These ape primitives will die as they have lived. In a sea of their own blood.
When I first saw Warriors of the Deep, the fickle finger of fate meant I had seen all the fifth Doctor stories previous and seen Doctor Who and the Silurians. I watched it and, I admit, I cringed. No, not the Myrka - Solow! She's far more embarrassing, looking stupid, talking stupid, acting stupid. I thought when I saw her in The Time Monster, she was trying to do an Atlantean accent. Here she talks like she's got a broken jaw and is hardly wearing something that could distract from her complete lack of talent like she was armed with in her first adventure. I found her attempt to attack the Myrka shockingly believable. Embarrassing, but, yeah, Solow seems stupid enough to try picking a fist-fight with a sea dragon.Warriors is not a bad story. If this was an audio story (bar the Silurian's voices which I concede are crap), it would be highly regarded, so the plot at least is sound and that's always half the battle. The ideas in this story are very impressive. This is a future where the world could end in nuclear war, but there's no hope that an attack could be a mistake. If Sea Base 4 fires its missiles, it isn't because Karina knocked over her coffee and the whole thing's a dreadful mistake. It need a human being plugged into the computer and the Commander's permission before they can even aim their weaponry, so there's no risk of accidents. Yet, at the same time the whole crew are under the thumb of their computer who is so obtuse no one can tell until the last minute whether this is just a drill or the real thing.
The Doctor says that nothing has changed since 1984, and it's hard to disagree. In fact, it's as relevant today as it was, with security and fear of terrorism at its height and the paranoia that it won't be some hairy monster that wants to kill you as an infidel, but rather the friend you've known your whole life. Its exemplified in the scene where Maddox is ordered to strangle Karina to death, Karina who is the closest thing he's got to a girlfriend and the only person who genuinely cares for him as anything other than a glorified modem. It's a scene far more unsettling than any number of monsters firing machine guns at you, especially as you know Maddox doesn't want to do this and has no control over himself.
Of course, he does this because he's being controlled by enemy agents Neilson and Solow who are working for 'the other power bloc' and are not particularly sympathetic. Solow whines in a monotone that she's a doctor and not that good at murder, and Neilson tells her to shut up (not enough, say I), and after that they're evil villains smiling as they betray their colleagues and murder in cold blood. It would easy to say this power bloc is represented as a bunch of camp psychopaths, but the staff of Sea Base 4 aren't shown in a particularly better light. Bulic is a thug, Preston an uptight bitch and Vorshak not much better. He has no people skills, believing that telling a nervous, twitchy intruder will cooperate if told he will be treated 'with honor'. He ignores the Doctor's advice, continually threatens him with death, and is generally unpleasant. His stiff lines like 'You'll get no help from me, Silurian' come across less as bad acting, and more as good acting. Vorshak is trying to sound tough and failing completely. For all his talk of honor, he runs a base that could wipe out a million civilian population centres, plans to execute unarmed prisoners, and is happy to have people have their minds probed. When Solow tells him that Maddox needs 'rebooting' for humanitarian reasons, it's clearly meant to stir emotion in Vorshak. It fails. He shows no concern for Maddox before, during or after as anything other than a firing key.
This fits with comparing and contrasting Vorshak with Icthar, who is similarly planning to trigger mass bloodshed without a care, isn't interested in the welfare of his 'men' and is a boring conversationalist to boot. Although the Silurians and humans aren't characterized very well, they are shown to be mirror opposites to each other, and it all aides the Doctor's position, caught between two races who both think they were here first and are spoiling for a fight. The humans attack the Silurians without cause, but the Silurians keep attacking the humans knowing the 'ape primitives' can't possibly fight them. Vorshak is prepared to die to stop the missiles firing, and Icthar is prepared to die to fire them. As Turlough points out, just because the Silurians as a species are good, it doesn't change the fact the ones on Sea Base 4 are ruthless genocidal maniacs. But so are Preston and Bulic, and you can't tar humanity for their individual prejudice.Earthshock aside, the fifth Doctor's era is a quiet, calm string of adventures when more often than not it's the bad guys who die, if indeed anyone. But this story dumps the Doctor back in the Earthshock world, where monsters kill all humans, humans kill humans, and no one will listen to the weirdo in the police box. The death and destruction around the Cybermen is no longer a one-off any more. Warriors might as well have begun with the TARDIS fallen through a CVE as it lands in a season of bleak stories where good people die and the righteous don't necessarily triumph. It's like the final season of Tom Baker's Doctor, with the Time Lord finding himself in adventures better suited to his sucessor.
But while the fourth Doctor got depressed and broody, the fifth Doctor tries to swim before he sinks. Warriors of the Deep shows him at his most anarchic, aggressive and desperate so far. He sets the base's nuclear reactor to critical - just as a distraction to stop some guards. The Doctor wields guns, wrestles with guards and sets up laser canons in this story, as if the sharp edges of the fifth Doctor are being brought to the surface in this proper base under siege story. But there is also the Doctor's belief that he can sort this out without violence, that if the humans surrender bloodshed can be avoided. He's right, and it's proved when the Sea Devils do not kill Turlough and Bulic when they drop their guns (Icthar insists that as long as the humans insist on fighting, the Sea Devils will fight back - and win). Anyone complaining that the presence of hexachromite makes the plot obvious misses the point. Its so obvious it's almost a sick joke, with the Doctor being told right away he has the means to wipe out his enemies in one go. The Doctor tries to find another way, not using the gas until the last moments of the episode and even then tries to dilute it so as not to kill the invaders. The reason all the Silurians and Sea Devils die is not down to the Doctor, but because Bulic adds another entire canister to the air supply. Like in The Silurians, it's not the Doctor's methods that fail, but his faith in supporting characters. And when his good intentions have come to naught, when he has failed for a third time to make peace and this time not even saved humanity, something cracks in the Doctor, a development that I'll keep an eye on.
Tegan and Turlough are also given a good slice of the action. Tegan is curious about her future, willing to dive into the reactor tanks without a second thought, and open-minded enough to not object to saving the lives of Silurians - when the Doctor growls he's not sure why he likes humanity, it's not hard to see that Tegan (and others like her) is the answer. She cares for the Doctor, but still stays true to her character, rubbishing the Time Lord's plans and Turlough's cowardice, not to mention the priceless moment when she easily opens the door her companions have been struggling to budge for most of a scene.
Turlough also decides to knuckle down and become a companion rather than a passenger for Warriors. The Doctor openly wonders if Turlough is up to it, and the story nicely shows Turlough trying to prove it. While his instant dismissal of the Doctor being dead seems a bit rash, we see him willingly let the guards capture him in order to give Tegan a chance to escape. It's quite clear that Turlough believes the Doctor is dead, and is not happy about it. He doesn't try to sweet-talk Vorshak and the others, but is furious with them for killing his friend and seems on the point of exploding when the commander dryly speculates "the boy seems to be right". Turlough is even willing to pick up a gun, run through a base of hostiles and threaten Neilson with death in order to give Tegan and the Doctor a chance of survival. But his resolve isn't perfect, and we see when he is locked up and given a chance to think, his first thought is to head for the TARDIS and abandon the others. Ultimately, Preston shames him into going back for them, but the fact she succeeds shows that Turlough isn't beyond redemption. He can be very brave, but only if he convinces himself that he has a chance of surviving and success, and his argument that futility and nobility often get mixed up is true. Vorshak believes doing things for honor, Turlough does them because they are the right thing to do.
But all this is looking beneath the surface, something that the harsh lights and green monsters have put off other reviewers.
The easiest way to enjoy Warriors of the Deep is to look at it not as a show crippled by bad design and acting, but a perfect documentary of the plot. It's very funny that way. For example, all the humans are wearing ludicrous amounts of eye shadow and have a large V sewn onto the backs of their uniforms. Now, that's easily explained. When the Doctor says 'nothing has changed' since Tegan's time, he includes the fashion; and I find it very easy to believe that Vorshak had his initial sewn into the uniforms so that everyone on the base knows the name of the commander. Yes, it is true that the story would be more tense and gripping if the lights were turned down but be serious. This is a military base! It was built and designed for people to live and work in at the bottom of the inky depths! The architect was not going 'I know, if I leave a few light bulbs out, it'll get all gloomy and creepy if some ancient reptiles attack!' was he? And considering how gloomy the corridors are, or the how dark the control room gets during missile runs, I think the story's dark and shadowy enough.
I am of the personal belief that seeing monsters during daylight or in brightly lit room is a great move - OK, it might flag up how crap the outfits are, but on a level it makes them more frightening: these things don't just hide in the dark or only come out at night. Hiding in the light won't stop them following you and killing you. Yes, I know this doesn't excuse the Myrka, but look at it this way - yes, the Myrka looks pathetic and ridiculous. So does the duck-billed platypus, but that has a fatal sting and could kill you. The Myrka is lethal and, worse than that, looks stupid. Being killed by a Dalek or a Cybermen is bad, but being killed by the Myrka is truly horrific - imagine having 'killed by scaly pantomime horse' on your tombstone. No wonder the Silurians use them as weapons, the enemies would run a bloody mile. And on paper, it looks good with its long seaweed beard and clear Sea Devil descent. Isn't it brilliant when it comes across Solow and is totally baffled by her? Surely you can sympathize with it as it confusedly mirrors her kung-fu hand gestures as if trying to understand her? Or how it desperately repeats them as the Doctor fries its brain?
But the Myrka has nothing on the Sea Devils. In the original story, these orange (or are they green?) turtle heads in their string vests looked cool, cute and dangerous as they stormed through prisons and blew up life boats and peered into diving bells... Here, they... they... They're not as good. With those silly inflatable shoulder pads and mini-satellite dish guns, there's a definite failure of style there. But the story gives us more than enough clues to explain the Sea Devils' behavior. When Scibus explains that the Sea Devils never revived on schedule but effectively overslept, you have to wonder what this gang of turtles found so interesting as not to leave the bunker. And we see a shot of the window, beyond which is green smoke.
Did Sauvix and his Sea Devils spend the last sixty five million years sharing bongs and giggling? Watch the story and judge for yourself. The Sea Devil's expressions are frozen somewhere between "I'm shober, honest," and "Whooooooaaaaaa!" As Sauvix boasts that his warriors were revived and ready for battle, we see them barely able to stumble in a straight line. One of the Devils spends the entire attack on the Sea Base staring at the ceiling and aiming his gun at it, as if following a very interesting fly. Two more bump into each other in part four, and few can keep their heads from rolling around the place. And none of them can shoot straight! It takes five attempts before they kill the blinded Neilson who is standing right in front of them! Sauvix's wonderfully drunken "Bring forth... ... ...er, the cutting device!" is almost as brilliant as when he stares intently at the scroll Icthar tells him 'study well'.
As a fighting force, their behavior is criminally pathetic. But if we assume the Sea Devils are all incredibly stoned and trying not giggle, their actions make perfect sense.
And this leads me to Scibus, undeniable the most effective and amusing comic relief character in Doctor Who. Forget Mickey, Duggan or that philosophical bloke from Dragonfire, Scibus deserves his own spin-off TV show for the side-splitting antics he has here. I laughed myself hoarse watching this Silurian's antics, which recalled more of Dougal McGuire in Father Ted than a Silurian officer.
Every second line of Icthar seems to be "Excellent, Scibus", which is said sarcastically, patiently, depressed and bored depending on what Scibus does - for example peering into one of those recycled Cybermen guns despite its Tarpok that's supposed to be using them.
When Icthar asks if the Sea Devil chamber is warm enough for the Silurians to enter, Scibus stares blankly at Icthar for a full three seconds, looks at the door, then back at Icthar and says in a very uncertain voice "... No?"
When Icthar tells Scibus to revive the Sea Devils, Scibus turns back to the door control then presses it, then hastily punches the other controls, clearly thinking "Oh, god it's got to be one of these buttons..."
When Icthar introduces Scibus and Tarpok as his "companions" to Sauvix, Scibus gives a little girly wave to Sauvix, the shameless flirt.
Scibus and Tarpok spend half of episode three looking like Aldo and Royce in Warrior's Gate, carrying a picnic hamper. By the end of the episode, they have mislaid in and appear to be looking for it when Sauvix bumps into them and Icthar hastily asks how the battle's going.
Scibus starts to press controls on the control panel in the last episode with a childish glee, followed by the agonizing wait as he adjusts the position of the Manipulator again and again, as if trying to get the feng shei just right.
His death scene has him make a strange gurgling noise. Which Icthar ignores. So Scibus makes it louder. Before sliding off his stool and hitting the floor. And gurgling again.
Warriors of the Deep ends up something of a rarity in Doctor Who - two completely different stories with the same plot, actors and special effects. If you watch the story, you are rewarded with one of the grimmest, coldest moral dilemma bloodbaths Doctor Who can offer. If you watch the production, you are rewarded with an Earth Reptile version of Dude, Where's My Car.
'Warriors of the Deep' is one of Peter Davison's more maligned Doctor Who stories. The opener for his final season featured the return of two related sets of 1970s Pertwee villains - the erroneously named Silurians, and the so-called Sea Devils. This was probably something of a counterpoint to fan criticism of Season 20, which had a rather low monster count.
Like several stories of this era, there are a few problems with 'Warriors' from a continuity point of view, and like those others, it's surprising that the production team seem so vested in continuity, but so prone to errors. These would be a little more permissible if adhering to previous stories was detrimental to the script... However, in this case the Silurians know themselves by this incorrect name [they would seem to date from the Eocene era] and the Sea Devils call themselves by the nickname given to them by a mad sailor in their eponymous debut serial. This is rather irritating, and could probably have been written around - perhaps an explanation along the lines of both names being inaccurate, but commonly used due to declassified UNIT documents or something? Whether you buy that or not, the creatures certainly shouldn't refer to themselves by these names.
One continuity problem I don't particularly see is the assumption that Icthar is the scientist from Season 7's 'The Silurians'. As if the fact he sounds and looks totally different isn't enough, there's nothing explicit to say he is. There's nothing to say the third or fourth Doctors hadn't had an encounter with the 'Silurians' off-screen, and met Icthar then. Right from the start, Doctor Who features references to adventures not seen in the show - 'The Invasion', 'The Face of Evil', 'Timelash' and 'Battlefield' feature explicit use of adventures not seen on screen. So really I see no problem with the idea of a "Missing Adventure" featuring, a 'Silurian' triad containing Icthar and the third or fourth Doctors. Aside from these minor aberrations, which are really more a concern for fans watching as a part of a larger continuity, there's only one other problem with Johnny Byrne's script. It really was a little optimistic to imagine the realisation of the Myrka coming off, but more of that in a bit. Aside from this, the script is wonderful. The Seabase crew are all nicely defined characters, Icthar is both sympathetic and hard-headed at the same time, and the Doctor is frankly superb. The plot's nicely done, and though the Hexachromite gas is something of a plot device, it's nicely used - it's not as simple as just using this weapon, there are lots of moral issues involved.
The cast are splendid. Davison's performance through Season 21 was superb - it wasn't really bad for his first two series, but he finds an extra gear for his swansong year. He's on top form out of the box here, desperately trying to mediate between the 'Silurians' and the humans until the very last minute, really transmitting the emotion and urgency of the script, and I don't think there's been a more fitting final scene to a story than the Doctor, looking at all the dead bodies on the Seabase bridge. "There should have been another way." And Davison nails it perfectly. For the other regulars, well, Tegan and Turlough don't get the best of the script. Turlough for one is effectively another member of the Seabase crew, though Strickson's still hugely watchable. Tegan more sort of gets in the way, though Janet Fielding makes the best of a bad deal - something both characters had to be content with too often. The guest cast are generally terrific, with Tom Adams excelling as Vorshak and Ian McCulloch compelling as Nilson, while Norman Comer gets a respectable amount of nuances though the 'Silurian' costume. Only Ingrid Pitt, predictably wooden as Dr. Solow, and Nitza Saul as Karina really let it down.
The biggest problem, however, is the direction. While the Myrka is a pathetic monster [never moreso than when knocking over a set of obviously foam doors], most of the story's problems come from Pennant Roberts. I remember him doing an interview in Doctor Who Magazine where he blamed everyone under the sun for the serial's shortcomings - perhaps he should have looked a bit closer to home. The set design for the Seabase is more than adequate, insofar as the series' budget could ever hope to capture the look of an expensive military facility, while the redesigned costumes for both sets of monsters are pretty decent - it strikes me as rather hypocritical that some fans can accept Cybermen who don't have balaclavas as being an improvement, and yet giving the 'Silurians'/'Sea Devils' laser-proof armour that prevents the Seabase crew from just gunning them down is terrible. The Seabase crew's costumes are also respectable, though the mass amounts of eyeshade could have been safely omitted. However, Roberts inexplicably decided to shoot everything inside the Seabase in a million-watt light. The Seabase should have been dank and claustrophobic - not necessarily some rundown armpit of the world, but certainly not like something out of a music video. This exacerbates the problems of the Myrka - shot in shadows, it's shortcomings needn't have been half as obvious. Roberts was also responsible for the casting of Pitt [in the original script, the character was male], and really should have realised how utterly ludicrous Solow attempting to drop-kick the Myrka would look. In other places, his direction is simply tepid.
Overall, I do rather like this story. Overambition isn't the worst fault in a script, and a good story can shine through something like the Myrka. Combined with Davison, this ensures the pace keeps up, and 'Warriors of the Deep' certainly can't be described as boring. Despite myriad other failings, Roberts does imbue a decent amount of suspense - some of the missile runs are nail-biting, while the Doctor's stance, not taking the side of the humans, but that of peace, does keep the viewer guessing as to the precise outcome.
Certainly not recommended to fans who don't like Davison, and a little too unintentionally comical to consider showing to non-fan friends, but forewarned of the sheer awfulness of the Myrka, this is basically a rewarding story, with some superb scenes and machinations going on to distract from the shortcomings. Even the brightness of the base doesn't seem as bad once you're immersed in the storyline. "Warriors of the Deep" holds in common with several underrated Who stories, in that a few negative elements have been allowed to mask many good points for far too long.
I would pinpoint season 21 as the major downturn of quality that eventually spelled the end of the original series of Doctor Who. Season 20, although it consisted entirely of sequels, emphasised the storytelling that largely forgave the occasional over-the-top moment of continuity such as was seen in, for example, Mawdryn Undead. Here though, Warriors Of The Deep was the largest step yet towards suicide, having the dreadful burden of including not one but two old monsters from the show’s past, the youngest of which was eleven years old. Not only that, it’s also one of the shoddiest and cheapest serials the programme ever made; not even the very early Hartnells had so many production faults.
My reviews tend to be mostly linear – I work my way through each element of the story as it comes up. That means I now have to do a complete about-turn and say how brilliant the modelwork is of the sea base, the Silurian ship and later the attack craft Sentinel 6. It’s very hard to reconcile this with what else is seen on screen, as it feels like it’s the only aspect of the production that any money was actually spent on. Unfortunately then the amount of screen time afforded to it is small, and we are instead subjected to the awful set of the bridge. Many of the sets in this story are bad, consisting of eyeball-aching white but without the stylised distinctiveness that made The Ark In Space work so well. The bridge has an even greater problem of being offensively floodlit, multiplying its tackiness a thousandfold.
Better is the Silurian ship; maybe it is so much more subdued to create a contrast between the alien and human environments. Whatever the reason, any scene set here comes as a relief to an extent, but is undermined by the presence of the Silurians: excellent in their 1970 debut story Doctor Who And The Silurians, here complete jokes. Their obviously plastic heads are fixed in grins, their voices are silly and squeaky, the lights on their heads flash in time with their words for no particular reason and they even have stupid names. They are only rescued by some decent lines; Johnny Byrne’s script is actually quite good in places with the Silurians displaying some nicely idiosyncratic mannerisms – but the aforementioned voices present a giant drag factor as far as their lines are concerned.
Also doing no favours for the lines are the horribly boring guest cast. In the first scene featuring them Nitza Saul as Karina comes off worst, saying her lines flatly and without any real feeling. Tom Adams as Vorshak is a little better but in later scenes has trouble with sounding desperate, and for my sins I find it hard to take seriously anyone whose eyebrows resemble their rank stripes. Martin Neil as Maddox fairs best, actually managing to sound like he cares about what he’s saying; the decent script allows him to cover for some obvious exposition with some reasonably interesting lines. Ian McCulloch is terrible as Nilson, and even the respected actress Ingrid Pitt is difficult to watch as Dr. Solow, such is the quality of her performance.
The opening TARDIS scene is shaky (a common complaint of this era) despite Janet Fielding’s improvements as an actress and Peter Davison’s dynamic new haircut. We see Davison fluff a line talking to Sentinel 6, and in technobabble terms “materialisation flip-flop” makes me wonder if Byrne was taking his job entirely seriously. Back on the sea base Byrne is very succinct when it comes to the technical talk from the crew at their posts, which while uninteresting to listen to at least presents the actors with lines within their range. Maddox’s synch-up scene has a new lighting effect – normally I wouldn’t mention something so minor, but as it distracts from the terrible set it’s more important than normal.
The scene where Captain Eyebrow gives the pantomime villains of Solow and Nilson Maddox’s disk has some more pleasing lines that nicely sketch in the complexities of the setting, even if they are delivered by partners in plankness McCulloch and Pitt.
The Doctor can tell that they have landed on a sea base instantly, which is unconvincing. So begins their exploration, and gradual revelation of certain plot points. I’d say that the sight of the Silurians spoils the mystery, except that there isn’t one; until they show themselves the humans are boring people doing boring things. Hexachromite gas is namedropped very deliberately, in a tokenist attempt to avoid a deus ex machine ending that falls on its face by making the ending very obvious while being subsequently ignored again until it is needed. Mark Strickson overacts when activating the lift, emphasising too much that Turlough has made an error, but it’s amusing to see him get caught in the closing doors.
The Sea Devils make their appearance now. They look good to begin with: dimly lit, shrouded in mist, and not moving, with an atmospheric score by Jonathan Gibbs helping.
The cliffhanger contains the first real incident of the episode, and while the reactor room set wobbles a bit during the Doctor’s fight it is actually very good, being very large and opulent (and maybe what the other 50% of the budget went on. It certainly didn’t go on the monsters.). The episode ends with an excellent stunt, closing a mediocre instalment helped in part by a script that so far just about manages to keep its head above water. This is followed by a well-shot underwater sequence – a rarity in Doctor Who. Pennant Roberts who also helmed the excellent The Face Of Evil) is not a bad director as long as he’s not doing action scenes. I could live without the close-ups of the horribly fake heads of the Silurians though. The Sea Devils start to move and although they have the same voices as in their debut, they look even worse than the Silurians, with their heads wobbling about and falling over.
Turlough’s scream of “save yourself” showcases Strickson’s penchant for intentional ham, and the ‘bad breath’ joke misfires – if only Russell T. Davies had learned from this that bodily functions jokes aren’t funny.
The Doctor raids the bridge, brandishing a gun and making cheesy “we have a problem” quips, going totally against his character (which at least sets a precedent for Resurrection Of The Daleks). Do I detect Eric Saward’s influence here? This scene makes me realise how little has happened so far; the regulars have only just met the other characters, while it has taken the monsters an episode and a half to start moving.
The back story of the Silurians and Sea Devils starts to cause a problem now. It would difficult for casual viewers to accept them and their attitudes without having seen this story’s prequels; as they were made over a decade previously a lot of fans probably would have had trouble as well. As such it is hard to relate them with the Doctor’s insistence that they are moral creatures: he says that “all they ever wanted to do was live in peace”, yet here they are on an obvious offensive. Solow portentously saying “Nilson, we must speak” loudly in the middle of the bridge is also an annoying moment.
The foam doors in the airlock look terrible, but they hide something infinitely worse: I’ll reinforce a cliché here and say that the Myrka is a strong contender for the title of worst monster ever. Large monsters were often a problem for the show, but other poor efforts like the Skarasen had the advantage of being models, meaning that the actors were not required to interact with them; watching people attempt to act in the presence of this ridiculous monster that can barely stay upright is cringe-inducing. The Doctor’s line of “it takes a lot to impress the Myrka” is unintentionally funny in this context: its head is totally inanimate and lifeless (like all the other monsters in this story, admittedly, but scaled up), and it moves so bizarrely that I sometimes think that the two operators were trying to move in different directions. Tegan actually manages to deliver her lines reasonably well; never a great actress, how she managers to perform here is beyond me, but I was sorely tempted to speed through her squirming under a weightless door while the Myrka wobbles about over her – which I unfortunately get subjected to again in the next episode’s reprise. When it gets blinded it doesn’t move any differently than it did before, which isn’t really surprising. Also, the extras it kills perform some of the most inept death scenes I’ve ever seen outside Destiny Of The Daleks, with all their ‘find your spot – shake about – lie down’ staginess.
This cuts away to another appalling scene with the Sea Devils. In their debut they were very good, running around athletically and shooting their excellently-realised weapons. Here they shuffle around like geriatrics, with their heads lolling uncontrollably, and firing weapons with cheap and nasty video effects. Sauvix says that “the ape primitives are no match for my warriors” – at least their mouths move when they talk, mate. Neither humans nor monsters move about much in the action scenes, but this is fine as neither side can shoot straight either.
The episode mercilessly cuts back to the Myrka, and we get to see Ingrid Pitt make a bad situation a lot, lot worse by attempting to karate kick it in one of the programme’s most toe-curlingly embarrassing scenes ever. Surely one for the blooper reel, how anyone thought it would work is beyond me; it’s as if Solow took the Doctor’s earlier line about impressing it a bit too literally. After this the monster’s death is pat and uninteresting, but oh so very welcome.
Icthar’s “it is they who insist on fighting” is a cool line, although when confronting the Doctor they drop in references to previous stories with no regard to anyone except the most insular fans. The “final solution” references are less subtle here than in the still-obvious The Dalek Invasion Of Earth, which had the advantage of a) slipping the line in relatively unobtrusively among several and b) being two decades closer to topicality. Hexachromite is mentioned again for the first time since the opening episode; there when you need it, ignored when you don’t. Preston and Vorshak are killed unnecessarily, making up Saward’s need to have a certain percentage of characters killed every episode regardless of narrative requirement (91.7% of characters die in this episode by the way, not counting the regulars and the nameless extras. All part of the service), and the Doctor’s line of “there should have been another way” is a cheap attempt at justifying a bog-standard, Saward-style ‘kill ‘em all’ resolution.
That this isn’t the worst story of the season reflects the downward slide it represents. It has a few nice moments from a genuinely talented writer that save it from a bottom-of-the-barrel rating, but fails because of the production which was now turning completely in on itself. It is a dull, uninspiring and poorly made story that unfortunately sets the tone for the next few seasons; it took the old master Robert Holmes to life the programme out of its rut after this, and that was only temporary. Arc Of Infinity showed signs of future problems, but Warriors Of The Deep was the first story to take them to extremes, and it is deeply sad to watch it in the knowledge that this story marked the beginning of the end for Doctor Who.
It’s rare in Doctor Who for one of the Doctor’s companions to get the best line. But it’s Turlough in Warriors of the Deep that has a throwaway line that is actually one of the few outstanding ones, asking what it is that makes humans think “a futile gesture is a noble one.” I think this line sums up a worthy effort in the history of the program, even if it is a set of episodes some fans just can’t stand.
Fans tend to hammer on about how the Silurians or Sea Devils looked wrong or walked too slowly (doesn’t that add menace, to be slow but unstoppable?). And they tend to complain that darker sets would have worked better, and hidden some of the flaws in the design, like a giant foam horse called the Myrka we’re all supposed to be afraid of because it can electrify you on contact. I can really only agree with the second part, that a story about a sea base invasion should have had darker, more claustrophobic sets. But you’d think Doctor Who fans would be used to imperfect sets by now. And while fans, ironically enough, allow mild inconsistencies to ruin their enjoyment of the show, it has to be remembered that most people don’t care.
Here’s the biggest flaw as I see it: there are too few sympathetic characters. I don’t know what it was about the fifth, and in many ways most civil Doctor, but somehow he was increasingly dropped in situations where he and companions were the only people around that didn’t have closed minds and hostile attitudes. In a story that’s going to leave the viewer with a huge body count, and the Doctor left standing to say “There should have been another way,” (the second best line), the viewer needs a reason why the human race or the invaders should have been saved. The Doctor pays lip service to the idea that the Silurians are an ancient and noble race, but we only see them plodding through corridors killing everything in sight. And among the humans, there are a couple of sympathetic characters (mostly Maddox) but we can’t be said to really get to know them. Writers do this time and time again: introduce characters and fail to give them a single really human idiosyncrasy or memorable characteristic (something that isn’t cliché), then expect viewers to care when they’re killed. We feel for Maddox, as someone young and forced to perform horrible things, but he’s relegated to a mostly passive role. Vorshak the base commander does little more than act dense, threaten the Doctor, and finally die. And since he’s the example of a human from this era we see most often, I think it’s arguable that if he’d been better written, or performed by an outstanding actor rather than a wooden one, it would have gone a long way to save this story. We’d have had a reason to care if the earth goes boom. Even the Silurians spend the entire story reaching the bridge, then just swagger around and absolutely refuse to change their minds about provoking war.
As the Doctor, Davison is absolute class, he’s like someone desperately trying to bail out a rowboat. After the death of Adric he’s willing to literally pounce on anyone about to go after his companions, and starts a scrap with some guards at the end of episode one. But everyone else seems to have decided they’re in a crap story. Even Janet Fielding as Tegan delivers a line to the Doctor about how billions could die as though she’s mildly annoyed. It’s a shame, because I don’t think every Doctor Who story tackled something like this, and perhaps it’s because fans can see the heights the story aspired to that they’re so frustrated and attack it with such venom. I love the idea of the Silurians employing the Myrka, a giant plodding organic creature, as their main weapon. And the idea they need send nothing more than the equivalent of a horse to wipe out most of the human population does suggest that they have fairly amazing powers we’ve not seen, and add to the tragedy of it all. Yes, I think it’s simultaneously a flawed production and a flawed script, but it’s still worthy Doctor Who. Finally, I think this story is an excellent candidate for a special edition on DVD, with perhaps darker corridors, and a Myrka that has an unearthly glow and throws off the occasional bolt of electricity, not just a bright flash when it sends people to the other side. I write this quietly and desperately knowing that I shouldn’t care about such things, but I do.
In an attempt to vent some frustration, (I’m feeling slightly down at the moment) I come to review the utter, utter crap that Warriors of the Deep is.
I say utter, the script is actually adequate. That is that the ideas and plot are adequate. The dialogue is shite. It could have been the next Earthshock. At least if it had a semblance of the atmosphere conveyed by Earthshock it might become somewhere near tolerable.
The problem is that in every way Warriors of the Deep appears on screen, it fails. The re-dressed Silurians and Sea Devils look truly, truly dreadful. The Sea Devils have been hibernating for many years but it looks like they’ve slept badly and awoke with pains in their necks. Why the f*** else would they walk around with their cheeks touching their shoulders? I don’t want to mention the Silurians’ voices but feel obliged to point out their particular crappness too.
The acting is terrible. In every way. The regulars put in admirable performances but their jokes fall flat. “What have you been eating?” Oh tee hee, my aching sides! Davison in particular acts his heart out but with crap lines can you be anything other than crap? Mark Strickson does the best with his script but it’s a shame Turlough has suddenly become a heroic, gun-toking Prince Charming as opposed to the unlovable coward he usually is. Tegan is as Tegan as ever. Enough said.
All the guest cast make me fume. Ginger tosser annoys me. What a completely inept character he is. One finds it difficult to feel sorry for this young idiot, when really we should be. Ingrid Pitt is equally diabolical. She exudes little to no menace whatsoever and her kung-fu with the Myrka is perhaps the definition of unforgivable.
Ah, yes, the Myrka. Well a pantomime horse was always destined to fail but did it have to fail so acceptingly awfully? Could no-one have said “Guys, shall we turn the lights down?” No. Obviously not. In fact, everyone involved in the production decide “Let’s paint all the walls bright white and shower the sets with light before letting an unconvincing rubber pantomime horse stagger about like a drunkard and ask our audience to take it seriously.” Well, in the words of Blackadder there was only one thing wrong with their plan…it was bollocks.
I want to stop writing this. I really want to. The story isn’t even ‘so bad it’s good.’ It’s beyond that. It’s dire, dire television and god-awful Doctor Who. To think that this was a season-opener too! Jeese-Louise! My heart bleeds!
I can see why Eric Saward commissioned it. On paper one can imagine how magnificent it could have looked, but the end result…
Too awful to even waste another word on …
I have now decided, after a particularly fine weekend with my best friend and fellow Who-nut Matthew, that I have been far, far too kind to this story in the past. We sat through four episodes of excruciating agony, Matt finding much more positive things to say than I, and I have rarely been as bored watching television as I was during this sleep-fest.
People blame the production for the generally poor reputation but the script doesn’t do the story many favours either. Taking the show as a whole it takes simply ages for anything to happen, the Sea Devils aren’t woken up until the end of episode one, the invasion of the Sea Base doesn’t start until the end of episode two and it takes a full one hundred minutes before the reunited reptilian forces enter the action and serve a decent plot purpose. Some might say that this is deliberate plot pacing, spacing out the juicy stuff so the third (often the most criticized instalment) and fourth episodes aren’t left to pad out the tale but as a result of this slow moving plot the story seems to drag on and on and on…
The ideas are serviceable; I can see some merit in uniting the Sea Devils and the Silurians and for them to attack the humans in response to atrocities commited against their respective races in the past. It does effectively link the two species in a way that was only hinted at in their debut stories and pairing them up does give them both a ‘hook’ (the Silurians are the brains of the operation and the Sea Devils are the brawn). However, this is the ninth story in a row to heavily involve continuity from the past and it does start to feel like overkill. Maybe its having both species back in one story or maybe its because JNT decided to heavily redesign the creatures and gets it all wrong.
Even the Sea Base is a nice idea, during a time of international crisis, a weapons station with missiles ready to launch should the political situation become untenable. You can just imagine a really good film coming from these ideas, huge sea monsters, a base falling to pieces, traitors aboard and possible Armageddon. It could have been really tense. So can somebody explain to me why this story is so tedious? Is it the sub standard performances? The weak direction? The tacky score? The terrible special FX? The diabolical dialogue? No my friends, it pains me to inform you that it is all of the above. Oh and it has Tegan and Turlough in it. Just to rub salt into the wound.
For a start I cannot understand why JNT had to completely redesign the Sea Devils and the Silurians. I know I was whinging in Arc of Infinity that he DIDN’T redesign Gallifrey but that was a planet in serious need of a paint job. The original designs for both these monsters was fine but here they look ridiculous, oh so cumbersome and walk so bloody slowly it takes them five minutes to get from end of the set to another. The Sea Devils are supposed to have this Samurai feel to enhance their soldgier-like appearance but their strange spiky collars have the unfortunate effect of drawing to the attention their lack of facial movement. They look dreadfully static lumbering about the corridors of the Sea Base and both races talk rea…lly…slo…wly, which makes them appear even more leisurely. Its no wonder it takes them so long to get involved, they drag themselves along like geriatrics to a bingo hall. It doesn’t help when the central threat is so…unthreatening.
Next up…the Sea Base. Instead of a rusting, creaking, echoey castle of doom we get an airy, bright, sterile looking palace. It’s not the most inspiring settings for this tale of nightmarish monsters especially when the blinding lights continually expose the creatures deficiencies. Plus I saw three sets wobble during the story, hate to join the ranks but there were consoles, walls and doors threatening topple. Even when the Sea Base is in darkness it refuses to hide away any of production mistakes. There are lots of good places to shoot the story with, up stairs, in between storage crates, through grates, around corners…instead poisonous director Pennant Roberts decides to opt for a lifeless point and shoot approach, constantly using long shots to expose large sets when a more intimate, cramped approach would have helped. Script wise this story is no better than say, Seeds of Death with a similar low budget feel but look how well Michael Ferguson managed to disguise that money loss through his thoughtful and dynamic direction.
Can I just put one thing to rest please? How you anal fifth Doctor fans (and please feel free to call me an anal sixth Doctor fan, as I am!) justify his approach to the Sea Base staff is astonishing! Yes he does hand over his gun to suggest his peaceful intentions but only after he has ran away from their security force and beaten up two of them after they tried to approach him. Hmm, yeah what a pacifist. Tegan is screaming, “Doctor!” in disgust as he is thrown over a precipice when he started the damn fight! The only time he approaches them in an orderly fashion is when he has a gun in his hand. Rob Matthews is right, he is a coward, his ‘principles’ abandoning him until he is in a position of power.
There is an attempt to dramatise the story by having the fifth Doctor take a very moralistic approach, condemning the humans for trying to wipe out the pesky lizards that are trying to take over their nuclear base. His scorn is twisted and senseless, the Silurians and Sea Devils have invaded the Sea Base, sent in their bloody great monster before them to kill as many people as possible to achieve their position on the bridge and he thinks they shouldn’t fight back? Huh? Negotiate with these homicidal nasties when their methods have wiped out half the crew? On your bike mister! I could understand insulting both sides of this conflict (much as the third Doctor did in the Silurians) but the Doctor takes a very lizard-friendly attitude which given the plot seems hard to agree with. His later “there should have been another way!” that apparently climaxes the story on a thoughtful note would be a damn sight more effective if his principles had kicked in earlier (he himself puts the Myrka out of action!). As ever the writers don’t seem to know what direction to take this tricky incarnation into and Davison plays it every which way, pretty effectively it has to be said, his anger towards the humans and despair at the end is very palpable but the writing just doesn’t match the consistency in quality of his performance. Story of the fifth Doctor’s life really.
The Myrka, ahh the dear old Myrka, so astonishing it deserved a second story (the rather wonderful Bloodtide!). I hate to admit this but when the Myrka is on screen was one of the few times I was genuinely entertained during this story, this lumbering, groaning beast, clearly unfinished and awkwardly pawing his way through the base is quite a vivid image. So vivid Michael Grade decided the show was a budget-less exercise in science-craption and seemed to think that every story contained a Myrka of some sort, leading to the snowballing decision to cancel the show. Its really, really bad but excusable in the same way that The Chase and Time and the Rani is, so utterly inadequate you want to weep but you laugh your head instead (or else you would commit yourself to a mental asylum for enjoying this garbage). You think nothing could be worse than the Myrka bursting through the airlock door which turns out to be a mattress that flattens dear old Tegan but then Doctor Solow receives her long overdue death scene by attempting a bizarre techno-karate move on the creature and is buzzed to death. Oh I know which scene that would turn up on Ingrid Pitt’s before they were famous…
I spent far too long pointing out the obvious mistakes of Warriors of the Deep…so I might as well continue. Hexachromite (I fear I might have spelt that wrong) and therefore the denouement are revealed in the first episode. Tegan and Turlough do sod all which seems to be their purpose in much of their scripts. The corridor wandering is endless. Continuity is royally fluffed up when the Doctor claims he has met the Silurian leader before (if it is an unmentioned story there is no indications of it). The apparent bravery of not mentioning what the two Earth power blocks are lacks resonance, it would have been braver TO name the two blocks and face the consequences (and besides when one character says “the power block opposed to this base” it becomes really obvious they are skirting around the issue!). The fact that this is the opening story to a season that is hardly a ratings spectacular is understandable. Oh and the guest acting ranges from the mildly awful to the diabolically unwatchable.
I find it insulting that Doctor Who could produce something this bad in its twilight years and that we should be expected to enjoy it. Season Twenty-One is a real mixed bag of the generic and the magical and Warriors of the Deep kick starts the year in the worst of ways, its classic Michael Grade fuel and proof to those ‘only telly Doctor Who counts’ that their legacy wasn’t so perfect. I have never read a book or listened to a CD that has made me this embarrassed to be a Doctor Who fan.