Sunday, 28 October 2012

The Macra Terror

The Macra Terror introduces the ‘terrifying’ eponymous creatures, who since have briefly appeared in the revived series – in an appearance utterly redundant to the plot, mind – and sees the time travellers arrive within a seemingly utopian society, run much like a 1950s holiday camp.  If The Moonbase was a serial for Anneke Wills to really expand on her character, then The Macra Terror does the same for Michael Craze’s character Ben.  The Macra Terror is also the very first serial to feature the Doctor's face in the opening credits - again, it a shame we don't get to see this is in action until the first episode of the next serial, which at least exists.

The colony is a suspicious place, and from the telesnaps we can tell that the visuals are superb – the set and costume design is marvellous, and the use of the incidental music, whilst mildly jarring, fits wonderfully with the setting – it is cheery, upbeat, and so fits the jovial atmosphere perfectly.  The first thing welcoming the Doctor and his crew is the distraught Medok, played with bleary-eyed enthusiasm by Terence Lodge.  Medok is being pursued by Ola and the guards, and thanks to the distraction of the new arrivals he is captured for reprogramming in the correctional facility – “for your own good”.  It is the first of many clues that not all is well in this colony – despite the cheerful facade and fun and frivolity, something is decidedly wrong here.

The colony operates as a perfect utopia, where all involved are happy to work – for work helps the colony, so all can be happy.  This idyll is overseen by Ola, the chief of the security forces here, and the Pilot.  Both are overseen by the Controller, an Orwellian leader in the vein of Big Brother.  Upon arrival within the colony, where they are welcomed and heralded for their assistance in the capture of the rebellious Medok, the group are taken to the ‘Refreshment Area’, where they are provided with fresh clothes and a rejuvenated appearance.  There is a nifty continuity bit here, though, with Anneke Wills’ haircut being hidden with hair extensions until this opening episode.  The Doctor, however, is far less pleased with his new spick-and-span appearance, and there is some wonderful comedy when he steps into the “rough and tumble” machine to return to his previous appearance.

Fraser Hines, as Jamie, is given some wonderful characterisation in the serial, too, as he is naturally predisposed to judging the seemingly perfect society, and his paranoia about the environment and the people is played marvellously.  The dystopian theme is made blatant to the viewer, too; we, as do Jamie and the Doctor, feel uncomfortable here, and it is predominantly thanks to the superb script by Ian Stuart Black; the juxtaposition of the seeming idyllic lifestyle with phrasing such as “It is a privilege to work!” and the decision that they are to be “confined” for “happy sleep time”.  There is an underlying menace made through the clear emphasis placed on certain words and phrases.  Likewise, after the travellers are confined to their beds, the Controller’s demands that the guards go out to find the newly escaped Medok – again, thanks to the Doctor – and Ola’s order that they “shoot to kill” further highlights the threat.

Meanwhile, the Doctor has slipped from his confinement and is searching the building areas for Medok, who he spotted hiding earlier on.  He is aware of the danger to the colony, and needs desperately to speak to Medok to confirm his fears.  The final moments of the episode see the final reveal of the claw of the Macra – and this is where my only real issue with this serial arises; after the cliffhanger at the end of The Moonbase, where the TARDIS crew saw the claw appearing, almost an identical cliffhanger arises here at the end of episode 1 – and indeed, a very similar cliffhanger is used at the end of episode 2, but with Ben and Polly in danger, and episode 3 sees an identical one again, this time on a TV screen in the room with the Controller.

Episode 2 sees the propaganda of the colony ratchet up even further into darker realms with the subconscious and soothing voice muttering empty promises and subliminal messages of the ‘deep sleep thinking’.  As Ben, Jamie and Polly sleep in their rooms, gas seeps in and the calming voice of Richard Beale tells them to “obey”, and the way in which the two male companions react to it is fascinating; whilst Jamie is unable to sleep, aware of the evil intentions of the calming voice, we are forced to realise that, as he is from ‘the past’, he is close-minded.  He cannot be controlled, and is slightly unknowable, much like the Doctor himself.  Ben, meanwhile, has an institutionalised mind anyway, as he is from a naval background which sees him spend his life following orders and acting within the boundaries of the status quo.  It is natural, then, that the hypnotism works on him.

And again, this is where Michael Craze is really able to come into his own; everything about his portrayal of Ben changes with the slightest nuances – his accent loses its broadness, his inflections alter ever so slightly.  Although we can’t see him in action, as the episode is missing, from the stills available it looks like he even holds himself differently.  It’s magnificent – his character growth continues in the next two episodes too, as he tries to fight his ‘reprogramming’ and yet betrays his friends and everything he previously held dear to him, but the change in his voice means we are able to hear him desperately fighting it – he questions the frivolity of the Doctor, and his antiestablishment message, and reports his friends for the damage and refusal to follow the colony line, but we can hear how much it cuts him up inside all the same.

Troughton’s on top form here, too – since his arrival, we could tell that he was a rebel, and against the establishment.  The Macra Terror gives him the perfect platform to expound his own mantras – “bad rules are made to be broken”, he says in episode 4, but it isn’t just rules he looks to break.  The genuine pleasure he feels when he destroys the technology of the deep sleep thinking programming is wonderful, and the fact that he impresses himself is beautifully played.  The faith that the simply boy from the past has in him is lovely, too – Hines plays Jamie as virtuous and faithful, and it is no wonder that he went on to be the companion to Troughton’s Doctor for the rest of his tenure; their relationship is cemented here, as he extols “I take orders from no-one but the Doctor”.

The scenes in which Ben pursues Polly through the camp are troubling – thanks to his hypnotic reprogramming, we can’t be sure exactly how he’ll react once he catches here, but as the two become surrounded by the Macra, Craze’s portrayal is superb; whilst Polly simply screams a lot, Ben desperately fights his programming, which clearly states that “There are no Macra!” but the evidence of his own eyes causes him huge concern.  It’s a lovely moment, and one which is made all the better by his decision to send Polly off, whilst he stays and fights to keep her safe.  Despite the control held over him, he still cherishes her safety over that of his own.

The final scenes, where Ben denies the existence of the Macra despite the incidents in the building site are offset by the sudden discovery that the Macra are in charge – whilst the audience have been able to predict as much all along, particularly due to the Controller only ever being visible as a photograph, with the Big Brother style liturgy being pumped out at full blast, and the underlying menace of the ‘happy’ vocabulary, the reveal of the frail old man, menaced over by a gigantic claw, is still rather shocking. 

Episode 3 sees the Doctor and his companions sent to work on “the Danger Gang”, down in the mines where people are sent to work until their death when reprogramming proves an invalid form of control.  There, they are reunited with Medok, and, overseen by the Officia, played by John Harvey.  Harvey is wonderful – as with Peter Jeffrey as the Pilot, they represent the real danger of this dystopian society, good men who do bad things because they think it is right.  The Officia sends the group down into the gas mines, leaving the Doctor top-side in the control room as their overseer.  Jamie and Polly are swiftly able to relieve the Officia of his keys, though, and Jamie sneaks away with Medok into the Old Shaft, where it is prohibited for colonists to enter.  Sadly, Medok is swiftly dispatched by a rampaging Macra claw, though, and Jamie is alone, face-to-face with an apparently dormant creature.

Troughton is wonderful in his scenes with the chalk, as he mentally decodes a system which the colony computers had taken years to work out; there is no doubt that the Doctor is still the genius he seemed to be as Hartnell, which makes him all the more unreliable, as a genius with no respect for authority is a dangerous thing indeed.  The moment that he gives himself 10/10 for his workings and then, gleefully, changes it to 11/10 when he discovers how difficult the workings allegedly were, is hilarious. 

Despite his conditioning, Ben still helps his friends though – having seen the Officia have his keys swiped, he does not report them.  When questioned on this, he simply responds that he doesn’t know why he didn’t report.  This scene echoes an almost identical one in Ian Stuart Black’s last script, The War Machines, where it was Polly who had been hypnotised, and allowed Ben’s escape.  Craze, though, gets far more to do on an emotional level – we can hear the confusion in his voice and it is tearing him apart.

The Controller orders the gas to be diverted into the Old Shaft, where Jamie is currently hiding, and it allows the Doctor to finally realise the importance of the gas to the colonists – the Macra thrive on it; like a bacteria, they are hiding beneath the surface, feeding on the gas to give them the strength for their brief forays to the surface.  As the gas is diverted, the slumbering giant awakens and begins to terrorise Jamie, and it is a race against time for the Doctor to save him.  The cliffhanger motif is repeated once more, as a gigantic claw looms over Jamie.

Episode 4 sees Troughton at his most rebellious and dangerous – the glee that we can hear in his voice as he takes tremendous pleasure in damaging the circuitry and rerouting gas is palpable, and the fury of the colonists is marvellous too; they refuse to believe in the Macra, thanks to their programming, and as such see no reason for this level of wanton destruction.  The Doctor’s meddling does, of course, save Jamie, as he diverts the outflow and inflow pipes to pump oxygen into the shaft, forcing the Macra to return to its weakened slumber.  The Doctor’s attempts to persuade Polly that there is no danger – “There’s no need to be afraid... at least, I think there’s no need...” is brilliant, but again we’re given the idea that this Doctor, for all of his clear intellect and cunning, is doing everything on a wing and a prayer.  He’s always the man with the plan, now, but there’s always a sense that the outcome is pure luck.

Jamie finally escapes the Old Shaft and runs straight into a group of cheerleaders rehearsing for their rousing show that evening.  The mantras of the society are never as chilling as they are here, though, cried with exultant glee by skimpily dressed colonists who genuinely believe in all that they are saying.  His escape from them, under the guise of a dancer, sounds like tremendous fun, and again, it is a travesty that this episode is missing – likewise for the final scenes in which the TARDIS crew all dance their way to freedom, it sounds marvellous.

The Doctor and Polly have discovered the truth, meanwhile, having followed a system of pipes down to the Control Room, where a white Macra presides, issuing orders over the sound system.  Miraculously, the Doctor manages to break the conditioning of the Pilot – although quite how he manages it so quickly is beyond me, considering the number of years he has no doubt been under the influence of it – and he persuades the Pilot to follow him to see the truth of the Macra infestation.  The horror in Peter Jeffrey’s voice sells his conviction wonderfully – we can fully believe that this is a man who realises that almost his entire life has been a sham, and he has been duped from the outset. 

One of the most chilling things about this final episode, though, is the voice of the control, played with chilling precision by Denis Goacher.  The previous calm is gradually distorted as it realises exactly what Ben is doing – the childish pleas for help, the very insistence that they stop doing what they are doing because the Macra hasn’t commanded it, is horrifying.  Finally able to see clearly, having broken his conditioning once and for all, Ben aids the Doctor with transferring the gas flows into the Control Centre, causing an explosion which kills the Macra – amidst pleas such as “It is forbidden to touch that instrument! You must not obey the Doctor! You will kill us all! He intends to create an explosion!” an explosion rips the heart of the colony apart, freeing all of the inhabitants there.

With the Macra destroyed, the colony reverts to a celebratory mood – much like the opening scenes, there is music and partying and fun, only this time it seems genuine.  Even the Doctor is getting involved, for once hanging around for the thanks of the colonists.  It is only when he is informed by Ben that “they’re going to draft us as members of the Colony – and make you the next Pilot!” he decides to take the group back to the comparative safety of the TARDIS, and following Jamie’s lead, the group dance their way back to the ship.

Whilst it is difficult to say with absolute certainty, due to the missing nature of the visuals, I would like to argue that The Macra Terror is possibly one of the finest Doctor Who serials, certainly of the 1960s if not ever.  The script is superb – the satire is perfectly well-handled by Ian Stuart Black – and the performances from the guest cast are sublime, too.  There is not one faulted performances throughout, and Michael Craze and Troughton have rarely been on such top form yet.  The incidental music was sublime, jarring and unnerving whilst being disgustingly saccharine at the same time, in perfect keeping with the supposed idyll of the Colony.  The set design, and costume design too, were uniformly excellent, and although the appearance of the Macra may have let the serial down in some regards, as how successfully achieved they are is unclear, the director clearly had a talent for keeping things suitably dark and mysterious, wreathed in fog, and one can only imagine how excellent this lost masterpiece truly is.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

The Moonbase

Ah, The Moonbase.  A serial which sets out the template for the next few seasons, sees the return of the Cybermen, and firmly plants Troughton’s portrayal of the Doctor, providing a concrete template for the way in which our impish hero will behave forever.  This serial has always been my favourite of all of the Cybermen stories, and that is no mean feat, considering it is missing 2 of the 4 episodes.  Written by Kit Pedler, the co-creator of the Cybermen who worked on The Tenth Planet, it sees our time travellers arrive not on an alien planet, but on the moon.  The moon!  That big satellite up in the sky, the one which we see every night before we go to bed; and it’s brilliant.  Considering Pedler was a scientist – of sorts, at least – the science here is surprisingly ridiculous.  Anyhow, let’s get on with this...

Continuing on from closing scenes of The Underwater Menace, the TARDIS is out of control, and is forced to crash land; having been aimed at Mars, the Doctor misses his target by some “200,000,000 miles” and the crew don spacesuits to leave the craft and have a jolly old time of it out on the lunar surface.  It takes some persuading, mind, as the Doctor was eager to leave straight away, but he is eventually coerced into giving the crew “shore leave”.  The TARDIS ‘family’ unit is still firmly in place, and the group sound like they’re having marvellous fun as the bounce around in reduced gravity – although the incidental music to accompany these jumps are rather strange and out of place.  Whilst this episode no longer exists, the telesnaps, as well as the footage existent in episodes 2 and 4, show how magnificent the model work and set design is.

On the eponymous Moonbase, meanwhile, a plague has broken out, striking down their doctor and several other men.  When the Doctor and his companions arrive, with Jamie having suffered a concussion whilst enjoying the moon-based frivolity, the group are welcomed with surprisingly open arms.  Considering the importance of the work that the scientists do on the moon, controlling the weather across all of the Earth, the security is surprisingly lax, and the way in which Hobson and his men welcome the travellers with open arms, and no questions, is bizarre.  Still, after the last ‘base under siege’ serial, which softly felt-out the correct way in which these dramas should work (The Tenth Planet) it is comforting to see the group settle so quickly into their environments, and be accepted so easily – Hobson has a genial, tired expression of acceptance, a very stark contrast to that of Cutler in The Tenth Planet.
Troughton’s performance in this first episode is wonderful – both deadly serious and hilariously comical, and again assures us, the viewers, that this is how he will stay from now on – after the fluctuation in his performances up to now, we see that the Doctor of The Underwater Menace is Troughton’s definitive Doctor.  His constant interruptions of the exhausted Hobson are brilliant, as he craves their attention and a formal introduction. 

As I mentioned, the lack of security upheld on the base is shocking; in fact, at one point, whilst trying to report their difficulties back to Earth, the scientists realise that they are being monitored by playing back their transmission.  What is most baffling about these scientists is the very nonchalant way in which they report that it is coming from “someone not too far from this base”, and yet still do not question the Doctor’s arrival – not yet, anyway.

With Jamie pretty much unconscious for the entire episode, we are able still to gain a little knowledge of his character regardless; his semi-coherent ramblings about the “piper” of his clan’s history is a lovely little nod to his background – whilst he has settled into the TARDIS crew quickly, he still upholds his time of origin, and is still a strong character despite his illness.  Confined as he is to the sick bay, he is waited on by a concerned Polly;  And this is really Anneke Wills’ serial.  Whilst the last serial allowed Troughton to confirm his identity, The Moonbase does the same for Wills’ Polly.  Whilst during the first and second episode, she does little more than scream and act as a caring nurse, we get to see her truly compassionate side.  As for her character development – well, more on that later...

The first episode provides the eagle-eyed viewers, or listener in this case, plenty of information to assimilate and to come up with clear predictions; the references to drops in air pressure seems offhand and irrelevant, yet it is too conspicuously placed in the streams of dialogue to be irrelevant.  Likewise, the references to the “rats” in the food stores moving supplies around, and Ralph’s subsequent disappearance, are too important not to note, and indeed, to draw connections.  Similarly, the references to the “silver hand” in Dr. Evans’ delirious state moments before his disappearance allow us to predict exactly who it is responsible; admittedly, most people’s chance to experience this serial is through Gerry Davis’ superb novelisation, entitled “Doctor Who and the Cybermen”, whereby removing any suspense. 

The cliffhanger, though, hangs on Polly’s recognition of the Cyberman’s build, and the removal of Evans’ body.  What this does, though, is to create a sense of mythos and scope to the character.  This story is set on the moon in 2070, and yet it openly references itself and the actions of the characters back in The Tenth Planet.  When Polly tells Hobson et al that it was a Cyberman that she saw, he pooh-poohs her, telling her that “There were Cybermen – every child knows that – but they were destroyed ages ago.”  Whilst the Doctor and his group are not name-checked, their actions have gone down in history.  They did that, they stopped the Cyberman invasion!  It also leads into the speech which is quintessentially Doctorish, with Troughton delivering one of the most infamous speeches of Doctor Who history – “There are some corners of the universe which have bred the most terrible things. Things which act against everything that we believe in; they must be fought.”  It is a magnificent tour-de-force speech, and one which epitomises everything that the Doctor stands for, and his entire motivation.

Finally, though, despite the Doctor’s speech, Hobson begins to question the presence of the travellers, and the coincidence of them being on the moon – he gives the Doctor 24 hours to deal with the plague before he forces the travellers back onto the surface of the moon, “quarantine or no quarantine”.  What this does allow, though, is a rather humorous tête-à-tête between Polly and the Doctor, giving us a little more background into the character, something which we see more of as the show progresses – his response that he “took a degree once – in Glasgow – in 1888” is delivered with a wonderful deadpan.  Also, much of Troughton’s comedy arises in this second episode, such as his collecting of samples, crawling around on his hands and knees and collecting the shoes of some of the men as they go about their business.  The tragedy of Troughton’s serials being missing is that a great deal of what makes him so good is that he is very much a visual performer; his impish movements simply cannot be done justice in audio-only format.

Again, having this serial exist helps us to realise just how wonderful this story is; the visual elements, such as the black virus throbbing and undulating up the fallen man’s arm simply couldn’t be appreciated without the visual.  Likewise, the karate-chop of the Cybermen, as seen last in The Tenth Planet, are wonderfully realised in the atmosphere of reduced gravity on the moon.  The cliffhanger, with the Doctor realising that not only is the virus being spread via the sugar but that, also, the Cybermen are inside the base, within the Medical Bay, is fantastic, and the Doctor’s dragging Hobson aside before the group move around the sick bay, tiptoeing and inspecting the sleeping patients, is very funny.

The third episode finally sees the Cybermen step to the fore after taking a very secretive, back-seat role in the first two – and along with their redesign, they also have new voices.  Whilst they are not as distorted and unnerving as the Cybermen the last time we met them, they are equally terrifying, utterly emotionless and horrifyingly abstract.  The announcement that “you are known to us” to the Doctor once more provides a certainty that this is the Doctor – as with the recognition in The Power of the Daleks, despite the change in outward appearance, the Cybermen recognise him for all that he stands for, and the threat that he represents.

Episode 3 is also where Polly really comes into her own – with Jamie still bedridden and not worthy of conversion due to his head injury, she and Ben are forced to stay within the confines of the sick bay whilst the action goes on in the central control room.  It is here, though, that she utilises all that she knows to create a concoction able to destroy the central nervous system of the Cybermen.  Using her basic knowledge of acids and alkalis, she creates her own ‘nail polisher remover’ capable of breaking down the plastic components of the Cybermen’s chest-units.

What is interesting is that, whilst Polly is proactive in saving the base, the two boys have their own private cock-fight to become alpha-male.  Whilst they tell her that “this is men’s work”, Ben and Jamie desperately vie for Polly’s attention, showing the strain that living within the TARDIS is having on the group.  What is interesting is that this is the first time that there has been any form of sexual tension within the ship – whilst there was almost certainly some form of relationship between Ian and Barbara, here we have a very definite love triangle.

The final scenes of episode 3, with the additional troops of Cybermen coming to replace the defeated invaders within the Moonbase, is incredible – the incidental music is superb, as they march across the lunar surface with deep, malevolent intent (whilst we can’t see it in the missing episode, we are fortunately able to have this recaptured in the opening of the existing episode 4.

Episode 4, existing as it does, allows us to see Troughton, once more, in his full majesty; he slips in and out of focus as he watches, contemplates and processes information.  Whilst we have no doubt that he is the lead character, he is content to float in the background simply observing.  The arrival of the ship from Earth is wonderfully realised, with all involved watching the descent of the ship with great joy – until, of course, the ‘reactivated’ Dr. Evans uses the Gravitron machine to deflect the ship away from the moon and hurtling directly into the sun.  The realisation of what is happening is grimly realised, with the scientists looking distraught and the others needing the truth of the matter fully explaining to them.  The reactivation of the scientists is horrifying too, as they proceed around in a zombie-like trance, black veins pulsating up and down their faces, throats and arms. 

The attack of the Cybermen is another example of rather dodgy science – when they puncture the dome of the Moonbase, the scientists in charge of controlling all of the Earth’s weather decide to try and block the hole with some shirts.  When that, surprisingly, doesn’t work, they decide to use the tray Polly brought the coffee in on.  The effects of the Cyberman attack is rather good, though, with the ray from their weapon bouncing off of the dome thanks to the Gravitron beam, which also provides the Doctor with a plan.
Yes, the Doctor has a plan again – once more, the situation arising allows the Doctor to create the perfect solution, although he isn’t certain that it will work.  Using sheer brute force, though, the Doctor and Hobson are able to lower the Gravitron to fire the beam directly at the lunar surface, propelling the Cybermen off into space.  What’s wonderful about this is the way in which this juxtaposes the opening sequence – even the incidental music is identical, and yet rather than the pleasure enjoyed by the Doctor, Jamie, Ben and Polly, here the image is startling; incapable of human emotions, whether fear or joy, the Cybermen float away, a grotesque parody of our opening scenes. 
Once the Doctor has saved the day, though, the TARDIS crew quickly slip out without receiving any thanks; instead, they bounce their way back to the ship and decide to head off to their next destination, before looking at the “time scanner”, providing a brief glimpse of the horror to come next week – a gigantic claw menaces the travellers, as the end credits roll.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

The Underwater Menace

The Underwater Menace is something of an oddity.  It’s utterly bonkers, ridiculous, with some of the most frustrating incidental music ever, and the most madcap and over-the-top villain the show has ever had.  And I love it.  I don’t know why – only one of the four episodes exists for me to see, although episode 2 has since been discovered, but not yet released.  The soundtrack is still very engaging, with some cracking dialogue.  There are daft bits there too, of course.  But I still really enjoy it every time I listen to it and watch episode 3.  I just can’t help myself.  Oh, and it has that line in it – but more on that later!

The recon I’m using is relatively low quality – whilst it’s synced up perfectly to my audio, as narrated by Anneke Wills, the telesnaps and existing footage (what little of it there is) are very low resolution, and details are difficult to make out. 

Oddly, The Underwater Menace is widely regarded as a dreadful story – but that is probably because only the third episode exists, and whilst the third episode includes that line – which I will come to soon enough! – the majority of the episode is taken up by the prancing balletic sequence involving the fish people, and is hardly gripping TV.  The tone of this entire serial is bizarre, and only watching the third episode, without warming to this jarring tone first through the first episode, can somewhat throw a viewer.  Listening to the audio track too, though, we are able to gradually acclimatise ourselves to the madness.  It’s an experience well worth having.

Episode 1 picks up straight after The Highlanders ended, with Jamie being welcomed into the TARDIS.  What is lovely about Fraser Hines’ performance is how quickly he settled into the TARDIS ‘family’, and the quirks that his historical origins provide.  Until now, every companion has been at the very least contemporary, with the exception of Katarina, who may or may not count.  By introducing someone from Earth history, it gives a new and naive element to the TARDIS crew, someone utterly overwhelmed by everything they encounter.  Whilst Katarina played this role with a doe-eyed stupidity, Hines’ Jamie instead charges willingly, headfirst, into the situation, occasionally asking for some clarification but usually going on instinct.  This ‘family’ idea is probably why I love The Underwater Menace so much.  For all of the preposterous plotline, each character is decidedly determined to work together, and the group dynamic is wonderful, almost a nod back to the times of Ian, Barbara and Susan with the Doctor. 

There is comedy abound in the opening scenes, with each of the characters hoping for their next locale, with Ben making a wise-crack about the Daleks and the Doctor hoping for prehistoric creatures – something he’ll finally meet in his next incarnation – and upon landing, Polly states that she is certain where they are – Cornwall.  Again.  Of course they aren’t, and instead they’ve landed at the foot of a volcano, somewhere like the Mediterranean, but with a tidal sea.  No sooner have the crew left the TARDIS – the Doctor collecting his stove pipe hat first, of course – then the group are split up, and each group are captured and lowered under the sea level on a gigantic platform, succumbing to ‘the bends’ on their way down.

The comedy continues throughout the following scenes, too, as Ben makes an unintentionally semi-racist comment – “Polly, you speak foreign!” – in his typically East End way.  Likewise, once the travellers are fed plankton, Polly makes a reference to the Doctor’s fascination – “I've never seen him go for food like this before. It's usually hats.”  The humour quickly dissipates, though, with the discovery of their fate; the group’s arrival was foretold, and they are to be sacrificed to the great goddess Amdo.  Upon this discovery, the Doctor saves the group by sending a note – signed Dr. W., incidentally, but I’m not getting into that – to a Professor Zaroff.  Zaroff was world renowned for his scientific successes but reported dead some twenty years earlier; in the first mention of the Cold War in the series, the Doctor says that “the East blamed the West, the West, the East”. 

Zaroff’s disdain for the religious ideals of the Atlantean society is set out instantly as he disrupts Lolem’s ceremony.  Lolem is played with wonderful camp charm by the brilliant Peter Stephens, last seen as the wonderfully camp naughty schoolboy Cyril, amongst others, in The Celestial Toymaker.  Although he only appears infrequently throughout the serial, there is a childish and naive charm to the High Priest, whose unwavering faith in Amdo is ultimately his undoing.  In fact, this entire serial is something of a critique of religion, albeit thinly veiled.  Whilst science is ultimately responsible for all that happens to Atlantis and its inhabitants, it is the fault of religion that science was able to do such things. 

Zaroff’s saving of the Doctor and his travelling friends is wonderfully delivered – the most magnificent thing about this entire serial is, of course, Joseph Furst, whose portrayal of Zaroff is so ridiculously over-the-top and manic that it is impossible to dislike.  Furst’s accent and delivery are simply breathtaking, and that he saves the Doctor and company on a whim because the Doctor has “a sense of humour” shows that he is hugely unbalanced.  Added to this his threat that, rather than feeding them to the shark, he could feed them to his pet octopus, makes this character something straight out of a James Bond film.  In fact, everything about Zaroff and his plans is straight out of a Bond film; in episode two, Zaroff spouts the line “I made you – so I can break you!” and when asked why exactly he wants to destroy the world, in the calmest way possible from Troughton, Furst’s response is, simply, because he can.  He sees it as being the “scientist’s dream of supreme power!”

Episode one ends with Ben and Jamie being sent to the mines, whilst Polly is removed and sent to Damon’s surgery.  She stands by and admires the elegance of the fish people, before the cliffhanger cuts in, and we are informed that she is due to have the exact same treatment – the final scene moves, and we get to see her pinned to a table, tossing and turning as Damon approaches with a huge syringe.

The Doctor is able to save Polly, of course, by asking a serving girl, Ara, to help her escape as soon as possible, and creating technical breakdowns shorting the lighting.  Polly and Ara escape to the temple, hiding behind a gigantic sculpture of Amdo.  Fortunately, they are soon joined by Ben and Jamie, having been assisted to their hiding place by rebel miners, and racial stereotypes, Sean and Jacko.  The mine scenes seem to go on forever, though, and the dialogue is redundant; sadly, it all seems like filler, with nothing really gained – the group could as easily have left the mines in one scene and then arrived at the temple the next, with no need for the intermittent scenes.  The Doctor, meanwhile, has managed to find his way there by wearing yet another disguise, this time as a guard, and bumping into Ara back in the outer chamber where he had been hiding from the searching guards.

The Doctor is able to speak with Ramo, a priest who questions Zaroff’s dubious plan and has no faith in the scientist.  Fortunately, Ramo is willing to listen to the Doctor’s suggestions – the Doctor demonstrates the Professor’s plans using a cup of boiling water over a fire.  Ramo is willing to believe the Doctor’s suggestions, and so agrees to take him to see Thous, the leader of the Atlanteans.  Ramo’s return allows the Doctor to utilise yet another disguise, and his excitement by the headdress is wonderful – as he pulls on the costume, his “how do I look?” is wasted upon the priest. 

The scene in which the Doctor attempts to persuade Thous of the danger to Atlantis is something of an oddity, though; rather than using the same sort of demonstration used with Ramo, he instead simply points out that Zaroff has “eyes – they light up!” whenever he talks about his plans.  His argument is that, quite simply, his eyes show that he is “mad as a hatter”.  It is a strange thing, that he tells a man so filled with devout faith in the scientist that he is mad, rather than providing any proof, and leads to the inevitable betrayal of the cliffhanger for episode 2, with Zaroff striding into the room, filled with arrogance.

Episode 3, thankfully, moves, and allows us to see to some extent how well realised Atlantis, and its inhabitants, are – and the first striking thing about it is Zaroff himself, unquestionably.  From his ever-expanding hair, making him look like the insane scientist he is from a schlocky B-Movie, to the subtle twitching of the eyes, he is impossible to look away from, stealing every scene that he is in, a tour-de-force.

The scenes in the temple are rather unnerving, though; as I mentioned earlier, I think that Geoffrey Orme, when he wrote this, was clearly trying to lampoon the fundamental belief systems in place throughout the world, suggesting that religion allows people to do ridiculous and terrible things.  Through the presentation of the religious as sycophantic idiots, being tricked into believing anything because they do not try to look beyond these religious ideals, it is unnerving that the Doctor and his companions utilise such a thing to guarantee their freedom, and the booming voice of Amdo calling for all to look away as the goddess feasts on the sacrifice is worrying.  The excitement of Lolem and the other believers, too, is awful; as an audience, we know the truth, and Zaroff’s anger and ridicule is rightly aimed at the superstitious fool – but even so, seeing Lolem thrown forward, as he collapses daintily onto the plinth in front like Greta Garbo, is hilarious.

The Doctor’s suggestions, once reunited with his companions behind the statue, are bizarre – firstly, due to the lack of storage system (Zaroff didn’t create a fridge?  Seriously?!) by leading the fish people into rebelling against their oppressors, it will halt the Atlantean society, since food will spoil unless constantly caught fresh.  Secondly, they will kidnap the most lauded and famed man in all of Atlantis.  My bugbear with these plans is less their ridiculous nature, but more to do with just how quickly both are accomplished.  Jacko and Sean are sent to lead the fish people to rebel – by questioning their manhood, and mocking their lack of spine, using Sean’s Irish charm.  Meanwhile, the Doctor, Ben, Jamie and Polly all don new costumes – yes, again – to hide in the market place waiting for their chance to capture Zaroff.  Whilst the sight of Ben and Jamie in tight-fitting wetsuits is wonderful, the Doctor’s get-up as a gypsy recorder player leaves yet more to be desired. 

The “gift of the gab” of the Irish fully utilised, we are then forced to endure almost five minutes of preposterous choreographed  nonsense, as fish people swing around, back and forth, to the most dire incidental music as they apparently create a blockade on the food production lines.  What frustrates me the most about this – as with The Web Planet – is that if this episode were missing too, it would probably be lauded as elegant and magical.  Sadly, as we can see it, we are forced to realise that it is simply over-ambitious and silly.
With the rebellion started, and Zaroff captured by the Doctor and his companions, it seems that all has been achieved, and that the adventure is ready to wind itself up...  Only it isn’t.  There’s more still to come, as the Doctor and the boys head off to Zaroff’s laboratory to ensure the experiment has been halted with Zaroff dropping to the ground seeming to have suffered a heart attack.  Which frustrates me – the trick of faking injury is such an overused cliché, it baffles me that the Doctor and company fall for it.  Indeed, one of the most frustrating things about this is the fact that, after Polly appearing to be the powerful, fashionable 60s girl last week, she has reverted to a screamy, shouty and foolish one this week.  She is single-handedly responsible for Ramo’s death, falling hook, line and sinker for the scientist’s claims that he wants to stand by him and prey, where he can “feel the aura of his goodness”.  The scene of Ramo’s murder is, in fact, rather graphic and disturbing – once he throws Polly off his back, Zaroff thrusts a spear downwards into the fallen priest, and the spear remains upright, trembling.

The episode runs to its end with the Doctor, Jamie and Ben discovering Ramo’s fatal injury as he stumbles out from behind the face of Amdo, warning the travellers that Polly has been kidnapped.  Jamie is sent to save her, a challenge that he gallantly rises to, while Ben and the Doctor – in a dreadful pun – have “other fish to fry”.  Unfortunately, once Jamie retrieves Polly from Zaroff’s grasp, Zaroff escapes and makes it to Thous’ chambers before the Doctor, and shows his true face – his hair wild, his eyes rolling madly, he executes Thous in cold blood, ordering his soldiers to kill two others, before wildly proclaiming – and this is that line! – “Nothing in the world can stop me now!”, hugely pantomime and over-the-top, and absolutely wonderful for it.

 The final episode provides something of a relief – after the insanity of Zaroff’s performance and his madcap plan, and the Bond-esque nature of the story, we are suddenly into new territory; the serial becomes a disaster movie, as the inhabitants of Atlantis race against time to avoid the rising water levels.  What is more comforting, though, is the way in which Troughton’s Doctor takes complete control.  Well, as complete as it gets from him; after the last two serials, wherein he has been unreliable and inconsistent, acting on whims and fancies, here instead he declares “I have a plan!”, and finally we can be comforted that he is thinking things through.  Of course, he follows it up with “it might work”, reaffirming the unknowable nature of his character.  It is telling that in the last two serials, where the plots have been serious and dangerous, Troughton has played up to them as a clown, fooling around out of character and sticking out like a sore thumb.  It is only against an opponent like Furst’s Zaroff, though, that he tones his performance down, becoming more grounded and deadpan whilst dealing with the situation.  Whilst you could never see Hartnell in a serial like this, against a villain like Zaroff, we see something of Hartnell’s character come out in Troughton’s response to the situation.

Troughton still gets plenty of good lines, though, with heavy comedic impact; his riposte with Ben, who declares Zaroff is firmly “off his rocker!” is brilliant, as is his declaration of Zaroff’s true intentions, as he claims innocence.  The Doctor’s plan to flood the underground city seems a little extreme, but his retort that the noise could only be “the distant roaring is the goddess Amdo with indigestion” is superbly delivered.

The flooding will not stop Zaroff, though, and he lowers a portcullis to prevent the intervention of any interferers.  The Doctor is still determined, though, and thanks to the distraction of Lolem, who is mercilessly shot in cold blood by Zaroff, he is able to separate Zaroff from the plunger needed to cause the natural disaster.  The Doctor and Jamie have to leave the mad scientist to his fate, as even after the Doctor speaks of his desire to rescue Zaroff, a rock slide prevents him making it.  Sadly, Zaroff’s death, which still exists thanks to those nervous Australian censors again, is rather disappointing – there still seems to be an awful lot of air left in the room before he sinks to his death.  I can’t help wishing that Lolem had at least managed to get a fatal stab in before he’d been shot.

Everyone manages to escape, though, and the group are reunited on the volcanic beaches above ground.  The sequences getting above ground are lovely and touching, particularly as we see the way in which the group have bonded – whilst Ben can only utter Polly’s name in distraught tones, Polly is more concerned for the Doctor, and Jamie’s assurance that if the worst has happened, they will cope together, is lovely. Sean and Jacko, though, get no thanks whatsoever, as the group bustle back into the TARDIS reunited, and there is a beautiful still from the final moments of this episode of the entire TARDIS crew, reunited and having a great time around the TARDIS console, showing the crew laughing and joking, Polly wearing the Doctor’s hat, and Jamie’s final speech about feeling “safe” in the ship shows he firmly belongs with the group as they head towards their next destination – but as the end credits are poised to roll, a huge tremor works its way through the ship, as the Doctor cries that the ship is “out of control”...