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The Underwater Menace: 38 (Black Archive) by…
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The Underwater Menace: 38 (Black Archive) (edition 2019)

by James Cooray Smith (Author)

Series: The Black Archive (40)

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622,652,225 (3.25)None
Member:saroz
Title:The Underwater Menace: 38 (Black Archive)
Authors:James Cooray Smith (Author)
Info:Obverse Books (2019)
Collections:Read in 2024
Rating:**1/2
Tags:Doctor Who, Black Archive, monographs

Work Information

The Underwater Menace (Black Archive) by James Cooray Smith

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This installment seems dedicated to the re-examination of received fan wisdom. That's not a bad approach, especially for a story in the series that is so far from beloved, but the result feels a little bitty - it has quite a short page count with a large number of chapters. The early portions of the book, which focus on how fan opinion was formed by only one episode surviving the BBC's junking - and how it shifted again when a second episode was found - are pretty strong, although they're probably a little self-evident to anyone who was a fan before 2011. Later sections, which include examinations of how fans exaggerate Zaroff's accent and when exactly the Doctor stopped wearing his hat, feel either extraneous or overly stretched out; they're interesting to mention, but did they each require their own chapter? ( )
  saroz | May 27, 2024 |
https://fromtheheartofeurope.eu/the-underwater-menace-by-james-cooray-smith-and-...

This is the first time in this run of rewatches that I have found myself substantially revising my opinion of a story. Of course, it’s partly that there was a whole new episode here that I had not seen before. I was therefore in an open frame of mind when I started on James Cooray Smith’s Black Archive monograph; he had already done yeoman’s work on The Massacre and The Ultimate Foe, so my expectations were high.

And I was not disappointed. This is a more personal account than some of the Black Archives have been, as Cooray Smith was actually present at the BFI event in 2011 when, without any prior warning, the missing episode was shown to a crowd who had mainly come to the event for other reasons. Several of the Black Archives have made the point that our reception of past Doctor Who episodes is often dynamic rather than static; this is a very good case in point.

The first chapter, “Prehistoric monsters” looks at the reception of The Underwater Menace before 2011, pointing out that it was one of the most obscure of Old Who stories.

"It neither introduces or writes out any memorable characters, nor features any popular monsters or villains. There are no references to it in subsequent television Doctor Who. It is one of a vanishingly small number of 20th-century Doctor Who stories to have no substantial sequel or prequel in any medium. With very few photographs taken during production, there was little visual material for use in the various glossy Doctor Who history books produced in the 1980s, whose printing of often striking colour photographs from black-and-white serials did much to shape fandom’s perceptions of the series’ earliest years."

The second chapter, “Hope it’s the Daleks”, describes the event on 11 December 2011 when Mark Gatiss presented both the third episode of Galaxy 4 and the second episode of The Underwater Menace. I remember this vividly too, though I was not there; the news hit Twitter as I was dining in a bistro near the main station in Luxembourg, on my way to a plenary session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, possibly the first time I learned something important from Twitter as a news source. Cooray Smith also points out that the episode’s subsequent DVD release was a bit underwhelming.

The third chapter, “Please let it be… 1966”, briskly recounts the fraught writing and production of the story.

The fourth chapter, “What have I come upon?”, looks in depth at Episode 2 and how watching it changes one’s perceptions of the story as a whole, exactly the experience I had had myself a few days before reading the chapter.

What the recovery of episode 2 has gifted us, however, in addition to a whole extra episode of 20th-century Doctor Who to enjoy, is a tremendous real-time demonstration of how any even only partially missing Doctor Who serial cannot ever really be understood as a piece of television, no matter how much secondary and supplementary material exists.

One utterly glorious bit of trivia. For many years, the only surviving segments of Episode 2 were those that had been cut from it by Australian censors for being too scary. The recovered copy of the episode turned out to have been the very one from which the Australian censors had cut the scenes, so they were reinserted into the master copy, half a century later on a different continent.

The fifth chapter, “Science is in opposition to ancient temple ritual”, looks at the tension between science and religion in the story, in the course of which the Doctor allies himself with the High Priest against Professor Zaroff, not the usual way around for these situations in Doctor Who.

The sixth chapter, “Nothing in the world can stop me now!”, offers a redemptive reading of the character of Professor Zaroff. Again, now that we have episode 2 as well, I can see that Joseph Furst’s performance, and the character as written, are much less over the top than fan lore would have had you believe.

The seventh chapter, “I should like a hat like that!”, looks at the question of the Second Doctor’s tall hat, which is seen for the last time in The Underwater Menace. Cooray Smith reckons that it was badly damaged in the filming of the previous story, The Highlanders, and thus quietly abandoned.

The eighth chapter, “Look at him! He’s not normal, is he?”, makes a good case that Troughton’s performance as the Doctor only really settles down after The Underwater Menace.

The ninth chapter, “A New Atlantis”, looks at the very little that is known of the writer, Geoffrey Orme, and examines the socialist elements of the plot – notably the strike of the Fish People as one of the few cases of industrial action in Doctor Who, and speculates that their infamous dance is rooted in the work of Ernst and Lotte Berk, with whom Orme had professional connections. I was convinced.

An appendix, “Vital secret will die with me! Dr. W”, looks in amusing and extensive detail at the question of whether the name of the lead character of the show is “Doctor Who” or not.

A second and final appendix reviews the production schedule of the story, whose studio sessions were recorded only a week before they were broadcast.

It’s all very satisfactory, and after a run of Black Archives which I was less happy with, this is reassuringly back to the usual excellent form.

Having said that, there is one very annoying production glitch. As has sometimes been the case before, it involves the footnotes; in this case, most of them are duplicated. It rather breaks up the reading experience.

Other than that, I really recommend this – after you have seen the recovered second episode. ( )
  nwhyte | Jul 13, 2023 |
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