EPISODE: Underworld Part One
OVERALL EPISODE NUMBER: 470
STORY NUMBER: 096
TRANSMITTED: 07 January 1978
WRITER: Bob Baker & Dave Martin
DIRECTOR: Norman Stewart
SCRIPT EDITOR: Anthony Read
PRODUCER: Graham Williams
FORMAT: DVD: Doctor Who - Myths & Legends: The Time Monster, Underworld & The Horns of the Nimon
The Tardis stops on the edges of the cosmos where K-9 detects a spaceship nearby. Narrowly escaping a nebula that is sucking them in they materialise on the ship which the Doctor establishes is from Minyos. The Time Lords actions on Minyos, which led to the populace destroying their planet, led to the Time Lord policy of non interference. On the flight deck the aged Tala is injured as the ship is sucked into the nebula. The Doctor arrives and is attacked by Herrick. Leela goes to attack him but is stopped by the crew's pacifier ray. Tala is taken away to regenerate. They have been tracking a missing ship, the P7E which is carrying the future of their race. They have been on this quest for 10,000 years, regenerating many times. K-9 takes control of the ship and steers it out of the nebula. He reactivates many of the damaged systems, and the restored tracking system locks onto the P7E. They locate the ship in the nebula which the Doctor believes formed round her. They enter the nebula, but the weight of the ship attracts rock to it's hull dramatically increasing it's weight. They use the laser cannon to try to burn their way out but it starts to disintegrate
Slow and boring. Ugh. But there is some nice stuff in here: The ship looks nice as do the shots of the rocks building up round it. The theory behind that is scientifically sound too: Accretion Theory is how planets are believed to be formed and Doctor Who returns to this idea in the Christmas Invasion. For more buy The Planets on DVD. Against that the look of the ship and the feel of Dudley Simpson's music is very Blake's 7. Yeah, I'm sorry but I will keep harping on about it: the two series are intimately linked in feel at this stage of Doctor Who's production and indeed this episode is the first broadcast after Blake's 7's first episode, The Way Back, aired on 2nd January 1978.
As you'll see this story is essentially a giant rip off of any Greek Myth going. At the time Classics was still taught in schools so I suspect a lot of the viewers watching would have got it. The quest at the centre of the story is essentially the story of Jason and the Argonauts and the quest for the Golden Fleece and by this point the 1963 film Jason and the Argonauts would have been airing on television regularly. Substituted for the Golden Fleece is Minyan Race Memory bank.... (Minyan = Minoan, as in Minotaur) Hmmm where have we seen a Race Memory Bank before? Hand of Fear, also written by Bob Baker & Dave Martin. Jason becomes Jackson, while Herrick, Orfe & Tala are adaptations of the Argonauts Heracles/Hercules, Orpheus and Talaus. Meanwhile elements of The Odyssey are also included: the quest taking a long time (10 years vs 10,000 years) and the objective being the P7E/Penelope, the wife of Odysseus. Odysseus himself has an on-screen Doctor Who appearance in The Myth Makers, where he was played by Ivor Salter.
You know for every source that Robert Holmes "paid homage to" it's surprising that he never went near Greek Myths. As far as I'm able to tell this story wasn't commissioned under his watch and is wholly the responsibility of incoming script editor Anthony Read, an experienced writer an script editor who was lured back to the BBC by producer Graham Williams. Interestingly when Read leaves the script editor's post and writes for the show he produces a tale based on another Greek myth: Theseus and the Minotaur becomes Horn of the Nimon.
A few episodes back I pointed out that we'd got halfway through the number of episodes broadcast in Tom Baker's stay as the Doctor. Well if you throw in the missing six episodes of Shada, which we'll be talking about at the start of May, that makes this episode, his 89th, the half way point in Tom's reign.