THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Nightmare on Eden
BBC
The Underwater Menace

Episodes 4 There's something fishy about Prof. Zaroff.
Story No# 32
Production Code GG
Season 4
Dates Jan. 14, 1967 -
Feb. 4, 1967

With Patrick Troughton, Michael Craze, Anneke Wills, Frazier Hines.
Written by Geoffrey Orme. Script-edited by Gerry Davis.
Directed by Julia Smith. Produced by Innes Lloyd.

Synopsis: A power mad scientist tightens his grip on the people of Atlantis, as he prepares to raise the continent from the ocean floor at the cost of its inhabitants.

Note: Audio recordings and telesnap reconstructions of this story are available at Missing Doctor Who Reconstructions & Audios.


Reviews

Fun, Fun, Fun till Zaroff takes his Octopus away by Andrew Watters 9/2/97

Ok, there are a lot of better missing stories than this one, but if there weren't this wouldn't be remembered as the atrocity many seem to think it is. It would be seen much like The Horns of Nimon or The Gunfighters, a silly adventure never meant to be taken seriously for one second.

While the general population of Atlantis is mainly faceless, the story's villain, the unforgettable Professor Zaroff, is truly what one watches for. His over-the-top attitude is what truly makes this the laugh-fest it is, and easily overshdows the Doctor and his gang who mostly seem to be captured and recaptured during much of the plot.

This is a story meant to be watched with friends, and not too diligently at that. While only one episode remains, it contains the essence of what makes this something special, although not necessary "good". :-) See it for the costumes, Zaroff using Polly as a projectile weapon, Dudley Simpson's score, and most importantly that line of lines "Nozzink is ze vorld can shhhtop me now!"


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 4/3/99

Unsurprisingly, The Underwater Menace isn`t rated very highly by Doctor Who fandom, but when viewed as what it is cliched and over the top, it is actually quite enjoyable. It does succeed as a light-hearted runaround, but there are other points in it`s favour.

The scenes involving Polly about to undergo her operation are quite disturbing, and Dudley Simpson`s score for "The Dance of the Fish People", as featured in the third episode is suitably effective. Another plus should be awarded to the sets which are quite atmospheric.

Most people remember The Underwater Menace for Joseph Furst and his portrayal of the maniacal Zaroff, a character so over the top, he wouldn`t be equalled in this department until the appearance of Soldeed in The Horns of Nimon. Furst overshadows all of the cast by sending up Zaroff, including Patrick Troughton who in this story creates more chaos than normal as the Second Doctor. The remaining cast are bland and uninteresting, with even the companions getting less to do than normal.

The costumes are terrible, with the Fish People coming off worst. Perhaps the worst thing of all is that the surviving third episode of The Underwater Menace is not the best of the four episodes, and as such is a bad representitive of the story. However, it is still worth viewing, if only for the immortal line that closes the episode.


A Review by James Allenby 20/11/00

Armed with my audio and tele-snaps and moved through this story (viewing the existing episode 3 as well). I think that because I only had the audio and 'snaps it made this story very boring to follow. Visually it would have been better I suspect but some scenes where just so terrible to listen to such as the end of episode 1 with the shark in the well. I really couldn't picture what was going on at all. Strangely Jamie seems to have slotted into character very well and apart from a few questions at the beginning easily accepts that he is no longer in Scotland. He and Ben don't have much to do again and instead get put into a mine. OK I suppose they do some thing in the story but Polly does more again. Polly sees more action and the thought of her being turned into a fish is quite chilling actually.

Thinking back there is nothing really THAT memorable about the story. Prof Zaroff is a maniac and I love it when he starts laughing hysterically in episode 1. The fact that he wants to destroy the world just so he can have the pleasure of being the man that did that is insane. The other characters are a little wooden but Sean and Jacko are OK I suppose. As for the Doctor - well by the end of this story he is well developed into the character I am most familiar with. I was also pleased with the bit when he wanted to go back and save Zaroff but Ben wouldn't let him. I can't really say much more about this cause it was very difficult to go through and understand. Not one of my favourites and not as good as the previous two. Oh and just a little note about THAT line...in my opinion Zaroff definately says "Nothing in the world can stop me now" and not "nuzzing in ze vorld can stop me now"...only in my opinion of course:)

6.5/10


Dull and dreary by Tim Roll-Pickering 1/12/01

Based upon the Joint Venture reconstruction of Episodes 1,2 and 4.

The one factor that has always stood in The Underwater Menace's favour for many fans is the fact that only Episode 3 exists and so, like several other Troughton stories, it could be argued that the worst episode survives and has thus given the wrong impression of the story but when viewed in the form of a reconstruction it quickly becomes clear that the entire story is as dire as it is so often made out to be.

It was perhaps inevitable that the Doctor would one day discover the legendary city of Atlantis. Atlantis has been done to death throughout fantasy and Doctor Who's visit there contains the usual clich?of inhabitants who can live underwater. The Fish People are no doubt a good idea but they have virtually nothing to do in the story and they are let down by the fact that several of them are clearly people in rubber suits and it's not clear if they are only part way through the conversion process or the result of the money running out. Elsewhere the portrayal of Atlantis suffers terribly from the limited resources available and so the whole production has the feeling of a cheap movie made on the quick. The sets fail to give the impression of the legendary city under the sea.

The script is poor as well, combining the clich?of Atlantis with the clich?of a mad scientist. None of the characters are believable and the lack of an explanation of Zaroff's motive results in the character coming across as ridiculous. The idea of a threat to the very existence of Earth may be a good one, but such a threat completely fails to grab the viewer when it is presented as coming from a lost civilisation that could easily be on another planet for all it's worth.

Ironically the one enjoyable performance in the entire story is Joseph Furst, who wisely plays Zaroff as a mad scientist, and the infamous "Nothing in the world can stop me now!" actually comes across quite well - here is a madman who is completely convinced of his own success. Were the rest of the story working well then this cliffhanger would be thought of far more fondly. However as it stands it is the only moment that is ever remembered from a dull and dreary story. 1/10

This reconstruction is a standard one, combining the audio track with telesnaps and surviving footage to convey the story. It benefits from the captions and the strong picture quality that the Joint Venture team provide but like many telesnap reconstructions it does not stand out in itself. 8/10


A load of fishy nonsense! by Joe Ford 3/5/06

The most surprising thing about The Underwater Menace is its appalling reputation. This is hardly one of the worst Doctor Who stories ever, it's not even the worst story of season four (that belongs to the horribly dull The Faceless Ones) and taken as a whole (I listened to the audio of episodes one, two and four with Anneke Wills' excellent narration with the aid of telesnaps from DWM and of course I watched the infamous episode three on DVD) it is actually a great deal of fun. Of course it is impossible to take the thing seriously for a million and one reasons but it has some effective moments and the story flows along nicely and (surprisingly considering how cheap this story is known for) there are some lovely visuals too. I kid you not. I put off listening to this BBC audio for quite some time and only surrendered when I was so bored one day there was no other options.

Most terrifying of all is Joseph Furst's stratospheric performance as the evil and misguided Professor Zarroff. Isn't he great? Finally a villain who is bad because he just totally around the twist, a Master before his time and just like the Doctor's arch fiend his motives are just as crazy. He wants to destroy the entire world (and Atlantis)... just because! Why not? It would make him the most amazing scientist in the world to achieve such a feat... although he doesn't seem to realise he himself will be destroyed along with everyone else because he... is on the Earth himself! Furst plays the part as OTT as it is possible to get, screaming like a loony, brandishing guns in as camp a fashion as possible and laughing like a totally loon even when he is in real trouble. His eventual fate is a shame, drowning along with Atlantis as this denies us a re-match with this most memorable of baddies. A mad scientist with a big bad octopus as a pet who wants to blow up the entire world for a laugh... what a guy!

Setting a story in Atlantis is always a dubious idea but they manage to pull it off with a reasonable amount of style, certainly with more effort than the Doctor's next visit to the esteemed lost city, The Time Monster. I quite like the sets overall even if they are a bit cramped in places. Especially good are the fish people tank which helps to convince this is underwater (whilst they do their crazy underwater ballet you can actually see water bubbles floating towards the surface) and the temple of Amdo, which is full of echoes and full of shadows and pretty creepy. Even the marketplace with its stalls, springs and a host of extras is pretty good. Most distracting of all is the horrific incidental music, which accompanies the story. It sounds like it has been performed by some mad, drunk Australian on a kazoo! It is really distracting in places plink, plink, plonking its way through the marketplace and the fish person dance... you can squeeze your buttocks together and let rip some delicious farts that sound just like it! Hardly good for building up the atmosphere, the music I fear does contribute to this story's silly reputation.

The regulars however all come across very well, including Patrick Troughton who is still clearly finding his feet at this stage. It would be in the next two stories, The Moonbase and The Macra Terror where you would see Troughton finally settle and become the dangerous little imp he would always be known as, but there are strong signs of that here too; it's just the script doesn't let him play to all his strengths. He gets to fight the system as always but he is still a little muted, still dressing up in silly costumes (I'm glad this was dropped... although his old woman gypsy persona is probably his best yet!) and still holding back from really letting rip on the bad guys. Still his scenes with Zarroff are a delight, pampering to the nutter's ego and then trying to foil his schemes however possible. I love his attempts to go back and save Zarroff at the end, that feels very right and his boasting at the end that of course he can control the TARDIS before it spirals madly out of control is classic Troughton clowning.

In a story packed with companions somebody has to be left out and this time it is Jamie, who was never supposed to be included anyway and was added to the script at a late stage. Who cares, he looks damn hot in divers' gear so I'll forgive him anything. Polly finally succumbs to the helpless screamer state the 60's demand of its female companions (she has been surprisingly resistant until this point) and wails and moans as scientists surround her and attempt to turn her into a fish person. I love it when she dresses up later and gets in on all the fun of chasing around and getting tricked by Zarroff, it is proof of how good the combination of her and Ben was before they were abruptly written out.

As for Ben, what can one say? What a babe. If there was ever a TARDIS crew I would like to dive into naked... oh sorry, distracted for a second. Ben is cool, a mouthy cockney years before Rose, a muscle brain who is fiercely loyal... there really isn't much to not like about Ben. Michael Craze seems to be aware of how absurd the script is but still gives 100% and gets a fab moment when he pretends to be the false God Amdo. He dresses up too, so they are all in the fancy dress mood in this one!

Most of the other guest performances are pretty subdued but then any acting would seem mild-mannered next to Furst's! You get a nice turn from Noel Johnson, Tom Watson and Catherine Howe as Leader, High Priest and Slave... all trying their hardest to salvage some dignity from the absurd script and lend some believability to Atlantis. They don't really succeed but all praise for their efforts.

Did director Julia Smith (creator of Eastenders and this... ooh she's got a lot to answer for!) fall asleep during the production and let her actors just carry on? There are a number of hilariously bad sequences that never fail to make me chuckle! What about when Zarroff pretends to be dying and asks is he can be helped up by his captor Ramo so he can "feel the goodness of his aura!" and then he subsequently spears him to death! Or Zarrof's mad laughing through the caves as he drags Polly along to be his hostage? Or best of all, his "You are a fool! You are a fool!" madman speech at the end of episode three climaxing with (well it had to get mentioned sooner or later) "Nothing in the world can stop me now!" In fact all the rubbishy scenes involve Zarroff in one way or another but considering he is so damn likable because of it I cannot bring it upon myself to condemn the story.

And the script? Who on Earth would write a story containing Atlantis, an Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman, a cross-dressing Doctor, Fish People, a mad sacrificing cult and a big camp scheme to blow up the world? What was Geoffrey Orme on and can I have some please? Ridiculously fun throughout and played mostly tongue-in-cheek so you don't die of embarrassment whilst watching/listening, The Underwater Menace is a pretty silly story in a time when Doctor Who was consistently good. Saying that, it's never boring and has some scenes in it that you will never forget the rest of your life. Just don't go into it expecting a masterpiece of drama and you may just have a lot of fun with it.


A Review by Finn Clark 19/8/06

The Underwater Menace's surviving episode blew my mind. Half the time it's a solid piece of 1960s television, e.g. whenever the ruler of Atlantis gets screen time, decent sets, striking fish people, etc. However everything turns to panto the moment Zaroff hits the screen with his anti-Midas touch. I thought only the Graham Williams era had performances like that! Amazingly he's not even the worst offender, although he's certainly the most eye-catching. Rotten eggs must be reserved for the scriptwriter and Mr "Bwahahahaha, You Must Be Kidding, Please Tell Me That's Not Meant To Be An Irish Accent".

However it's tremendously entertaining. By the time we reach his "Nozzink in ze vurld can shtop me now", Joseph Furst has roared so far over the top that he's up there with Graham Crowden from Horns of Nimon. I glowed in admiration. It was like watching Gene Wilder, except that this isn't meant to be parody. There's even a physical resemblance, especially with that Young Frankenstein hair. Now I'm trying to imagine a Mel Brooks spoof of 1960s BBC TV and I'm not sure that in all departments he'd have necessarily gone this far. All this kills stone dead any chance of taking seriously Zaroff's scenes, but once you've got into the right (i.e. wrong) frame of mind he's wonderfully watchable. However then he'll get a scene opposite King Thous and your brain will splatter from your ears like a frog under a steamroller. I've never seen a scene whose two actors have such completely opposing ideas about what kind of show they're in. Noel Johnson as Thous is giving a proper performance, while Joseph Furst is high as a kite on Cloud Zaroff with an accent so silly that even he loses track of it from time to time.

Nevertheless as I've said, Zaroff is merely the most eye-catching of this production's quirks. Arguably his outrageous performance is even successful. Accent, schmaccent. It may be ridiculous and inconsistent, but despite first impressions it's not the worst in Doctor Who. It's not even the worst in this episode. Let's name and shame... P.G. Stephens as Sean ("I'm Irish, begorrah, did I mention that I'm Irish?") is so shocking that he's hilarious. I can defend Furst, but Stephens is just plain bad. We're talking "connoisseurs of badness" bad. Yet again forcing a Doctor Who actor to do an accent seems to kill all acting ability, although in fairness the script saddles him with some shuddersome lines:

JACKO: What is it?
SEAN: How would I know, but it certainly isn't closing time at Betty Murphy's pub.
Ooooh, that's a classic. It might even hit the Mel Brooks Limit, which if so deserves some kind of award. However with other characters I rather like Geoffrey Orme's playfulness with vernacular (e.g. Ben's "Polly, you speak foreign") and light touch with Troughton's Doctor. He gets lots of "look how clever I am" opportunities to display his encyclopediac knowledge at the beginning, after which it's interesting to see Polly trumping him with her Mexico Olympiad pot. It's like one of his duels with Zoe, except that for once it's Troughton with the super-trained intellect and the weapon that lays him low is simple common sense. He gets quite a few nice lines. It's not a bad vehicle for Troughton's Doctor, especially in only his third story.

The plot is trash, with this time even the villain getting captured and escaping. I laughed and laughed. The script gives us early warning with "The living goddess Amdo sees and hears all" after which even the dimmest viewer knows where all this is heading. This is going to be rubbish, isn't it? Yup, sure is. Part four even gives us The Moral Of The Story... "No. No more temples. It was temples and priests and superstition that made us follow Zaroff in the first place. When the water's found its own level, the temple will be buried forever. We shall never return to it. But we will have enough left to build a new Atlantis, without gods, and without fish people." This is one of the earliest (and clunkiest) examples of Doctor Who's usual religious message, i.e. that religion makes you gullible, dumb and probably dead if you don't hurry up and see the enlightenment of atheism.

Of course it could have been worse. This could have been a six-parter and we'd have all had to take our own lives.

There are some genuinely impressive production values, once you've wrenched your brain to the level of appreciating Tuppence-Halfpenny Sixties Gibberish. I like the fish people, which not only look creepy but are the story's sole interesting idea. Episode one gets nasty when Polly's about to have the operation to become a fish person. Also the underwater sequence is so good that's it's probably the reason part three survived, despite the obvious Kirby wire. The recovered censor clips look fun too. God bless New Zealand... or was it Australia? Heck, bless 'em both.

Somehow this story has acquired the label of the "Doctor Who equivalent of Plan 9 From Outer Space". There's enough here that's genuinely good (e.g. Noel Johnson) for that not to be entirely fair, but there's also enough hilarious badness to suggest the wearing of your Ed Wood head. Nevertheless Troughton's a hoot, especially his hilarious dodginess in sunglasses. Zaroff achieves a demented grandeur and the story's only real problem as entertainment is the plodding predictability of its scripts. This story was in development limbo for over a year and only got produced in the end when William Emms's The Imps fell through. I can't say I'm surprised. It's bollocks, but it's fun.


By the All-Beating Heart of Living Atlantis! by Neil Clarke

What a blast! Just re-watched the surviving episode on the Lost in Time DVD. Yes, obviously it's shite, but to see it that way would be missing the point; there's absolutely nothing offensive here, and it certainly has some life to it! As other and better reviewers have stated, certainly not a contender for "Worst. Story. Ever." by a long shot. I'd take this absurd comic-book runaround over drearies like The Three Doctors, The Face of Evil, Planet of Fire, etc any day. (And that's deliberately choosing stories that aren't necessarily universally derided; I've tried my best to avoid ever watching the Underworlds and Mutants of the series. Jesus, even the titles are dull!)

I guess though the fact that this essentially harmless piece of fluff is singled out as super-bad at least shows how extreme its excesses are - but even this is in its favour as far as I'm concerned; by comparison, all those other stories are too mediocre to even bother hating!

What to say, then? The Underwater Menace is fucking fun! That about covers it. It's set in ATLANTIS, for god's sake. That's absurd enough to get me on side for starters, but it gets better: the bushy eyebrows! Why? Never mind, here come the crap stereotypes, psychotic music and gypsy Doctor! (I love how rascally Troughton looks when he leaves his piratical gold hoop on.) All this AND Ben in rubber!

Not only do I concur with the above Mr Joe Ford's thoughts on the skinny Cockney charmer, I have to agree that Furst's Zaroff is also fantastic value for money (though for different reasons, I stress!). I love when the king gives him his, "You're fucking nuts!" look, but just says, "Oh, nothing...". Zaroff even kills people with harpoons. Somebody bring this guy back!

All his overblown dialogue is fab (pointedly ignoring that line; though not that well, obviously), but the Zaroff scene that tickled me most was when someone declaims the line, "May the wrath of Amdo engulf you!" at him, but he just replies with a contemptuously dismissive "I'll take my chances - get out!", looking like he wants to give them the finger. I think it's the smug self-confidence of his lunacy that makes him so entertaining... In that respect, he's a surprisingly effective flipside to the Doctor.

It's not particularly in evidence on this site, but the general po-faced response to a story which so clearly doesn't warrant (any) deep analytic study is just depressing. Everyone always bangs on about how Doctor Who is all about diversity - and, yes, it should be - so the assumption that this is automatically crap or "worthless", just because it's a lightweight story strikes me as slightly ridiculous. It's not so much a case of this being crap, just that it goes into a tongue-in-cheek area of B-movie absurdities, more so than is the norm in Doctor Who - whereas, say, Death to the Daleks or Earthshock try to be "better" than that (ie, slightly less hackneyed), but they end up worse because they're flat and tedious (in my personal opinion, but you get the point).

Blast. I've been infected by fandom's propensity for overanalysis! All I wanted to say was that this episode was a gigglesome (um) way to spend 25 precious minutes. How grim that I've felt the need to justify such an inconsequential opinion to death! Well, that took the fun out of things. Maybe I'll go and watch it again.


A Review by Brian May 5/8/09

The Underwater Menace doesn't have a good reputation in most Doctor Who circles, considered one of the worst stories of all time. It's a credit to the open minds and differences of opinion you get on the DWRG that the majority of reviewers above have a soft spot for it, or accept it as "so bad it's good" kitsch. Unfortunately, I'm not able to concur; I've previously defended The Keys of Marinus, The Mutants and The Creature From the Pit, but I'm afraid I'm going to have to side with the establishment this time.

This is boring, poorly scripted and shoddily produced. There's lots of padding, especially for a four-parter, including a dull climax and one of the worst instances of "getting past the guards" ever. In fact, there are only two moments of merit. First, the opening scene in the TARDIS, with the time travellers nicely interacting with each other before materialising. The second is the closing scene: in the TARDIS, the time travellers nicely interacting with each other after dematerialising. Don't bother with the rest. The acting ranges from indifferent to awful. Apart from these TARDIS scenes the regulars don't seem too happy and give performances reflecting this, with only Michael Craze making any sort of effort. Noel Johnson (Thous) looks embarrassed to be there, delivering his hackneyed lines with little care or enthusiasm - and, given his excellent effort in Invasion of the Dinosaurs, it's evident he can act when given half-decent material to work with.

I must admit, I liked Peter Stephens as Lolem. He's way too camp for a priest, but the actor seems resigned to his contractual fate and so decides to have some fun. His speech about the sacrifices disappearing is wonderfully hammy, but at the same time restrained (so that makes three worthwhile moments). On the other hand, Joseph Furst is absolutely dreadful as Zaroff. True, the character is a walking cliche, but Furst is just so over the top. At no point is he capable of delivering any dialogue convincingly. His most infamous moment has unfortunately been preserved for all to see, bringing the only existing episode to a close.

Ah, episode three! Held by the BBC when so many others were consigned to the scrap heap. The episode that thrusts the story from poor to truly ghastly territory. Everything that's already wrong is augmented here. For example, Dudley Simpson's annoying organ-dominated score. In the other episodes it's kept to a minimum; here, it breaks out into a cacophony of flatulent, free-form muzak, especially so during the Fish People's... whatever it is the Fish People get up to in a scene that's truly diabolical. For almost two minutes, we're subjected to people in bad fish costumes hanging from Kirby wires performing some bizarre interpretative dance. That this scene was allowed to be shot in the first place indicates the director was just as apathetic as the actors. Other moments from the episode back this up: the kidnap of Zaroff and his various escape attempts are dreadfully executed.

Now, to be fair, I understand this was hastily put together after the William Emms' story The Imps fell through. But it wasn't simply started from scratch. The original script had been shelved and subsequently revived. The horrible truth is that it had been conceptualised, written, submitted and accepted in the first place!

This adventure has been dubbed the Doctor Who equivalent of Plan 9 From Outer Space, which somehow means it's so bad it's good. I'm sorry, but I don't buy that. The Ed Wood film is so bad it's bad; I cannot believe it has such a cult following. The Underwater Menace is similarly poor; there's no kitsch value to make it enjoyable and the only available instalment is awful. 1/10