Warriors of the Deep

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.

Review by Tom Prankerd


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