Doctor Who – Underworld (Tom Baker/BBC DVD)
Picture: C+ Sound: C+ Extras: D Episodes: C
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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