Underworld was the fifth story of season 15 of Doctor Who. It was the first over which script editor Anthony Read had complete creative control. Read asked writers Bob Baker and Dave Martin to make the script an explicit allegory of the myth of Jason and the Quest for the Golden Fleece. The story also advanced the mythos of the Time Lords by explaining the origin of their non-interference policy.
Underworld used by far the most colour separation overlay (CSO) in the programme's history. Rampant inflation had eaten away at the budget for the back half of the season, and using CSO to create virtually every shot of the alien world featured in the story was the only feasible way to preserve the production of The Invasion of Time.
Aboard the TARDIS, the Fourth Doctor is painting and Leela is playing with the console. When they reach the edge of the cosmos, the Doctor is in awe. K9 informs him that there is a nearby spacecraft and they are both heading into a spiral nebula. The TARDIS escapes and materialises aboard the vessel, the R1C. When its crew hears the TARDIS, they recognise it as the technology of the gods.
The Doctor, now in the ship's cargo hold, determines that it is from Minyos, a planet on the other side of the universe. The Time Lords once helped the Minyan civilisation develop before being rejected. This led to their non-interference policy after the Minyans destroyed their own world. Leela uses a shield gun to blast the door open, and they head for the bridge. As the crew try to avoid the nebula, the Doctor offers to help. Herrick holds a weapon on him, until Captain Jackson orders Orfe to use the pacifier to subdue Herrick and Leela. Jackson explains that the R1C has been searching for another ship, the P7E, for a hundred thousand years. While the crew can regenerate endlessly, their ship is failing. The P7E contains the genetic race banks needed to rebuild Minyos.
The Doctor connects K9 to the failing systems and the R1C escapes the nebula. However, the signal from the P7E is still coming from inside and Jackson orders the ship to go back in. With K9's help, the ship survives the journey, but its huge mass starts to attract debris. As the rock builds up around the ship, the Doctor suggests using the ship's weapons to blast itself free. Unfortunately, the laser cannon starts to burn through the hull as well...
The laser punches through just in time. The R1C escapes, only to encounter another planet that has built up over centuries. The Doctor suggests this could be the P7E. With no fuel left, the R1C penetrates the soft surface of the planet and heads for the core.
In tunnels under the planet's surface, slave workers known as Trogs are buried by a rockfall. Guards are dispatched to restore order and accuse a Trog named Idmon of heresy for suggesting there is a sky. His son, Idas, runs away from the guards.
Jackson and his crew explore the tunnels and spot security cameras, suggesting a technologically advanced society. The Doctor and Leela see the guards chasing Idas and lead them away, losing them and finding Idas in the airlock of the R1C. The Doctor tells Idas about his people's past and learns about the legends of the Sky Gods and the Seers who rule the society on behalf of the Oracle.
As Herrick scouts ahead, he is accosted by guards. They don't believe his story and attack him. He easily deflects their fire, but the head guard, Rask, orders the tunnel sealed off and gas pumped in. The Doctor detects the gas. He finds the environmental controls and tries to reverse the flow but cannot concentrate. He slumps over the machinery...
At the last second, the gas clears. Jackson, Orfe and Tala free Herrick; the guards are overcome by their own gas. When the Doctor wakes, Idas tells him about the punishment his father will endure for his heresy. Idmon will be sacrificed in the Citadel to appease the Oracle. A sword will be dropped on him. The Doctor sends K9 to find Jackson, while he takes Idas and Leela to stop the sacrifice.
Idas warns them of dragons which guard the Citadel, but it is merely a defence mechanism that Leela makes short work of with the shield gun. When they reach the planet's core, which has zero gravity, they float down to the Citadel. At the sacrifice, the Oracle speaks to the Seers, who light a lamp to burn through the strap holding the sword. The Doctor's party are taken to the sacrifice by the guards. The lamp is moved at the last moment. Idas incites a rebellion and frees his father. Jackson's crew arrive to assist. Herrick remains behind as a rear guard to allow the rebels to escape, but he is captured.
The freed Trogs explain the endless futility of their lives, working for no purpose. Jackson agrees to help the Doctor infiltrate the Citadel and find the Oracle. The Doctor and Leela lie in an ore cart headed for the Citadel.
The Seers torture Herrick. They refuse to believe his story of a millennia-long quest. They remove their ceremonial masks to reveal strange, metallic faces.
As the ore cart approaches the Citadel, the automated system tips the contents of each cart into a crusher, including the Doctor and Leela...
The Doctor and Leela hang onto a ledge by their fingertips and are rescued by the R1C crew. Jackson agrees to hold off the guards while the Doctor's party head for the Oracle.
In the Citadel, the Seers suggest letting Herrick have the race bank cylinders, since they are of little value and not worth the risk. The Oracle releases the cylinders and offers to let Jackson have them if he will leave. Jackson agrees and takes the cylinders back to his ship. The Doctor speaks to the Oracle. He recognises it as a deranged computer programmed to protect the race banks at all costs; therefore the cylinders given to Jackson must have been fakes. He takes the real ones.
Jackson prepares his ship for launch but stops when K9 identifies his two cylinders as fission grenades capable of destroying a small planet. The Doctor takes the grenades back into the tunnels, where he encounters Rask, sent to retrieve the race banks. The Doctor hands over the grenades instead, and they are returned to the Oracle chamber. The Doctor, Leela and Idas help the Trogs escape the tunnels and convince Jackson to take them with him, since they are the descendants of the P7E crew.
The R1C takes off before the Oracle realises the real race banks are missing. When the grenades explode, they destroy the planet. The explosion is enough to propel the underpowered R1C clear of the nebula. The ship heads for Minyos II, a mere 370 light years away. As they leave, the Doctor calls the captain "Jason". He has to explain to Leela about the legend of the Argonauts. He wonders if it is also a premonition.
- Doctor Who - Tom Baker
- Leela - Louise Jameson
- Voice of K9 - John Leeson
- 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
- Assistant Floor Manager - Gary Downie
- Costumes - Rupert Jarvis
- Designer - Dick Coles
- Electronic Effects - A.J. Mitchell
- 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
- Theme Arrangement - Delia Derbyshire
- Title Music - Ron Grainer
- Visual Effects - Richard Conway
- The Doctor has been to Aberdeen and Blackpool.
- The Doctor asks Leela if she has heard of the Flying Dutchman.
- Several Trogs were killed in tunnel seven during a recent "skyfall".
- The Minyan spacecraft set turned out to be more expensive than anticipated, so almost all other scenes were created with CSO.
- The story makes frequent allusion to the story of Jason and the Argonauts and other Greek myths, including the similar naming of various characters: Jackson/Jason, Herrick/Heracles, Tala/Atalanta, Orfe/Orpheus, Minyans/Minoans, P7E/Persephone, R1C/Argosy (though the word argosy is unconnected with the Argo, Jason's ship).
- This story had the working title of Underground.
- The DVD production notes point out that all four episodes ran short of their allotted running time, forcing the use of extended and repeated shots for padding. Parts two and three, in particular, were so much in need of padding that reprises much longer than usual were used in both.
- Also according to the production notes, the recently released Star Wars influenced certain aspects of the production, especially when it was learned that the film would be released in the UK ten days before Underworld was scheduled to air.
- In the original script, Leela was to scream when overwhelmed by the gas in the second episode. Louise Jameson declined to do this, pointing out that it was out of character for Leela. (INFO: Underworld)
- Part one was broadcast only a few days after the Terry Nation-created series Blake's 7 debuted. Composer Dudley Simpson worked on both shows and, according to the DVD production notes, sneaked a reference to the Blake's 7 theme music into the score for the Underworld episode.
- The Radio Times programme listing for part one was accompanied by a black and white photograph of the Doctor and Herrick, with the accompanying caption, "When the Tardis materialises in a spaceship, Dr. Who becomes involved with astronaut Herrick (Alan Lake) and his eternal quest: 6.25 p.m."
- The DVD featurette Into the Unknown reveals that budget restrictions were so tight on Underworld that cancelling it altogether and allotting its budget to The Invasion of Time was suggested but was ultimately rejected by Graham Williams.
- The scenes of the Doctor shepherding the Trogs through the caves and onto the P7E were devised and organised by Tom Baker himself.
- In three polls conducted by Doctor Who Magazine for 1998, 2009 and 2014, Underworld has maintained the dubious honour of being the story of the Fourth Doctor's era held in the least regard. A poll in 2003 which used a different voting system had it as one of six Fourth Doctor stories that received no votes, making it joint last. Its lowest ranking overall came in the 2009 poll "The Mighty 200" as one of the worst stories ranked on among the 200 aired at the time, at number 197. (DWM 265, DWMSE 6, DWM 413, DWM 474)
- Part one - 8.9 million viewers
- Part two - 9.1 million viewers
- Part three - 8.9 million viewers
- Part four - 11.7 million viewers
- Imogen Bickford-Smith was going to replace Louise Jameson as the Doctor's companion. Though an actual news story at the time, it was a complete fabrication of the actor's agent, who had gotten wind of Jameson's impending departure. Producer Graham Williams never considered retaining Bickford-Smith beyond Underworld.
- The blue screen back projection used to create scenes within the caves works surprisingly well, except for a few occasions in which characters can be seen moving through supposedly solid rock, and during part two there are a couple of moments where people's heads can be seen to 'vanish'.
- In part one, Leela uses a Minyan ray-gun to blast away a door. Tom Baker wasn't in the correct position when the camera started rolling again when the door was removed, so the Doctor's body placement is seen to change instantly.
- Due to incorrect placement of the CSO, K9 appears to float in midair in a few cave scenes.
- In part two, the large rock behind Leela can be seen to be a hollow piece of plastic, as it squashes in whenever Louise Jameson leans against it.
- More information about Minyos is revealed in AUDIO: The Inquiry.
- Their interaction with Minyos led in part to the Time Lords' non-intervention policy. (TV: The War Games, Genesis of the Daleks)
- The Fifth Doctor later encounters another example of Time Lord technology allowing for perpetual regeneration. (TV: Mawdryn Undead)
- A key difference in the Minyans' regeneration process from that of Time Lords is that it does not result in complete physical change and new personalities, just a reversal of the ageing process. The Doctor mentions that he's gone through regeneration "two or three times" and remarks it's "not pleasant". (TV: The Power of the Daleks, Spearhead from Space, Robot)
- The Doctor refers to the Oracle as "another machine with megalomania; another insane object; another self-aggrandizing artefact." He has encountered several similarly insane machines before, including WOTAN, (TV: The War Machines) BOSS (TV: The Green Death) and Xoanon. (TV: The Face of Evil)
- The Doctor claims not to have come up with the idea of the Trojan Horse. In his first incarnation, he gave the idea to the Greeks towards the end of the Trojan War in circa 1200 BC, albeit only because he knew of it already from historical accounts. (TV: The Myth Makers)
Home video and audio releases
- This story was first released on DVD in the UK on 29 March 2010 as part of the Myths And Legends Boxset. The one disc set includes a restored version of the story, as well as the following special features:
- Commentary by Tom Baker (The Doctor), Louise Jameson (Leela) and Bob Baker (Co-Writer).
- Into The Unknown
- Underworld – In Studio
- Coming Soon Trailer (The Creature from the Pit)
- Radio Times Billings
- Production Subtitles
- Photo Gallery
- Editing for the DVD release was completed by the Doctor Who Restoration Team.
A North American/Region 1 release of the story occurred in July 2010, but in that region the story was released on its own and not as part of a box set.
- The story is available for streaming in the US through Hulu Plus or Amazon Instant Video in the UK.
- Underworld at the BBC's official site
- Underworld at BroaDWcast
- Underworld at Shannon Sullivan's A Brief History of Time (Travel)
- The TARDIS Library (Doctor Who books, DVDs, videos & audios) - Video release information for: Underworld
- The TARDIS Library (Doctor Who books, DVDs, videos & audios) - Novelisation release information for: Underworld