Tag Archives: The Dominators

The Mind Robber

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It’s not often that the opportunity affords itself to write a review of a story that is as close to perfect as Doctor Who can get.  So good, in fact, that it’s after this serial that my blog is named.  The Mind Robber is the epitome of all that is innovative, experimental and surreal about Doctor Who when it’s done correctly. With the addition of a last minute opening episode and Frazer Hines’ sidelining by chicken pox in episode two, The Mind Robber could easily have become an utter shambles. It’s to the credit of the writer Peter Ling, Script Editor Derrick Sherwin and Director David Maloney that it didn’t.

The Doctor was lucky to have not turned himself into fiction

The Doctor was lucky to have not turned himself into fiction

Myth has it that Peter Ling’s inspiration for The Mind Robber was the inability of soap opera audiences to distinguish fact from fiction.  Ling, who had never previously written for a science fiction programme, was well known as a writer for the British soap operas Compact (1962-1965) and Crossroads (1964 onwards), amongst others. It was on Crossroads that incoming Doctor Who story editor, Derrick Sherwin, and assistant story editor, Terrance Dicks, had also been engaged.  This soap, which centred on a motel, was filmed in Birmingham and it was on a train trip to that fair city that Ling, Sherwin and Dicks first discussed an idea that would eventually evolve into The Mind Robber script.

Rapunzel and the children of the Land of Fiction

Rapunzel and the children of the Land of Fiction

The Master of the Land of Fiction is a different character to the renegade Time Lord we meet in Season 8

The Master of the Land of Fiction is a different character to the renegade Time Lord we meet in Season 8

The inability of some viewers to comprehend that television dramas are fictional and not fact is not uncommon. Comedian, author and actor Toby Hadoke takes great delight in ridiculing such people in his stand-up comedy show, Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf. Hadoke, who starred as a Vicar in the soap Coronation Street in December 2000, was gobsmacked to actually receive letters from viewers asking if he might officiate at weddings.  “And these people can vote” he quipped!

Toby Hadoke - Stand-up comedian, actor and author of "Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf".

Toby Hadoke – Stand-up comedian, actor and author of Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf.

The fiction of children’s stories and classic mythology permeate The Mind Robber. Lemuel Gulliver, wind-up tin toy soldiers, Rapunzel, the Medusa, a Unicorn, Sir Lancelot and Blackbeard are amongst the characters which confront the Doctor and his crew.  Gulliver, who is originally named only as “A Stranger” is brilliantly portrayed by Bernard Horsfall, who only passed away in January 2013. Horsfall went on to appear in another three Doctor Who serials, all of which were directed by David Maloney – The War Games (1969), The Planet of the Daleks (1973) and The Deadly Assassin (1976). Tall and imposing, yet always polite and obliging, the fictional character from Gulliver’s Travels spoke only words and phrases taken directly from Jonathon Swift’s 1726 novel. The juxtaposition of Gulliver’s archaic but lyrical language with the Doctor and his companion’s modern English was superb. It was only in the final episode that Ling permitted Gulliver to speak lines other than those from the novel, however his language form remained Middle English.

The Doctor is initially menaced by Gulliver

The Doctor is initially menaced by Gulliver

The seamless transition of Jamie from Frazer Hines to Hamish Wilson was an imaginatively simple idea that meshed themes common to  both The Mind Robber and its preceding serial, The Dominators. When Hines succumbed to chicken pox early in the week of episode two’s shooting an immediate solution was required.  During the course of the 60s each episode of Doctor Who was filmed at the end of a week’s rehearsal. Save for sparse location shoots, material was not pre-recorded.  Recording was almost live, with only an hour and a half allocated for each 25 minute episode.  Given that only three video cuts were permitted for each episode, this necessitated the filming of scenes in their correct order and performances in a play-like fashion. Filming scenes from different episodes on the one day was unheard of.  Moreover, episodes were often filmed only two weeks prior to airing.  This meant that when episode one of a six part serial was broadcast the production of the final episode could still be a month away.

Hamish Wilson played the role of Jamie in episodes two and three

Hamish Wilson played the role of Jamie in episodes two and three

As a consequence of these production limitations the absence of a cast member presented extraordinary difficulties.  The luxury of filming out of order and six months in advance of screenings did not exist, so there was no means by which the ill actor could film their scenes at a later time. Hence the extraordinary decision to retain the character of Jamie in episode two but have him played by an altogether different actor. The fictional nature of the story, in which the Doctor and his companions were constantly confronted by challenges, afforded the opportunity for Jamie’s identity change to become part of a game. Having been turned into a life size cardboard cut-out, Jamie’s face was removed and he could not be animated again until the Doctor put the puzzle pieces of his face correctly together.  On a board where three or four photographs of eyes, noses and mouths.  In a flustered state the Doctor chose the wrong pieces and Jamie was reanimated with a different face.  When Hines returned in episode three Jamie was again transformed into a cut-out. The Doctor was successfully able to complete Jamie’s face puzzle, this time with the assistance of the very attentive Zoe. In the interim Wilson had superbly perfected Jamie’s mannerisms.

The Doctor and Zoe put Jamie's face back together

The Doctor and Zoe put Jamie’s face back together

The Doctor’s initial inability to correctly choose Jamie’s eyes, nose and mouth was reminiscent of his feigned stupidity in The Dominators. In an attempt to appear an imbecile in the previous serial the Doctor had intentionally failed a block test similar to one that a normal three year old would complete with ease. He was unable to match the wooden blocks with their correct holes and suffered electric shocks to his arms as a consequence.  No longer considered a threat, the Doctor and Jamie were subsequently released by the Dominators.

The Doctor with Rapunzel and the Karkus

The Doctor with Rapunzel and the Karkus

The Mind Robber contains the only episode of Doctor Who not to feature a writer’s credit.  Originally written as a four part serial by Peter Ling, the story was expanded to five episodes after the production fiasco that was The Dominators.  Having no budget for guest cast or additional props the production crew were faced with a very similar predicament to that in the season one story The Edge of Destruction. Having access only to the three main cast and the TARDIS console, Script Editor Derrick Sherwin wrote the opening episode to accommodate these restrictions. Akin to The Edge of Destruction, these constraints resulted in a minimalist masterpiece.

Wendy Padbury in the scene for which, unfortunately, she is perhaps best known

Wendy Padbury in the scene for which, unfortunately, she is perhaps best known

The TARDIS Explodes in the cliff hanger to episode one of The Mind Robber

Many of the most memorable scenes in The Mind Robber were Wendy Padbury’s.  The cliff-hanger of episode one featured a shiny cat-suited Zoe hanging onto the TARDIS console as it plummeted through space. That much of the scene focussed on Zoe’s bum must have been a cause for great delight amongst male viewers.  Zoe also enacted a wondrous pantomime fall and proved herself proficient in martial arts when she easily defeated the cartoon book character, the Karkus, in a fight.

Zoe fights the Karkus

Zoe fights the Karkus

Zoe and Jamie cling to the TARDIS console after the Ship explodes

Zoe and Jamie cling to the TARDIS console after the Ship explodes

The Mind Robber was almost certainly the naming inspiration for the New Series Doctor Who character Captain Jack Harkness.  The Master of Fiction had written 250,000 words of fiction as editor of the boys’ own magazine, The Ensign.  Captain Jack Harkaway  was one of the Master’s characters which like all others in the story, with the exception of the Karkus, was a fictional character in the real (non-Doctor Who) world.  The Master of The Mind Robber, however, is a completely different character to the renegade Time Lord that the Third Doctor first encounters in Season Eight.

The fictional character, Captain Jack Harkaway, was undoubtedly an inspiration in the naming of the new series character Captain Jack Harkness

The fictional character, Captain Jack Harkaway, was undoubtedly an inspiration in the naming of the new series character Captain Jack Harkness

Captain Jack Harkness is not to be confused with The Mind Robber's Captain Jack Harkaway

Captain Jack Harkness is not to be confused with The Mind Robber’s Captain Jack Harkaway

I could inevitably extol the virtues of The Mind Robber for several thousand more words however I’ll bother you not with more reading.  Instead I earnestly implore you to legally acquire a copy of the story and take in its pleasures yourself.  Watch Jamie and the Doctor climb Rapunzel’s hair, the snakes animating in the Medusa’s hair, and the Unicorn charging at our heroes.  I can assure you that you won’t be disappointed.

The source of many a nightmare - the Unicorn

The source of many a nightmare – the Unicorn

The Mind Robber was originally broadcast in the UK between 14 September and 12 October 1968

The Mind Robber was originally broadcast in the UK between 14 September and 12 October 1968

Vivien Fleming

©Vivien Fleming, 2013.

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The Dominators

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Almost universally condemned as one of the worst Doctor Who serials ever, The Dominators was the serial Patrick Troughton personally requested be screened at the convention he was attending at the time of his death. Perhaps Troughton could see something of merit in The Dominators that fans and critics were unable to discern. But then again, in 1987 there weren’t many extant Second Doctor serials available. There aren’t many more accessible today. That’s probably reason enough to at least try to detect something favourable about the serial.  Thankfully the good contributors to Celebrate Regenerate have come to our rescue and said this about The Dominators:

The Quarks were less than convincing as monsters

The Quarks were less than convincing as monsters

I think I knew The Dominators was the weakest of the bunch.  But I still loved it: it was funny.  It’s the only Doctor Who story I know of that’s based on a clash of household furnishings.  Guys wearing sofas invade a world of people dressed in curtains.  The natives immediately surrender to them despite the fact that they’re incompetent (those other ten galaxies must have really been pushovers).  And then there are the Quarks.  Small, slow, waddling, penguin-esque with squeaky voices and very low-capacity batteries.  But at the end of the day , I love the Dominators …

Edited by Lewis Christian, Celebrate Regenerate is a fan produced chronicle of every Doctor Who episode

Edited by Lewis Christian, Celebrate Regenerate is a fan produced chronicle of every Doctor Who episode

Save for its slowness and distinct lack of plot, the principal criticism directed at The Dominators is the writers’ reactionary premise that pacifism is abhorrent and pacifists gullible and unintelligent. In their third and final outing as writers for Doctor Who Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln took a direct swipe at the growing anti-war movement. The Dulcians are pacifists and presented as unquestioning morons. Although they have two hearts they are physically weak and not use to manual labour.  When forced to labour as slaves to the aggressors, the Dominators, they are next to useless and are seen to struggle under the burden of moving heavy rocks.  The Dulcians’ education system appears to prioritize rote learning over intellectual enquiry and they accept any statements as fact until they are otherwise proved false. It isn’t too hard to envisage what Haisman and Lincoln’s perception of anti-war protestors were.

The Dulcians are not use to physical labour

The Dulcians are not use to physical labour

The Dominators was not Doctor Who’s first anti-pacifist adventure.  That dishonour goes to Terry Nation’s The Daleks in which the gorgeous Thals are pilloried for their being unprepared to fight .  In my review of The Daleks I examined Nation’s contempt for the 1930’s British policy of Appeasement.  Unlike the Thals, Haisman and Lincoln do not afford the Dulcians any redemption. They are portrayed in an unfavourable light throughout the whole of the serial. Given that Doctor Who has generally taken a more liberal view on political issues this contempt for pacifism is all the more extraordinary.

The aliens with perhaps the most inept name ever, the Dominators

The aliens with perhaps the most inept name ever, the Dominators

More than 40 years later such distain for pacifism was again evidenced in Toby Whitehouse’s Series Six story, The God Complex (2011). This time, however, a reactionary political message was veiled in humour. When the Eleventh Doctor asks Gibbis, a native of Tivoli, how he arrived at the “hotel” his response was enlightening – “I was at work.  I’m in town planning. We’re lining all the highways with trees so invading forces can march in the shade. It’s nice for them”.  Tivoli is the most conquered planet in the galaxy and its residents have resigned themselves to being constantly overrun. Accordingly they welcome invading armies and their national anthem reflects the ease with which they accept domination – “Glory to <Insert Name Here>”.

Another pacifist portrayed in an unfavourable light was Gibbis in The God Complex (2011)

Another pacifist portrayed in an unfavourable light was Gibbis in The God Complex (2011)

What I also found disturbing about The Dominators was the patriarchal nature of the Dulcians’ society.  Only men, and old ones at that, are members of their governing council.  Certainly there are numerous other Doctor Who serials which are guilty of not positively representing women, however The Dominators totally disenfranchises them.  I would hope that this says more about the writers’ views than those espoused by the producers of Doctor Who.  That being said, the decision to give the Quarks childish female voices is bizarre, to say the least.  Hitherto all monsters, without exception, have had masculine voices even if their bodies are not specifically gendered. The one and only time that a woman is used to voice a monster, the voices are clumsy and laughable.  It left me wondering if this was some form of bad joke in which women, in general, were being ridiculed.

Only men are members of the Dulcian ruling elite

Only men are members of the Dulcian ruling elite

Unfortunately the Quarks proved to be appalling monsters.  Small in stature, school children were encased within them for the filming. They shuffled around, always looking as though they were about to tumble over, and had arms that were even more impractical than the Daleks’.  They were easily defeated, at one stage by a conveniently light boulder pushed from a hill top by Cully, the only resident of Dulkis to rebel from their pacifism. Created by Haisman and Lincoln specifically for their marketing potential, the Quarks were almost the subject of legal proceedings between the writers and the BBC. Relations between the writers and Doctor Who deteriorated further when the serial was cut from six episodes to five and substantially rewritten.  Haisman and Lincoln sought to have their names removed from the credits and accordingly a pseudonym, “Norman Asby”,  which was taken from the first names of the writers’  father-in-laws, was adopted.

The marketing rights to the Quarks almost resulted in legal proceedings between the writers and the BBC

The marketing rights to the Quarks almost resulted in legal proceedings between the writers and the BBC

Although the Quarks were never again seen on TV they were encountered in comics

Although the Quarks were never again seen on TV they were encountered in comics

The Doctor’s ethics in The Dominators are also questionable.  He is responsible for the deaths of the two Dominators after he places their atomic seed-device, intended to destroy the planet, onto the aggressor’s own space craft.  This is plainly an example of lazy writing as it was the easy option for disposing of the bomb quickly. Surely the Doctor could have diffused  it rather than acting as judge, jury and executioner.

The Doctor and Jamie hold hands again

The Doctor and Jamie hold hands again

Despite its many failing I surprised myself by actually enjoying The Dominators.  Perhaps I was just relieved at watching the first complete serial since The Tomb of the Cybermen or maybe, just maybe, I could see in the story the good that Patrick Troughton evidently saw.  I really don’t know, however I am sure that our next story, The Mind Robber, lives up to its reputation as Troughton’s favourite serial.  Please join me for my next review as we enter the land of fiction.

The Dominators was originally broadcast in the UK between 10 August and 7 September 1968

The Dominators was originally broadcast in the UK between 10 August and 7 September 1968

Vivien Fleming

©Vivien Fleming, 2013.

The Abominable Snowmen

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The 1960s saw the dawning of Western interest in Eastern religions.  Perhaps premier among the spiritualities investigated was Buddhism. It was in 1967 that a Trappist monk of the Abbey of Gethsemane, Thomas Merton, published his collection of essays, Mystics and Zen Masters.  More than 40 years later, two of the top five Google search results on “Merton and Buddhism” return a conservative Catholic article entitled, “Can You Trust Thomas Merton?” Yes, there are still many orthodox Catholics who would prefer to imagine that the Second Vatican Council never occurred, and fear that enlightened spiritual writers such as the late Fr Merton are a threat to the very fabric of Christendom.

Thomas Merton with the Dalai Lama

Thomas Merton with the Dalai Lama

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that Doctor Who should enter into this stream of consciousness with its Tibetan tale of Buddhist Monks and Yeti, The Abominable Snowmen.  Five of the six episodes of this serial are among the 106 currently missing from the BBC Archives.  Thankfully the good people at Loose Cannon Productions have come to our rescue, yet again, with their masterful reconstructions.  Episode two is available on the triple DVD set, Lost in Time.  An excellent precise of the serial was provided by David J Howe and Stephen James Walker in their 2003 publication, The Television Companion. The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Doctor Who.  Rather than reinventing the wheel I’ll let them summarise the plot for you:

Songsten, Khrisong and a fellow monk

Songsten, Khrisong and a fellow monk

“The TARDIS arrives in Tibet in 1935 and the Doctor visits the remote Detsen (sic) monastery in order to return a sacred bell, the ghanta, given to him for safe keeping on a previous visit.  There he meets and Englishman, Travers, on an expedition to track down the legendary Abominable Snowmen or Yeti.  It transpires that the Yeti roaming the area are actually disguised robots, which scare away or kill anyone who approaches.  The High Lama Padmasambhava, whom the Doctor met hundreds of years earlier on his previous visit, had been taken over by a nebulous alien  being, the Great Intelligence, which has artificially prolonged his life and is now using him to control the Yeti by way of models on a chessboard-like map.  The Intelligence’s aim is to create a material form for itself and take over the Earth.  The Doctor banishes it back to the astral plane, allowing Padmasambhava finally to die in peace”.

David J Howe & Stephen James Walker's The Television Companion was published in 2003 by Telos Publishing

David J Howe & Stephen James Walker’s The Television Companion was published in 2003 by Telos Publishing

The Abominable Snowmen’s writers, Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln, sought to authenticate the serial by utilizing some real life names from the history of Tibetan Buddhism. The Master of the monastery was Padmasambhava, so named after the eighth century Buddhist Master who is said to have brought Vajrayana (tantric) Buddhism to Tibet. History names Padmasambhava as the author of Liberation Through Hearing During the Intermediate State (Bardo Thodol) which is known colloquially in the Western world as The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Given that the Bardo Thodol is in effect a treaty on how to ensure an absolute death and escape from the cycle of reincarnations, it is profoundly ironic that Padmasambhava of The Abominable Snowmen should be caught in a state of suspended life for hundreds of years. His death at the conclusion of the serial is more in accord with Buddhist philosophy as Padmasambhava at last finds peace in absolute death.

An image of Padmasambhava

An image of Padmasambhava

The name of monastery’s Abbot, Songsten, is taken from seventh Century Tibetan Empire founder, Songtsän Gampo, whilst the young monk Thonmi is so named after Thonmi Sambhota, the person traditionally credited for the invention of the Tibetan script. When the script was novelized by Terrance Dicks in 1974 as Doctor Who and the Abominable Snowmen, it was on the suggestion of Doctor Who’s then producer, Barry Letts, that these names should be changed.  As a Buddhist Letts considered the appropriation of the names inappropriate and accordingly they were slightly amended to Padmasambvha, Songtsen, and Thomni . At face value it appears that perhaps the Abbot’s name would best have remained as Songsten, as that is further from the real spelling of Songtsän than Songtsen.

An image of Songtsan Gampo

An image of Songtsan Gampo

An image of Thonmi Sambhota

An image of Thonmi Sambhota

Whereas The Tomb of the Cybermen was resplendent with crazed archaeologists, The Abominable Snowmen instead has a “mad anthropologist”.  This at least is how the fictional press of the serial refer to the explorer Travers as. Incidentally Travers is played by Jack Watling, the father of companion Deborah Watling. Watling reprised his role of Travers three serials later in the sequel, The Web of Fear. Watling, the elder, did a fine job in the serial, as did Deborah who was quite mesmerizing in the scene where she speaks the same phrase automatically whilst under Padmasambhava’s trance.

Jamie, Victoria and the "mad anthropologist", Travers. Jack Watling, the father of Deborah Watling, played Travis

Jamie, Victoria and the “mad anthropologist”, Travers. Jack Watling, the father of Deborah Watling, played Travis

Victoria emerges from the TARDIS and is shocked by what she sees

Victoria emerges from the TARDIS and is shocked by what she sees

The necessity for compassion is perhaps the integral moral of this story.  Although the monk-warrior Khrisong is murdered by the Abbot, Songsten, he is forgiven of his crime by both the victim on his death bed, and by his fellow monks thereafter.  As the young monk Thonmi rightly concludes, Songsten had been put under a trance by the Master, Padmasambhava.  He was but a puppet, as was Padmasambhava whom the Doctor identified as also being controlled. The entity that was the source of this control was the Great Intelligence.  This theme of forgiveness is not restricted only to Buddhism, but also to Christianity. Khrisong’s final words are reflective of one of Jesus Christ’s seven final sayings, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).  Judeo-Christian links in this story can also be gleaned from Padmasambhava’s use of the words “I am” on several occasions when describing himself.  Padmasambhava at one point states, “But our brother must not be allowed to depart in the knowledge that I am other than what I am”. “I am that I am” is the common English translation of God’s response to Moses when asked for his name (Exodus 3:14).

Khrisong is unforgiving to the Doctor as he is put out as Yeti bait.  In death, however, Khrisong forgives his murderer, Songsten

Khrisong is unforgiving to the Doctor as he is put out as Yeti bait. In death, however, Khrisong forgives his murderer, Songsten

The Doctor and the young monk, Thonmi

The Doctor and the young monk, Thonmi

The Great Intelligence returned, like Travers, in The Web of Fear, but the character would not be reprised for a third time for over 44 years, the longest period in abeyance of any monster, alien or foe in Who’s  history.  Manifesting itself as snow in the 2012 Christmas Special, The Snowmen, the Great Intelligence planned to invade the earth with Snowmen in lieu of Yeti.  The Great Intelligence eventually gained control of Walter Simeon’s body and would appear again as the Doctor’s main protagonist in the 2013 episodes The Bells of Saint John and The Name of the Doctor. A brief history of the Great Intelligence from The Abominable Snowmen  to The Name of the Doctor is set out in the video below.

The Great Intelligence Through the Ages 1967 -2013

The character’s long dormancy was most probably a consequence of the rift between its creators, Haisman and Lincoln, and the producers of Doctor Who following the pair’s ill-fated third Who script, The Dominators. Interestingly, no acknowledgement appears for Haisman and Lincoln as the creators of the Great Intelligence in the final credits of the Series 7 episodes in which the entity appears. Monsters created by other freelance writers, such as Terry Nation’s Daleks, are still credited to their originators to this day.

The Yeti taking a stroll

Haisman and Lincoln’s creations, The Yeti, taking a stroll

A final fascinating note on the Great Intelligence is that its appearance in The Snowmen predates chronologically its presence in The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear.  With the Abominable Snowmen set in around 1935 and The Web of Fear in the UNIT era, which is probably sometime in the 1970s, the Victorian tale of The Snowmen well predates the Troughton era stories.  John Hussey in his article on the history of the Great Intelligence published in Doctor Who TV, posits that the Doctor’s battles with the Great Intelligence in The Snowmen  could have actually been the inspiration for the two earlier stories. As evidence Hussey directs the reader’s attention to the London Underground map which the Eleventh Doctor showed the Great Intelligence. In outlining to the Intelligence the weaknesses in the system the Doctor may in fact have been responsible for Intelligence’s subsequent (but shown on TV, earlier) attack utilizing the London Underground in The Web of Fear.

The Eleventh Doctor shows the Great Intelligence a map of the London Underground in The Snowmen

The Eleventh Doctor shows the Great Intelligence a map of the London Underground in The Snowmen

A snowman from 2012's The Snowmen

A snowman from 2012’s The Snowmen

Being so critical of racism in the last serial, The Tomb of the Cybermen, I would be remiss not to point out that the Tibetan characters in The Abominable Snowmen are all played by Caucasian males. Unlike other Who serials such as the Third Doctor’s Planet of the Spiders and the Fourth Doctor’s The Talons of Weng-Chiang , the characters’ facial make up isn’t overtly reminiscent of Asian identity.  This early example of the Doctor Who production team erring in its moral duty to employ a more multi-cultural cast could perhaps, in this instance only, be overlooked if the viewer chooses to regard all the monks as Western converts to Buddhism.

The Abominable Snowmen's Padmasambhava

The Abominable Snowmen’s Padmasambhava

An unfortunate example of racism in the Third Doctor's Planet of the Spiders

An unfortunate example of racism in the Third Doctor’s Planet of the Spiders

White men were still being cast as Asian males in The Talons of Weng-Chiang, a Fourth Doctor Adventure

White men were still being cast as Asian males in The Talons of Weng-Chiang, a Fourth Doctor Adventure

I couldn’t fail to conclude this review without saying a word or two on the most loveable of Doctor Who monsters, the Yeti.  By the writers’ making these mythical Himalayan creatures robots, the designers were given the most perfect excuse for their creation of a less than realistic monster. If the Yeti looked pair shaped and cuddly, rather than mammoth and scary, the designers could always claim that realism was not their intention.  Perhaps they could retrospectively claim that the Monoids of The Ark were really robots!  All told, The Abominable Snowmen is a cracking good yarn and comes highly recommended.  By me at least!

The Yeti were so cute as to attract children during the filming of The Abominable Snowmen in Wales

The Yeti were so cute as to attract children during the filming of The Abominable Snowmen in Wales

Perhaps The Ark's Monoids should have been robots.  It would help explain their appalling design!

Perhaps The Ark’s Monoids should have been robots. It would help explain their appalling design!

Episode 2 of The Abominable Snowmen is held in the BBC Archives and has been released on the triple DVD set, Lost in Time.  The Abominable Snowmen was originally broadcast in the UK between 30 September and 4 November 1967.

Episode 2 of The Abominable Snowmen is held in the BBC Archives and has been released on the triple DVD set, Lost in Time. The Abominable Snowmen was originally broadcast in the UK between 30 September and 4 November 1967.

Vivien Fleming

©Vivien Fleming, 2013.

REFERENCES:

David J Howe & Stephen James Walker, The Television Companion: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to DOCTOR WHO. Telos Publishing Ltd, Surrey: 2003,

John Hussey, “Attack of the Snowmen: The Story of the Great Intelligence”, Doctor Who TV, 7 January 2013, http://www.doctorwhotv.co.uk/attack-of-the-snowmen-the-story-of-the-great-intelligence-44236.htm.  Retrieved on 20 August 2013.

The Underwater Menace

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In the 2009 Doctor Who Magazine Mighty 200 Poll of Doctor Who stories, The Underwater Menace was voted the seventh least popular.  Coming in at an appalling 194, it was one story above another long derided Patrick Troughton serial, The Space Pirates. Throw in The Dominators at 191,and the Second Doctor has three of the ten least popular serials.  That even beats Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor and Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor, each of whom had two serials each in the bottom 10.

Two Fish People resplendent in their sequin costumes

Two Fish People resplendent in their sequin costumes

So why is The Underwater Menace so lowly regarded? That until late 2011 only one of its four episodes were held in the BBC Archives may provide part of the answer.  In fact, nearly two years after episode two’s return, it has yet to be released on DVD.  Episode three was first released to the public on VHS cassette in 1998 and subsequently reissued on the 2004 DVD Lost in Time.

Damon in his funny head gear

Damon in his funny head gear

Without the context of the previous two episodes, episode three of The Underwater Menace must look extraordinarily bizarre to the casual viewer.  The classic disparaging comments dished out to Doctor Who, including bad graphics, wobbly sets and atrocious acting might, to the uninitiated, appear spot on.  The Fish People, who are enslaved by the Atlanteans, are surgically modified humans.  Having gills, flippers and scales, which are none other than sequins stuck to their faces, the Fish People farm the plankton that they, and the Atlanteans, are reliant upon for food. Being apparently bereft of refrigeration, this food source lasts only several hours before deterioration, thereby requiring the slave labour force to work around the clock to provide a constant fresh supply of stock. Polly narrowly escapes being operated upon to become a Fish Person in the episode one cliff hanger, which thanks for the ever vigilant Australian Censorship Board, we still have for our viewing pleasure.

Polly narrowly escaped being turned into a Fish Person

Polly narrowly escaped being turned into a Fish Person

Polly and Damon

Polly and Damon.  Polly’s Atlantean gear is just fab

Almost universally condemned for their costuming, I personally think the Fish People look fabulous, in a trippy, 1960s sort of way.  The Fish People swim around gracefully in an extended  performance of synchronized swimming during episode three.  I’m not entirely certain what the sequence’s purpose is  however it looks completely wild.  I can even excuse the trapeze wires that hold up the swimming Fish People up as they  elegantly swoon around.  Spotting the wires holding up space ships has always been one of my favourite parts of watching Doctor Who (there are some great strings to be spotted in The Dalek Invasion of Earth). This is just a logical extension of that peculiar interest!  That the Fish People decide to go on strike after having their humanity questioned by some enslaved miners is a bit farfetched, but hey, the reverse logic worked.

A rare colour photo of the Fish People

A rare colour photo of the Fish People

Not all Fish People wore sequins.  Given that The Underwater Menace went so over buget the BBC must not have been able to afford more sequins for this poor Fish Person

Not all Fish People wore sequins. Given that The Underwater Menace went so over budget, the BBC mustn’t have been able to afford more sequins for this poor Fish Person

Joseph Furst’s acting as the insane Polish Professor Zaroff is frequently the source of criticism.  Episode three ends with his classic manic cry of “Nothing in ze world can stop me now!”  That Zaroff is a parody of the mad scientist, and clearly meant to be played in a hammy, over the top fashion, appears lost on most critics. Where’s everyone’s sense of humour gone?  Zaroff’s plan to drain the oceans into the Earth’s molten core, thereby causing the planet’s explosion from overheated steam, is also dismissed as ludicrous.   Sure, he only wants to destroy the Earth because he can, and will also die in the resultant explosion, but that’s what mad scientists do.  They wouldn’t be mad scientists if their plans were rational. As Philip Sandifer states in Tardis Eruditorum, Zaroff’s scheme is no crazier an idea than the Daleks’ plan in The Dalek Invasion of Earth to drill the core out of the centre of the Earth and use the planet as a space ship. And that second Dalek serial isn’t dismissed out of hand as some form of corny atrocity.

The mad scientist Professor Zaroff

The mad scientist Professor Zaroff. “Nothing in ze world can stop me now!”

The Doctor and Zaroff

The Doctor and Zaroff

The Underwater Menace sees the Doctor take the lead in saving the Earth without recourse to dressing up continuously, although he does look rather cool when briefly dressed as some sort of tambourine playing hippy with sunglasses and bandanna.  We are even afforded the opportunity to see a snippet of the Doctor’s good conscience when he decides that he just can’t let Zaroff drown at the end of episode four.  A rock fall blocks the path to rescue, although at least the Doctor’s intentions are good. In this story the Doctor begins to display the characteristics that become his  staple for the duration of his tenure.

The Doctor is disguised as a tambourine playing hippy

The Doctor is disguised as a tambourine playing hippy

Polly, however, is denied the forthrightness of previous outings, and plays the screaming damsel far too often. Having been buoyed by her characterisation in The Highlanders, Polly’s inability to assertively take control of her own destiny in this serial was more than a little disappointing.  She can, however speak “foreign”, as Ben refers to it, and is conversant in German, French and Spanish.  Ben displays a good rapport with the Doctor and Jamie appears surprisingly unaffected by being dragged out of the 18th Century Scottish highlands, and into an underwater world of Fish People, temple worship and mad scientists. Ben and Jamie spend much of the time running around in black wetsuits.  The synthetic rubber of the wetsuit must have been an unusual sensation against Jamie’s highland skin, but remarkably he is not seen to make a comment about it.

Jamie and Ben spend much of their time in black wet suits

Jamie and Ben spend much of their time in black wet suits

The Underwater Menace ends with the mad scientist dead and the Atlanteans saved from Zaroff’s dastardly plan, although the city of Atlantis is flooded. No more Fish People will be made, and presumably they are freed from servitude. Religion, however, will be no more.  Damon believes that priests, superstition and temples made the Atlanteans follow Zaroff’s crazy plans and the temple should be buried forever.  Quite how this conclusion is reached is never stated and is certainly a very superficial solution to the Atlanteans’ problems. All told, however, The Underwater Menace is a fun romp and nowhere near as bad as its reputation.  Watch it with an eye for the ridiculous and you won’t be disappointed.

The Underwater Menace was originally broadcast in the UK between 14 January and 4 February 1967.  Episode 3 is available on the triple DVD set Lost in Time

The Underwater Menace was originally broadcast in the UK between 14 January and 4 February 1967. Episode 3 is available on the triple DVD set Lost in Time

Vivien Fleming

©Vivien Fleming, 2013.

REFERENCE:

Phil Sandifer, Tardis Eruditorum Volume 1: William Hartnell. Self published, 2011.