The TARDIS lands in the ocean near an English shore, causing Victoria and Jamie to remark (in rather annoyed tones) that they always seem to show up in England. They find a steel pipe funneling gas mined from the ocean and a lid which the Doctor opens using his sonic screwdriver (first time!). The Doctor becomes interested in a strange heartbeat-like sound, but his investigations are interrupted when the Doctor and the companions are shot by a tranquilizer gun. Right as they wake up they find themselves inside a control center whose manager, Robson, accuses them of being saboteurs hired to tamper with an emergency release valve. Less hostile is a chief technician, Harris, who explains that they lost contact with one of their rigs and the pressure in the pipelines has been dropping. Harris gets interested when the Doctor explains he heard a strange noise indicating movement in the pipes, but Harris swears it’s impossible for marine life to get inside them. Nonetheless, Robson has the Doctor and the others detained in a cell. Victoria is able to jimmy open the lock with a hairpin and stumbles across a masked man releasing gas from the pipes. The man locks her in, where she’s seemingly attacked by foam coming in through an air vent just before the Doctor and Jamie release her. Meanwhile Harris’s wife, Maggie, is stung by seaweed while retrieving a file for her husband and becomes ill.
Robson arrogantly resists the efforts by Harris and others to slow down production, despite the mounting evidence that something is causing the pipes to be blocked. In the living quarters of the complex, two strangely acting workers, Mr. Oak and Mr. Quill, enter Maggie and Harris’s apartment claiming that they’ve come for an inspection. The men emit a gas (from their mouths, you juvenile) that causes Maggie to lose consciousness. The Doctor, who Harris brought to check on his wife, deduces that Harris was the intended victim of both the stinging seaweed. As Robson continues to lose his sanity under the crisis, the Doctor and the companions in the TARDIS run tests on the seaweed, finding that it’s capable of movement and feeds on the natural gases on the floor of the North Sea, converting them into a toxic gas. In the TARDIS library, the Doctor finds references to such creatures in the North Sea from the eighteenth century. Later the Doctor deduces that the seaweed is parasitic and can control its host. The Doctor, Victoria, and Jamie return to the Harris’s apartments to report their findings, only to be attacked by foam that fills the apartments, but they narrowly escape, which still unnerves Victoria. Less lucky is Robson, who gets some gas courtesy of Oak and Quill. When Robson disappears, Harris is forced to take charge.
The Doctor and Jamie try to investigate a shaft and rescue a worker who fell into it, but are forced to flee when they encounter the creatures and more foam. The emergency reaches such a crescendo, with more rigs falling out of contact, that Megan Jones, the director of the gas company, comes to the control center. Megan is skeptical, but Harris still tries to convince her to get the government to bomb the rigs. Robson interrupts them, shouting “We won’t allow it!”, the oddne of which erodes Megan’s doubt. After Robson rushes away, the Doctor appears and theorizes that Robson is being controlled. Jamie finds an unconscious Victoria, who identifies her attackers as Quill and Oak. A convinced Megan listens as the Doctor theorizes that the seaweed is trying to form a massive colony out of the rigs and that its ultimate goal is to invade the surface of the British Isles. The Doctor advises against involving the military and having the rigs bombed, since the rig workers might be needlessly killed and the seaweed might survive and only be spread. Instead the Doctor, seizing on the fact that Victoria saw a seaweed-controlled person, notes that the seaweed acted to avoid pure oxygen. Meanwhile Jamie pursues Oak and Quill, who have been trying to release the control center’s supply of oxygen, and fights them, with Quill getting knocked out. However, the Doctor thinks it was the sound of Victoria’s scream, not the Doctor’s punch, that took out Quill. Using an amped-up recording of Victoria screaming and the pipes themselves as a transmitter, the Doctor drives the seaweed back and a mission to strike at the seaweed’s “nerve center” is a success, despite the Doctor’s awful attempt at flying a helicopter. Robson, Maggie, and all the others controlled by the creatures are freed and unharmed. Still, exhausted by the constant fear and danger she has been subjected to, Victoria elects to stay behind with the Harrises, noting that she lost her home and family in her own time. After she and Jamie say goodbye, the TARDIS leaves while Victoria watches from the beach.
“You always seem to land on this planet!”
“And it’s always England.”
-Victoria and Jamie. (Characters pointing out odd things in the plot is not unique to our postmodern, ironic age. It does seem like later on and in the “new” series writers get around this by implying that there are lots of TARDIS trips that we don’t see.)
“Doctor, why is it that we always end up in trouble?”
“Why, Victoria, it’s the spice of life, my dear.”
Victoria leaves the TARDIS crew.
This is the last of the “lost episodes,” but it’s also one of the hardest hit by the BBC slashing and burning its own archives. Pretty much the only way to experience the episode is through finding a fan reconstruction online or through the BBC’s official audio play.
Okay, so “mind-controlling seaweed that spews foam” does sound intolerably goofy, but here…it works. I don’t know if it’s the black-and-white or just how the show handled it, yet it’s true. Even though this story taps into many tropes that have already become well-worn in this era of the show (highstrung authority figure who is paranoid and has a breakdown, the Doctor and the companions being suspected as the enemy at first, monsters attacking an isolated complex, any one of the survivors might be a traitor/under mind control), this serial actually has an effective, creepy atmosphere – just see any scene with the ominous Mr. Oak and Mr. Quill – with a threat that’s truly completely alien, no matter how you describe it. The Second Doctor really did have a penchant for Lovecraftian villains (even if it was largely because Lovecraftian villains, depending on what interpretation you run with, tend to be budget-friendly).
If a particularly nerdy genie offered me a wish but limited that wish to which of the lost serials I’d like to see completely restored, it would be this one – well, next to Evil of the Daleks. It’s episodes like this that help explain why the show in its humble beginnings had the reputation of giving British kids nightmares.
As for Victoria, she generally isn’t well-remembered, at least compared to Jamie and Zoe, who we’ll meet next time. She was sort of a backwards-looking heroine, in the sense that she screamed and was captured and menaced a lot, although I am convinced it was deliberate on the writers’ part – after all, she was a woman from the 19th century named “Victoria.” It is interesting to note that she does get more of a sendoff than any past companions except arguably Susan – by which I mean, she gets a sendoff at all.