For a story that was already notorious enough within Fandom, the shenanigans around the eventual DVD release of Dr Who And The Fish People took that notoriety to even greater heights.
Like the release of The Web of Fear before it, there was no animation for the missing episodes, just a trip back in time to the days of Loose Cannon and some telesnaps & audio. Even some sort of Motion Comic, like the start of the DVD’s photo gallery, would have been better than that. But no. And so the Dr Who DVD range came to a somewhat ignominious end, with an unsatisfying release of a dreadful story that’s only a few steps a way from Meglos in terms of sheer awfullness.
This story ends on a cliffhanger that gets resolved at the start of the next story, The Moonbase. That story’s fan edit was done long before The Underwater Menace was announced as coming out on DVD. It started with the crew exiting the TARDIS onto the moon’s surface, so we could get straight into the adventure.
At the time I thought ending The Underwater Menace with the start of The Moonbase was a better way of doing things. I’m a big fan of running the end of one thing into the start of another but when it was announced that Menace wouldn’t have its missing episodes animated, that put paid to that idea. And so I had to revisit the Moonbase edit and restore the original opening resolving the cliffhanger. That was bloody annoying [thanks, BBC!] but not half as annoying as there being no animation!
The mysteriously scheduled then pulled DVD release, and the fact that everyone involved at the time seemed to be operating under the Official Secrets Act, only added fuel to the Omnirumour fire. Why was the story scheduled for release, with a Coming Soon trailer, only for it to then vanish from the schedules?
Personally, I thought the reason was that Philip Maurice thought he knew where the other two eps might be and the Beeb were holding back until they knew for sure. Then they’d put it out in a Box Set with Enemy of the World and Web of Fear, complete with all the VAM for those two stories missing from the original vanilla releases. Which just goes to show you how wrong you can be…
Of course, now we know that the real reason we had to wait the best part of four years from Episode 2 being rediscovered to the DVD being released was that the Beeb wouldn’t stump up the grotzits to do the animation, the miserable lot. That in turn meant that my original plans for the video edit were out the window, with the result that this was going probably going to be something of a patchwork edit. But I felt it was worthwhile trying to do something given that we now had half the story, and two consecutive episodes to boot.
Having already done the audio edit of the complete adventure, when it came to editing the story for video, the first problem I had was how to tackle the missing episodes that bookend the story.
A while back I’d had a bash at the start of The Power of the Daleks and did some rudimentary animation to cover the missing sections and, while it wasn’t ideal, it worked well enough for me to be happy with it. And being happy with your work is half of what being a creative is all about. If there isn’t a satisfying end result, then it gets binned and you either start all over again or move onto something else. Of course, if the two missing eps episodes of this story had been animated, as we all expected they would be, then there would have been no bloody problem…
Starting with telesnaps, then moving to video, then back to telesnaps before finishing with animation wasn’t exactly the best combination of source materials, and the more I thought about an edit like that, the less I liked the idea.
Try as I might, I just couldn’t come up with a shortened version of those missing eps that I was happy with. If that disappoints you, then remember I work solo on these edits, there’s not a whole team of us collaborating on them, and the pain has to be worth the gain. For this story it simply wasn’t.
So in the end I settled for editing the middle two episodes together as if they were part of a full-length version of the story. If I can find a way to edit the missing episodes, perhaps as some kind of motion comic, like the Beeb did for Death Comes To Time, then I’ll revisit them. But that’s another project for another day!
I approached the two middle episodes in just the same way I would if I had been editing all four. You can’t really lose the sacrifice in the temple so all the references to it get left in. And on audio I was able to cut the kidnapping of Zaroff but on video it had to stay. Both eps run about 15m each which leads me to believe that the whole thing on video would have run about an hour.
There are only two surviving clips from the missing episodes and I decided to utilise the clip from episode one, of Polly being grabbed and forced onto the operating table, at the start of this video edit instead of the TV opening of Damon’s “one tiny jab”. Sometimes fan editing isn’t always about taking stuff out, and putting that scene in meant reordering the rest of the material in order to put something in-between the two Damon & Polly shots that we now had instead of just one as per the original.
The only option was to bring forward some of the Ben & Jamie/Sean & Jacko material to plug the gap. Unfortunately the bloke who plays Jacko isn’t an actor, he’s a Bad Actor who’s clearly graduated from the same dodgy drama school as Cotton from The Mutants. Why they didn’t cast another Irish actor and have Sean & Jacko as a proper “Paddy & Murphy” double act I don’t know. Anyway, once the lads settle on their escape plan we don’t see them again until they turn up in the temple, losing all those padding scenes in the tunnels.
Part 2 ends with Thous giving Ramo & the Doctor his answer at about 16m in and here was the next problem – how to get from the end of part 2 to the start of part 3.
As was the way of things back in the day with Sixties Who, the cliffhanger was re-enacted the following week, which sometimes results in a nasty jump cut when you try to cut the two versions together, which is exactly what happens here. In the end, the answer was to cut the final scene in the temple from towards the end of part 2 in half, that way Zaroff could turn up at the end of part 2, we cut away to the second half of the temple scene and then cut back to the start of part 3.
Part 3’s most problematic scene was Sean convincing the Fish People to go on strike. Apart from the sheer pantomime awfulness of their design, the other problem with that scene is that there are clearly some fish people who are more fishy than others. A couple of them are nothing more than peeps in leotards with a set of swimming goggles on, not looking even remotely fishy.
You have to wonder why they didn’t make that look consistent. The usual reasons of time and money probably explain that one, but the problem is that the more human fish people make the more fishy fish people look even more ridiculous than they would if everyone was equally fishy! Thankfully I managed to cut that scene down in such a way as to lose the human fish people, and also ditched their underwater ballet sequence.
The only tricky part was the transition from ep2 to ep3, which involved a bit of jiggery pokery with the sound of Zaroff’s footsteps and a cut away from the end of ep2 to Ben & Polly in the temple before returning to the start of ep 3.
Apart from that it was a fairly simple edit to do, and since this is only marginally less bad than The Ark, I gave another run out to my Lost In Space version of title sequence. It’s more or less the same as the version I used on that load of old Monoids except this time I decided to use the Pat titles instead of the Hartnell ones on the original. As before the sequence features LIS-style “Starring” clips for the regulars and Furst.
About the only really notable thing about the story is that it’s here that Pat arguably starts to play the Doctor for the first time. With Zaroff being so over the top, there was no way Pat could “top” his performance. And so here he does the only other thing an actor can do and starts to underplay it, making his Doctor just a bit darker than he has been in his first couple of stories. Okay, so he still dresses up, but at least it’s the last time he hides behind his clobber and starts to step forward as the lead actor, a process that he completes next time out with Morris Barry in The Moonbase.
And finally, I think the best line of the entire show isn’t that oft-quoted one of Zaroff’s. No. It has to be Polly telling Damon…