow what used to be visual aspects of the story. This version is playable in any normal audio CD player.
Doctor Who: The Missing Years bonus tape.

This tape was included with different packages for the North American and European markets. More details...

Coverage on The Underwater Menace includes:
  • One complete episode:
    • Episode 3
  • Sensor clips incorporated into "The Missing Years" documentary.
More details & buying options for missing episode VHS videos
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Read the In-depth Analysis Review for the next story: "The Moonbase"

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