Warriors of the Deep

Written by:
Johnny Byrne
Directed by: Pennant Roberts
Starring: Peter Davison
Year: 1984
Video Availability: Try sendit.com

A nondescript season opener and possessing far more than its share of dodgy moments, Warriors of the Deep is nevertheless unfairly maligned by fans of the series.

The story sees Peter with his shortest-ever haircut in the lead role, some vaguely interesting and thoughtful angles being picked out by the underrated Pennant Roberts in direction. The modelwork for the underwater sequences are well above standard for any period of Who, and if the lighting is too bright on the seabase… well, it might not be dramatic, but it is logical. This is a high-tech military installation, after all.

Okay, the Silurians (crap voices) might just be identikit monsters of the week ("Excellent!" - isn't that the Cyberleader's catchphrase?) and one of them bumps into the scenery less than five minutes in, but this isn't really so bad. I also admit that the majority of the guest cast are lame. Worst offender is Nitza Saul, who fared better playing an Arabic stereotype in Star Cops. Actually, let's not single one out - they're all crap. But take pity on the poor buggers - could you say "If your conscience bothers you, lock it away in a strong box until our task is completed" and sound convincing?

One curious thing about season 21 is that it introduces a never referred to before or since (correct me if I'm wrong) time limitation for the Doctor. He's not allowed to travel too far into Earth's future (which seems odd as it'd still be the past from his point of view, wouldn't it?), a fact expanded on to greater lengths in Frontios. Also on the subject of continuity, this sees a violent act from the fifth Doctor, largely mistaken as one of the most passive. I once compiled a list that saw him blowing Cybermen and Daleks to bits, and attacking villagers all over the shop. Yet none seem as violent as the Doctor hitting two men and then kicking one in the face. Whatever happened to "My name's the Doctor and this is…?"

Most famously, the story gives away the resolution right in the first episode with the Hexachromite ("Lethal to marine and reptile life."), though it fares better by no longer being as relevant in this post-Cold War age. Without the sickening use of topicality Warriors of the Deep can stand or fall as a story in its own right, and just about manages to hold its own as hokey, throwaway Who.
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I admit that the vast majority of times I saw this I found it exceptionally tedious, but the last couple I've grown to enjoy it more. The somewhat bland Tardis line-up and listless performances don't exactly clock up the attention rate, but again what I'm campaigning for here is not for you to see Warriors as a classic, but just as an "okay" story.

I know I said I wouldn't single anyone out, but isn't Ingrid Pitt horrendous as Solow? As I said though, I'm having trouble finding a single guest cast member who's actually up to the job. Still, it's the law of averages - there's only so many names in the acting genepool, and if a story can manage to have completely successful actors in its line-up, then the odds have to be that there's a story with an all-star cast of cack. This is the one, though it doesn't spoil the mediocre thrills this one can offer if you buy into it.

There's some underwater filming that's mildly ruined by Davison appearing to have a turd on his shoe, and some "doesn't go anywhere, Saward probably thought it sounded 'street' and cool" humour where the Doctor claims a Base worker has smelly breath.

Turlough and Tegan spend most of the episode running up and down, and it has to be said that Turlough's screwy characterisation fits uneasily within the Who format. On the one hand he doesn't seem to give a damn that the Doctor's drowned, yet he's being all heroic and calling out "save yourself!" to Tegan. He's being torn between what a companion should be and what Turlough actually is, and living up to neither. Although he had some good moments in Planet of Fire, Turlough only really worked in three of his ten stories. Such a great waste.

Anyway, this is of course the story to sequel both Doctor Who and the Silurians and The Sea Devils, recrafting the Sea Devils as the bitches of the Silurians and looking like they've swallowed a testicle that's got stuck underneath their chins. Far more galling is the Doctor forgetting to lock the Tardis door after all these years, and the general gung-ho style that means no one has a real conversation but just says their lines at each other. As a result there's no real fixed point of reference, no charm, no emotional involvement. But I still say - it ain't that bad.
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Unfortunately the Myrka is one of the first things on the list when they show clips to take the piss out of Doctor Who. When Michael Grade went on sporadically amusing quiz/chat hybrid Room 101 and suggested the series for banishment it was the one they used as prosecution evidence. But am I alone in saying that as shit as it undoubtedly is, that it's bearable? After all, the poor sod only clomps on for five or six minutes, get it in perspective. That Ingrid Pitt karate kick though… if there were justice we'd only see that as a part of a DVD "deleted scenes" extra.

To be honest, the badly staged fight scene with Turlough and the guard is more painful to watch than the Myrka. Pathetic monsters are part and parcel of Who, badly staged and unconvincing action shots necessarily aren't. That said, because of who Turlough is, having him turn into a gun-toting nutter isn't as much of a stretch as it would be with other companions. Even more worrying is the continuity, which seems the Silurians (now apparently named after nasal decongestants) known to the Doctor as a triad - he even knows about the Myrka. How? I'm all for imagining unseen stories, but this one seems to be a direct follow-on from their first appearance, with no suggestion otherwise. Plus, quite obviously, having their third eye as an indicator light isn't a good thing.

It's a weird story, when you think about it. It wants to be part of the gang, part of Eric Saward's new "all out action" extravaganzas. However, the plot is based around the political machinations of the crew, and slow and gradual build-up… a traditional Who story, in other words. So to counteract this we just get people running down corridors a bit quicker and someone occasionally saying something macho just to try and fit the part. ("Your usefulness is at an end!")

Perhaps where it really fails (because it's not a success) is in removing the setting that made both creatures so successful in the first place. By having a futuristic society (and despite foam bulkheads, digital watches and colour televisions, it's one of the better realised landscapes in Who) it removes any sense of realism for them to encounter. Instead we've got SF monsters battling it out against SF humans with no real frame of reference. This is clearly an instalment of below average worth, though having just seen the karate scene again - a scene which defies all logic, be it dramatic, motivation or aesthetic, that it alone accounts for a star off the final score:
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With a lot of Doctor Who stories of this season the "it'll do" attitude seems to come through. You can tell by the performances (and the way Peter occasionally stumbles on a line) that they were running against the clock, and this is exemplified by the Sea Devil with a wonky helmet on. Make sure it's on straight before you start filming? Perish the thought. Mind you, the Silurians look like they're smiling so it hardly matters. That's the problem with a story like this - not only does it have is own standards to uphold, but it also has the legacy of two earlier stories to maintain.

"Where there's life there's hope." Davison fans probably find that really touching, but it's cornball stuff, straight out of an episode of Friends or summat. And if we're going to nit-pick, then why does the Doctor call Pertwee an earlier "regeneration"? Surely regeneration is the act of changing his body, not the body itself? Okay, okay, it doesn't really matter in the slightest, but it just bugs me, that's all. Christ, have you seen the Sea Devils's feet? I hadn't noticed those buggers before, great big foam clodhoppers they are.

The "should have been another way" line is much praised, but it's symptomatic of why the Saward idea of Doctor Who doesn't work. It doesn't come across as a saddened, meaningful line but rather a glib statement after all the overkill. As with Resurrection of the Daleks, when the body count clocks up as a departmental requirement rather than natural dramatic development then it has no emotional impact. You'll read differently elsewhere, of course, but this is the Anorak talking, you can trust me. A story where a Sea Devil dies by having snot pouring out of its eyes is not a great thing, and no amount of cod philosophising can save it.

Read my overall verdict below and I think you'll agree it's very, very fair. Yet originally the stars that followed it clocked up to an average three. Maybe it was the Silurian with a similar voice modulator to the Kandyman, maybe it was Davison saving the day by sitting in a chair with a red light on his face, or maybe it was the crass way Turlough kills a Silurian in cold blood. But whatever it was, I'm afraid on reflection I just couldn't be that generous. "They're all dead, you know." Course they are, you ginger git - you just blew the f***ing guts out of one of 'em, what do you expect?
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No one's ever going to claim this is a classic Doctor Who story, and certainly it isn't. There are huge problems with it on almost every level, and there have been times I've hated it. Yet while this is a Doctor Who story I'd never recommend showing to anyone who isn't a fan, it does reach levels of adequacy within its own field.
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