With the return of Atlantis to BBC AMERICA this Saturday (June 27) it’s a good moment to examine how another TV show made by people with extremely healthy imaginations—Doctor Who—viewed life on the mythical island, claimed to have been lost beneath the waves of the Atlantic Ocean.
So far the TARDIS has paid two visits to Atlantis, one before and one after the events that lead to its sudden disappearance. Typically, Doctor Who being the sort of show it is, the visits occurred in the wrong order.
The first time the Doctor encounters Atlantis, it’s already long gone. In “The Underwater Menace,” the TARDIS arrives on a volcanic island, where the Second Doctor, Ben, Jamie and Polly are captured and taken down a network of tunnels that leads to an underground kingdom where everyone worships a goddess called Amdo.
The Atlanteans (for that is who they are) have also performed medical experiments upon their people, creating a race that can breathe under the sea and harvest food they’ve developed from on plankton. They’re also under the influence of a mad professor by the name of Zaroff, who has convinced them he wants to raise Atlantis to the surface once more, when really he just wants to destroy the world.
Sadly, the only way the Doctor can find to foil Zaroff’s plan involves breaking down the walls that protect the city and flooding it. The Atlanteans manage to escape but their home is lost once more.
Some years and a regeneration later, during the Third Doctor’s tenure with UNIT (“The Time Monster”), there’s another mad professor who has created a device called a TOMTIT—Transmission Of Matter Through Interstitial Time—which he hopes to use in conjunction with an ancient Atlantean crystal to summon and control a mythical creature called Kronos, a Kronovore that exists outside of time itself:
This professor turns out to be the Master, who uses the device first to travel back to Atlantis and grab an high priest named Krasis, and then to attack UNIT with timeslips, leaving several solders significantly older or younger than they were before. The Doctor soon finds a way to block him, however:
Thwarted, the Master takes Krasis back to pre-flood Atlantis to steal the crystal from its original home, followed by the Doctor and Jo Grant:
The Master manages to impress the Atlantean Queen Galleia enough to take over the kingdom, and that’s when everything starts to speed up. The Doctor arrives, and he and Jo are put in a cell. Jo is thrown into a labyrinth with a Minotaur, and King Dalios is killed. It’s at this point that the Master hurriedly summons Kronos:
Under the Master’s orders, Kronos destroys Atlantis, and both Time Lords rush to their respective TARDISes. The Master aims to escape with Jo as his prisoner, with the Doctor hot on his heels. After Jo triggers a “time ram”—a TARDIS collision within the time vortex—they materialize in a mysterious void in which Kronos turns up, this time represented by a huge female face (not unlike Amdo, oddly enough, but human).She is ready to punish the Master, and it’s only through the Doctor’s express intervention that the Master is released to his care.
Which just leaves one last puzzle. A year before the Master turned up with his new device, the Doctor faced a huge satanic beast namd Azal (“The Daemons”) who claims to have the power to decide whether the Earth will be destroyed or not. And to prove that he knows what he’s talking about, he makes an aside about how he was responsible for Atlantis falling into the sea.
Still, he is a demon. They’re not exactly known for their honesty.
NOTE: An Atlantean prison cell is also the location in which the Doctor tells Jo this story from his youth, about how he learned to view the universe as a source of perpetual astonishment. It’s a viewpoint he still carries to this day:
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