Warriors of the DeepBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 2 March 2005 - Reviewed by Alex Boyd

It’s rare in Doctor Who for one of the Doctor’s companions to get the best line. But it’s Turlough in Warriors of the Deep that has a throwaway line that is actually one of the few outstanding ones, asking what it is that makes humans think “a futile gesture is a noble one.” I think this line sums up a worthy effort in the history of the program, even if it is a set of episodes some fans just can’t stand. 

Fans tend to hammer on about how the Silurians or Sea Devils looked wrong or walked too slowly (doesn’t that add menace, to be slow but unstoppable?). And they tend to complain that darker sets would have worked better, and hidden some of the flaws in the design, like a giant foam horse called the Myrka we’re all supposed to be afraid of because it can electrify you on contact. I can really only agree with the second part, that a story about a sea base invasion should have had darker, more claustrophobic sets. But you’d think Doctor Who fans would be used to imperfect sets by now. And while fans, ironically enough, allow mild inconsistencies to ruin their enjoyment of the show, it has to be remembered that most people don’t care. 

Here’s the biggest flaw as I see it: there are too few sympathetic characters. I don’t know what it was about the fifth, and in many ways most civil Doctor, but somehow he was increasingly dropped in situations where he and companions were the only people around that didn’t have closed minds and hostile attitudes. In a story that’s going to leave the viewer with a huge body count, and the Doctor left standing to say “There should have been another way,” (the second best line), the viewer needs a reason why the human race or the invaders should have been saved. The Doctor pays lip service to the idea that the Silurians are an ancient and noble race, but we only see them plodding through corridors killing everything in sight. And among the humans, there are a couple of sympathetic characters (mostly Maddox) but we can’t be said to really get to know them. Writers do this time and time again: introduce characters and fail to give them a single really human idiosyncrasy or memorable characteristic (something that isn’t cliché), then expect viewers to care when they’re killed. We feel for Maddox, as someone young and forced to perform horrible things, but he’s relegated to a mostly passive role. Vorshak the base commander does little more than act dense, threaten the Doctor, and finally die. And since he’s the example of a human from this era we see most often, I think it’s arguable that if he’d been better written, or performed by an outstanding actor rather than a wooden one, it would have gone a long way to save this story. We’d have had a reason to care if the earth goes boom. Even the Silurians spend the entire story reaching the bridge, then just swagger around and absolutely refuse to change their minds about provoking war. 

As the Doctor, Davison is absolute class, he’s like someone desperately trying to bail out a rowboat. After the death of Adric he’s willing to literally pounce on anyone about to go after his companions, and starts a scrap with some guards at the end of episode one. But everyone else seems to have decided they’re in a crap story. Even Janet Fielding as Tegan delivers a line to the Doctor about how billions could die as though she’s mildly annoyed. It’s a shame, because I don’t think every Doctor Who story tackled something like this, and perhaps it’s because fans can see the heights the story aspired to that they’re so frustrated and attack it with such venom. I love the idea of the Silurians employing the Myrka, a giant plodding organic creature, as their main weapon. And the idea they need send nothing more than the equivalent of a horse to wipe out most of the human population does suggest that they have fairly amazing powers we’ve not seen, and add to the tragedy of it all. Yes, I think it’s simultaneously a flawed production and a flawed script, but it’s still worthy Doctor Who. Finally, I think this story is an excellent candidate for a special edition on DVD, with perhaps darker corridors, and a Myrka that has an unearthly glow and throws off the occasional bolt of electricity, not just a bright flash when it sends people to the other side. I write this quietly and desperately knowing that I shouldn’t care about such things, but I do.