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Serial 4Y:
Underworld

Plot

The Doctor, Leela and K-9 find themselves in a spacecraft piloted by the last of the Minyans, a race which destroyed itself using technology given to them by early Time Lords. Now the remaining Minyans are on a desperate search for their race banks, lost centuries earlier, which represent the only hope for the survival of their civilisation. With the Doctor's help, the race banks are located. But in order to retrieve them, the time travellers must confront an insane computer and its robotic servants, or the Minyans will be forever doomed.

Production

Anthony Read was hired to replace Robert Holmes as Doctor Who's script editor in May 1977. With Holmes planning to formally vacate the position in July, it was agreed that Read would be given full control over the final two serials of Season Fifteen. To this end, he quickly contacted the writing team of Bob Baker and Dave Martin, who had already contributed The Invisible Enemy to the season. As Doctor Who veterans, Baker and Martin -- the “Bristol Boys” -- could be relied upon to deliver a serial without too much attention from the new script editor.

Holmes had been much in favour of borrowing from classic literature to inspire Doctor Who adventures, and Read thought along similar lines. He suggested that Baker and Martin look to Greek mythology for a storyline, particularly citing the tale of the Argo -- the quest undertaken by Jason and other Greek heroes, the Argonauts, to find the fabled Golden Fleece. This legend was told in Apollonius' Argonautica and in other ancient works. The Bristol Boys concurred with this direction, and decided to write a serial which would transpose the Greek myth onto a science-fiction setting. The result, called Underworld, was commissioned on June 23rd. For a time, it was thought that this might be the final story of Season Fifteen, but it was later scheduled as the penultimate adventure.

In writing Underworld, Baker and Martin made great use of the Greek legend, littering their scripts with references to it. In particular, many of the names were variations on the Argonauts of the tale: Commander Jackson was named for Jason (as was explicitly acknowledged in the Doctor's dialogue from episode four), Herrick for Heracles, Orfe for Orpheus, and Tala for Atalanta. Idas and Idmon shared their names with two minor Argonauts. The Minyans of legend were actually the Greek race from whom many of the Argonauts were supposed to have been descended. The Trogs were a reference to the Troglodytes, a cave-dwelling people in ancient Greek texts.

In the legend, the Argo is Jason's boat; the spaceship R1C, originally simply referred to as the R1, was meant to recall it. (Its name may also have been derived from the common misconception that the stories of Jason and the Argonauts are collectively referred as the Argosey, in the same way that the tales of Odysseus are known as the Odyssey.) Similarly, the P7E was named for the deity Persephone. This held two meanings: Persephone was a fertility goddess (hence the P7E carrying the Minyan race banks), and she came to be imprisoned in the Underworld. (The Greeks also referred to the Underworld as Hades, and at one point Baker and Martin considered referring to their own “underworld” as Hadis.)

The Bristol Boys also drew upon several incidents in the story of Jason and the Argonauts for plot points of Underworld. The episode one cliffhanger in which the R1C is pummelled by asteroids was a reference to Jason's encounter with the Symplegades, also called the Clashing (or Cyanean) Rocks. These were large boulders situated along the Bosphorus which haphazardly smashed into one another, destroying any ship which was caught in-between. The grove on the island of Colchis in which the Golden Fleece hung was guarded by serpents, and this was the inspiration for the P7E's defense system. The name for the Oracle itself was borrowed from a number of Greek prophetesses (often associated with the god Apollo), the most famous being the Oracle at Delphi.

Greek mythology was not the only source plumbed for Underworld. Ankh was named for an Egyptian symbol for life, while Lakh is an Indian word for “one hundred thousand”, referring to the timespan of the Minyans' search for the P7E. More modern figures were also referenced: Rask was named for nineteenth-century Danish philologist Ramus Rask, Tarn for nineteenth-century French poet Pauline Tarn (who wrote under the nom de plume Renée Vivien), and Klimt for early twentieth-century Austrian painter Gustav Klimt. Each of these had engaged in various works associated with ancient Greece. The Leibemann maser weapons were named for early twentieth-century German painter Max Liebermann. Finally, Baker and Martin drew upon their own recent Doctor Who scripts by giving the Minyans a motto: “The Quest is the Quest”. This followed in the tradition of their previous catchphrases, “Eldrad must live” (from The Hand Of Fear) and “Contact has been made” (from The Invisible Enemy).

Underworld was designated Serial 4Y, and was to be directed by Norman Stewart. Stewart had just gone freelance after working at the BBC for a number of years, having handled series such as The Newcomers. He had also worked on several Doctor Who stories as a production assistant, most recently The Invisible Enemy. A challenge immediately confronted Stewart after Williams attended a preview screening of the motion picture Star Wars which was already a hit in North America and would debut in Great Britain in early 1978, around the same time that Underworld was due to be broadcast. Williams was aware that Doctor Who's usual production standards would compare poorly with George Lucas' pioneering film. To enhance the visual appeal of the serial, Williams and Stewart decided to abandon any pre-filming and instead invest the majority of the Underworld budget into two impressive sets: the R1C (which could be redressed as the P7E) and the caverns.

In late summer, Williams went on holiday for two weeks. When he returned, he found the end of Season Fifteen in complete disarray. Not only did it appear that the planned finale -- David Weir's “Killers Of The Dark” -- would be too ambitious to realise, but skyrocketing inflation had resulted in the estimates for the Underworld sets coming in at three times the anticipated budget. One of Williams' directives upon taking over Doctor Who had been to cut down on overspending. As such, he was left with only two options: either truncate the season so that it ended with Underworld, or else find a novel and money-saving approach to its production.

At this stage, work had already begun on the elaborate set for the R1C. Williams' solution, then, was to abandon the proposed cavern set and instead represent this with relatively cost-effective models, onto which the cast could be superimposed using Colour Separation Overlay. Stewart and designer Dick Coles investigated this idea and finally determined that it was feasible, despite the fact that such a volume of CSO work had never before been attempted in a BBC production.

On September 7th, John Leeson was once again contracted to provide the voice of K-9 in Underworld. Four weeks later, work on Serial 4Y began with two days of CSO recording in BBC Television Centre Studio 4. Taking place on October 3rd and 4th, this session covered the cavern material from the two middle installments. Cast and crew found this method of recording to be extremely frustrating and nerve-wracking. Tom Baker's mood became particularly sour, exacerbated by the continued uneasiness of his relationship with Louise Jameson, which was hampered by his dislike of the Leela character.

Unusually, the second studio session for Underworld was four days long -- spanning October 15th to 18th -- in order to provide time for the remaining CSO shots. With taping now shifted to TC3, work on the 15th involved scenes on the R1C for episode one. The remaining work on these sets, for episodes two to four, was completed the next day. The sets were then redressed to pose as the P7E, and all of this material was captured on the 17th. Finally the cavern scenes for part four were recorded on October 18th, again using CSO.

Throughout Season Fifteen, Williams had been campaigning for a “gallery-only” effects day to be allocated to each Doctor Who serial. To this point, electronic effects work had to be carried out during the regular studio sessions, which put pressure on the effects supervisor and was tedious for the cast. During a gallery-only day, the effects supervisor would be given access to a recording gallery while another programme was being set up on the studio floor, enabling him to add effects to the completed footage in a more relaxed environment. Due to the volume of work confronting electronic effects supervisor AJ “Mitch” Mitchell on Underworld, Williams' lobbying finally bore fruit, and Mitchell enjoyed a gallery-only day on October 21st. Despite this, however, the CSO was not as successful as the production team had hoped, leading to a great deal of disappointment with the finished serial.

By the time Underworld was in production, Jameson had made it clear to Williams that she was not interested in returning to Doctor Who for Season Sixteen. This disappointed the producer, who liked Leela and harboured some hope that he might be able to change the actress' mind. Nonetheless, Williams got in touch with Elisabeth Sladen to see if she would be interested in returning to Doctor Who as Sarah Jane Smith, the companion she had played for three years until The Hand Of Fear early in Season Fourteen. Sladen was unavailable, however, so he began conceiving a new companion instead.

Williams decided that if Leela was to be replaced, it should be by a very dissimilar character, and so he came up with the idea that the Doctor could be assigned a novice Time Lady by a higher power (a Guardian of Time, who figured prominently in Williams' developing plans for the next season). This would be the brilliant but sheltered Romy (short for Romanadvoratrelundar), whose intellectual and reserved nature would be in sharp contrast to the savage and emotive Leela. A character outline for Romy was distributed on October 10th. In a bid to gain extra exposure for her client, the agent of Imogen Bickford-Smith began publicly touting Tala, the actress' character in Underworld, as Leela's replacement, even though Williams and Read had never considered this as an option.

Despite the production problems which had plagued Underworld, meanwhile, Baker and Martin remained enthusiastic about their ideas for the serial. For a time, they considered spinning off the R1C crew into their own science-fiction programme, in which the Minyans would travel through space becoming involved in other adventures based upon ancient mythology. Ultimately, however, nothing would come of this idea.

Sources
  • Doctor Who: The Handbook: The Fourth Doctor by David J Howe, Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker (1992), Virgin Publishing, ISBN 0 426 20369 8.
  • Doctor Who: The Seventies by David J Howe, Mark Stammers and Stephen James Walker (1994), Virgin Publishing, ISBN 1 85227 444 1.
  • Doctor Who Magazine #243, 25th September 1996, “Archive: Underworld” by Andrew Pixley, Marvel Comics UK Ltd.
  • Doctor Who Magazine Special Edition #8, 1st September 2004, “Nobody Does It Better” by Andrew Pixley, Panini Publishing Ltd.
  • In-Vision #28, November 1990, “Production” edited by Justin Richards and Peter Anghelides, Cybermark Services.

Original Transmission
Episode 1
Date 7th Jan 1978
Time 6.25pm
Duration 22'36"
Viewers (more) 8.9m (50th)
· BBC1 8.9m
Appreciation 65%
Episode 2
Date 14th Jan 1978
Time 6.27pm
Duration 21'27"
Viewers (more) 9.1m (37th)
· BBC1 9.1m
Episode 3
Date 21st Jan 1978
Time 6.31pm
Duration 22'21"
Viewers (more) 8.9m (37th)
· BBC1 8.9m
Episode 4
Date 28th Jan 1978
Time 6.29pm
Duration 22'53"
Viewers (more) 11.7m (27th)
· BBC1 11.7m


Cast
Doctor Who
Tom Baker
Leela
Louise Jameson
Voice of K-9
John Leeson
(more)
Jackson
James Maxwell
Herrick
Alan Lake
Orfe
Jonathan Newth
Tala
Imogen Bickford-Smith
Rask
James Marcus
Tarn
Godfrey James
Idmon
Jimmy Gardner
Idas
Norman Tipton
Guard Klimt
Jay Neill
Ankh
Frank Jarvis
Lakh
Richard Shaw
Naia
Stacey Tendeter
Voice of the Oracle
Christine Pollon


Crew
Written by
Bob Baker and
Dave Martin
Directed by
Norman Stewart
Produced by
Graham Williams
(more)

Incidental Music by
Dudley Simpson
Special Sound
Dick Mills
Production Assistant
Mike Cager
Production Unit Manager
John Nathan-Turner
Lighting
Mike Jefferies
Sound
Richard Chubb
Visual Effects Designer
Richard Conway
Electronic Effects
AJ Mitchell
Costume Designer
Rupert Jarvis
Make-up Artist
Cecile Hay-Arthur
Script Editor
Anthony Read
Designer
Dick Coles


Media
DVD Release
Doctor Who: Underworld (2010)
Buy: Canada · USA
Doctor Who: Myths And Legends (boxed set; 2010)
Buy: UK
Novelisation
Doctor Who and The Underworld by Terrance Dicks (1980)

Updated 23rd April 2010