Something in the back of my mind was telling that this had a reputation for being one of the better stories of the Davison era. After the first episode, I had to double check. As suspected, it does in fact have a reputation for being one of the shitter stories of the Davison era, which is entirely deserved.
That first episode is extraordinarily slow, taking its full duration to establish a setting that’s extraordinarily simple – it’s a sea base with nuclear bombs, it’s the Cold War, and meanwhile the Silurians and Sea Devils are waking up. That can be put across in five minutes; we didn’t need quite so much procedural detail before the first sign of conflict. The cliffhanger is completely unearned. “Face it, Tegan, he’s drowned!” What, because he fell into the water from the height of an average diving board? Turlough was annoyingly defeatist throughout, when he wasn’t happily charging round with a gun.
The human characters are tediously one-note, although there is a comfy familiarity in a good old-fashioned base under siege tale. It would have been so much better but for the minor detail that both the Silurians and Sea Devils are utter shit. They all move incredibly slowly, and there’s no nuance to them whatsoever. The whole point of the Silurians is that they’re just reptile versions of us – there’s good ones and bad ones. Here, there’s no telling them apart; they’ve become cookie-cutter generic monsters.
The Doctor goes on about them being a noble race in the dialogue, but that simply doesn’t carry over to the characterisation. There’s a big old chat between the Doctor and their leader in episode four, which is great, but this kind of moral consideration should have come way earlier. It makes sense that they’d be changed by their previous encounters with humanity, but until this is clarified it comes across like the show has forgotten what made them interesting in the first place.
And then there’s the Myrka. What even is the Myrka? Some sort of hybrid of Silurians and Sea Devils, but massive? Either way it looks utter dogshit. I’m struggling to think of a monster so far that’s been quite so embarrassingly awful. I’m aware of the huge production problems they faced – thanks, Thatcher – but I’d rather they shot it in a different way so you only saw glimpses of it, or got rid of it entirely in favour of dialogue to inject some sense of moral ambiguity into the Silurians.
Meanwhile, there’s a subplot going on with the sync operator being conditioned by undercover Soviet saboteurs. It’s intriguing, but it moves incredibly slowly, and then just as it begins to ramp up, everyone involved is killed. It’s all just set up for a situation where The Doctor has to sync his mind with a computer, but nothing really happens there either, so the whole thing could have been excised with absolutely zero impact on the story. What a time-consuming waste.
The final episode isn’t terrible, and it’s just about enough to save it from getting my lowest score ever, but it’s too little too late. The ending is impressively bleak, with absolutely every guest character of any species wiped out, but The Doctor’s right: there should have been another way. If the only way to add excitement is The Doctor failing to come up with a peaceful solution, and companions firing guns at point blank range, then the show is in a pretty bad state.
And this is the first serial since the jubilation of The Five Doctors. What the hell is going on with this inconsistency? At least there’s some excitement in not knowing what to expect next, but I can’t deny that I preferred the days when the only variation was between “great” and “excellent”.