Tuesday, 1 February 2011
Warriors of the Deep
Anything could happen in the next half hour... including lots of killing, unfeasible running and climbing in high heels and a pantomime sea monster.
This is a yet another review I am going to begin with a comment about how this story was one of the first Target novelisations I read as a nine-year old new fan. Yes, I did and I loved it. How was I to know that it was such an unloved story?
Fan opinion has been very harsh with regard to Warriors of the Deep. Many stories with far more significant faults, are dealt with more kindly. I would suggest that this story is far better than popular fan opinion allows.
This story does have a lot of flaws. Let's bring them up and then we can look at what is good about it.
Most obviously, the Myrka is bad. It really does look and move like a pantomime horse. Not that it is the worst designed monster ever. I love sea monsters. If it had just been filmed differently; if we had just been granted glimpses of it, it could have been a really effective and scary monster.
This failure with regard to the Myrka naturally leads on to the failure of Pennant Roberts' direction in general. It really is bad. The invasion of the sea base by the Eocenes looks dreadful. And just what inspired him to have Dr Solow attempting to confront the Myrka with some karate instead of running away? What was he thinking? The apparent drowning of the Doctor is also rather clumsily done. Turlough jumps rather quickly to the conclusion that he is dead. We get an awful lot of flat acting from the guest cast to make matters worse. It must have been lovely to see the late Ingrid Pitt in Doctor Who a second time. I was so saddened to hear about her recent death. She had a genuine enthusiasm for the show and even wrote an unmade episode (The Macross, which you can hear on Big Finish audio). I don't like to say anything bad about her so soon after her death, but it is fair to say that she was more of an icon than a really talented actress. She injected absolutely no life into the character of Dr. Solow.
The new look Eocenes are disappointing too. The Sea Devils look alright, but the actors can barely move in them. The Eocene costumes in Doctor Who and the Silurians look better than the later version here. It is quite remarkable how the two sets of monster costumes in the 70s were superior to these. I don't care for the flashing third eye when they speak; in Doctor Who and the Silurians they indicated speech by wagging their heads, which is fine by me. Their voices are also different. It has been suggested that the differences are due to the Eocenes having been enhanced by cybernetics. This idea makes sense, but it would have been better had it been indicated by the dialogue.
The Eocenes also come across as just a bit too evil for us to sympathize with for the most part. Their origin is brought up in the dialogue, but this is not enough to back up their case for being the original inhabitants of the earth and so they end up seeming like any old alien monsters (and with the continual repetition of 'Excellent!' they sound like Cybermen). We might ask what happened to the old race memory thing in Doctor Who and the Silurians. Yet we do see something of their compassion. We are told that they did try to make peace before. Okay, so the line about the "hand of friendship" does not quite fit the two previous Eocene serials, but Missing Adventure writers have filled in that continuity chink for us. They also tell us that they bear no malice against the Doctor and offer to let him and his companions depart freely. Not typical alien monster behaviour.
So what is good about this story? The set designs are impressive. The Eocene HQ looks interesting. The Seabase set might be a bit wobbly and look too much like polystyrene in places, but it still looks like an impressive 3 -dimensional set that captures how a futurist military base might look. The modelwork for the space probe and the Eocene submarine is also good.
We get some amazing acting from the regulars. Fielding and Strickson are great, but Davison is really on fire in this story. He is no longer the wet fish of season 19. Just watch him fighting with those guards and threatening people with guns! His moral outrage and despair at the conclusion seems so heartfelt.
The setting is really well-conceived. We are given a vision of a future cold war that is not specific enough for us to get smug about. The claustrophobia and tension of a constant threat of nuclear war is convincingly portrayed. We also get a cyberpunk element, with all that stuff about implants and neural connections. I can just imagine Warriors of the Deep with a score composed by Front Line Assembly!
Nevertheless, this story makes me hate the Doctor. This story sees every man and woman on the Seabase die a violent death. Yet the Doctor seems to care far more about the Eocenes who are trying to wipe us of the face of the earth. The Doctor even calls humans 'pathetic!' If only he had been willing to use the Hexachromite earlier, he could saved those people. We can be sure that the Second Doctor would have got the Hexachromite out in an instant. I want to hate him for his inaction in this story. However, I think it is right and good that sometimes we don't agree with the Doctor or feel able to sympathize with him. He is not one of us. He sees things from a different perspective. The Doctor has witness humans commit appalling atrocities and injustices in every corner of history. In this period of 2084, humans are poised ready to annihilate each other with nuclear weaponry. For the Doctor it really is an open question whether the humans or the Eocenes deserve the planet more. We can spit on the Fifth Doctor and call him a moral coward, but we cannot deny that he has a reason for his reluctance to take sides.
The very linear plot of Warriors of the Deep has been criticised; yet I think this is an important element. It helps to underline the sense of inevitable descent into tragedy. The final moments are gloriously tragic with Turlough's grim line "They're all dead, you know" followed by the Doctor's classic lament "There should have been another way." We find out in Timewyrm: Revelation that the Davison Doctor is the Doctor's conscience. In that novel, he manages to get his Seventh incarnation to choose "another way" and find a solution that does not involve death and destruction.
To my mind the individual stories of Season 21 have to be seen as an whole. In Season 21, Eric Saward gave Doctor Who a vision and theme. In every story of that season (and you can see the start of this in The Five Doctors) we see the Fifth Doctor faced with the horror, brutality and futility of the cosmos. In the end, he succumbs to that horror and after his death regenerates into a new incarnation that has succumbed to the horror and madness of it all, as we see in The Twin Dilemma. As an individual serial, Warriors of the Deep finds it hard to stand. Yet in it's relation to the tragic themes of the season, it really shines. I would say it actually rivals Resurrection of the Daleks in the same season.
On a lighter note, costumes are interesting in this story. The Seabase crew all wear shell suits and deck shoes. Nobody wears socks. I suppose there is no reason why military personnel in 2084 would not wear liberal amounts of eyeliner.
I am amazed at Tegan's ability to climb on chairs, crawl through ventilation shafts and run through endless corridors in those high-heeled shoes. THAT must be a result of cybernetic enhancement. Judging by The Stones of Blood, Romana 1 would have kicked them off and run about the Seabase in her stocking feet.
For all it's faults, I really like this story. I like it far more than The Sea Devils, which most fans seem to love so much.