Oh my word. There is so much to say about this episode of my old favourite Doctor Who
... it was so anticipated following the trailer at the end of the previous episode which revealed that the Sea Devils - last seen in 1984 and before that in 1972 were coming back! The visuals in the trailer which then appeared were spectacular too ... but we've been here before: the show looks great, but disappointed in the plotting ... what would 'Legend of the Sea Devils' bring ...
Okay ... I think it was Russell T Davies who said, or expressed the view, that if you were writing a Doctor Who and you came across something in your story/plot which could be filled with something from the show's past, then why not use it. Better to use it, even, than to invent something 'new' but which was, in actuality, exactly the same. I think this was how the Macra came to be involved in the 'Gridlock' story. It seems that current showrunner Chris Chibnall both understands, but fails to understand this approach.
|Original Sea Devils, 1972|
He brings back the Sea Devils, great idea! But then changes several key elements of their heritage. (No real surprise here as the show has consistently, in its modern incarnation, reinvented and changed classic monsters from the past - I'm thinking Cybermen, Silurians, Zygons, Ice Warriors - and most often not for the better. In fact, even a modern monster - the Weeping Angels - were consistently evolved by their creator into something which their original 'incarnation' was never said to be ... so this 'development' for want of a better word, happens all the time. Oddly, though, Chibnall's take on the Sontarans in the Flux
series was miles better and closer to the original idea and ethos of the creatures than anything previously in the modern series.)
For a start, these Sea Devils ... why are they called Sea Devils? That name came from a (probably) drunk, (definitely) shell-shocked rig watchman in the middle of the sea, when asked by the Doctor who had attacked and killed his friend. This is something that we might call 'Ice Warrior Syndrome' as they too were called that by a scientist upon discovering one buried in the ice. It's not their name! Ice Warriors are actually Martians! Sea Devils are what ...? We've actually never been told, although the Doctor claimed that the Silurians (a land 'cousin' of the Sea Devils) should have been called Eocenes as they came from that period of the Earth's history, and not the Silurian era (amusingly it is the Doctor himself who first uses the term Silurian to refer to them) ... At best they would perhaps be called Earthlings as they all come from Earth ... Modern humanity should then perhaps be called Holocians? As we live in the Holocene era ...
Anyway ... for the purposes of writing about them, I'm going with the flow and calling them Sea Devils as well.
These are Sea Devils from 1533 ... and possibly earlier. There's no information given as to how long they had been around and active. Again, from the earlier story, and with no background given in this one, the Sea Devils (and Silurians) put themselves into hibernation when the Moon, as a rogue asteroid/planetoid was thought about to crash into the Earth. It didn't and went into orbit instead (note that this is 'Who' history and bears no resemblance to real life history!), and the hibernation chambers then failed to wake the creatures. They eventually woke when disturbed by humanity's explorations of the sea bed and underground digging ... Potentially not something that was happening in 1533! So it's not explained why the Sea Devils were active, or even what they were doing in 1533 ... presumably trying to change the Earth's poles to create climate instability and to flood the place so they could take over again ...
And then we have the issue with the Sea Devils - the technology they have in 1533 (or that this particular group of them have) is at odds with what we had previously seen. In the past they used hand-held heat weapons to burn the undersides of boats, to burn through walls and to kill people ... The Silurians had a third 'eye' which was used to manipulate machinery, operate controls, and also to kill others. (It also seemed to be a flashing indicator of speech in 1984, but lets gloss over that!). In this story, however, the Sea Devils seem to have some sort of teleport ability, and gravity-nulling control (their ship can fly through the air! And they can leap enormous distances unaided). They also have electric cutlassses with the same blue light threaded through them - a little like light sabres I suppose. They also use something called Hexotoxic poisoning - something the Doctor claims is a Sea Devil weapon - except that we've never seen them use it before. It sounds like someone remembered that in 'Warriors of the Deep' the humans used Hexachromite gas to kill the invading Silurians ... but that wasn't a Silurian/Sea Devil weapon, it just happened to be on the seabase. But they remembered it wrong and thought that the gas was
supplied by the invading reptiles. No idea. They also have a blue device on their tunics which flashes when they speak. No idea why as it does this even when Sea Devil talks to Sea Devil ... maybe the race just likes to have things which flash when they speak.
Their control centre seems powered by some sort of green liquid, and then there's this gemstone which will reverse the magnetic fields of the planet ... not sure how it does that! And where did such a gem come from in the first place? The Doctor says it's Sea Devil technology ... They can also put a human into temporal stasis for hundreds of years, and then thaw him out apparently unscathed. This is at least in line with their being able to hibernate and revive themselves ... or would be if they were not reptiles and so actually able
to hibernate and come back to life. Something that cold blooded creatures can do, but mammals would have a hard job achieving. But I guess we could assume that their equipment works on both reptile and human ... that is if they didn't treat mammals with disdain and as totally inferior - so why develop and test the tech to hibernate them as well?
|The Myrka, 1984|
So they've brought back an old, well-remembered monster from the show. Costumier Ray Holman and Monster-Maker Rob Allsopp made them look amazing! And they do! From the animatronic/CGI heads, to their amazing pirate costumes they are brilliant! They even managed to get the voices almost right too ... just a touch more sibilance and they would have been perfect! They even sampled the Sea Devil 'death scream' from the original 1972 story for when they were killed. A lovely touch. But they changed all the tech, and gave them little motivation to be doing what they did.
And then there's their 'creature', the huge and brilliantly realised Huasen, which emerges from the sea and attacks everything it encounters! Now ... in 1984 the Silurians/Sea Devils had a sea monster called the Myrka - which, frankly, was dreadfully realised, looking more like a bright green pantomime horse than any viable threat. So why not call this new sea monster a Myrka? It's back to that original comment that if you have something which could be from a past story, then why not use it?
So ... we have our monster ... the plot. however, is a little all over the place. In 1807 a pirate captain called Madame Ching (Crystal Yu) follows a map to find a giant statue of a Sea Devil which is protected by a man, Ying Wai (David Tse), and his son, Ying Ki (Marlowe Chan-Reeves). She hits at it with a sword until a gem falls off. This gem had trapped the Sea Devil Leader, Marsissus (Craige Els), in stone for hundreds of years ... and now he comes back to life and goes on the rampage, summoning other Sea Devils to attack the village. The Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and 'fam' (I hate that term) (Dan: John Bishop, Yas: Mandip Gill) arrive, hear the screams from the village, and go to help. They trap Marsissus in a net, but he escapes and summons his ship (still there after 274 odd years) which flies in on the air ...
And the Doctor utters the phrase which probably got this story commissioned: Pirate Sea Devils in 19th Century China!
So Madame Ching is looking for the lost treasure of the Flor de Mar, a ship which sank in 1533 ... she wants it to pay a ransom on her sons who have been captured by other pirates. But no-one knows where the wreck is ...
So the Doctor and Yas head back in the TARDIS to 1533 to find out. They discover that the ship was attacked by Sea Devils and sunk - so they know where it is. However, returning to 1807, and it's nowhere to be seen on the sea bed. But then the sea bed falls away and the TARDIS is apparently swallowed by the Huasen which emerges from the revealed cavern.
The Doctor and Yas are now, suddenly and inexplicably in the Sea Devil base. So where is it? Inside the Huasen? No idea. But the Sea Devils have the captain of the Flor de Mar,
Ji-Hun (Arthur Lee), captive in stasis, as well as the TARDIS. It seems that these powers come from the gem - to freeze light and time, and to transport matter - which the Doctor says is Sea Devil technology. See my earlier comments! And IF these powers all come from the gem, then how could Marsissus teleport and fly and whatever without it earlier on in the story?
The Sea Devils' ship heads for the surface when the Doctor activates some lever to make it do that, and inexplicably they escape and swing over to Ching's ship, where Dan and Ying Ki have been roped in as crew. Not sure how they escaped from the Sea Devils though ... the missing jewel is around Ying Ki's neck, so Marsissus appears and takes it - he wants to use it to change the Earth's magnetic field and melt the ice caps! But suddenly there are Sea Devils climbing up the outside of Ching's ship ... and they all fight. The Sea Devil ship returns underwater with the Doctor as she intends to destroy it ... and she's also angsting about Ji-Hun killing Marsissus - what about all the other hundreds of Sea Devils that the six of them fought off and killed, without a scratch to any of them!
Anyway, so the Doctor engineers an implosion/explosion sort of thing, but inexplicably for it to work, two cables need to be held together, so she tells Yas to get out! But Ji-Hun is there and he insists on making the sacrifice himself. So the others all head back to the beach before the ship explodes, presumably killing all the remaining Sea Devils on it as well as Ji-Hun - the Doctor doesn't seem so upset about this. She's too busy leading Yas on and making provocative statements about loving their time together and wanting it to last forever ... wasn't that what Rose said to the Doctor in 'New Earth'?
ROSE: It's beautiful. Oh, I love this. Can I just say, travelling with
you, I love it.
DOCTOR: Me too. Come on.
My overwhelming feeling having watched the episode twice now, was that it improved on the second watching as you knew which bits to try and listen to for explanations ... the sound mix is awful and the effects and music often drown out key pieces of dialogue, especially from the Doctor as she tends to gabble, her accent also getting in the way of understanding what she's saying.
|The Doctor, Yas and Dan meet Madame Ching|
However, it felt to me more like watching an extended trailer for a story rather than the story itself. Director Haolu Wang uses a lot of fast cuts between scenes with material missing which make you wonder what happened. Like one moment the Doctor and 'fam' are on the beach, they hear screaming coming from the village, and the next scene, Marsissus is caught in a net trap engineered and set and sprung by the Doctor and 'fam' ... there's a lot of this short-cutting in the episode, leaving out explanations of how and why in favour of action and movement ... which is fine, but you end up not really caring any more, as if the script can't be bothered to explain things, then why should you worry about it too ...
I wonder about Marsissus and his Sea Devil pals. He presumably vanished back in 1533 when he was turned to stone and displayed at the village (and why was the statue giant-sized and holding a tiny human in its hand?) ... so what happened to the other Sea Devils? Are they all just incredibly long-lived and so sat around in their underwater lair, twiddling their fins, waiting for their boss to come back. Why didn't they slaughter the village in 1533 and take their leader back? And when Marsissus is revived in 1807, how come all the Sea Devils are suddenly there to take commands and attack and whatever ... are these new Sea Devils? Or the same as before? Where have they been hiding? Why haven't they been attacking and generally pirating while their boss was away ... and no other Sea Devil became the boss? No-one took charge and decided what to do?
There's other elements too which make little sense. At the start, the Doctor's earring is affected by magnetic fields out at sea - which can also apparently make rocks bounce off it ... so is her earring made of iron, nickel or cobalt? Surely it would be made from silver or platinum, neither of which are magnetic (but then neither are rocks) ... and if it affected anything, then why weren't all the things on shore drawn to it - why just her earring ... why not Dan's hook hand, or his metal trouser fly, or buttons, or anything made of a magnetic metal really ... It doesn't stand up to any scrutiny at all.
This theme continues with things happening which you just have to roll with ... yes it's all exciting and looks amazing, and the music is great ... but you need a good plot to weld it all together ... and this is something that Chibnall and his writers (this episode is co-written with Ella Road) seem to consistently miss. I have to say though, that as the Whittaker era has progressed, things have slowly improved in the plotting department. Her first season was pretty woeful, but improved in the second, Flux showed a lot of promise, but they totally dropped the ball on most of it at the very end. And now we have 'Legend of the Sea Devils' which actually has no apparent Legend in it ...
I can't even hand on heart say that it's some new modern way of storytelling, as series after series of other shows prove that you can tell emotional and exciting stories in a 45 minute format ... that you can care about characters and plot, and make it all work ... it's just Doctor Who which seems to muff it every time and lose sight of the importance of plot and character over flashbangwallop.
Finally ... and yes this has gone on a bit ... when fans are more excited over the trailer for the next episode, than the episode you've just seen, then it must be obvious that something is not working ...
And a CODA: people commenting that I didn't like it ... well strangely I did enjoy it ... faults and all it rushed past in a manic panic ... visually stunning, some great performances, loved ALL the costumes and sets ... it's just that darned annoying thing called a plot that was lacking!!!