Saturday, 18 November 2017

Inspirations - The Underwater Menace

By Geoffrey Orme - his only contribution to the programme. This adventure had a troubled gestation - something which we will see happening a lot over the Patrick Troughton era of the show.
Initially known as "Doctor Who Under the Sea" or "In Atlantis" or "The Fish People", it was originally going to be the new Doctor's second story. Pencilled in to direct was Hugh David. These four episodes were going to get a larger budget as well. The production team decided that the script might be too ambitious to realise, so it was shelved in favour of a story by William Emms - "The Imps". This also proved to be rather over ambitious, and so the underwater story came back to the table. David contacted a friend of his who was then working out at Pinewood on the latest Bond movie, Thunderball - the one with the all the underwater action. The friend informed David that it was impossible to achieve by Doctor Who's usual production methods, even with an increased budget. David managed to get transferred onto The Highlanders, and its scheduled director - Julia Smith - was assigned The Underwater Menace.
The production was as troubled as the script development, with the cast openly deriding the story, and the director being reduced to tears. Michael Craze was unhappy that some of his part had to be apportioned to Frazer Hines, who had just joined late in the day with the previous adventure.

The story is set in the very near future. We have references to the Mexico Olympic Games - which were scheduled to take place the year after broadcast - as Polly finds a piece of souvenir ware on the coast of the rocky volcanic island on which the TARDIS has landed. This turns out to be the remains of the lost civilisation of Atlantis, the survivors of which are dwelling in a city deep beneath the surface.
Now, every Doctor Who fan is aware that a series that has lasted more than 50 years, with nearly a dozen producers / showrunners, and with more than a dozen script / story editors, is going to have some continuity problems. Some of these continuity problems have become the stuff of legend, such as the UNIT dating conundrum, and we have always loved to debate them. Recent writers have played with these, offering off hand comments that try to plug gaps or resolve the seemingly unresolveable. The authors of the Virgin New Adventures novels apparently laboured under the delusion that they were contractually obliged to address these issues, and write entire novels that might explain why Warriors of the Deep bears no relation whatsoever to either The Silurians or The Sea Devils (to give but one example). To be honest, we'd rather these continuity glitches were left alone. If anything, we miss them when they're gone.
One of the continuity arguments used to be about Atlantis. It looked at first glance like there were three mutually exclusive versions of its destruction - two of them by the same writers exactly a year apart. (That's how bad continuity can be in Doctor Who).
This story doesn't actually pose a problem, as it doesn't really say categorically how Atlantis came to be destroyed. We're simply seeing the aftermath centuries later. In The Magician's Apprentice, however, Steven Moffat has Clara and UNIT searching for the Doctor, and so they look to see where in history he is making the most "noise". There's a line - purely for the fans - about a triple paradox with Atlantis. As I've said, the Atlantis we see here comes much later, and could be the kingdom destroyed either by Kronos or by the Daemons - or both.
(When I reviewed this story many moons ago, I came up with the idea that Atlantis could be the name of a country / continent as well as that of a city on that country / continent. Kronos could have wiped out the city, and then the Daemons came along and destroyed the wider kingdom, or vice versa).

Enough of continuity squabbles. There's another 200 odd of these Inspirations posts to go, so we won't have heard the last of them.
The Underwater Menace has a real B-Movie feel to it, with its mad scientist villain. Had this been a movie, it would have been directed by Ed Wood, and Bela Lugosi would have played Professor Zaroff. If unavailable in rehab, George Zucco would have sufficed. A movie would probably have had some kind of giant monster - probably an octopus or dinosaur. The only octopus here is an ordinary sized one - pet to Zaroff. We do get some stock footage of sharks in Part One, as the Doctor and his companions are going to be sacrificed by being dropped into a shark-infested pool.
The only "monsters" here are the Fish Workers. The publicity might have highlighted them as the monster of the week, but they only feature briefly at the close of Part One, and then have their bizarre underwater ballet sequence in Part Three. They're really quite benign creatures.
The scene mentioned above about the sharks is reminiscent of something out of one of the old adventure serials they used to show at the cinema on Saturday mornings (or indeed on BBC TV on school holiday mornings) - most famous of which is Flash Gordon.
However, it's to another adventure serial of the same era that we need to look for inspiration for this story. The Undersea Kingdom was Republic's answer to Flash, back in 1936. The star is Ray "Crash" Corrigan. He's a navy lieutenant who just happens to be a sporting hero, who joins a mission in an atomic submarine to investigate the source of a spate of earthquakes. They're being caused by the villainous Unga Khan. Unlike Zaroff, who claims to want to raise Atlantis, Khan wants to sink the rest of the planet. You can see how well he fares just by going to You Tube, where they have the entire serial. Don't watch the episodes back to back, however. Play the game, and spend a week trying to work out how he's going to get out of that one...

If you are a fan of publications such as Fortean Times, you'll be aware that the legend of Atlantis is linked to all manner of yet-to-be explained phenomena. It has been written about since the time of Plato. If UFO's don't come from outer space then they originate from Atlantis. Its citizens were the ones who gave the ancients the knowledge to build the pyramids and other monumental structures, and people who have ESP are descended from them. Evidence for it has been (allegedly) found in the West Indies, the Aegean, the Mediterranean, and the Atlantic Ocean. (The Pacific region has its own lost continent). Less fanciful theories look to the Minoan civilisation, and the cataclysmic eruption of the volcanic island of Thera (which returns us to The Time Monster). The Atlantis myth may be a garbled version of a real event, but it was a powerful local state that was laid low rather than a flying saucer-building super-race.

Now we have to talk about Professor Zaroff. Sorry, but we do. Cinema's earliest most famous mad scientist is probably Henry Frankenstein, as played by Colin Clive in the classic 1931 Universal movie. Technically, he only comes across as mad to his friends and family, as he is utterly obsessed with his work - which just happens to be trying to put God out of a job. He wants to create something (life from dead tissue), and will go to any lengths to achieve this. Sadly, Hollywood took him as a template, twisted it, and came up with decades of similarly obsessed scientists who instead want to destroy. This is where Zaroff comes from. Certainly, after the first A-Bomb, the public started to become wary of scientists, and thought that they were prepared do anything they liked just because they could. We fell out of trust with them. They no longer strove to help us, but experimented with things that could ultimately destroy us. Note how many of the 1950's monster movies revolve around mutation due to exposure to atomic testing - many of which feature a scientist who has brought things about due to his (and they were always men) obsession. Scientists in these movies are often portrayed as having good intentions, but care little for the consequences. They're sociopaths who want to benefit Mankind.
The problem with Zaroff is that he is simply Bonkers. That's the technical term - with a capital B. The Doctor thinks so too. Just look at the way he tries to describe Zaroff's state of mind to King Thous in Part Two. No deep psychological analysis needed. Zaroff has no good intentions whatsoever. You can't even excuse him as being "misguided". He plans to blow up the planet, just to see what it is like to blow up the planet. In a way Joseph Furst plays him the only way he can. A bit of background that existed in the earlier drafts had him grieving for his dead wife and child, killed in a car crash, and thus making him suicidal - damning the world along with himself. Unfortunately, there is no such motivation on view in the finished programme.

The inspiration looks like it comes from those old Saturday morning serials, but Ming the Merciless had a plan - to conquer the Earth / Universe - and Unga Khan wanted to make Atlantis great again by dragging down the rest of the world to his level. If any of them had intended to destroy the planet they were actually standing on, then there would have been a handy escape capsule hidden nearby.
Is it just a coincidence that Zaroff's name is just one letter out from that proto-hipster prof who appeared in all three of the Flash Gordon serials?
Some other potential inspirations before we sign off. In the 1950's & '60's there was as much excitement about us all living in underwater cities as there was about us living on the Moon or on Mars. The hugely popular TV series The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau began its 10 year run in 1966, so we were all marveling at what went on beneath the waves then pretty much as we are at the moment watching Blue Planet II.
We also have the Cornish myth of Lyonesse - another sunken kingdom which has Arthurian connections, and which featured in a poem by Walter de la Mare (Sunk Lyonesse, 1922). 1965 had seen the release of the Vincent Price film City Beneath The Sea, inspired by the Edgar Allan Poe tale The City In The Sea. Note the film's Gill Men. It was made by the same team behind the Aaru Dalek movies, and featured dialogue written by one David Whitaker.
Next time: Brexit hasn't happened, or by 2070 we're back in, as the UK is bossing a load of Europeans about on the Moon. No-one's worrying about climate change, because we can control the weather now. Polly devises a new cocktail, Jamie has a lie-in, and Ben suddenly knows all about nuclear reactors. The Cybermen spot the similarities between this and an earlier story, so logic dictates that they have to make their return...

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