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Category:    Home > Reviews > Science Fiction > Action > Adventure > Time Travel > British TV > Doctor Who – Underworld (Tom Baker/BBC DVD)

Doctor Who – Underworld (Tom Baker/BBC DVD)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: D     Episodes: C



It is said that the reason a cliché is a cliché is the core of essential truth that is in each and every one.  So it is, to the great distress of many a Doctor Who fan, that what goes around comes around, indeed.  Currently, the series is in something of a new golden age, with 3 sensational doctors in a row: Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, and Matthew Smith.  All seems alive, well, and hardly in danger of disappearing anytime soon.  Why, then, does it come at least as a bit of surprise to hear that a Neil Gaiman penned episode, originally slated for late in Season 5 of the new series, currently running, has been postponed to the beginning of Season 6 because of that old bugbear, cost over runs?


Really it shouldn’t be a surprise at all. Miniscule production budgets have plagued Doctor Who since William Hartnell first stepped onto a soundstage.   In fact, this huge drawback has often been translated into a strength; scripting became paramount and campiness became that strength.  Who fans gloried in its limitations. Occasionally, however, the drawback of production woes overwhelmed story arcs.


This is, sadly, exactly the case with Underworld, the next to last episode of season 15 in a year when worldwide inflation wrecked havoc with BBC budgets.  Interviews in the “making of” extra, “Into the Unknown,” make this glaringly apparent, though even a casual fan can tell that all was not well simply viewing the result.


The plot is a fairly typical Who story which might have even risen above average if not for the paltry budget.   A quest story modeled on the Greek myth of Jason and the Argonauts, Underworld begins when the Tardis arrives on a Minyan spacecraft which has been on an endless quest to recover “the race banks” of its home planet, which were taken away on a ship named P7E.  Caught up in a meteor storm, the Minyan ship crashes on a newly formed planet sending a strong signal that it may contain the race banks that are sought.  The original ship P7E (read “Persephone”) is deep within the planet’s core; it’s computer, The Oracle, programmed to protect the race banks, has gone mad and taken over, oppressing the original Minyan survivors and their descendants.   The Doctor manages to help the survivors and, with the use of the old bait and switch, recovers the race banks for the Minyans and destroys The Oracle.


The devil is, per usual, in the details.  The use of CSO (early green/blue screen backdrops) permeates the episode and, all in all, it is not awful; occasionally actors seem to be hovering inches above the ground and generally not oriented to the surroundings which, of course, they can’t see.  Ultimately, though, it is the sheer repetitiveness of it all that overwhelms the story.  One set serving as the flight deck of the P7E and The Oracle control room are even more obvious than usual and the undergrounds tunnels everyone races back and forth in are in reality one underground tunnel, which, unfortunately, recalls corridors in the films of The Three Stooges and Abbot and Costello.


In addition, the writers got carried away with the Greek parallels, the costumes are even sadder than usual, the resolution is perfunctory, and even the casting is not really up to par, all adding up to an episode for completists only.  Most likely even they will get them item and simply shelve it after one viewing at best.



-   Don Wentworth


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