It’s 1968. A scary medic is turning posh companion Polly into a fish. Cockney companion Ben has been sent to the mines, along with Scottish companion Jamie (the TARDIS was a bit crowded in those days). Meanwhile, the maddest of all mad scientists is explaining his master plan to the Doctor.
Joseph Furst hams it up mercilessly. People have sometimes wondered whether Prof Zaroff needed quite such a silly accent, but in fact, Furst was Austrian and speaking with his actual voice. Patrick Troughton doesn’t try to compete. He goes to the opposite extreme, under-acting for all he is worth.
“Just one small question” he asks, quietly and reasonably “Why do you want to blow up the world?”
This is part two of ‘The Underwater Menace’. It would be a lovely scene under any circumstances. But with only seven episodes of Season 4 surviving, it’s the earliest footage we have of the Second Doctor. Three stories in, he’d mostly given up on the tall hat (although Polly pops it on her head in part four), but his trademark school-boyish twinkle was well-established. Ben asks him if we knows what he’s doing while he fiddles with Zaroff’s doomsday device. “What a question! Of course not!” he cheerfully replies.
Historical value apart, is it a good story? Not particularly. We’re in the undersea remains of Atlantis: the priests wear fish masks; the scientists wear lab coats; and the guards wear kinky black wet-suits. At one point, the Doctor and Polly go unnoticed through a market: he disguises himself as gypsy, and she goes for a native shells-and-seaweed look.
It may be the oddest scene old Who ever produced. The genetically engineered fish-people are a surreal, slow-motion aerial ballet, like very bad synchronised swimmers
None of this matters. What we have here are two precious episodes of yummy Second Doctor barminess (the missing parts are done as a slide-show reconstruction), and Troughton is jaw-droppingly good. A must-see for anyone interested in the pre-history of Who.