Warriors of the Deep

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”.

RATING: 5

The Silurians

I’ve just spent a good ten minutes staring at that title, and pondering whether to add “Doctor Who and” to the start. This is clearly more consideration than was ever given when they fucked up the title cards 45 years ago, so let’s move on.

Despite the disappointing step down from crisp, high definition film to murky, recolourised off-airs, this was a superb story of moral ambiguity and obfuscated intentions from both sides of a tricky conflict. Even when they’re at their most murderous, it’s hard to not empathise with the Silurians to some extent – it was their planet first, to be fair to the reptilian lads. The fact that they have the capacity to be reasonable and open-minded means Madame Vastra makes a lot more sense.

The power struggle within the Silurian ranks worked incredibly well, as did the clear parallels between the main players on each side. The Elder Silurian was kind and fair, willing to find a peaceful solution and doing his best to prevent unnecessary violence. Conversely, the younger one was trigger-happy and ruthless in the defence of his species, and it was a bold move to establish that the Brigadier can be just as bad.

Prior to now, he and The Doctor have only ever had small, easily-forgotten disagreements, but The Brig effectively committing genocide, and breaking promises in the process, will surely add a lasting layer of tension to their relationship. An act such as the one that closes this serial could so easily have been a defining moment to condemn a character to baddy status – such as Adam in The Long Game or Harriet Jones in The Christmas Invasion. But with The Brig it’s different – like his Silurian counterpart, he’s more misguided than malicious, and there’s clearly scope for redemption.

Elsewhere, there was a Scientist Silurian, whose main job was just to be told what to do and get on with it. Unfortunately, this mirrored Liz’s role in the story. Every time she showed a bit of gumption and stood up to either The Brig or The Doc, the other man would tell her to fall in line, and she would. The non-travelling companion is clearly a tricky role to define, and they’re not quite there yet. It’s odd that Liz and the Brig are the only recurring members of UNIT at this stage – I was expecting to have seen Benton by now – and it feels like they need a slightly bigger core cast in order for everyone to find their place.

But still, the guest cast of this serial were superb, the highlight being the appearance of two absolute comedy heroes – Fulton Mackay and Geoffrey Palmer – in straight roles. Both of them get great deaths too, Palmer’s in particular. Other things to note include the first use of CSO – which surprised me, as I assumed it came much later in colour videotape’s life time – the first appearance of Bessie, and the first use of the phrase “neutron flow”. It was made in reference to a nuclear reactor, so it seemed to make sense.

Downsides? As much as I loved the subplot of the deadly plague sweeping London, The Doctor being stuck in a lab conducting repetitive experiments for a whole episode somewhat hampered the pace, which prior to that had been building nicely. Also, the sound design was a tad irritating in places – the music was largely shite, and I could have done without the constant ridiculously high-pitched noises emitting from the Silurians’ bonces.

Overall though, a fantastic story – not sure it was quite seven episodes’ worth, but it got away with it thanks to Malcolm Hulke’s thought-provoking and well-crafted plotting. The big communist. Next up, a serial I know little about, but thanks to the contemporary trailer being appended to the final episode on the DVD, I now know to contain LOTS OF FIGHTING.

RATING: 8