Chapter 53. Doctor Who and the Underworld (1980)

Synopsis: A group of space travellers seek the lost gene banks of the Minyans, a race of beings with tragic connections to the Time Lords. When their space craft becomes surrounded by a planet, the Minyan travellers discover a subjugated race – the Trogs – who live in underground tunnels as the slaves of the Seers and the god-like Oracle. Could these slaves be the descendants of the lost Minyans? The answers rest with the Oracle – and the quest is the quest…

Chapter Titles

  • Prologue
  • 1. The Nebula
  • 2. The Minyans
  • 3. The Intruders
  • 4. The Quest
  • 5. Buried Alive
  • 6. The Trogs
  • 7. Skyfall on Nine
  • 8. The Smoke
  • 9. The Mouth of the Dragon
  • 10. The Sword of Sacrifice
  • 11. The Crusher
  • 12. The Battle
  • 13. Doomsday
  • 14. The Legend

Background: Terrance Dicks adapts the 1978 scripts by by Bob Baker and Dave Martin.

Notes:  We begin with a prologue (how I love a prologue!) that details the events that led to the loss of Minyos and the isolation policy of the Time Lords. Back in The Invisible Enemy, the Doctor complained that the TARDIS control room is such a boring colour – ‘No aquamarines, no blues. No imagination!’ – and here, he’s trying to paint the control room aquamarine and getting paint everywhere (but in the final scene, he’s painting it white again). On learning of the sword ritual, the Doctor reminds Leela that her own tribe had a similar trial by ordeal. Leela suggests that they return to the TARDIS and leave the Minyans to their fate but the Doctor wants to solve the mystery of the P7E.

Cover: Bill Donohoe combines two photo reference from this story to create something rather like a pulp sex book you’d find in the saucy rack in a 1970s newsagent – the Doctor looks pensive  while Herrick carries a near-death Tala – as if we’ve just walked in on a scene we don’t really want to be a part of.

Final Analysis: This would always be a tricky one, a real clunker from Bob Baker and Dave Martin (the kings of overambition) and it’s one that’s always been unpopular for good reason. Devoid of the visibly low budget of the TV version, we’re left with a story with no recognisable human interaction, just mythology that gets a bit repetitive. It’s a relief that Terrance Dicks finds a way to highlight that humanity: The father who grieves for his lost wife and daughter after they’re killed in a landfall is a rare highlight. Something I’ve noticed though is that the Fourth Doctor in this period is brash and often his overconfidence borders on bullying, which makes it hard to like him. The real highlight is that Dicks makes great use of K9 for his comedy potential, the wilfully over-literal explanations are hilarious.