DW & The Silurians
The Sea Devils
Warriors of the Deep
|Dates||Jan. 5, 1984 -
Jan. 13, 1984
With Peter Davison, Janet Fielding, Mark Strickson.
Written by Johnny Byrne. Script-edited by Eric Saward.
Directed by Pennant Roberts. Produced by John Nathan-Turner.
|Synopsis: In a sequel to Doctor Who and The Silurians and The Sea Devils, the Doctor finds the awakening races ready to begin a war with humanity.|
Sea Base (Nineteen Eighty) Four by Jason A. Miller 9/1/23
Warriors of the Deep isn't a beloved story, huh? Finn Clark's review is quite funny; he makes several really strong and unique points about problems with this story's script and its production/direction.
On the other hand, this was one of my First Stories, and I will never stop loving it -- or, at least, if not unconditionally loving it, having a Myrka-sized soft spot for it in the Sea Base Four of my soul. Warriors of the Deep would have aired on my local PBS station (WLIW) during the last week of December 1984. I was only a month into my fandom. It was Christmas Break week, and we were off school, but my 6th-grade teacher had assigned us a really long, involved research and writing project on the Roman Empire to be done over the break. 6th grade was the last year of elementary school, and he was trying to prep us for the more rigorous demands of Junior High School. In other words, I was doing advanced work and was learning that I was a terrible procrastinator. Putting the work aside at 7 PM every night on vacation to watch Warriors of the Deep scratched both my new Doctor Who itch, and my I-don't-wanna-do-this-homework itch. Take that, Caesar Nero.
(this is shortly before I learned that Doctor Who had already contributed to the Great Fire of Rome in the year 64, but I wouldn't see that episode for another full year).
Watching Warriors of the Deep back now, 35 years later, I'm struck that the premise remains both topical and a relic of its time. It's all very Cold War, isn't it? With two power blocs, mutually assured destruction and the drama of a conscientious objector on Sea Base Four who can't bear the thought of pushing the button. That was literally the first scene of the movie The War Games, and here's Doctor Who deftly doing that same scene, two years later. It never hurts to borrow (steal) from the classics. And while the production design of Warriors of the Deep is fandom's favorite punching bag, I think the fact that it looks SO 1980s has made it come full circle to be good again. The multicolored Sea Base crew uniforms, with their lightning-bolt streaks of color, look similar in design to what all my best-dressed friends were already wearing (remember Benetton?). Tegan's hairstyle is more 1984 than anything you saw on the female athletes at the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles that same summer. The computer graphics aboard Sea Base Four resemble every PC video game I played back then. So Warriors of the Deep is forever '84, and I love that.
The script, while the premise is strong, does have some faults. I pin those on Eric Saward, who, the DVD text commentary tells us, had to rewrite Johnny Byrne's over-long and over-budgeted drafts. For one thing, there is no suspense to this story. We learn from their first scene together that Nilson and Dr. Solow are traitors. We learn from their first featured scene that the Silurians are our bad guys. That's not great drama. Have Nilson and Solow express great concerned for the conscientious objector, Maddox's, well-being, and out them as double agents AFTER he's been mentally reprogrammed; make their villainous reveal a cliffhanger. Save the Silurians' villainy, or the later introduction of the Sea Devils, for a cliffhanger as well. As it stands, though, under Saward's clanking metal hands, this is a story without any twists or turns -- it's just a succession of events.
(That being said, the Part One cliffhanger made a huge impression on me -- I couldn't imagine, at age 11, how the Doctor had survived drowning in the base's reactor pool; I was too new in my fandom to know that Time Lords have a respiratory bypass).
Something else Saward botches is poor Karina. Part One is unusual in devoting a long-ish scene to the attractive young Karina showing genuine concern for the conscientious, sweaty, young Maddox. That's '80s Doctor Who code for "these two characters need to hook up". There should be a cruelly ironic twist in Part Two, where Maddox kills Karina, the only person on Sea Base Four who showed him any compassion, because Nilson and Dr. Solow have taken over his mind. But, after this death, there is little payoff; Karina's dead body is only found off-screen, Maddox dies (everybody dies except Bulic, whose survival occurs off-camera, to be mentioned only in the novelization) without getting to avenge Karina's death, and Karina's murder scene is just reduced to another misogynistic bit of Saward's signature sexual violence against female characters.
Finn pointedly, and very humorously, takes down Pennant Roberts for bad directing. But I'm not so sure he's right. Discounting the obvious (we'll get to that in a moment), Roberts does some clever work. Yes, the sea base is too bright -- but Roberts darkens the lights whenever the base is in missile run mode, which adds mood, which makes the bright lights a function of the characters in the story, the base's own aesthetic choice -- offset against the gloom of the Silurians' craft and the Sea-Devils' cavern. And the camera work? The swooping crane shot down onto the bridge set to open the story is a nice pompous opening salvo. There's a great shot later on when Commander Vorshak opens a hatch to reveal secret technology, and the traitorous Nilson and Solow are seen smirking in the background, framed by the opened hatch. That must have taken forever to set up, but it's certainly the mark of a director who knew how to tell the story. I also like how Nilson kills Maddox by remote-control, without even turning around to look at the poor boy. That also requires clever blocking; not the work of a director who's busy down the pub.
The stunts are... mixed. Wikipedia says that Ingrid Pitt had a black belt in karate. Or did one of you put that in there as a joke, to mock what Johnny Byrne, back on rec.arts.drwho in the mid-1990s, derided as "the mother of all drop-kicks"? So the kick doesn't work (also, it was a roundhouse kick, not a drop kick). But the backflip of Gareth Milne down into the Shepperton Studios water tank, doubling for Davison in that Part One cliffhanger, is pretty eye-popping.
Ok, the Myrka is a failure, and the Sea-Devils can't see or even walk properly. Fine. This is 2023. There's no point in mocking 35-year-old effects. You really think the CGI Mark Gattis beast in The Lazarus Experiment looks better? That said, Part Three, most of which is given over to the battle for the base -- the Myrka and the Sea Devils converging on the bridge in a pincer movement -- only looks good if you liberally suspend disbelief. Every character who touches the Myrka gets daubed in green paint, the foam rubber door that traps Tegan's ankle literally folds in half, and the slow-pitched action between the Sea Devils and base troopers reads better in Dicks' novelization, where your eyes can't deceive you.
I think Warriors of the Deep is still a good story. The script is good, there are some good actors around the margins (Tom Adams, who had a third-tier part in The Great Escape, where he was less featured than Nigel Stock but more featured than William Russell, is terrific here), and Part Three, while a misfire, is at least an honest effort at staging a full 25-minute-long pitched battle. The Myrka is a mistake, and the excuses for that are all on the DVD, but Doctor Who had bad monster costumes long before and long after Warriors; don't hate Warriors just because of the Myrka. Warriors doesn't work from a technical sense, but it's trying, it's trying. The '80s video effects and costumes look neat again in 2023; eye-catching, if nothing else. Davison and Janet Fielding and Mark Strickson turn in their usual superlative work, and the Doctor's bruised face and genuine regret in the final scene are still pretty stunning today. A lot could be done to have made it better, yes, but I'm still tremendously fond of what's left.