5 December 2018: It Takes You Away review added.
26 November 2018: The Witchfinders review added.
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' "And that is not the sky?" "That is the roof." '
After the ghastly train wreck that was The Invisible Enemy, we were peeking at Baker and Martin's next effort through our fingers. The good news is, though, that Underworld's not as bad as Invisible Enemy. On the other hand, that's not much of a recommendation.
Where Underworld scores is in some of its ideas. The parallel with mythology is nicely done - we particularly like P7E for Persephone, particularly since it's carrying the race banks - although we could have done without the Doctor ramming it home with the sledgehammer at the end. "Jason? Jackson?" Argh. The story of the Minyan civilisation is intriguing, particularly with the involvement of the Time Lords and the whole regeneration thang. (Makes us wonder, too, how the Minyans manage to hang around for hundreds of centuries when Time Lords, who presumably have superior technology, only get a dozen regenerations.) And the idea of a spaceship forming the centre of a planet is a terrific one, even if some of the physics is decidedly hairy.
Unfortunately, though, the bad outweighs the good. First of all, it looks appalling. The horrific CSO setting was a budget-driven desperation move, and it looks it. People's legs disappear as they run through rocks, their feet hover magically over the uneven surface, their footfalls sound remarkably as if they're happening on a studio floor, and it couldn't be more embarrassing. And then there's the plot, in which the good stuff already mentioned is flattened by a welter of cliches: we see our thousandth sacrifice scene and our millionth demented computer. "You're just another machine with megalomania"? You can say that again, Doctor.
Then there are the hanging plot threads, frequently encrusted with dodgy science. When they think they're stuck as the centre of a new planet, why doesn't the Doctor ever suggest they get out using the TARDIS? Why has the computer gone nuts, exactly? How come the tinheads have evolved beyond the Minyans when the Minyans in the same time have stayed exactly the same? Just what are they doing with that crushed rock to get food out of it? How does the computer know the bombs won't explode while they're still within the planetoid? Why don't the astronauts seem even slightly happy to see the people they've spent 100,000 years trying to find? And given that the quest is the quest and all, why are they so quick to try and abandon them when they do find them? Wouldn't they be sobbing with joy and busting a gut to save them? Given that the astronauts manage to fly through the outer bits of the planet to get to the core because they're softish, how come the cave bit in the middle's made of solid rock? And how did gravity get to be Earth-normal on such a teensy little planetoid? As for the planet formation stuff, please, let's not go there.
Sigh. It's not good, is it? And the characterisation, while not terrible, is undistinguished, although this isn't helped by the illogical plot. Herrick, for example, has potential but is struggling with stuff like pointlessly being captured while saying "I've waited a long time for this". For what? Shooting at people? It was supposed to be a rescue mission, wasn't it? The Doctor's all right, we're just grateful they didn't do such a terrible job with Leela as they did in Invisible Enemy, and tin bore K9 rolls around doing his doggus ex machina bit yet again.
It's a shame. There's potential here, but it all went so terribly wrong. Let's just tiptoe away quietly.
MORAL: Be careful what you wish for.
YEAH, AND WE'RE A BUDGIE'S COUSIN
The Doctor asking K9 for escape coordinates? In his own TARDIS? As if.
The Minyan astronauts are vaguely futuristic, so needless to say it's jumpsuit city. This time it's a tasteful bacofoil 'n' worms ensemble.
NO, I'M A WARDROBE
"Are you a Time Lord?" "Yes, I'm a Time Lord." They just don't write dialogue like that any more.
TIME LORDING IT
The Minyans decide to go into the nebula, and the Doctor says he can't allow it. Who asked you, baby?
BUT NOBODY'S HOME
If all power's gone in the spaceship, why are the lights on?
That's a nice bit where the Doctor and Leela go back into the spaceship, then turn round together and head out again. It's very reminiscent of a similar Doctor and Sarah move in Pyramids of Mars.
CLOSED FOR RESURFACING
We see the Doctor coughing, spluttering and breathing through his scarf - what happened to the respiratory bypass system?
THE BEST POSSIBLE TASTE
Whatever blows can be sucked? And he delivered it with a commendably straight face, too.
I'M TALKING TO YOU, JIMMY
The Doctor delivers "I wonder where it all went?" straight to camera.
Leela is told to throw her weapon down and she does, but despite her dropping it on a rock floor we don't hear it land.
TOO SHY SHY
Those cloth mask things the tinhead guys are wearing are pretty cool, even if they do look a bit like Pacman ghosts. But why are they wearing them in the first place?
THE CANS OF FEAR
The torture device used on Herrick looks very similar to the one in The Green Death.
THEY'RE BRINGING THE BEER
Considering how casual they are about everything but the quest - they just wander off with the vials in the middle of a conversation - is it really likely they'd worry about waiting for the Doctor and Leela? Particularly when the future of the vials might be at stake?
YEAH, YOU NEVER FUCKING KNOW THE ANSWER WHEN IT'S IMPORTANT
After asking K9 a string of questions, when the Doctor is asked how much time they have, he says he doesn't know. Why doesn't he just ask K9 again?