Chapter 129. Doctor Who – The Underwater Menace (1988)

Synopsis: In an undersea base live the last survivors of Atlantis. It’s also home to Zaroff, a scientist believed dead. His experiments on the locals have resulted in strange fish-like people inhabiting the nearby ocean, but that’s not where Zaroff’s ambitions lie. His latest scheme could literally tear the Earth apart.

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue
  • 1. Under the Volcano
  • 2. Sacrifices to Amdo
  • 3. Professor Zaroff
  • 4. Escapees
  • 5. An Audience With the King
  • 6. The Voice Of Amdo
  • 7. Kidnap
  • 8. ‘Nothing In The World Can Stop Me Now!’
  • 9. Desperate Remedies
  • 10. The Prudence of Zaroff
  • 11. The Hidden Assassin
  • Epilogue

Background: Nigel Robinson adapts scripts for a 1967 serial by Geoffrey Orme.

Notes: Jamie’s first sight of the inside of the TARDIS is told in the prologue; the ‘gleaming white walls’ are covered with ‘large circular indentations’ that emit an ‘eerie light, while the walls are lined with strange looking machines’. There’s also a large chest, a ‘splendid Louis XIV chair’, plus a mahogany hatstand upon which a ‘stove-pipe’ rests (though a popular description of the Doctor’s hat for many years, we now understand it to be a ‘Paris Beau’, unless the Target Doctor really does wear a top hat like Abraham Lincoln’s). The Doctor is ‘a little man dressed in baggy check trousers several sizes too big for him and a scruffy frock coat which had obviously seen better days’: he has ‘jade-green eyes’. Ben is, succinctly, a ‘wiry Cockney sailor’, while Polly is ‘a tall, long-legged blonde with long heavily-made-up eyelashes; her clothes – a ‘revealing multi-coloured mini-skirt and a white silk scarf’ – reveal that, like Ben, she comes from London, 1966 [once again contradicting Gerry Davis’s origins in the Target universe as shown in Doctor Who and the Tenth Planet]. The rather nice sequence from the telly episode of interior thoughts for the TARDIS team (‘Prehistoric monsters!’) is cut.

Professor Zaroff’s first name is ‘Hermann’. He disappeared 20 years ago and created the ‘Fish people’ by manipulating the genetic coding of the Atlaneans. His pet octopus is called Neptune. There is a Labour Controller who looks after the slaves (on TV, Damon fulfils this role too). Ara was the daughter of a councillor who spoke out against Zaroff and was killed. She keeps her former high status secret by hiding as a servant. Before he died, her father showed her the speaking grill behind Amdo’s statue. Zaroff and his high priest Lolem are left fighting to the death when they are caught in the flood and drown. The majority of the Atlanteans do survive the disaster (and possibly Zaroff’s pet octopus, Neptune, too). Unusually, the cliffhanger from TV of the TARDIS veering out of control is retained.

Cover: The Oliver Elmes logo is used here. The main artwork is a lovely evocative painting of the fish people, a great effort by artist Alister Pearson, making his debut here. 

Final Analysis: It’s a bit of a kindness on Nigel Robinson’s part that this unloved story gets such a decent treatment here. As the story was missing three of its four episodes at the time of writing, Robinson had to rely on the scripts, so some of the improvisations from the studio are missing; when episode two was discovered and screened at the BFI”s Missing Believed Wiped event, fans in the audience were charmed by such details as the Doctor knocking on his own head while discussing Zaroff’s madness, but that’s understandably absent from the book. What we do get is the now traditional tidying up of motivations and thought processes, such as the Doctor actively searching for Zaroff because he’s been told that he often strolls in the market (it’s much more coincidental on screen) or Zaroff failing to recognise Ben and Jamie because, when he first met them, his attentions were solely focused on the Doctor. The problems with the story are inherent in the original broadcast, but we get the sense that our heroes at least know how ridiculous it all is, which makes them just as determined to put a stop to the mad scientist. Extra points to Robinson for using the story’s most infamous line – ‘Nothing In The World Can Stop Me Now!’ as the title of Chapter 8, building up to it and giving it more context than we had when this was published.

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