Rarely has an item of Doctor Who merchandise had such a troubled history of production as The Underwater Menace DVD. From originally being commissioned two years ago, the release has appeared in the release schedule and then frequently vanished with some regularity. Now, with the BBC indicating an intention to finally release the troubled serial sometime this year, lets take a look at the rocky road of the final chapter in the Doctor Who DVD range.
The saga begins as long ago as 2011 when on December 11 that year it was announced publicly that The Underwater Menace Episode 2 had been found alongside Episode 3 of William Hartnell’s Galaxy 4, the announcement coming at that year’s Missing Believed Wiped event. It was announced that details of future DVD releases for the episodes would be announced sometime in 2012.
Both episodes had already been recovered earlier that year when by lucky coincidence Ralph Montagu, the Radio Times’s head of heritage, struck up conversation with former TVS engineer Terry Burnett on Doctor Who, Burnett revealing he believed he had some old episodes of the series. The rest is history, Galaxy 4 3 being recovered first followed by The Underwater Menace 2 a few weeks later, both believed to have gone walkabout from a returned cache from ABC in the 1970s.
In March of 2013, Galaxy 4 Episode 3 was packaged with The Aztecs Special Edition for DVD release, a decision that drew a mixed response from fans and despite there being no announcement on a future Underwater Menace release, it was taken as a given the story would be released sometime in the near future.
The first signs of trouble surfaced that summer as in July the unreleased second episode was leaked to popular video sharing site Dailymotion. The quality of the leak has led many to conclude it came from within the BBC or associated figures, yet there has never been any indication as to who leaked the episode or for what purpose. It appears that the leak came while work was being carried out for an eventual DVD release however, Steve Roberts stating in August that he had no further commissions after he completed delivery on The Moonbase and The Underwater Menace, both of which he was commissioned for “months ago”, suggesting the DVD of The Underwater Menace may have been green-lighted sometime in the spring of 2013.
The Doctor Who Restoration Team duly posted images from their work on Twitter in September and all appears to be running smoothly for the release, with Menace seemingly scheduled as the last release in the range following The Moonbase:
— Restoration Team (@RTnewsfeed) September 5, 2013
Those Fish People get everywhere! Nothing in ze vorld can stop them now! pic.twitter.com/PakAWnqSsY
— Restoration Team (@RTnewsfeed) September 5, 2013
In October 2013 however it was announced that The Web of Fear and The Enemy of the World had been returned to the BBC from Jos in Nigeria, rumours of a find having set forums ablaze all year as part of the “omnirumour.” While the enormity of the rumours is too grand to delve into here, general feeling was that more (if not much much more) was still to come, many sources and professionals being led to believe the same thing. The truth of the matter is a subject still being debated, indeed recovery of the rest of The Underwater Menace was often mentioned by leading “sources” on the subject, some even giving details on how the other episodes were damaged or unrecoverable.
No matter the rumours however, the sudden inclusion of The Web of Fear and The Enemy of the World threw the DVD schedule out of the window, The Moonbase being bumped for the inclusion of Enemy (and apparently to allow animation to be completed, though whether that was a cover story all along is unknown) and the BBC saying in November: “We have yet to confirm the exact content of this release or its release date. We hope to have more information in the Spring… The 2014 Classic Doctor Who schedule is still being worked on.” and Steve Roberts indicating that the issue was at Planet 55s end, claiming the Restoration Team were sat “twiddling their thumbs” as they waited for animation to come in from the studio.
Further concern would be raised in December as Dan Hall stated that work on the release was in “the early stages,” presumably referring to the Planet 55 animation as opposed to the VAM which had already seemingly been completed. Despite a trailer being released for The Underwater Menace as part of January’s Moonbase release, by March Steve Roberts seemed unsure of the release even happening, stating that as far as he was aware the DVD was still going ahead, but Planet 55 were “working flat out” on their animation series in Australia. While it had been said Planet 55 were under exclusive contract to animate the serial and unfortunately couldn’t spare the time to complete the project, could that fully explain the lengthy delay?
The projected Spring/Summer 2014 release date is thrown completely out of the window by May when Doctor Who Magazine announce the serial is still scheduled for release, but with no projected date beyond a vague “later this year,” also stating Episodes 1 and 4 are to be “reconstructed using audio soundtracks.” Despite Amazon.com opening preorders however, the confusion over the release continues as Steve Roberts states in June that “We’re the team that remasters the episodes for DVD release and even we don’t have a clue what’s going on with TUM now. From where we’re standing, it’s looking like the range is dead.”
In August it appeared the final nail had been put in the coffin, at least for a partially animated release, when Planet 55 issued the following statement, suggesting they had never worked on The Underwater Menace at all and had no plans to do so:
“There have been many queries about Planet 55 Studios’s work on Doctor Who and whether we are doing any more. To date, Planet 55 Studios has completed work on three Doctor Who animated reconstructions for BBC Worldwide’s DVD range: The Reign of Terror, The Tenth Planet and most recently The Moonbase. We really enjoyed creating those but they are the only Doctor Who stories Planet 55 Studios have worked on and there are no plans to work on any more. At the moment the company is focused on animation projects completely unconnected to Doctor Who.”
After no news for months, news on the release sprang forth, the BBC stating in December that the release was now scheduled for 2015 and that the decision to delay the DVD had been a marketing decision. They said:
“We hope to release ‘The Underwater Menace’ in 2015. We delayed the release to ensure that our publishing schedule is phased appropriately across the year and the episodes will be animated.”
Whether the release will ever see the light of day is something few fans would be willing to bet on given its turbulent history and frequent false hopes, yet with the BBC sounding somewhat positive (despite only hoping the serial will be released) it is certainly a step-up from the days it appeared the release had been cancelled entirely. Maybe one day the full story of this most troubled release will be told.. was it rumours of The Underwater Menace being found that caused the issues? Planet 55 simply being unable to complete their animation in the required length of time? contractual issues? who knows, but hopefully fans will get a chance to see this earliest example of the great Patrick Troughton sometime this year.
Nothink in ze vorld can schtop it now!!!