Underworld (TV story)

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Underworld was the fifth and penultimate serial of season 15 of Doctor Who.

It was the first over which script editor Anthony Read had complete creative control. Read asked writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin to make the script an explicit allegory of the myth of Jason and the Quest for the Golden Fleece. The story also advanced the mythos of the Time Lords by revealing the origin of their non-interference policy.

Underworld used by far the most colour separation overlay (CSO) in the programme's history. Rampant inflation had eaten away at the budget for the back half of the season, and using CSO to create virtually every shot of the alien world featured in the story was the only feasible way to preserve the production of The Invasion of Time.

Synopsis[[edit]]

On the edge of the universe, the Doctor, Leela and K9 encounter a Minyan ship on an epic quest to find their race banks... but their people have encountered the Time Lords before.

Plot[[edit]]

Part one[[edit]]

Aboard the TARDIS, the Fourth Doctor is painting and Leela is playing with the console. When they reach the edge of the cosmos, the Doctor is in awe. K9 informs him that there is a nearby spacecraft and they are both heading into a spiral nebula. The TARDIS escapes and materialises aboard the vessel, the R1C. When its crew hears the TARDIS, they recognise it as the technology of the gods.

Captain Jackson

The Doctor, now in the ship's cargo hold, determines that it is from Minyos, a planet on the other side of the universe. The Time Lords once helped the Minyan civilisation develop before being rejected. This led to their non-interference policy after the Minyans destroyed their own world. Leela uses a shield gun to blast the door open, and they head for the bridge. As the crew try to avoid the nebula, the Doctor offers to help. Herrick holds a weapon on him, until Captain Jackson orders Orfe to use the pacifier to subdue Herrick and Leela. Jackson explains that the R1C has been searching for another ship, the P7E, for a hundred thousand years. While the crew can regenerate endlessly, their ship is failing. The P7E contains the genetic race banks needed to rebuild Minyos.

The Doctor connects K9 to the failing systems and the R1C escapes the nebula. However, the signal from the P7E is still coming from inside and Jackson orders the ship to go back in. With K9's help, the ship survives the journey, but its huge mass starts to attract debris. As the rock builds up around the ship, the Doctor suggests using the ship's weapons to blast itself free. Unfortunately, the laser cannon starts to burn through the hull as well...

Part two[[edit]]

The laser punches through just in time. The R1C escapes, only to encounter another planet that has built up over centuries. The Doctor suggests this could be the P7E. With no fuel left, the R1C penetrates the soft surface of the planet and heads for the core.

The Planet around the P7E

In tunnels under the planet's surface, slave workers known as Trogs are buried by a rockfall. Guards are dispatched to restore order and accuse a Trog named Idmon of heresy for suggesting there is a sky. His son, Idas, runs away from the guards.

Jackson and his crew explore the tunnels and spot security cameras, suggesting a technologically advanced society. The Doctor and Leela see the guards chasing Idas and lead them away, losing them and finding Idas in the airlock of the R1C. The Doctor tells Idas about his people's past and learns about the legends of the Sky Gods and the Seers who rule the society on behalf of the Oracle.

As Herrick scouts ahead, he is accosted by guards. They don't believe his story and attack him. He easily deflects their fire, but the head guard, Rask, orders the tunnel sealed off and gas pumped in. The Doctor detects the gas. He finds the environmental controls and tries to reverse the flow but cannot concentrate. He slumps over the machinery...

Part three[[edit]]

At the last second, the gas clears. Jackson, Orfe and Tala free Herrick; the guards are overcome by their own gas. When the Doctor wakes, Idas tells him about the punishment his father will endure for his heresy. Idmon will be sacrificed in the Citadel to appease the Oracle. A sword will be dropped on him. The Doctor sends K9 to find Jackson, while he takes Idas and Leela to stop the sacrifice.

Idas warns them of dragons which guard the Citadel, but it is merely a defence mechanism that Leela makes short work of with the shield gun. When they reach the planet's core, which has zero gravity, they float down to the Citadel. At the sacrifice, the Oracle speaks to the Seers, who light a lamp to burn through the strap holding the sword. The Doctor's party are taken to the sacrifice by the guards. The lamp is moved at the last moment. Idas incites a rebellion and frees his father. Jackson's crew arrive to assist. Herrick remains behind as a rear guard to allow the rebels to escape, but he is captured.

The freed Trogs explain the endless futility of their lives, working for no purpose. Jackson agrees to help the Doctor infiltrate the Citadel and find the Oracle. The Doctor and Leela lie in an ore cart headed for the Citadel.

The Seers torture Herrick for information. They refuse to believe his story of a millennia-long quest. They remove their ceremonial masks to reveal strange, metallic faces.

As the ore cart approaches the Citadel, the automated system tips the contents of each cart into a crusher, including the Doctor and Leela...

Part four[[edit]]

The Doctor and Leela hang onto a ledge by their fingertips and are rescued by the R1C crew. Jackson agrees to hold off the guards while the Doctor's party head for the Oracle.

The race banks

In the Citadel, the Seers suggest letting Herrick have the race bank cylinders, since they are of little value and not worth the risk. The Oracle releases the cylinders and offers to let Jackson have them if he will leave. Jackson agrees and takes the cylinders back to his ship. The Doctor speaks to the Oracle. He recognises it as a deranged computer programmed to protect the race banks at all costs; therefore the cylinders given to Jackson must have been fakes. He then steals the real ones.

Jackson prepares his ship for launch but stops when K9 identifies his two cylinders as fission grenades capable of destroying a small planet. The Doctor takes the grenades back into the tunnels, where he encounters Rask, sent to retrieve the race banks. The Doctor hands over the grenades instead, and they are returned to the Oracle chamber. The Doctor, Leela and Idas help the Trogs escape the tunnels and convince Jackson to take them with him, since they are the descendants of the P7E crew.

The R1C takes off before the Oracle realises the real race banks are missing and the Seers inform the Oracle that it is impossible to defuse the grenades. When the grenades explode, they destroy the planet. The explosion is enough to propel the underpowered R1C clear of the nebula. The ship heads for Minyos II, a mere 370 light years away. As they leave, the Doctor calls the captain "Jason". He has to explain to Leela about the legend of the Argonauts. He wonders if it is also a premonition.

Cast[[edit]]

Crew[[edit]]

Uncredited crew[[edit]]

Worldbuilding[[edit]]

The Doctor[[edit]]

Species[[edit]]

  • Several Trogs were killed in tunnel seven during a recent "skyfall".

Influences[[edit]]

  • The story makes frequent allusion to the story of Jason and the Argonauts and other Greek myths, including the similar naming of various characters: Jackson/Jason, Herrick/Heracles, Tala/Atalanta, Orfe/Orpheus, Minyans/Minoans, P7E/Persephone, R1C/Argosy (though the word argosy is unconnected with the Argo, Jason's ship).
  • The production notes, the recently released Star Wars influenced certain aspects of the production, especially when it was learned that the film would be released in the UK ten days before Underworld was scheduled to air.

Story notes[[edit]]

  • The Minyan spacecraft set turned out to be more expensive than anticipated, so almost all other scenes were created with CSO.
  • This story had the working title of Underground.
  • The DVD production notes point out that all four episodes ran short of their allotted running time, forcing the use of extended and repeated shots for padding. Parts two and three, in particular, were so much in need of padding that reprises much longer than usual were used in both.
  • In the original script, Leela was to scream when overwhelmed by the gas in the second episode. Louise Jameson declined to do this, pointing out that it was out of character for Leela. (INFO: Underworld)
  • Part one was broadcast only a few days after the Terry Nation-created series Blake's 7 debuted. Composer Dudley Simpson worked on both shows and, according to the DVD production notes, sneaked a reference to the Blake's 7 theme music into the score for the Underworld episode.
  • The Radio Times programme listing for part one was accompanied by a black-and-white photograph of the Doctor and Herrick, with the accompanying caption, "When the Tardis materialises in a spaceship, Dr. Who becomes involved with astronaut Herrick (Alan Lake) and his eternal quest: 6.25 p.m." (original published text)
  • The DVD featurette Into the Unknown reveals that budget restrictions were so tight on Underworld that cancelling it altogether and allotting its budget to The Invasion of Time was suggested but was ultimately rejected by Graham Williams.
  • The scenes of the Doctor shepherding the Trogs through the caves and onto the P7E were devised and organised by Tom Baker himself.
  • In four polls conducted by Doctor Who Magazine for 1998, 2009, 2014, and 2023, Underworld has maintained the dubious honour of being the story of the Fourth Doctor's era held in the least regard. A poll in 2003 which used a different voting system had it as one of six Fourth Doctor stories that received no votes, making it joint last. Its lowest ranking overall came in the 2009 poll "The Mighty 200" as one of the worst stories ranked on among the 200 aired at the time, at number 197. (DWM 265, DWMSE 6, DWM 413, DWM 474, DWM 590)
  • The notion of the Minyan race banks came from an article in Scientific American about genetics.
  • Ankh was named for an Egyptian symbol for life, while Lakh came from an Indian word for “one hundred thousand”, referring to the timespan of the Minyans' search for the P7E.
  • Some characters were named after real people - Rasmus Rask was a Danish philologist whose pioneering research in the early nineteenth century demonstrated links between various ancient languages, including Greek. In the early twentieth century, the French poet Pauline Tarn -- who wrote under the nom de plume Renée Vivien -- was a noted translator of the works of the classical Greek poet Sappho. Austrian painter Gustav Klimt, who worked from the late nineteenth century, featured ancient Greek subjects on several occasions. Another artist of the early twentieth century, Max Liebermann of Germany, lent his name to the Liebemann maser weapons.
  • “The Quest is the Quest” drew on previous mantras of Bob Baker and Dave Martin's scripts - "Eldrad Must Live" from The Hand of Fear and "Contact Has Been Made" from The Invisible Enemy.
  • Louise Jameson developed throat pain after breathing in the dry ice which represented the fumigation gas.
  • Imogen Bickford-Smith suffered a severe allergic reaction to the combination of cotton wool and latex paint which was applied to give Tala the appearance of advanced old age, and a physician had to be summoned to treat her symptoms.
  • Bob Baker and Dave Martin considered referring to the realm of the Trogs as Hadis, in reference to Hades.
  • The cast and crew found the effects-dependent recording method to be extremely frustrating and nerve-wracking, and Tom Baker's mood became notably sour. His ongoing displeasure with the Leela character was particularly evident, further straining his relationship with Louise Jameson.
  • Bob Baker and Dave Martin considered spinning off the R1C crew into their own science-fiction programme, in which the Minyans would travel through space and become involved in new adventures based upon other tales drawn from ancient mythology.

Ratings[[edit]]

  • Part one - 8.9 million viewers
  • Part two - 9.1 million viewers
  • Part three - 8.9 million viewers
  • Part four - 11.7 million viewers

Myths[[edit]]

  • Imogen Bickford-Smith was going to replace Louise Jameson as the Doctor's companion. Though an actual news story at the time, it was a complete fabrication by the actor's agent, who had gotten wind of Jameson's impending departure. Producer Graham Williams never considered retaining Bickford-Smith beyond Underworld.

Filming locations[[edit]]

Production errors[[edit]]

If you'd like to talk about narrative problems with this story — like plot holes and things that seem to contradict other stories — please go to this episode's discontinuity discussion.
  • The blue screen back projection used to create scenes within the caves works surprisingly well, except for a few occasions in which characters can be seen moving through supposedly solid rock, and during part two there are a couple of moments where people's heads can be seen to 'vanish'.
  • In part one, Leela uses a Minyan ray-gun to blast away a door. Tom Baker wasn't in the correct position when the camera started rolling again when the door was removed, so the Doctor's body placement is seen to change instantly.
  • Due to incorrect placement of the CSO, K9 appears to float in midair in a few of the cave scenes.
  • In part two, the large rock behind Leela can be seen to be a hollow piece of plastic, as it squashes in whenever Louise Jameson leans against it.
  • In part two, the rock which the Doctor and Leela hide behind after leaving the ship visibly moves as they step away from it.

Continuity[[edit]]

Home video and audio releases[[edit]]

DVD releases[[edit]]

This story was first released on DVD in the UK on 29 March 2010 as part of the Myths And Legends box set alongside The Time Monster and The Horns of Nimon. The one disc set includes a restored version of the story, as well as the following special features:

Editing for the DVD release was completed by the Doctor Who Restoration Team.

A North American/Region 1 release of the story occurred in July 2010, but in that region the story was released on its own and not as part of a box set.

Box sets[[edit]]

Video releases[[edit]]

Digital releases[[edit]]

  • The story is available for streaming in Canada and the US through BritBox or Amazon Instant Video in the UK.

External links[[edit]]