So I finally got around to watching The Underwater Menace DVD yesterday. I echo much of the feedback that has already been shared online – the telesnaps are very disappointing, and do not really convey well the sense of what is going on – certainly compared to the other telesnaps I have seen (The Tenth Planet and The Web of Fear) there is plenty of scope for improvement, and I’d go as far to say that unless Episodes 1 and 4 are recovered, animation is a must.
The most fascinating insight however came from being able to compare the relatively recently discovered episode 2 with episode 3. I agree wholeheartedly with other fans in saying that the story becomes significantly better balanced by enjoying the second episode. Episode 3 is frankly, well, mad. As Anneke Wills (who portrays Polly) would observe in The Moonbase commentary, Patrick Troughton was having too much fun in the role to take it seriously – it took the firmer direction of Morris Barry in The Moonbase to bring out the more serious side of the Second Doctor. Watched in isolation, there is not much to like about The Underwater Menace. With episode 2 included, it is much easier to appreciate what this story was meant to be – I found myself enjoying episode 2, even though the whole story is more than a little bit silly.
The most interesting conclusion out of all of this however is how we judge those stories that only have orphaned episodes remaining. The Enemy of the World was one such story – not very high on fan’s lists for recovery, but rightly now heralded as a hidden gem. Part of the reason it was less desired than the following story The Web of Fear is the contrast between the two orphaned episodes – episode 1 of Web is brilliant, whereas episode 3 of Enemy is only enjoyable in the context of the full six episodes. The Underwater Menace is exactly the same – I suspect had episode 1 or 2 been the orphaned episode, fans would have been more interested to see it recovered in full.
Where does that then leave us? With four stories only possessing one episode: Galaxy 4, Evil of the Daleks, The Abominable Snowmen, and The Space Pirates. At the moment, the desirability of recovering these episodes (leaving to one side the unarguable assumption that any recovered Doctor Who is good) is judged upon the surviving material – hence fans would probably prefer Evil of the Daleks to The Space Pirates. The experience of episodes being recovered however, suggests that we should perhaps not be too hasty to judge a lost tale by its orphaned episode.