Doctor Who #475: Underworld Part 4

"You're just another machine with megalomania. Another insane object, another self-aggrandising artefact. You're nothing. Nothing but a mass of superheated junk with delusions of grandeur."
TECHNICAL SPECS: First aired Jan.28 1978.

IN THIS ONE... The Oracle tries to blow up the Minyans, and ends up hoisted on its own petard as the latter escape with their race bank.

REVIEW: Another short episode that nevertheless finds time to do more run-and-shoot sequences in CSO tunnels, sigh, and while I completely appreciate the idea of creating virtual environments this way, there are still obvious problems. At one point, Gwyneth Paltrow-lookalike Imogen Beckford-Smith loses half her face #luminescentskinprobs. And if we're discussing story efficiency, I should really mention that the pacifier ray that featured so strongly in Part 1 doesn't make any kind of return despite the conflict between Jackson's crew and the Seers. In the end, the latter simply suggest a truce in order to protect the Oracle, though of course, the Oracle has other ideas, giving Herrick bombs disguised as the race bank cylinders they were questing for. That's fine, but why the pacifier technology in the first place? And while we spent a lot of time building this world in the previous four parts, we're still left with unanswered questions? Why were some seers converted into half-machines and what powers does that give them? How did the Oracle become self-aware and how did it take over the culture? Just how ceremonial is the Minyan culture (and I realize I've been variably writing Mynian and Minyan in these reviews, I'm sorry) that a sword is the key to opening the race bank container? There's a definite sense that the script was rushed and that some of its elements weren't completely thought through or paid off.

The Oracle makes for a rather boring villain, a mad computer with little personality beyond its megalomania, repeating key phrases and ultimately painting itself into a corner. Visually, she's barely more than a flashing light on a wall. The Doctor gets to do another of his anti-computer speeches, and that's fine, but that's part of my point. We just had a mad computer - and a more interesting one a that - in The Face of Evil, barely a season ago. The other computer in the story is K9, of course, who may finally be finding his niche as a comic foil for the Doctor. Previous attempts haven't been very funny, but here I love the exchange after he rescues the Doctor from a Skyfall: "What kept you, K9?" "Gratitude is unnecessary." The program nevertheless remains consistent in its opinion of computers, showing K9 as having little imagination in the epilogue, refusing to entertain the Doctor's philosophical notions about the nature of repeated memes in space-time (see Theories).

The repeated meme in question, of course, is the similarity between these events and those of Jason's quest for the Golden Fleece, which the Doctor calls attention to in the final scene. Setting the parallels themselves aside, the Minyans are more engaging here than they've been. We share in their obvious relief at completing their quest (Herrick's especially), and can smile at the notion that Minyos 2 is "only" 370 years away, a short hop after a 100,000-year journey. The Doctor reminding them that the Trogs are their genetic heritage too and worth saving is a point well made, and in a different version of the script, might (should?) have been the consolation prize after being denied the race bank. Jackson initially doesn't want them along because of the added weight, and they ARE quite a crowd of extras for Doctor Who, but he should could his lucky stars the Seers enacted Skyfalls to keep the population down.

THEORIES: The Doctor asks an interesting question at the end of the episode about whether myths are really an exaggerated history or a prophecy of things yet to come. In other words, were there real Argonauts and a Golden Fleece on which the story is based, or is the story based on a vision of the events we just witnessed? We know that in the Whoniverse, prophecy and precognition are real. Characters with second sight are routinely seen, and as recently as Image of the Fendahl, the explanation - people living on or near space-time rifts experience things from across space and time as visions - holds water. So while we might think the coincidences in names and events are a writer's device to translate myth as science-fiction plot, they may also be, in a timey-wimey way, the stories that inspired the myths in the first place. Both stories may, in fact, have occurred, one reenacting events from the other time period, unconsciously repeating the meme programmed in a culture's mind through some kind of temporal "inception".

VERSIONS: The Target novelization features a prologue that outlines the Time Lords' intervention in Minyan history.

REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Too many questions left unanswered and a dull villain, but still lots of energy and wit thrown at the screen.

STORY REWATCHABILITY: Medium - Underworld has obvious energy and I can respect its cost-saving attempt at creating a fantastic world based on Greek myth. Unfortunately, world-creation takes precedence over plot, and we're left with a very thin story indeed. And it shows in the number of minutes Underworld actually runs.

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