Monday, 19 October 2009

Doctor Who: Warriors of the Deep

Part One

“It’s lethal to marine and reptile life.”

My initial impressions are, firstly, “Johnny Byrne again! Nooo!” and, secondly, that I can actually remember when this first went out on its initial transmission. I was six. I distinctly remember rushing home from swimming lessons in time for episode two.

The early scenes give us a very white looking underwater base which, for all the criticisms of its being overlit, is actually quite effective; its harsh industrial quality gives the story loads of atmosphere just as well or better than the dark corridors of Earthshock. We also meet the Silurians early on- they’re back! Their glowing lights and metallic voices are an annoyingly pointless change from their original appearance, but they certainly both look and sound good. I just wish they didn’t keep dumping us with expository dialogue too obviously there for the viewers’ benefit: “For hundreds of years, our Sea Devil brothers have remained entombed.”

The TARDIS still looks new and shiny, Turlough is still a bit sneaky and the Doctor still seems to doubt he’s really all that brave. The TARDIS computer screens seem to have progressed from a BBC Micro to an Acorn Electron, too. Oh, and Tegan has changed her clothes again. Neither of the other two has bothered though.

There’s lots of intrigue on the seabase, with Maddox the nervous young bloke and obvious skulduggery underfoot with Solow (Ingrid Pitt!) and Nilson. It’s 2084, there’s a cold war underway and it’s all shaping up to be a good old-fashioned base under siege, except with a base commander who seems an unusually sensible chap. He’s a bit hard-boiled, perhaps, but not excessively so considering Eric Saward’s still script editor. I know this story’s not much liked, but I’m rather enjoying this.

Crikey, the Doctor points out the hexachromite gas. I’m sure there must be a reason for that scene. I wonder what it is?

The cliffhanger’s a bit naff (although the portrayal of Turlough as still a bit unheroic is a nice touch) but at least the Doctor acquits himself well in a fight, almost to Pertwee standards, in fact. I’ve been watching these stories with BlueLionSven’s “putz factor” in mind, and usually I tend to find it pretty high, but this story for the first time seems to show Davison’s Doctor with pretty much no more putz qualities than his predecessors had. Is this going to be part of a trend?

Part Two

“Oh dear. It’s the Myrka.”

This is still pretty good, And actually quite exciting. Plus we finally get to see the Sea Devils again, who look so much cooler in their new samurai outfits than those crappy old string vests. Apparently this Icthar bloke is the sole surviving member of some Silurian “Triad” which we’ve never heard of before. Oh, and I love the darker, green-tinged lighting in the Silurians’ base, which makes a nice contrast from the equally harsh whiteness of the humans’ domain.

There’s some suspicion of the TARDISeers on behalf of the occupants of the Seabase, but this is understandable given their political situation and is never allowed to become annoying, playing out as it does entirely through action. As soon as the TARDISeers come to become interrogated, the TARDIS is immediately found to corroborate their story, getting the potentially tiresome suspicions out of the way in a plausible manner so the actual base under siege stuff can actually start. That’s actually very good writing. From Johnny Byrne. Who’d have thunk it?

The Silurians attack, and the Doctor recaps his stuff from back when he was Jon Pertwee about the Silurians being an “honourable” race who only want to “live in peace”. Except that in this story they’re, er, not. Of which more in episode four.

We finish with the Myrka, which is indeed probably the worst monster in all of Doctor Who ever. But I’m still not going to let one bad monster spoil my enjoyment of a story which I’m finding surprisingly good.

Part Three

“The Myrka has been destroyed!”

An exciting episode of pretty much non-stop action begins with Turlough pulling a gun on the seabase personnel to save the Doctor and Tegan. This is a good moment for him and good development of the character, an example of how his default cowardly nature can be overridden by his basic decency. There’s also a nice moment for the commander afterwards, who responds pretty calmly by simply getting Turlough to help defend the bulkhead he’s endangered. No commander of a base under siege would have been so reasonable back in Season Five!

Solow’s death by karate kick provides a bit of comic relief, reminding me of how serious this story is. I think it works without humour just this once, though. The Davison era so far has been a bit humour-lite for my taste, but for this story at least the seriousness works.

Part Four

“You’ll get no help from me, Silurian!”

Turlough prepares to escape by means of, er, a ventilation shaft. Naturally. Clichés- helping Doctor Who stories out of plot difficulties since 1963.

So, the Doctor’s apparently met Icthar before. It’s clearly supposed to have been during Doctor Who and the Silurians, as dialogue indicates the Silurians / Sea Devils have only awoken twice before, but this can’t be the Old Silurian, as he died, and it can’t be the Young Silurian as his personality doesn’t fit. I can only assume there was another Silurian the Doctor only ever encountered off-screen.

It’s a nice touch once again for Turlough that he wants to just return to the TARDIS but is shamed into helping. This kind of genuine struggle of conscience is making him a very interesting character.

The Silurians are by now taking about outright genocide of humanity, speaking of a “final solution”. Yet the Doctor is still upset at the thought of killing them, and behaving as though there were some sort of moral equivalence between them and the humans. But this is utter pants. Unlike previous stories the Silurians want to cause the genocide of all humanity, while the humans merely want to eliminate those specific Silurians proposing to annihilate them, none of whom are civilians. Seems pretty clear-cut to me.

Still, this is a well-paced and exciting final episode, and the ending is effective, with the TARDISeers surrounded by corpses and the Doctor opining that “There should have been another way.”

Surprisingly good, a solid 4/5. An exciting, action-packed base under siege which stands up surprisingly well to its Troughton era predecessors.

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