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Reviewed by Jon Preddle

Each season of Doctor Who has its share of good stories - but there are also the clangers. Underworld is the 15th season's clanger - after The Invisible Enemy. The main reason for the failure of this story is that it is confined to only three sets - the stock TARDIS; the Spaceship Bridge and corridor which also doubles as the Oracle temple; and a small cave set utilising the crusher. The rest of the story relies on the process of Colour Separation Overlay (CSO), in which people are electronically superimposed, in this case onto papier-mâché cave walls. The effect fails mainly because the characters are seen walking on smooth floors; even K9 has no problem traversing the terrain. The process is not cheap to achieve, but having to construct cave sets would have added to the production's budget, and with John Nathan-Turner in control of this as production manager, we con see where he gets his ideas as producer from!

The story is interesting in that it parallels the Greek myth of Jason and the Argonauts' search for the Golden Fleece that hangs on the Tree at the Edge of the World guarded by a dragon. In this case, the Golden Fleece is the golden cylinder containing the race-banks of the dead race of the Minyans. Jason is Jackson, the Argonauts are his fellow Minyans. The dragon becomes a force-field covering the entrance to the Temple, which turns out to be the P7E - the ship the Minyans have been searching for, for 100,000 years. The Tree is the series of tunnels inside the planet that has formed around the ship, looking not unlike a tree in map form.

The Doctor and Leela meet the Minyans in space - "The Quest is the Quest," - and we learn that the Time Lords were indirectly responsible for the death of the Minyan race, due to their intervention, and thus brought about their policy of non-intervention into other races' difficulties. After continuous regeneration using machines, they continue warily their search for the P7E. They find the ship at the heart of a newly formed planet - and after thousands of years, the people have become slaves to the Oracle who turns out to be none other than the shin's computer. No prizes for telling me how many stories have featured computers that have 'gone mad'.

Characterisation was almost non-existent. Jackson and his motley crew was really just a bunch of tired soldiers. Orfe and Tala were silent members, and Herrick came across as the only strong one, seemingly sacrificing his life at the bridge to allow the others to escape - he survived and was interrogated by the servants of the Oracle who were revealed as having large golden heads! The Head of the Guards, Tarn, played by Godfrey James who is usually cast as a policeman, was also boring. The Trog slaves were boring. K9 was even more boring. The most boring was the Oracle - voiced by Christine Polon. Computers gone mad are boring.

The special effects were good. The model shots were on a par with the rest of the season - the scenes of the Minyan ship being covered in meteors were impressive. There isn't much else to recommend this story. There are a number of embarrassing scenes - mainly K9 being connected to the Minyan ship's computer by having bulldog clips attached to his ears (well, he is a dog-like computer, is he not?) Leela seems to display knowledge of Greek myths, especially Ulysses. Scenes of patrolling guards are repeated, including a scene with one guard skidding around a corner - even reversing the image doesn't disguise the fact that it is the same scene; and the sequence featuring the pacifier gun - "His name is Orfe, Doctor," she drools, " What a lovely name." - Bleeck!! Whilst getting over the boring plot, I decided to spend my time picking out the other parallels with Greek myths, and came up with the following:
P73 = Persephone, the God Zeus' daughter
Idas = Midas
Orfe = Orpheus, who entered Hell
Minyos = Minoan (a Greek province)
Jackson = Jason
Herrick = Hercules
Oracle = A Priestess
Trogs = Troglodytes, or Trojans
Underworld = Hell

Another disappointing story in a disappointing season.

I only wish it were revealed what the Doctor was painting in the TARDIS!

This item appeared in TSV 4 (February 1988).

Index nodes: Underworld
Reprinted in: Special Reprint Edition