Fans who like scoring, ranking and evaluating Doctor Who stories in minute detail (or in other words, fans) must love Doctor Who Magazine‘s irregular surveys of every story ever. The last one (Issue 474, July 2014) is of course already out of date but is still a thing of great geeky beauty.
I suspect I am like you and that we both react similarly to these lists. I get outraged when my favourite stories are deemed lowly. I am stunned when stories I hate get elevated. But the rest of the time, I just love the nerdy, numbery permutations it offers; stories rise, stories fall, some stories say resolutely loved or unloved.
As you may know, the DWM survey asks respondents to award a score out of 10 for each story from which an average percentage score is calculated. Let’s consider Hartnell entry Galaxy 4. In 2009, DWM readers scored it as 55.51% on average and ranked it as 172/200 (not as good as Colony in Space, but better than Four to Doomsday). That placed it in the bottom 14% of stories.
5 years later, its score had nudged up to 57.88%, but its ranking was now 210/241(not as good as Terminus, but better than The Creature from the Pit). It’s now in the bottom 12.8% of stories. So we rate it a little higher than we used to, but when we compare it to the whole of Doctor Who (including the 41 stories added between 2009 and 2013), it’s slipped a bit.
Let’s compare it to The Underwater Menace, which like Galaxy 4, has a missing episode turn up in 2011. In the 2009 poll, it scored 47.44% and ranked 194/200 (not as good as Paradise Towers but better than The Space Pirates). It was in the bottom 3% of stories and the 7th least liked story of all. We hated it.
5 years later though, we don’t hate it as much. Its score jumped to 55.53% and its rank to 224/241 (not as good as The Horns of Nimon but better than The Sensorites). It’s now ‘only’ in the bottom 7% of stories. But that’s quite a feat considering there were an extra 41 stories to compete with.
Clearly we still like Galaxy 4 better than The Underwater Menace. But if the recovery of a missing episode between surveys is their common factor, why does one get a boost in popularity and the other one not? It’s particularly odd when you consider that Galaxy 4‘s episode got a DVD release and The Underwater Menace‘s hasn’t yet (drums fingers).
Here’s a few theories why our taste for fish people is increasing while our Chumbley love flounders:
The Underwater Menace Episode 2 is a better episode than Air Lock. It’s terrific to have it back, but Galaxy 4’s third installment is fairly basic stuff. Nice to see the hideous Rills at last, but their spaceship looks like a temporary trade exposition stand. Their Chumbley robot servants are charming enough for Dalek stand-ins, but they move comically slowly and bump into things a bit. Maaga (Stephanie Bidmead) has been rightly praised for her fourth wall breaking monologue, but later she and Steven (Peter Purves) spend a long time in an impasse over the titular airlock. It feels like a waste of both their talents. As for the rest of the Drahvins, it’s pretty hard to believe they’re a crack force of elite killers when they have a habit of falling asleep on the job and can be overcome by an old man and a teenage girl.
Now The Underwater Menace Episode 2 is never going to win a Hugo, but it’s a more madcap joyride of an adventure, enlivened by an energised Patrick Troughton. It’s all together more fun.
Expectations were higher for Air Lock than for The Underwater Menace Episode 2. Because we’d already had an ep of The Underwater Menace, we had the telesnaps, we’d already ranked the thing 7th last and no-one expected an extra ep would suddenly turn it into The Caves of Androzani. But before Air Lock surfaced we only had 6 mins of Galaxy 4. Air Lock could have been evidence of a long forgotten classic, and had us reevaluating the whole story. But it didn’t really.
The Underwater Menace Episode 2 is better than The Underwater Menace Episode 3, but Air Lock is not that much better than the scraps of Galaxy 4 we already had. Perhaps it’s worse. Even if it’s not, there’s a bigger jump in quality between the two Troughton episodes.
There’s a greater level of familiarity with The Underwater Menace generally. Perhaps. There’s no way to measure it, so it’s impossible to prove. But I suspect that between its long held surviving episode, the telesnaps and its memorably b-movie elements such as Professor Zaroff and the fish people, we just know The Underwater Menace a bit better than Galaxy 4. I suspect it’s just that little bit more accessible too, as its story – mad scientist, public rebellion – fits Doctor Who‘s standard template a little better.
There’s a backlash from fans who had to buy a second copy of The Aztecs to watch Air Lock. Going out on a limb here. But could the lack of a standalone DVD release have alienated fans a little, making them less predisposed to the episode? And if we assume that most fans have now seen The Underwater Menace 2 (and how else can we explain its sudden rise in popularity?), then it’s a safe bet they got it for free. Hmmm. Something you got for free versus something you had to buy bundled with something you’d already bought once. Perhaps even subconsciously, we like one more than the other.
But Galaxy 4 didn’t always inspire such indifference. It averaged 9.9 million viewers on broadcast in the UK in 1965. Air Lock alone garnered an incredible 11.3 million. That’s the entire population of Australia in 1965. It’s very difficult to compare given today’s far more fragmented media landscape, but those are figures Doctor Who only dreams of these days. Maybe they should make a sequel. Galaxy 5 anyone?
Nah, I can’t go another round of leggy blonds, walrus heads and burbling roombas. Best go for An Even Deeper Underwater Menace.
LINK to The Doctor’s Wife: doomed worlds and aliens with disembodied voices. Scant, but there it is.
NEXT TIME: Ooh he’s tough, isn’t he? It’s time to play The Long Game.