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The Underwater Menace

by Nigel Robinson

Book review by Paul Scoones

My first reading of Nigel Robinson's third novelisation of a Doctor Who story was something of a revelation as I had very little prior knowledge of The Underwater Menace. My reaction upon learning more was 'awful'. I refer, though, not to the book, but the story. I would be doing Robinson a grave injustice if my criticism concentrated on the story itself and did not emphasize the splendid effort on his part to transform a notoriously bad Doctor Who story into a good read. I am frankly not surprised to see that it has taken so long to reach novelisation - Terrance Dicks probably wasn't brave enough to touch it!

The original story, by Geoffrey Orme, was a hastily concocted replacement for a rejected script, and falls third in the Troughton sequence of serials. It was Jamie's first trip in the TARDIS and, along with the Doctor, Ben and Polly he falls prey to the superstitious inhabitants of Atlantis. Despite a long-held belief to the contrary this story does not conflict with The Time Monster or The Daemons over the destruction of the legendary city - this civilisation is built on the underwater ruins of Atlantis and the tale is set in the 1970s. I said it was awful, and I meant it; take for instance the fish-goddess worshippers, fish people and a crazed scientist with plans to blow up the world - sounds like something out of the Gerry Anderson series Stingray!

Thankfully for purists, Robinson resists the urge to try and tone down these elements, but he does shape it into a well-paced, coherent tale with accurately drawn characters, and fleshed-out backgrounds for even some of the most minor people we meet in Atlantis. The mad scientist, Professor Zaroff, is a delight simply because of his outrageous lunacy. The second Doctor is so well written that you can almost picture Troughton capering about, foiling Zaroff's diabolical schemes.

A definite plus is that, as far as I can gather, The Underwater Menace is a totally faithful rendering of the serial, even down to the inter-story links. If you read the last bit of Gerry Davis' The Highlanders Jamie steps into the TARDIS, and in the opening of The Underwater Menace he has only just stepped in. The same can be said for the end of the novel where the Doctor announces a trip to Mars and the ship goes out of control - which ties in with the opening of the novelisation The Cybermen.

The Underwater Menace is about as good as it could be, under the circumstances, and full marks to Nigel Robinson, but the plot itself it riddled with flaws and cliches, and it is only this which counts against the success of the book - and the cover, which exposes one of the most tacky elements of all; the fish people!

This item appeared in TSV 10 (December 1988).

Index nodes: The Underwater Menace