Warriors of the Deep
Target novelisation
Doctor Who - Warriors of the Deep

Author Terrance Dicks Cover image
Published 1984
ISBN 0 426 19561 2
First Edition Cover Alistair Pearson

Back cover blurb: When the TARDIS materialises on Earth in the year 2084, the Doctor meets an old enemy - the Sea Devils. Once the masters of this planet, they are now forced to live in the murky depths of the sea. But their intention is to reclaim their position of domination... This will entail the infiltration of Earth's defence systems and the provocation of another World War, more terrible than any yet experienced, to bring about the complete annihilation of the human race. Not only is the first stage of the Sea Devils' attack successful, their associates in this dastardly plan are the sinister Silurians, also known to the Doctor of old.


Doctor Who and the Revenge of the Sea Monsters! by Andrew Feryok 21/3/07

It had been unwise of the ape-primitives to venture beneath the seas, thought Icthar. Now a terrible vengeance awaited them. It was time for them to relinquish their rule over the planet Earth, to make way for their superiors. the time of the Silurians and of the Sea Devils had come again.
- Chapter 4, page 46
I am a glutton for punishment. After watching and reviewing the television version of this story, I decided to give the Target novel version a try. Now here are two phrases you don't want to hear in the same sentence: "Warriors of the Deep" and "Terrance Dicks". If ever there was a recipe for disaster this is it. What is considered by many to be one of the most embarassing episodes of Doctor Who being adapted by an author who has given some good work in the past, but at this period was churning out books that were little more than reprintings of the scripts in paragraph format. This is going to hurt me good!

Once again, I survived the experience although my self-esteem is now out of the corner and going into severe therapy. Granted, it's not exactly a bad adaptation of the television story. In fact, without the limitations of the BBC budget, the story is given a real chance to flex its dramatic muscles in a way it could never do on screen. For instance, the eyesore known as the Myrka is now a terrifying dragon whose destructive rampage through the sea base is actually one of the most exciting parts of the book! The sea base still lacks the claustrophic feel it needed and never got in either version, but at least the airlock door falling on Tegan's leg feels more realistic and dramatic through the descriptions prompting my imagination. However, this still comes out as a rather bland adventure.

Without the restrictions of the wooden actors and actresses, the characters actually gain some drama to them. The traitor Nilson is shown to be a crazed fanatic who converted to the philosophies of the other power bloc and is planning to defect. Doctor Solow is enormously improved, shown as a professional woman who has been brainwashed by Nilson but still has some doubts as to the morality of what she is doing. This is something that was always present in the dialogue of the original episode but was never allowed to shine through due to the actress portraying Solow. And Dicks had the mercy to play down Solow's karate kicking the Myrka. Rather than have her kick it and die, the Myrka merely hits her with its tail, electrocuting her, and sending her flying down the corridor. Commander Vorshak and Maddox, the sync-operator, come across as the strong characters they were on screen, but Preston and Bulic remain faceless and continue to lack personality of any kind.

The regulars come across well in the story. Dicks gets inside the head of both the Doctor and Turlough. We don't learn anything that we couldn't deduce from the television story already, but it helps in bringing out character traits in Turlough so that he is a much stronger character. The Doctor is wonderful to read and gets all the best lines. My two favorites are: when he holds the bridge hostage for the first time and states "gentleman, we seem to have a problem," or when he explains to Tegan what the ultra-violet light gun will do, "I'm planning to bring a little sunshine back into the Myrka's life!" However, once the Doctor rescues Tegan from the retreating Nilson using the ultra-violet light gun, his troublesome moral stance comes to the fore. I discussed my issues with his moral stance in my review of the telelvision episode, but the way Dicks writes him, the Doctor seems to almost be in denial of the entire situation. He's faced with an inevitable decision and can see that although the humans in this time period are hardly honorable, the Silurians on the base are about to willingly betray thier deepest beliefs and destroy humanity for the sake of power and supremacy. Since Dicks can make us privy to Tegan and Turlough's thoughts, we see thier trust of the Doctor wavering as they begin to wonder whether he is a bit unhinged trying to save the Silurians.

Prose-wise, the story is pretty good. It's not as well written as The Caves of Androzani, and characters have a habit of addressing each other by thier full names in every sentence they utter for no reason whatsoever. The story gets off to a slow start as Dicks tries to build up some tension around the politics on the base. But the story really doesn't start to kick in until the Doctor holds the bridge hostage for the first time and the Silurian battle cruiser appears. I've noticed that Dicks' strength as a writer for Target novels is that he is very good at writing action stories. When there is a lot of running up and down corridors, monsters attack, and soldiers shooting and dying in combat, Dicks is masterful at capturing the pace of the action, making the story fly by. He manages to make the Silurians, Sea Devils, and Myrka feel like an unstoppable force which is only hindered by the Doctor's unique efforts. As mentioned before, once the Doctor rescues Tegan from Nilson, the story continues on a fast pace, but loses a lot of credibility and believability. It is rather ironic that the aspects of the story most reviled on the television end up being the most enjoyable aspects of the novel!

Overall, the story is about average for the Target novels and for Terrance Dicks. It is certainly not as bland as his adaptation of State of Decay, but lacks a lot of the gravity and terror of The Caves of Androzani (although that is more due to the story material itself). The Silurians' only character trait is arrogance and the Sea Devils have zero personality at all. The Myrka has a remarkable personality all its own and the story has an action-packed middle that is surrounded by a boring political drama and dubious moral dilemma. On the whole, not bad but not good. A middle of the road story that will entertain if you stick through it. 5/10

"The Mother of All Drop-Kicks" by Jason A. Miller 26/10/16

I spent a pleasant Saturday in New York City yesterday reading the Warriors of the Deep novelization. There are many wonderful things for tourists to do in this city. As a native New Yorker, I prefer to skip most of them, and spend most of my time riding on subways or sitting on park benches, reading. Today was Terrance Dicks' turn.

After I read the book, I came to this site and read Andrew Feryok's nine-year-old takedown of the novelization. After I read that, I knew that I'd be spending most of the next day writing an angry e-mail to Robert Smith?.

Feryok's essential premises are these three irreconcilable points. 1) Terrance Dicks' novelization of Warriors of the Deep is horrible. 2) Here are 14 things that I totally loved about it anyway! And, 3) The book... is actually not bad.

So let's erase all that and build our own review. I have one essential premise, not three. The premise? The Warriors of the Deep novelization is Terrance Dicks at his stone-cold best.

The original TV story is not very well loved. This is a fact. It was one of my first TV stories, and I love it, but let's remove sentiment from the equation. The set design and studio lighting and the Myrka all conspire to make this story look laughable, especially with 32 years' hindsight. The returning villains are portrayed very generically, with none of the style that their creator Malcolm Hulke had imbued the Silurians and Sea Devils with in the early 1970s. The acting is nearly wooden across the board. Johnny Byrne, who wrote the thing, tried to defend the story when he posted on rec.arts.drwho in the early '90s, but even he drew the line and insisted that his scripts, as submitted, said nothing about Ingrid Pitt administering "the mother of all drop kicks" to the Myrka.

But most of those flaws are production-team flaws, and you can watch the DVD special features and listen to the audio commentary for more on that. And if you haven't bought the DVD, buy it before it goes out of print. In fact, buy every other DVD to which Mat Irvine contributed. Please.

The benefit of the novelization is that you can remove the production team flaws, and produce the epic, James Cameron-directed, version of this story that lives in the mind's eye.

And who better to do that than Terrance Dicks?

Terrance's opening sentences are always a delight of world-building and word economy. It's a great trick. Two of his first four sentences: "The Base might have been in space. [...] It might have been in space -- but it wasn't." Now pull down any David A. McIntee DW novel from the 1990s off your shelf and try those opening sentences. Terrance's grab you. Others... not so much.

There's not much that can be done to salvage the casting of this story: the dialogue given to most of the characters is strictly functional and nobody's winning an Emmy award. But Commander Vorshak was played by Tom Adams, who had a biggish part in "The Great Escape", and Terrance here mentions that Vorshak "had the rugged good looks of a recruiting-poster hero, much to his own embarrassment." If Dicks didn't win you over with that line, then I can't help you.

(Oh, and for bonus points, Bulic, the Sea Base Four security officer, is described as "burly". I've said this before, but every sergeant in Doctor Who history is burly. That's pretty much all you need to know about Bulic, in a word count of one. Terrance wisely characterizes him as "burly" and then gets out of the way.)

Terrance, to be fair, does recycle a lot of his earlier work. Clearly his typewriter had macro keys, for his cut-and-paste descriptions of the Fifth Doctor's outfit, TARDIS console room and the Silurian submarine: "Its greenish hull had a rough, irregular surface, like something grown rather than manufactured." You'll find that description in perhaps a half-dozen other Dicks adaptations (Terror of the Zygons and The Krotons springing immediately to mind).

But this is where we get to the special stuff. The villains of this story are the Silurians and Sea Devils. And Dicks was there at their creation. These are his nieces and nephews, if not his children. He commissioned Malcolm Hulke to write those two stories. In this novelization, he swoops in and gives us a metric ton of backstory and characterization, virtually none of which made it to air.

Dicks also builds up the human-inhabited world of 2084 in a way that the TV production didn't. It's Dicks who describes this world's duelling Eastern and Western blocs, with his trademark love of political zingers:

"Worst of all, each side had come to believe in its own propaganda, to believe that the opposing Bloc was populated not by human beings much like themselves but by cold-hearted ruthless monsters."

"Nilson had no wish to die in defence of the Base he was working to destroy."

But enough about the 2016 U.S. Presidential election -- that's Terrance describing an imaginary world that bears no resemblance to our own whatsoever.

He also gives several more dimensions to Doctor Solow than Ingrid Pitt was able to do on TV. Solow is a thankless role, killed off in Part Three and only on screen for a handful of minutes before that. But Dicks psycho-analyzes the character and makes her almost tragic: "[S]he had come to accept that most terrible of creeds, that the end justifies the means." Or "Her voice was dull, almost lifeless. By now Doctor Solow was becoming used to murder and treachery."

Terrance also provides lengthy technical descriptions of the Sea Base Four missile control apparatus, the "synch op" system (in which missiles can only be launched by a human brain interfaciing with the base computer) and Silurian technology. When the Doctor uses UV light converters in Part Three, Dicks explains why there are UV converters in an undersea base and explains how the crew uses them. It's easy to take this stuff for granted as mere technobabble, but the TV episode dropped those ideas into the story in media res, and it takes a Terrance to actually explain what all that stuff meant:

"Synch op technicians were in short supply. The training was difficult, sometimes dangerous, and only certain specially selected minds could cope. Sometimes, as in the case of Maddox, mistakes were made."

"The Solarium... was designed to counteract the effect of long spells of undersea duty. It was said you could even get a tan if you stayed in there long enough, though few people bothered."

The human characters in this story may be largely cardboard, but, in Terrance's hands, they're cardboard moving through a very complex world.

The TARDIS crew fares well, too. You can hear Dicks mentally arguing with Eric Saward over the merits of adding an untrustworthy, shifty regular character (Turlough) to the TARDIS. Not counting The Five Doctors, this is the only Turlough story novelized by Dicks -- but, in this one outing, Dicks nails the character, calling attention to Turlough's cowardice and shifting loyalties in virtually every scene (he allows Vorshak to observe, "A nasty, treacherous-looking type he was too"). Tegan also gets a moment of triumph, when she happily observes that the Sea Base guard platoon commander is female. That's a nice touch which you won't find in the TV version.

And, yes, as Feryok concedes above, Dicks really does save the Myrka. You can see Dicks smirking (or, if you will, s-Myrk-ing) at the idea of a dinosaur cross-bred with an electric eel, but the Myrka makes sense here. Mostly.

Terrance also cheerfully papers over plot implausibilities. "Fortunately Bulic had a good knowledge of the base ventilation system." I've worked in many offices, and, trust me, nobody on site ever has any idea how the ventilation systems work.

Other plot holes he can't fix. The Doctor's last resort to save the Sea Base (and humanity) is to release hexachromite gas, which is harmless to mankind and lethal to marine life, and that sorts out the Sea Devils... except that the Silurians are land-based mammals and shouldn't have succumbed to the gas. Eric Saward missed that one and so, probably, did Terrance. Oh well.

Is this a perfect book? Of course not. It's barely 120 pages long. Given 250 pages, this could have been an all-timer. Part Four as written plays a bit rushed -- the Doctor and the Silurian leader only get two scenes together, and Terrance is a bit uncomfortable describing the huge body count at the end of the story. So the ache and disappointment of the Doctor saving the day but failing to save many lives, is very muted here.

But, make no mistake. The novelization of Warriors of the Deep is one of the finest examples of Terrance Dicks taking a lower-ranked TV story and making it into a memorable, enjoyable book. Be thankful this one exists.