Warriors of the Deep

In the years since it was first broadcast, “Warriors of the Deep” has come to be defined by two things: the brightly lit sets and the poorly-realized Myrka. Thanks to those two elements, along with some loose continuity, “Warriors” has come to be seen as a poor story. And that’s unfortunate, because it’s actually a decent story and an enjoyable follow-up to both “The Silurians” and “The Sea Devils”.

The plot is clearly a product of the 80s, reproducing the cold war setting of that era. The setting is a seabase on the ocean floor, where a military crew control control the equivalent of nuclear missiles, ready to fire at a moment’s notice. The military at the base are subjected to surprise missile drills by the base computer, and are unaware of whether the drill is just that or an actual attack until the drill is nearly over, creating a tense atmosphere. The otherwise irrelevant scene with the TARDIS in orbit further demonstrate this global level of tension as the ship is shot down by an orbital satellite with no provocation. It seems clear that the situation on Earth in 2084 is not a good one, with both unnamed power blocs ready to go to war at any time.

The Silurians have chosen this moment to once again attempt to retake Earth for themselves. They intend to invade and capture the seabase and fire the missiles into orbit, setting off a nuclear holocaust on the surface of the Earth which will wipe out the majority of the human population. This is a sound plot, rooted in then-contemporary geopolitics and in the history of the Doctor Who television program. All well and good.

The production does let the story down however, particularly for the long-time fan who is familiar with the original stories containing the Silurians and Sea Devils. Both monsters are redesigned, and while they look decent and resemble the originals, both have problems. The Silurians no longer talk with their ‘mouth’. Rather the third eye flashes in time with their speech, instead of acting as a weapon. The Sea Devils have lost the fins on their head, and their heads never quite sit straight upright, resulting in the sadly comical sight of Sea Devils with their heads lolling to the side as they lumber along. They never move their mouths when they speak either, though one does blink his eyes, which is pretty cool. But the result is monsters that look very static when they speak, when as organic creatures they should be far more animated. The original Silurians were very twitchy and had moving mouths, while the original Sea Devils got around the problem by rarely speaking.

The Myrka is less than convincing as well, and probably deserves the flak it gets. It’s clearly two men in a costume, and while this is no more fake than any other costumed monster in Doctor Who, there’s something about the Myrka that just fails to convince. Again, the static face probably has something to do with it, as do the slow and clumsy movements. It’s no more offensive a special effects failure than the Skarasen in “Terror of the Zygons”, or indeed the dinosaur on “The Silurians”, but it genuinely doesn’t work in execution. Perhaps we see too much of it, as the commentary on the DVD suggests, and quicker cutaway shots would have helped conceal the flaws. I don’t know.

Continuity also presents some difficulties. The Doctor talks up the nobility of the Silurians and how they desire to live in peace, but this does not square up at all with the angry lot of casual killers in “The Silurians”. Only the old Silurian was open to reason, and he was killed by the young Silurian, who then unleashed a plague on humanity, before attempting to destroy the Van Allen belt and fry everyone with solar radiation. The Sea Devils were no better. They sank ships and even lifeboats, and casually slaughter prison guards and navy personnel. Indeed, in “Warriors of the Deep” they slaughter nearly the entire personnel of the sea base and intend to provoke a nuclear war. The Doctor’s belief in their “nobility” flies in the face of the reality that most Silurians are quite comfortable with the idea of genocide against the “ape primitives”. It’s also difficult to reconcile the triad government the Doctor describes with the single ruler seen in “the Silurians”, though I assume Icthar is meant to be the scientist from the original story. It’s odd, because clearly story author Johnny Byrne is familiar with the old serials, but he gets some basic details quite wrong. Or else he just chose to write the Doctor as hopelessly naïve, since the Silurians and Sea Devils actually act very much in character most of the time by slaughtering humans. Their actions conform to those of their predecessors in the original serials, while the Doctor’s description of them is what is inaccurate.

Moving on from the monsters, it has to be said that the uniforms and eye makeup of the sea base personnel are also less than convincing. They don’t look the least bit military. I understand and appreciate the attempt at futuristic clothing, but I really can’t see uniforms evolving in this direction. And the eye shadow is just bizarre. However the sea base itself looks quite good. There’s plenty of detail and not a lot of empty space, and there’s even a ceiling in some of the corridors. The two-tiered reactor room with the lower level water tank looks very nice, even if one of the walls does wobble when the Doctor hits it during the fight. Overall the human side of the design elements does come off better than the monster side. Honestly, despite looking dated 25 years later, which is only to be expected, the setting for the story is reasonably well-realized. So is the underwater model work for the seabed, the sea base and the Silurian battle cruiser.

All of this boils down to a sound story and concept let down somewhat by the visuals, which were also rushed by a surprise election according to the DVD commentary. However the serial is far better than I expected it to be. Having been prepared by years of fan comments to be watching a pretty poor production, I found after viewing “Warriors of the Deep” for the first time in many years that it was quite enjoyable. It has problems, yes, but the story is strong, and the return of the Silurians and Sea Devils is certainly welcome. “Warriors” is hardly one of the greats, but neither is it the failure it’s been made out to be.

Posted in 5th Doctor - Peter Davison

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