Warriors of the DeepBookmark and Share

Friday, 24 March 2006 - Reviewed by Ewen Campion-Clarke

These ape primitives will die as they have lived. In a sea of their own blood.

When I first saw Warriors of the Deep, the fickle finger of fate meant I had seen all the fifth Doctor stories previous and seen Doctor Who and the Silurians. I watched it and, I admit, I cringed. No, not the Myrka - Solow! She's far more embarrassing, looking stupid, talking stupid, acting stupid. I thought when I saw her in The Time Monster, she was trying to do an Atlantean accent. Here she talks like she's got a broken jaw and is hardly wearing something that could distract from her complete lack of talent like she was armed with in her first adventure. I found her attempt to attack the Myrka shockingly believable. Embarrassing, but, yeah, Solow seems stupid enough to try picking a fist-fight with a sea dragon.Warriors is not a bad story. If this was an audio story (bar the Silurian's voices which I concede are crap), it would be highly regarded, so the plot at least is sound and that's always half the battle. The ideas in this story are very impressive. This is a future where the world could end in nuclear war, but there's no hope that an attack could be a mistake. If Sea Base 4 fires its missiles, it isn't because Karina knocked over her coffee and the whole thing's a dreadful mistake. It need a human being plugged into the computer and the Commander's permission before they can even aim their weaponry, so there's no risk of accidents. Yet, at the same time the whole crew are under the thumb of their computer who is so obtuse no one can tell until the last minute whether this is just a drill or the real thing.

The Doctor says that nothing has changed since 1984, and it's hard to disagree. In fact, it's as relevant today as it was, with security and fear of terrorism at its height and the paranoia that it won't be some hairy monster that wants to kill you as an infidel, but rather the friend you've known your whole life. Its exemplified in the scene where Maddox is ordered to strangle Karina to death, Karina who is the closest thing he's got to a girlfriend and the only person who genuinely cares for him as anything other than a glorified modem. It's a scene far more unsettling than any number of monsters firing machine guns at you, especially as you know Maddox doesn't want to do this and has no control over himself.

Of course, he does this because he's being controlled by enemy agents Neilson and Solow who are working for 'the other power bloc' and are not particularly sympathetic. Solow whines in a monotone that she's a doctor and not that good at murder, and Neilson tells her to shut up (not enough, say I), and after that they're evil villains smiling as they betray their colleagues and murder in cold blood. It would easy to say this power bloc is represented as a bunch of camp psychopaths, but the staff of Sea Base 4 aren't shown in a particularly better light. Bulic is a thug, Preston an uptight bitch and Vorshak not much better. He has no people skills, believing that telling a nervous, twitchy intruder will cooperate if told he will be treated 'with honor'. He ignores the Doctor's advice, continually threatens him with death, and is generally unpleasant. His stiff lines like 'You'll get no help from me, Silurian' come across less as bad acting, and more as good acting. Vorshak is trying to sound tough and failing completely. For all his talk of honor, he runs a base that could wipe out a million civilian population centres, plans to execute unarmed prisoners, and is happy to have people have their minds probed. When Solow tells him that Maddox needs 'rebooting' for humanitarian reasons, it's clearly meant to stir emotion in Vorshak. It fails. He shows no concern for Maddox before, during or after as anything other than a firing key.

This fits with comparing and contrasting Vorshak with Icthar, who is similarly planning to trigger mass bloodshed without a care, isn't interested in the welfare of his 'men' and is a boring conversationalist to boot. Although the Silurians and humans aren't characterized very well, they are shown to be mirror opposites to each other, and it all aides the Doctor's position, caught between two races who both think they were here first and are spoiling for a fight. The humans attack the Silurians without cause, but the Silurians keep attacking the humans knowing the 'ape primitives' can't possibly fight them. Vorshak is prepared to die to stop the missiles firing, and Icthar is prepared to die to fire them. As Turlough points out, just because the Silurians as a species are good, it doesn't change the fact the ones on Sea Base 4 are ruthless genocidal maniacs. But so are Preston and Bulic, and you can't tar humanity for their individual prejudice.Earthshock aside, the fifth Doctor's era is a quiet, calm string of adventures when more often than not it's the bad guys who die, if indeed anyone. But this story dumps the Doctor back in the Earthshock world, where monsters kill all humans, humans kill humans, and no one will listen to the weirdo in the police box. The death and destruction around the Cybermen is no longer a one-off any more. Warriors might as well have begun with the TARDIS fallen through a CVE as it lands in a season of bleak stories where good people die and the righteous don't necessarily triumph. It's like the final season of Tom Baker's Doctor, with the Time Lord finding himself in adventures better suited to his sucessor.

But while the fourth Doctor got depressed and broody, the fifth Doctor tries to swim before he sinks. Warriors of the Deep shows him at his most anarchic, aggressive and desperate so far. He sets the base's nuclear reactor to critical - just as a distraction to stop some guards. The Doctor wields guns, wrestles with guards and sets up laser canons in this story, as if the sharp edges of the fifth Doctor are being brought to the surface in this proper base under siege story. But there is also the Doctor's belief that he can sort this out without violence, that if the humans surrender bloodshed can be avoided. He's right, and it's proved when the Sea Devils do not kill Turlough and Bulic when they drop their guns (Icthar insists that as long as the humans insist on fighting, the Sea Devils will fight back - and win). Anyone complaining that the presence of hexachromite makes the plot obvious misses the point. Its so obvious it's almost a sick joke, with the Doctor being told right away he has the means to wipe out his enemies in one go. The Doctor tries to find another way, not using the gas until the last moments of the episode and even then tries to dilute it so as not to kill the invaders. The reason all the Silurians and Sea Devils die is not down to the Doctor, but because Bulic adds another entire canister to the air supply. Like in The Silurians, it's not the Doctor's methods that fail, but his faith in supporting characters. And when his good intentions have come to naught, when he has failed for a third time to make peace and this time not even saved humanity, something cracks in the Doctor, a development that I'll keep an eye on.

Tegan and Turlough are also given a good slice of the action. Tegan is curious about her future, willing to dive into the reactor tanks without a second thought, and open-minded enough to not object to saving the lives of Silurians - when the Doctor growls he's not sure why he likes humanity, it's not hard to see that Tegan (and others like her) is the answer. She cares for the Doctor, but still stays true to her character, rubbishing the Time Lord's plans and Turlough's cowardice, not to mention the priceless moment when she easily opens the door her companions have been struggling to budge for most of a scene.

Turlough also decides to knuckle down and become a companion rather than a passenger for Warriors. The Doctor openly wonders if Turlough is up to it, and the story nicely shows Turlough trying to prove it. While his instant dismissal of the Doctor being dead seems a bit rash, we see him willingly let the guards capture him in order to give Tegan a chance to escape. It's quite clear that Turlough believes the Doctor is dead, and is not happy about it. He doesn't try to sweet-talk Vorshak and the others, but is furious with them for killing his friend and seems on the point of exploding when the commander dryly speculates "the boy seems to be right". Turlough is even willing to pick up a gun, run through a base of hostiles and threaten Neilson with death in order to give Tegan and the Doctor a chance of survival. But his resolve isn't perfect, and we see when he is locked up and given a chance to think, his first thought is to head for the TARDIS and abandon the others. Ultimately, Preston shames him into going back for them, but the fact she succeeds shows that Turlough isn't beyond redemption. He can be very brave, but only if he convinces himself that he has a chance of surviving and success, and his argument that futility and nobility often get mixed up is true. Vorshak believes doing things for honor, Turlough does them because they are the right thing to do.

But all this is looking beneath the surface, something that the harsh lights and green monsters have put off other reviewers.

The easiest way to enjoy Warriors of the Deep is to look at it not as a show crippled by bad design and acting, but a perfect documentary of the plot. It's very funny that way. For example, all the humans are wearing ludicrous amounts of eye shadow and have a large V sewn onto the backs of their uniforms. Now, that's easily explained. When the Doctor says 'nothing has changed' since Tegan's time, he includes the fashion; and I find it very easy to believe that Vorshak had his initial sewn into the uniforms so that everyone on the base knows the name of the commander. Yes, it is true that the story would be more tense and gripping if the lights were turned down but be serious. This is a military base! It was built and designed for people to live and work in at the bottom of the inky depths! The architect was not going 'I know, if I leave a few light bulbs out, it'll get all gloomy and creepy if some ancient reptiles attack!' was he? And considering how gloomy the corridors are, or the how dark the control room gets during missile runs, I think the story's dark and shadowy enough.

I am of the personal belief that seeing monsters during daylight or in brightly lit room is a great move - OK, it might flag up how crap the outfits are, but on a level it makes them more frightening: these things don't just hide in the dark or only come out at night. Hiding in the light won't stop them following you and killing you. Yes, I know this doesn't excuse the Myrka, but look at it this way - yes, the Myrka looks pathetic and ridiculous. So does the duck-billed platypus, but that has a fatal sting and could kill you. The Myrka is lethal and, worse than that, looks stupid. Being killed by a Dalek or a Cybermen is bad, but being killed by the Myrka is truly horrific - imagine having 'killed by scaly pantomime horse' on your tombstone. No wonder the Silurians use them as weapons, the enemies would run a bloody mile. And on paper, it looks good with its long seaweed beard and clear Sea Devil descent. Isn't it brilliant when it comes across Solow and is totally baffled by her? Surely you can sympathize with it as it confusedly mirrors her kung-fu hand gestures as if trying to understand her? Or how it desperately repeats them as the Doctor fries its brain?

But the Myrka has nothing on the Sea Devils. In the original story, these orange (or are they green?) turtle heads in their string vests looked cool, cute and dangerous as they stormed through prisons and blew up life boats and peered into diving bells... Here, they... they... They're not as good. With those silly inflatable shoulder pads and mini-satellite dish guns, there's a definite failure of style there. But the story gives us more than enough clues to explain the Sea Devils' behavior. When Scibus explains that the Sea Devils never revived on schedule but effectively overslept, you have to wonder what this gang of turtles found so interesting as not to leave the bunker. And we see a shot of the window, beyond which is green smoke.

Did Sauvix and his Sea Devils spend the last sixty five million years sharing bongs and giggling? Watch the story and judge for yourself. The Sea Devil's expressions are frozen somewhere between "I'm shober, honest," and "Whooooooaaaaaa!" As Sauvix boasts that his warriors were revived and ready for battle, we see them barely able to stumble in a straight line. One of the Devils spends the entire attack on the Sea Base staring at the ceiling and aiming his gun at it, as if following a very interesting fly. Two more bump into each other in part four, and few can keep their heads from rolling around the place. And none of them can shoot straight! It takes five attempts before they kill the blinded Neilson who is standing right in front of them! Sauvix's wonderfully drunken "Bring forth... ... ...er, the cutting device!" is almost as brilliant as when he stares intently at the scroll Icthar tells him 'study well'.

As a fighting force, their behavior is criminally pathetic. But if we assume the Sea Devils are all incredibly stoned and trying not giggle, their actions make perfect sense.

And this leads me to Scibus, undeniable the most effective and amusing comic relief character in Doctor Who. Forget Mickey, Duggan or that philosophical bloke from Dragonfire, Scibus deserves his own spin-off TV show for the side-splitting antics he has here. I laughed myself hoarse watching this Silurian's antics, which recalled more of Dougal McGuire in Father Ted than a Silurian officer.

Every second line of Icthar seems to be "Excellent, Scibus", which is said sarcastically, patiently, depressed and bored depending on what Scibus does - for example peering into one of those recycled Cybermen guns despite its Tarpok that's supposed to be using them.

When Icthar asks if the Sea Devil chamber is warm enough for the Silurians to enter, Scibus stares blankly at Icthar for a full three seconds, looks at the door, then back at Icthar and says in a very uncertain voice "... No?"

When Icthar tells Scibus to revive the Sea Devils, Scibus turns back to the door control then presses it, then hastily punches the other controls, clearly thinking "Oh, god it's got to be one of these buttons..."

When Icthar introduces Scibus and Tarpok as his "companions" to Sauvix, Scibus gives a little girly wave to Sauvix, the shameless flirt.

Scibus and Tarpok spend half of episode three looking like Aldo and Royce in Warrior's Gate, carrying a picnic hamper. By the end of the episode, they have mislaid in and appear to be looking for it when Sauvix bumps into them and Icthar hastily asks how the battle's going.

Scibus starts to press controls on the control panel in the last episode with a childish glee, followed by the agonizing wait as he adjusts the position of the Manipulator again and again, as if trying to get the feng shei just right.

His death scene has him make a strange gurgling noise. Which Icthar ignores. So Scibus makes it louder. Before sliding off his stool and hitting the floor. And gurgling again.

Warriors of the Deep ends up something of a rarity in Doctor Who - two completely different stories with the same plot, actors and special effects. If you watch the story, you are rewarded with one of the grimmest, coldest moral dilemma bloodbaths Doctor Who can offer. If you watch the production, you are rewarded with an Earth Reptile version of Dude, Where's My Car.

Utterly entertaining.