Doctor Who – Underworld Review (or ‘The Televisual Equivalent of Gastric Flu’)

When I decided to start reviewing Doctor Who from the start, one nasty thing occurred to me.

I’d have to watch and review Underworld.

To watch Underworld is to step into the shoes of someone with dementia. I’ve seen it four, maybe five times all the way through and I have absolutely no recollection of what it’s about. Imagine if you could watch your favourite TV show again and again as if it were the first time. Sadly, that’s not possible, but it is with this atrocity.

My Doctor Who viewing habits are that I’ll watch an episode or two each night before I go to sleep, but keen observers of this blog will know that I only reviewed The Sunmakers yesterday, and therefore I’ve got through this in very short order. And that’s not because it was so engrossing that I stayed awake into the wee small hours, but rather because I watched it this morning in a bid to get a handle on the plot. Otherwise, it’d take me about 3 weeks to watch it as I doubt I’d get through more than 5 minutes a night without dropping off.

Doctor Who – Underworld Review: So What Is It About Then?

I’m still not entirely sure. Well that’s not strictly true. Loosely based on the tale of Jason & The Argonauts, it’s about the Minyans’ quest to try to recover the race banks from a ship they’ve been pursuing for 100,000 years.

But what actually happens between episodes 2-4 remains a blur.

Thoughts – An Abject Failure on All Counts

To be absolutely fair to Underworld, Episode 1 is alright. Well, it’s average, but average seems like perfection compared to the remainder of the story.

It sets the scene so that we at least know what the Minyans are up to and could potentially have been a solid beginning to what was to come.

But sadly that wasn’t to be, because what was to come in the remaining three parts was an abject failure on all counts.


Usually when I do these reviews, I start with an analysis of the plot, but I don’t think you can start to criticise Underworld without talking about the use of Colour Separation Overlay.

An Example of the Amazing Special Effects

I believe the situation is that they used all their production budget on the admittedly excellent set of the Minyan space ship. It looks great, and considering I’ve hammered two of the stories in these season for having rubbish sets, that deserves credit.

But to compensate for the fact that they’ve used up all their budget on that set, the production team make the conscious decision to set most of the rest of the story over CSO (Green Screen) backgrounds. And that leads to perhaps one of the most heart stoppingly embarrassing scenes in any TV show ever.

The sight of a bunch of extras running around an empty studio in front of the most unconvincing – and squint – cave backdrop is just unbelievable. I won’t provide a screenshot because it makes it look better than it is.

And that sets a precedent for most of the rest of the story. The effects are so bad, so cheap, that it looks worse than a 12 year old’s D graded Media Studies project.

Whether it’s the Doctor and his gang ‘floating’ or the ‘effect’ of gas filling up half the screen, it’s just excruciating, and I think even if this was the best plot in Doctor Who history, it would still be ruined by that.

The Plot

Sadly, it’s not the best plot in Doctor Who history, but rather it’s a serious contender for the worst.

Off the top of my head, the only stories in the same ballpark for being shit are Time & The Rani, The Twin Dilemma and Terminus. The former two get a slight bonus for at least having the minor novelty of introducing a new Doctor (even if both do a terrible job in their first attempts) and the latter might just be slightly more interesting.

But really, this is just shit.

As far as I can tell, Episodes 2-4 covers this amount of plot…

  • The Minyan Ship lands inside a soft planet.
  • Everyone walks around for a bit
  • They save some bloke’s Dad
  • They walk around some more
  • The Doctor gets the two golden race memory sticks
  • They leave

That’s it.

I’m not even sure who or what the villain is. There are some blokes in hoods in a control room and then at one point a golden light shines on a wall to the beat of some woman’s voice, but I just don’t know what that has to do with anything.

Sadly, they aren’t away to play Dance Dance Revolution. That would have made it far more interesting

Indeed, in the absence of any menace or villain you have to wonder what this is doing as a Doctor Who story.

The Worst Direction I’ve Ever Seen In Anything. Ever. And I Mean That.

What makes it even worse, if that were even possible, is that Underworld suffers from having the worst direction I’ve ever seen in anything, ever. And that includes TV, Film, School Plays, Youtube Videos and anything else you could think of.

It is excruciating.

Sure, we can blame Baker & Martin for coming up with yet another dud, but the director, Norman Stewart – in what appears to be his first ever directing job according to imdb – just takes one stinking, steaming giant shit all over this.

Can we blame him for the CSO? Yes, but I’m sure blame can be shared with the rest of the production team. Can we blame him for the god-awful acting (which I’ll get to)? Yes again because he’ll have had a hand in casting them, but it’s a shared blame.

But where he is solely to blame is for the pacing and the shots.

Watching this all in one go I actually began to feel tense. As the story draaaaaaaagged on, the scenes just got slower and more cumbersome.

The actors worked with little urgency, so when they are supposed to be fleeing and escaping from whatever it is they were escaping from, they didn’t run; they walked with the sort of ‘brisk’ pace you use when crossing a road.

Every scene seemed to linger. People would stop talking and then the camera would hold on them for as much as 10 seconds before moving on to the next bit.

There would be scenes where nothing would happen; indeed, there’s a scene in Episode 4 where the camera shows the Doctor, Leela and the young bloke (I’m not even going to pretend I remember his name) simply standing still in a room doing nothing, and

then it cuts away to something else.

That spotlight appears to be the villain

The scene that I assume is supposed to be climactic where the yellow light on the wall gets its comeuppance after it realises it has the fission bombs instead of the race memory banks is ruined by the long lingering pauses and the lack of urgency. Compare it to the speed and urgency of the scene where the Cybermen get blown up in Revenge of the Cybermen. Night and day.

He also manages to get the scenes in the wrong order.

The cliffhanger at the end of Episode 3 is pathetic. Yep, that’s the right word to use; pathetic. It’s felt like hours since we saw the Doctor planning to get into wherever he needed to get to (again, I’m just not sure) through the mine, but suddenly we just see a scene where someone trips and the Doctor & Leela might end up being crushed. There’s no suspense, no drama, no nothing leading up to it. It’s slightly better in the reprisal at the start of Episode 4 because he cuts out a few scenes so that there’s a link between why the Doctor and Leela are where they are and why they are in trouble.

Like I say, pathetic.

The Acting

No, not even the acting in this one gets a pass mark.

None of the guest cast are anything other than hammy at best.

It’s not even that they are spectacularly bad; they are just dreary. They amble through the four episodes without even the slightest glimmer of talent.

It’s not helped by the fact most of the characters wear hoods over their faces which also manages to make them even less fearsome and emotive than they could have been.

The two noteworthy performances come from the guy who plays the father of the guy who the Doctor hangs around with (I didn’t catch his name, and the character names mean nothing so I don’t know who he is) who simply can’t act, and also from Richard Shaw.

Who’s Richard Shaw?

It’s our old pal Lobos from the Space Museum, who is described by IMDB as a ‘General Purpose British Actor’ despite having what sounds like an Australian accent.

The Fantastically Emotive Computer sums up Underworld

In Underworld he plays a bloke in a hood who turns out to be a robot or something. Essentially it’s a voice acting gig, but one where he’s spectacularly mis-cast.

Can you imagine a robot being played with the same voice and lazy delivery of the great Lobos? Well imagine no more, because it’s in Underworld.

I suppose it could be argued that playing a robot like a bored Australian with a headache is a brave departure from the norm, but I’m inclined to take the view that it’s more likely that he just couldn’t give a toss.

But who’s to blame? Him for phoning it in (perhaps literally), the writers for giving him bad lines or the director for allowing his performance to stand?

It’s all three, and that’s the problem with Underworld.

Random Observations

  • The idea of the pacifier is good, but it was ultimately pointless as it didn’t make the slightest bit of difference to the plot.
  • Same goes for the backstory of the Minyans and their ability to regenerate. What did that have to do with anything?
  • There is one single solitary line that is good in Underworld. The exchange where the Minyans Commander asks the Doctor if he’s a Doctor of Crystalocybernetics nd the Doctor replies “My dear chap, what’s the problem?”
  • That that line stands out is a testament to how awful this is.
  • As far as I’m concerned, Big Finish – with their 17,000 Dalek stories and audio dramas about Captain Gilmore from Remembrance of the Daleks – are guilty of flogging the Dr Who horse long beyond the point of death, but even I was surprised that they bothered to make an audio drama based on the background to this story. That really is taking the biscuit, but anyone stupid enough to part with their money for that deserves to be taken for a ride.
  • DWM Mighty 200 rating: #197. All I’ll say about that is that the voters were being very unfair about Timelash at #199

Doctor Who – Underworld Review: Final Thoughts

Terrible writing, awful acting, horrendous effects and the worst Directorial performance in the history of entertainment, Underworld is the televisual equivalent of gastric flu.

That Episode 1 is alright only emphasises how bad the rest is.

It’s just dreadful.

Possibly, or even probably the worst Doctor Who story I’ve ever seen or will hopefully ever see.


Remember to buy my books, focusing on my reviews of Doctor Who from the 1960s through to present day. You can read more about them here

Also, on a completely different note, if you’ve got any friends who post the crappest Facebook status updates in the world every day, you might get a kick out of my piss-take Facebook blog, ‘Stuart’s Exciting Anecdote of the Day’ 


8 Responses to Doctor Who – Underworld Review (or ‘The Televisual Equivalent of Gastric Flu’)

  1. Rochelle says:

    I agree with every word. It’s the worst serial I’ve seen so far while going through classic Dr. Who in order. (But it seems there are a couple ahead that are even worse. Shudder.)

    I blame the script most of all. What a waste of interesting ideas – the Time Lords as gods, and especially the horror of being on a static and endless 100,000 year “quest” with the same handful of people in a sterile unchanging deadening environment, repeatedly regenerating and aging and regenerating again into the same roles and hierarchy, with every action, every word having been done before time after time. I would forgive some of the faults if they had tried to use some of the ideas like attributing the flatness of the Minyans’ reactions to the long quest, but it was obviously just part of the general poor acting and direction.

  2. Ingrid's Titts says:

    Stuart , I can’t find your reviews of The Time Warrior and Invasion Of The Dinosaurs.
    Did they ever exist or did Professor Whittaker send them back to prehistoric times?

  3. Eugene says:

    Underworld’s biggest sin is that it’s fucking boring. I’ve yet to make it past episode three. Say what you like about the other so-called worst stories, but at least there’s something to keep the interest. Doctor Who can, and has been many things, but boring is unforgiveable.

  4. Professor Thascales says:

    I agree with all of you. Some Tom Baker stories sort of leave me cold, but this is one of about two that I dislike, because they’re so boring. The first episode is more interesting–not good, but fairly interesting–but then it all goes to pieces.

  5. I remembering watching this as a kid and thinking it was god awful. Endless running round the same none existent CSO cave system and doing nothing.

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