The Atlantis Myth
By Alden Bates
'Atlantis? I thought it was supposed to be in the middle for the Atlantic Ocean.' - Mike Yates, The Time Monster
The Time Monster and The Underwater Menace both make use of the mythical lost continent of Atlantis as a location for all or part of the action in these stories. Yet, although both lie within Doctor Who mythology, they present different facts about the continent.
In The Time Monster, the Thera islands are said to be the remains of Atlantis. The Doctor is present at the end of Atlantis in Thera. In The Underwater Menace, the TARDIS arrives on a present day Atlantis, this time located on the Atlantic ridge. But how can there be two Atlantises?
Jean-Marc Lofficier explains the contradiction in The Universal Databank by naming the Atlantis of The Underwater Menace as merely an outpost of the Atlantis situated at Thera. This seems odd as throughout The Underwater Menace the 'outpost' is referred to as Atlantis.
'Not a legend, Doctor, but the truth.' - Professor Zaroff
Actually, evidence tends to point the other way. The Thera-as-Atlantis theory was put forward by Dr. Spiridon (!) Marinatos and Dr. Angelos Galanopoulos. Although Plato's texts suggest a much larger island, they claimed that errors in translation had multiplied numbers over one hundred by ten, thus the corrected size would perfectly suit Thera, and the time of its destruction almost tallies with the destruction of Thera by a tremendous volcanic explosion.
The locating of Atlantis as Thera also introduced the Minotaur legend along with nearby Crete. However, Plato located Atlantis 'beyond the Pillars of Hercules', meaning beyond the straits of Gibraltar in the middle of the Atlantic.
In fact, legends range over the lands around the Atlantic Ocean of an advanced culture that existed in the middle of the ocean and was destroyed by a great cataclysm. So if The Underwater Menace Atlantis is the true Atlantis, then what of the Thera Atlantis from The Time Monster that was destroyed by Kronos?
The Thera disaster occurred in about 1500 BC, while the destruction of Atlantis was said by Plato to have occurred about 9500 BC. After Atlantis's destruction in the Atlantic, there is strong evidence that inhabitants survived by leaving Atlantis and integrating with settlements in surrounding continents. Perhaps in the intervening 8000 years, some of the Atlanteans regrouped and colonized Thera, recreating their civilization, and ultimately being destroyed in The Time Monster.
What about culture? How do the Atlantean cultures of Doctor Who compare with Plato's descriptions? The Atlantis of The Underwater Menace is devoutly religious and fairly primitive judging by their lack of understanding of Professor Zaroff's equipment and techniques. The Time Monster Atlantis seems to be modelled after the cultures of Crete and its contemporaries, quite naturally, considering the place and time.
Notably, both stories feature Atlantis having one king, while Plato describes Atlantis as traditionally having ten hereditary kings, each having supreme power over a region of Atlantis. The single king can be explained in the first story in that the Atlanteans were a small group, presumably all from a single area of Atlantis. In the second it can be explained that, assuming that they were survivors who fled from the original Atlantis, Thera was not large enough for more then one king.
Atlantis was said to be the richest country to have existed, having opulent towers and temples, vast canals and docks, and an advanced scientific culture. So why the difference between Plato's description and the Doctor Who stories? The Underwater Menace takes place in a vastly reduced Atlantis, thousands of years after its decimation. Naturally there will be degraded standards; the Atlanteans have struggled, their wealth gone, and cut off from all outside trade.
'The Professor is a scientific genius, Doctor. In the past 20 years he has improved life in Atlantis beyond all imagining.' - Damon, The Underwater Menace
Indeed, the Atlanteans had been forced to subsist on the fish from the sea and the animals from the small island over the eleven thousand years between Atlantis's destruction, and Professor Zaroff's arrival.
In The Time Monster, the Atlanteans have no such excuse. The culture seems primitive for no reason. If they were survivors of the destruction of the mid-Atlantic Atlantis, then it would explain the reduced conditions that the Doctor found when he visited.
So, what caused the destruction of the original Atlantis circa 9500 B.C.? Azal's claims in The Daemons of having a hand in the destruction of Atlantis has been neatly circumvented until now. There were, therefore three destructions of Atlantis: the first the initial great culture that Plato described, the destruction of which took place in 9500 BC, care of the Daemons; the destruction of a colony of survivors in Thera circa 1500 BC; and the destruction of a small colony, although most of the inhabitants survived, circa 1970 AD.
References: The Time Monster, The Underwater Menace, The Universal Databank; Atlantis - The Lost Continent Revealed by Charles Berlitz (1984); Worlds Before Our Own by Brad Steiger (1978).
This item appeared in TSV 39 (May 1994).