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  1. #1
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    Default Going Underworld

    Gathering dust on my DVD shelf for nearly three years, is Underworld. It remains the only Tom Baker story I have no recollection of at all! From the time, I can remember watching Who from the very end of The Hand of Fear onwards - very vaguely at first of course, as I was only a Time Tot, but with more 'clarity' from 1979 onwards.

    Since those heady days, I've caught most of Tom's stories again - either on video or DVD or, in a couple of cases, through repeats on BBC Four or the Horror Channel. There are two exceptions.

    One if The Invisible Enemy, which through no particular planning I've not watched since it was transmitted. But I do remember watching it - from its initial showing, I remember having to miss episode two which, given how part one ends with the Doctor about to shoot Leela, and part three starts with the action having moved to an entirely different location and with lots of new characters, was rather annoying. I also, though, vaguely recall finally getting to watch part two at my Aunt's house when it was repeated.

    Of season 15, then, I can remember snatches of Horror of Fang Rock from when it was shown - Invisible Enemy of course - certainly The Sunmakers (part one and three's cliffhangers, and especially the shrinking Usurian certainly lodged in my brain) - and even The Invasion of Time (although my main memory there is of watching the last episode but somehow totally missing the last few moments - until I finally saw it again on video, I was convinced Terrance Dicks had made up the whole 'K9 Mark II' bit for the book!) Image of the Fendahl failed to make an impression, but I've now seen that on both video and DVD...

    ...all of which leaves poor old Underworld. Partly inspired by Jonno's rewatching of Blakes 7 to tie in with its 40th anniversary, I think the time is right to take Underworld off the shelf, dust it down, and (on the occasion of its 40th anniversary - today!) give it a spin.

    I'll be watching part 1 today... although I know that every review of Underworld ever written seems to begin with "part 1 was OK, but..."

    So it's back to being 6 and a half, to Tom being superb, and to Underworld!

  2. #2
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    I'll be interested to read your thoughts having only seen Underworld the once about 15 years ago back in the days of UK Gold.
    Ken and I are still a couple of months away from reaching the Tom era but we should eventually get to Underworld later in the year all being well.

  3. #3
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    First surprise, before the opening titles had even finished - I'd always thought Underworld was written by Anthony Read. Turns out (as I'm sure everybody else already knew) it's Bob Baker & Dave Martin!

    Some random thoughts:
    The companion is written very generically. Luckily, Louise is too good an actress and she manages to make it work as far as she's able - so, for example, in the opening TARDIS scene although she's operating the controls, she's doing it in a very anxious and uncertain, trepidatious sort of way.

    K9! I knew he was in it, but hadn't realised he'd be so involved. Not at all hard to see from this why he was such an immediate hit!

    A slightly curious episode in that there's no enemy, and in fact there aren't even two strands of plot going on after the initial arrival of the Doctor on the flight deck.

    Very nice for the Doctor and Leela to be able to take the weight off and have a comfy chair for the cliffhanger.

    Very impressive effects, especially for the time I would have thought - lovely opening spacescape (quite similar in style to Invasion of Time, I think) and nicely-detailed spaceship.

    Tom's scarf looks especially wide and bright, I'm liking that very much!

    So, in other words: Part 1 was OK, but...

  4. #4
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    ...Part 2 is not so good.

    Obviously I wasn't surprised by the presence of a lot of CSO caves. On the other hand, I was occasionally surprised that it worked OK. Just not enough of the time. There's also too many moments where the CSO background is the same for (I think) different locations, which confuses - have Jackson and Herrick gone back to the ship so they can come around the corner again, or is it a different corner?

    But I have to admit, I don't think the CaveSO are the big problem, it's more the script. Naff moments like Edas briefly attacking the Doctor when the gas comes in; the Doctor actually getting to say "what can blow can suck" just before the cliffhanger - which sort of robs it of any tension because I presume I can guess what happens next. Too little happens between the start and the end of part two, which is a shame.

    Also odd (again) is Leela's very dramatic "we're going to crash" at the start (was this the original part 1 cliffhanger I wonder) before they then all sit around casually waiting to crash. And was Dick Mills on holiday, or did some idiot think they could save a bit of money by not employing him? Buttons pressed make no noise, and most obviously the sonic screwdriver is silent. It just goes to show that what might seem a small difference, actually makes a big difference to the show.

    So, OK, not as bad as I might have expected, and in fact with a slightly better script, and better production values, and better guest actors, it might have been really good!

  5. #5
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    I might move this down the list on stories to watch Andrew! Next for me for a re-watch is Masque of Mandragora!

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    I developed a bit of a law of thumb concerning Tom's stories - being the ones I grew up, down, outwards and sideways watching - that was somewhat proven when the videos started coming out, eg. the more I could remember of a story, the better it tended to be. Underworld is one of my very least favourite Tom stories, being one I have trouble remembering bits from after having seen the video and DVD, let alone having no memories at all from first broadcast.

    Very little happens after the first episode - so part 1 was ok but... There are no memorable performances except from Richard Shaw and Alan Lake, and not for reasons you might expect: the latter only because of who he became and his tragic end; the former because he was so much better in his other two performances in Who - the best things in two other fairly poor stories.

    It's ridiculous the amount of times people end up walking through rocks in the story, although to be fair it's happening nowhere near as many times as other people will have you believe. Episode one is at least worth watching for the modelwork and the setup, but yes, well, it's better to have it than not, in the same way that it's better that any Doctor Who story survives than not, regardless. Just not one I'd go out of my way to watch.

  7. #7
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    Alan Lake is giving it perhaps more than it deserves, which as least makes Herric (sp?) memorable. Well - memorableish I suppose, since I started by saying I remembered nothing of this one from 1978.

    I've been mulling over part 2 this past seven days far more than is good for me, and I think that quite apart from the visual limitations its big problem is that the whole episode is a series of different characters popping up and doing something, many of them new characters in this ep, without any real connection between them, and without anybody really offering any kind of explanation or context to anything. So a real oddity (which is a politer word than 'disaster')...

  8. #8
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    ...However, today's third episode was surprisingly better than I expected. Still not an awful lot of explanation to any of the events, and oddly the Doctor hasn't yet had any kind of proper encounter with any of the villains - in fact, other than a brief appearance just in time to stop the execution, he doesn't even meet them at all. So he's sort of taking it all on faith as to who are the good guys and who the bad (although to be fair, executing withered old slaves in a tortuously sadistic manner isn't usually an indication of a good heart).

    The aforementioned Alan Lake continues to liven up his part, which is good in one way but bad in another in that he doesn't really gel with the rather understated performances by the rest of the guest cast. In the case of the Minyans, other than him and Jackson the other two don't appear to serve any purpose at all - as far as I could see they didn't even get a "The Quest is The Quest" to say in this episode.

    Tom also puts in the effort to try and make something of this, giving it a bit of life where he can - the 'lift' scene is rather fun, Dudley's music adding to it, and Tom making wings out of his scarf. Leela, alas, isn't served quite as well, being unexpectedly aware of Odysseus (maybe she's been watching some Hartnells inbetween stories) but other than that being very much a generic companion.

    The slaves are dull, and unfortunately so are most of the villains - the bizarre opening moment with the gas in the control room is really rather embarassing. It was nice to see the clip from the Tom Baker Years, if only for nostalgic reasons, and I must admit I thought it was a nice twist when the Seers removed their hoods to reveal that they are actually robots (so that's, in reality, men in masks in masks!!).

    Another odd cliffhanger, and I find I'm 75% through and would still struggle to explain what on earth this is actually all about. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that next week will explain how a society has been established over so many years, in a planet that is referred to as newly-formed....

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Andrew Curnow View Post
    the 'lift' scene is rather fun
    Isn't there a lift scene featuring Leela and one of the male locals which is recycled later in the story on a monitor screen?

    Oh, and as for the newly-formed planet - time is relative, lunchtime doubly so.

  10. #10
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    It may be the same lift scene, as it has the Doctor, Leela and Edas all going down together. As it were.

    I think the Readers Digest may have a page for people like you, Mr Wallis...

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    Leela, alas, isn't served quite as well, being unexpectedly aware of Odysseus...
    Watching this scene again in its reprise at the start of part 4, I realise it should be Ulysses - but, well, potato, potato, etc. More to the point, I notice on second viewing that the brilliant Louise saves the day again by having Leela look baffled when the Doctor makes the reference, only then quoting the name back to Jackson in a sort of 'one up' on him. So she's a good listener, rather than a classical scholar.

    As for Underworld, well at least it's over! What an odd story all in. There are some explanations there, but the whole thing just somehow lacks drama. It's partly the CSO caves, of course, but it's more than that - the direction is so flat (granted, in part that may be BECAUSE of the CSO, but that's no excuse when they're inside one of the spaceships, and have genuine, bona fide, actual scenery) that the action scenes, the dialogue asides, the important expositions, it's all just the same.

    Tom does his best to make something of what presumably ought to be a climax of sorts when the Doctor confronts the Oracle (perfect example in this scene of what I meant above - the explanation of the Oracle being a nutty computer isn't given any weight at all) but it doesn't come across as particularly climactic or dramatic.

    The script doesn't really help, oddly lacking any full explanations for what's going on, and ending simply by having the enemy accidentally detonating their own bomb (big enough, apparently, to destroy an entire planet which seems a bit excessive).

    One thing to the story's credit, for once we aren't expected to believe that about five people are a whole tribe - and although not hundreds, nevertheless the scene where the Trogs (is that really what they're called?) evacuate does use a greater number of extras than usual, which in turn really helps sell the idea that the ship is now overweight.

    And then we're back in the TARDIS, where the Doctor has of course got paint on his face

    Ah well. So that's Underworld. It's nice to have seen it (it's nice to have survived it!) but I can certainly understand why, if I did actually watch it in 1978, I didn't remember anything about it. The Quest is the Quest.

  12. #12
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    Given the story's reputation, nearer the Test is the Test. (Or the Pest is the Pest if you're going to be rude.)

  13. #13
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    I've been polishing off the extra on this one, what there are of them. I must admit I was surprised, but rather pleased, to see Tom in fine spirits on the raw studio footage; I'd expected the overly technical nature of the production to slow things down to an extent which would have become very annoying. Apparently not (at least, not based on the footage here).

    'The Making Of' was interesting, although by the sound of it 'doing it all with CSO' wasn't an easy or simple step by any means (Antony Read talks about them rewiring the studio, and AJ Mitchell explains how the cables all needed to be cut to the same lengths, etc, etc) so it's more surprising than ever that this was a cheaper option that just getting some scenery knocked up. In an odd sort of way I could have understood if it was the ship, but you would have thought the BBC would have some old cave flats kicking around wouldn't you.


    And now I've started watching the one about the deserted railway station, the ghost hunter, and the WW1 soldier wh-- no, hold on, that's Sapphire & Steel sorry. Although I'll probably only get a few episodes in before I've got to stop watching that and will rewatch City of Death instead!

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