Friday, 19 April 2019
Inspirations - Underworld
Underworld is the first story for many years not to have any input from Robert Holmes. He had stepped won as Script Editor with his own story, The Sun Makers, and now his replacement, Anthony Read had fully taken over. he had been offered a producership by the BBC, but had turned this down as he had already carried out that role. Graeme McDonald then offered him the Script Editor post with Doctor Who - and Read jumped at the chance, though he only intended to stay for a year. he had been trailing Holmes for some time. If you look at that cast and crew photograph from Image of the Fendahl, you'll see Read at the front left.
The inspiration for this story is fairly straightforward, as Read wanted to concentrate on stories which derived from literature rather than from the movies. Writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin were pointed towards the Greek myths, and selected the story of Jason and the Argonauts. If you've never actually read this tale, then I'm sure you are familiar with the Ray Harryhausen film adaptation from 1963. The main source for the story is the Argonautica, a 3rd Century BC epic poem by Apollonius of Rhodes.
Jason is the rightful heir to the throne of Iolcos, and is related to Hermes - messenger of the gods - on his mother's side. His father's half-brother Pelias stages a coup when Jason is a baby, and he is saved by being sent off to be reared by a Centaur named Chiron. Pelias later learns that he will be overthrown by a man wearing one sandal. Jason returns to Iolcos to reclaim his birthright, and saves Pelias from drowning - losing one of his sandals in the process. Realising who this newcomer is, Pelias sends him on a quest - to retrieve the golden fleece, which hangs on a tree at the end of the world. If he brings the fleece back, Pelias will give him the throne. Of course, he only offers this as he believes the quest to be impossible. There are many dangers to be faced, including six-armed giants, harpies and clashing rocks which smash passing ships to pieces. The fleece itself is guarded by a dragon. Jason manages to succeed in his quest, helped by the sorceress Medea once he gets to Colchis where the fleece is to be found.
Jason's ship is called the Argo. Amongst his crew are Heracles, Orpheus and Atalanta.
Underworld sees the Doctor, Leela and K9 arrive on a spaceship called the R1C, which is piloted by a crew from the planet Minyos. They are on a centuries-long quest to discover the whereabouts of a lost Minyan ship called the P7E, which contains their people's race banks.
R1C derives from "Argosy". P7E comes from Persephone - who was the queen of the Underworld in Greek myth. The ship's captain is named Jackson, from Jason, whilst his crew comprises Herrick (Heracles), Orfe (Orpheus) and Tala (Atalanta).
Like the Argonauts of myth, they are on a quest.
The Minyans of Minyos derive from Minyas, the founder of the Greek city of Orchomenus. He claimed descent from the Minyan people, who were a prehistoric peoples who settled around the Aegean.
The Minyah crew have some of the attributes of their inspirations. Orfe uses a pacifying ray to subdue Herrick and Leela, as Orpheus could play music which soothed wild beasts. Herrick is brave, strong and prone to anger.
The P7E is found in a region of space where new planets are forming, and the vessel is at the heart of one of these. The R1C starts to be smothered by rocks as it exerts a gravitational pull on them - which derives from the clashing rocks episode in the Argonautica.
The R1C escapes this fate thanks to a power boost supplied by K9, only to crashland on the P7E planet, sinking down into a network of tunnels - the Underworld of the title. The P7E's computer now rules this society. It is called Oracle, and is served by a pair of cyborgs called Seers. This derives from the Oracle of Apollo at Delphi, where seers like the high priestess Pythia were said to be able to foretell the future, or otherwise offer advice to people who came seeking answers to their questions. A team of priests would interpret the Oracle's cryptic utterances. It is now known that the Oracle's temple was built over volcanic fissures, which emitted hallucinogenic gases. In Underworld, the computer Oracle is deranged. Many of the Minyan descendants are enslaved, forced to mine the tunnels. They are known as Trogs - from Troglodytae, a race of cave dwellers from the Red Sea region.
The Doctor and Leela befriend a young Trog named Idmon, whose father Idas has been captured by the Seers and their soldiers. In the Argonautica, Idmon is also a seer and a member of Jason's crew. Idmon means the knowledgeable one. Idas was another of the Argonauts.
At one point the Doctor and Leela break into the P7E to rescue Idas by hiding in a truck full of rocks - an allusion to that other famous Greek myth of the Trojan Horse (which was actually the Doctor's idea in the first place - see The Myth Makers). Idas is to be sacrificed by Oracle and the Seers, by being tied down under a sword which will fall on him when the cords suspending it burn through. This is an allusion to the Sword of Damocles. Damocles was an official at the court of King Dionysius II of Syracuse, a city state in Sicily. He thought he could rule better than the king and so Dionysius offered to swap places with him for a day so he could see what it was really like. Damocles felt his life to be constantly under threat from people who might want to usurp him - as though he had a sword hanging over his head the whole time. He urged the king to take back his throne, now realising what pressure monarchs lived under.
The way to the P7E is found when K9 creates a map of the tunnels, and this looks like a tree - inspired by the location for the golden fleece. The route is said by Idmon to be guarded by an invisible dragon, as with the fleece, but here really automated laser defences.
Underworld is significant for Doctor Who mythology in that the Minyan backstory gives some insight into the history of the Time Lords. In their earlier days the Time Lords had used their powers to help other races, and one of these was the Minyans, who believed the Gallifreyans to be gods. The Time Lords helped them advance scientifically, but this just led to them ejecting the Time Lords after they had developed weapons which they used to almost destroy themselves in a civil war. Minyos was rendered uninhabitable, and the survivors had to settle on a new homeworld. The P7E was one of the refugee ships. It was their experience with the Minyans which led to the Time Lords adopting their policy of non-intervention - something which would ultimately lead to one Gallifreyan and his granddaughter stealing a TARDIS and running off to explore the universe...
Underworld very nearly never got made, which some people think might have been a good thing. It has never been very popular, thanks to some very poor production values and some woeful performances by its guest cast.
The problem was that it was made at a time of very high inflation - coupled with the fact that the series' budget had been cut following Philip Hinchcliffe's reckless decision to massively overspend on his final story. The story has some great VFX when it comes to the spaceships. This was the first story that would be broadcast after people would have had the chance to see Star Wars, and producer Graham Williams was worried that audience expectations would now be much higher when it came to VFX.
Williams had taken a short holiday and on his return had discovered that there was not enough money to build the sets for Underworld. Money had been spent on the R1C spaceship set, but there was nothing left for the cave scenes, which took up much of episodes 2 - 4. One economy was to redress the R1C set to also portray the P7E one, as Minyan spaceships would be of similar design.
Williams was told by Graeme McDonald that he ought to consider scrapping Underworld, and using the money on the series finale - The Invasion of Time - instead. With the annual round of industrial action looming, an alternative was to scrap the final story and use the money to complete Underworld. Williams, however, was determined that his first season in charge should be completed in its entirety.
Earlier in the season The Invisible Enemy had made extensive use of model sets, with actors superimposed using CSO, for scenes set inside the Doctor's body. It was decided that models could be made of the caves for Underworld, with CSO used to place the actors in them. The Production Assistant on Enemy had been Norman Stewart, so he was given the chance to direct Underworld due to his experience with handling this sort of work. CSO work generally yielded about one minute of screen time per hour, but for Underworld Stewart manged to get around ten minutes worth per hour.
Next time: not one but two invasions of Gallifrey, after a close shave with Killer Cats. The interior of the TARDIS turns out to be, quite literally, a madhouse...