Tuesday, October 14, 2008

the underwater menace

The only episode of this Patrick Troughton story that remains in its entirety is the third, and I was fortunate enough to watch it when Jamie got me Lost in Time. I was struck then by the sheer weirdness and creativity of the set design and costumes as it was set underwater (duh) in Atlantis. Despite this, the story has been regarded as a bunch of “old twaddle” (yes, I stole that phrase from Jamie though I don’t think he ever described this story quite that way). Perhaps then it is a superb candidate for the audio treatment as provided by Anneke Wills (Polly) who provides linking narration here much as Frazer Hines did for The Evil of the Daleks and Carole Ann Ford did for The Reign of Terror. At four episodes it’s positively sleek by 1967 standards, and despite it being a series of escapes and recaptures, I found it quite entertaining. Perhaps it helped that Anneke Wills voice was both soothing and a good one for narration; perhaps it helped that much more of the dialogue told the story than in Evil of the Daleks (was that the script writer’s fault?).

This is Jamie (McCrimmon’s) first proper story, having just been recruited from The Highlanders. It’s hilarious to see (hear?) him coming to grips with time travel (and everything else!) in this story, which he manages in irrepressible Frazer Hines style meanwhile maintaining a “desperate Scottish” accent. As I say, I admire the unusual setting that Gregory Orme gives us, and for once I find out the story behind that rather strange third episode I saw. The Doctor, Jamie, Polly, and Ben land the TARDIS in what Polly surmises is the Cornish coast, but in fact, as the Doctor determines, they’re nearer the Mediterranean. They “scramble up the volcano,” which indeed must be arduous for Polly if she’s in bloody heels like I expect she is!

Anneke Wills notes later in her interview that when she left, Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines’ natural tendency was to comedy, which is certainly already showing here. “You’ll find out!” the Doctor says when Jamie wants to know what’s going on. “I don’t think I want to know,” replies Jamie. Ben snipes that in his kilt, “someone might mistake [Jamie] for a bird!” Since apparently the crew have landed in 1970 (?!), Polly notes this is later than her own time. “Later?!” cries a baffled Jamie. “I wish I understood.” I was impressed that Polly speaks at least three European languages, and Jamie speaks Gaelic—between them and the Doctor, they’d do pretty well on communication (that is, if the TARDIS didn’t translate things already—maybe it was malfunctioning at first?).

The team almost get eaten by sharks, then sacrificed to the Atlanteans’ goddess Amdo before the scientist Zaroff comes to the rescue. The Doctor cleverly facilitates this with some reverse psychology and pretending to be a little more familiar with Professor Zaroff than he is. Zaroff is the egomaniac of which we seem to encounter only in James Bond and Doctor Who. He utters the immortal line, “I could feed you to my pet octopus, yes?” To which the Doctor replies, “Yes.” Zaroff is a food expert (perhaps he and Yana should have teamed up) who has come to Atlantis to do studies. When the Doctor asks him how the Atlanteans ever accepted him, Zaroff says he gave them a big sugar-coated pill by telling them he’d raise Atlantis to the surface of the Earth. The Doctor is horrified at the plan. In order for the audience to understand the full extent of his horror, the Doctor cries, “Do you know what you’re doing?” “You tell me, Doctor.” Apparently the nutty Zaroff’s going to explode or fry or both, the Earth. “Just one small question—why do you want to blow up the Earth?!” Because he can, muhahahahaha!

The primitive Atlanteans want to sacrifice the travellers to Amdo, turn Polly into a fish (before Peri was about to be turned into a bird), and Zaroff will stop the Doctor and his Atlantean allies from interfering at any cost! All this involves the Doctor donning a ridiculous disguise, Polly wearing shells, Jamie and Ben making friends with some guys named Sean and Jacko (where they came from, I’m not quite sure), the Fish People getting agitated and going on strike, culminating in Zaroff killing people, dragging Polly around, and shouting, “Nothing in the world can stop me now!!”

The Doctor manages to foil Zaroff, of course, but says, “I can’t leave Zaroff to drown there!” Zaroff perishes due to his own hubris, and Polly cries of the Doctor, “he must have died saving us!” Of course the Doctor did not die. Polly gets dragged roughly to her feet by Jamie in what could have ended in really bad fan fiction but doesn’t, fortunately. The surviving, displaced Atlanteans escape from their submerged city declaring “there will be no more temples” as they, like the world at large, reject religion for science. When Jamie alleges the Doctor can’t control the TARDIS, the Time Lord sputters, “I know: let’s go to Mars!” They end up on one of the most boring serials ever, “The Moonbase,” but that’s another story.

I read an interview with Anneke Wills in Shooty Dog Thing as she promoted the first volume of her autobiography. To be honest, I’d never heard of her before Doctor Who so I haven’t picked up the autobiography yet. But she seems a delightful interviewee, very lucid and also full of fun and pluck. I loved what she said about narrating the story in audio form: “I get to work again with Pat.” She notes that just hearing his voice is such pleasure, and I agree. You can accept almost anything if it comes from Troughton, or at least I can. He is a most consummate actor in audio or on screen, and listening to him play the Doctor constitutes almost half the fun of this audio adventure.

Again, as I said, the clipped nature of this story makes it much easier to listen to and follow than the ordinary stories of the period, and the over-the-top nature of the incidental characters as well as the humor of the principals increased its pleasure factor.

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