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22 October 2014

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Production Code: 4Y

First Transmitted

1 - 07/01/1978 18:25

2 - 14/01/1978 18:25

3 - 21/01/1978 18:25

4 - 28/01/1978 18:25


The TARDIS arrives on a Minyan space craft, the R1C, commanded by a man named Jackson. Jackson and his crew are on a long quest to recover the Minyan race banks from a ship called the P7E which left their planet centuries ago. The Doctor helps to free the R1C after it becomes buried in a meteorite storm, but it then crashes into another newly-formed planet.

Inside the planet is a system of caves at the heart of which is the P7E. The P7E's computer, the Oracle, was programmed to protect the race banks but subsequently went insane and - with the aid of its robotic servants, the Seers - imposed its rule upon the Minyan survivors and their descendants. It allows Jackson to take what appear to be the race banks, but they are actually imitations containing fission grenades.

The Doctor realises the deception and obtains the genuine race banks. He then tricks the Oracle's guards into taking the grenades back to their leader. The resulting explosion destroys the planet and the P7E and boosts the R1C off on a voyage to Minyos II, carrying with it the Minyan survivors.

Episode Endings

Meteorites build up around the hull of the R1C, threatening to bury it at the heart of a new planet.

Fumigating gas floods into the caves around the Doctor as he struggles to gain access to the pumping controls and reverse the flow. The gas billows around him and he is on the point of being overcome.

The Doctor and Leela are attempting to gain access to the P7E by hiding in a dump truck used for transporting rocks to a crusher. The Minyan pushing the truck stumbles and loses his grip on it. The truck tips up, despositing the Doctor and Leela in the mouth of the crusher.

In the TARDIS control room, the Doctor tells Leela of Jason and the Argonauts and ponders that such myths might be not just stories of the past but also prophesies of the future. He asks K9 what he thinks and, to his annoyance, the robot dog disagrees. The Doctor storms out and Leela kisses K9 on the end of his nose.


The Flying Dutchman.



The Odyssey.

Jason and the Argonauts.

the Sword of Damocles.

Planet of the Apes.

Star Trek's For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky, Return of the Archons, The Cloud Minders.

Dialogue Triumphs

Jackson/Herrick/Orfe/Tala : "The quest is the quest!"

The Doctor : "Have you ever heard of the Flying Dutchman?"

Leela : "No."

The Doctor : "Pity. I've often wondered who he was."

Voice of the Oracle : "There are no gods but me! Have I not created myself?"

The Doctor : "Don't ever play with strange weapons, Leela."

Leela : [On the Doctor] "Do not worry, he has saved many fathers."

Double Entendre

The Doctor : "Whatever blows can be sucked."


The TARDIS landing sound is actually that of its relative dimensional stabiliser. The TARDIS, at least sometimes, flies through real space [to observe the spiral nebula, perhaps: see also The Tomb of the Cybermen]. Leela can operate certain TARDIS controls (see The Invisible Enemy). The Doctor is attempting to paint. K9 can interface with other computers through bulldog clips on his 'ears'.

The Minyans, when living on Minyos, accepted Time Lord technology, kicked them out by force, went to war and destroyed their world, 100,000 years previously. Minyans can regenerate thousands of times, with mechanical help, but retain the same persona each time [the technology is more like what Time Lords use to prolong the life of each incarnation, rather than true regeneration].


The Origins of the Time Lords


The edge of the universe [actually the edge of a galaxy - the Doctor is simplifying things for Leela], where planets are [incidentally] being formed in a spiral nebula. [Minyos 2 is only 211 light years away - the Minyans will get there in 370 years at 4/7 light speed, so this isn't that much of a backwater.]


The Doctor has been to Aberdeen and Blackpool.


The Minyans own ingeniously designed shield guns - which, strangely, Leela knows how to operate apparently without having to be shown.


There are bizarre ideas about gravity and planetary formation. Charmingly, there's zero gravity at the planet's centre.


The artefacts have 'Made in Minyos' stamped on them.

At the end, the Doctor leaves the Minyans with dozens of people to take care of over a four year journey in a tiny ship, ignoring the possibility of taking them home in the TARDIS.

Fashion Victim

The Minyans' space helmets and the silly robot heads.

Cast & Crew


The Doctor - Tom Baker

Leela - Louise Jameson

Voice of K9 - John Leeson

Ankh - Frank Jarvis

Guard Klimt - Jay Neil

Herrick - Alan Lake

Idas - Norman Tipton

Idmon - Jimmy Gardner

Jackson - James Maxwell

Lakh - Richard Shaw

Naia - Stacey Tendeter

Orfe - Jonathan Newth

Rask - James Marcus

Tala - Imogen Bickford-Smith

Tarn - Godfrey James

Voice of the Oracle - Christine Pollon


Director - Norman Stewart

Assistant Floor Manager - Gary Downie

Costumes - Rupert Jarvis

Designer - Dick Coles

Film Cameraman - unknown

Film Editor - Richard Trevor

Incidental Music - Dudley Simpson

Make-Up - Cecile Hay-Arthur

Producer - Graham Williams

Production Assistant - Mike Cager

Production Unit Manager - John Nathan-Turner

Script Editor - Anthony Read

Special Sounds - Dick Mills

Studio Lighting - Mike Jefferies

Studio Sound - Richard Chubb

Title Music - Ron Grainer and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, arranged by Delia Derbyshire

Visual Effects - Richard Conway

Writer - Bob Baker

Writer - Dave Martin

Bottom Line - from The Discontinuity Guide

'Another insane object, another self-aggrandising artifact!' Good model work, big SF ideas, but very claustrophobic. The direction is a bit lazy, and the design could be better (the real Graham Williams failing, with notable exceptions). The plot settles down to be dullish, but much more worthy than its reputation would suggest. The CSO's not that bad, either.

Analysis - from Doctor Who, the Television Companion

It has sometimes been suggested that Doctor Who is at its best when its roots are showing. Those who hold that view would no doubt find much to admire in Underworld. 'Bob Baker and Dave Martin's second [story] for the fifteenth season... is one of a long line... with an uncredited extra author,' suggested Andrew Martin in In-Vision Issue 28, dated November 1990. 'In this case it is not the script editor or another trusted, experienced writer but the generations of Greek storytellers who created and refined the myth of Jason and the Argonauts. While stories such as The Brain of Morbius are reworkings of classic tales of literature under greater or lesser disguise, Underworld is an instance of a story owing so much to its roots that the authors feel obliged to acknowledge the fact in its closing moments: "I called Jackson 'Jason'?... Jason was another captain on a long quest."'

It seems obvious that writers Baker and Martin intended the viewer to realise at an early stage that their story was based on Greek myth, and to take delight in spotting things like the similarities between names - Jackson/Jason, Herrick/Heracles, Tala/Atalanta, Orfe/Orpheus, Minyos/Minos, R1C/Argossey, P7E/Persephone, and so on - and the parallels between the Minyan race banks and the Golden Fleece sought by Jason and his crew. This actually works rather well, giving the story an extra level and lending the whole thing a mythic quality.

Underworld is however a story that has had a generally bad press over the years. The following comments by Howard D Langford in TARDIS Volume 3 Number 3, dated May/June 1978 are fairly typical: 'Underworld I thought was a terrible story, with virtually nothing to recommend it. The first episode was very tedious, and the plot in general seemed very weak. The sets were bad, the acting was bad, the script was bad. There was far too much reliance on weapons. One of the most important characteristics of the Doctor has always been that he never carries a gun, but uses his wits to get out of tricky situations. The coming of K9 is a curse which has changed all this and has worked for ill on both the originality of the scripts and the fame of the Doctor as a moral agent who disapproves of violence except in extreme circumstances. As for the last episode - oh no! Not another megalomaniac computer.'

Gordon Blows, reviewing the story in the Doctor Who Appreciation Society Yearbook 1977/78, also disliked the ending: 'Unfortunately, what started out to be an inventive and original story for Doctor Who disintegrated into a very over-used idea with the introduction of the Oracle. As the Doctor himself put it, "simply... another machine with megalomania!". The story became very close to... The Face of Evil, with the slaves taking the place of Leela's Sevateem and the robots the place of the acolytes.'

Like the same writers' earlier story The Invisible Enemy, Underworld relies to an unusually great degree on visual effects. The model work on this occasion is arguably some of the finest ever seen in the series, the best shot of all being the one where the R1C crashes through the soft surface of the newly-formed planet around the P7E. The realisation of the robotic Seers, on the other hand, is less impressive. 'It's never really explained who or what the Seers are,' noted Keith Miller in Doctor Who Digest Number 8, dated April 1978, 'but toward the end of [Part Three] they reveal themselves as they [lift] off their [masks] and we see two of the most hilarious aliens ever seen on TV. Two jumping beans with eyes!'

Undoubtedly the most contentious aspect of the production, however, is its very extensive use of CSO, by way of which all the scenes set in the caves of the planet were achieved. This has come in for some scathing criticism from reviewers, but is actually quite brilliantly done. Admittedly the viewer is never for one moment fooled into believing that the characters are walking through a real environment, but there is remarkably little of the peripheral fringing or image loss often associated with this effect (apparently it looks even better if watched in black and white) and in a strange sort of way it actually suits the slightly unreal quality of the Oracle's domain. In any event, given how difficult and time-consuming CSO effects can be to get right, one can only marvel at the technical prowess and commitment of all those involved in achieving these scenes.

There is far more to admire in Underworld than its reputation would suggest, and overall it stands up well as a good example of the Doctor Who of this period.

< The Sun MakersFourth DoctorThe Invasion of Time >

This episode guide is made up of the text of The Discontinuity Guide by Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping, and Doctor Who: The Television Companion by David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker.

The Discontinuity Guide © Paul Cornell, Martin Day and Keith Topping 1995.
Doctor Who: The Television Companion © David J Howe and Stephen James Walker 1998, 2003.

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