Underworld (Doctor Who)

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096 – Underworld
Doctor Who serial
Underworld (Doctor Who).jpg
The Doctor confronts the Heart of the Oracle.
Writer Bob Baker
Dave Martin
Director Norman Stewart
Script editor Anthony Read
Producer Graham Williams
Executive producer(s) None
Incidental music composer Dudley Simpson
Production code 4Y
Series Season 15
Length 4 episodes, 22 minutes each
Originally broadcast 7–28 January 1978
← Preceded by Followed by →
The Sun Makers The Invasion of Time

Underworld is the fifth serial of the 15th season in the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast in four weekly parts from 7–28 January 1978.


In the history of the Time Lords, their involvement with the Minyans of Minyos is regarded as a disaster. The Minyans looked on them as gods but, having learnt much from their science, later expelled the Time Lords who thereafter adopted a policy of non-intervention. The Minyans resented the Time Lords for their dominion over Minyos. Subsequently, the Minyans engaged in a civil war, using the advanced weapons the Time Lords gave them. In the final conflict, the Minyans destroyed their world. Two ships left Minyos before the final conflict, one carrying the race bank of the Minyans, the other intended to find the race bank and bring the Minyans to a new homeworld - Minyos II. The Minyan civilisation retained some Time Lord gifts, not least cellular rejuvenation and the use of pacifier guns to alter the mental state of the aggressor.

At the edge of expanding universe, the TARDIS materialises on one of the Minyan ships called the R1C. The Fourth Doctor, Leela and K-9 visit the bridge of the spaceship. The crew of four – Jackson, Herrick, Orfe and Tala – are on a quest (“The Quest is the Quest”) that has taken many millennia and they have rejuvenated many times. Their aim is to find the missing ship the P7E, which disappeared en route to Minyos II while carrying the genetic race banks of the entire species. They have, however, finally traced the P7E’s signal and head into a nebula to locate the missing ship. In the process the R1C is nearly destroyed, and is almost transformed into a planetoid as small space rocks are attracted to it. A similar fate actually seems to have happened to the P7E, which is found at the centre of a small planet. The R1C crashes into this planet.

Civilisation on the P7E planetoid has taken a curious turn. Most of the population live as slaves digging rock for fuel and sustenance, but they are culled and killed in rock collapses called Skyfalls. This situation is overseen by guards who are in turn responsible to two robots called Seers. In overall control is the Oracle, a powerful super-computer which has shaped the perverse society. Evidently the P7E became trapped in the planet millennia earlier and the entire basis of the mission was lost over time. The Doctor and Leela venture into this perverted society and encounter Idas, a young man nearly killed in a Skyfall, learning how the local population is managed and terrorised. The Seers and Oracle exist in a protected Citadel at the heart of the planetoid (clearly the P7E) and the Doctor, Leela and Idas venture there, in the process rescuing Idas’ father Idmon who was due to be sacrificed to the Oracle. Other slaves are freed too, and flee to the R1C where Jackson makes them welcome. However, the crucial race banks remain in the control of the Oracle. The Doctor, Leela, and Idas venture to the Citadel again to get the precious cargo. However, the Seers have meanwhile captured Herrick and give him what he thinks are the two race banks to take back to his ship. Jackson, Orfe and Tala are overjoyed, little realising that their friend has actually brought fission bombs back to the R1C.

The Doctor has meanwhile made it to the core of the Citadel and confronted the Oracle. He succeeds in locating and stealing the real race banks and then heads off with Leela and Idas to get back to the probe ship. The guards try but fail to defeat their flight. The Doctor gives the real race banks to Jackson, and then takes the fakes out of the craft. Idas takes advantage of the situation to round up the other slaves or Trogs and lead them to the safety of the R1C, while the Doctor engineers the fission grenades that are returned to the Oracle. With moments to spare, the R1C blasts away, loaded with the slaves and the race banks, and is pushed outward from the planetoid by the explosion of the fission grenades. The TARDIS crew depart, wishing the Minyans well as they journey on to Minyos II, their quest complete.


It is during this story that the origin of the Time Lords' policy of non-intervention is finally explained.[1] The truth behind the destruction of Minyos is revealed in the Big Finish Productions audio drama Gallifrey: The Inquiry.

The Doctor references an untelevised trip to Blackpool where he implies he ate rock. Although the Sixth Doctor and Peri would have visited Blackpool in the un-filmed story The Nightmare Fair, no on-screen adventures before or after Underworld depict this. The Doctor also mentions Ulysses, whom he met in The Myth Makers.


Underworld was filmed entirely in-studio in October 1977.[2] In an attempt to save money on production costs, the serial was filmed using the Colour Separation Overlay (CSO) technique. This approach involves filming the actors against a bluescreen, and then superimposing them on models of the sets – thus saving on the costs involved in set construction.[3]


The serial borrows many elements and parallels from Greek mythology, in much the same way as the later The Horns of Nimon.[4] In particular, the story draws on the tale of Jason and the Argonauts. References include the "Minyan" race (related to the Minoans), the search for "P7E" (Persephone), and character names such as Jackson ("Jason"), Orfe ("Orpheus"), Herrick ("Heracles"), Tala ("Talaus"), Idmon and Idas. The connection is highlighted at the end of the episode, with the Doctor likening Jackson and his journey to Jason and his quest for the Golden Fleece.[5]

Broadcast and reception[edit]

Serial details by episode
Episode Broadcast date Run time Viewers
(in millions)
"Part One" 7 January 1978 (1978-01-07) 22:36 8.9
"Part Two" 14 January 1978 (1978-01-14) 21:27 9.1
"Part Three" 21 January 1978 (1978-01-21) 22:21 8.9
"Part Four" 28 January 1978 (1978-01-28) 22:53 11.7

Paul Cornell, Martin Day, and Keith Topping wrote of the serial in The Discontinuity Guide (1995), "The direction is a bit lazy, and the design could be better ... The plot settles down to be dullish, but much more worthy than its reputation would suggest. The CSO's not that bad, either."[9] In The Television Companion (1998), David J. Howe and Stephen James Walker noted the bad reputation the serial had, but felt that it was better than that and a good example of the era. He praised the extra level the story takes by offering comparisons to Greek mythology, as well as the model work and CSO.[10] In 2010, Patrick Mulkern of Radio Times panned the story and its "vapid characterisation, dodgy science and a dearth of anything dramatically engaging". While he liked some scenes and also found the visual effects good, he did not feel that compensated for the unengaging story and lack of comedic direction.[2]

Commercial Releases[edit]

In print[edit]

Doctor Who and the Underworld
Doctor Who and the Underworld.jpg
Author Terrance Dicks
Cover artist Bill Donohoe
Series Doctor Who book:
Target novelisations
Release number
Publisher Target Books
Publication date
24 January 1980
ISBN 0-426-20068-3

A novelisation of this serial, written by Terrance Dicks, was published by Target Books in January 1980 under the title Doctor Who and the Underworld. The novelisation opens with a lengthy history of the Minyans and the P7-E.

Home media[edit]

Underworld was released on VHS in March 2002. It was released on the U.S. iTunes Store in August 2008. The story was released on 29 March 2010 in a DVD box set called "Myths and Legends" along with the Third Doctor serial The Time Monster and the Fourth Doctor serial The Horns of Nimon. It was released individually in Region 1 on 7 July 2010.


  1. ^ http://www.bbc.co.uk/doctorwho/classic/episodeguide/timelordorigins.shtml
  2. ^ a b Mulkern, Patrick (14 November 2010). "Underworld". Radio Times. Retrieved 30 November 2013. 
  3. ^ McGinlay, Richard. "Doctor Who: Underworld – Video review". Sci-Fi Online. Retrieved 2008-10-09. 
  4. ^ Chapman, James (2006). Inside the Tardis: The Worlds of Doctor Who. I.B.Tauris. p. 127. ISBN 1-84511-162-1. 
  5. ^ Chapman, James (2006). Inside the Tardis: The Worlds of Doctor Who. I.B.Tauris. pp. 127–128. ISBN 1-84511-162-1. 
  6. ^ Shaun Lyon; et al. (2007-03-31). "Underworld". Outpost Gallifrey. Archived from the original on 31 July 2008. Retrieved 2008-08-30. 
  7. ^ "Underworld". Doctor Who Reference Guide. Retrieved 2008-08-30. 
  8. ^ Sullivan, Shannon (2007-08-07). "Underworld". A Brief History of Time Travel. Retrieved 2008-08-30. 
  9. ^ Cornell, Paul; Day, Martin; Topping, Keith (1995). "Underworld". The Discontinuity Guide. London: Virgin Books. ISBN 0-426-20442-5. 
  10. ^ Howe, David J & Walker, Stephen James (1998). Doctor Who: The Television Companion (1st ed.). London: BBC Books. ISBN 978-0-563-40588-7. 

External links[edit]


Target novelisation[edit]