We return to Tom Baker’s era for our next adventure. As with The Aztecs I feel it’s important to reaffirm the transition in my reviews – I really actually quite enjoyed watching Underworld. We have reached a stage where it might seem shocking that a serial is outside the top 100, but that is simply a by-product of the programme having such a long and largely fruitful history! It will be very rare that I should be scathing about a given episode in future, save perhaps to reference why it is lower than fans of the show might otherwise expect.
In the case of Underworld, this is a serial that didn’t hugely impress me or hold my attention when my dad bought the VHS – and to my shame, I think it is for the simple reason that it is not a ‘classic’ and so I didn’t give it a fair viewing! I had expected it to be the worst of the Myths and Legends DVD boxset – that dubious honour went to The Time Monster, but instead I was very pleasantly surprised at how well the story held up. Baker is absolutely excellent, as one would expect. It is not until his final season that the signs of boredom in the role were clearly evident. Louise Jameson is also superb as Leela, though the signs are also there that she was thinking “Just get through this season, then I’m rid of the old bore!”
The great thing is – the story uses ambitious CSO for an ambitious story – a race who benefited from Timelord intervention, the Minyans (no, not Minions) of Minyos, escaped their homeland after a brutal civil war, and are hunting endlessly for their race banks so that they can repopulate their planned adoptive homeworld – Minyos II. It transpires that the race banks are buried at the centre of a gravity pool, which builds a whole planet around it – hence the titular Underworld. There’s a mad computer, robot servants and a subservient slave population – all good meaty material for a sci-fi production. Just for good measure there are both obvious and subtle comparisons between the quest of the Minyans and Jasons’ mythical quest for the Golden Fleece. And – it has to be said – for the production values of the day, the BBC pulled it off.
I think in the end, Underworld suffers from being too well done. It was played so safe that you get to the end of it feeling reasonably pleased with the story, but struggling to remember what happened in any huge detail. Perhaps a part of this is that the Minyans themselves do not leave a strong impression on the viewer, so it’s harder for the viewer to empathise with their plight and will them to win. I’d almost venture that it might have been better for the story to have been slightly more ambitious, and therefore slightly more rubbish, and left a greater impression on the viewer.
That said, once I succeed in persuading the BBC that Steve Moffat has lost his marbles, I think there would be excellent traction in returning to Minyos II – especially if the host planet they identified thousands of years before is now subsequently inhabited, and the Minyans are using their stolen regenerative powers to fight a war …