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.
I’d made plans for the fan edit of the story when the DVD was first announced on the assumption that the missing eps would be animated like The Moonbase and other stories before it. But then we got The Omnirumour Omnishambles and 90 episodes turned out to be just 9 and it was telesnaps & audio for Dr Who Goes Underground Part 3, since some bugger had nicked it. And then it all went quiet on the Fish People front… and now we know why!
Yes, The Underwater Menace is bad, but it’s not as bad as Timelash. Most of the criticism the story comes in for is either for the Fish People or poor old Joseph Furst, who gets the piss taken out of him by fandom, unjustly in my view, for his performance as Professor Zaroff, the archetypal mad scientist. Yes, the performance is OTT but that is more the fault of both the script and the director than it is Furst. Watch him in some of the other things he’s been in, like The Saint, and he’s a perfectly competent actor. in this he’s giving the performance he’s been asked to give by the Director, a performance that was then sanctioned and approved of by the Producer.
And I defy even Paul “Mind Probe” Jericho to deliver a melodramatic line like “Nothing in the world can stop me now!” and get away with it.
Very little about the story is up to scratch. Look at the costume design and the make up, they’re both atrocious, as are the sets. There’s no way you can create fish people on a Sixties BBC budget without them looking ridiculous, so why so it at all? And why on earth do all the Atlantean men have those bushy Androgum eyebrows? And why is it just the men?
It’s as if everybody involved with the production knows it’s a clunker and can’t be arsed. There are plenty of other occasions in Doctor Who‘s history where the story is half-decent but badly realised but here you have a bad story equally badly realised, and the result is pretty disastrous. This would be quite at home as a Graham Williams story, but thankfully we’ve got Pat and not Tom sharing the screen with Zaroff.
Back when we were still waiting for the eps to come out on DVD, I thought that if the Beeb aren’t going to give us a release of the story this side of the sixtieth anniversary, then why not do one of my own? Having tracked down the unreleased and unrestored episode two on Dailymotion, I had the idea of doing a soundtrack & colourised telesnaps combo edit but then the Beeb let it be known that yes, the story would be coming out on DVD sometime soon so that put paid to that idea.
But all the hard work I did on my planned video version didn’t got to waste as, instead, I put together my own TV Comic version, which I call a Telecomic, and posted it over at Whopix. Knowing the anniversary of part four was rapidly approaching, I took the decision to edit the soundtrack CD, since an audio edit was the only real option at the time.
VERSION #1 – AUDIO EDIT
Both The Underwater Menace and The Ark are nothing more than TV Comic done as live action. Both stories are badly-scripted melodrama and would both work just as well as comic strips with John & Gillian, if not maybe a little better. The first two eps are got through in about half an hour, with pretty much everything in there, only tightened up and trimmed back as much as possible. My approach was to see the audio edit as a dummy run for when I finally got to tackle the eps on DVD, whenever it finally saw the light of day. Come episode three, we get out first major cut, losing the kidnapping of Zaroff. That required a slight re-ordering of the audio in order to make it work, meaning part three only lasts about eight minutes!
When it came to part four, there was nothing for it but to stick with Ben and the Doctor, leaving Jamie & Polly out of it until we need to rejoin them. We don’t hear any more from Sean & Jacko and Damon & Thous either as it’s the Troughton v Furst finale that’s much more interesting to listen to. Ten minutes later and it’s all over. Hooray!
The Moonbase edit was done long before The Underwater Menace and the mk1 version of that story 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 this story with the start of the next one, where they see the moon on the scanner before we get a closing “Next Time: The Moonbase” caption, was a better way to do things. I’m a big fan of running the end of one thing into the start of another and my inner completist was happy with the original way we went from Atlantis to the Moon. But it wasn’t to be and so I had to go back to the original and keep the cliffhanger.
VERSION #2 – VIDEO EDIT of episodes 2 and 3
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 to be something of a patchwork edit.
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 episodes had been animated, as we all expected they would be, then there would have been no problem.
My thinking originally had been to start with telesnaps for part one, move to video via the first of the two Australian Censor clips from the Lost In Time box set for parts two and three, then back to telesnaps for part four and the second LiT clip for Zaroff’s demise, before finishing off with the animated opening of The Moonbase. But the Beeb screwed me over on that one by not animating the missing episodes of The Underwater Menace, meaning I would have to redo The Moonbase and reinsert the original opening.
When it came to trying to cover the missing material for episodes One and Four, I would have liked to put together some sort of cut-down recon in the same way that the Beeb did for Marco Polo and Galaxy 4, both of which are little more than “official” fan edits anyway. But with just the Telesnaps and the narration from the CD release of the TV Soundtrack to work with for this one, try as I might, I just couldn’t come up with a shortened version of those 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. 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 would 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 the 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 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…