Saturday 22 February 2014

Story 96 - Underworld

In which the TARDIS materialises in a storage area on a spacecraft, in a remote region of space. The crew hear the ship's materialisation - and recognise it. It is the sound of their gods... The Doctor and Leela discover that they are on a Minyan ship - the R1C from Minyos II. The Time Lords had tried to assist the development of the original Minyan society, causing them to be seen as deities. Their help went wrong, and the Minyans ended up destroying themselves in a dreadful civil war. By way of recompense, the Time Lords gave the survivors the ability to rejuvenate themselves and extend their lifespans. The crew of this craft has been travelling for centuries. It was after their interference on Minyos that the Time Lords adopted their law of non-intervention in the affairs of other races.

Captain Jackson and his crew are on a quest to locate a lost Minyan vessel - the P7E. It holds the genetic race banks which are essential for his people to rebuild their civilisation. Their search has brought them to this region of space, where a Black Hole is helping to create new planets out of the debris of others. The R1C almost becomes smothered in rocks, but K9 provides a power boost to break them free. The Doctor realises that the P7E now forms the core of a new planet nearby. The R1C lands there, but sinks into the ground - coming to rest in a labyrinth of caverns. The P7E crew have enslaved their own people - forcing them to mine the tunnels. This has been the situation for generations, and the superstitious slaves know of no other life. The crew, in turn, have come to see their computer - Oracle - as a god.

The Doctor must help to free the tunnel-dwellers and to assist Jackson and his crew with their quest to retrieve the gene banks. These are held by Oracle, which proves to have become quite mad. It is tended by two crewmen known as the Seers. They are now partly robotic. After a tense struggle, the Oracle appears to relent and offer up the race banks - small metal cylinders. This proves to be a ruse, as it has substituted them for powerful bombs. The Doctor spots the trick and swaps them back again. He leads all the slaves into Jackson's ship. K9 oversees a power boost from the TARDIS so that the R1C can break free from the planet. The Oracle and its Seers realise the deception too late and the P7E and its new planet are destroyed. Jackson and his crew can finally go home - their quest at an end.

This four part adventure was written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin, and was broadcast between 7th and 28th January, 1978. Anthony Read is credited as Script Editor for the first time, despite having worked on the last couple of stories. Whilst Robert Holmes had often looked to the cinema for inspiration, Read preferred to look to classic literature and to ancient legends. The impact of Star Wars - with its harder Sci-Fi and space opera - was still being felt.
Underworld's chief influence is the legend of Jason and the Argonauts. In order to win back his kingdom from a usurper, Jason embarked on a long quest to find the Golden Fleece - hanging on a tree at the end of the world and guarded by the Hydra (a sort of multi-headed dragon).
Jackson is a play on Jason. The Doctor actually misnames him as such at one point - just to reinforce to us the reference. His crew include Herrick (Heracles), Orfe (Orpheus. He uses a soothing sound to calm people down as Orpheus could charm with his music), and Tala (Atalanta). The P7E is a play on Persephone. The troglodytes believe the entry to the P7E to be guarded by a dragon, and the map of the labyrinth shows it to be in the form of a great tree.

The guest cast includes James Maxwell as Jackson, Alan Lake as Herrick, Jonathon Newth as Orfe and Imogen Beckford-Smith as Tala. Much of the pre-publicity centred on her, with images of her in aged make-up in all the newspapers. Of the others, only Norman Tipton as Idas - one of the Trogs - stands out. The P7E crowd are a bit rubbish. One of the Seers is voiced by Richard Shaw - who had played Governor Lobos in The Space Museum.
Director Norman Stewart was given the thankless task of making this story with very little money - which sadly shows on screen. He was able to reuse the R1C set for the P7E one - being ships from the same planet. There was no design money left to realise the cavern systems, which feature prominently throughout episodes 2 - 4, so the decision was made to realise these using model sets and a liberal dose of CSO. A brave attempt in the circumstances, but one that just didn't work.
Episode endings are:

  1. The R1C starts to become smothered in debris...
  2. The Doctor struggles to reverse the vents as the cavern fills with a fumigating gas...
  3. The Doctor and Leela are hiding in a hopper when the Trog pushing it trips - threatening to cast them into the rock crusher...
  4. The Doctor tells Leela the story of Jason and the Argonauts, and ponders if such tales might not all have some basis in fact.

Overall, a so-so story. Performances nothing to write home about. The ambition just can't be served by the budget. One very significant aspect of Time Lord mythology does get a mention - namely the reason why they don't like to interfere.
Things you might like to know:

  • The TARDIS materialisation sound is said to be caused by the relative dimensional stabiliser. So not the brakes then.
  • The Quest is the Quest! Once again, Baker and Martin feature a running catchphrase through their story. This will be the last, however.
  • Knowing Louise Jameson was on the point of leaving the programme, Beckford-Smith's agent was happy to perpetuate a story that she was to become the next companion - hence all that publicity material relating to her.
  • This was the first Doctor Who story broadcast after UK fans had had their first chance to see Star Wars, which opened a few days before Part One. British Sci-Fi fans would also have already had their first taste of the BBC's new offering - Blake's 7. This debuted just before Underworld Part One.
  • At one point it was thought that this story might be cut altogether, and its budget reallocated to The Invasion of Time. Producer Graham Williams was determined to deliver a full season in his first year and so the notion was quashed.
  • The Minyans are able to regenerate, using technological help. As they seem to retain the same appearance, memories and personality, it does seem to be more of a rejuvination process. It may have been this technology that the Kastrons stole and misused (Mawdryn Undead).


  1. I have to admit that this is one of two Tom Baker stories I've never seen (the other being Meglos) though bad press or not I will get round to buying it eventually unlike the two mara stories which I never want to see again, God I hated Kinda !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. It's better than Meglos. Episode 1 is very strong, but things fall apart after that. Check Amazon for the DVD - part of the Myths & Legends box set along with Horns of Nimon and The Time Monster.