July 10, 2008

Doctor Who Geekery Report: Sea Devils & Warriors of the Deep

I'll briefly cover the two other serials that comprise the Doctor Who box set I received last month. ("The Silurians" was the first, see earlier post)

The Sea Devils (starring Jon Pertwee, 26 Feb - 01 Apr 1972)

A virtual re-write of "Doctor Who and the Silurians", introducing another dormant reptilian race, this time an amphibian one, that seeks to reclaim the Earth. Additions: The Master, the ocean. Subtractions: Moral dilemmas.

There's nothing particularly wrong with The Sea Devils. The scenes between the Doctor and the Master are witty and biting, there's that iconic cliffhanger image of the Sea Devil force (well, when I say force, I mean six guys in rubber suits) rising out of the sea, the Master playing the part of prisoner when he's actually running the prison, him watching kiddie TV (which would be echoed 35 years later in The Sound of Drums). The acting is strong, the effects are decent, even the jarring electronic music doesn't particulary bother me.

So what's missing? Why aren't I as gripped (or even engaged) by this serial as I am by most Pertwee stories? Why does my interest inevitably begin to flag about two-thirds of the way through? Where's the joy?

Maybe it's the Master and the flagging, threadbare retread of his usual storyline: he attempts to rule the earth by introducing an alien menace (Autons, Mind of Evil, Axons, Azal, and later Kronos & the Daleks), but loses control of the situation and relies on the Doctor to save his sorry ass.

More likely it's because the central plot thread that made "Silurians" so engaging, the moral dilemma of the Doctor trying to make peace between two mutually xenophobic parties with an equal claim to the same planet, is given only a cursory nod while the production team place more emphasis on macho action sequences (oooh, swordfights! hovercrafts! blowing shit up! sailors running around! diving bells! submarines! speedboat chases!)

Warriors of the Deep (starring Peter Davison, 05 Jan - 13 Jan 1984)

God-bloody-awful. And the bonus features on the making of this serial don't even pretend that it's otherwise.

There's a decent premise at its heart; the Silurians wake up their Sea Devil cousins, infiltrate an underwater base, and attempt to launch a missle strike that would plunge the two unnamed hair-trigger superpowers into mutually assured destruction. What went wrong? Well, mostly everything. The production staff pretty much sleep-walked their way through this, with such a rush to throw it in front of the camera ready or not that they couldn't stop to second-guess any of their ideas, most of which were half-assed at best. And nobody involved with this serial appear to have seen either of the stories that inspired this one. So here's a laundry list:

The terms "Silurians" and "Sea Devils" were concocted by humans, not by the creatures themselves, yet in this story they refer to themselves as such.

The re-conceived Silurians' third eye, originally used as a weapon or a psycho-kinetic tool, only serves to blink to indicate which of the three is speaking. This wasn't a problem in their original story, and there one voice actor played every part! The re-conceived Sea Devils look awful, and the actors can't disguise the top-heavy nature of their headpieces which frequently lean to one side or another.

How do they attack the Sea base? By walking. Very. Very. Slowly. Down. The. Corridors.

The pet monster, the Myrka, was unfinished (the paint was still wet, as evidenced by the green paint on some actors' costumes when they get near it).

The rubber airlock doors, the over-bright lighting, the horrible costumes and heavy eyeliner.

Ingrid Pitt's ludicrously fatal attempt to stop the Myrka with a karate-kick.

Since the writers couldn't decide on (or wouldn't risk identifying) the two counter-opposed power blocs, the enemy agent Neilson actually announces he's from "The power bloc opposed to this one."

The foreshadowing, in pure "Show the gun in Act One so it can be used in Act Three" style, of the hexachromite gas, which takes most of the piss out of Davison's otherwise moving closing line. ("There should've been another way.")

Of course, I bought it. But then, the BBC Video/2Entertain team tend to release stories with little regard to demand; they're just as likely to release classic stories as clunkers. This one will do little save collect dust on my shelf.

On order for August: The Time Meddler (solid Hartnell), Black Orchid (solid Davison), The Five Doctors special edition (25th anniversary of the 20th anniversary story. Man, I'm old.)

On order for September: The Invasion of Time (flawed but enjoyable), The Invisible Enemy (flawed but not-so-enjoyable), K9 and Company (early 80's attempt at a spinoff, thankfully didn't happen)

Due for October release: The Brain of Morbius (one of the all-time best!), Trial of a Timelord (the clunker to accompany the classic)

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